Text: John 6:22-35
Gospel for Proper 13, Series B.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Free food always draws a crowd. You want people to come out in droves? Offer free food. John chapter six records the events surrounding Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand. The crowd was enthusiastic about Jesus of Nazareth’s all you can eat fish-fry and bread buffet! After the meal, Jesus sent his disciples sailing back to Capernaum. He rejoined them later that night by walking upon the water. The crowd chased them into Capernaum and after searching for Jesus, found him teaching in the Synagogue. They asked Jesus, “When did you get here?” They are really asking Jesus how he got to Capernaum. Jesus didn’t get in the boat with the disciples and he could hardly have walked around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
I. The People
This crowd of people were not skeptics. They had experienced the miracle and believed that Jesus had done this. So, Jesus’ perception of the crowd is a bit unexpected. The people saw Jesus as a bread machine, a source of free food. But Jesus saw right through them to their hearts. “You’re chasing after me not because you saw signs but because your bellies are full of bread. You didn’t catch the significance, you just stuffed your faces with free food.” Jesus’ miracles were never just magic tricks. They always had a purpose and significance to them. Jesus wanted the crowds to stop and think about what the miracles are for. What does this mean? (A good Lutheran question.) The crowd saw the wondrous the sign, but they had no insight into what the sign taught about Jesus.
People like those in the crowd are still in Christian congregations today. They are down-to-earth folks who ‘don’t go in for this Bible study and prayer stuff’, or who don’t believe in ‘taking religion too far’. They are ‘practical Christians’ who ‘live in the real world’. They’re only Christians as long as it doesn’t interfere with their daily lives. They only like Church if the worship is entertaining and the sermon relevant, practical, and under ten minutes. These people are what we call functional atheists. They claim they believe in God, they may even go to Church on Sunday, but the way they live their lives is no different than those who are outright atheists. Is that you? Are you here asking, “What can I get out of this?” Or perhaps you think that because you have forgiveness of sins through the Gospel you can now live like the Devil, and it doesn’t matter because “God forgives me.” Such ideas turn the Gospel into something which merely fills the belly. Are you a “fishes-and-loaves” kind of Christian?|
II. The Prohibition
Jesus saw the efforts of the crowd to track him down, and he responded first with a prohibition. “Do not work for the food that perishes.” Physical food perishes, but Jesus is speaking on a deeper level. Ask yourself, what are you working for? You might think it a silly question. It seems obvious that we work for money to pay bills, to feed ourselves and our families, and provide for our needs. Think beyond that. Maybe you don’t have a job. The question still applies. What are you working for?
The average person will spend a third of their life working. With so much time spent at work a valid question to ask is, “what is it all for?” Are you working for more stuff? A bigger house? An early retirement? Perhaps that next vacation? The latest gadget? Are you pursuing your dreams? Are you working just to keep yourself busy? Are you working for power and position? Are you working towards fame and fortune? Are you working for self-satisfaction? But even if you possess all the world’s goods, it still will all perish. You cannot take any of it with you. Beauty, fame, and fortune; fashion, position, and power; all of it is perishable and fleeting. “Do not work for the food that perishes.” All of it leads to death. Every earthly goal and ambition the sinful mind sets up in place of God is bread that spoils. It all comes to nothing and can only leave the soul that pursued it tormented in hell.
“Do not work for the food that perishes.” Instead, our work is not supposed to be oriented around ourselves. It is not supposed to be all about you. Your work is about loving and serving your neighbour. Instead of focusing on your wants, and your needs, it’s your vocation as a spouse, parent, child, Christian parishioner, and Canadian citizen that takes precedence. In each of these areas – the family, the Church, and our society – God calls you to work not for yourself, but for your neighbour. It is true that we need to provide for our families. Jesus fed the people. It was obviously important to meet their physical needs. God knows you need your basic needs met and he has promised to take care of you. But God calls you to work not for yourself, but for others; for your neighbour.
III. The Promise
So, Christ followed his prohibition with a promise: “Work for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” There is a food that does not spoil. This food exists for the express purpose of giving eternal life to the eater. This isn’t food that fills your temporal hunger pangs but food that goes straight to your soul, a food that will raise you up on the Last Day. It is the bread of life and Jesus gives this bread.
The crowds missed the part about this bread being a gift, and so, they asked what works they have to do to earn it. Since they are determined to talk about work, Jesus tells them about that one work which will truly gain eternal life. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” The work is that you believe in Jesus. Faith is a work. Not a work we do, but a work that God does. Because it is something God himself does, it pleases him. Salvation is God’s work. Forgiveness is God’s work. Justifying sinners is God’s work. Faith is God’s work and gift to us, the means by which we receive the benefits of Christ’s death for us.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says to you. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus is the true bread from Heaven, sent by the Father into the world. The food that endures for eternal life is the very flesh of Jesus given into death for your sins. It has been said, “You are what you eat.” If you eat the bread that perishes, you too will perish. If you eat the Bread of Life, you will be given eternal life. Without a mouth, you can’t eat bread. Without faith, you can’t eat the Bread of Life. Perishable food is transformed into the body which eats it. Whoever eats the Bread of life, is transformed into that Bread. That is, those who partake of Christ in faith, are renewed and begin to be conformed to the image of Christ. Better still, in faith you possess Christ himself. He gives you eternal life. He gives your work it’s true meaning. You do not have to work to earn eternal life; it’s a free gift. Your work is no longer oriented around yourself but focused around serving your neighbour as you are able.
The feeding of the 5000 with bread multiplied beyond measure was just a foretaste of the feast to come, a picture of what Jesus was up to, a sneak peak into the Reign of God. That deep hunger that you feel – no bread from this world can fill it. Everything you work for in this world will leave you with a sense of dissatisfaction. That deep thirst in your soul that
leaves you restless and thirsting for something more – no drink in this world can quench it. Humanity has this insatiable desire for something. God put it there, and it’s a desire for God. Society has experimented with every conceivable form of material, physical, spiritual, and sexual way to fill the inner emptiness of its heart. But Christ alone can provide the satisfaction and joy we so desperately seek. Jesus exceeds our expectations, provides for our needs, and fulfills our desires.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they will be satisfied. Come to Jesus, the Bread of Life. In Christ you have an eternal life which was given to you freely. We eat and drink of Him by faith in His Word. Hear His Word forgiving you. He won’t let you down. He won’t leave you hungry for more. He won’t make you thirsty. Church is not the place where you satisfy your earthly desires, but the place where your deepest needs are satisfied. Church is the place where you are given Jesus, the Bread of Life. He is true Food, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else. He is true Drink. The deepest longings of your soul will find strength, nourishment, and refreshment in Him. In Him you will not hunger. In Him you will not thirst.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.