August 5, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Jesus answered them, ‘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 to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.’”
Lack of food nearly brought the Exodus People to ruin. The hungry Hebrews complained about their condition; grumbling bellies led to grumbling mouths: “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 people thought that being killed by one of the plagues that the Lord brought against Egypt was better than having been led out of slavery. They were willing to be victims of the Lord’s wrath instead of recipients of His delivering work.
But the Lord did not direct Moses to lead the people out into the desert to die. His goal for them was to be brought into Canaan, the land that He had promised to their ancestor Abraham. So the Lord shows mercy on those whom He had brought up out of the land of Egypt. Hunger, the most basic of earthly needs, would not cause them not to receive the greater blessing that He desired to give them: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘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.”’” Faith and trust in the Lord would be restored among the people.
The provision of quail and manna was not the major purpose of the Lord for His people. Such provision was a means to an end: a way of sustaining the Exodus People on their way to the Promised Land. Getting them to Canaan was the Lord’s goal. His desire was to have the people place their fear, love, and trust in Him—the faith that leads to life everlasting. It would be of no true benefit for the Exodus People to remain in the Sinai wilderness eating quail and manna all the days of their life.
Similarly, the Feeding of the 5,000 by Jesus was not His major purpose for the people of Galilee. In the Gospel Reading for this morning, you heard about the morning after Jesus’ Feeding Miracle took place: “On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but that His disciples had gone away alone. 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 search for Jesus began that next day. But why did these people go to where Jesus had performed the miracle and then to Capernaum looking for Him? The Lord tells them why: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The people wanted more meals from Jesus. They wanted more days where their stomachs were filled with what Jesus could miraculously provide. But this was not Jesus’ goal. Jesus had certainly not brought them out into the wilderness of Galilee to die. But He didn’t take them there to provide a rustic setting for a grand smorgasbord either. No, they were there to be given something much greater.
This is what Jesus points out in His statement with those who sought Him to have bellies filled again: “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.” Jesus points out that the people were willing to work to get another meal from Him, even sailing across the Sea of Galilee to do so. But He wants them to have a better bread, something that leads to more than daily living. And when the people ask how to work to get this, Jesus says: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Faith and trust in Jesus are to be created in the people. That is what will bring them everlasting life: “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
This is what you also are to draw from these statements of Jesus. The providential nature of God brings great blessing to you. From the Small Catechism, you have learned a whole list of what He provides for your benefit: “Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and so on.” These are all provided for you. You even make the true statement: “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people….” That is what His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy grants to you and the world.
The Lord does want you to recognize His providence. He desires you to know Him as the giver of daily bread. Gratitude for the Lord’s giving flows from that knowledge, leading to the words that flow from His people’s mouths: “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 such provision is not His major purpose for you. The Lord does not want you to seek Him as solely or primarily a provider of earthly benefits. No, He wants you to believe in His steadfast love that brings more and greater things to you, eternal and everlasting things.
If the focus remains on just the earthly provisions that God grants, then the greater gift is missed. You have been called to receive “the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” You have been called to be the Lord’s eternal subjects: “[His] kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and [His] dominion endures throughout all generations.” These greater gifts are yours, but only if you abide in the way that the Lord has established. They are yours, if you receive them from the Son of Man on whom the Father has set His seal. Faith and trust in what the Lord does in His chosen ways brings the benefit of eternal life.
This is the point of the Lord’s words about the Exodus People. Describing what He would do for the Exodus People, the Lord 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.” When He gave the manna, the Lord said: “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.’” The people would know that the Lord desired what is good for them. But what is eternally good is given through the other things that He would establish for them: the Covenant with its commands about sacrifices for atonement and forgiveness. As they walked in that Law, the people would receive such blessing from the Lord.
Jesus makes the same point to the people at Capernaum: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent…. Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you 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…. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” These statements point out that everlasting life is given through belief in Jesus as its source. Those who believe this about Jesus are not brought to ruin, but are led to receive the great blessing promised by the Lord.
“The food that endures to eternal life” is given to those who walk in Jesus’ Law, the Covenant that He establishes with His people: His baptism that works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this; His words of absolution received from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by them our sins are forgiven before God in heaven; His meal that grants forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation because of Jesus’ words spoken of it. This is what Jesus has instituted for the people who would be made part of His kingdom, even you.
Participation in these sacraments reveals your belief in Jesus as the Son of Man who gives the food that endures to eternal life. It flows from your belief that He is the One on whom God the Father has set His seal. You trust in Jesus’ words that you need what He gives. You trust in Jesus’ works as being the source of your life everlasting. You trust that the Father has given His Son Jesus as the heavenly bread of life. So you come, not because you ate your fill of loaves; rather, you come because you trust the witness about the signs which show that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may life in His name.
That is what you are to take away from these events and the divine words spoken during them. As you do so, you make the great confession that the Lord’s identity is not just that He gives food in due season. Rather, it is this: “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. 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.” The Lord answers your greatest need by doing what is superlatively righteous and kind: He has sent you the true bread from heaven—Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection gives life to the world and to you. That is His true purpose accomplished for your benefit.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.