John 6:25-35 – The Bread of Life

The Breaking of the Bread by Sr. Mary Stephen

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. 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.”

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

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.’”

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.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (NIV)

Christians everywhere hold to Jesus as the Son of God, Lord of the universe, and Savior of all. However, for most people who were following Jesus around in the first century, this was not their understanding of Christ.  In his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke in ways that introduced people to who he really was and sought to bring them to a point of following him based on his identity. 

Jesus wanted the crowds to him for who he really is – themselves for what they really needed – and follow him based on the deepest needs of their lives. I believe Jesus is the hope of all nations and all people, and in him humanity’s most basic and profound needs are met for forgiveness, love, and purpose in life. To address this, I ask three basic philosophical and theological questions of life:

What should human beings seek the most and work the hardest for in life?

The responses in history are legion. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle thought a proper appreciation for an ethical and virtuous life found in practical wisdom was where people’s most concerted efforts should be.  Karl Marx, the father of communism and socialism believed the proletariat should use their heads and their hands to rise above their economic conditions and oppression. In the late 1960’s, Bobby Kennedy said we ought to be working the hardest to achieve justice and not advance ourselves on the misfortunes of others. In more recent times, the Harvard Business Review is continually on the lookout for the best ways of being efficient, productive, and making the most of time because work itself is paramount.

Jesus said people are not to work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.

He said this coming off one of his most famous miracles of all, the feeding of the five thousand.  Afterward, Jesus withdrew overnight to a place of solitude and prayer. He did another miraculous event by walking on water out to his disciples in a boat. In the morning, he and they were on the other side of the lake. The crowd did not know where he was and went looking for him.

Jesus knew the crowd of people wanted more. What they got was perhaps unexpected. Jesus told them to put their efforts into getting the bread that keeps on feeding. Jesus wanted the people to pursue and follow him not only for the things he could do for them, but to seek him for who he is. 

Jesus had further aspirations for the people beyond providing a supper – he desired the people to feast on himself – to ingest him, to take him into their lives in a deep and profound way as the fulfillment of all the hope and promises of the Old Testament. 

Jesus Feeds the Crowd by American artist Eric Feather

Jesus is the bread, the basic staple of life, that meets the cravings and needs of all people everywhere. Starving people, both in body and spirit, find in Jesus a meal which keeps on giving, a feast of grace that is both delectable and unending.

The answer to my own question is that, for me, one’s highest pursuit and greatest quest is Jesus. Apart from Christ, I will starve. Furthermore, Jesus is not some cheap fast food off a value menu; he is real soul food to be ingested and enjoyed with others.

I believe people need Jesus. A passionate seeking of Jesus, to follow him, live for him, center life around him, is my most ardent desire. I do not simply desire Jesus for what he can do for me; I vigorously chase after him because if I do not have Jesus, I will die, I will starve to death. 

For me, Jesus is so much more than a nice addition to my life, like a new puppy; Jesus is Lord and Savior. I must consume him, or I will be completely undone, and I will not survive! Jesus is my bread, my food, my life!  I cannot survive on a daily crumb, but I feast on every word that comes from the mouth of Jesus because in Christ there is the life that is truly life.

What should human beings be doing to do the works of God?

The short answer: believe. To have and keep faith in the One God has sent, Jesus, is the primary “work” that pleases God. Jesus communicated to the crowd that they can do so much more than follow him for another earthly meal – they can place their faith and hope in him for food that will last, food that will transcend the three-dimensional world.

Faith is more than an intellectual recognition to some facts about Christianity. And belief is not about always having clarity and certainty to every facet and loci of Christian doctrine. No, Christian faith is complete trust in Jesus as our hope and our life. Education, economic uplift, political stability, and institutional peace and justice are important activities for this world. For the Christian, the accomplishment of these and so much more comes from the grace of God in Christ. As people come to the end of themselves with their homebrewed and half-baked attempts at being satisfied, Jesus stands at the door and knocks, the Living Bread who offers himself for humanity’s deepest needs.

Giving kudos to Jesus might be nice, yet Christ himself cares about folks placing their trust in him for grace, forgiveness, and hope in their world. Jesus longs to reconnect people with God through giving himself as the means of making that happen. All the works we do in this life, every good deed we accomplish, and each positive action we do are all helpful and necessary… and they all pale in comparison to the greatest work of all, to believe in Jesus Christ as the hope of this world, the hope of your family, the hope of the church, and the hope of your life and mine. And it is all accessed by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

Who really does the will of God?

Answer: Those who come to God through Christ. The person who comes to Jesus will never go hungry, and the one who believes in Christ will never be thirsty. Such persons do the will of God. They do not settle for signs of Jesus but desire him and find their ultimate satisfaction in him.

Yet far too many people settle for signs of Jesus rather than Jesus himself. It would be silly if I drove to a sign on Interstate 94 that said, “Milwaukee” and sat there under it, believing I was really in the city of Milwaukee. And it would be weird if I looked around for the art museum or other places underneath the sign.

Church buildings and furniture, stained-glass windows, pews, and even the Bible are not Jesus – they are simply and hopefully signs which point to him. They are all designed to lead us to Christ so that we may come to him. And coming to Christ is what the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and any other description you want to give about ingesting Jesus is about. The elements of bread and cup bring us to Christ so that we can experience Jesus and be joined to him by faith in a mystical union of human and divine in the unseen heaven.

Conclusion

Where will you find true satisfaction and hope? Probably not in the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart. Likely not in conforming to cultural Christianity or embracing generic forms of Jesus as merely good teacher and moral example. Furthermore, life’s ultimate satisfaction and hope are not to be found in a spotless house and perfect kids; in working more hours and making more money. Nor will we find contentment and peace in the radical independence of doing things my way.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. Through ingesting him, passionately pursuing him, believing in him, and coming to him in everything, we find the life that is truly life. Do not settle for any substitutes to Jesus. Come to the real person.

Lord God, you said that when we seek you with all our hearts, you will be found.  As the deer pants for streams of water, so we, your people, long for you in a dry and weary land.  We hunger and thirst for your righteousness.  We deeply desire your presence in all things. So, we die to ourselves and surrender to your will and way for us, by faith trusting you will come into our lives and completely take over. May your blessing rest upon us as we seek Jesus. Amen.

By Forever Be Sure

Matthew 21:18-22 – Faith and Prayer

Jesus Cursing the Fig Tree
Jesus Cursing the Fig Tree by Ganosh Kelagina Beedu Shenay, 2016

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (NIV)

God wants us to pray! Prayer happens from a place of faith because to pray, one must believe that God is good and answers prayer. Conversely, prayerlessness is faithlessness.  A person of little faith prays only a little. A person full of faith cannot stop praying.

God’s world revolves more around promise than command – which means that Jesus merely exhorting the disciples to pray would fall flat; they needed a deep change of heart. God calls us all to transformation. Lasting change takes place at the roots of our lives. When there is a drought, pouring lots of water on our backyard trees at the first sign of withering leaves is too late. The tree may look fine on the outside, but on the inside, it is dying from lack of water. Real change comes from the inside-out.  It is the root of a person’s life, below the surface where others do not see, that needs change, and not merely the outward behavior.  Prayer must be directed to the root, to the heart of the issue.

In today’s Gospel story, Jesus was up early and going to Jerusalem. He was hungry and wanted some breakfast, so he approached a fig tree. Figs were known back in Christ’s day as the poor man’s food. Fig trees were everywhere. Approaching a certain fig tree, Jesus found one that looked fine, but no figs. He chose to use the tree as a teachable moment for his disciples. Christ cursed the tree and immediately the entire tree withered.  So, why did Jesus curse the tree?

Jesus cursed the fig tree because it looked good on the outside, but it was already dead on the inside. The tree had everything a tree needed: branches, leaves, and a trunk – except fruit.  The tree served as an illustration for the disciples of believing prayer. The tree looked fine, and had the promise of fruit, yet, none was found.  The point of the tree illustration is this: Jesus is looking for faith in his followers.

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, the nation of Judah had enjoyed a long stretch of prosperity and good circumstances. By all outward appearances they were doing fine. Temple attendance was at its peak and everyone was offering their sacrifices. But something was wrong….

I will put an end to them,
declares the Lord;
there are no grapes on the vine,
no figs on the tree,
only withered leaves.
They have squandered what I have given them!
(Jeremiah 8:13, CEB)

Although fine on the outside, the people of Judah trusted in themselves, their ability to produce a harvest, and their outward show of how many cattle and sheep they brought to the temple. But what God was looking for was fruit, not nice leaves. He was watching for offerings of believing prayer, born of a faith that is confident in the goodness of God. And the Lord is still looking for people’s faith in God alone – rather than in religiously outward forms of success.

Jesus wants his followers to understand and believe that our words and prayers can have the immediate effect of changing the world.  We can even speak to a mountain and it will have to move if we tell it to. We probably do not go around talking to mountains, but all of us go around talking to ourselves about mountain-like problems. The power that levels mountains is prayer that speaks confidence and boldness.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

Doubt sometimes stands in the way of prayer – not doubt in ourselves because we do not answer our own prayers. The Apostle James said:

“If any of you needs wisdom, you should ask God for it. He is generous to everyone and will give you wisdom without criticizing you. But when you ask God, you must believe and not doubt. Anyone who doubts is like a wave in the sea, blown up and down by the wind. Such doubters are thinking two different things at the same time, and they cannot decide about anything they do. They should not think they will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:5-8, NCV)

Both James and his brother Jesus refer to an unshakable faith in the goodness of God. This is faith in the person of God, and not faith in faith itself. If we are honest, every one of us who has made a difficult prayer request, mustering-up all the faith we can, and then being disappointed when it did not happen, has been hurt. The unstable person vacillates when this happens, doubting whether God is good (playing the he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not game). The person of faith believes God answers prayers according to his will, and that if the prayer is not answered, God knows what he is doing and will answer it in his own good timing and purposes.

Maybe you have even indulged your inner-critic, a Job-like friend, telling you that you have a failure of faith, or not enough faith, and that is why your prayer was not answered. Yet, positive thinking is not the same as Christian faith.  It is neither a matter of being optimistic, nor of sending $19.95 to some hack preacher who promises to give you the secret of answered prayer, along with a free gold cross.

God’s will for our lives is sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, a mystery. However, we do know what God’s will is for a lot of things. For example, God is not willing that any should perish but all be brought to eternal life.  So, we can pray with confidence for a person’s deliverance from sin.  We can be bold about trusting in God’s promises – he will do what he says he will do.  Boldness is only as good as the truth it is based upon.

Imposing Mountain View and Lake Glacier National Park
Imposing Mountain View and Lake Glacier National Park. Many Glacier Area. Swiftcurrent Lake.

We have every right, based in our union with Jesus Christ and our redemption in him, to ask God confidently and boldly for the removal of mountains.  We have the authority in Christ to do so.  Therefore, we do not need to offer tepid, milquetoast, mumbling prayers with sighs and hunched shoulders (i.e. “Well, God, if it is your will, could you help me?”).

It is time for men to step out and give God some healthy hairy-chested prayers.  And, this is not the time for women to be worried about what the men do, or not do. Everyone is to be bold in prayer.

“God desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him, and he is displeased if we do not confidently ask and entreat.” –Martin Luther

Jesus wants faithful and fruitful prayer. He still scans the horizon of our spiritual lives looking for believing prayer. Christ desires from those who follow him bold prayers which curse and wither fruitless and feckless places. When my children were small there was an adult store in our neighborhood. It disturbed my spirit. Each time I passed it I confidently prayed that the pornography and exploitation of women would dry up and cease in Jesus’ name, and that those who worked in that establishment would find more gainful and ethical employment. And that is exactly what happened.

Aggressive prayer against the enemy of our souls is needed, prayer that claims the authority which has been given us in Christ, prayer that is based in solid biblical truth and robust theology. So, let us pray in faith and confidence….

Heavenly Father, we praise you for the grace we possess through the Lord Jesus Christ.  We rejoice in Christ’s teaching and the victory you have provided for us to live above sin and failure.  We come before you in confession and to plead your mercy over our sins, the sins of other believers, and the sins of our world.  We confess the sin of prayerlessness, faithlessness, apathy, complacency, and indifference to those who are lost.  We also acknowledge before you the wickedness of our world through the evil machinations of injustice, oppression, and exploitation of others.

We praise your holy name, O God, that there is plenty of grace through the person and work of the Lord Jesus.  We plead the blood of the cross and the power of the resurrection against the sins and rebellion of people against you.  We pray and wait for you, Holy Spirit, to bring us all to new life in Jesus Christ. 

We recognize that Satan and the kingdom of darkness have plotted and laid strategies against new spiritual life, keeping your people from believing prayer.  So, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we claim our place as children of God. We smash and pull down all the strongholds which Satan has erected against humanity – and pray that the power of Christ’s resurrection would hinder and frustrate the plans formed against us. 

We pull down demonic strongholds of prayerlessness and carelessness with the Word of God. We claim back for the Lord Jesus Christ the ground Satan is claiming as a means of hindering faith, hope, and love; and, we affirm that Satan’s plans were fully defeated through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We pull down all of Satan’s plans to divert fresh faith when it comes. Blessed Holy Spirit, may you send a renewal to the hearts and souls of all people. May it bring a wondrous season of peace and joy.

We, your people, accept the role of standing in the gap for others in prayer.  You yourself, God, said that we, in Christ, are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.  So, we bring all the work of the Lord Jesus Christ to focus directly against the powers of darkness that blind people and keep them in bondage.  We pray the victory of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and glorification directly against all of Satan’s power in their lives.  We now bind all powers of darkness set to destroying them, and we unbind those demonic bonds and blinders from them in the mighty name of Jesus. 

By faith we claim humanity for fruitful lives of spiritual abundance, social justice, and sanctified relationships in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who defeated all powers and principalities of this world.  Amen.