June 23, 2013

Jesus, True Bread Who Gives Life to the World

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 6:22–35

Sermon on John 6:22-35 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Series of Questions for Your Eternal Satisfaction

The aim of today’s message is that we see Jesus Christ as the true bread who gives life to the world. That message will unfold as Jesus answers a series of questions posed by the Jews. We see the first question in verse 25—“When did you come here?”—the second question in verse 28—“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”—and then the third question in verse 30—“What sign do you do?...What work do you perform?” And as we listen in to the conversation, as we listen to Jesus answering their questions, what we find is that God is addressing us as well. He exposes our fleshly motives to transform them into godly ones; he tests our faith to ensure it’s in the right place; he attends our deepest needs to reveal himself as the ultimate Satisfier. John has not recorded this dialogue so that you kick back, enjoy a good story, and remain unchanged, but so that you yourself can’t help but conclude this morning, “My soul is starving for something that truly satisfies, and there’s nothing in this world comparable to Jesus. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and he has words of eternal life that I desperately need.”

These words exist to create in you every day, in every circumstance, the kind of response we hear from Asaph in Ps 73: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you, [O Lord].”

But let’s set the stage before we jump into the dialogue. On the day before, Jesus performed a miracle and fed more than five-thousand people with five barley loaves and a couple of fish. He basically turned a kid’s lunch pack into enough food to feed an army. And the point of it all was not the bread itself, but to reveal Jesus as the all-sufficient King of Israel. Jesus even confirms that reality by refusing kingship at the hands of a bunch of zealots, not only because he’s already king—which he shows the disciples by walking on the water—but because he has a mission to accomplish. He’s not the sort of king who delivers his people through imperial force. He’s a king who delivers his people through death on a cross. So, the message of the bread miracle—together with the walking on the water—was that Jesus is the all-sufficient King of Israel. He meets all of our needs, including our greatest need of reconciliation with God.

Jesus Exposes Their Unbelief

Now we come to verse 22. It’s the next day, and the crowd that Jesus fed is looking all over the place for him. And they’re confused about where he’s at, because they know he didn’t get on the boat last night with the disciples. They don’t know that Jesus crossed by walking on the water, nor do they really care. They just want to find out where he went. So they get in some boats and row over to Capernaum, verse 24 says, “seeking Jesus.” And they finally find him and ask their first question in verse 25. They say, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Seems like a straightforward question, especially with all the confusion over how Jesus crossed the waters. But Jesus sees something different hidden beneath the surface of their question.He sees what we are unable to see in others—namely, the purposes of the heart. He knows us through and through. There’s no part of us that escapes his holy gaze and exhaustive knowledge. As John told us in 2:25, “Jesus needs no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knows what is in man.” And what Jesus sees these Jews hiding behind their question is unbelief. The same unbelief that was present in their hearts before the bread miracle (6:2) is the same unbelief present in their hearts after the bread miracle. So, rather than dealing with their question and leaving them comfortable in their unbelief, Jesus exposes their unbelief. In other words, “what’s of most importance is not when I got to Capernaum, but why you’re seeking me?”

He gives his answer in verse 26: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” That’s an amazing statement in light of what verse 14 says the people saw: “When the people saw the sign that he had done.” What does Jesus mean, “You’re seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They did see the sign that he had done. What Jesus means is that there are two ways to see his signs. One way is that you can look at the signs with your physical eyes and even find them to be pretty amazing feats of power and provision. And another way is that you can look along the signs with your spiritual eyes to see what they’re ultimately pointing to. It’s kind of like seeing a ray of sunlight piercing through the clouds. You can look at the sunray or you can look along the sunray to see the glorious ball of fire some 92 million miles away. Similarly, you can look at Jesus’ signs and stop there; or you can look along Jesus’ signs to see his true glory. It’s not that the first way—looking at Jesus’ signs—is bad in and of itself. Jesus told us in 5:36 that his Father gave him these kinds of miraculous works to bear witness to him. And John even tells us in several places that Jesus’ signs are part and parcel to revealing the glory of God’s Son (2:11; 12:37-41; 20:30-31). So it’s not bad to look at Jesus’ signs.

Where the Jews go wrong is when all they want from Jesus’ signs is to look at them without ever looking along them to behold the glory of God’s Son. In other words, the signs never budge their hardened hearts toward faith in God’s Son to whom all of the signs are pointing. The signs in John’s Gospel are always miracles that display Jesus’ glory and identify him as the only Son of God. But, when you only satisfy yourself with looking at the signs without looking along the signs, then you don’t really see the signs as you should see them. So, in the case of the bread miracle—you can look at the physical provision of bread itself without ever looking along the miraculous provision to embrace Jesus as the all-sufficient King of Israel. And that’s Jesus’ point in verse 26: they’re not seeking him because they saw signs and have been moved by those signs to trust him with everything—to confide in his all-sufficient, kingly care. They’re only seeking him, because they want more bread in their bellies.

They’re no different than their forefathers, Israel. God performed signs and wonders in delivering them from slavery in Egypt—he brought them across the sea with a mighty outstretched arm and swallowed up Pharaoh’s armies. He brought them into fellowship with himself as a people, adopting them as sons even though none of them deserved it. Next chapter: “I’m hungry and I want to go back to the meat pots and bread in Egypt.” They saw the signs, too, and missed God. The same is taking place here in Capernaum. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you’re seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus came that their hearts would be full of God himself, but all they want from him are bellies full of bread.

Wanting Jesus Himself, Not Merely His Gifts

You know, we often laugh when we parents fix ourselves a little savory snack in the afternoon and sit down on the couch to eat it. And it’s not too long before one of our children comes and says, “Daddy, can I sit with you?” And you say, “Sure, son, I’d love for you to sit with me.” And so you set him in your lap and he says, “Daddy, I love you?” And before there’s enough time for you to say, “I love you, too,” you hear, “Can I have a bite?” And you’re going, “Wait a minute! Do you really want me or my food?” We laugh at these sorts of responses from our children, but in some ways they’re a portrait of how we all relate to Jesus at times. We come to Jesus merely for what he can do for us quite apart from having Jesus himself. We seek after him to give us another sermon or lesson, but quite apart from wanting to know him more deeply. We seek after him to get rid of our anger problem, but quite apart from intimacy with him in prayer and communion with him through the Scriptures. We seek after Jesus to save our neighbors, but quite apart from enjoying his presence through sharing the gospel with them. We seek after Jesus to pay the next bill, but quite apart from finding pleasures at his right hand.We are right to seek him for all these things, but we’re wrong when we seek him only for these things. He loves for us to ask and seek and knock, but only when our asking and seeking and knocking bring us into deeper communion with him—that we might ultimately have him as the ultimate treasure, not merely his gifts. In this miracle, the goal of the bread is having Jesus, but these Jews were seeking Jesus merely to get the bread. So, Jesus then directs them to look along the sign to himself as the Son of Man.

Verse 27, “Do not labor [i.e., all their seeking—laboring, working] for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” So how’s the bread miracle to be understood? It’s to be understood as a sign pointing beyond itself to a heavenly reality—not to more perishing food, but to the food that endures to eternal life. Jesus is pointing them to much of the same things Isaiah had pointed Israel to long ago. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isa 55:2-3). Jesus is telling them that the nature of the food they’re chasing perishes—it will feed their bodies for so long and then they will die without having eternal life. They’re chief problem is not that they need more food for their little Jewish kingdom on earth; they’re chief problem is that they’re not in the kingdom at all and will never be in the kingdom if they don’t recognize the Son of Man standing right before them. He alone is able to give them food that endures to eternal life, because God has set his seal on him and nobody else.

If Jesus is pulling this “Son of Man” title from Dan 7:13 as he has before, what he’s saying is that there’s only one Person who can stand before the Ancient of Days and receive dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples and nations shall serve him. There’s only one Person who shares his everlasting dominion and whose kingdom will never pass away—and that one Person is the Son of Man now revealed in the person of Jesus. God has authorized Jesus and Jesus alone to give eternal life, because Jesus is the Son of Man. God anointed Jesus with the Spirit under John’s baptism (1:33), and he continues to give Jesus the Spirit without measure (3:34). He gives Jesus works that bear witness to his divine person—he is God’s Son—and the nature of his mission—he came to save us. God even wrote an entire Bible that tells us exactly what kind of Savior we need—a God-man who dies in our place—and what kind of Son he would send to be that Savior—his own Son to take on flesh.

So if these Jews are to have life at all, they must recognize that it is only Jesus, the Son of Man, who is able to give eternal life. The food he offers us is a food that keeps on giving, much like the water he offered the Samaritan woman was a water that would “become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Much like that, the nature of Jesus’ food is that it constantly nourishes us with a life of unhindered fellowship with God characteristic of the age to come. That’s what John means by eternal life. Without the Son of Man, we’re all separated from God and will never enjoy his presence in the age to come. With the Son of Man, we have communion with God and even begin to experience the life of the age to come now. So, it’s not merely about the duration of the life Jesus is able to give somewhere in the future when he brings his kingdom, but also the quality of life Jesus is glad to give us now through a relationship with God. That’s the kind of life we were made for, that’s the kind of life we need, and that’s the kind of life we find offered to us by Jesus.

Eternal Life Found in Christ, Not Our Own Works

Now, at this point, how might you respond to Jesus’ words? Do you respond with a, “Right, I am totally laboring for the wrong kind of food! I’m chasing this man for some bread, and he’s offering me God himself and everything that comes with him! What more could I want? I am yours Jesus!”? You might respond that way; and that would be a good response. But that’s not how the Jews respond—and I might add, that when our flesh is at its best, that’s not how we respond either. Like the Jews, we’re vulnerable to turning Jesus’ gift of eternal life into something we obtain through our own doings. We see this in the second question the Jews pose to Jesus.Verse 28, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” They got part of what Jesus said—namely, “Do not labor [or, literally, “do not work”] for the food that perishes, but [work] for the food that endures to eternal life.” That much of what Jesus said has led them to focus on the works God requires of them. But their unbelief has sunk them into a world self-confidence and self-righteousness—they ask Jesus the question assuming they can actually perform all the works God would require of them. But all Jesus meant by working for eternal life was simple faith in who he is—the Son of Man—and what he has come to give—eternal life. No amount of their own works could please God; only one work pleases God, and that is faith in Jesus. Verse 29, “This is the work of God [Notice he changes their question from works, plural, to one work God requires of them. This is the one work God requires, namely…] that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

It may catch some of you off guard that Jesus calls faith a “work” in this passage, but he means nothing different than what Paul teaches in his discussions about justification—that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28). The work God requires in John 6 is the same faith Paul speaks of in Rom 3. Both of them are teaching that a relationship with God comes not by our own merits, but solely by looking away from self to the merits of another, Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in verse 27, the Son of Man will give you food enduring to eternal life—and since God has chosen that he alone does the giving, that necessarily excludes you obtaining it by your own power and in your own strength. In God’s economy, the only work required of you is that of receiving and believing—receiving the Son of Man’s food and believing God sent him.

So, we can stop all our vain striving after the pleasures of this world, because we’ve found a much greater pleasure in knowing Christ. He is awesome in splendor, unbounded in joy, and heaven’s ultimate treasure. We won’t find anything or anyone more satisfying. Moreover, never do we need to worry about not doing enough works to please God from one day to the next. The whole point of God sending his Son was that only he could do all the works God required of man, and he did them all for us. By believing in Jesus we simultaneously unite ourselves to his achievements, to his merit before God, to his righteousness. And that union means that never again do I need to fret that my eternal life is in jeopardy for not measuring up. My relationship with God is not based on my own works, but on the work of Christ—and since his work is lacking in nothing, I need not waste my energies afraid of never pleasing God, but spend my energies enjoying him and ministering his amazing grace to others.

“This is the work God requires,” brothers and sisters, “that you believe in him whom he has sent.” And we’re not talking about a mere mental assent to the facts you’re reading on the page, but a glad-hearted acceptance of the person of Jesus himself, a yielding of everything to his rule, an ever-deepening affection for his glory, a casting of ourselves at his feet for life.

The Ultimate Sign of the Cross

But how is it that Jesus could say all this about himself anyway? First he claims that the bread ultimately points to the eternal life made available only through him. Then he has the audacity to tell the Jews their works would amount to nothing worthy of eternal life and what they needed was simply to trust in Jesus himself. He’s the One God sent (cf. Mal 3:1). How is it that he could make such claims? The Jews raise this question in verse 30: “So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?’” In other words, “You tell us that none of our works will gain us eternal life. What about you? What work do you perform, Jesus?”—which again shows they missed the point. First they’re fixed on the bread; then they resort to confidence in their own work; and now they’re asking Jesus to prove himself. Verse 31, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” So, “If you’re as great as you say you are; we want to see something more than a few barley loaves turned into enough for five thousand. Show us that you’re greater than Moses by raining bread from heaven.”In short, they’re calling Jesus’ bluff. They want him to prove that he has grounds for making such claims. Their attitude is very similar to what we observed of the authorities in 2:18. After Jesus drove out the money changers with a whip, the Jews said to Jesus, “What sign do you show us for doing these things.” They want him to prove himself. So Jesus answers in verse 32, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven.” So, fail on that Bible quotation. Moses didn’t give them the bread from heaven. If they read their Bibles with the eyes of faith, they’d see that God gave their fathers bread from heaven, and he did it through the person of his Son—just like Paul says in 1 Cor 10:4. So “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” And what does he mean by that? Verse 33, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

So they want something greater than Moses. And in comes Jesus telling them not only was Moses not the one giving bread in the wilderness, but also that something infinitely better than manna has come down from heaven. God’s own Son has come down from heaven. The one who had fed them bread from heaven was now incarnate as the true bread from heaven. Jesus identifies himself as the true bread from heaven. That means he’s the fulfillment of what the manna in the wilderness pointed to all along. The bread God rained down from heaven in the wilderness served Israel by giving them a picture of a much greater salvation God was bringing through his Son—and Jesus is telling them that that salvation has arrived in him.

The manna in the wilderness foreshadowed the day when God would send bread from heaven that would not merely satisfy the people’s hungry stomachs, but would satisfy the people’s hungry souls—and Jesus is that supreme Satisfier. His resources are infinite; his love is measureless; and his trustworthiness is unchanging.

The manna in the wilderness looked to the day when God would reveal his glory not merely in a cloud upon feeding the people, but in a Son whom he would send to earth—and Jesus is that supreme Son. His is the glory of God revealed in human flesh, the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.

The manna in the wilderness encouraged the people to watch for the day when God would provide bread not merely for the life of Israel, but for the life of the entire world—and Jesus is that life for Jews and Gentiles alike. That’s an amazing truth when you consider the portrait John paints of the world. The world is the great mass of people on earth—all seven billion or so of us—who are full of darkness (1:4), bent on ourselves (1:10), rebellious against the God who created us (3:19), ruled by the devil himself (12:31), and deserving of eternal judgment under God’s wrath (3:36). As you read earlier from Eph 2, we were once dead in our trespasses and sins. And, here, we find God sending his Son into the world to give us rebels life. We are so undeserving, and God’s love is infinitely great to give us such life.

The manna in the wilderness could only deliver the people from death temporarily, but it taught them to hope for a day when God would provide the bread that delivered from death eternally—and Jesus is that our deliverance from death. He lived your life, bore your sins, suffered your wrath, died your death, and rose victorious for your eternal joy in God. That’s his sign to the Jews—he’s living proof of everything he’s said about where to find eternal life; and God vindicated everything he said when we raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. We don’t need to look for signs to know how to obtain eternal life; God’s decisive sign came with the death and resurrection of Christ. So everything we read, here, comes with blood-bought, grave-conquering assurance that Jesus really is the true bread who gives life to the world.

Is your soul hungry this morning, but laboring to find satisfaction with the world and the pleasures it throws at you? Forsake the world’s cheap imitations for life by running to Jesus that you may truly live. Is your spirit weary from working to obtain eternal life by ever looking inward for the wherewithal to just be good enough before God? Forsake all your vain efforts in attempting to save yourself knowing that Jesus did everything God requires of you; and then find great rest for your spirit receiving life from the Son of Man. May the humble activity of your entire being in everything you do say, “All I have is Christ…Jesus is my life.” Is your heart fearful, tired, beat down, angry, disappointed with the circumstances around you? The answer is not simply “run away from the circumstances,” “control more of the externals,” “dominate the people around me,” “isolate myself from everything.” The answer is keep coming to Jesus for the true food that endures to eternal life. He’ll never disappoint you and he never tires of you coming to him. He died that you may have his life in you; he’s ready to give you himself in full every moment of every day without hesitation. Is your mind confused about anything I’ve said this morning? That may very well be my own fault—I’m not always as clear as I want to be. If that’s true for you, then come see me after the service. I love talking about Jesus with people; and me and the other brothers would love to answer any questions you have about him. So come see us following the service if that’s you; and we’ll do our best to point you again to Jesus. We don’t have anything more valuable that we could offer you than him. Jesus Christ is the true bread who gives life to the world.

other sermons in this series