Food for Life
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 6:22–6:35
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 4-5, 2012
“Food for Life”
Two weeks ago, our Gospel lesson was Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44). I introduced the sermon then with all those statistics about how much food was needed to feed all those people at the Olympic Games. In short, a lot! Several days later, someone said to me, “You never told us how much tea they’d be drinking during the Olympics. After all, this is happening in London.” Good question, and I have no idea. The feeding of the 5000 is the one miracle of Jesus that is found in all of the Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15), and John’s account of this is found in John 6. The verses preceding today’s Gospel lesson are about this miraculous feeding. John’s term for this is not a miracle, but a “sign” – a sign that points to a deeper truth and a greater reality so that people are moved to see beyond the gift to the Giver of that gift, the Lord Jesus himself. What’s before us then in today’s Gospel is Jesus’ teaching the crowd who had been fed that He himself is the Bread of Life, and that whoever comes to him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in him shall never thirst.” Today’s message is entitled “Food for Life.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Today we begin a 3-part series on Jesus as the Bread of Life. The appointed Gospel lessons for today and the next two Sundays all come from John 6, and deal with Jesus as the true Bread who has come down from heaven to give life to the world. Hearing this, we can’t help but think about the Lord’s Supper, and so it’s fair to ask: is this what Jesus was referring to? That question has been and continues to be one of great debate among theologians and scholars in the Church. Luther, following in the footsteps of early Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius, held that Jesus’ words here in John 6 refer to spiritual realities rather than the Lord’s Supper; of receiving Christ as the Bread of Life into their innermost being through faith, and thus receiving that life which He came to bring. There are others who steadfastly hold that Jesus’ words here in John 6 are a direct reference to Holy Communion, and are in fact John’s account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, since John does not include this as Matthew, Mark and Luke do. Perhaps the truth is somewhere inbetween. I like what one commentator has to say: “If you ask me, then, whether he [Jesus] is speaking of the Eucharist here, I should say, ‘No.’ If you ask me where I can learn the meaning of the eucharist, I should say, ‘Nowhere so well as here [John 6]’” (F.D. Maurice, quoted in The Gospel According to John: The new International Commentary on the New Testament, by Leon Morris. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984, p. 354).
It’s hard for us who live in such a food-saturated culture as we do to really grasp the enormity of what Jesus is saying here in John 6. He had fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Those whom He fed responded by trying to take Jesus and force him to be king (John 6:15). In the ancient world, where scarcity, hunger and famine were regular occurrences, to be assured that you would never again be hungry was nothing short of amazing. Even with all of our modern advances in agriculture, we do not control the weather. The prolonged heat and drought that we’re now experiencing are predicted to reduce crop production – and thereby food production – by as much as fifty percent. In today’s Gospel lesson, the problem is that the people confused bread for the body with the Bread of life. The two are not the same. Even that former bread from heaven, manna, which God sent to his complaining and ungrateful people of old (see Exodus 16:2-15), was only a sign of what was to come. The people of Jesus’ day believed that when the Messiah, the anointed One, appeared, then the miracle of the manna would also reappear (see II Baruch 29:8). This is why the crowd says what they do to Jesus: “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (see Exodus 16:4; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalm 78:24). Well, that’s a big duh! Didn’t they see what just happened? They had indeed seen Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes, but it wasn’t enough. They said they needed more proof. They deceived themselves that they required more evidence, and if they had it, then they’d believe. The truth is, there would never be enough evidence. They dared to impose on God the sign they must have before they would believe. And we do the same thing today: demanding proof from God before we will believe, and in so doing we, too, are guilty of rejecting that Bread of Life. Like the people of Jesus’ day, we also are busy chasing after things in this life that do not endure. We strive for that which ultimately does not satisfy, and then we wonder why we’re not fulfilled and satisfied. We wonder why we’re still hungry – not just in our belly, but in our heart. We fill up on empty calories that are not food for life. With bellies that are full of spiritual junk food, we make Christ into some kind of Bread king. We work hard for the food that perishes, but turn away from the food that endures to eternal life. We, too, fail to see the sign.
The truth is, the manna that the people believed God would send once more was standing right in front of them: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). It’s ironic that it is only through Jesus’ death that we receive life. This is how he gives life to the world – through his innocent suffering and death upon the cross. He took upon himself all of our chasing and striving for things that promise but do not deliver – all of our sin – and died the death we rightly deserved. Jesus is the Bread of Life who has come that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). He is the One on whom God the Father has set his seal (John 6:27; see Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22). The only work we have to do here is believe (John 6:29); to put our trust and hope in him who tells us: “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). That Bread of Life comes to us here at his table, giving us his very Body and Blood under the bread and wine. He fills us and satisfies us as nothing else can do. Jesus the Bread of Life is our food for life. Amen.