Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 31:00 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Do you want Jesus, or do you want something from Jesus? It makes all the difference in the world, and it’s the point of conflict here in our Gospel reading from John 6. The people who ate their fill of the loaves and fishes are looking for Jesus. They know the disciples left in one boat, but they didn’t see Jesus get into that boat, so He must have left in a different way, at a different time. They figure that the most likely place for Jesus to be is in Capernaum, so they go there.
And they do find Jesus there. They say, “When did You come here? How long have You been here?” Jesus says, “You are seeking Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the bread and were satisfied.” It’s a word that is mostly used for cattle eating grass: you ate the loaves like cattle and your stomachs were full. It was a sign that Jesus did. It was meant to demonstrate and show who Jesus is, but they did not see Jesus, to whom His sign pointed. They saw only the sign; they ate only the sign. They aren’t looking for Jesus; they’re looking for something from Jesus. They don’t see Jesus as the end or goal; He is a means to some other end.
Part of this is that they seem to see Jesus as a new Moses. And so they expect Jesus to do and be the things Moses did and was. So when Jesus tells them to work for the food that the Son of Man will give, they say, well, what works must we be doing to be doing those works of God, in order to get that food? Because this is the sort of thing Moses did. He went up on the mountain, he heard from God, and he brought those words and commands, those works, down the mountain to the people for them to hear and do. So maybe that’s what Jesus is going to do: give them new words and new works from God. So Moses gave them bread and quail and water in the wilderness. What sign will Jesus do to prove that He is a spokesman for God like Moses?
The work of God is to believe in the One whom God has sent, the One whom God has sealed, marked to identify Him as the sent One. It’s not something that they are to receive or have or do apart from Jesus. Jesus is not a new Moses, bring us words and works from God. He is the Word of God, who was with God and is God, and who has now become flesh and dwells among us. He doesn’t just give us gifts from God; He is the gift of God. God gave the bread, not Moses; and now God is—right now—giving the true bread from heaven, the bread of God that comes down from heaven to give life to the world. But He does not just give life; He is the Life that is given.
Are you looking for Jesus, or are you looking for something from Jesus? We are familiar with this; it comes naturally to us. Around 1600 years ago or more, Augustine said that people rarely seek Jesus for His own sake; they don’t come to the Church to find Jesus, but to get something from the Church. We are very practical, very pragmatic. We want to know how we’re going to benefit by believing in Jesus. Is Jesus going to help me, heal me, make me successful, make me happy? If He fits into my life and helps me out, then I’ll keep Him. If not, I won’t. Go down the list of self-help books and resources. You’ll see Jesus right alongside all the other things. If Jesus works for you, great. If He doesn’t, find something else.
It even finds its way into our talk about heaven. You’ve heard this before. People talk about those who have died as being in “a better place,” as if heaven is a slightly better version of earth. So the people who have died are free from sickness and death, and now they can really devote themselves to the things they enjoyed on earth: they’re “up there” quilting or crocheting, playing cards, playing golf, or fishing. Jesus doesn’t really have much to do with it at all. In fact, I suspect we have the nagging idea that Jesus might actually get in the way of us enjoying heaven when we get there.
But if heaven isn’t about Jesus, then it’s not actually heaven, it’s hell. There is no heaven without Jesus; there is no life without Jesus; there is no lasting and true happiness without Jesus. Do you want Jesus or do you want something from Jesus? It makes all the difference in the world, because you can get all the things from Jesus—bread, happiness, success, health—and what will it get you in the end? Death and nothing more. Jesus doesn’t do signs for their own sake. He doesn’t heal for the sake of feeling better for a little while. He doesn’t raise the dead just so they can die again. He doesn’t feed thousands of people so that they can get hungry again. These are signs that in Him is the end of sickness, death, hunger, and thirst.
Martha is upset with Jesus that He didn’t get there in time to heal Lazarus. Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again. But resurrection for Martha is something like heaven for many people: it will be a lot of people living again, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus. So Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” I am the way, the truth, the life. I am the bread of life. I am the true vine. I am the good shepherd. In fact, in the end, there is nothing that Jesus gives that is not actually Himself. We are not seeking something from Jesus; we want Jesus. We do not want Jesus to give us words and sacraments; we want the Jesus who is the Word and who is the Sacrament. These things are not simply things that Jesus gives us. They are Him. Baptism is Jesus, along with His death and resurrection. Absolution is Jesus, the crucified and resurrected one, who is our forgiveness. The Supper is Jesus, in His crucified and resurrected Body and Blood.
There is nothing here for us except Jesus, but He, of course, is everything. Having Jesus, we have everything else added to us as well. But not as some nice things that will prolong this earthly life. We have already died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. We are waiting for Christ, our life, to appear, so that we will be like Him, because He is our resurrection. We pray for healing, because we know that Christ is our health. We pray for peace, because we know that Christ is our peace. We pray for love, because we know that Christ is the love of God and the love we have toward one another. We pray for forgiveness, because Christ is our forgiveness.
We aren’t looking for something from Jesus; we are looking for Jesus. Because we know that if we have things from Jesus—which we do, of course, everything we need for this body and life—but if that’s it, they end when we end. But if we have Jesus, then we have no end. We have what we need for the resurrection body and the eternal life. Jesus says that the one who believes Him will never die. Even if our bodies rest in the ground for a while, that’s not really death; that’s the sleep from which Jesus will wake us. And if we are alive and believing when we see Him, then we will never die. We will simply be transformed with His resurrection life. If we have Jesus, it is because He has us. He has marked us with His holy name, made us His own, and gives Himself to us as the Gift of God’s life. And if we have Jesus and He has us, if we abide in Him and He in us, then we have nothing to fear. Whether things improve or not, whether we are successful or not, whether we are happy or not, whether we are healed or not—we have nothing to fear, because whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Full stop.
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).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/30/21