|IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 35, August 27 to September 2, 2001|
Dear Pastor, I'm sorry I can't leave more money in the plate, but my father didn't give me a raise in my allowance. Could you have a sermon about a raise in my allowance? Love, Patty (age 10, New Haven).
Dear Pastor, I think a lot more people would come to your church if you moved it to Disneyland. Loreen (age 9, Tacoma).
Dear Pastor, Please say in your sermon that Peter Peterson has been a good boy all week. I am Peter Peterson. Sincerely, Pete (age 9, Phoenix).
Dear Pastor, Please say a prayer for our Little League team. We need God's help or a new pitcher. Thank you. Alexander (age 10, Raleigh).
Dear Pastor, My father says I should learn the Ten Commandments. But I don't think I want to because we have enough rules already in my house. Joshua (age 10, South Pasadena).
Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday. Especially when it was finished. Ralph (age 11, Akron).
Children have a refreshing honesty when it comes to expressing what they want and need. Adults on the other hand, tend to be blind to their real needs. In John 6:16-25, we saw how John moves us from the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 to this passage about the bread of life. Last time, we saw that everybody has a hungry heart that only Jesus can fill. We also saw that Jesus reveals himself in a special way to his disciples so that their faith is encouraged. Today’s passage introduces the concept of Jesus as the bread of life. If everybody has a hungry heart, then Jesus is the bread that satisfies that hunger. This is an important image – bread is wholesome and nourishing. It sustains us and gives us energy. The call, then, is to come and feast upon Jesus, the bread of life.
The first thing we see is that Jesus, the bread of life, is whole food not junk food. In John 6:16-25 we saw that Jesus’ reply did not indicate that the crowds were interested only in bread. We saw that they were genuine seekers even though they were immature. Now in verses 25-27 Jesus casts this immaturity in terms of their poor diet: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.” In other words, don’t fill up on junk food that makes you fat and lazy; fill up on nourishing food. Jesus quickly and keenly penetrates to one of the fundamental temptations: the temptation to turn our attention from our spiritual needs to elevate our physical desires. We quickly learn to mask our desires as needs, and thereby to crowd out what is truly needful, namely attention to our spiritual hunger.
Obviously, this temptation works itself out in some lives through a craving for material possessions and self-gratification. Some, thinking that this world is all there is, will seek to suck as much as they can out of life before they’re gone. The shallowness of such a stance is obvious. But the genuine seeker faces this temptation in a much more subtle manner. To the genuine seeker, the temptation comes in blending the spiritual concern with the material. C.S. Lewis called this the temptation of “Christianity and...” It doesn’t really matter what the “and” is. It could be “Christianity and the pro-life movement,” or “Christianity and the war on pornography,” or “Christianity and social justice.” The temptation works very subtly. In its benign form, the temptation assumes that if one is a Christian, one must hold to the “and...” Thus, if one does not hold to the “and....,” then one must not be a “real Christian.” You see the logical error: the assumption that Christianity is a position that must be held rather than a relationship that is to be enjoyed. Yes, the relationship does transform our thinking and the positions that we hold, but our positions do not determine the status of the relationship. So it starts with the subtle assumption that faith in Jesus is not enough to be a real Christian. It becomes diabolical when the “and...” takes over and Christianity becomes the vehicle to accomplish the “and...” In the end, time is consumed reading position papers, crafting arguments and making strategies, while the weightier matters of prayer, Scripture reading and acts of mercy are neglected. Augustine identified this temptation rightly when he said that sin is simply the elevation of a lesser good over a greater good. That is the temptation of junk food that most of the faithful face: taking a good outworking of our faith and setting it up as an idol in place of faith. Tomatoes are good, but if I ate nothing but tomatoes, then I would become malnourished and depleted. Junk food isn’t just about what’s bad for you, but a wrong approach to what is good for you.
Let me make this clear – this is not to say, “Don’t be involved in working in the world.” Christians should be exercising their faith in the political, economic, social, and business realms. The difference between junk food and whole food is in how we measure our success. Junk food measures success in terms of the change that is effected: how much impact we are having. Whole food measures success in terms of faithfulness: how much I have been faithful to Christ. That is the attitude that comes from being nourished by whole food.
Not only is the bread of life whole food rather than junk food, but the bread of life is for beggars rather than for buyers. In John 6:30-34 the crowds ask, “What are you going to do to prove yourself? Moses gave us bread in the desert. What is your next big trick going to be?” Does this sentiment sound familiar? In John 2:18 Jesus cleaned out the temple and the Jewish leaders asked, “What sign do you show us to prove your authority?” And in John 4:48 Jesus challenged the Galileans by saying, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” Now Jesus is hearing the same sentiment again. But note the contrast in the audiences: in John 2 Jesus challenged skeptics of his authority; in John 4 Jesus challenged thrill-seekers. Now Jesus is challenging true seekers. These are the people who follow Jesus to hear his teaching. These are the people who go to church, yet they still don’t get it. They still come wanting to impose their conditions. They want enough proof. They want to make sure they get a good deal. They want to be buyers of bread.
Jesus turns their expectations upside down and shows them that they are beggars. In response to their question “What must we do?” Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Period. That’s what you can do. Have faith. This takes us back to that foundational passage in Ephesians 2:8-9 – it is only by grace through faith that we’ve been saved. We don’t earn it and we don’t set the terms. After the questioners allude to their proud heritage in Moses as their prophet, Jesus says Moses didn’t provide the bread. It came from God alone and was his gift. It wasn’t anything you or any other mortal did. To put it bluntly, God doesn’t need us, but it is God’s good pleasure to have us. God doesn’t need you, but it is God’s good pleasure to have you. When you let that fact sink in, it is a terribly humbling thing. We’re not in charge here. We’re beggars not buyers. We don’t make the rules. We don’t have the luxury of deciding for ourselves what is good for us. We don’t have the authority to determine what bread is nourishing. We are beggars.
As beggars, our job is to be thankful, not boastful. We don’t lord our spiritual experiences over others. We don’t flaunt our knowledge. Some Christians treat their faith as an accomplishment of which they should be proud. But in reality, our job is humbly to receive what faith we’ve been given. When we share it, we do so with grace. Many of you remember back in the 1980’s when preacher after preacher fell into one disgrace or another – Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, Gordon MacDonald. It is facile to dismiss these people as frauds. In reality, they were true believers and great men of God in their own right – but they stopped being beggars. As beggars, our job is to plead with God. In our prayer lives, we should plead that God would give us more spiritual nourishment, more faith, more passion, more strength for the challenges of the day, more wisdom, more discernment, more fortitude to hold fast against temptation. This would be a cause for shame were it not for the fact that we beg from a benevolent master who loves to shower us with grace.
So the bread of life is whole food, not junk food. It is for beggars, not buyers. Also the bread of life is a diet, not a meal. Look at John 6:34-35. They ask for this bread always. This should remind us of the request of the woman at the well back in chapter 4. Jesus spoke to her of living water, and here he speaks of the bread of life. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus talks about life-long satisfaction. He’s not just talking about a one time spiritual event, a single meal. Rather, he talks about a lifelong diet, a feeding program for the rest of our lives.
The implication is this: faith cannot be separated from the lifelong consequences of that faith. Some say in a very glib way, “Once saved always saved,” meaning that if a person confesses faith in Christ then he’s “in” even if he wanders the rest of his life. This passage does not teach that; it teaches that faith in Christ begins the lifelong process of being continually nourished by Jesus. And other parts of Scripture show that this lifelong process is one of continual growth: Philippians 1:6 tells us that he who began a good work in us (i.e. God) will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. In any process there are times of regression and falling back. The point is that we see a trajectory. We see the evidence that the individual is on a lifelong diet.
A lot of people try out the “quick fix” programs for their weight. They drink the high-carbo shakes. They count the calories. They eat nothing but grapefruit for a week. There are any number of quick weight loss schemes. However, after losing weight, most of these people put all their pounds back on and more. Why? They didn’t change their lifelong diet; they focused on the quick fix. Jesus isn’t a quick fix. Jesus isn’t something you try to get results. Jesus is a person whom you encounter. Jesus doesn’t offer us the temporary “high” and then eternal life. Jesus offers us lifelong nourishment through a relationship that sustains us and helps us grow into the creatures he wants us to be.
How do we change our diet? Begin with spending time with Jesus every day. When I skip breakfast in the morning, I feel like I’m moving through a sea of molasses all day. Spiritually, the same thing happens. When I skip my time with Jesus each morning, I find myself distracted, dispirited, and passionless. However when I begin each day with Bible reading and prayer, I find myself energized to go forth and do my best to serve God in all that I do. I am utterly convinced that those very simple habits of daily Bible reading and daily prayer will do more to connect you with the nourishing power of Jesus than anything else. But it shouldn’t stop there. Cultivate a consciousness of Jesus throughout the day. The best way to do that is to contemplate Scripture throughout the day. What you read in the morning, ponder as you drive to work and as you stand in line in the grocery store and as you wash the dishes. To extend our food metaphor, chew your food. Make sure you’ve digested it before you take another bite.
The bread of life is whole food, not junk food. The bread of life is for beggars, not buyers. The bread of life is a diet, not a meal. When you come to worship, you don’t eat at an all you can eat buffet. It’s more like a free sample of the feast you can have for the asking. You think about that. Amen.