“I am the bread of life”
Today’s scripture comes from the lectionary reading for this Sunday, and it is a part of the discourse Jesus had with the crowd who searched and found Jesus on the other side of the sea, after feeding 5000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish.
In today’s text, we can see several types of people who were interested in Jesus. As the story goes, we see that the crowd who experienced the miracle of feeding 5000 men with fives loaves and two fish searched for Jesus. When the crowd could not find Jesus and his disciples, they went through the trouble of crossing the sea to look for Jesus and found him in Capernaum. To them, verse 26, instead of commending them for their effort of finding him, Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They had seen the miracle, a great sign, but they searched for Jesus not because they believed that he was the Messiah but because their stomach was filled by his miracle.
There are people in the world whose interest is only to fill their stomach. Many people seek religion from no better motive than this. They suppose that religion will add to their earthly happiness, or they seek religion to escape from suffering or from physical diseases and sicknesses, like in the case of 9 lepers in Luke 17, who came to Jesus for healing and after they were healed, they had no more business with Jesus. I am sure some of us here saying, ‘I am not interested in Jesus because of food’. But if we think from the flip side, if we are to sacrifice what goes in our stomach to follow Jesus, if we are to make a financial sacrifice, the money we need badly for other purposes, but God is making a demand to give, how many of us will follow God’s command? If we cannot gain the “loaves and fishes” to fill our stomach but to sacrifice what we need for ourselves, can we really follow Jesus? The true purpose of religion for Christians is to honor and to glorify our God the Creator, Savior, Sanctifier, and Redeemer, not because of what we can gain through the blessings of God on this earth.
Secondly, among the crowd, there were some who had crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek Jesus because they regarded him to be the Messiah, so they sincerely desired to be taught the way of life. They asked how to follow God’s commandment faithfully. Verse 28, they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” They asked the works that God is pleased with, the works that God will approve of. This was the serious inquiry of people who were seeking to please God. Do you notice that they think that they have to do something to have the approval of God? In other words, they had a hunger to please God, and they felt like they have to do something to please God.
Sounds familiar? There are people who are interested in being saved, and they feel that they have to do something to merit their own salvation. In their mindset, doing good is required to earn salvation. I am sure you have heard many people saying that so and so has been good and kind to other people, so, so and so must have gone to heaven. I am sorry to say this, but if that so and so did not believe in Jesus as the Savior whose cleaning blood that not only covers but also removes the stains of sins so that we can boldly stand before the great throne of God, then, that so and so did not go to heaven. I know and read about many atheists who donate their money for humanitarian causes and their organs.
To those people who asked him about the works they have to perform to please God, Jesus answered in verse 29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. In other words, in order to please God, in order to be saved, we have to believe in the Messiah who was incarnated in Jesus the Christ. No works are required other than believing In the Messiah God has sent.
At this point, we have to clarify our long-held misconception that we do not have to do anything but to just “believe”. I am sure you have heard that we do not have to do anything but just believing in Jesus as the son of God and he died for our sins, –a purely intellectual assent.
The word “believe” comes from the same root as the word “faith.” It means: to believe in, to trust in, and to rely upon.
Also, the word “believe”, according to a biblical encyclopedia, is to “have faith”. To “have faith” in the same encyclopedia (Zondervan), is to have 1) a conviction of truth with the included idea of trust 2) fidelity, faithfulness.
Being faithful means, John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
In other words, to believe, to have faith, to be faithful, and to obey are all different words for the same thing.
One cannot believe without having faith, and one cannot have faith without being faithful, and one cannot be faithful without being obedient. John 14: 15-16 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
Faith takes us beyond intellectual assent—it’s a conviction. A conviction is something one is willing to die for.
To believe in Jesus means to have the conviction that he is the Savior of the world, and for this conviction, we can even die for.
I cannot emphasize enough that the notion that one can believe in Jesus without obeying his instructions and keep his commandments a common but biblically flawed/wrong perspective. Jesus addressed this same fallacy during His earthly ministry by asking, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say? Genuine belief in Jesus is not a passive experience, a simple brain activity without actions. Disciples of Jesus will act on His teaching!
This pastor’s daughter who does not attend church, who hates her husband to the point that she would avoid at all cost to be seen with her husband in public believes that she can go to heaven because she believes in Jesus. When asked about her relationship with God, she said without hesitation, “It is fine!” Only if she knew it is not “fine” to hate her husband and not attending church if she had a right relationship with God!
All the good works are not the requirement for us to be saved, but they are the fruits from being obedient to God’s commandments in believing Jesus the Christ.
Thirdly, people asked for more signs even after they had already seen the miracle of the five loaves. Verse 30, so that “We may believe you to be the promised Messiah”. But as we all know, they already had experienced the sign, yet it was simply impossible for them to see anything further than what it was, –a sign. Until then, they never heard nor experienced anything like that, –feeding 5000 men, yet they demand more and more signs. Why? What does it mean for us?
They demand things of the world which give them hunger and thirst over and over again. In other words, when people are fixed on the perishing things of the world, they can never be satisfied; that was why they ask for more and more signs, more and more of the world.
Verse 31, they asked for a sign like manna from heaven in the wilderness, –physical and temporal one. What their ancestors ate in the wilderness, the Manna, was a food that sustained their physical body, and those people who ate Manna for forty years in the wilderness eventually all died.
That was why Jesus said, “Moses did not give you “bread from heaven”. It is my father who gives true bread from heaven. And that bread is the one that gives life to the world.” Things of the world that you ask for would make you hungrier and thirstier and that will not keep you from dying eventually. What you need is the true bread that gives you the life, that will end your hunger and thirst.
When our hearts are fixed on the perishing things of the world, even miracles, -signs-, themselves are seemingly lost on us. Even if a thousand miracles we experience, that does not mean anything beyond what it seems to be, –an ordinary thing–, as the feeding of five thousand became an ordinary thing for them. We become blind to God and God’s blessings if our hearts are fixed on the perishing things of the world. We experience God’s blessings every day, every moment of our life is God’s blessings, —we breathe, we walk, we see, we hear, birds, sky, rain, family, and friends… they are all God’s miracles and God’s blessings, yet we cannot see God, God’s work in these.
This spiritual blindness leads us to ingratitude. Those people who experienced the great miracle of God feeding the 5000 men, yet, there was no gratitude coming from them, only more and more demands were made without thanksgiving. If we are spiritually awakened, if we are children of God, if we know that our days are filled with God’s goodness, the miracles, and blessings, we can wholeheartedly give thanks in all circumstances knowing that it is God’s world and we are God’s.
Let us come to the table with gratitude for his suffering and sacrifice….