Scriptures: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; John 6:24-35

Bread. Mmm! There are all kinds of bread out there. There’s white bread. There’s wheat bread. There’s rye bread. There’s pumpernickel bread. There’s zucchini bread. There’s pumpkin bread. There are all kinds of bread.

I have a few that I brought with me today. There’s cornbread. There’s a tortilla – Mexican bread, if you will. There’s Bimbo bread – yes, that’s its name. And one of my favorites – there’s friendship bread. This one happens to be dark chocolate raspberry. I may share it with you after the worship service – I’ll add that to the fellowship time.

There are all kinds of bread, and bread was exceptionally important to the people – always, but particularly in Jesus’ day. Meat was a rarity. Most people were lucky to have it twice a week. Not every meal, or every day.

Their bread was not just plain bread like we saw here. Their bread was frequently (except for unleavened matzoh bread) stuffed with things – nuts, dates, things like that which added protein and body to it.

They would have different kinds of bread. They would have a bread for traveling that was a lot tougher and it would stay good longer. Then they had their daily loaves of bread that they cooked and brought forth.

Bread was the staple part. Bread was one of the most important things. This is why Jesus, in his prayer he taught his disciples, said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” People understood what was meant.

Just prior to this passage, Jesus had given bread. He had been teaching a whole huge crowd of people. It got to be evening, and they were hungry, and there was no time for anyone to go into the city. So Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “What do you have that you can give them?”

The disciples were caught woefully unprepared. One of the even complained that it could take three months worth of wages to buy enough bread to feed this crowd. They found a little boy that had two fish and five loaves.

Jesus used those two fish and five loaves, by continuously producing fish and bread, so that all the people in the crowd were fed. There were 5000 men. They didn’t count women and children in those days. But we know there were 5000 men. So there were probably ten or twelve thousand.

When they got done, they actually collected twelve baskets of leftovers – twelve bushel baskets of leftovers – which is pretty impressive, you might think. I’m not going to go into the symbolism of this, having twelve baskets of leftovers. But they had just had this miracle the day before.

Jesus disappeared that night, as was his pattern, a lot of times, when people got a little excited and tried to make him king. He told the disciples, “You go over there, I’m going over here.” And then he met them, because he walked across the water. I have to admit, most of the crowd didn’t get to see that one, but the disciples did.

But they realized the disciples were gone, and the next day, they followed them across to Capernaum. And Jesus, showing, I think, a little bit of his humanity here, gets a little frustrated with them. He says, “You’re not here to hear me.”

In verse 26 he says, “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.” “You’re following me around because you get to eat, not because of anything you believe.” He talks about the bread from heaven, and people say, “Well, give us that.”

And Jesus made the first of his “I am” statements. There are seven of them. They are only in John. He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever eats me will never be hungry. Whoever drinks of me will never be thirsty.”

Each of the “I am” statements represents a particular relationship of Jesus to the spiritual needs of men and women. Jesus is the light in the darkness, the gate to security, and the Shepherd that guides. Today he is the bread that satisfies and gives life eternal.

In every “I am” statements, Jesus wants us to receive him, not for the gifts He can give us, but for what He can be to us. I have mentioned this before, but St. Augustine used to say that there was a God-shaped hole in every one of us. We can and do attempt to fill that cavity with a host of other things. But nothing fills our hunger for redemption and significance except Jesus and his salvation with the gospel.

They were looking for something to fill them. That crowd had a mixture of people in it. They were looking for bread, but they were looking for bread in different ways. They were looking for bread of different types.

Some people were the materialists. Many of the people who followed Jesus at this point were hoping for a political savior. They wanted political solutions, free handouts, and material goodies. For them Jesus was the latest and best gravy train.

These people had watched Rome have limited success in instituting a sort of welfare program that they called bread for peace. There were many hungry, jobless people in Rome. And the government tried buy them off with bread and circuses. The plan backfired, as the demands of the crowd simply grew and grew.

Jesus saw the same thing happening in this group of people that were following him. It’s not uncommon. Missionaries in third-world countries often refer to what they call “Rice Christians.” They are people who convert to Christianity in exchange for food or some kind of other physical benefit.

That practice exists in North American churches as well. It may not be physical food, but we use the church to develop business contacts, personal relationships, community status. Sometimes people look to God only for what they can get. They are quick to turn their backs on God the first time He fails to deliver what they want.

Karl Marx, who said that religion was an opiate for the masses and believed that faith was a crutch for the weak, started out as a Jew. His father was a Jew, in Germany, and his father converted to Lutheranism, which was the chief church in Germany, the state church if you will.

But it notes in his journal that his father did not convert because of any belief in Jesus Christ. His father was a tailor, and there was a much better class of clientele that went to the Lutheran church. They were wealthier. They had political power. So he converted so that he could get to the church and make those kind of contacts himself.

It used to be in the church – now admittedly it’s not so much today, because the culture is getting hostile to Christians and faith – but it used to be that you went to church because if you didn’t, people thought you were a reprobate.

Being an elder was a good thing to put on your resume. It meant that you were mature, responsible, and had leadership qualities. Putting yourself as in the choir, or being a Sunday School teacher, was also a plus, because it showed communication, compassion, and team spirit. People went to the church – I call them cultural Christians – for what they could get out of the church, rather than what God wanted to give them.

Jeanne Zornes, who is a well-known Christian writer, says, “As a new Christian, I presumed Jesus’ main job was taking care of me. He led me to a job, roommates to share apartment costs, and a car that ran. But after a while my tastes got fussier. Like the Israelites waking up to manna every morning, I was tired of the same-old, same-old. I wanted a home with more privacy, a more interesting and better paying yet less stressful job, and a shinier new car. My list continued to grow. I wanted Jesus to perk me up when I was down, remove all my difficulties, and make living a whole lot easier.” (Today we tend to call that the prosperity gospel.) When those things didn’t come, I felt as if Jesus had walked away from me. What I didn’t realize was that he had putting loving distance between us, just as he did with the crowd that night, knowing that they wanted to force him to be king.”

Jesus was looking at these materialists and saying, “I am not a vending machine. I may be Jehovah Jireh, the provider, but I don’t give you what you want, but what you need.”

There is a second type of people that were in there. They were the legalists. In verse 28 it says, “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’”

Just as some people were looking for a free ride, this group was looking for a list of rules that, if they followed, would lead them to heaven. Rather than discover a mature spirituality themselves, they depend on the minister or some other charismatic individual to lead them, to literally tell them what they are to believe, or set up a system of rules.

The Pharisees, of course, are well-known for that, in the Bible, as Jesus’ opponents They had rules, 613 of them, and if you were going to be a true Pharisee, you had to follow all 613, on top of the Ten Commandments and the other stuff that was in the Bible.

We have legalistic churches today. People who are less concerned with the bread of life, and more concerned with, how did you make it? Was it kosher? Are there any contaminants? Am I going to be sharing it with other people?You didn’t drop it, did you?

We fall into legalism. When we ask, “What do we have to do?” but also “What do we not do?” That’s more frequently the way we look at it. What do we avoid, so that we can get to heaven?

I’ve seen people, known people, that didn’t play cards. They would play UNO or Rook or Skip-Bo, but not with a regular card deck, for a number of different reasons, anything from gambling to a similarity to tarot cards. I know people who would not go to movies, because it might set a bad example. But it always amused me that VHS was fine.

We set up rules. “All I have to do is come to church, participate in worship, give occasionally, whenever we have a fund-raising event, and help with that.” And that’s all we need.

One of the reasons that we fall into the sin of legalism at times is because it’s easier to make rules than to build relationships. Legalists never listen to a message or assess a service based on its positive points and what it had to offer people. They look only, primarily, for the negative. Jesus sees right through this ploy with his answer when he says, “The work of God is to believe in the one He has sent.”

That’s it. Very simple. Believe in Jesus Christ. Now being simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy. We do not need the law so much. We need the Giver of the law. This doesn’t mean there is no law. We do have things that God has called us to do, ways that God has called us to live, that are in His Word, that we are to follow, and we’re to hold one another accountable, with love, in the church.

But we don’t follow it so we get to heaven. We follow it so that we can glorify God and lead other people to Him, as we live lives of love and restraint.

There was a third group of people that were in that crowd, and that would be what I would call the sensationalists. This group wanted fresh bread. We have to keep the context in mind again. The day before, Jesus had just performed many healings and on top of that, fed over 5000 people.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a pretty good example of a miracle to me. But not to the sensationalists. Because despite that, they asked that question: “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?”

“What you did yesterday?” [gestures dismissively] “We want to see what you have for us today that we might believe you. You have to keep doing it, so we’ll keep believing in you.”

“Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Now the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 in the New Testament is often paralleled with God providing manna from heaven. The manna sign in the Old Testament was particularly significant, as it was a miracle that happened almost every day for forty years. As I noted earlier, Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And he literally means bread.

People were looking for the same thing from Jesus. Feeding the 5000, walking across the Sea of Galilee? That was old news. Now it was time for something new.

We have a sensationalist culture today. What’s that saying, if it bleeds, it leads? They’re always, it seems, bringing something up, sometimes it seems making mountains out of molehills, trying to get people all worked up because that sells. It sells ratings. It sells papers. Sometimes it can sell a person. I’m not going to knock all televangelists, but there are a number of them that have been shown to be some pretty strong salesmen, and they’re sensationalists.

And we have people that eat that up, and love it, even in the church today. One writer calls them “pep rally believers.” Basically what he was saying is this. Keep them “wowed” and you’ll keep them around, but bore them and they will be gone.

These people crave spiritual excitement. They love spectacular entertainment. They want new experiences all they time. They want Jesus to take them from one mountaintop to the next with no valleys in between. They want all kinds of rewards, but no responsibility.

All too often, these people will hop from church to church to church to church, looking for the newest style, the latest seminar, the most electrifying concert, or the most exciting presentation. Half the reason, I think, for the “worship wars” is trying deal with this kind of people. There’s a meme that’s been out there about church membership. “Quit looking for a better church. Make the church you’re at better by being a better church member.”

Friends, you might not like what I’m about to say, but our worship service is not put together to entertain you. The Worship Committee and myself work very hard to provide a worship service that will hopefully bring you to the presence of God and inspire you. But it’s not there to entertain you, or necessarily make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

When God is dealing with you in the service, you may feel very uncomfortable. Sometimes you might even feel angry. If we plan the service to please you, always make you feel better and not convicted, then our eyes are not on God, they are on you.

But God is to be the focus of the worship. You are coming here to worship Him. If you believe you can’t worship unless a certain type of music is played, a certain style of message is delivered, then you’re not worshiping but merely out to suit your own needs.

We’re here for God, not for you, and I think that we should keep that in mind as we go through worship. If you see something that annoys you… look for what brings you closer to God. There’s bound to be something in the service.

Worship is not about us. It is about coming before the sovereign Lord and receiving the Word from Him. Getting that bread that we need. Sometimes that bread is chewy, and we have to chew on it for a while before we can actually digest it, especially when it’s hard bread.

As is the case with all the “I am” passages, Jesus is making a claim to deity here. He is revealing that he and he alone is the source of everlasting life and the sustainer of spiritual life. He is the bread of life. There is no other than can fill and fulfill.

We’re going to have Communion in a couple of minutes, and we’re literally going to eat bread, and drink juice. That bread is representative. It’s a sign and seal of God’s grace, that represents Jesus’ body, broken for us, so that our sins might be forgiven, as he gives us himself as bread. The cup represents his blood, shed for us, and the victory over sin and death that we gain through Jesus Christ. We need to be fed with that bread from heaven.

We need to be fed more than once a month, frankly. And we can be. Not by taking Communion every day, but by getting into the Word of God. This [holds up Bible] is the bread. If Jesus is the bread from heaven, and we know about Jesus through this, and this is what he said, then this becomes bread.

When Jesus was being tempted by Satan to make loaves of bread out of stones, what did he say? “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” That’s how we live. This is bread.

Are you hungry, for bread? Are you hungry for that bread that is eternal, that satisfies? Are you hungry for that bread that brings peace and joy and purpose? I hope and pray that you are, that you might feed on that bread every day, that you give God praise and glory, for His wonderful provision of the gift of salvation.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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