John 6:24-35 More than Wheat Bread
In my earlier years as a pastor, when this text would come up in the lectionary cycle, I would put a bread maker in the pulpit and set the timer where the bread would be finished when I finished the sermon.
It was always interesting to watch the congregation as they began to smell the fresh baking bread. Some would look around try to find out where the smell was coming from. Others licked their lips. Everyone was aware of the baking bread. I thought I had a pretty good sermon illustration but in fact, the baking bread was a distraction from the bread of life I was breaking.
How was it a distraction? The distraction was the wonderful smell that filled the room was getting more attention than the opportunity for understanding and faith that this passage offers to us.
First, lets look at the context in which the dialogue between Jesus and the crowd.
The crowd had been looking for Jesus. This crowd was part of the 5000 Jesus had recently miraculously fed. They wanted more of this seemingly free meal that Jesus was able to provide. And while feeding 5000 with a few fish and loaves of bread is a miracle, the miracle’s purpose was to authenticate Jesus’s authority to teach and guide people back to God. The physical beneficial of satisfying their hunger was not the main idea. Sadly, evidently the crowd didn’t get it. Listen again to what Jesus says to them.
Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.” John 6:26-27
Jesus is basically telling the people they have the wrong motives. They are cheating themselves by missing the true purpose of the Human One, the human being who was God incarnate, God with us.
And what was the crowd’s response? They want to question. They question Jesus about what God expects. They say, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (Jn. 6:28 NIV)
Jesus answers that the work of God is believing in Him, the one whom God has sealed, that is put God’s stamp of authority on Him. The work of God being making the choice to have faith in the person God has sent.
How is that work? Work is defined as, an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. We work to get a project done, a paycheck to support us, and desire achieved.
But are we not saved by grace? Yes, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9 NRS) But we need to have the next verse included to fully understand what Paul is talking about.
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph. 2:10 NRS) We are created, in other words, our purpose as a human being is to live in the realm of faith in the light of the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus.
The crowd does not get the answer they want from Jesus and so they try to use Scripture against him. The bring up the story of Moses and the manna that fell from heaven. They want Jesus to perform a sign
“What sign then are You going to do so we may see and believe You?” they asked. “What are You going to perform?
(Jn. 6:30 CSB) The man has just fed 5000 people, some of them in this crowd, and they want a sign?
Jesus then uses the Moses event to try to get the crowd to understand what God was doing. First, the manna did not come from Moses but God. The work was to gather the bread. That bread did not last. Manna prevented the Hebrew people from starving to death in the wilderness. The bread Jesus offers is bread that does more than feed the body, it is a bread that gives life, eternal life, to the body and soul.
What manna in the desert reveal was that God will provide for God’s people if we will but listen. It lets us know God acts on behalf of both those who understand and those who just show up. As God guides God provides.
Short fact. In the New Revised Standard Bible the word bread is used 330 times. Pretty significant substance.
In the beginning of God’s relationship to humanity became very unstable. Humans chose a deception, a lie, over God. One of the results we are told is, “You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust.” (Gen. 3:19 CSB)
We are told bread is important and we are going to have to work for it. During the Passover when God rescues the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, bread again is important.
“You are to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread because on this very day I brought your divisions out of the land of Egypt. You must observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent statute. (Exod. 12:17 CSB)
This theme of the importance of bread is carried over in our practice of communion. We remember, “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” (Matt. 26:26 CSB) This is a sacrament, an opportunity for us to be with God and God with us.
Here is the good news. He is the reason for our gathering. He is the reason for your faith. Here is the reason we have hope. Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (Jn. 6:35 CEB) This is the offer of God.
We will not be force fed. God provides grace. It is up to us to do the work of God.
While growing up, our family put marks on a door frame to show us how much we have grown. If the marks were growth in faith, would our growth be evident? This is a good question to ask oneself.