Year B Trinity 7/Proper 13 : John 6:24-35
24Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" 26Jesus 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. 27Do 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." 28Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" 29Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." 30So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32Jesus 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. 33For 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.
John has just told of Jesus' miraculous provision of food to the crowd to remind his readers of the gift of manna to the people of Israel in the desert. The crowd has taken Jesus for a political messiah who will free them from Roman occupation. John continues to pursue the question: Who is Jesus? Is he divine?
Jesus and the disciples have escaped the crowds, but only for a while. Rather than tell them of his walking on water (which they would misunderstand), he does not answer their question in verse 25. He tells them that they are seeking him not because they understand the spiritual meaning of the food, but for another free meal (v. 26).
Jesus takes command of the conversation and refers to three things : True bread; True work; and True life.
When we at theological college in North London there was a bread shop a short walk away. It sold wonderful Greek bread made to a secret recipe. It was a white bread with seeds on it and a hint of aniseed. We would eat it about once a week as a treat. The rest of the time we would eat wholemeal bread which, of course, is a lot better for you.
You could not say, however, that any type of bread is the bread to have because this depends upon personal taste and, perhaps, the occasion.
Jesus, however, says that he is the true bread. To everyone bread stands for something that is an everyday necessity, the staple diet of virtually everyone. Toast for breakfast, a roll or sandwich for lunch, and then, perhaps, a main meal in the evening accompanied by some bread.
Bread had a number of connotations to the Jews. The Torah, or Jewish law, was sometimes known as bread, perhaps because it was seen as so necessary to everyday life. God provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. The Jewish people believed at this time that the Messiah would give them manna again. The crowd were too blind to see that this is what Jesus has just done before their very eyes. They were too busy thinking about their stomachs to see this for themselves. They thought that the manna should have come from heaven in the same way it did before and they seem to think that Moses gave it.
Jesus corrects them in verse 32. "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.
Jesus tries to clear up the misunderstandings :
- it was God, not Moses who gave you manna;
- the Father gives bread now; and
- manna met physical needs but "true bread" is more than that.
Jesus is implying that there is a real bread from heaven of which manna was a forerunner. Just as Moses was a forerunner to Jesus.
There is a progression from the past to the present. "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.
Jesus directs them from the manna that came from heaven, to something else that came from heaven. Himself. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
The crowd still cannot understand that he is talking about something more than the physical. 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.
Jesus is not talking about Holy Communion here. He is talking about the spiritual and not the physical. The crowd could not see beyond the physical. We live in a world like that today and we, too, should not lose sight of the spiritual.
Jesus has come from heaven to meet our every need. To show us what God is like, to reconcile us to him, to give a satisfaction no earthly bread can. The manna fed only the Israelites, it spoiled after a short time. Those who ate it became hungry again. They died later. The true bread gives life to the world, v.33, it will never spoil, and will lead to eternal life.
This is the first of seven 'I am' declarations of Jesus in which he uses the words of God when he identified himself to Moses. Jesus is revealing himself not only as the true bread, but also as the true God.
( True bread; ) True work;
There is a Dutch television programme which confronts people with their deepest fear to see if they can conquer them for money. So, for example, someone with a fear of spiders will be offered the opportunity of picking banknotes out of a container full of spiders. The question behind this programme is, 'Is it worth it ? '
Most people who are offered a job will look at the pay and conditions to see if it is worth doing.
Jesus encourages his hearers to move from the physical to the spiritual.
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."
He says: raise your sights above material things, to eternal ones, to what I, "the Son of Man will give you" (v. 27). The Father has shown me to be authentic ("seal"). I will give you nourishment for ever.
Jesus does not deny the importance of working to put bread on the table. But he is saying that people should make their relationship with him the highest priority.
Jesus is not saying that we can earn our way into heaven. Rather, he says that it is a gift which he, the Son of Man will give.
What then is the work that Jesus is talking about ? 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."
A gift has to be opened for the recipient to enjoy the benefits of it. Jesus says that he is the one who was sent by God. The believing that he requires is like an envelope being opened, or a present unwrapped.
After nine years here most people in Talke, Talke Pits and Butt Lane recognise me as 'The Rector'. So they believe in me in a, perhaps, superficial way. Yet most of those people do not believe in me in the deep way that Melanie or my parents do. This type of belief involves them trusting in me, being devoted to me, knowing what I am really like, and, unbelievably, still loving me,
When the Bible talks of belief it is not talking about an acknowledgement that Jesus existed, or that he was a good man or a radical teacher. The word 'belief' is deeper, referring to trust, commitment, knowledge, and devotion.
This 'work' involves our whole lives being devoted to Jesus. In 4:34, Jesus tells his disciples: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work". So the work is not employment but vocation. It is living out our faith, obeying God's will, serving him in whatever area he has gifted and called us. It is a life-long calling. It is never to early to start following and serving God. And there is no retirement from following and serving God. You only have to meet someone like Joe Yates-Round to realise that.
Sometimes people say to me that they could believe in God if he would do something for them , or if he would heal such a person. Such a thought ignores all the things that God has done, and is selfish in thinking that God has to agree to someone's demands to prove himself.
The crowd are a bit like this; they ask Jesus: what proof will you give us? (v. 30). There is a sense in which faith cannot be proved! But there is enough evidence to follow Jesus without having to abandon our intelligence. People need to open their eyes to the spiritual. The crowd were so blinded by their false expectations that they couldn't see that the very sign they were demanding had just happened !
1 Corinthians 1:22 : "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
So the work of God is to radically trust in the one he has sent, not to demand miracles or to seek what we think of as wisdom.
(True bread; True work; and ) True life.
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
When we looked at 'True Work' we considered the question, 'Is it worth it ? '
To answer the question we need to know what the rewards are. Jesus promises his followers 'eternal life'. What does this mean ?
John 17: 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Eternal life is knowing God through Jesus. It is something that we start to enjoy on earth. To know God in our heart through His Spirit. To know fellowship with him, answered prayer, the joy of worship, sharing his love with others.
When we go to the Bible Book Shop in Hanley, Melanie and myself sometimes buy a magazine called 'Juice'. It features descriptions of new Christian albums that are soon to be released. It includes a CD which features one or two edited tracks from each of the albums featured. The idea being, if you like the sound of the sample you will buy the album.
Just as the manna was a foretaste of the bread of heaven, the samples of eternal life we get are a foretaste of what is to come. We can look forward to : being with God and all the saints in glory all of the time: worshipping him; serving him; with no more pain, conflict, suffering or death.
Jesus leaves us in no doubt as to how people can know this true, eternal life.
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.
We need to come to Jesus and continue to feed on him. To worship him, learn from him, obey him, serve him. We can then know the satisfaction that comes from feeding on the true bread. Do the work of radically believing in him, and enjoy the life that he gives, looking forward to the life that awaits us in glory.