Summary: God offers a satisfaction deeper and more real than any pleasure the world provides.
“I am the bread of life.”
“I am the light of the world.”
“I am the gate.”
“I am the good shepherd.”
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
“I am the way and the truth and the life.”
“I am the true vine.”
Each of these seven statements by Jesus, known as the “I AM sayings,” describes something of his ministry and tells us much about our relationship to God through faith in him. Today we are studying what is called, “The Bread of Life Discourse.” What begins as an interaction between Jesus and a crowd of hungry followers turns into a lecture on how true faith is like eating bread—it requires taking the life of God into you and having it become the very nourishment and life of your soul. I will be reading in John 6, verses 22 through 36.
The picture (on the handout) is of a commemorative stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 1956, in honor of Labor Day. There is a slogan on the block in the lower, left-hand corner, a quotation Dwight D. Eisenhower referenced in his speech at the issuance of this stamp. It is from Thomas Carlyle: “Labor is Life.” (Illustration from a sermon by John Piper, in. loc.)
In sense that is true. We must work to survive. In fact, the early church had some problems with freeloaders taking advantage of the kindness and generosity of sincere Christians. So the Apostle Paul taught pointedly on this subject.
2Thessalonians 3.10-12: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
Later Paul would write to Timothy, a young pastor whom Paul was training for ministry, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Strong words because work is valued by God and is critical to faithful obedience. But is labor the meaning and purpose of life, as Carlyle implies? Jesus says otherwise: “Do not labor for the food that perishes.”
What then shall we labor for? Something more deeply satisfying, more real and substantial than earthly pleasure. We are to labor to have our souls satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus Christ. To get there, notice, first…
1. Because Jesus is the Bread of Life, We Must Not Labor For Other Bread (John 6.22-27)
On the farm where I grew up, we raised Black Angus cattle. In order to corral them for tagging or medicines, dad would drive the truck through the fields and I would sit on the tailgate. As we approached a group of cattle, I would rattle a bag and pour a small amount of the contents onto the ground near the animals. But this was no ordinary food; it was, “sweet feed,” a pellet shaped feed (like dog food), covered in molasses. After tasting, they wanted more. They hear the bag rattle and smell dessert. Soon they leave the green grass and follow the truck all the way to the barn. They are controlled by a desire for that treat.
Even though we have a saying, “The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” few of us have experience with real hunger. Because it is uncommon in our generation and in America, we may not (at first) recognize ourselves in the people who chase down Jesus for another meal. So let’s consider some of the details and see if we might apply it to ourselves.
Every day is a struggle for food enough to survive. Many nights you and your children fall asleep hungry. A few, wealthy officials eat lavishly (mostly those who are in the employ of the despised government); you and your friends (on the other hand) worry whether tomorrow will provide anything.
Then a rabbi appears. Unlike others, he speaks with authority. Rumors rise and are everywhere repeated—the lame walk, the sick recover, the blind see. Then he is in your town. Thousands flock to hear; you are swept out also. And at the end of the day, from nowhere, bread and fish appear, enough for all.
People begin to talk. A prophet like Moses was promised. Moses went up the mountain; Jesus taught from the mountain. Moses fed the people bread from heaven; Jesus makes bread appear. Your cousin heard that he changed water into wine. And some are saying that he is the Messiah who will overthrow Rome and restore Israel.