The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 26, 2006
2 Corinthians 7:4-10
2, 391, 340(1-5), 340(6-9)
[Jesus said], “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.”
Dear fellow-redeemed in Jesus, our nourishment from above:
We face many dilemmas in this world. Strangely, the comfortable, abundant lifestyle most of us in this country enjoy presents us with more difficult choices than ever—whether it be choices that come in a stroll down a supermarket aisle, or with a glance at the menu of a restaurant. Of course, there are more pressing issues that we have to consider such as how to make a living, how to govern our nation, etc.
Mankind is no stranger to dilemmas, in fact, we’ve become pretty good at solving many of them through observation and applied science (although some of our solutions tend to create dilemmas in themselves). But man has never been capable of resolving one dilemma—the one dilemma that lies at the heart of all life. That dilemma is: How to satisfy our need for true life—life in God? How can we even recognize true life for what it really is?
In the Word before us today, we have an answer. We’ll see that God gives a heavenly solution to our earthly dilemma I. Sinful man fails to seek the true Bread he needs; and II. Jesus’ incarnation is God’s solution to man’s dilemma.
Let us pray:
O Holy Spirit, through Your Word, grant that we see the sugar-coated morsels of this world for the emptiness they really are, and turn our hearts instead to the rich nourishment we find in Christ Jesus. Amen
There are times during the day where you may find yourselves hungry, but the things for which you hunger aren’t necessarily things that will nourish you. A candy bar or a soda may satisfy for a while, but they have little to offer in the way of true nutrition.
But what happens if our body fails to crave some food that contains a vital nutrient for life? Our health will suffer. We would starve. This illustrates mankind’s earthly dilemma, namely, that sinful man fails to seek the true bread that he needs.
Today’s text is part of a follow-up to the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. After Jesus fed the multitude, He crossed the Sea of Galilee to the port city of Capernaum. The crowds who had eaten His miraculously free bread the day before went looking for Him. They figured out that He must have crossed the Sea, so they went to Capernaum too and found Him there in the streets of the city. They had wanted to take Jesus and make Him their king, and were now a little offended that He hadn’t played along with their game.
Why hadn’t Jesus played along with them? Why did He, the Son of David, slip away from their grasp and this golden opportunity to become a King, after helping them out with the baskets and baskets of food?
The reason is that Jesus recognized the tendency of sinful mankind to seek to “live by bread alone” (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Sinful man’s tendency is to think that his primary concern in life should be to keep a full belly and a dry roof over his head. Jesus met the people in Capernaum that day and told them point blank: “I say to you, you seek Me…because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). That’s what lay at the heart of the Jews’ interest in Jesus. They saw in Him someone to supply their physical needs, to free them up for more pleasant pursuits—a slave in king’s apparel.
The point is that we can’t trust our own natural appetites to draw us to the nourishment we really need. Let us test ourselves and the hungers that motivate us and the people around us: Do we seek a diet of entertainment? Do we labor just to maintain a standard of living? Are we constantly concerned about security?
None of those things bring us any closer to God. And what about the things that will bring us closer to God: How great is our natural hunger for that which does feed the soul? Is it easier to turn on the TV, or to spend some time studying the scriptures? Does your body want to get up and go to church, or roll over for another hour of sleep? All too often, we overlook the true treasure of our lives.
The Jews that met Jesus in Capernaum were confronted with the issue right at its core: What sort of bread is able to keep you alive forever? Jesus told them: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and are dead.” [v.49] Jesus was referring to those Israelite ancestors who had joined Moses in striking out for the Promised Land after escaping from Egypt. Although they went along for the hike, their hearts were not moved by faith in God’s doings and they complained bitterly all the way. One of the things they complained about was “this worthless bread,” (Numbers 21:5), namely, the Manna that God had miraculously sent them from heaven. Because these Israelites received the Manna with no more faith and gratitude than any of God’s other works of grace, they were forbidden to enter the Promised Land and literally littered the wilderness with their bodies. Death is a constant reminder that all the bread in the world cannot stave off sin nor the divine condemnation that lies behind it.
Jesus’ own incarnation—His taking of human body and blood—is God’s gracious solution to man’s dilemma.
In contrast to the image of the Israelites dying hopelessly in the wilderness, Jesus offered a different sort of food to His audience in Capernaum: “I am the Bread of Life.” [v.47] He had started out by speaking to them in the lofty terms of faith: “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” [v.47] But He wasn’t getting through to their carnal minds. They were still locked into a “what we really need is a full belly” mode. So He realized it was time to shock them into looking at things from a different point of view: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” [v.51]
This is God’s heavenly solution to man’s earthly dilemma. God’s solution for man is focused right on Jesus. When people look at the Christian religion they often look at it the same way the Jews looked at Jesus. The Jews thought to themselves, “Hey! This guy can give us all the bread we want!” What Jesus was saying to them and to us all is, “I am the Bread you need.”
This is the only bread—the only nourishment for man—that comes with the promise: “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
God is interested in supplying us with life. The life He supplies is real, it cannot be hindered or violated. When God sent His only begotten Son into this world, that Son had the Father’s life in Him—true holiness and blessedness. The Son was intimately united with the Father—they were and are the living God. But the Son came to give life as well, to quicken the walking corpses of people who were lost in sin and spiritually dead to God. There is no other way to have this union with God than through Jesus, His Son: “As the Living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so He who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” [v.57]
If the Jews were a little put off by all this talk of “feeding” on Jesus, Jesus went on to make them squirm by becoming more specific. He changed from a word that just means “to eat” to a word that was even more graphic—like an animal noisily eating its dinner with slurping and bone-crunching enthusiasm: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life…” [v.56]
What was this about? Jesus was pointing to His own physical existence as the key to life—the life of the world. God’s eternal Son lived without a physical body and a human nature. He lived as God. But this same Son became flesh. He became a human being with a body containing roughly two parts water and one part dust of the earth with platelets and hemoglobin coursing through His veins. With a most unnatural beginning, He came into the world in the natural way and with a purpose: “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
This was God’s solution to our dilemma which was brought upon mankind by reason of sin. He would send His own infinitely precious Son to atone for our sin and to wipe away the curse that sin brought upon us.
Jesus came with the full awareness that there was no other means for man to escape the curse of sin than through Him personally. He alone would provide the perfect sacrifice. He would make an offering of his body and shed His blood to atone for our sin against God. He would become the sole bridge to perfect peace and reconciliation between God and man.
This is food and drink for the soul. Jesus’ call to the Jews to receive Him in faith was an invitation to consume a delectable gift from God, rather than to be consumed by desires that do not satisfy. His promise of eternal life for the one who feeds on Him is a call to an active and well-nourished faith in the truths of the Gospel.
Jesus, who gave His life for us, now lives and rules in the heart of every believer. Whether young or old, whether rich or poor, slave or free, God your Savior is near you, dwelling in your very heart, filling you with true life. This Jesus, who ate and drank with the miserable and despised, the sinners and tax-collectors, is all the righteousness we could ask. This Jesus who in His death overcame death and sin, is our life eternally.
Where else are we going to find such nourishing bread? May God grant us a deep appetite for this Bread come down from heaven. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.