25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus 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. 27Do 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.”
28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So 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? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then 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. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus 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. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
I like food. I eat too much of it and I eat it too often. I can smell the food that has been brought for the carry-in meal after church and I am beginning to feel the urge to wrap up this message a little early so that we can get started eating already.
My affinity toward food leads me every year to the point where I say “I need to lose some weight” and I jump on whatever fad diet is out there. You may have done this as well. The Zone Diet, the South Beach Diet, Nutrisystem, Weightwatchers, and so on. I worked in a health food store for a year while I was in college in the early 2000’s, right about when the Atkins Diet was huge. You remember this diet, right? You could eat as much steak, eggs, fish, and pork that you wanted. You could stuff yourself full of protein and fat and the pounds were supposed to fly right off. That was the selling point, you don’t go hungry! You eat! Because who doesn’t want to eat a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon each day, right?
The problem with the Atkins Diet is that you are not allowed to eat any carbohydrates. That means no ice cream, no pasta, no fruit, and no bread. NO BREAD! Can you imagine? Granted, Jesus assures us that one cannot live off bread alone, but can one live without bread? Even our gluten intolerant friends have access to gluten-free bread.
Our scripture for today talks about the need for bread, a need that each and every person has. However, today’s scripture is not about a need for daily bread, but a need for bread that will endure: the need for the bread of life. So let’s jump right into the scripture and see what we can learn about this need for the bread of life that we all have and how it relates to a life of serving Christ. We will start at looking at the wrong reason for seeking this bread.
The wrong reason
Our scripture for today is a part of a string of events that we began discussing a couple of weeks ago, beginning with Jesus feeding the 5,000 from five loaves and two fish. After performing this miracle, Jesus sends his disciples on ahead of him in a boat and he tells them, “I’ll catch up with you later.” Chapter 6, verse 25 finds Jesus after he has caught up with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee (on foot) and they have docked on the dry land. The masses that Jesus fed on the other side find him and they ask him how he got there. And Jesus answers them by saying, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus had recognized that the people were searching after him because they believed that there was something in it for them. They wanted more free food.
Are you familiar with Pascal’s Wager? Blaise Pascal was a mathematician and philosopher from the 17th century. Pascal is most famous for a triangle, which I won’t bore you with here. But in religious circles he is known for his “wager” where he says something along the lines of, It is better to believe in God and be wrong than to not believe in God and be wrong. If you die believing in God and you are wrong, then you are no worse off than if you hadn’t believed. However, if you don’t believe in God, die, and are wrong, you are in for some harsh correcting.
I understand what Pascal was saying; it makes perfect sense to me. However, I have a big problem with Pascal’s understanding about Christianity because he, like those that were following Jesus looking for bread, is reducing Christianity to the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Obviously, we have a lot to gain by being a Christian. We stand to gain purpose, we stand to gain fellowship with God and fellow Christians, and we stand to gain eternal life. Yeah, we have a lot to gain. But Christianity should never be reduced to what I can gain, but what can I give to God. Christianity isn’t about simply being saved from the perils of this world, but about giving your life to God, for which he will reward you.
I think that this is why Jesus was frustrated with those that had sought him out. They were after something physical, tangible, and edible. They wanted bread; they wanted their bellies to be filled. And we need this. But bread will leave us hungry again. Jesus knew that in a couple of hours that these people would just be hungry again. So instead of giving them food that might be filling, Jesus offered them a life that was fulfilling.
Sharing the bread
In verses 27-35 Jesus tells us that anyone that comes to him will never hunger or thirst again. Verse 27 says not to work for physical bread because it will perish, it is temporal. Physical bread made of flour and yeast has a short shelf life. If you don’t eat it, it will go bad. And if you do eat it, it will only provide you sustenance for a short period of time. Therefore you should seek the bread that he has to offer, which is himself.
The bread that Jesus has to offer is eternal and I don’t have any problem with saying that it is this eternal bread of life that we must all seek after and which is more important than any physical bread could be. However, I don’t want you to read this scripture and believe then that it is not necessary to provide for those in need; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Some people approach Christianity saying, “What does it matter if someone is hungry if they are not saved. We must first save the soul.” I believe that this is a false dichotomy. Jesus does mention that the people are following him because they are looking for a free meal, but he never says that feeding the hungry needs to be eliminated for the sake of preaching a message of salvation from sins. I think that it is important to note that in Matthew and Mark’s gospels that this saying by Jesus would be book ended on either side by the feeding of the 5,000 and then the feeding of the 4,000. It should be clear to us that even though Jesus emphasizes this spiritual feeding he does not intend to reduce or eliminate our call to feed those in need. Obviously, people still need to eat! Jesus even teaches his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
And if we look at Jesus’ clearest (in my opinion) teachings on salvation at the end of times, each one includes damnation for those that do not help others in need. The first is the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Luke’s gospel tells of a rich man, clothed in fine linen and a poor beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus would sit and beg at the rich man’s door with the dogs licking his sores as the rich man lived it up and ignored his neighbor in need.
When both men died, it was the rich man that found himself being punished, asking for Lazarus to only dip his finger in water to relieve the rich man’s thirst. When the rich man’s petitions are denied he asks to be able to deliver a message to his loved ones of what they should try to avoid.
The other story is that of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus separates his true followers that are destined to inherit the kingdom of God based on the fact that they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, visited the sick, and so on. However, those on the other side that failed to do these things were sent to eternal punishment.
After looking at these two passages of scripture, I can’t help but say that Jesus feels very strongly about providing daily bread for those in need, while also supplying eternal bread of life for those in need. We cannot separate these things. Christianity is not only about what I can receive. Christianity is also about what I can give.
That is one reason why I appreciate the work that Rodney and Lindsey Nice will be doing in Jamaica over the next couple of years (Rodney and Lindsey shared their plans for mission work earlier in our service on 8/2/09). Rodney and Lindsey will be accepting the call that Jesus gave to his disciples in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28 to “Go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I am sure that they will be sharing the Good News that salvation is available to all through faith in Jesus Christ. And I also know that they will be working to do their part in feeding the sick, clothing the naked, and so on.
The Nices will be serving God by teaching. The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Rodney and Lindsey’s work in Jamaica will give people the bread of life and enable them to earn their daily bread as well.
Many of you are familiar with the Nehemiah Project that Seth Hankee led recently in the Staunton area. Seth helped to organized 11 local church youth groups that stayed at Wilson Memorial High School for a week. During the week the youth went out into the community to help those that are in need financially and physically by building ramps on houses, doing minor renovations, and performing manual labor. Then each night the groups gathered at the high school for worship. The Nehemiah Project provided daily bread for those in need and the bread of life.
The book of James, chapter 2 tells us that faith without works is dead. I believe that this means if you claim to have faith in God yet do not live as God has called us to live, loving our enemies and our neighbors, giving to those in need, adhering to certain moral code, then your faith is not faith at all. You are merely like those that followed Jesus because they were wondering what was in it for them. And on the flip side of this, works without faith is just works. Is there anything wrong with doing good deeds? Absolutely not. But without faith, our good deeds will never be able to provide us with the bread of life that we all need so much.
Many of you have made bread at some point in your life. You know what goes into it, right? Flour, eggs, salt, and a little bit of yeast. We put the yeast in the bread dough because it is alive and it expands the dough, stretching it, making it larger. Well Jesus described the way that his kingdom here on earth would spread by comparing it to yeast. His kingdom starts small, hidden, mixed in with the rest of the ingredients. But it grows from within, it stretches the boundaries of the kingdom, it expands, and it can be divided and shared among many. When we combine sharing our daily bread with others and sharing the bread of life with others, we are helping to expand God’s kingdom like yeast within dough.
Appreciating the bread
So how do we balance this call of Jesus in our lives to live off the bread of life, while not taking for granted the daily bread that we have been given? How can we appreciate both kinds of bread? One suggestion that I have is to fast. I know that many Christians today are not in the habit of fasting. Even though we are in a recession, we still live in one of the richest nations of all times. Most of us don’t know what it means to go to bed hungry at night. Most of us can’t relate to Old Mother Hubbard who went to the cupboard only to find that there was no food to be had.
There is an old saying that you don’t know what you have until it is gone. I believe that is true with food as well. I encourage you to try fasting sometime. Either a complete fast where you don’t eat for a specific period of time or a partial fast where you give up a certain food, like ice cream, for a period of time.
Fasting is meant to be a time to help you grow in your relationship with God. The time that you don’t spend eating should be spent praying or participating in other activities to grow closer to God. The early church used fasting as a way to discern God’s will in Acts 13 before sending out Paul and Barnabas. Jesus expected his disciples to fast. He tells them in the Sermon on the Mount that “when you fast” you are not to make it obvious to others so that they see your pious acts and revere you. Jesus doesn’t say “if you fast” but “when you fast”.
While I was at EMU there was a group that was advocating a partial fast for a period of one week where all you were to eat was rice and beans. Three meals a day, seven days a week, rice and beans and nothing else. The purpose of doing this was because this is what much of the world lives off. Not everyone had the option of going to Burger King or Wendy’s, Food Lion or Kroger’s. They can only eat what is available to them, so they eat rice and beans, dried goods that can be shipped around the world and stored for a period of time.
When we fast we better appreciate the gifts that God has give to us. When we fast we grow in our relationship with God. When we fast we rely not on our own work or our own income to buy the food that we need, but rather we rely on the bread of life for our sustenance.
So I come back to this Atkins Diet that so many people were losing weight on in the early 2000’s. Do you know why so many people lost so many pounds on this diet? Quite simply because they were depriving themselves of something that every person needs. We were made and designed by God to live off certain foods. Cows eat grass and hay, squirrels eat nuts, people eat from the five basic food groups. If you deny your body one of these food groups, your body will suffer. And weight loss is a sign of your body not working correctly. Sure, you may be able to stuff yourself with something else and it may take away your hunger, but is that really what is best for you?
What are we stuffing ourselves with? Are we stuffing ourselves with something that is merely satisfying our temporary hungers, or are we filling ourselves with the bread of life? I encourage you to go from this place, sharing your daily bread with one another, sharing the bread of life with one another. It is my prayer that all will eat and be filled.