The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 6:22 The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone. 23 There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 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.” (NASB)
Over the past few Sundays the Gospel lesson has taken us from sending out of the disciples, to their return as 5,000 gathered to hear Jesus, to the feeding of the 5,000, the crowds reaction to their divinely multiplied dinner, the departure of the disciples by boat, Jesus’s ascension up a tall hill to pray, the struggle of the disciples against the wind, and Jesus walking on water.
This morning’s Gospel is the account of what happened next in that series of events. So far all of our readings have come from the Gospel of Mark, but this morning’s reading is from the Gospel of John. All four Gospels tell us about the feeding of the 5,000, but John gives us the most detail.
John chapter 6 also has as its central theme, Jesus as “the Bread of Life which has come down from heaven.” John 6 began with the feeding of the 5,000 followed by the account of Jesus walking on the water. The rest of John 6 tells us that the crowd that Jesus had previously dismissed reconstituted itself on the next day, figured out that Jesus had left and gone to the other side of the sea, then showed up on the other side looking for Jesus.
“When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You get here?’” (John 6:25) They had taken note of who got into what boat and how many boats were there as they were being dismissed. They noted that Jesus was not one of the seafarers and that all the boats had sailed as Jesus went up to the mountain to pray.
Jesus ignored the question. The answer would have probably made matters worse. Jesus was interested in dealing with a deeper problem. He 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. 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.” (John 6:26–27)
Jesus just told the multitude that He is in fact the Son of God the Father, the promised Messiah, and that He is about the business of granting eternal life. He is teaching the crowd that they ought to be concerned first and foremost about His doctrine, His preaching, and His saving work.
But they didn’t follow so that He would give them eternal life. They wanted brunch. They did not see the feeding of the 5,000 was a sign of Jesus’s identity as the Messiah, the Son of God. Instead, they saw Jesus as a politician with special powers who could make like easier for them. When Jesus tells them who He is and what He has come to give them, they blow right by it in favor of feeding their bellies.
“Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” See how easy it is for sinners to break the First Commandment. We do it all the time. We serve things that are temporal. For most people, including that crowd that followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee, their god is the here and now. Their god is the belly, temporal satisfaction. This is how almost everyone in this world lives. They live for the temporal: food, shelter, security, fun, the here and now. Most human beings live their lives trying to make their way up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and never really concern themselves with the life of the world to come.
Remember the first temptation in the wilderness? “‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But Jesus answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
Now do you see how thorough and comprehensive the Scripture and the work of Christ is? He must do and does everything that we fail to do. He must replace our failures with His victories over sin, death, and the power of the devil.
He set aside the temptation to make and eat bread and chose instead to be faithful to the work God the Father had sent Him to do. The crowd on the hand, didn’t care a bit about the Word of God. They want something to eat and someone who will keep it coming.
Among some of those in the crowd were some clever men who wanted to manipulate Jesus into giving them what they want. Jesus told them “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life. . . They said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
Here’s the clever part verses 30-31. “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? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’”
They can’t help themselves. Literally. The can’t. They are intent on getting free food for life. It is every easy by the way to create a dependent class. Just start giving them free stuff and in no time at all, they are addicted to it and demand more and more. Such people are slaves to this world, to their own sinful flesh and nature.
Jesus had been doing one miracle after another. This crowd had been direct beneficiaries one of them. They wanted one specific sign that would last a long time. Life on easy street and a never ending supply of food.
Luther preached, “They pay no attention to Christ’s words to learn where He wants to lead them, but they are happy over the prospect that He will fill their bellies and give them only earthly goods and money. But that is not the point. The Gospel does not fill the belly; it has something different to do. Times have not changed. When the Gospel is preached, everyone is eager to reap a sufficient store of earthly goods from it.” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John)
Jesus tells us, “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.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 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.’”
It’s the Nicodemus problem. “My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. . . Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus speaks about heavenly things and all they can do is think about earthly things.
Jesus offers His body and blood in the bread and wine every Sunday on thousands upon thousands of altars. He remits sins. He creates and adopts children through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Yet, the church in the West is withering away and Sunday buffets are full. It’s not even a choice of “either or.” People in the West can have both. Yet, they remain stuck, enslaved to everything earthly. That’s tendency to allow the things of this world to take possession of us is what St. Paul addresses in Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Just as God sent manna to give temporary life to the Israelites in the wilderness, so also He sent His Son to give eternal life to all people by His perfect life and sacrificial death on a cross. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament as we make our way through the wilderness of this world, but fewer and few care. They want to have their bellies feed. They want to have their self-esteem and self-righteousness feed.
In the last verse Jesus makes it crystal clear what He gives. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Bread-food provides life when it is consumed. That’s its purpose. So also that was and is Jesus’s purpose. Jesus provided life when He was consumed by shame, torture, and death on the cross. As the Bread of Life that was consumed by death and the grave, Jesus gives us His life, a life that is sure and certain.
He gives us the right kind of spiritual food. The only kind that gives forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He has given us His pure Word and so we eat by listening to it week after week and respond in faith. He has given us baptism and so we drink that spiritual water in faith. He has given us His body and blood, and we come to the Lord’s Supper again and again, to feed on the forgiveness of sins.
We do not wake up each morning to find bread on the ground like those people in the Old Testament reading. God provides our daily bread as the Lord’s Prayer says, but He does it in ordinary ways and through ordinary means.
But when it comes to our spiritual food, Jesus has served it all for us as only He can. Luther, “We cannot give ourselves this food; we must obtain it from the Son of Man. Therefore all that is necessary is that Christ affix His seal, and I am assured that my God is gracious to me.” And so He is.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus. Amen.