Take and Eat! Sermon on John 6:25-35
July 18, 2010 § 2 Comments
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave 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 that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
If you look back to the beginning of chapter six, you’ll see that this story takes place after the feeding of the five thousand. You’ll recall that Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. You’ll also remember that after everyone had eaten their fill, there were twelve baskets of bread left over. After this miraculous feeding, the people declare that Jesus is “the Prophet” and they intend to take him and force him to be their king. Apparently this is not what Jesus wants, because he immediately retreats alone to the mountain. Following this, John records another miracle: the walking on water. Unlike the multiplying of the bread and the fish, Jesus’ next miracle is seen only by the disciples. After Jesus had gone to the mountain, the disciples left on a boat to cross the sea of Galilee. They are soon shocked to find Jesus walking on the water towards them. Afraid at first, once they realize who it is, they invite him into the boat and land together on the other side of the sea at Capernaum. The significance of this for the crowd is that they couldn’t figure out where Jesus went. They saw that the disciples had left without Jesus and that they had taken the only boat, so they must have assumed that Jesus stayed on the mountain. When Jesus wasn’t there, they went looking for him. Some other boats had come nearby since the disciples left, so the people took them across the sea to Capernaum, where they finally found Jesus.
When they find Jesus, they ask him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” (6:25). Jesus replies, but he doesn’t answer their question: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (6:26). Jesus saw that they had been looking for him, but more importantly, he understood why: Not because they had seen signs, but because he had given them supper.
It’s interesting that Jesus told them that they hadn’t seen signs, because clearly they had seen a miracle. But in John’s Gospel, a sign is something more than just a miraculous event. A sign is something that points to Christ. A sign bears witness to who Jesus really is. When Jesus tells the crowd that they didn’t see signs, he isn’t telling them that they failed to see that the multiplication of the bread and fish was a miracle. Obviously they did. What he is telling them is that they didn’t understand the meaning of that event. They saw that Jesus could make lots of food out of a little food, but rather than allowing this event to shape their understanding of Jesus, they came looking for more food. Jesus recognized that they had come to him looking for what they could get. They came to Jesus looking for something other than Jesus himself. They saw him multiply food and took him to be something not unlike a magician, a person who could do things others couldn’t. They wanted Jesus only as a means to get at some other good.
The people in our passage today came to Jesus hoping for bread. They sought Jesus because he was the means to satisfying their appetites. He could do something for them. I tend to come seeking after Jesus in a similar way. I have an appetite for study. I come to Jesus because I want to study him, think about him, talk about him. But am I actually seeking after Jesus, or just what I can get from him? I am constantly reminded that what I want is so much less than Jesus himself. Jesus recognizes this tendency in the crowd that came looking for him. He corrects them with these words (v. 27): “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. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Jesus distinguishes between two types of food: that which perishes and that which lasts forever. The food that perishes gives life for a little while; the food that endures forever gives life eternally. Jesus isn’t exactly telling the people that their desires are wrong, but just that they are too small. They saw that Jesus could feed five thousand people with a small amount of food, and they mistakingly thought that this was the main event. But they had stopped short of the truth. This has happened to me many times. I come to Jesus to talk about Jesus. I cry out to God just to hear the sound of my own voice. I ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom just long enough to write that wisdom down and be done with it. I keep stopping short of the fulness of life there is in Christ. Don’t get me wrong, our love of the good things that come from Christ is good. But the blessings of Christ ought always to direct us back to Christ himself. Theology is a gift from God: the fact that God has revealed himself and enables us to speak truthfully about him is an act of pure grace. But theology cannot take the place of God; it is only about God. Theology points not to itself, but to Jesus Christ. In the same way, the feeding of the five thousand was a good gift from Christ, but the event itself was about Christ, not about food. The people thought that the gift was the point, but the point was and still is the giver of all good gifts.
This is why Jesus tells the people not to “work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Their desire for bread wasn’t wrong in itself. The problem was that what they wanted from Jesus was so much less than he is. They wanted Jesus to give them regular bread to eat, but he wanted to give them himself, the bread of life who gives eternal life.
If we read on, we see that the people who came to seek Jesus weren’t exactly stubborn; they were just confused. They understood that they had come with the wrong question. They were supposed to work for the food that endures to eternal life. Naturally, they want to know how. So they ask (v. 28), “What must we do to perform the works of God?” They want to know what they can do to work for this food that endures forever. Do you see what happened? Jesus had tried to draw their attention to himself, but they had reflected it back on themselves. They had heard clearly enough that there was better food to be found than the food they had shared with the five thousand, but they had turned it back on themselves, saying, “What can we do?”
They hadn’t understood that this food could not be gathered and eaten of their own efforts. Jesus had said (v. 27), “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.” In other words, this food is a gift from Jesus. It is not a commodity like the food of this world: wheat can be grown, harvested, ground up into flour, kneaded, baked and eaten. The food that Jesus is talking about can only be given to us by Jesus himself.
When they ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answers them (v. 29), “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” They had asked about works; Jesus tells them of the one work, which is faith. What does it mean, then, to “believe in the one whom God has sent”? This brings us back to another verse in John, one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Again, we see the connection between faith and eternal life. This is a common pattern in John’s Gospel, which was written for a very specific purpose. John himself tells us exactly why he wrote his Gospel (20:31): “these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So, in John, there is a clear connection between faith in Christ and eternal life.
But the question is: have we really left works behind? It still sounds like we have to do something to earn our heavenly bread, to earn eternal life: we have to believe. Another question: have we really abandoned the notion of coming to Christ only to get something from him? Is it right to come to Christ only for a blessing he can give, even if that blessing is something as wonderful as eternal life? What are we looking for in Jesus? What are we getting from him? What are we doing for him? These are the questions that the people brought to Jesus. But rather than indulge their questions, Jesus always answered by pointing to himself. “You came searching for bread. You should have come searching for me.” “You want to know what you can do. You should want to know who I am.”
Who is this Jesus? They were told to believe in him, being the one whom God sent, but they have more questions:
So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Part of what’s going on in this conversation is that the Jews were expecting that the Messiah would reinstitute the sign of the manna. If Jesus was the Messiah, then what sign does he bring? Where’s the manna? Jesus explains first that it was not Moses who gave them bread from heaven, but God the Father. Second, though the manna seemed to come from heaven, it was not “heavenly bread.” In other words, manna appeared in a remarkable way, but the bread itself was an earthly sort of bread––it satisfied earthly hunger. Jesus says that only the Father gives true bread from heaven, and only this true bread of life gives true life to the world.
The people, who had originally followed Jesus because of the loaves, finally seem to get the point. There is bread better than the sort they had been seeking. They wanted this true bread of God, so they say (v. 34), “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus replies, “I am the bread of life” (6:35). The crowd had learned to desire the “bread of God.” Jesus ends their search by telling them that he himself is this bread. He does not merely know about the bread. He does not merely give this bread to others. He is this bread. He is the bread of life. What he gives to us is nothing less than he himself, and those who partake in this true bread will never be hungry, and those who believe in him will never be thirsty.
The crowd came with a transactional idea of Jesus, coming to him first hoping to receive something (food), then hoping to offer something (works). Both times Jesus corrects them, urging them not to seek earthly gain nor to attempt earthly works, both of which are fundamentally different from Jesus himself, the true source of that gain and the true sanctifier of those works. We are constantly taking our eyes off of Christ and putting them on ourselves. Jesus calls us to seek him alone. We don’t need to look for anything outside of him. We don’t need to find satisfaction in addition to Christ, for he is the bread of life. Knowing him, we don’t need to find the truth, for he is the truth. Following him, we don’t need to find the way, for he is the way. United to him, we don’t need to find life, for he is the resurrection and the life.
When we seek Christ alone, we may receive earthly blessing and we may do good works. But both endeavors, if sought in and of themselves, treat Christ as means to an end. Christ is the end, centre, source and goal of all life. He is not a means to some blessing nor an object upon which to heap good works. Come to Christ asking for blessing and you might receive it; come to him with an offering of good works and he might accept it––but make no mistake, it will not end here. What Christ has given us is nothing less than himself. Indeed, we are broken, and our reasons for coming to Christ are equally broken – even our coming to Jesus must be taken up and redeemed by Jesus himself. However, when we draw near to Christ, it is only because he has drawn near to us, and as we allow him to come closer, he will only come closer still. We cannot have some part of Christ and not his whole person too, which is to say we cannot allow Christ to have some part of us and not our whole person too. Christ has given us the bread of life; he has given us himself. So come, take and eat!