Jesus, the Bread of Life
Lent 4 Laetare Sunday| John 6:1-15| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| March 27, 2022
Last week, my son Thomas caught a centipede. It was the biggest centipede I’ve seen around here. He put it in a jar with a stick and some dirt, and much to the chagrin of his older sister, he put the jar in his bedroom. Then, desiring to feed his newfound pet, he asked me, “What do centipedes eat?” I didn’t know. I still don’t know. I didn’t bother to look it up. But you know who does know what centipedes eat? God does. Not only does he know what centipedes eat, he provides them with the food they need to eat every day. So, I was confident when we convinced Thomas to let the creepy little hundred-footed bug go, that it would find plenty to eat in the backyard.
And that’s something to think about. God provides for the bodily needs of all animals, even creepy little bugs. How much more will he graciously provide us with all that we need. Jesus tested his disciples, asking them where they could buy food for the people. His disciples stressed out about this. Of course, they did. How on earth were they going to feed five thousand men, not including their wives and children? Yet, this was a test. Jesus knew what he was going to do. He knows what he is going to do every day that he provides for the needs of every living thing.
Food prices are going up. Gas prices are going up. Prices for everything are going up. And there’s a good chance prices will continue to go up for quite a while. It is going to be more expensive for farmers to grow our food and it’s going to be more expensive for the truckers to get that food to us, along with everything else we need and want. So, we’re stressed out about that. And we’re planning for how we’ll deal with this challenge. And there is nothing wrong with making plans. Yet, it is certainly wrong to obsess over these plans, to think it all depends on you, to act as if God doesn’t care or doesn’t know, and that these earthly things are more important than our heavenly needs.
Jesus taught this great crowd in the wilderness as he healed their sick. And among the many things he taught them (Mark 6:34) was certainly the lesson to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the rest will be added unto you, and to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, and how God provides for the entire earth, so he certainly will provide for your needs as well. And then, Jesus not only teaches this with words, but he teaches this with deeds. Jesus proves himself to be the Son of God through whom all things are created and kept alive. He feeds the five thousand with only five loaves of bread and two small fish.
This should have taught them to abandon their worries, to put their trust in God, to seek first the heavenly things Jesus was offering them. But for most of them, this was not the case. Rather, they wanted to force Jesus to be their king; not the King God had appointed him to be, but a bread king, who would fill their bellies and fix their illnesses until they run their course and die. They rightly called Jesus the Prophet, meaning the Christ who is coming into the world. But they think God sent the Christ, so that they could be content to stuff their faces with bread and fish!
Yet, this is how people think of Jesus Christ today. You’ll notice that very few churches teach the Gospel of Christ anymore. They won’t speak of his dying on the cross for the sins of the world, of the need for sinners to repent and to abandon their sinful ways, of our need to be forgiven and to grow in faith and be distinct from his world as God’s holy people, and of God’s willingness to forgive our sins and save us for Christ’s sake. No, this Gospel is too controversial. The topic of sin is too divisive. Repentance is too archaic. The crucifixion is too barbaric. So, churches will rather teach their own gospels that focus on solving worldly problems, that seek to be relevant to the here and now, and to people of various backgrounds and beliefs. The gospel has evolved. People aren’t concerned about eternal salvation. They’re concerned about salvation today in this world.
Yet all this garbled foolishness is just the same old regurgitated mammon worship of those who want to stuff their faces with bread. Oh, it may not be barley loaves, it might be environmental, racial, or LGBT justice; it might be solutions to help your marriage today or how to fix your finances. But all these new gospels are the same as searching after a bread king. They’ll perish. All who strive after these gospels will perish with them.
So, Jesus leaves this crowd and crosses the sea to Capernaum. But the crowd catches up to him. Here, Jesus confronts them saying, “You did not seek me because you saw the signs (that is, because they wanted to learn what these signs meant and grow in faith), 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.”
Here Jesus rebukes them for worshiping the bread. And he rebukes us for worshiping our bread, whatever that bread may be. It will perish. It won’t do you any good tomorrow. “Seek after that which will help you today, tomorrow, and into eternity! Don’t worry about what you need to eat. Didn’t you see that I was able to feed you all until you were satisfied, even when we were out in the wilderness with nothing but five loaves and a couple fish? Seek first the kingdom. Seek that spiritual food, which lasts forever. God will look after your body in this life.”
But then, Jesus goes on and identifies that food which we should seek, which endures to eternal life. He says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) Jesus himself is the bread of life, which we should seek. Here he draws a helpful point of comparison. The one who comes to Jesus shall not hunger, the one who believes shall not thirst. So, later, when Jesus tells them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he is speaking of a spiritual eating and drinking. Yet, even with this point of comparison to explain Jesus’ figure of speech, the crowd gets ever more frustrated with Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t back down. He says:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51) Here, people think that Jesus is speaking in riddles so convoluted, no one can decipher his meaning. But actually, Jesus speaks plainer to them than he has to anyone yet. Jesus plainly declares that he is the Christ who has come down from heaven. No more telling healed lepers and blind men not to tell anyone what he has done. No, here Jesus says, “You wonder who I am? How I am able to heal the sick and feed the multitudes? Yes, I am he! I am the Christ come down from heaven!” This should open their ears to listen, but they can’t handle it. Jesus says that the bread he will give for the life of the world is his flesh! How can they eat his flesh?
Yet still, Jesus does not let up. He goes on:
“Truly, truly, 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 feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on 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 whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
How will Jesus give his flesh and blood for us to eat and drink? By giving his body up to be crucified for our sins and by shedding his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus is speaking of a spiritual feast. We must feast on the Gospel that Jesus was crucified for our sins. The flesh is of no help at all. Jesus’ words are spirit and life. We cannot live by bread alone. We cannot live by anything on this earth. We only have life if we in faith feast on Christ, on his passion and death for our sins.
Listen to the promise! “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” What you strive after day in and day out will not make you live forever. It may put food on the table and clothes on your kids back and gas in the car. But all these things run out, and besides, God promises to give you what you need. But only Christ’s flesh and blood given into death for you can make you live forever. Only if you feast on these words in faith will you rise to eternal life on the Last Day.
Now few can listen to these words without thinking of the Lord’s Supper, which is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine. Now, in the Lord’s Supper, we feast on Jesus’ flesh and blood in two ways. The first is orally. The Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood whether you believe it or not, because Jesus’s words say they are. This is why St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” This is why we practice closed Communion and do not give the Lord’s Supper to those who have not been instructed and examined, who continue in sin without repenting, or who confess a different faith. If a child thinks medicine is candy, it doesn’t turn the medicine into candy. And the child could get very sick if he eats the medicine. In the Lord’s Supper, everyone eats orally of the body and blood of the Lord, whether they are worthy or not.
The second feasting is spiritually, that is, by faith. This is how one worthily eats of the Sacrament, by first feasting on Christ’s flesh and blood through faith in Jesus’ passion for our sin. In this way, we recognize the Sacrament of the Altar as the medicine of immortality and desire it more than the finest meal at a high-class restaurant.
I have my concerns over the high prices of food and goods. I know you do too. But God promises to take care of us. He feeds the centipedes for crying out loud! How much more does he care for you. But our Lord offers us a meal that endures to eternal life. This is the food we should make sure we never do without, but should confess with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Amen.