John 6:24–35 24When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26Jesus answered them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. 27Do not continue to work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28So they said to him, “What should we do to carry out the works of God?”
29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one he sent.”
30Then they asked him, “So what miraculous sign are you going to do, that we may see it and believe you? What miraculous sign are you going to perform? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32Jesus said to them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the real bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34“Sir,” they said to him, “give us this bread all the time!”
35“I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them. “The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
When we were on vacation in Cincinnati last summer, my family stopped for a snack at Tom and Chee’s restaurant, which is across from the Newport Aquarium. We ordered their world-famous Grilled Cheese Donut. It is exactly what the name implies – a perfectly made melted cheese sandwich on a wonderfully grilled donut. It was heavenly! (Although, I’m probably going to heaven sooner after having eaten it.)
This week is the State Fair. Although plenty of healthy foods are on display at the fair, that’s not what the public is eating. For breakfast, the fair-goers can munch on Breakfast Sausage in a Waffle On-a-Stick or Bacon Wrapped Pork On-a-Stick. For lunch, they can snack on some Deep Fried Spinach Lasagna Bites and a Turkey Reuben Sandwich. If they want to eat a healthier dinner, they can enjoy some Vegan Jerky and Vegetarian Wings on a Stick. (But, really, what’s the point?!) Then, for dessert, a Cranberry Cannoli and a Peanut Butter Chocolate Funnel Cake.
No wonder we have an obesity problem in our nation.
We also have a spiritual obesity problem in our nation. We have churches offering “happy meals” instead of the Bread of Life, entertainment instead of the Lord’s Sacrament, commitment to Christ instead of Christ’s commitment to us in His baptismal waters. Our natural appetites are drawn to stuff like that because we have a sweet tooth for the devil’s sugar and are turned off by the Living Bread from heaven. But that’s what happens when we have Adam and Eve’s taste for forbidden fruit. God’s food starts to taste bland, dull, and boring.
We spiritually starve ourselves for weeks by not sitting down to eat in the House of the Lord. Then we realize how long it has been and we binge eat for a week or two until we feel satisfied and then we skip another month of meals. We search for spiritual things on social media. We snack on little devotions about Jesus thinking that will be enough to get us through the day. We want quick and easy meals. Sitting down to eat a seven-course meal with confession, absolution, liturgy, Scripture lessons, sermon, hymns, and benediction seems to take way too long.
We fill ourselves up on the fast food that world offers. We are distracted by our empty stomachs. We indulge ourselves with the devil’s cotton candy. We hear our internal grumblings rather than divine callings. So, we starve ourselves of Word and Sacrament because we have “no time” for worship … or Bible study … or daily prayer … or family devotions. Yet there is always plenty of time to stuff ourselves with the world’s idea of food.
Earlier in John 6, Jesus feeds the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish. The baskets of leftovers are gathered and then Jesus disappears. He sends His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee in their boat and wait for Him in Capernaum. Then in the evening He walks on water trying to pass by His disciples in the darkness. In the morning, the people figure out that Jesus is no longer among them. So they get in their boats and cross over to Capernaum.
When they finally find Jesus, they are tired and frustrated and a little cranky. You can hear the edge in their voices: “Rabbi, when did you get here?” They want more of what they had the previous day. Jesus answers, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not continue to work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Jesus knows that the people are looking for Him for more fast food. The crowds think that they can speak into the intercom, place their order for more fish and bread, and their stomachs will be full again for another day. But Jesus insists that He is no bread king. He is no Burger King.
This is the same Jesus who saw the people sitting in the grass and His heart went out to them because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). They were hungry for food and He created it for them. Now they want more of that food and He won’t give it to them. That’s because they only want food for their bellies. Jesus wants to give them food for their souls. They don’t want to hear that truth. They can’t handle that truth.
Martin Luther said that on this side of eternity, “flesh and blood is interested only in bodily nourishment.” Thus, they were looking and working for the wrong kind of eating, looking and working for the wrong kind of bread.
How are we any different than the people searching for Jesus in Capernaum? Our Lord gives us first article gifts like “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have.” They are great blessings of providence – just like Jesus providing enough food to feed over five thousand hungry travelers. God provides us all these good gifts … and then we make them into idols because we believe the lack of them is death … and the possession of them is life.
How many meals have you missed in the past year? Now … how many times have you missed church? The truth is that we rarely miss a meal, and if we do, we usually make it up somewhere during the day, don’t we? (We are like Hobbits with our Second Breakfasts and Elevenses and Afternoon Teas.) But when it comes to missing church – well, all it takes is a more pressing activity, a late night, a visiting guest, too little sleep, good weather, bad weather, etc. We are more concerned about tending to the needs of the body than we are the needs of the soul. We like consuming the world’s junk food and fast food more than the spiritual food that Christ provides. We are more concerned with filling our stomachs than receiving the Sacrament. And at the same time we are less concerned about what our bodies actually do and whom they do them with, than we are about the eternal consequences of our deeds. What the body wants the body usually gets because we allow God’s first article blessings to become our stomach’s idols.
The eating we’ve been working for, the bread we’ve been chasing after, doesn’t give life. None of these bear the seal of the Father (John 6:27)! None of these shoulder the burden of guilt, the weight of glory, nor the hope of everlasting life. As long as we continue to scarf down the wrong kind of bread, we will continue to slowly starve ourselves to death. There is only one Bread that offers and delivers life.
Jesus declares, “I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Some fruits are available only in season. Some drinks are made only at holidays. Not so with bread. And not so with Jesus. He should be brought to our table every day. We let Him nourish our hearts, not just in certain months or on special events, but daily.
Bread can meet many needs. So can Jesus. He has a word for the lonely as well as for the popular. He has help for the physically ill and the emotionally ill. If your vision is clear, He can help you. If your vision is cloudy, He can help you. Jesus can meet each need.
Jesus says this is the reason why God gave the Israelites manna in the desert (John 6:31-33). The manna was to nourish their bodies. But it was also to draw the people to trust that God would provide enough food for each household for each day (unless it was a Sabbath). The manna was given to sustain them body and soul, to strengthen faith, and point them to God.
And so it was with Jesus and the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus provided this meal for the people not just to fill their bellies, but to point them to Himself. That He is God in the flesh. That He is the One who has come to satisfy our greatest need – our need for forgiveness to overcome our sinful desires; our need for life to overcome death; our need for salvation to re-establish our fellowship with God. For that is the hunger we can never satisfy – only Jesus can. Only He who came for us, to be the Bread of Life.
And that is true whether you are in the wilderness or by the lake; whether you have much or little; whether struggling or secure. There is only One who has what you need. Only One who can satisfy your hunger and fill you with good things. Only One who can purge death from you and grant you life eternal.
He is the One who has come down from heaven to do the work we could never do in defeating sin, death, and the devil. He is the bread of life baked in the fiery furnace of God’s wrath against sin. Like manna laying on the ground, so the bread of life was laid within the ground for three days. Now risen from the ground and death, He is the bread of life that is preached from our pulpits, taught in our classrooms, and laid upon our altars.
Martin Luther writes this about Jesus: “He Himself is the Donor, the Baker, the Waiter, the Brewer, yes, the Cook, and also the Dish and the Plate that gives us the imperishable food.”
The Israelites who followed the Lord into the dessert grumbled that the manna that fell from heaven could only sustain them for a day. The crowd that followed Jesus to Capernaum was unhappy they only received enough bread and fish to feed them the previous day. We who follow Jesus are unsatisfied that the blessings we are given quickly run out after a few days.
But Jesus is teaching us that as great as the first article blessings are that God so generously pours out on us, they will eventually perish. That is why Jesus teaches us to seek food that endures to eternal life.
I saw a great meme the other day on Facebook. It asked, “The key to eating healthy?” “Avoid any food that has a TV commercial.”
There are no commercials for the Christian Church – only invitations to come and eat.
We all strive to eat healthier. Less French fries and more salads. Less soda and more water. Less fried foods and more fruits and veggies. And, avoiding anything on a stick. Let us also strive to eat more spiritually healthy food. Feast on Jesus, the Bread of Life. He is not the chocolate of life or the caviar of life or the cotton candy of life. He is not some little delicacy you snack on once a month or so. He is Bread. Daily bread. That’s why the early Christian Church never treated the Lord’s Supper as something “special,” but something weekly and even daily. Let us give up the fast food of the world and dine weekly, daily, continually on Jesus’ eternal food. Amen.