24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 5th August 2018 at Manningtree Methodist Church, Essex.
Where do you seek fulfilment?
Where do you find satisfaction?
Difficult questions for a Sunday morning, but definitely questions worth considering.
You can learn a great deal about a person when you know the answer to these questions.
You see, I believe that the source of our satisfaction defines us, it shapes the pattern of our lives.
Some might draw satisfaction from their job. It’s usually easy to spot these people because all they ever talk about is work.
Some draw satisfaction from their home. These are the people who, when you visit their home, everything is pristine. Nothing is out of place, and you might think you’ve walked into one of those show homes that builders furnish to show off properties on their new development.
Others might draw their satisfaction from food. These people are often marked out by a slightly rotund shape. They might have piles of Mary Berry and Delia Smith cookbooks scattered around their home, plus an enviable collection of pots and pans.
I suppose if someone was to study me closely, they might think that I derive satisfaction from gadgets. I’m usually carrying the latest iPhone, plus an Apple Watch, and can bore for England about the latest in technology.
What might someone think is the source of your satisfaction? If they studied you, would they be able to pinpoint the one thing that satisfies you?
I wonder if someone studied any of us here today if they would deduce that we derive our satisfaction from a relationship with Jesus Christ?
I wonder if we, ourselves, think that we derive satisfaction from knowing Jesus, from having a relationship with him?
This is what I’d like us to think about this morning as we study God’s word together.
It might be helpful if you have John 6:24-35 open in front of you as we continue.
I’m going to try to cover three interconnected points this morning. These are refocusing our desires, what must we do, and Jesus, our eternal satisfaction.
Let’s get straight on with our first point, then, refocusing our desires.
I teach in a posh London prep school. The school has many pupils from the wealthiest end of our society. The road outside the school at picking up time is full of Teslas, expensive customised Range Rovers, Bentleys and Ferraris. Many of my pupils will, even as we speak, be holidaying in multi-million pound foreign homes, or relaxing in the most exclusive resorts around the world.
And you know what? Good for them, I say.
The people who send their children to my school have worked incredibly hard through school, through university and through their professional lives to earn the money that pays for their expensive lifestyles.
What does concern me, though, is that for some people, this quest for more and more money, for flashier cars, for more homes, for the best holidays money can buy, becomes the whole focus of their existence. This quest for more and better stuff becomes their primary desire. They invest in big houses and fancy cars because they think that this is where they will find satisfaction. And it is this pursuit of bigger and better stuff, whatever the cost, that shapes the pattern of their lives and defines them. I guess you could define them as brazen materialists.
In our reading from John’s Gospel today we encounter Jesus soon after he has fed 5,000 people with just five small barley loaves and two small fish. Well, 5,000 men anyway, as we see in John 6:10. The real number was probably several times larger, since women and children were not included in this number.
This same crowd, we see in verses 24 and 25 of this morning’s reading, were trying to find Jesus. They were a little confused to find Jesus in Capernaum, since, whilst the disciples had been seen getting into a boat, Jesus had opted for the slightly less traditional method of crossing the lake, or at least the first three or four miles of it, on foot.
Jesus is quick to reprimand his audience, who are probably Jewish, and more than likely being addressed by Jesus in the synagogue. They have been looking for him, he tells them in verse 26, because he provided them with a free meal. They ate the loaves and the fish by the lake, and ate until they were satisfied.
Their earthly needs have been satisfied by Jesus and they are happy. They have found satisfaction in having their physical hunger satiated.
They are following Jesus because they see him as a provider of free food and hope that he will continue to be their meal ticket. They think that he will continue to satisfy their physical needs.
At a simplistic level, if we are looking to define this crowd based on the source of their satisfaction, you could say that they like to have full bellies at no cost. Perhaps not unreasonable, but they have lost sight of who Jesus is as a consequence of their desire for him to give them food.
The crowd have completely misunderstood the reason for Jesus being present amongst them.
As the Biblical commentator William Barclay puts it, “it is as if Jesus said, ‘you cannot think of your souls for thinking about your stomachs’.”
Jesus doesn’t tell his audience that they are wrong to hunger for food. He knows that this is a perfectly reasonable desire. He doesn’t rebuke them for looking for satisfaction in earthly terms, but he does want them to think carefully about their life priorities.
You see, when we focus solely on earthly satisfaction, we lose sight of our spiritual identity.
In verse 27 Jesus tells the assembled throng, and through them, he tells us too, that we should not work for food that spoils, for food that will satisfy our hunger briefly but leave us wanting in due course. He tells us that we should work instead for food that endures to eternal life.
Sometimes if I work late, I pop into McDonald’s for a quick burger before getting the train back to our home in Sussex. Now, whilst I might buy the biggest, juiciest burger that McDonald’s has to offer, by the time I get home, I’m hungry again. I don’t know why, but McDonald’s food never seems to satisfy my hunger for more than an hour.
And that’s a good metaphor for the point that Jesus is trying to make.
Whatever we find ourselves craving, be it food, cars, homes, gadgets, a relationship, children, once we have them our craving continues. These things might temporarily satisfy us, but we’ll soon hunger for something else.
The Buddhists call this craving Tanha. They believe that Tanha, craving, is responsible for all the suffering in the world. It stands to reason, therefore, in their belief at least, that if only we could eliminate all craving from the world, then all suffering will end.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But I happen to believe that they’re wrong. I don’t see how it is possible to end craving. Show me a person who doesn’t crave, who doesn’t have desires of any kind, and I’ll show you a dead person.
Jesus’ approach is rather different. He doesn’t tell us to end our craving, to stop having desires, to stop looking for things that provide us with satisfaction. He knows that this is a fundamental part of being a human. Instead, he tells us that we need to focus our craving appropriately. We need to focus our craving, our quest for satisfaction and fulfilment in him.
Instead of trying to find satisfaction in earthly things that spoil, we should seek satisfaction in food that does not spoil, in food that endures to eternal life.
The source of this food is Jesus, as he makes clear in verse 27.
Jesus withholds nothing from us, and will gladly give us this eternal food if we just ask him to. He is able to grant us this food because he is the one whom God has placed his seal of approval.
There’s nothing wrong with drawing satisfaction from earthly things, whether that be food, cars, jobs or houses. We must ensure though that these things do not become our primary source of satisfaction. If they do, then we ultimately remain unsatisfied, unfulfilled. We won’t be able to shake off that feeling of emptiness.
If we only find real satisfaction in the food that Jesus will give us, we should refocus our desires on him. We must turn to him and make him our primary source of satisfaction.
On to our second point then. What must we do?
It’s great that Jesus will provide us with food that endures to eternal life, but how should we respond?
Funnily enough, this is exactly what the crowd asks Jesus in verse 28, “what must we do to do the works God requires?”
How can we work for food that endures, for satisfaction not just in the here and now, but eternally?
The crowd presumably expect a list of rules and regulations akin to the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses.
But Jesus surprises his audience. He doesn’t provide them with ethical codes or laws that can be ignored, circumvented or broken. Instead he tells them that the work of God is simply to believe in the one he has sent.
“The work of God is this,” Jesus says in verse 29. “To believe in the one he sent.”
What does it mean to believe in the one who God sent?
Believing in Jesus means believing his claims, trusting that he was sent by God, that he is the Son of God, that he died to pay the price for the sins of the world, that he rose again three days later, that he dwells at the right hand of God the Father, and has opened the way to eternal life for all those who believe.
Believing in Jesus is not simply about giving lip service to him. Genuine belief in Jesus is transformational.
If we believe in the one who God sent, our lives will be transformed, because our desires, our appetites will be redirected. Our priorities in life will not be about short term resolutions to our temporary appetites, but will take on an eternal perspective.
If we are to progress beyond empty statements of Jesus’ identity, if we are genuinely to believe in him we need to know him. We need to meet him in his word, the Bible. We need to spend time in prayer, listening to him and sharing our concerns with him. We need to understand his character, his priorities and strive to emulate him as closely as we are able.
Jesus was concerned about the lost, the sick, the outcasts. Jesus brought light into the darkness of the world. He brought love where there was hatred.
It seems to me that we live in a period in history where sometimes it feels like darkness and hatred might prevail. I’m sure that every successive generation feels this. But I am increasingly concerned at the self-centredness of the western world. Whether it’s the narcissism of social media, or whether it’s countries putting up borders, literal or metaphorical, to keep anyone “other” out, it feels like loving one another, the second of Christ’s great commandments, often seems to be side-lined.
Believing in Jesus should spur us on to want to stand out in the world as agents of life, of love, of light. If we share Christ’s priorities, we too will share his concern for the lost, the sick and the outcasts. We too will want to support the weak, the frail, the sick. We will want to look after the widows and orphans.
Ultimately we will want to show the world what we have discovered, that there is another way to live, a more enduring source of satisfaction; hope of an eternal life with Christ himself.
Of course, believing is hard. Many will find the idea of believing in something that they cannot see to be intolerably difficult, impossible, or even a nonsense.
Verse 30 shows that the crowd listening to Jesus struggled with this notion.
“Give us proof!” they demand. “If you are the one sent by God, give us sign! If you give us a sign we’ll believe!”
Funnily enough, these people had just been given a sign. They had just witnessed Jesus feed five thousand men, plus women and children, with five small barley loaves and two small fish. I don’t know about you, but I think I would regard that as a sign!
“Just one more sign, then we’ll believe,” they implore.
I wonder how many of us fall into this trap? I wonder how many of us lose out on the life that God would have us live because we are simply looking for more evidence of Christ’s identity.
More evidence please, God, then we’ll trust in you, then we’ll follow you.
How easy it would be to miss our calling, simply because we wanted more evidence.
There comes a point, though, where having weighed up the evidence, we must take a step of faith.
Take a step of faith to trust that Jesus is the one sent by God.
Take a step of faith to follow Jesus.
Take a step of faith to live the life that God has set out for us.
Sooner or later it will be too late.
Our earthly lives our finite, measured, if we’re lucky, in years. Yet the eternal existence we’re promised by definition lasts forever.
What a shame it would be if we missed the boat.
What must we do? We must believe in the one who God has sent.
Our third point then – the Bread of Life.
We must believe in the one God has sent because he is the Bread of Life who provides eternal satisfaction.
We’ve seen in verse 30 that the crowd asked Jesus for a sign so that they might see and believe him. In verse 31 they spoke of their ancestors who were given manna in the wilderness. We read about this in our reading from Exodus. Stuck out in the desert, God had given them bread to eat. They wanted Jesus to make bread come down from heaven so that they might believe.
He answers them by saying that it is God who gives true bread from heaven, bread that gives life to the world.
This seems like an appealing prospect to the crowd, who demand that Jesus always gives them this bread.
Jesus responds with one of the great I AM declarations, that mirrors the declaration that God himself gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM.”
“I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them in verse 35. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Here, then, is the source of genuine satisfaction. Whilst the fulfilment of our earthly desires will only be temporary, Jesus provides eternal satisfaction. Only by turning to Christ and believing in him will we find true satisfaction.
When looking at verse 32 and verse 35 together, we see that Jesus comes from heaven. He has been given to us by his Father. Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s redemptive plan for the world, the one whom the Jewish people had been waiting for, the one who the Old Testament points towards. Here is God himself, the word become flesh, dwelling amongst his created people, giving those who believe in his name the right to become children of God, as John stated at the beginning of his gospel.
Jesus, the bread of God, the bread that comes down from heaven, gives life to the world, Jesus says in verse 34.
Ever since the fall, humanity have dwelt in sin and death. Through our disobedience, as a consequence of turning from God, death has been a part of our human experience. A significant part too.
We’ve all experienced death through the death of loved ones we were close to.
We’ve all experienced the grief that accompanies the passing of someone that we loved. This is the reality of human existence.
Jesus, though, comes to bring life. He brings the hope that, if we turn to him, if we accept him as our saviour, earthly death is not the end, but the beginning. Just as Jesus rose from the dead to dwell with his father in heaven, the same will be true for us too. We too will be raised to life after death.
What’s more, Jesus affirms that this offer of life isn’t restricted. He gives life to the world, he says in verse 33. His offer of forgiveness, of eternal life, isn’t limited to those of a certain lineage, or nationality, or caste, or creed, or status.
He gives life to the world. His offer of forgiveness is open to all.
Anyone can turn Christ and be forgiven.
Anyone who calls on the name of Christ can find eternal satisfaction dwelling with Christ in God’s new creation.
This is reiterated in verse 35 when Jesus says that “whoever” comes to him will never go hungry, that “whoever” believes in him will never be thirsty. Whoever you are, Christ offers eternal satisfaction, eternal fulfilment.
Jesus brings satisfaction in ways that nothing else can. If we come to him we will never go hungry, he says. If we come to him we will never be thirsty.
So the question is, where will we seek fulfilment?
Where will we find our satisfaction?
Will we look to the world to address our cravings?
Or will we turn to Christ, the Bread of Life, who offers eternal fulfilment and satisfaction?
If the source of our satisfaction defines us, if it shapes the pattern of our lives, will we allow ourselves to be shaped by the Bread of Life, by Jesus?
Let’s all strive to refocus our desires and cultivate a genuine, life changing believe in Jesus, trusting that he is the Bread of Life.
If we draw our satisfaction from a relationship with Christ then we will have found a source of satisfaction that doesn’t spoil, but endures to eternal life.