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Sunday, March 12, 2017
True Satisfaction (Luke 6.21a,25a, John 6.25-35)
:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Blessed Be Your Name (Redman)
Singing Together: All in All (Jernigan)
Offering of Music: (worship team; Karla Katibah, vocalist) Hungry (Scott)
Our Song of Praise: Hungry (refrain) (Scott)
Hymn of Sending: More Love to Thee (MORE LOVE TO THEE)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
“What does it mean to be blessed?” Today we are continuing a series by that name which will run to just the other side of Easter. In a culture (Christian and otherwise) that doesn’t have a good handle on what it means to be blessed, we are looking at what Jesus had to say about it. Also, Jesus called for folks to repent around some of the topics related to blessing, so it seemed fitting to look at this during Lent, which is a season of turning from sin in repentance and humility. Last week we looked at the two phrases, “Blessed are the poor” and “woe to you who are rich,” hearing Jesus’ challenge to find true comfort and security in God’s healing and salvation rather than the stuff of this world we so often pursue.
Today we are going to look at the next pairing of blessing and woe in Luke 6: “Blessed are you who hunger now” and “woe to you who are well-fed now.” Jesus speaks here of satisfaction and where we seek True Satisfaction. As we will do each week in this series, we will also turn to other scripture that speaks to the particular theme at hand to better understand the teaching. Today, we will also look at John 6, where Jesus teaches about the True Bread that satisfies our deepest hungers.
Blessed are You Who Hunger Now (v. 21a)
As with rich and poor last week, it sounds like Jesus is saying there is an inherent blessing in being hungry and a corresponding curse to being well-fed. But also like last week, it is important to take note of the qualifiers in his teaching. He didn’t just say, “Blessed are the hungry. Period.” He said, “Blessed are you who hunger now.” And he didn’t just way, “Woe to the well-fed” but “Woe to you who are well-fed now.” So that NOW is important. He also said to the hungry, “You shall be satisfied” and to the well-fed, “You shall be hungry.” So the SHALL BE (future) and the theme of satisfaction are important. Let’s look at each.
First let’s look at the word satisfied. There is the literal surface-level meaning of hunger and satisfaction. If you haven’t eaten in a while, you begin to get hungry and what you want is food to satisfy that hunger. And there’s even a couple of layers there. There is enough food to stave off the hunger, to get by for a little while longer. And then there is enough food to leave you truly satisfied, not stuffed, but more than the bare minimum to survive. That describes literal hunger and satisfaction. Then there is a metaphorical meaning of hunger and satisfaction, right? We hunger for all kind of things other than food. We talk about success and getting ahead in school or sports or life and as the question, “Are you hungry for that success or that win?” And there is a corresponding satisfaction: achieving whatever it was that you were hungry for. Finally there is a third meaning of hunger and satisfaction. It is perhaps a subset of metaphor, but based on what Jesus says, I’ll say it is a deeper or higher meaning yet, because most of our metaphorical hungers are for stuff of this world, human achievements and the like. There is a spiritual meaning to hunger and satisfaction. When Jesus speaks of “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” in Matthews account of this same sermon (Mt 5:6), we hear that spiritual meaning, connecting hunger with a desire for right-standing before God.
Noting that spiritual meaning also underscores how the words now and shall are used in Luke 6. Jesus uses the two words to contrast what is now the case, in the time and context of this world, and what will be the case. We might simply read that as “in the future” except that Jesus spent so much time announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the context of his frequent “now and not yet” language, it is clear that he is describing a future and a reality that is not just coming soon, but is rooted in God’s Kingdom and God’s will.
Real Food and a Loaf of Bread (John 6)
Except for a brief interlude to cross the water, the whole sixth chapter of John is about hunger and satisfaction. It is as if Jesus took these two short phrases from Luke and spent a whole day unpacking it for anyone with ears to hear. We only heard part of his explanation about spiritual food, but it comes in the midst of one of the most thorough teachings Jesus gave. The beginning of John 6 describes what we often call “The Feeding of the 5,000.” Jesus went out of the city and up to a mountain with his disciples and a large crowd followed him because they had seen some of his miracles. Jesus asks the disciples how the crowd will eat and proceeds to do a miracle, receiving one boy’s lunch of bread and fish and blessing and multiplying it such that the disciples were able to distribute it to the entire crowd. And it wasn’t just a bit to stave off hunger; it was as much as anyone wanted and there were twelve baskets left over. Literal hunger, solved. Blessed are you who hunger now; for you shall be satisfied. And the people experienced this and believed he was sent from God.
But there’s more. The Jewish people of that time were also hungry for freedom. They had been brought into the Roman Empire and were suffering under heavy taxation and Roman rule. They read the old promises of a Messiah like King David and believed and hoped God would send someone to take on and overthrow Rome, that Israel would once again be great as in the time of David. And right at the end of the account of the miraculous feeding, we read: “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” (John 6:15) They were hungry for a hero and wanted Jesus to be that hero NOW. Metaphorical hunger, named and declined by Jesus.
Jesus withdraws and the story picks back up with the text we heard read today (John 6:25-35). He is on the other side of the lake (he walked over it!) and the crowd has followed him back to Capernaum for more. In v. 26, Jesus pegs them as wanting, hungering, for more signs and wonders. But he takes things up a notch, to the spiritual level, challenging them in this way: “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” (v. 27) This is really the verse that unlocks what he is talking about over in Luke. No contest that we need to eat, even to survive physically; but he says here there is a greater food, a spiritual food, that is also necessary; and it is necessary to survive spiritually and eternally. He goes on to say that eating THAT food, pursuing THAT spiritual food, is the work God has given us to do. (v. 29) So they ask, What work is that? What does it mean to eat THAT spiritual food? And Jesus replies, “This is the work (or the food) of God, that you believe in Him whom God has sent.” (v. 29)
Have some questions about that? Well so did those in the crowd. They go on to press him on that, and on him being “the one God has sent.” The most godly or spiritual food they can imagine or point to was the miraculous manna God sent to Moses after the Exodus. Jesus replies that manna was literal bread from Heaven, but he is True Bread from Heaven because He gives life to the world. (vv. 32-33) He becomes increasingly explicit, saying, “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) Do you hear the shift to that future language? He will go on through the end of John 6 to become more and more explicit that he himself is Real True Spiritual Food. The life and light that he brings the world is the very thing we need the most, and is what ultimately can not only meet, but satisfy, our deepest hungers and needs. He is still unpacking “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.”
What Does it Mean to Be Blessed?
I want to come back then to our foundational question: What does it mean to be blessed? In terms of hunger and satisfaction, it is more than meeting our immediate physical needs. Meeting those needs is not to be downplayed; we must eat or we will die! And Jesus teaches us to care for those who are hungry, to show compassion and to feed them. If anything, acknowledging how necessary food is to our physical survival highlights how important spiritual food is to our spiritual survival. And here’s the implicit warning in Jesus warning to those who are well-fed NOW: don’t think that the things that satisfy you in this world NOW will provide True Satisfaction.
True Satisfaction is only found in Jesus, the Bread of Life, the one God has sent that we might truly live. It is through believing in him that we WILL be blessed. And if we do not know him or believe in him, or if we get distracted or deceived by the so-called satisfactions of this world, we will miss out on what God desires for us.
Do you need help bringing that point to bear on your life? Let me ask these questions, then:
What are you hungry for? What do you need? What do you want? What do you pursue? What would satisfy you?
I have a lot of answers to those questions: affirmation, success, independence, recognition, and more. All of those are made of the stuff of this world and none of them will truly satisfy me. None of them are true “blessing” from God. True Blessing and True Satisfaction are hungering (and thirsting) for Jesus, believing in the one God has sent, who is the Bread of Life and as necessary to me spiritually as food is to my physical existence.
What does it mean to be blessed? I’d ask if you know Jesus. And here’s the good news – he wants to be known! If you want to know more about what that means, don’t let it go. Talk to me or someone you trust about it. And I’ll tell you this: God delights in providing this kind of food to those who are spiritually hungry! Amen.