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Posted: August 16, 2012 9:57 p.m.

More than just a meal ticket

"Alright, let's eat!" When you hear those words, what thoughts come to your mind?

"Let's eat!" I hear that and I'm starting to sniff the air for what's on the menu. I'm thinking about that meal we had in here last week. And sure, I had breakfast this morning, but that was already a long time ago. And even if I have eaten recently, who cares? The thought of good food like that gets my stomach to telling me I'm hungry again. I could go for some more of that BBQ, and the mac n' cheese, and the cobbler and all the rest.

OK - I'd better stop. That kind of thinking can get a person distracted. But it's got pull, doesn't it? Just thinking about it makes you want more. Think of the lengths you've gone to in order to answer the call of your stomach. Whether it's the hours you spend preparing a special meal, the sweat and toil it takes to grow your own garden, or just the huge amounts you've paid at restaurants for those special occasions - you know what I'm talking about, right?

But, deep down you know something else - there is a part of you that is far hungrier than your stomach? That's Jesus' point in our text, isn't it? That's what he does with this whole discussion that started with Jesus answering the stomachs of more than 5,000 people with a couple fish and a few pieces of bread. He turns what must have been an obvious topic of conversation, the multiplying loaves and fish, into talk about better bread, the Bread of Heaven, the bread that nourishes you not just for a few hours, but for eternal life.
And so, the people said, v. 34: "From now on, give us this bread!" That was a big step for them. After all, at the beginning of the text, Jesus has to get on them because they were missing the point. They were just following him because they saw someone who could take care of them. He was their meal ticket, literally. You see, this text follows on the heels of Jesus' famous "Feeding of the 5,000" miracle, where every single hungry person there ate their fill even though they hadn't brought any food themselves. Jesus took that one small boy's small lunch, said a prayer and miraculously fed everyone - 5,000 men plus any wives and children who were there too. And they had 12 baskets of food left over. With a miracle like that, I'd want to follow too, to see what would happen next.

But notice, look at the text...that's not why they are following Jesus. Read verse 26 closely: "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." Has that ever jumped out at you before? It wasn't the miracle. It was not what the ability to do what he did said about who he was. It was the food, plain and simple. It was a matter of "What's in it for me?" "Who cares who you are? All I care about is what I get out of it."

That realization makes this story hit a little closer to home, doesn't it? I mean, we can tell ourselves all day that if we would have seen a miracle like that, we would have been followers of Jesus, we would've "gotten it" and would have followed him. But that wasn't really these people's problem. Their problem wasn't that they weren't following Jesus. It was that they were following him for the wrong reasons, for selfish reasons.

Now - bring that truth into your life. Sure, you're following Jesus, you pray to him...but why? Has the mirror of God's law ever shown you to be one who sees God as a nothing but a meal ticket? Yes, he is your protector, and defender, and provider, but has it ever happened that that becomes why you follow him? Yes, Jesus fed those people, but their following him was a problem because they were doing it for the wrong reasons. So how do you know if you've got the right reasons? Well, if you've ever been disappointed because you trusted in God and didn't get what you wanted...there's your answer. You look to God to protect you from __(fill in the blank)__ and when you still get hurt, you're upset. You look to God to provide for you, but when your house gets foreclosed on or you just don't have enough money to buy that thing you wanted...you see it as a bad thing. Understand what I'm saying. If you get mad at God for not giving you something, or doubt him when bad things happen, even if you are just disappointed when things don't go your way - you've fallen into this same trap Jesus calls out in our text. You're following Jesus, but for the wrong reasons. Your relationship with God has become selfish, sinful, sickening to him. What's happened is that you've forgotten who he is. You've failed to see all his protection and provision and power as a sign pointing to your Savior God's love, and instead you started to look to those things as a meal ticket.

So Jesus calls us on it. He says there is something so much more important than what we too often are going for. He offers food that doesn't spoil - eternal life. So look at the reaction of the people in verse 28. "OK, what do we have to do to get that?" You see what they did again?

Instead of seeing Jesus for who he is, the giver of life - they bypassed that and focused on the gift. "How do I get that?"

And we can't avoid the obvious here. We do the same thing. "What do I have to do to get God's blessings?" "If I give my offering, then he'll be pleased and take care of me. If I go to church enough, then my faith will be stronger and I'll be in God's good graces. If I read my Bible, I'll really be a Christian." Now, don't misunderstand. All those things are good and important for you to do - but the issue is the attitude with which we do them. Is it based on what we can get, or focused purely on the giver?
You see, no matter what we do, the work we need is not the work we do, but the work done in us. Our faith is not "do" but "done" - not famished and frustrated, but finished; because of that, our works are not "must" but "may." That's why Jesus answers the way he does. Verse 29: "The work of God (literally "God's work" - the work God accomplishes), the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

It isn't about what we do; it is about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And he proves it. The people asked him what miracle he would do to prove that he was the one God sent.

They listened to Moses, they said, because he gave the Israelites that life-sustaining bread for 40 years in the desert. "So what are you going to do Jesus?"

So Jesus reminds them that it wasn't Moses, but God who did that. And then he puts it all on the line. He proclaims that he is the one God sent from heaven to feed us eternally, not physical bread - but bread that gives true life, eternal life.
Look at verse 35, "Then Jesus declared, ‘I Am' the bread of life." Did you catch that?

"I Am." I Am, the true God from all eternity, the keeping-his-promises God, our Savior, "I Am" is the bread of life - the food that our souls have been craving, the nourishment we need.

And you know why. It's because God's law written on your heart has told you that you have not been perfect. It's because you're aware of the selfishness that permeates so much of what you do, even if you don't want to admit it. You know. I know. And your soul hungers for that to be fixed. So the bread of life came down from heaven.

Jesus took the hunger of humanity. He felt that weakness and pain. He saw the grief that makes our souls starve. And he took it away by removing its cause. He took our failures. He took my sins and he paid for them. See this for what it is. Because of who he is - Jesus died on the cross to pay my penalty. God died to defeat our death. And he rose. He declared our victory once and for all. He removes the hunger of our souls forever, because the hunger of our souls was to be with God. He made that happen. Now God lives here (heart).

We have the bread of life. So eat it. Be those people in the text at the end: "Lord, from now on, give us this bread." Let that be your daily prayer - "Give us this bread." And then see who God is when he does. Not because you are so good at eating this bread...It's a simple fact - eating bread does no good unless the bread is good. It is not in our act of eating that there is power, nor in our act of believing that we are saved. This is the gift that has come down from heaven. All glory to God. Eating this bread lets us see who God is. So Lord, from now on, give us this bread.

And all of you, never forget why we pray, "Lord, from now on, give us this bread!"

Because it is him, plain and simple. Yes, there are amazing benefits for our lives from it - but that's not what we ask for. We ask for what our souls starve for - Jesus. And my, does he feed us.
In Christ,
Amen.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.

 

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