Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Bread that Satisfies

John 6:24-51

 Have you ever been really hungry?  How good did it feel to satisfy that hunger?  How awful would it be always to be hungry, even if you ate?  There is actually a real medical condition that causes people to be always hungry.  My wife would probably say I have it, but I think she’d be joking.  

 This passage reminded me of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, the first one, since they have four of them now.  The first was definitely the best, though still not a good choice for young children.  In the first movie, the “bad guys” were a band of pirates who had found a cursed chest full of gold.  They take the money and spend it, only then to discover the curse is real.  They can’t die, and nothing gives them any satisfaction.  All the food or riches or women in the world can’t give them any joy or satisfaction until they return the treasure to the chest.  

 In a way, that is just how it is for all of us at some point in our lives, we are unable to be satisfied, we are always hungering for something more.  It’s as good an explanation as anything for so much that goes on in our world.  Think about our own nation:  We are one of the richest nations in the world.  We can have any food we want.  We can see any entertainment we want.  We can have all kinds of toys and diversions.  And yet many people in our society are deeply dissatisfied with their lives.  

 Can any of it truly satisfy?  

 In our Scripture two Sundays ago, we talked about Jesus and the feeding of the 5000 on the shores of Galilee.  After that miraculous meal in the wilderness, the disciples return home by boat.  Jesus goes up into the hills to pray and to escape the attention of the crowd.  In the middle of the night, he walks back to the disciples on top of the water.  And in the morning, the crowd finds him gone.  They go looking for him.

 They find him back in Capernaum.  “How did you get here?” they ask.

 Jesus doesn’t even bother to answer the question.  He knows what’s really in their hearts.  “You want to be with me because I fed you.”  They were thinking with their stomachs, and as someone once observed, you can’t think of your soul till you stop thinking of your stomach.  You can’t think about the things that really matter until you stop thinking about the things that don’t.  “Don’t be so concerned with things like food.  Work for the things that last, most especially the eternal life that I can give you.”  

 “What work should we do for eternal life?”

 “God’s will is that you should believe in the One he has sent.”  In other words, the most important work of all is the work of faith, trusting God to provide.  

 “Okay, but if you want us to believe in you, you’re going to have to give us a sign.”  Didn’t Jesus just give them a sign?  This is a rather fickle crowd, but they are, after all human beings.  

 “What will you do for us?  Moses gave us manna, bread from heaven.”  Many Jews believed that when Messiah came, he would be very much like Moses; Moses who led his people out of slavery in Egypt and gave them manna in the wilderness that they did not have to work for.  So they expected the Messiah to bring a political deliverance and to usher in a new age free from work and struggle.  And in a way, they were right.  But Jesus came to deliver people from the slavery of sin, not from a political enemy.  

 At any rate, they expected Messiah to give manna from heaven.  We talked two Sundays ago about how Jesus did something like Moses giving food in the wilderness.  But apparently that miracle did not count as “bread from heaven,” because all Jesus did was to multiply earthly bread, not provide miraculous bread from heaven.  

 Jesus replies, “First of all, it was God who gave you manna in the wilderness, not Moses.  But yes, now God will give you bread from heaven, the true bread of heaven, that will give life to the world.”  

 “Okay, then, Jesus.  Let us have it.  Let us have this bread from heaven.  Give it to us every day just like the manna in the wilderness.”  They’re still not getting it! 

 Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.”  

 Many Bible scholars point out that this is the first of seven so-called “I AM statements” in the Gospel of John.  The others include, “I am the True Vine, I am the Gate for the sheep, I am the Light of the World, I am the Good Shepherd,” and so on.  I’ll agree with that except for one thing.  I think this is actually the second of eight “I AM” statements.  We talked two Sundays ago about John 6:20, where Jesus says, “Fear not.  I AM.”  I AM is the English equivalent of God’s covenant name in the Old Testament.  Jesus is God, and as God, he reveals himself to be all these things.  

 In this case, Jesus is the bread of life.  Those who come to him and believe in him will never be hungry or thirst again.  Only Jesus can give permanent satisfaction to our desire for

life.  No physical thing, no food, no drink, no possession, no other person, can satisfy our desire for life.

 Life is more than existence.  There’s more to being alive as a human being than just having a pulse and breathing!  A person can exist, they can breathe, without having life.  Life comes from God, the source of life.  And without a connection to God, we are the walking dead; alive physically, but not spiritually.  We are less than fully alive.  We are missing something essential.  

 The Bible tells us that only human beings were created in the image of God.  When God created the world and all the living things in it, only human beings were made in the image of God.  How are we different from the animals?  One of the things that I came up with to answer that question is that I’ve never heard of an animal committing suicide.  I’ve heard of animals that sacrificed their lives for their owners.  But I’ve never heard of animal just giving up on life and ending it all on purpose.  But how often do we human beings do that?  Every day.  Why?  I think the answer is because we need something more than just food and water to live.  We need hope and meaning and purpose in life.  And many of us lack those very things.  Bread alone won’t satisfy.  “Man does not live by bread alone….”

 Jesus continues, “Those whom God has given me, I will not lose.”  There are two profound theological ideas in that short statement.  The first is about prevenient grace, the grace of God that leads us to faith.  None of us come to faith on our own.  We are led to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Salvation is first and last a work of God.  

 The second profound theological idea is assurance.  If we put our faith in Christ, we do not have to worry that our salvation is uncertain.  We don’t have to wonder if Christ has saved us or not.  The one who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven is most certainly the one who is able to save us.  We don’t have to worry that we’re coming to Christ in vain.

 But Jesus is starting to lose his audience at this point.  “How can he say he ‘came down from heaven?’  This is just Jesus.  This is just the carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph.  He’s from Nazareth, not heaven!”  John’s Gospel tells us that it was after this exchange that many began to leave Jesus.  His moment of highest popularity was the feeding of the 5000.  From now on, many would turn away.

 Jesus reiterates that we can only come to him if God draws us.  If we resist the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will not come to Jesus.  We will reject him.  But those who do come have eternal life, and they have it already!  

 Eternal life is both a future and present reality.  It’s not just something out there.  It’s not just someday I’ll die and then I’ll have eternal life.  It’s something we have today, right now.  We were created for eternal life.  We lost it when we sinned.  But when we come to Christ, our eternal life is restored.  

 Those people that Moses led in the wilderness, the ones who ate the manna, the bread from heaven, they all died.  But the true bread from heaven gives life to all who eat it, and Jesus is the true bread from heaven.  

 How do we “eat” this bread?  How do we partake of Jesus?  

 First, we believe in Jesus.  We believe in who he is.  We believe he is the Son of God, the Lord, our Savior.  And we believe in what he did.  He died on the cross for our sins.  He rose from the dead.  As Romans 10 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  

 And second, we submit our lives to him and seek to do his will daily.  Faith is also a matter of submission to the truth, not just acceptance of it.  Some people reject Jesus because they reject his identity intellectually.  They don’t believe he was God.  They don’t believe he rose from the dead.  But I think many more reject Jesus emotionally.  They don’t want to submit their lives to him.  They don’t want to yield control.  They don’t want to live life in light of his claim on them.  So they hold back.  But it’s only when we surrender our lives to Christ that we can receive the eternal life he wants to give us.

 Let’s talk about one more thing before we finish.  We are receiving communion today, partaking of bread as we talk about the death and resurrection of Christ.  What does communion mean in light of all this? 

 We need bread to live.  We need physical bread, food, to live physically.  In the same way, we need spiritual bread to live spiritually.  Christ is that bread.  Communion represents our desire to be nourished and sustained by Christ.  When we eat, we implicitly affirm that what we are eating is good and wholesome and real and life-sustaining.  By taking communion, we affirm that Christ is good and wholesome and real and life-sustaining.

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