Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
Who is Jesus? Rather than gather information from the glossy pages of Time, this Lenten season, as we prepare to approach the cross and resurrection of Jesus, we will be letting Jesus answer the question for himself. Who is Jesus? We will listen to Jesus in his own words, from the gospel according to John. Seven times in that gospel account, Jesus says, “I Am” and then gives a declaration of his identity. We will look at each of these seven to hear what Jesus is saying about who he is. Does that sound alright?
The first of these is in the sixth chapter of the gospel of John. You can turn there with me. John is the fourth book in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – about three-quarters of the way through the Bible. John chapter 6, beginning in verse 25.
While you turn there, let me set the stage a moment. After a whole day of healing people and teaching, a large crowd begins to follow Jesus, about 5000 people. Its the end of the day and Jesus asks his students, known as disciples, to feed the people. They claim they have nowhere near enough money or even where they would go to buy that much food, only that one boy has a lunch of five loaves and two fish. Jesus takes this small lunch, and begins to distribute it to the five thousand people gathered there. As Jesus breaks the bread, it does not run out. The more Jesus gives the more there seems to be, until all 5000 are fed from those five loaves and two fish and twelve baskets of leftovers are collected. Somehow there is more leftover than they started with. The people recognize this as a miracle. Jesus tells his disciples to get into a boat and head to other side of the lake, known as the Sea of Galilee. While they are rowing, there is a storm and Jesus comes to them walking on the water. They are terrified, Jesus calms the storm, and they reach the other side.
Meanwhile, the crowd has noticed they are missing and sets out to look for Jesus. One last quick note is that at the beginning of our passage, the people call Jesus ‘Rabbi,’ which was the title for a particular kind of teacher at the time of Jesus and was a term of respect. But listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus 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. Do 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.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then 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. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus 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. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away, for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This 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.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
LOOKING FOR THE NEW MOSES
The crowds that followed Jesus to the other side of the Sea of Galilee thought they knew who they were looking for. They thought they understood Jesus. After a day of watching Jesus heal the sick and teach of God, he had filled their stomachs. From five barley loaves and two small fish, they had been fed. They had seen Jesus sitting up on a mountain, seen him distribute food that seemed to come from nowhere, as he divided and divided and there was somehow more and more and more to give around. They followed Jesus all the way to other side of the sea because they believed they knew who they were looking for.
They believed Jesus was a new Moses. Long before, God had raised up a leader of his people named Moses, who led them by the hand of God, out of captivity in the land of Egypt into the wilderness. For forty years, the people of God lived in the wilderness and for forty years there was no food, except what God miraculously provided. Every day, bread rained down from heaven that the people gathered up to eat. This bread was called ‘manna.’ God filled their stomachs and sustained their bodies for forty years in the wilderness, until the day they set foot in the land God had promised them.
When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish, feeding five thousand people, the crowds saw an immediate connection to Moses in the wilderness. We see this in verse 31, when they ask Jesus to prove himself, to show them another sign so they will believe him, the example they give is Our ancestors at manna in the wilderness, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ They saw Jesus as a new Moses who would fill their stomachs, just as God did through Moses in the wilderness.
Which means, they came following Jesus, not because they were interested in Jesus himself, but because of what he could give them. Jesus outs them immediately in verse 26: Jesus 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.” They came to get more food.
BREAD THAT WILL NOT SATISFY
They came following Jesus, heading all the way to the other side of the sea to find him, looking for bread, but not the bread Jesus came to offer. They wanted more of the bread they had tasted on that hillside and not what Jesus truly came to give.
They wanted more of the bread that would never truly satisfy them. Verse 27: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
I recently learned that Canadians eat more Kraft Dinner per capita than any country in the world. I was surprised by this stat, but Olga was not. Evidently, Canadians love Kraft Dinner. But thing about Kraft Dinner is that, not matter how cheesy and delicious it is, you eat and you are going to get hungry again. And then if you eat another box, you will still get hungry again and again and again. You eat a little bit more and it might take longer for you to get hungry, but it will happen. There is no amount of Kraft Dinner you can eat that will ensure you never get hungry again. And as far as I know, there are no studies indicating that eating Kraft Dinner improves life expectancy. In fact, I imagine if you eat too much, you may die sooner, but I’m not a doctor.
This is the way food works. We eat, we get hungry. Again and again and again. It is never enough. It may satisfy for a moment, for a little while, but we get hungry again.
But it is not just food we hunger for. Our spouse shows us affection and its wonderful for a little while, and then we get hungry. We finally get the recognition we are hoping for, that big break at work, which we think will be finally be enough. And it is, for a little while, but then we get hungry. We feel anxiety creep up our backs, so we try to fill that hole of fear with whatever we think will make it go away. But it keeps coming back. Over and over again, the hunger comes back.
The crowds came to Jesus, thinking they knew who he was and thinking they knew just what they needed to end their hunger. But when we come to him thinking we know just what we need, we run the danger of missing out on what Jesus is truly offering us – himself.
WANTING MORE, SETTLING FOR LESS
When the crowds came looking for Jesus, they came looking for food. Jesus’ response tells us they were not asking for too much, but for too little. They were demanding more of the same, more of what they already knew, had already tasted, but were, in reality, settling for far less than what Jesus was giving. Jesus was giving them himself.
They wanted bread from heaven. They wanted satisfaction for their hungers and Jesus offered himself to them as what would truly satisfy, not just now, not just for a few years, not just for this lifetime, but past death into the resurrection and the age to come.
Who is Jesus? Jesus 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.
You want satisfaction? Come to me. You want to be filled? Come to me. You want bread from heaven? I have come down from heaven to give life to the world.
Eat bread and you will get hungry again. Eat bread and you will eventually die, like everyone who ate that manna in the wilderness. Fill you life with distraction or stuff or accolades and it will never be enough, the hunger will keep coming back. Fill your life with the love and recognition of your peers, even the devotion of your children and spouse, and you will still eventually die. Jesus says, Come to me and I will give you myself. Come to me and I will give you life – life that last into eternity.
So often, when we come looking for Jesus, we are not asking too much, but too little of him. We come with hopes and sometimes desperate pain looking for Jesus to fix it, looking for him to answer. Our prayers are heard, but Jesus offers us so much more. It is like the English novelist C.S. Lewis put it, “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Jesus says, I am the bread of life. He is not only the giver of all good gifts, but he is the gift itself. The bread that comes down from heaven – that’s Jesus. The bread that gives life – that’s Jesus. The bread that lasts for eternal life – that’s Jesus. The one thing that can fill us and sustain us and bring us true joy and hope and peace is Jesus himself.
Who is Jesus? He is the bread of life. In giving us this image, Jesus reveals himself as the gift of the Father and as the true satisfaction of our souls.
First, Jesus as the bread of life is the gift of the Father. Jesus compares himself to the manna at the time of Moses in the sense that both were sent by the Father from heaven down to earth. When the crowds attribute the giving of Manna to Moses, Jesus quickly corrects them and emphasizes how the manna – the bread of God – came down out of heaven to give life. After he proclaims himself the ‘bread of life,’ Jesus uses almost the exact same language. He came down from heaven. He gives eternal life to those who come to him and believe in him. Just as manna was the gift of God in the wilderness to sustain the people of God for forty years, Jesus is the gift of God to sustain the people of God unto eternal life. This ‘coming down from heaven’ like manna is Jesus’ way of talking about what happened in the womb of Mary. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the second person of the Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of God, was sent of the Father and took on human flesh in the womb of Mary. God came as the man Jesus and was born as a baby in Bethlehem. He came down from heaven and became flesh to be God for us, God with us, the Messiah who gives himself up for us so that we can have eternal life. When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” he is telling us who he is. He is the gift of the Father for us.
Second, Jesus is also the true satisfaction of our souls. Whereas all other food, all other emotions, ambitions, or relationships will only leave us hungry again and again, Jesus alone can fill our hearts completely. This is why when the crowd came looking for Jesus to give them more bread, Jesus remarked that they were not looking for him because they understood the sign. They were not coming because they understood what he was offering, but only to fill their stomachs. What he offers is so much better. What Jesus gives is true food that does not perish. What Jesus gives is himself, relationship with him. Jesus tells us this life and satisfaction that comes from him will last. It will last all the way into eternal life.
We began by asking ‘Who is Jesus’ and sought to listen to Jesus in his own words. We heard the story of how a crowd followed Jesus hoping that he was like a new Moses, able to feed their stomachs every day. We talked about how food only satisfies us for a short time before we need to eat again and again and how all our hungers work this way. Then we heard Jesus tell us that he is the bread of life. When we come to Jesus looking for bread to feed our stomachs, we are not looking for too much, but too little. Jesus offers himself – the bread of life – the gift of the Father for us, and the true satisfaction of our souls. So who is Jesus? Jesus 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.
But how do we get this bread of life? How do we eat this bread that endures for eternal life? How we we receive Jesus’ gift of himself?
The crowds asked a similar question. Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” They wanted to know what to do in order to work for this food that would endure all the way to eternal life. Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Believe. How do we receive this bread of life? How do we receive Jesus himself and with him eternal life with God and the end to our heart’s deep hunger? Believe in Jesus Christ. Trust in him. Jesus promises us, “This 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.”
Jesus 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. Come to Christ, all you who are hungry. Come to Christ, all you who are thirsty. Come and be satisfied. Come, believe, and receive life, everlasting life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.