Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pentecost 9 Sermon -- John 6:22-35 (LSB Proper 13B)

August 2, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “Do not labor 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.”

The Feeding of the 5,000 was not the first time that Israelites had been provided bread in the wilderness. Their ancestors had their stomachs filled with manna sent daily from heaven. They ate and were satisfied. Their grumblings of belly and mouth came to an end. In His mercy, the Lord God provided for His complaining people: “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

Every morning, the people of the Exodus had their dietary needs met. Every morning, their faith in the Lord God was tested, as He said: “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My Law or not.” Did the Israelites believe that the Lord God would provide? Reliance on His providence and trust in His daily ability to give: that was the Lord God’s desire for His people. Such was found in the faithful Israelites.

When the descendants of the Exodus people received similar benefits from Jesus, they also exhibited a reliance and trust in Him. They believed that Jesus could feed them again, that they would have bread and fish provided daily, just like their forefathers. The morning after the Feeding Miracle, the people went searching for Jesus: “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum seeking Jesus.” The crowd wanted another feeding, to be like Moses’ pilgrim band.

But what does Jesus say to the crowds who look for Him? Does He commend their initiative? Does He welcome them all and tell them to clean up for today’s meal? Does He ask for five loaves and two fish? No. Instead, Jesus rebukes the crowds: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus shows the flaw in the crowds’ faith. He says they missed the point of the sign that He was giving to them in the miracle.

In the Exodus, the provision of manna and quail was a means to an end. The Lord God daily provides the food, so the people would trust in Him and His pledge to bring them to the Promised Land. He gives the food, so the people do not continue with their unfaithful complaint: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” The Lord God had led the people into the wilderness neither to kill them nor to feed them. They were on their way to what the Lord God had in store for them in a place and destiny better than their Egyptian bondage.

Likewise, in Jesus’ ministry, the provision of bread and fish was a means to an end. He feeds the crowd, so they can see His grace and mercy and so they can trust in Him. But that trust is not belief that Jesus will be there everyday to miraculously provide meals. Rather, Jesus wants the people to see the miraculous sign and know that He is the trustworthy source of life—life for body and soul. So He says: “Do not labor 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.”

A false understanding, a false belief of the Lord God’s identity prevents one from receiving “the food that endures to eternal life.” Any false understandings exist, including some which you may have held. Foremost of these false understandings is the belief that Providence is equal to God, or that “God” is only a personification of the natural cycle of the cosmos which lead to the ability for life to exist. Such false understandings make the same error that the crowds who sought Jesus made. It turns preservation of what is created into the prime motive, if not only motive, of the Deity.

Certainly, the Lord God is providential and generous. So the Psalmist describes Him: “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.” But the Lord God is much more than that. He has a much greater blessing to give you, just as He had a much greater provision for the Exodus people and the Galilean crowds. The Feeding Miracle is a sign to confirm that Jesus is present to bring His people, including you, to a Promised Land, to salvation.

Jesus wants you to be fed. He desires to provide you with everything that you need. But that need is much greater than food to eat, water to drink, clothes and shoes to wear, house, land, or animals. Praying for daily bread is but one petition which Jesus instructs you to ask. Forgiveness of your trespasses, being led safely through temptation, and deliverance from the Evil One are also His to give to you. And these great things are accomplished as His will is done for you and all His people, as His kingdom comes to you and you receive the full measure of the Lord God’s grace and mercy. You receive this as the work of God is done: “that you believe in Him whom [God the Father] has sent.”

The crowds’ action of seeking out Jesus was not intrinsically wrong, but it lacked the proper motivation. When the right rationale exists, then the action is truly good. And what is that right rationale? It is belief that Jesus Christ is the source of eternal life sent by His Father for you to receive. So Jesus says: “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.” And so the people don’t miss His point, Jesus says further: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.”

Jesus’ presence in the world is to fulfill your true needs, to meet eternal wants. He was sent from heaven to bring life, but not physical life alone. That is why He does not intend the crowds of past and present to seek Him out a sort of magic Wonder Bread Man. The Lord desires that people believe that He gives life where no life was found, that He brings salvation to those who were eternally lost, that He brings forgiveness for those who have broken any and all requirements of the Divine Law.

The Psalmist wrote and you prayed: “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.” These are statements about much more than earthly providence. They are testimonies of what the Lord God does for you, His people, in His acts of redemption. It is the result of receiving the One “who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” by His suffering hunger and thirst while suspended in crucifixion and by rising from death to prepare an eternal banquet for you.

That Bread of Life says to you: “Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” As you have been led to Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, that statement is true for you. Do you desire salvation? Christ provides it through His death and resurrection. Do you need a clear conscience? Jesus gives it through His absolving words which purge away sin. Do you want a greater fate, a greater destiny than this worldly existence? The Lord provides it through His calling you to follow Him and His way of life. Do you long for freedom from your failures, your foibles, your faults, your frailty? Jesus promises it to you. What Jesus gives is heavenly and eternal in nature. It is yours to have as you receive Him who came down from heaven for you.

Turning to Jesus for these things is what God the Father desires for you. Jesus tells you: “Do not labor 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.” Receive it as you do the work of God: “Believing in Him whom He has sent.” Jesus has descended to the lower parts of the earth and ascended leading a host of captives and He has given gifts to you. You have life that comes from His work and is handed to you through His words: His words spoken by those who are called by Him, His words connected to water, His words connected to bread and wine. “He is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works,” so that He may strengthen and preserve you in body and soul unto life everlasting.

So eat “the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives to you.” Eat and be eternally satisfied. That is His desire for you, why He “gives you this bread always.” On this morning, you shall see the glory of the Lord. And in His everlasting kingdom, you shall bless His holy name forever and ever.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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