Lent Midweek 1 – February 17th, 2016 – John 6:25-40
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Before we look at our Gospel lesson, I want to spend a few moments talking about bread. Bread sort of has a dirty connotation in Modern America. Too many carbs – carbs are bad. And while most of us really like those a nice warm roll, we've learned to put those off to the side and stick to the main part of the meal – the meat, the veggies. And in this, we really don't understand the world that folks lived in during bible times. For us, bread is an accessory to the meal – even with a sandwich it's main job is to carry the ingredients to our mouths. Not so in the ancient world. In Jesus' day bread was the meal, or at least the main part. It's why we pray for our “daily bread”. Bread was what defined food – it's what let you live in the winter when nothing was growing, but there was grain and you could mill and make bread. But as we heard this past weekend, Genesis 3 reminded us that bread was the food of punishment. Yeah, there's winters and lack because of the fall, so you are going to eat bread now, instead of the fruit of the garden, and you are going to eat it by the sweat of your brow. So as we hear our Gospel text, just bear in your mind that bread meant two things in the ancient world. Bread meant you survived, but bread also was a reminder of the impact of sin.
Now to our Gospel. So John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000 (which we'll actually hear a few weekends from now), and our text is from a conversation the following day. These are all people who witnessed the miracle, who were fed by Christ. And when they find Jesus, He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” Now, these folks had gone around the sea of Galilee looking for Jesus, following after Him – and Jesus chides them. You aren't here for preaching, for Me – you're here to get your belly filled. You're here because you want stuff. You aren't focused on everlasting life, you want to play the system to try to get more junk now. Now, at first this seems harsh, but Jesus was spot on. In response they ask, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” Well, isn't that a nice question – how pious and eager these folks are!! Poppycock. They are trying to play the angles, they are trying to play the game. Jesus has just said that He Himself will give them the food that endures to eternal life – give. Gift. Free. Oh, well, what do I need to do to earn this “free” gift – surely You're like some huckster who gives a free sample and then after that you have got to pay, so tell us what we've got to do.
And Jesus tells them. What works must you do? Well, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He has sent.” Nothing. Nothing that you'd think of as a work. You believe, and even that belief is a gift from God. It's not about what you do, it's about what I do for you and what I give to you. And that's the way it always is. The point is God for you. Believe this. And, of course – they don't. “So they said to Him, 'What sign do you do, that we may see and believe You? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written 'He gave them bread from heaven.'” Yeah – we ain't buying it. Why should we believe in You, Jesus? And this is an utterly silly complaint – what sign? Um, how about the feeding of the 5000, the reason you ran around a lake to find Jesus? Moreover – yes, Manna is awesome... but do we remember why it happened? Because people grumbled and complained about God? Manna was given to the people of Israel in spite of them. In fact, they ate it so long in the wilderness because they refused to believe God and enter the promised land, they ate it until they were sick of it. Is that really the example you want to use?
And so Jesus starts to correct them again - “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave 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.” You're majoring in minors here, folks – don't look to the wilderness and Moses when you've got the Messiah right in front of you. And the folks say, alright, give us this bread. Show us what you've got, Jesus.
And then Jesus says one of the most profound things you will hear. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Now, let's get into an old testament mindset here. First – as will be the case all of these Lenten services – I AM. EGO EIMI. “I Am” is how God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush. And in Hebrew, you never, ever said “I am”. You simply would say “I” and leave off the verb. In fact, in modern Hebrew they don't even technically have a present tense “being” verb, because the 1st person singular of that is God's name. You don't say this. You didn't need to in Greek, either. In Greek you just said “am” and it worked. But here Jesus lays it out – says “I AM”. He claims to be God. And what does He claim to be as God? He claims to be the bread of life.
Adam ate the bread of death. He worked for it, he sweated for it – he ate it, remembering the lush fruit of the garden while he chewed, and he died. Even Manna, that too was a bread of death. The grumblers ate their manna, they ate it until they died in the wilderness, because every adult there in Exodus 16 (except Joshua and Caleb) dies before reaching the promised land as punishment for their refusal to enter. Manna too was a bread of death. Jesus, though, is the bread of life. The bread of everlasting life – in the Old Testament “shall not hunger” and “shall not thirst” were the classic descriptions of the life of the world to come, of the Messianic kingdom. Yeah, the Messiah will come, and there will be no more hunger or thirst – we will be utterly cared for. That's what Jesus is going to do – and how is He going to do it? No longer will bread be the bread of death – Jesus will make it, will make Himself the bread of life.
Jesus goes into detail about how He is going to bring salvation – but let's ponder this image of “bread” again. Bread was the sign of punishment – and what does Jesus do in order to win us salvation? He takes up all our punishment. He fulfills all righteousness, and even though He is holy and perfect and blameless, He takes up the wages of sin, the punishment of sin. He dies upon the cross. But because He dies, death itself is changed. It is no more the end – even should you die, yet because of Christ, you shall live. Christ changes things, changes the way the world works, changes the way we view things – and even the punishment leveled for sin can no longer appall – for Christ has come.
And Christ Jesus your Lord is the bread of life. Because of Him, when you come here, before this altar, before this rail, what is the promise you have? “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.” And here, in His Supper, Christ Jesus, the Bread of Life, gives you Himself in, with, and under bread and wine, because He is the bread of life, and He will see you raised to life, true life, not just this dying so-called life that we have now where we age and get frail and things fall apart and everything stinks. No, He is the Bread of Life – He is the one who turns even dying into life. My dear friends in Christ, even as you see the hardships and pains of this life – know that Christ Jesus gives you life eternal, calls you not just to the feast at His altar, but to the everlasting and eternal feast in His Kingdom which shall have no end. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +