John 6:24-35 New International Version (NIV)
24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
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.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, 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. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Two loaves of bread walk into the kitchen to find a jar of jelly sitting next to a knife and some butter. The first loaf looked at the second and said, “We’re toast!”
That was bad, this is worse. Two biscuits are placed in the oven one day. The first biscuit looks at the second and says, “It sure is hot in here.” The second biscuit turns to the first biscuit with a look of fear on his face and screams, “Ah, a talking biscuit!”
There are not many bread jokes out there. Too often we think of bread as plain, unexciting, and simply the bookends of a sandwich. I think bread has a bad reputation thanks in part to Dr. Adkins and his famous diet. But bread is important in our world. It is usually a side dish or an appetizer for us, but in some societies, the loaf of bread is the main course. In Jesus’ day, bread was essentially synonymous with the word meal. Bread was the main form of nutrients and energy in the pre-modern world. Bread was life.
So today we are talking about this rich source of energy known as bread. More specifically, we are talking about the bread of life. But before we get into that, let’s get a little context for our scripture this morning.
Our text for today comes to us pretty early in John’s Gospel, but Jesus has already been busy early on in his ministry. He has turned water into wine, he has healed the sick, he has fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, and he has walked on water. Not too shabby for the first couple of weeks on the job! I’ve been here 6 years and haven’t accomplished any of those thingsJ.
When Jesus makes food and drink John calls these events “signs.” In John 2:11, following the changing of water into wine, John writes, “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
In John 6:14, after Jesus feeds the 5,000, John writes, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’” The changing of water into wine and the feeding of the 5,000 were signs.
I spend some time behind the wheel of a car. However, I do not claim to be “good with directions.” I have to drive to a place several times with help before I am able to arrive safely without missing a turn or two along the way. GPS devices are very helpful, but sometimes they can be a little misleading. And when your battery goes dead, they are quite worthless.
So when driving someplace new, like I did this week, it is helpful to look for landmarks and signs. Someone might give you directions like Go to the water tower and turn left. Or Take 262 five miles and then turn on Ashburn Dr. A water tower is a big, visible landmark that one can see for some distance. But the only way that a person driving somewhere that they have never been before would know that 262 is 262 or that Ashburn Dr. is Ashburn Dr. is to see a sign that says 262 or Ashburn Dr.
One confusing thing about roads is that they usually go two ways. Have you ever been given directions and told what road to get on, but not told which way to go on that road. 81 runs north, and it also runs south. And you can get to the right road, even get on the right road, but be going the wrong way. If you get on 81 south when you are supposed to be on 81 north, you are going in the complete opposite direction. You are actually getting further away from your destination. That is why it is helpful to know which way you are to go when you get on a road and it is also very helpful when the sign not only tells you the name of the road, but also the direction.
Signs are also helpful as you drive down certain roads for a period of time without turning. Sometimes I feel a little uneasy as roads begin to branch off and go in different ways. I feel that I get caught up in the flow of traffic and can miss exits and turns that I am supposed to make. So there are times when I am driving down a road and I look for road signs to reassure me that I am on the correct road. Sings reveal to us the correct path, they point us in the right direction, and they reassure us that we are on the correct path as we travel.
So these signs, the feeding of the 5,000 and the changing of water into wine, are meant to reveal the correct path, to point us in the right direction and to reassure us that we are on the right path as we travel. The signs that Jesus performed were intended to point us to Jesus and to reassure us that Jesus is the one we are to be following.
This brings us to today’s passage. Jesus has just fed the 5,000, walked across the sea, and is now in Capernaum. And the people are hot on his heels. They jump in their boats, row across the sea, and they look for Jesus. When they find him they are a little confused because they don’t see his boat. So they ask him when he got there. And Jesus pretty much ignores their question. Instead he answers, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
Signs point to the road, direct us, and reassure us that we are on the right path. But a sign is not our destination. Jesus is telling the people that they are looking for him because they are after another free meal. Fill our bellies again, Lord! That thing you did with the loaves and fishes was pretty slick!
Now there is nothing wrong with feeding the hungry; actually, just the opposite is true. Time and time again the scriptures tell us that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and to help those who can’t help themselves. But we must remember that these things are a sign of something bigger. They are not in and of themselves our ultimate goal. They are meant to reveal, point, and reassure people that Jesus is our Lord.
But Jesus doesn’t just stop there. He informs the people that bread is only a temporary fix. It fills the belly for a few hours but then you need more. There is this reference back to Moses feeding the people in the wilderness. The Israelites, as they were wandering through the wilderness, woke up every day to find a bread-like substance called manna on the ground. They ate the manna and it gave them the nourishment and the energy to go on. Then on Friday they would collect extra manna so that they would not need to collect any on the Sabbath.
This was a miraculous thing! I have never woken up and found anything outside home that I really wanted to eat. Yet there it was, six days a week, ready to be collected and eaten. And Jesus takes it one step further. He says That manna was from God. But it was only a temporary fix. I am the bread of life. If you eat the bread I am offering you will never be hungry again.
As some of you know, I spent a few days last week moving my sister-in-law into her new place in northern Virginia. For some reason, people always move in the hottest days of summer. Thankfully we just hovered around the 90 degree mark this week and didn’t have any of that triple digit stuff. My sister-in-law was moving from a one bedroom efficiency apartment to a much larger living space. And in northern Virginia, soil is expensive, so she moved into a tall, skinny, three-story townhouse. So if I seem a little tired and a little thinner today, we have those stairs to thank.
Since she was going from an efficiency apartment to a townhouse, we got to do a little furniture shopping. And if you are in northern Virginia and you need furniture, where do you go? Ikea, that’s where.
We drove up to this big, blue warehouse with roughly the square footage of four Lowes or Home Depots, and two stories. It…was…huge! I have never had a panic attack, but walking into the warehouse portion of Ikea gave me the closest thing to a panic attack I have ever experienced. I was simply overwhelmed.
Now I love the idea of Ikea because I like to save money. Ikea produces and sells furniture that you purchase in large, flat boxes and take home for self assembly. The packaging itself is a bit of a modern-day marvel as you purchase a couch that is laid flat in two different boxes with a bag of hardware for assembly. It is absolutely brilliant and I can see why some people get really excited about Ikea. You can get a lot of furniture on the cheap.
So I pull into the parking lot of the Ikea and I am filled with anticipation. We walk through the front doors and we are instantly transported to a different world. You follow a series of arrows which direct you down a circuitous route in and out of these various rooms with furniture arranged like you might want to have it in your home. The floors are divided up by rooms: there are bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms. And people are just giddy. They are jumping up and down, squealing, rushing from one item to another like they have found the fountain of youth, the chicken that laid the golden egg, or something else that will fundamentally change their life forever for the better. And when we get to the loading area, people are lined up in their Uhaul trucks and trailers, waiting to begin their new life with their new furniture.
I am not trying to be overly critical of Ikea or consumerism in general. If I need furniture I might consider going back to Ikea. But the thing that Ikea has mastered is the ability to make you believe that your life is missing this one thing and if only you will purchase this one thing, your life will be everything that you ever dreamed it could be. Of course, then you need to go back for the matching chair and end table.
This is just great advertising. An advertiser tries to convince you that your life will be better if you just add this one thing. Your life is lacking this one item. Buy this, and things will get better. And do you know what? It works. I buy things that satisfy for a period of time, and then I need more.
Now just like bread, I am not saying that furniture is a bad thing and that we all need to start sitting around on the floor, eating off the floor, and sleeping on the floor. Furniture serves a purpose. But when we begin to see the stuff of this world as what we need to be satisfied, we have played right into the advertisers’ plans and made a complete circle, coming right back where they want us. They want us to think that this one more thing will make our life complete. And then, the next one more thing will make our life complete.
I think that Jesus gives us an opportunity to break that circle of meaninglessness and instead enter into a new cycle that provides life.
The things that we do with our lives are to point to Jesus. We reveal his way as the way. When we give to those in need, when we donate 600 rolls of toilet paper to the Valley Mission, when we provide items for underprivileged children to go back to school, we do this out of our commitment to Jesus. This is a sign to all the world that we have found something bigger to live for. We could very easily have spent that money on ourselves. Nobody would have questioned us if we hadn’t donated money here or given of our time there. But when we do these things, we point to Jesus.
In Matthew 5, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says his followers are to be a city on a hill, a light to the world. This seems to be more of the same idea. Followers of Jesus are to be a sign to the rest of the world. We are to direct people to Jesus. And Jesus says that people will see your good deeds and they will glorify the Lord. Our good deeds point to Jesus.
Those that have been pointed to Jesus will then realize that Jesus is the one who gives our lives purpose. When we realize that new furniture, a new house, more money, sex, drugs, and rock and roll aren’t ultimately fulfilling, we turn to Jesus and find purpose in him. Jesus gives our lives direction.
This is something that I hear quite often in the church. Jesus gives our lives purpose; Jesus gives our lives direction. But it is rare that I hear just what that means. My understanding is that the purpose and direction that Jesus gives our lives is found in following him. Serving others, giving to those in need, helping the helpless, giving hope to the hopeless. And when we realize that our true purpose in life can only be found in following the teachings of Jesus, our path is affirmed. We are reassured that this is the way that we are to be going. So we do more good works and we serve more people. And that brings us to the cyclical nature of it all because all of these good works that we are doing that are giving our lives purpose and affirming the decision that we have made to follow Jesus points back to him. And our lives become a sign to others; a sign pointing to Jesus.
Jesus says that he is the bread of life. Anyone that comes to him will never go hungry. The things of this world will simply leave us wanting more. We will never be completely satisfied by anything until we learn to be satisfied in Jesus.