Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 5, 2018
Bread of Heaven
Today we begin a series of readings from chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. As you will recall, Mark gave us the account of the feeding of the 5000 two weeks ago and then of Jesus walking on the water last week as He and the disciples crossed the sea. The Bread of Life discourse recorded by John follows those events and is likely delivered by Jesus as His explanation in the synagogue of the same Genesis reading that we read this morning.
It is fitting that it follows immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5000. It reveals how the people see Jesus. It reveals what they want. They want another Moses. They perhaps even believe that Jesus is the prophet that was to come. The one that Moses said would be like him. They witnessed Jesus multiplying the loaves and partook of the bread and they believed that they had their new Moses. And that is all they wanted.
They wanted somebody to provide for their needs. They wanted a prophet that would ease their toil by giving them their daily bread. They were looking for a version of heaven on earth where vocation didn’t equate to work and satisfying one’s hunger didn’t mean labor first. They wanted a benefactor that would give them what they wanted, not a Savior from their sins. They received the bread but they failed to understand the miracle. Today, we would call them theologians of glory as opposed to theologians of the cross. They sought glorious results on earth on account of the things that they were to do – those works of God.
They were looking to win the lottery with God’s help. They wanted a windfall in the form of earthly rewards. And they were seeking to please God by doing the works that He desired as a quid pro quo. It would be a nice setup in their minds as God’s prophet, Jesus wandered through life with them, giving them the things necessary for life and in return, they would do those things that merited such benevolence. Maybe they didn’t think that they exactly earned such bread yet, but they were on their way to proving their worth as they looked to Jesus to teach them just how to do it.
They were looking at Jesus as the new Moses in more than one way. They saw Jesus as a new Law giver. One who would teach them how to please God so that they would be worthy of the things which they would receive. Moses gave them the Ten Commandments. They hoped that Jesus would give them a set of rules by which they could prove their worth and earn God’s favor. In that way, they could earn even more than just the bread for a meal. Perhaps by their works of God they would achieve wealth and status; maybe independence from the Romans. With their obedience, they may even achieve the prominence once known under David and Solomon.
Doesn’t it all sound a little familiar – this theology of glory? It is rampant today with the name and claim crowd of the Word Faith movement where its adherents believe that God will give them whatever they want on account of their great faith. If they only please God enough by their work of faith, He will give them their hearts desire. After all, God’s greatest desire is for you to be happy and successful, so they say.
But don’t think such thoughts are confined to others. Even we, because of our sinful nature, look to God as a trading partner. We are good politicians in our own right. We know how to network and make connections for mutual advantage. We are good at bartering. We may not be so crass as some others, but thinking that God should relieve us of some suffering because our faithfulness in this thing or that thing is not beyond us. Praying that God would give us the right numbers for playing the lottery or healing us of some illness just because we haven’t missed a day of praying in over a month or because we have been diligent in volunteering for whatever godly service we do. It is all the same kind of thinking. Trying to barter with God on account of the works that we do will never accumulate anything for our good. Our only bartering point with God is the same that Jesus was directing today’s hearers to in that synagogue at Capernaum. Any miracle or answer to prayer always points to the Bread from heaven that has given His life for the world so that each and every one of us would be satisfied.
Jesus gave bread in the miracle but while the miracle had a temporal satisfaction in that it filled their bellies, it was not the full belly that was the ultimate goal. Jesus did the miracle that they might see and understand by this sign that He was the One that had come down from heaven and that in Him God satisfies the need of humanity.
What those Jews didn’t see and what the world doesn’t see and what we often neglect to see is the real need that every one of us has that cannot be satisfied by the things of this world, whether it be bread or money, health or friends. The real need that every one of us has is that we are starving for righteousness. We are parched by the sin that leaves us dry. We have an inborn need that can only be satisfied by the Bread of Life.
Of course our bodies need bread to sustain this mortal flesh. But our eternal beings needs the food that cannot be bought or sold, cannot be bartered for nor earned. This Bread of Life that has come down from heaven has been given for the life of the world. That by what He has done and by what He has suffered, God would freely give to you the Bread that endures unto life eternal. This Bread is Jesus. He that was blessed by the Spirit in His baptism and broken for you upon the cross is the Bread that satisfies the soul with God’s love, quenches the fires of a burdened conscience with the blood of the Lamb, and nourishes the children of God that they reach perfect maturity.
The people cried, “Sir, give us this bread always.” This is exactly what He does when you hear the word of absolution that forgives your sins. When your ideas of merit and worthiness are shattered by the Law and all that is left is what is declared to you from the Word of God. He gives you the Bread of Life. He gives you Jesus and all that is in Him and through Him by a simple word – a word that revives you and sustains you – a word that feeds and satisfies your hunger for righteousness. This Bread of Life is what you need more than any bread for the belly. And it is this Bread of Life that God has given and continues to give you in and through and by His Word of forgiveness. It is this Bread of Life that feeds you and makes you righteous, this Bread of Life that nourishes you unto life eternal, that gives you strength to do the work of God and the works for man as you glorify Him and serve your neighbor.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.