“I Am the Bread of Life”
(John 6:24-35 – Pentecost 11 – August 8, 2021)
John 6:24-35 – 24When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” 26Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” 28Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” 30Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father 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.” 34Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 35And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life from heaven:
When God sent His Son into this world, He desired to give us so much more than we either had wanted or deserved. Jesus came to win for us salvation from sin, Satan, death, and hell. For this, the Son of God was willing to descend from His heavenly throne of eternal glory and humble Himself in time as the Son of Man, so He could live under the Law and fulfill all righteousness for us, and go to the cross to pay for our sins. The King of heaven came to bring us eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom and Glory. What could be more important? Yet as Jesus looks upon the world He came to save, He sees many desiring so much more the passing things of a worldly kingdom. He sees even many who come to Him desiring far less than He wants to give.
In our text, Jesus meets such a mindset in the crowd who come to Him. The day before, they had seen Him miraculously turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed thousands of them. At that time, we are told: “Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world'” (vs. 14). They acclaimed Him to be that Messiah God had promised through Moses, the One who would come much like that great prophet of old among the people of Israel, attested by powerful signs and miracles; and yet so much more, as the Mighty God in our flesh, as the King of heaven. Yet, the people had wanted Him for so much less. Let Him be a bread King! Let Him be the one who will answer our daily needs and make life comfortable for us in this world! Let Him be the one to conquer our enemies and give us peace and prosperity in a worldly Kingdom! When Jesus had perceived that they intended to make Him such a king, He had left them (vs. 15).
Now the next day, the crowd chases Jesus across the countryside, in search of their dreams. When they find Him at Capernaum, they ask: “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus does not answer their question, but their motive: “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (vs. 26-27). They call Him Rabbi, but would they let Him be their divine Teacher? Would they be willing to accept His instruction about who He was and His purpose in coming into the world? Would they be willing to seek Him, not for food that perishes, but as He says: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (vs. 35)?
As we join them in hearing the words of our Lord Jesus, who is the great “I AM” in our flesh, let us desire Him for so much more, as we take to heart His words: “I Am the Bread of Life.”
1) “Do not labor for the food which perishes”
Let us first consider what He means as He says: “Do not labor for the food which perishes.” Obviously, this includes the food God puts on our tables. But isn’t He interested in satisfying our physical hunger? Yes, this is why Jesus teaches us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread“ – which includes all our needs of body and life in this world. Usually, He answers our prayer by giving us the ability to work and earn daily bread. Sometimes, He answers our need through inheritance or gifts. But always, He wants us to keep our daily bread in perspective. After all, the temporal gifts we work so hard for and seek to gain cannot give us eternal life.
We are reminded of this shortly after the fall into sin, when God told Adam: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). No matter how much we may feast on food, we will be hungry again. No matter what healthy choices we make when it comes to diet, the bread on our tables cannot save us from the wages of sin which is death (Romans 6:23).
We need this reminder, for our sinful nature seeks so much less than God desires for us. In daily life, it is easy to get so focused on temporal needs that we forget the true bread of eternal life Jesus came to bring. He is here for us in His Word and Sacraments, to give our laboring and heavy laden souls rest in His blood-bought forgiveness, to strengthen our weak and weary faith by His Spirit and truth, to fill us with the very bread of eternal life for our soul. But we cannot hear our souls growling as we do our stomachs. It is easy to join this crowd, seeking Jesus when there is some pressing need or wish for this life, some critical crossroad we face between earthly success or failure, comfort or pain. It is easy then to chase after Him with our prayers as the Bread King, the Miracle Worker, the Man to get the job done. But when the divine Teacher wants us to feed us with the words of eternal life, how easily we grow restless to chase after that bread which cannot satisfy the soul, in all the short-lived pleasures and gain of this world.
Every earthly goal the sinful mind would seek, in place of Jesus and the life He wants so much more for us – all that is food that perishes. No matter how much one may partake of all the best this world offers, no matter how healthy and good it may appear to the world, the soul that feasts on mammon perishes with it. As Jesus said in Mark 8:36-37: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Here too, Jesus would warn against another kind of food which perishes, even when it comes to seeking life for one’s soul. It is that false bread of eternal life sinful man labors to gain by the works of his own hands, instead of the bread of life Jesus gives.
Jesus had just told the crowd: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you” (vs. 27). The bread of life He wanted to give them was the free gift of forgiveness He would go to the cross to win for them; the free gift of righteousness He was working out for them in the sight of God; and the free gift of eternal life He would seal for them by His resurrection. Yet they respond: “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (vs. 28). As the Bread of Life, Jesus wanted to give them “so much more” than they could ask or imagine, as a free gift received by faith alone. Yet they want to make even the food that endures to eternal life something they work for, instead of receiving it as a gift from the Savior. If Jesus cannot be a Bread King to help them work for an earthly kingdom, He can be a Rabbi to teach them how to work for a heavenly kingdom. They want Him to be a lawgiver like Moses, to tell them what works they must do to earn eternal life.
Such thinking appeals to human reason. As we must work each day for bread that sustains life in this world, it seems reasonable that we must work for bread that sustains eternal life. Many see Jesus as nothing more than a Teacher who can point them in the right direction to get to heaven. They treat Him as one who has come to give them a second chance at salvation. But finishing the job and getting to heaven will depend on their work. But they desire Jesus for so much less than He is; and they labor for food that perishes. As Galatians 3:10 says: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.'” As much as one might feast his hopes on all he works to gain with God, by imperfect obedience to laws and commandments, however spiritually healthy and good all that may appear in the eyes of the world, once again it all comes to nothing; it all leaves the souls empty and hungering before God, laboring under the curse of sin and death.
But as we sit at the feet of our divine Teacher, and we listen to His true teaching in Scripture, we know that “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). Only by taking His words of eternal life to heart can we rightly pray in the words of the hymn:
Not what these hands have done Can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears Can bear my awful load.
Thy work alone, O Christ, Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, Can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, Not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest And set my spirit free.
2) “He who comes to Me shall never hunger”
Jesus has come to us with so much more than we could ask or imagine. He the Bread of Life from heaven – freely given, freely received. Let our souls be filled and satisfied as we partake of Him and His finished work of salvation, by faith alone, not by works. For as He promises us, one and all: “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (vs. 35).
Even this faith by which we come to Him is a gift, as Jesus tells the crowd: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (vs. 29). By faith, we receive the full benefit of Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness and eternal life. Even this faith by which we are saved is not our work, lest we should boast. It is the gift of God, who by grace sent His Son to work out our salvation, and who by grace sends His Spirit to work faith in us by His Gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Consider what a great food we receive as we partake of Jesus, the Bread of Life. He proclaims that greatness as the crowd asks: “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world'” (vs. 30-33).
In the days of Moses, God provided physical manna for a certain time and people; but in Jesus, God is providing the bread of life for all time and all people. In the wilderness, those who ate the physical manna from heaven still died; but as the bread of life from heaven, Jesus gives spiritual life, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. And the greatest work Jesus would do was yet to come. Neither Moses, nor any prophet, gave his life for the sins of even one person; but as God in our flesh, Jesus gave His life for the sins of the world; and more than that, He rose again to bring His salvation to all.
Now, the Bread of Life from heaven is with us, giving Himself and all He has won to us. He is present in Word and Sacrament, setting before us His rich banquet of salvation. As we hunger and thirst for righteousness, He fills us (Matthew 5:6) with His forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. And though our bodies die in the wilderness of this world, yet we will live on, body and soul, with Him in heaven, where we “shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore” (Revelation 7:16); for we shall be fully satisfied in His presence.
Therefore let us desire the “so much more” Jesus has come to bring us as the Bread of Life from heaven. Let us pray by faith: “Lord, give us this bread always” (vs. 34). As we pray for our daily bread and entrust every need of this life to Your care, let us pray all the more for the bread You give that endures to eternal life. “Lord, give us this bread always,” that we may trust Your pure blood shed on the cross for us, by which You cleanse away all our sins; and Your perfect life of work, which counts for our righteousness in the sight of God. “Lord, give us this bread always.” Strengthen our faith by Your Word each day of this earthly pilgrimage, and fill our hearts with the joy of Your salvation, as You lift our eyes heavenward. “Lord, give us this bread always.” And let Your Spirit keep us and our children in the true faith, until You bring us into Your Father’s Kingdom to enjoy Your heavenly banquet forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.