For this week’s bulletin, click here: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
— St. John 6, 24-35
Have you ever been hungry for something, but you didn’t know what it was? Maybe that’s a problem that we in well-fed America have, but sometimes you want something to eat and you can’t figure out what it is. You might not even feel any hunger in your belly, but you just want something and you’re not sure what it is. In our Gospel for today, Jesus converses with crowds of people who don’t really know what they want. They think they want one thing, but what they’re looking for is really something else entirely. Let’s listen as Jesus teaches us about The True Bread that Satisfies.
It’s worth noting, before we consider Jesus’ words in more depth, that this account takes place right after the feeding of the 5000 in Galilee. By feeding a crowd of 15-20,000 plus with only five small barley loaves and two fish, Jesus did a miracle whose significance the people immediately grasped, even if they didn’t understand it fully or rightly at the time. The idea that Jesus could feed them indefinitely, without work, on earthly bread will be in the back of their minds the entire time the crowds are talking with Jesus. It helps us to understand why they say what they say.
“Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”” The crowds display a lively interest in Jesus, but their interest is far from healthy. It’s sick with selfishness. They’re motivated by their own greed and their own self-interest. They also show what they think of Jesus by addressing Him as “Rabbi.” They seem Him as only a teacher who can work miracles, nothing more. They certainly aren’t viewing Him as God’s Son here. Yet Jesus bears with their selfishness, and He speaks patiently with them, to bring them around to the truth about Himself.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question they asked, because He knows why they came looking for Him. He calls them out for their selfishness. He says, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” In the Gospel of John, signs are miracles that are done to point the viewer to Christ. They attest to His divinity. They’re a form of proof that He is who He says He is. Jesus’ words imply that He would have been fine with their seeking Him out after seeing the miraculous signs He did – that would at least mean that they came to Him for spiritual reasons, even if they might have been misguided or misinformed to begin with. But they don’t even come for that reason. They come because Jesus filled their bellies, and they want more of that. His miraculous feeding of the crowds seems to promise a life of ease, guaranteed security, all their needs taken care of. If we make Him king, we’ll be set for life, the crowd thinks. That’s the only reason they came seeking Jesus.
It’s sad but true that too many today come to Jesus for the same reason. Prosperity preachers pack stadiums with slick messages designed to get their hearers to tune in and open their wallets. They promise earthly prosperity and security, health, wealth, and happiness, for those who follow God – although God Himself never promised as much as they do. They teach that earthly prosperity is a sign of God’s favor, and God wants His children to drive new cars and live in big houses, take fancy vacations, and have the good life. Those who listen, rapt, never seem to notice that the only ones getting rich are the prosperity preachers! Such teachers tailor their message to the itching ears of their hearers. They scratch the itch that Jesus steadfastly refuses to – to cater to the earthly mindset of the flesh.
Yet even we need to beware of that same urge, wanting security and prosperity in this world at any price. Think about your prayers that you pray the most. How many of them are for physical necessities? How many of them are for spiritual needs? Jesus has promised us that we will all receive daily bread, whether we are wicked or righteous. Yet when it comes to the needs of the soul, we are indifferent in our prayers, cold, sluggish. Why is that? We have the same tendency as those crowds did, to be earthly minded only and not to seek the higher, spiritual, things of God. We also need Jesus’ rebuke, and the encouragement He offers next.
“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” We all work for food that spoils. Our time and sweat and the headaches that go along with working for a living all bring a paycheck that goes in part to pay for food that doesn’t even last. Leave a gallon of milk or a cut of meat out on the counter too long, and you’ll see – and smell – the truth of Jesus’ words.
By saying this, Jesus isn’t telling us not to work and earn enough to support ourselves; that is clearly taught in Scripture as God-pleasing. The Seventh Commandment, “do not steal,” among others, teaches this. What Jesus means is that it shouldn’t stop there. There’s more to life than just feeding and clothing yourself, and your children, and having enough left over to have some fun. We were meant for more than that. Too many today are content only with food that spoils. They think that what they can see and feel and touch is all there is to life, and there’s no point in seeking anything more. People who think that way are little better than animals, “brute beasts, creatures of instinct, meant only to be caught and destroyed,” St. Peter tells us – “and like beasts they too will perish.” If all you care about and want are the things of this world, then you’ll perish and pass away along with this world.
Instead, Jesus says, “work for food that endures to eternal life.” Since the crowds were so interested in food and in working (or not having to work), Jesus replies in kind. He speaks the way they do, in order to draw them in. His talk of eternal food piques their interest.
Jesus also points to Himself as the sole distributor, the only source, of this eternal food. It’s found in no one else except Him. If He doesn’t give it to you, you don’t have it. As proof of this, Jesus refers to Himself as being “sealed” by the Father. Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit being given as a seal of things to come. It’s like when you get a document notarized or witnessed – the notarization attests that what the document says is valid and true, and will happen. In the same way, God gives the Holy Spirit as a seal or a clear, public mark to others.
Jesus received the Spirit for a different purpose and for different reasons than we do. When He was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Him. Thus He was sealed with the Holy Spirit. This was a public sign to all people of who Jesus was: God’s Son, sent from heaven, and the Christ, God’s chosen one to bear away sin and bring salvation. Throughout His ministry Jesus did miracles and healed people by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was in the powerful Word Jesus preached. The Spirit convicted sinners and changed the hearts of His hearers. Jesus served by the power of God’s Spirit throughout His whole ministry, and at His death on the cross He handed back the Spirit to God who gave it. Then the Father raised Him from the dead, so that Jesus could fulfill His promise made before His death that He would send the Holy Spirit to His own, to remind them of what He said and to lead them into all truth – so that we might all be one, as He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are one God. This was according to His human nature; of course, as true God Jesus always had the Spirit without measure. However, Jesus received the Holy Spirit by the exact same method we do: through God’s Word and baptism. It was the same Spirit, for different purposes, but given the same way. That Spirit Jesus received shows publicly that this is the Christ; that this Man, God’s Son, is your Savior.
Jesus’ answer piques the crowd’s interest. Now He’s speaking their language. They get this. They want to know more, so they ask Him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Really, all people ask this question. We have it in ourselves, because God has planted it in our hearts. He made us so that we would seek Him and reach out for Him, and perhaps find Him, though He is not far from each of us. Every human ever born feels a yearning in their heart to know what we must do to do the works God requires. Different people answer this question differently, all the way from, “Do your best and the ‘Man Upstairs’ will be happy,” to “There is no God, He doesn’t exist.” People who say that go against their consciences, which is why they feel driven to blaspheme so regularly and so horribly – because they know it’s not true. All people know, on some level, that they are responsible to God. We all owe Him something – what it is, we don’t know by nature, nor can we, but we feel like there’s something we should be doing for Him and usually we’re not doing it.
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Jesus’ answer is brilliant because it takes their wrong preconceived notions and flips them on their head. The crowds were focused on works – doing things to make God happy. One might argue that’s because they were raised as Jews and the Jewish religion had taught them to go through the motions, but really the reason is that they were human. All people want to do something to make God happy. They want to earn God’s favor by their hard work, their good attitude or their good behavior. People will work themselves half to death, day and night, trying to do something that they can be sure will make God happy – whether it’s one of God’s actual commandments, or more likely, one of their own made-up good deeds that they decide will please God (which, if you think about it, is pretty insane.) All such working to earn God’s favor is worthless in His sight!
Only one thing saves: trusting in the name of His one and only Son; believing that He alone has suffered all, done all, been all, that God requires, and that He alone – not anything in us or by us – makes us sufficient in God’s sight. The “work” Jesus points us to isn’t “work” at all! Faith in Christ is the beggar’s outstretched hand that pleads to be filled – and God does fill it, with love, with forgiveness, with mercy and compassions new every morning. If you want to make God happy, give up trying to make God happy. Instead, despair of everything in yourself that you ever thought was good or worth something, and turn to Christ His Son, the only one who has truly ever pleased God.
But fallen human nature is stubborn. It refuses to do what God wants. It sneers at the grace God offers. So it is here, when the crowds ask, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” The crowds invert what Jesus says. They twist His words around and demand proof before they’ll believe. Of course, faith that requires proof first isn’t really faith. They demand a sign from Him, even though He’d already done plenty of signs. Wasn’t feeding the 5000 enough? Wasn’t healing the blind, the sick, the lame, enough? Yet they still ask for more! The crowds fasten on Moses and the manna in the wilderness as their benchmark. They want Jesus to keep feeding them, and for longer than Moses did, so they’ll never have to worry about food ever again. They throw down an implicit challenge before Jesus in citing this Biblical account, as if to say, “Can you top this?”
All people act this way toward God. We all want concrete proof right before our eyes before we’ll entrust ourselves to Him. We adopt a challenging attitude toward Him, as if to say, “What have you done for me lately, God?” – but then the minute that it looks like things are starting to fall apart or turn sour for us, our first thought is, “How could you do this to me, God? I thought You loved me!” Yet the proof of God’s love was there all along, in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus keeps His balance and doesn’t let them goad Him into something rash. He redirects them by reminding them that it wasn’t actually Moses that gave the manna, it was God, and God still gave them true bread, “for the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” In saying that God “gives” them true bread from heaven, we’re reminded of everything involved in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; everything, from His incarnation of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, all the way through the good news of His kingdom being preached in all the world, is included here.
First Jesus was given to us as the holy Child prophesied – given into the womb of the lowly Virgin, God’s Son given as the Savior by becoming one of us, for us. God gave His Son to be made man so that we might be like God. In choosing to come down from heaven to this rotten, broken world, Jesus took the first steps in our salvation. The Father gave Him into the womb of the Virgin for us, to redeem our conception and birth in sin, and He continued to give Him up throughout His life on earth. At last He gave Christ up so that He would be the spotless sacrifice, the object of the wrath of God and man, to satisfy God’s anger over sin. By taking God’s law upon Himself, by living as one of us, and by dying to pay for the sins of the world, Jesus has given life to the world. Now everyone who has faith in Him has eternal life. Whoever is an heir of eternal life in this world, they’re an heir because of Jesus. Jesus Himself explains what it means that the Father gives the true Bread from heaven when He says, “For the Bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The two parts of that statement cover everything about Jesus, who He is and what He’s done – His heavenly origins, how He came to be in this world, why He was here. It’s all there.
Even in their worldly state, these jaded and greedy people catch that there’s something valuable and wonderful about Jesus’ words. He has their attention, all right; He has them right where He wants them. So they ask, “Sir, from now on give us this bread.” They don’t even fully know what they’re asking for, but they want it. It sounds wonderful.
And Jesus’ answer is even more wonderful yet: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Whatever we need, whatever we feel we lack, whatever we crave, we find in Him. He is the answer to all our prayers and the means of our answers. He is the sum total, goal, and guide of our lives here on earth, and the sole joy, love, and devotion of our hearts for all eternity. Whoever comes to Him will never be disappointed. He is everything we need, both now and forever.
The food Jesus gives us is…Himself. He gives Himself to each of us, offers Himself wholly, righteousness, love, and all, and says, “I am the Bread of Life. I satisfy your soul – I, and no other. Do not doubt, but believe that it is so.” Nobody and nothing can satisfy us and keep us going like He can. Nothing else nourishes the soul and keeps it alive like Christ our Lord. There is no substitute for Him – simply none. So that means you don’t need another vacation or another weekend, you don’t need more drugs or another drink, you don’t need more money or more attention or more praise, you don’t need any of the thousand different forms of sin we falsely comfort ourselves with; you don’t need to feel a certain way or be a certain kind of person – you need Him. Period.
He alone feeds our souls. He alone keeps our spirits alive and preserves them uncrushed by the vicissitudes of life. Our whole lives consist of learning to rely on Him, and to the extent that we do not, we hunger. The soul who learns to rely on the Bread of life alone will never lack any good thing. No harm can touch it, for God bends all ills to serve the Christian through bearing the cross. No prosperity or benefit can outshine Him in our hearts. He is always first, last, and everything; and when He is, He preserves us and brings us to Himself in heaven – where we will have Him for our very own throughout eternity.
And no Christian who has been taught to love the Lord Jesus will want to stop short of His altar, where He gives Himself to all His own along with the bread and the wine. The Bread of Life feeds His people here on earth to strengthen them for their journey, and to prepare them for the heavenly country where they will want no more, because they will see His blessed face. May Christ, the true Bread that came down from heaven, feed us and nourish us, until at last we rest in Him. Amen.