Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Bread of Life (John 6.24-51)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 2, 2014
Text: John 6:24-51

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Meditation and Fanfare on 'Praise to the Lord'" (Callahan)
Hymn of Praise: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (LOBE DEN HERREN)
The Word in Music: "The Only Bread I Need" (Terrell)
Offering of Music: "Taste and See" (Helman)
Song of Invitation: "Behold the Lamb/Communion Hymn" (vv. 1-3) (Getty/Townend)
Song of Thanksgiving: "Behold the Lamb/Communion Hymn" (v. 4) (Getty/Townend)
Hymn of Sending: "Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts" (vv. 1,3,5) (QUEBEC)
Postlude: "Entrada on 'Praise to the Lord'" (Callahan)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” 28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” 30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” 41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 “I am the bread of life. 49 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” ~John6:24-51
Today we are looking at part of one of the longest accounts of Jesus’ miracles and teaching in the Gospels. It is contained in John 6, which begins with a miracle of bread in the “Feeding of the 5,000.” The narrative then follows Jesus (as does the crowd) to the other side of the sea, and picks back up with Jesus teaching about miraculous bread. Read together, John 6 shows the inter-relation between Jesus’ miraculous signs, the scripture, his teaching, and who he is. Said another way, all these things point to Jesus and at the end of the day (and chapter), that is what and who we must grapple with: Jesus himself. What a fitting day for us to end up at the Table of our Lord to receive the bread and cup!

There are a number of ways to work through this text. But with the whole chapter being 71 verses long, and having taken four sermons to preach through it last time, I’ll simply have to pick aspect of this rich story to focus upon. In keeping with our “It is written” series, I am going to lift out the three times scripture is quoted upon which to focus and move through the story this time. Know that what preceded all this was a miracle: the multiplying of fish and bread to feed a hungry crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children. Know that the crowd followed Jesus, wanting to see more miraculous signs and wanting to pronounce Jesus King according to the popular understanding of Messiah at the time. And then our text picks up right where the crowd finds Jesus in Capernaum on the other side of the sea.

“Do not work for food which perishes but for that which endures” (Isaiah 55:2)


Jesus begins with scripture almost right off the bat, though it is not introduced with the usual “it is written.” He first says to the crowd, “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” (v. 26) Then, he paraphrases Isaiah 55:2, which you heard as our Call to Worship:
1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live!  (Isaiah 55:1-3a) 
Though his words were a paraphrase – “do not work for the food which perishes” – they would have called this familiar passage to mind as an invitation to come to God and “eat and drink” of eternal things.

Said another way, he is signaling to the crowd that what he is offering is not more literal food, as in the previous days’ feeding. If anything, the “Feeding of the 5,000” was a miraculous sign pointing to something greater. This scripture from Isaiah is a direct invitation to “incline your ear, come to me, and hear, that your soul may live!” Jesus confirms that by going on to say that this enduring food is what “the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” (v. 27)

The people evidently understand his point, because they respond using the language of Isaiah. If they are not to work or labor for earthly, finite things, they ask, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” (v. 28) And Jesus’ response here is significant. “This is the work of God,” he says, “that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (v. 29)

Did you get that? There are all kinds of works we might engage in. There is running after earthly stuff, whether necessary like food and water or more superficial. There is doing “good works” like helping the poor and loving one’s neighbors. But when asked outright what is godly work of the Isaiah kind – that has eternal significance for the soul – Jesus says that it is to believe in the one God has sent. And clearly he means himself, for the people then ask him for proof.

“God gave them bread out of Heaven to eat” (Ps 78, Ex 16, Neh 9, Ps 105)


They ask, “What then do you do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?” (v. 30) They are the ones this time who quote scripture about the manna in the wilderness, saying, “As it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” (Exodus 16:4) The people were expecting a Moses-figure and so they lifted up the great sign that accompanied Moses: the provision of food through manna.

In a perfect and living example of how Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but complete and fulfill them, Jesus does not challenge the scripture at all, but clarifies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” (v. 32)

And they want it! “Lord, always give us this bread.” (v. 34) Here’s the thing: they still wanted bread. Their expectations and desires might have graduated from literal bread (like the day before) to something miraculous, but they still were missing what Jesus was saying. He wasn’t claiming to be a new Moses, with signs like the Manna verifying who he was. He was claiming to BE the Manna, the eternal and life-giving food from God in Heaven: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” (v. 35)

This is the truly huge statement in all of this. Jesus is greater than Moses; he is greater than the miracles in Moses’ time; those just point to God’s great eternal provision of soul-food… the sending of Jesus as the “Bread of Life.”

“Your children shall be taught of God” (Is 54, Jer 31)


The people grumble, with more of the “hey, we know his parents; we know where he came from” that we heard in earlier stories. Jesus replies by saying that God has initiated this great act of spiritual feeding, as it was prophesied. Cue “it is written in the prophets” and Jesus quotes Isaiah again, saying, “And they shall all be taught of God.” (54:13)  It used to be that God used mediators like Moses and the Prophets to communicate; now God is communicating directly through Jesus.

Saying a second time, “I am the bread of life,” (v. 48), Jesus reminds the people that as great as Moses was and as life-giving as the Manna was, the people ate it, grew old, and died. He explains that he is the greater gift; the one who eats of it – believing in him – will live forever. (vv. 49-51) And the text this morning concludes with Jesus explaining that the ‘bread’ of which he speaks is his own life and flesh, given up for the life of the world. (v. 51)

Said another way, Jesus is teaching that no one can come to God on their own; God must come to us… and God HAS come to us through Jesus.

This teaching is also intensely relational. Knowledge of God is no longer to be dispensed through Laws and a (human) priestly mediator, but directly between Jesus and humanity, and through Jesus to humanity.

And I say… “I am the Bread of Life” (v. 48)


There are several significant takeaways from all this. I think each of us could locate ourselves somewhere in the crowd that day. It is so easy to think about (and pray to) God in terms of “what can God do for me?” Yet Jesus moves past that to the startling invitation to consider Jesus for who he is rather than what he can do for us.

Interestingly, a human religious tendency seems to mirror that same tension, resulting in religious expression that is primarily oriented on “what can I do for God?” Yet Jesus seemingly holds out more than that to a definition of godly work not as what I can do for God but of trusting the one and the way God has reached out to us.

The one approach is a kind of “backscratch theology” – trying (subconsciously or consciously) to trade favors with God. The other – who Jesus is and what God has and is doing already – sounds like Isaiah, sounds like grace: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!”

Jesus says that the only way we can know God is for God to come to us. And the Good News, says Jesus, is that God has done just that. It’s another week of Jesus saying, “This is who I am; do you trust me?”

As Isaiah would say: “Incline your ear and come to him; listen, that your soul may live!” Amen.



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