In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It sort of seems like we’re stuck on the Bread Channel: All bread, all the time. It started two weeks ago with Jesus feeding the 5,000 men, plus women and children. Then, last week Jesus walked on the sea to the disciples in the boat, and the wind ceased when He got in the boat with them; but they did not understand about the loaves. Today, we’re in John 6, where Jesus speaks to the crowds who were fed—who also do not understand about the loaves.
The crowds realize that Jesus isn’t there anymore, and they’re looking everywhere to see where He’s gone: Did He go back to Capernaum? Is He on the other side of the lake? Did He take a boat? They all get in boats and go to the other side of the lake, where they find Jesus. Rabbi, when did you get here? But Jesus knows what’s in their hearts. Right before this, we are told the reason that Jesus withdrew from the crowds: because they were going to seize Him and make Him king—not the kind of king Jesus came to be, where He reigns from the cross in this creation, and in the next creation in the glory of the resurrection—no, they want a bread king. They think that Jesus is the sort of king who will provide for all their physical needs. He may overthrow Rome, and then, whenever they’re hungry, Jesus will feed them. And Jesus knows it. He says, “You’re looking for Me, not because you saw signs.” Signs point to something else. “You’re seeking Me, not because you saw something that pointed to Me, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. You were satisfied. Your stomachs were full.” They’re not looking for Jesus so much as they are looking for something that Jesus can give them. They’ve made Jesus a means to an end. For them, Jesus isn’t the end Himself; He’s not the goal or the purpose. He’s a means to the filling of their stomachs.
And it’s so easy to cross that line. Sinners can’t even help it. For us the line is so thin between thanking God for His many blessings, to asking Him like dear children ask their dear Father for what we need for this body and life—to cross the line over to using Jesus or His Father as a means to some other end. Jesus as the means to the end of our own happiness. Jesus as the means to the end of our own success. Jesus as the means to the end of our own health. Even Jesus as the means to the end of our own salvation. Jesus isn’t a means to any other thing. He is happiness. He is health, because He is the resurrection and the life. Jesus isn’t a means to our salvation; He is our salvation. One diagnosis is to consider how often we talk about dying and going to heaven, as if heaven were the goal, rather than Jesus Himself. As if Jesus were almost secondary to whether heaven is a good place to be.
Jesus stops them and us right there. “Stop working, stop looking, stop seeking for bread that is perishing, bread that is passing away, bread that is being destroyed; bread that rots and turns to dust. Instead, there is a bread that remains into eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. You can’t work for it, because it’s a gift. It is on Him that the Father has set His seal. The Father has sealed Him with the Holy Spirit in the flesh, as He stood in the Jordan to be baptized by John. He sealed Him as His beloved Son, with whom He is well-pleased. He sealed Him as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. When the crowd hears that, they want to know what work Jesus will do to show that He is who He says He is. After all, Moses gave them manna as a sign that He was the one whom God had sent. Jesus just did the work of feeding them all bread, but they want another sign. They didn’t get the first one, because they are mistaken about whom Jesus is. They think He’s like Moses, giving them manna, feeding them in the wilderness. But Jesus says, It wasn’t Moses who gave you the bread in the desert. It was God. And just like God gave you that manna, and the bread you just ate, so also God gives the true bread from heaven, coming down to give life to the world. They say, Give us that bread. We want life. And Jesus says, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never hunger; whoever believes in Me will never thirst. It’s not so much what Jesus will give you, as it is Himself. The work of God is that you believe in the one whom He has sent, in Jesus. When Jesus’ disciples are worried that He hasn’t had anything to eat, Jesus says that His bread is to do the work of His Father. That is, Jesus’ work is that you believe in Jesus. Which, if He is not who He says He is, is sheer idiocy and intolerable blasphemy. This is the fundamental difference between Christian faith and every other religion: every other religion has someone who acts like a sign: pointing to some truth, some morality, some way to live. Jesus is not a sign; He is the thing itself. He points to Himself, and the one who believes in Jesus sees the Father. He doesn’t just give life, or say true things, or show you the way to God. He is the life; He is the truth; He is the way. He doesn’t just give you bread that is eternal life; He is the living bread that gives life to the eater. He is Himself the goal and end.
Jesus is working so that you will believe in Him. And He does accomplish that work. He accomplishes it in John 9, when He heals a man who had been born blind. Jesus heals him, but that’s not the goal. Sight is good, but it’s not the end. At the end of the story, Jesus finds the man again, and He says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man says, “Who is he, that I may believe in him?” Jesus says, “You have seen Him, and He’s speaking to you now. You’re looking at Him.” The man realizes that the daily bread of sight pales in comparison to the sight that sees the Lord. He says, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Jesus. That is the work Jesus came to do. And He does it still. It is not bad to work for your daily bread; even that job is a gift from God. It’s not bad to do what you’ve been given to do to serve your family. But in the end, it’s all so much bread that’s perishing. You can see it if you think about your body lying in the ground. On that day, what will be your life? Your money? Your job? Your family? Your cars, your clothes, your house? Your memories? Your hobbies? No, all of that will be gone. What will be your life? Only Jesus. He is risen from the dead, and is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. Only Jesus is not bound by death, not held by death. Only Jesus, and nothing and no one else, will raise your bodies from the death. Hence, Jesus is life, and nothing else. Repent. All the bread into which you’ve poured your sweat and energy, which you confused for life, is just bread that’s perishing. But there is another bread. There is a bread that does not perish, that remains and endures into eternal life. And the Son of Man gives it to you. He gives you Himself. And He does it the same way that He did: by giving us bread for a sign. He is not in Capernaum; He’s not on the other side of a lake. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: He is exactly where He said He would be. You don’t have to go looking, searching, seeking. He says, look to the signs. Look to the bread and wine. Bread and wine, in themselves, are nothing, but they tell you where Jesus’ body and blood can be found. He says, You can’t see My body and blood, so eat and drink the bread and wine with My words, and you will have them. He says, You can’t see My death and resurrection themselves; there’s no time machine to take you and put you up on the cross with Jesus; so look to the water where My name is, and you will have Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. You can’t hear My voice, so look to the sinner I’ve put here to speak to you and deliver My forgiveness. Jesus is no bread king; He is the bread of life that lasts into eternity. He is our life, our salvation, the goal and end of all things. So we believe, and so we worship.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/1/15