Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the things my wife and I love to do if we get a chance is tour large art museums. So far, we have been to art museums in Berlin, Chicago, Detroit, and Montreal. Imagine if we went hastily from gallery to gallery. In every room we walked around beside the wall and read all the details from the printed notices underneath the paintings, but all the while ignoring the paintings themselves. We might be able to tell you the artists’ names, their dates, where they lived, or the names of their key paintings. But if we did that, we would have never stood back and looked at the paintings themselves, and allowed them to speak to us. The printed notes were there to lead the eye, the mind and the heart to appreciate the paintings, not so that they could be only used to provide information.
John chapter six records the events surrounding Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Last week we looked at the feeding itself. This week, Jesus is clearly anxious that the people whom he fed with the loaves and fishes were going to end up looking the notices but missing the paintings. This morning, Jesus is trying to repair the faulty understanding the crowd took away from last Sunday’s text. You see, the sign that Jesus performed was not about having a belly full of food. That sign pointed to something else.
Jesus Gives the Crowd a Prohibition
The crowds who flocked after Jesus were not skeptics. They had experienced the miracle and believed that Jesus did it. So, Jesus’ reaction to 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. They never looked at the painting the notice was describing.
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. The crowd finally realise that Jesus is pointing out that they can’t just expect a free lunch, so they grab hold of this word “work.” “Alright, what do we got to do?” They’re focused on what they could or should or must do, rather than on what God is doing right in front of them.
St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” (that is, in God). There’s a God shaped hole in our hearts. 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. It’s all food that parishes.
How often do we forget that the gospel is the declaration of what God does, and instead act as though it’s all about what we are doing? 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? What will you fill that God shaped hole in your heart with?
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 lead to destruction. “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.
Jesus Gives the Crowds a 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. Christ alone can provide the satisfaction and joy we so desperately seek. Jesus exceeds our expectations, provides for our needs, and fulfils our desires.
Remember, crowds missed the point about the bread, and so, they asked what works they have to do to earn more free bread? Notice that 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.” What does Jesus mean? Does he mean the ‘work of God” is about what God wants us to do? Or does he mean that the “work of God” is the work that God does? 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 means putting God rather than ourselves at the centre. Faith is God’s work and gift to us, the means by which we receive the benefits of Christ’s death for us. The “work of God” is trust in God, which is only possible because God gave you His Son, the bread from Heaven. Faith is always the gracious and surprising work of God.
“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 points to bread beyond bread, to that gift from God which not only comes to the world through Jesus, but is in fact Jesus himself. The bread was the sign that pointed to Jesus. The bread was a sign that points to who he is — someone capable of truly sustaining life. What Jesus is doing is the kind of thing that, in the Old Testament, God himself does. And that’s what the crowd is missing. Jesus is the true bread from Heaven, sent by the Father into the world. Jesus is the bread that fulfils all our hunger and thirst. Jesus frees us to follow him not to achieve self-satisfaction, no longer concerned about what’s in it for us, not even to attain or maintain peace of mind.
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. 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. Your work is no longer oriented around yourself but focused around serving your neighbour as you are able. God calls you to work not for yourself, but for others; for your neighbour.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they will be satisfied. Jesus is the bread from God that gives life. The bread which endures to eternal life is the Son himself, whom the Father gave into death for you. 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.
In him you’ll find the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus Christ. Amen