At the end of the sermon last week, I took us to the Gospel of John, chapter 14, and I read these words of Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the work that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” The disciples, as we saw very clearly last Sunday did not believe these words. And neither do we. We may, with some of our hearts, wish to believe these words of Jesus, but deep down, in the remaining portions of our hearts, we are very much afraid of even trying to believe these words. We can easily predict, with much fear and trembling, the consequences of believing these words.
In our passage this morning, the picnic is over, and it is over figuratively and literally. Life will not be the picnic that everyone had hoped for. The leftovers have been all gathered up, although John doesn’t bother to tell us what became of them, and Jesus has returned to his home at Capernaum, after a rather rough boat ride during the evening. If you weren’t here last week, the picnic to which I am referring is the famous story of the feeding of the five thousand. On that day, Jesus made the desert bloom. With only five tiny loaves of bread and two small fish, Jesus fed everyone there until they were fully satisfied.
But now, there is a problem. The adoring crowds present at the picnic have located Jesus once again, and in spite of strong encouragement to do it again, Jesus isn’t about to deliver.
In Ancient Hebrew thinking, and in later, first century Jewish thinking, there was a theological expectation that as the present age wound down and the age to come began to emerge, that a prophet, similiar to Moses, would come to this earth and usher in a brand new, golden age for the people of God. God’s people have always believed that the present age is winding down and that the age to come is beginning to emerge. But 2,000 years ago, in the first century, those expectations were especially high. And, depending on whom one follows these days, the age to come is somewhere just around the corner, or still millenia into the future. I suspect that the age to come will come when it comes, and when it comes it will be a great and wonderful surprise to all of us, just as Jesus said it would be.
But in Jesus’ day, almost everyone was looking around the next corner for the age to come. And why not? If there was ever a time for a new Moses to appear on the scene, it was in the first century. In fact, from a first century perspective, if Moses, or a prophet like him was going to show up, he had better hurry up and do it now. Like God’s people of old in Egypt, the people of Palestine were yearning for deliverence, not from the Egyptians, but rather from the Romans. Send us a prophet, O Lord, they cried, any prophet will do, just get us out of here! We are done with this place!
And so, along comes Jesus, and what can he do? He can make the desert bloom. He can produce bread in the wilderness. And it is very clear and very obvious that the participants in yesterday’s picnic are pretty theologically sophisticated. They have already made the very strong connection between Moses and Jesus. They have already noticed the similarities between Moses’ ministry and Jesus’ ministry. Look back in verse fourteen. As soon as the picnic was over, and the fragments of food were being gathered up, the people were already saying to each other, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
And so, the next day after the picnic, what is the very reasonable expectation? It is, of course, some more food. Do it again, Jesus, prove to us that you are indeed the prophet who is to come into the world. If you really are the new Moses, ante up, give us this day our daily bread! But, of course, Jesus isn’t about to do that. Jesus may very well be the new Moses, at least in the people’s minds, but he is also very different from Moses. He is actually greater than Moses, but we aren’t going to be able to convince this crowd that has chased him down in Capernaum, of that stunning reality any time soon. They are convinced, so far, at least, that Moses is still greater than Jesus because Moses provided the miracle of food every single day, except for the Sabbath. On the day before the Sabbath, folks could gather up enough manna to last them through the Sabbath, but none of it appeared on the Sabbath. And all of that was just wonderful. At least it was in retrospect. Retrospect is where the sun always shines, and everything is always just ducky. Memory is always better than reality. In truth, the people hated the stuff. They despised it. They quickly grew bored with it, and they had to eat it for 40 years running.
And that may very well be part of the lesson that Jesus is attempting to teach in our passage this morning. Anyone who has ever had a kid standing in front of an open refrigerator door, and declaring that “There’s nothing to eat in this house” knows exactly what I am talking about. Daily bread can get very dull. And quite frankly, a daily diet of fish and bread wouldn’t take long to set me to complaining, either. How many days in a row can a person eat tunafish sandwiches? And so right off the bat, Jesus says to the adoring, but greedy crowd, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” No preacher would dare to say something that!
Did you ever wonder why food rots? It rots, because as in the days of old, if it did not rot, we would gather too much of it. The same is also true of everything else in our lives that we can gather or amass. Everything rots, even classic cars rot, no matter how much money we throw at them. Just ask my wife! And so Jesus is saying, Don’t be grasping. Don’t be spending all of your energy trying to grab hold of the things that perish. Grab instead for the things that last for eternity. Things that perish, or rot, can only satisfy for a time, and then they become dull, or worse, we come to despise the very things that we once lusted for; that we once believed were so necessary to obtain. This may be a tough truth to embrace, but everything that we touch in this world is merely temporary. None of the stuff of this world that we labor so hard for will see us one moment beyond our last breath.
But if we can embrace that truth, at least in our hearts, we will discover that Jesus offers us a form of nourishment that will not only see us to our graves, but beyond them and into all of eternity. This bread, this nourishment, Jesus says, is “…the bread of God…which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
In the hearts and minds of the crowd, they are all probably still thinking about the manna that miraculously appeared in the desert every morning but the Sabbath. These people, are, after all, still seeking a new Moses, a new deliverer, someone who can deliver them from their present oppression.
And so they say to Jesus, “Sir give us this bread always.” But a true deliverer, a true savior, provides more, much more nourishment than mere manna or even some special, fantastic new, artisan produced bread that far supercedes manna, but that is still made from grain and yeast. And perhaps, deep down in our hearts, it is only and merely yeasty bread that we seek from Jesus, even now. “Just a better life, Jesus, just a few more things, a little less worry, a little more ease, and then I’ll be satisfied.”
Jesus has made it plain in this passage, however that that isn’t Jesus’ intent for us. It wasn’t his intent for the adoring and seeking crowd, and he isn’t going to give us what he wouldn’t give them. What he will give us, though, is himself. The bread of which Jesus speaks is himself. It is his life, his words, his divine origin, his eternal existence. And all of these things, life, divine origin, and eternal existence are his gifts to us. This is the Lord on whom we can live. This is the Lord Jesus who satisfies our deepest and truest needs; those needs that are hidden in the most remote places of our souls.
This is the Lord Jesus Christ, who by satisfying the deepest longings of our souls, teaches us to put into perspective the daily struggles of life that so frequently vex us. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Do we believe that Jesus can satisfy us so completely? Do we believe what Jesus has just said? Do we believe in Jesus?