This is bread to be thankful for,
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
While the typical thanksgiving sermon may be filled with images of smiling pilgrims sitting down across a table with native Americans, (As an aside, please take some time to pray for the anscestors of teh tribe who helped our ancestors survive, it has been reported they have been hit especially hard by the Pandemic and are in desperate need of medical relief. If you can help, there are a number of charities you can donate to). And even though it may be fair to say that this Thanksgiving resembles that first Thanksgiving which was born out of loss of life and hardship. However, I want to go to a different time in History, to the time just before a Monk named Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five thesis to the door of the Church at Whittenburg. The times then were as they are now, the people felt alienated and abandoned\by the Catholic Elites, who had also placed a n unbearable religious burdens on the people, and by the Politicians of their day. Further, another bout of the Bubonic Plague had broken out in the area around Whittenburg, one of the many epidemics that ravaged late Medieval Europe from 1300 on. Yes, the fields were ripe for something to take place, and onto the scene comes Martin Luther with his emphatic emphasis on Christ and his willingness to take this message to the towns and villages with his friend Philip Melanchthon that Historians say caused the Reformation to spread so quickly among the downtrodden and disconsolate peasant class. “I am saved by grace through faith in Christ?” They asked, what new teaching is this? Luther of course was quick to point out that this was not a new teaching but an old one. Now, they teach Historians not to make one to one comparison between time periods and certainly there are many differences between our time and Luther’s 502 years ago. If I may be allowed one more comparison, both our time, and the time of the Reformation share many similarities with the people that Jesus is interacting with in our text from the Gospel of John today.
But let’s set the context, as we approach our text we need to look at what has happened immediate before. Jesus has been greeted in the wilderness by a large crowd made up of 5000 souls whom he met on the other side of the sea of Galilee after crossing during Passover, Jesus asks his Disciples to get them something to eat, which is a trick question, since He knew what was about to happen, and they bring this boy who is carrying five loaves and two fish, Jesus has them sit down and he blesses the food and does this miraculous sign where everyone has enough of the bread and fish to satisfy completely their hunger and they even collect a number of leftovers. This story you recognize is the Feeding of the Five Thousand and in one of the Gospel Accounts the author tells us that one of the reasons Jesus accepted these crowds is because the people were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He had compassion on them. They were alienated from the Roman Elite who considered the Jews dogs and who could be merciless to the Hebrew peasant class. They were also alienated by the religious class, the Scribes and the Pharisees who demanded much of the people and condemned them when their righteousness did not match theirs. After this happens though John tells us the Disciples left for the opposite shore and Jesus comes to them walking on the water and when the crowd wakes up the next day, apparently they had camped there or they returned to the place to find him again, we are not told what they did, but they find that Jesus and the Disciples are gone so they cross to the other side of the Lake and catch up with Him and that is where our text picks up today.
The people of course, are curious, they want to know when Jesus crossed the lake, they were not aware of His crossing on the sea the night before, and they know he did not get in the boat with His disciples. They likely assumed he took the northern road, the shortest route around the lake, but Jesus does not tell them, instead, as he usually does, he interprets their intentions and discerns the thoughts of their hearts. He knows why they have come to find Him. These, after all, are subjects of the Roman Empire, they are used to their leaders pacifying them with food and entertainment. The Romans had so conquered them that they will go where the bread and food is. They’re peasants, under heavy taxes from their overlords. Just give us our bread and circuses and we will suffer under this burden. But they had also discerned He was a prophet and were about to seize him and make him king, Jesus knows this, he says to them: “you do not seek me because you saw a sign, but because you ate your fill of bread.” Their intentions are laid bare, but Jesus is not rebuking them, He is going to make them an offer; “Do not work for the bread that perishes, but work for the bread that will lead to Eternal Life, that is sealed by My Father.” How do we receive this bread? They ask, What work must we do?” Jesus tells them: “Believe, that is the work of the Father, believe in Him who was sent.” By now, John, in his narrative, has told us that Jesus is referring to himself, Jesus is the one on whom the dove rested by the waters of the Jordan, a sign which John saw as a “Seal” from the father. Jesus has already, in chapter 4, referred to himself as the “Well that springs up water which those who drink of will never third again.” Now He is making the same claim about Himself before this crowd.
But the crowd argues back, they want Jesus to perform another sign, do another miracle, do another work so that we may believe you, they are not unfamiliar with the setting in which this happened, in a wilderness region on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. They know their ancestors have experienced a miracle of Bread and Meat in the Sinai Wilderness. “We know our fathers ate the bread in the wilderness, as it is written: “He gave them bread to eat.” Now Jesus has them, he knows that the popular teaching of the day was that Moses gave the people the bread in cooperation with God, that is, Moses prayed, and God provided the bread. Jesus knows what really happened, after all, He was there. “Moses did not give you the bread in the wilderness, it was God the Father who did and He is the one who gives the True Bread, and that True Bread is the bread that comes down from heaven, and that bread will satisfy them forever.
But the people still do not get it, we know because John has already told us elsewhere that Jesus is talking about Himself, but they still think He is referring to a physical piece of bread, just like the Women at the Well was looking for a pale for Jesus to draw water with, the people were looking for baskets of more bread that they could eat and never hunger again. “Sir, give us this bread” they demand, perhaps they think that if they just eat this bread, then they won’t have to rely on Rome or the Jewish Elites anymore, Give us this bread so we can be free. Or perhaps they just do not want to worry about hunger again, it’s a simple request, give us this bread sir, like Oliver Twist asking for more porridge. Whatever the reason, Jesus knows they still do not understand and so He says: I am the bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never again hunger, whoever believes in me will never again first.”
Jesus starts this phrase in verse 35 with the term “Ego Aimee” this is the Greek rendering of the divine name given to Moses in Genesis, I Am, is the bread of life, Come to I Am and you will never, ever Hunger, Believe in I Am and you will never, ever Thirst. Jesus is emphatic, you will never ever, not once, not today, not tomorrow. But how does this happen, The Greek again gives us a glimpse as to how that the English does not, it uses this word “Eis” which is a word to indicate a change in spatial positioning. That is, you come into I Am, you believe, Into I Am and you will never, ever hunger and you will never ever thirst. You step out of the former world where your sins separated you from God and you through belief you step into I Am, into Jesus and your hunger and thirst is satisfied.
Application: Oh, how many of us need to hear this tonight. How many us, find ourselves this weekend feeling alienated from the people in power and from the leaders in the Church. How many of us find ourselves alone because of lockdowns and shutdowns, limits on family gatherings and concerns over spreading this deadly virus. How many of us listening have allowed 2020 and its events to drive us to despair? Further, how many of us have begged God for some sort of sign, some sort of marker to tell us that things will get better? How many of us have placed our fleeces on the ground like Gideon but have been disappointed to find it dry? Finally, how many of us have come to Jesus looking for bread, not the bread from heaven that is sealed by the father, but the daily bread we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, that earthly sustenance, while we keep him at arm’s length spiritually? How many of us will sit before tables of food which are usually filled with laughter and the sounds of kids at the table in the next room, and wonder how we can thank God for this food that is usually so wonderfully shared?
But when you do look at that food, will you do something for me? Remember that if you believe in Jesus, if you have entered into Him, then you have the food that never perishes, the food that is sealed by God. You get to partake of the true bread form heaven, the bread that will keep you from hungering again spiritually. Yes, even though you feel alienated by the people of this world and alone due to the shutdowns and limits on gatherings, even though 2020 has just about driven you to despair remember that you have the True Bread, the Bread of Life, you have Jesus Christ, the one who will not alienate you, the one whose table you share everyday, the one whose flesh we eat and blood we drink around the communion table. Thanksgiving is a day to remember, remember what God has given us, the family, the friends, the loved ones, the material goods, the food before you, they are all given by God, they are signs to you that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, signs that should point you to the True Bread that comes from heaven, the bread of life, Jesus Christ.
Eat of this bread, and perhaps like our reformation ancestors, perhaps like Jesus hearers we will spark a new renewal of the Gospel in our land and reach our neighbors with the Truth of God. Eat of this bread and watch how God transforms you, then transforms those around you by working through you, eat this bread and you will never, never, no never, I said never hunger or thirst again and that, brothers and sisters, is bread to be thankful for.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center