Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
25When they found him on the other side of the lake, [the crowds] said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
26Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’
28Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 2
9Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ 32Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
34They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
35Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’ (John 6:25-40, NRSV)
We just read how the crowds come looking for Jesus one day and, when they find him, they scold him. “Where have you been, Jesus? We’ve been looking everywhere for you.” But Jesus knows better. “You’re not looking for me,” he tells them. “Be honest. You’re just hungry, and you’re looking for more bread.”
Imagine a kid on the school playground who isn’t liked all that much by the other kids. On a typical day, he’s left to play all by himself. But then one day he shows up to school with a bag full of candy, far more than he can eat by himself. And lo and behold, suddenly this kid is the most popular kid on the playground. Now, if he’s desperate enough for friends, he just might convince himself that he finally has some.
Jesus knows better. When people come looking for Jesus, he always knows what they’re really after. It wasn’t Jesus that the crowds were after that day. They just wanted more of his bread. They must have been surprised, therefore, when Jesus told them that the bread he gave them was only a sign, a sign pointing to something greater. Don’t get hung up on the sign, Jesus tells them. Nobody gets on I5 inSacramentoand sees a sign with an arrow that saysLos Angelesand imagines that they have arrived inSouthern California. It’s just a sign. It’s meant to point beyond itself to something far more impressive.
In this instance, the physical bread which temporarily satisfied their physical hunger was a sign meant to point them to a spiritual bread which could satisfy their spiritual hunger. For as you know, we are all hungry on a couple of different levels.
On a physical level we’re hungry for food, for water, for sex, for rest, for pleasure, for comfort. But those physical hungers are only signs that point to a deeper spiritual hunger for things like peace, contentment, belonging, intimacy and love.
When Jesus used a few loaves of bread to satisfy the physical hunger of the multitudes it was a sign meant to point to the fact that Jesus came to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the whole world. Just as he can provide bread to fill your belly, Jesus can also provide bread to fill your soul.
This is why Jesus cautions the crowds, “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food that will only leave you hungry again. Instead, work for food that lasts, food that endures for eternal life. This is the food you really want. And I can give you this food.”
Now Jesus has your attention. Right? Because most of us here have begun to figure out that the material world is never really going to satisfy us. There is a deep hunger in you to belong, to live, to last, to be free, to love, to be loved, and you’ve begun to figure out that that new 60” flat-screen is never really going to satisfy these deeper hungers. Neither is your career, or your IRA, or the perfect body, or 1,000 friends on Facebook, or the best sex on the planet, or anything else this world might have to offer. Consider yourself blessed if you have begun to figure out that when you try and make material things satisfy spiritual hunger, you will ultimately be left dissatisfied, bored, restless, alienated, or worse.
Isn’t that why most of us are sitting here in church on Sunday morning? At some point along the way we figured out that there has go to be more to life then this perishable bread the world has to offer. And then we heard that Jesus claims to have bread which can satisfy our souls, food which endures forever. And so we come, and we come asking the same question the crowds asked that day, “Where do we get this bread, Jesus? Show us how we can get this bread that will finally, and forever, satisfy our souls.” In one form or another, isn’t this the question you come asking this morning?
For the crowds that day on the shores ofGalilee, this is the question they came asking. They put it this way, “Jesus, what must we do to perform the works of God? What do we have to do to get some of this bread which lasts forever?”
They want to know what to do, which shouldn’t surprise us. Remember, these were Jews who practiced a religion which taught them that the way to earn God’s favor, the way to get to heaven, was to live a good and moral life. If you were good enough, moral enough, tried hard enough, God might bless your life, maybe even bless it for eternity. That’s why they ask Jesus, “What do we have to do to get God to satisfy our souls?”
This morning I hope you will see that many of us come asking the very same question. Sure, we talk a lot about grace and mercy on Sundays but we live in a world from Monday to Saturday that knows nothing of these things. In fact, from the time we are little children, we are bombarded with the message that we are ultimately judged and valued in this life by our performance, our accomplishments, our good behavior, by what we do. This message is so persuasive and pervasive, in fact, that by the time we are adults, we may stand in church and sing Amazing Grace, but all the while the tapes in our heads are reminding us that we have not yet done enough to merit such grace.
Let’s not fool ourselves. We may have figured out that material wealth is bread which will not last. So is popularity, and physical beauty, and youth, and sex, and career. At least in our heads, we may know these things. What many of us have yet to figure out, however, is that all our efforts to live a good and moral life are also bread that will not last.
You can try your whole life to be the sort of person you think God wants you to be in hopes that you will earn God’s favor. You can be the best person in your family, the best person in your church, the best person in your city. You can do all this and yet, if that’s the bread you feast on, you will, in the end, starve your soul. For as Jesus teaches us here and elsewhere, there is nothing we can ever do to perform the works of God. You cannot be good enough. You cannot be moral enough. There is absolutely nothing you can do.
This is why Jesus says here, “What must you do to perform the works of God? This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” There is nothing you can do. You only must believe. All you can do is have faith. All you can do is trust.
Think about it this way. Imagine yourself on cliff, a cliff as steep as a wall and as high as a mountain. Imagine that you’re halfway up the cliff, clinging by your fingertips to a tiny ledge. You have no stairs, very few handholds, and no rope. It’s a long way up. It’s a longer way down. Either way, the climb is treacherous. In fact, the climb is impossible.
You see, whether you realize it or not, you do not have in you what it would take to climb to safety. You don’t have the strength. You don’t have the skill. You don’t have the equipment. You don’t have the time. This means is that unless somebody comes to help you, you are going to lose your life on that cliff.
But then, as you struggle there clinging by your fingertips, imagine that you suddenly hear a voice calling out to you from above, from the top of the cliff. You look up and see that it’s Christ. He is standing in exactly the place you want to be, on solid ground. And he’s leaning over the edge, calling out to you. He’s telling you to let go of the ledge. He’s urging you to just let go. “Let go,” he calls down, “and I’ll save you.” And you’re thinking to yourself, “Let go? He’s nuts! I can’t let go. If I let go I’m done for.”
But that’s when you notice that Jesus is holding in his hands one end of a rope which is, at other end, wrapped tightly around your waist. Apparently it had been there tied around you all the time but somehow you never noticed it before. And now it all becomes clear to you. Jesus wants you to let go of the ledge and fall out from the cliff so that he can pull you up to safety.
With that scene still in your mind, let me ask you a question. As you cling to that cliff you can never climb, what is it that you have to do to be saved?
You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to climb. You don’t have to grab on to a rope. You don’t have to tie a knot in the rope. You don’t even have to convince Jesus to throw you down a rope. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to trust.
You don’t even have to trust a lot. You just have to be desperate enough to trust enough to let go. It’s simple, really. You just have to trust enough to put the weight of your whole life in Jesus’ hands.
It’s simple, but it’s far from easy. It’s not easy because you only get one chance at this. If you give up trying to climb to safety yourself and, instead, let go of the ledge you will not get another chance. If Jesus can’t hold the weight of your life, you will lose your life. So when Jesus calls out for us to trust him and let go, it’s not easy to do. That’s why many, many people never let go. You have to be out-of-options desperate to let go.
So how about it? Have you come to the place in your life where you recognize that there is absolutely nothing you can ever do to save yourself? You cannot be good enough. You are not good enough. Neither am I. And if we are counting on our own moral effort to be bread that will satisfy for eternity, we are setting ourselves up at the end of our lives for heartbreaking disappointment.
This week I got to thinking about the end of my life. Obviously, I don’t know when I will die. I only know that I will die and that when I do, shortly thereafter people will gather at some church for my memorial service. If you’re not busy that day, I hope you can come.
If you do come, I suspect you’ll be thinking some about me and about what’s happened to me now that I’ve died. That’s what we do at memorial services. That’s what you’ll do. You’ll imagine me coming to meet God. You’ll wonder what God will say to me as he looks back over my life. You’ll think about where I’ve gone, now that I’m gone.
And if my memorial service goes the way of most memorial services, a few of you will get up and say some nice things about me. I want to thank you in advance for doing so. Thank you for trying to tell the story of my life, even though I sincerely doubt you’ll tell the whole story. Those of you who knew me best will, I imagine, leave out some parts and exaggerate some other parts. And in the end, I’ll probably come off looking pretty good, certainly better than I deserve. Chances are, when you head down to the church social hall to enjoy potato salad and finger sandwiches, you will do so with the impression that I lived a good life, a good enough life.
That’s what we almost always do at memorial services. Even in the instances where the deceased is a person who didn’t live a very good life, we still can’t help ourselves. One way or another, every person comes off looking pretty good at their funeral. After all, who really has the guts to stand up and say aloud that the person who has just died is going to meet God without all that much to show for themselves? If you’re counting on your good life to earn God’s favor that’s a terrifying way to face death, with nothing to show for yourself.
Here’s the problem. We call these events memorial services, and yet I think we have forgotten, honestly, what it is we are supposed to be memorializing. If you come to my memorial service one day and mostly just try and remember how good a life I lived, I’m afraid you will be remembering all the wrong things. I’m also afraid you’re going to have to exercise a pretty selective memory.
You see, at my memorial service it’s not me you are supposed to be memorializing. It’s Christ. My memorial service will be a time to remember Christ. Sure, spend a few minutes remembering a few good things about my life but then, for my sake, and for your sake as well, spend the rest of the time remembering all the good things about Christ’s life.
Imagine what memorial services in the church would sound like if we all really and fully believed the Gospel? Imagine coming one day to a memorial service here at Faith and somebody got up front and said something like this.
Listen, we all loved Joe. It’s true. We loved Joe very much and we are heartbroken that he is gone. He will be dearly and deeply missed. His life was a blessing to us all.
And yet, let’s be honest here today. While it’s true that Joe did some good things in his life which made us love him even more, Joe wasn’t always good. In fact, God only knows how much of the time Joe wasn’t good at all.
Those of us who really knew him remember that Joe had an enormously healthy ego. He started out self-absorbed as a little boy, and even as an old man never completely got over it. Consistently he showed great capacity to regard his own interests ahead of the interests of those around him, even those he loved the most. That’s just who Joe was. We loved him but he was a mess. He was a sinner through and through, just like the rest of us.
If we’re going to tell the whole story, that’s how we have to remember Joe. But we are gathered here today on this occasion not only to remember Joe. In fact, the main reason we are here is to remember God. We are here to remember the glorious fact, the unexplainable truth, that God loved Joe, and loved him far more than any of us ever could. God loved him like crazy. As hard as it might be to believe, God loved him like he was his own son. In fact, God loved Joe so much that he sent his own son to die for him, and for us.
And so today, what we mostly want to remember is that Christ died for us all. We remember that Christ rose from the dead for us all. And that means that even though we are filled with sadness today we remember that we have reason to also be filled with hope. We have hope as we trust Christ. We have hope because Joe trusted Christ. His life was full of sin, but he put his sinful life in Jesus’ hands. And now he has come home. As we trust in Christ as well, so will we one day.
Some of you have already decided that you absolutely do not want me to officiate at your memorial service. On the way home, you’ll be telling your family, “Make sure either Jim or Patrick are available that day!”
I mean, have you ever heard anybody talk like this at a memorial service? It’s rare.
Why is that? I’ll tell you why. The hardest thing of all to do in life is to let go of that ledge, to give up trying to be good enough, to admit that you will never be good enough, and to trust your life, your whole life, in Jesus’ hands. It’s hard. How do we know he will not let us fall?
Did you notice that this is the very question the crowd asks Jesus that day? “What sign are you going to give us so that we may see it and believe you? Prove yourself to us, Jesus. Moses did some fancy tricks with bread, what can you do? Prove to us that you can be trusted.”
What would Jesus have to do to prove himself to you? What would it take for you to give up trusting your own efforts and, instead, wholly trust in the grace of Christ?
The fact is that if we truly want to believe in Christ, he has already given us all we need to do so. He died. And then he rose again from the dead. In doing so he, himself, became all that we need. He is life, and that life is available to all who trust in him. He did not come to bring us bread, he is the bread. He said so himself, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Every other religion in the world teaches that salvation comes to those who have been good enough, who have obeyed enough, who have been moral enough. You earn acceptance from God by what you do.
The Christian Gospel stands alone in its radical claim that you can never be good enough. You will never gain the bread of eternal life by what you do. Instead, the deep hunger in your soul will only be satisfied by the grace of Christ which comes through faith. The bread we hunger for is Christ. And in the end, Christ is the only bread which will forever satisfy. Amen.
The Next Step – A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Just for fun, what’s your favorite kind of bread? Describe your perfect sandwich, starting with the bread.
Read John 6:25-40. There’s a lot here. What first stands out to you?
The people come to Jesus because their bellies are empty. What is your motive as you come to Jesus?
When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” what do you think he meant?
Do you believe that there is, in fact, nothing you can do to be saved except for believe?
What do you want people to remember at your memorial service? Would you want to the sort of memorial service where somebody said the sorts of things Jeff imagined being said in the sermon? Why or why not?
Biblical scholar Dale Bruner write, “When we no longer believe that people are truly lost without Christ, or that the Gospel is important but not infinite in implication, then we will also lose the ultimate meaning of grace and love.” Do you agree?
How is this message hard news? How is this message good news?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: Isaiah 55:1-5 – Come to the waters
Tuesday: Isaiah 55:6-13 – Seek the Lord now
Wednesday: Matthew 7:13-29 – What will last?
Thursday: Matthew 6:25-34 – Kingdom first
Friday: Psalm 20 – A prayer for victory
Saturday : In preparation for worship tomorrow, read John 6:41-51.
 Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), p. 395.