First Sunday After Epiphany January 9, 2000
543, 291, 312, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
In Christ Jesus, whose Word strengthens and nourishes us, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Nothing is more substantial and solid than a good meal. Think back to the Christmas dinner or the Thanksgiving dinner that you enjoyed with your family. So many different foods heaped high in bowls, on steaming platters: meat and potatoes, vegetables, salads and deserts. Satisfying, wasn’t it? What could possibly be more fulfilling and gratifying than a good meal like that?
Good food is satisfying. It satisfies your hunger, it’s a pleasure for you to eat, and it gives nourishment to your body. Along with clothing and shelter, food is one of the three basic needs of every human being. There’s something we all need that’s even more basic than physical food, though—and that’s spiritual food. If your life as a Christian has been slipping downhill lately, if you’ve felt your faith weakening, if you just don’t feel as close to the Lord as you used to—then maybe you need to pay a little more attention to your spiritual nutrition. Our text for today holds the key to a satisfying and healthy lies in the words of Jesus, “I am the Bread of Life.” Consider with me the theme:
The crowd who met Jesus in Capernaum that day were people who had food on their mind. Specifically, they were thinking about the miracle Jesus had performed the day before—the Feeding of the Five Thousand. With their own eyes, they had seen Jesus turn five loaves of bread and two little fish into a meal for over 5000 people. It was free food—all you can eat! Well, this was a Man they definitely did not want to lose sight of. So when Jesus and His disciples crossed over the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, the crowd got into boats of their own and eagerly followed Him.
Now, any other religious teacher might have been flattered by their attention. But not Jesus. He could read their hearts, and He knew exactly why they were there. “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.” He tried to get their minds off free meals, and onto more important things. “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.” Work to get the food that really satisfies, He told them!
Unfortunately, all they heard was that word, “work”, and then they were off on another tangent. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? It’s the natural reaction of human beings: as soon as someone mentions eternal life, the first thing people ask is, “What can I DO to get it? What can I DO so God will be satisfied with me and let me into heaven when I die? What work can I accomplish?” It’s the same question that rich young man asked Jesus; the same question the jailer at Philippi asked Paul and Silas. “What must I DO to be saved?” And God’s answer is always the same: only believe. Jesus replied to the crowds, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
It was the right answer to a wrong question. The only “work” that will satisfy God and insure you a place in heaven is faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s not really a “work” at all! At least, it’s certainly not a work that we do. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives us faith in Jesus, as Paul says in Ephesians, “…You have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (2:8-9). There’s only one way to satisfy God—Jesus told the crowd—and that’s by believing in Me.
But the people still couldn’t get their mind off food. Well, they suggested, if we’re supposed to believe in You, why don’t you perform another miracle so we can have faith? What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? And if Jesus was going to do another miracle anyway, why not something else having to do with food? They said, Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. It was rather a transparent hint, wasn’t it? They wanted some more free food. The Son of God was standing right in front of them, and the only thing they could think about was their stomachs! “Give us food, something we can see and taste, and then we’ll believe you. Then we’ll really be satisfied!”
Is that what true religion is all about? A lot of modern churches seem to think so. There’s a growing trend among today’s churches to forget about spiritual food, and concentrate on the physical. Every month they have bake sales and bazaars and spaghetti suppers. Volunteers take meals to the elderly. There are collections to buy food for the homeless. They send care packages to the impoverished people of Africa. Now certainly, Christians are to reflect God’s love by providing for the physical needs of others. But is that the main thrust of our religion? Is that the most important thing we have to offer people, the thing we are to concentrate most of our time and effort upon? If it is, then what did Jesus mean when He said, “Man does not live by bread alone?”—Mt 4:4. What was Paul talking about when he told the Romans, “For the kingdom of God is NOT food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit?”—Rom 14:17.
No, God has given us something that’s more substantial than physical food, something that’s more satisfying than a fresh loaf of bread. He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ! Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. More than any other food, the Bread of Life is food that satisfies!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve about had it up to here with those health food commercials on TV. You know the ones: “Quaker oatmeal—it’s the right thing to do!” “Be heart smart—eat Fiber One cereal!” And so on, and so forth—If they don’t say it out loud, they at least imply that using their products will lengthen your life dramatically and stave off various terrible diseases. The truth is that what kind of breakfast food you eat probably hasn’t got a whole lot to do with how long you live. But what if it was true? What if there was a particular food available- say, a certain type of whole grain bread—that was proven to add many years to a person’s life? Well, you’d buy it, wouldn’t you? You’d pay whatever it cost to get that particular brand of bread for yourself and your family!
Jesus is that Bread! He is the Bread of Life Jesus Christ is the food that adds years to your life.—And not just five years or ten years, either—but hundreds and thousands of years. In fact, eternal life is the guaranteed result for any person who partakes of Jesus Christ by faith.
-Faith is a key word there. Because faith is the means by which we consume this precious Bread of Life. A little later on in this chapter, Jesus says, “The bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.. he who eats this bread will live forever.”—vv. 51, 58. Eating the Bread of Life means having faith in Jesus. Not just having faith that He exists. Not “foxhole faith”, which turns to God only in times of terrible danger. Not “rabbit’s foot faith”, which trusts blindly and superstitiously, without ever reading what the Bible has to say about Christ. True faith means actually relying on Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary for the forgiveness of your sins. On the cross, Jesus gave His own body into death, with you in mind. The blood which He shed from His hands, His feet, His wounded side, He shed to cover your sins, now and forever! Paul says, “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”—Eph 5:2.
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”—Mt 5:6. Once you have realized what your most important need is, and how that need can be satisfied, there is no limit to how much of that precious food you can have. You will be filled! Every day, you can bring your sins to Jesus for forgiveness. In repentance you can cast off the spotted garment of your flesh, and put on the white robe of Christ’s righteousness again and again. He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
And if any nagging doubts remain—if the devil casts the sins of your past before your eyes and whispers, “You are not worthy,” then I ask you to remember another promise Jesus made. A promise which is simpler still. Two verses beyond our sermon text of this morning, Jesus says, He that cometh unto Me I will by no means cast out. Only come to Jesus. Only trust in Him, and pardon shall be yours!
Do you believe that? Then that’s all there is to it! To the question, “What must I DO,” God answers, “ONLY BELIEVE.” Let go of any works or merits or righteousness of your own, and hang on tight to the perfect righteousness of Christ. The result? You have eaten the Bread of Life, and you WILL live forever!
My Christian friends, this is our religion. Jesus Christ is the Bread that gives life to the world. This Bread is by far the most important thing God has given to us, and it’s by far the most important thing that we, as Christians, can give to other people. By all means, let’s partake of this heavenly food ourselves as often as we can—here at church, in our family devotions, in our personal Bible study. Let’s make sure we provide it for our children, recognizing that giving them the Bread of Life is even more important than serving them nutritious food at mealtime. And let’s share this precious Bread with those around us. “As newborn babes,” Peter said, “desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Well, we have tasted it, and we know: the Bread of Life is food that satisfies! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.