Are You Eating Food that Lasts?

The “sustainable food” Jesus brings to us in John 6:24-35 is perhaps not what you think. It’s more than physical food. It gives eternal life.  “Are you eating food that lasts?”  February 17, 2019.

Have you heard of “sustainable food”? The basic definition of “sustainable food” is a food source that uses farming and production techniques that protect the environment, public health, and animals. Many people won’t even consider buying meat, produce, dry goods, unless they have been produced in a sustainable, responsible way. Or, maybe the first thing you thought of when I said, “sustainable food” was food that fills you up, or “sustains” you. Eating yogurt in the morning, a wad of peanut butter on your whole grain toast; you know that will keep you going for more than a couple of hours. Sustainable agriculture or “calorie-dense” breakfasts aside, many people in the world aren’t eating “sustainable food”… Are you? In John chapter 6, Jesus asks that question for us: “What are you eating?” “Is it worthwhile?” “Is it sustainable?” The “sustainable food” Jesus brings to us in John 6 is perhaps not what you think. It’s more than physical food. It gives eternal life.

People have a craving for physical food. It satisfies us. When you’re hungry, you eat and “feel better.” The crowd of people in our reading -- numbering in the thousands -- had just finished eating a miraculous meal at the hand of Jesus. The day before, on the grassy shores of Galilee, Jesus fed them with only five loaves of bread and two small fish. He provided in a very real and miraculous way. We heard all about it last week.

But now, the next morning, the crowd was looking for Jesus because they still wanted him to be their powerful, bread-making king. However, they realized that Jesus and his disciples had crossed the lake during the night. John writes:  Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

Jesus revealed their priorities. He saw the people’s selfish tendencies and how they craved physical food and couldn’t see beyond their appetite for blessings in the here and now. They didn’t understand the meaning behind the miraculous meal they had received.

But Jesus revealed their sinful priorities and redirected them from their fixation on physical food to heavenly food.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life. Yes, food satisfies. It tastes good. There’s nothing wrong with the food and blessings in this world. And working for food and for the things we have is rewarding, a gift from God. In 2 Thessalonians, God tells us to “earn the bread you eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:12). In the book of James, God tells us “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). But just like the crowd, Jesus begs us to ask: “Where are we placing our hearts?” “In what do we trust?” “What are you eating?” That’s the question Jesus was asking these people. That’s what he’s asking us. He wants us to know that the food we work for, the possessions we strive for, and all of our endeavors… fade, along with everything else in this world. They themselves aren’t lasting and they offer nothing that sustains.

Now, what does Jesus offer to fix that problem? He offers something better than physical food, better than our possessions, and better than our efforts. It’s heavenly food for the purpose of eternal life; it’s food that lasts. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Jesus wants us to work for it; what he means is he wants us to prioritize it. To seek this heavenly food and come to this heavenly food again and again. In fact, Jesus says he’s the one giving it to us. Can we trust this food, this message? Can we trust Jesus to give it to us? Yes, because God the Father certified Jesus with his seal of approval. Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Savior. We can count on Jesus to give us heavenly food that is lasting.

But the people still did not understand this message from Jesus. Their expectations for Jesus were still about physical food, the things of this world. Oh yes, they saw him as the Messiah, but only as an earthly Messiah. In their eyes, he was great prophet who would lead them out of Roman oppression and give them what they wanted, political freedom and a restored city of Jerusalem. And to prove their theory, they asked Jesus for a sign: So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” “Prove it to us, Jesus! Prove that you can feed us for the rest of our lives just like the great prophet Moses fed our ancestors, the Israelites, in the desert! Then we’ll really know that you’re the Messiah because that’s what the Messiah is supposed to do.” They thought Jesus was going to give them earthly bread just like Moses did, 1,500 years before when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. But their expectations for Jesus were way off-base!

Last week, we talked a lot about Jesus providing for us physically--giving us all the necessities in this life. And he does. Trust him to give you what you need. But do our expectations of Jesus ever stop there, at the physical? What messages are we sending if we only worry or pray about our toys, budgets, money, and Amazon Prime? What message are we sending our children when our expectations of Jesus are only focused on our physical lives? When we only call on Jesus with our material wishes and problems? We stand with crowd of people in front of Jesus, asking him for more bread. More bread that will spoil, fade, and waste away. Our expectations for Jesus fall woefully short--too often we expect him to only care about our earthly needs. We don’t seek the food that endures to eternal life.

But in his loving patience, Jesus tells us about the real, sustainable food, He tells us what’s really worth eating:  Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The manna the Children of Israel received as they spent 40 years in the desert did not come from Moses, as the crowd said. Jesus told them that it came from God. And even then, the manna they ate spoiled. And even though the manna fed the Israelites, they still died. Jesus wanted them to see how the bread from heaven is greater than physical bread. It comes from heaven itself, it gives real, spiritual life intimately connected with God’s blessings. This real life is the opposite of death, the opposite of separation from God in hell. This real life given by the bread from heaven is a life that endures. And unlike the manna, which just fed the Israelites, this bread from heaven feeds the entire world. The bread of God, the sustainable food of God, is much more than physical food.

How do you get this sustainable food that gives eternal life? Well, you can’t get it by working for it. You don’t produce it by your own actions. Remember how Jesus said that we must work for heavenly food, for heavenly bread? To prioritize it? Well the people latched onto the idea of “working” and wanted to know how to get it by their own efforts and power. Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” In other words, “What do we have to do to get this bread?!” That’s how the world sees things without understanding God’s grace. It seems only natural to work for our blessings. But that’s not the truth Jesus wants to get across.

Jesus had a different truth for the people, a people who were so focused on their earthly priorities and their own tainted efforts. The access to this sustainable, heavenly food that gives eternal life comes by faith. Simple trust and belief in Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior.  Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” We believe. Paul had the same message for the jailer at Philippi in Acts chapter 16: “[The jailer] then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’” Heavenly food and the life it brings doesn’t come from your own efforts. The benefits and life from the bread from heaven come as we humbly place our confidence and trust in Jesus, by believing in the one God has sent. Real life, its benefits, its promises, its forgiveness, its clean conscience, its confidence -- it all comes by faith.

The people listened, and heard more and more about this bread from heaven, and how it comes from believing in the one God has sent. Some of them began to understand the importance of this bread; they began to understand the blessings it brings. They ask: “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” They’re waiting for an answer. They want the bread…

Throughout this conversation, Jesus characterizes himself as the one giving the bread from heaven. But now, Jesus turns the conversation to himself. The rubber hits the road. Things are clearly laid out. They said, “Give us this bread...always!” Jesus declares to them: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Yes, Jesus gives the bread from heaven that gives life. But Jesus himself is also that Bread. He’s the giver, and he gives himself! “I lay down my life for the sheep,” “We have redemption through his blood.” God explains to us in 2 Timothy 1: “Our Savior, Christ Jesus… has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” As Jesus gave himself on the cross, as the Bread of Life, he bridged the gap between God and people, erasing sin and destroying death.

Jesus is your heavenly bread that doesn’t fade or perish. He’s your heavenly bread, your sustainable food. And he gives himself to you. Stop trusting in, toiling for, and worrying about things that fade. With Jesus, there is life and rest. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry. How’s that for a promise? With Jesus the Bread of Life, there is contentment for you. There isn’t a worried hunger for more things, there is no dramatic scraping for more time on this earth in the face of death. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Once again, we believe. By the Holy Spirit’s power, we believe in Jesus, the one who takes our sins away. Now, what do we do in our life of faith? How does this faith seek and eat the bread of life? It returns again and again to the Bread of Life, amid life’s difficulties. What does eating the Bread of Life look like in your home? Is it hearing the words “Jesus forgives me, and I forgive you” on a regular basis? Is it praying for others and thanking God for his salvation at bedtime? Is it mom opening her bible on the kitchen table while the coffee’s going in the morning? Is it a man understanding his responsibility to take his family to God’s house, to fill up every week and day on the Bread that gives life? That is what it means to eat sustainable food, to come to Jesus, the Bread of Life!

So, are you eating sustainable food? Sure, it’s always beneficial to keep at least some watch over your diet, to understand where your food is coming from. But we crave the better food. We crave the heavenly food that Jesus gives. We crave him, our Savior, our Bread of Life. Feed on Jesus, and know that he himself, gives you life, and all of its godly blessings, to the full. Eat sustainable food. It’s better than physical food. It gives eternal life. Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on February 17, 2019