“I AM the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, I love the Olympics. I love the stories and personalities, I love the competition and the thrill of victory. I love watching the greatest athletes in the world take each other on in a myriad of events. What makes the Olympic Games unique is that they are on a four-year cycle. The athletes spend four long years in preparation between Games; four long years of working toward the next opportunity for gold, and most of the athletes do work incredibly hard. Just to make it to the games you have to be one of the top athletes in your country, and that kind of status doesn’t come by accident. You can’t make it to the Olympics on luck or laziness, but only through hard work and preparation. You run, you swim, you practice constantly, day after day after day. You make yourself stronger, faster, more consistent. Your coaches push you, and you push yourself, because the only way that you will achieve this goal is by putting in the work, and you know that your competition is doing the same.
The Olympics show us that we humans are capable of an incredible amount of work when we have a goal to reach toward, and we see this in our text for today as well. The crowd woke up with a full stomach courtesy of a miraculous feeding, only to find that Jesus, the provider of the miracle food, was gone! In desperation, they began to search. “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.” The people are frantic—where has their ‘bread king’ gone? The appearance of a prophet in their midst who could multiply food was certainly worth seeking; the prospect of never having to labor for bread again was too good to give up. Where did Jesus go?
We can hardly blame them for their frantic searching, because we too work ourselves into a frenzy for earthly bread, the things of this world. Olympic athletes aren’t the only ones who work hard to achieve a goal. It has been said of Americans that “we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” We work, and we work hard, at our job, and at everything else; this goes far beyond paying jobs. We expend an enormous amount of energy on our work, our family, our friends, our home, our vehicles, and our hobbies. We put in long hours to provide what we think that our family needs; we make the sacrifices necessary to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. When the goal is worth attaining, when the rewards are worth the effort, we are ready and willing to put in the work.
Do you put that same effort and work into your spiritual life? When the people find Jesus, having exerted an incredible amount of energy to seek their ‘bread king’ out, He calls them and us to account for our priorities. “Truly, truly I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” We humans work so hard for the things of this world, whether for an Olympic medal or for food, shelter, and clothing for our family. And those are good, God-pleasing things; you should put forth the necessary effort into your vocations. But these things are ultimately perishing, they belong to this fallen world and someday will be no more; do you put the same work into the things that endure, the things of eternity?
As Americans “we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.” It seems that the only thing we don’t take seriously is our worship. You have worked hard to provide a home for your family, to put food on the table; do you work as hard to make that home a place where Christ is proclaimed, a place of prayer, a place where your spouse and children, where you are fed and nourished on God’s Word? Do even your hobbies and recreation take more time and effort than going to worship and bible class? People in all sorts of occupations are willing to put in the extra work for continuing education or another degree, especially when there is the promise of advancement or additional pay; do you put that same work into continuing to learn more about God and His Word, or was confirmation enough? The words of Jesus are a stern rebuke to the crowd and to us, you and me whose priorities are so confused: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.”
Jesus calls on us to work for eternal food, for food that has benefits forever, not the food of this world, which perishes. We have been rebuked and chastised by His words, and in repentance we ask with the crowd, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” What deeds are necessary for us to receive this eternal food? We are used to working for our food, the perishing food of this world, and so we are ready to work for that eternal food. But the answer of Jesus is shocking. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” God does all the work. He sends His Son to this earth, who gives to us this “food that endures to eternal life.” Indeed, as Jesus just said at the end of verse twenty-seven, “On Him God has set his seal.” The Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, has been sealed as the Messiah, marked as the One through whom God will give this food which endures. All that is required to receive this eternal food is faith, to “believe in Him whom He has sent.” And that faith is the “work of God.” It is God’s work within you. He creates faith, He is the One working in you so that you can believe in this Jesus, so that you can receive and partake of the eternal food that He gives.
God works, and He works harder than any laborer, businessman, or farmer. He works harder than any Olympic athlete. He sends His Son into this world, He sets His seal upon Him, and He is the One who works faith within us. That is the hard work of creating faith within hearts that have little concern for the things of eternity, who spend all of their time running around working for bread which perishes. But He is a hard-working, stubborn God. He continues to hammer at hardened hearts, seeking to work within them faith in the Son of Man, for only the Son of Man can give what we need, the food which endures to eternal life, because His work is to bring life to the world.
The crowd in our text didn’t believe it. They were insulted that Jesus would call on them to believe in Him. “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers at the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Not so fast, Jesus. We have eaten your miraculous loaves the day before; we were part of the 5,000, but we want more. Moses provided heavenly bread for forty years; what is one meal compared to that? Jesus responds, “Truly, truly I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” God only gave physical bread through Moses, as Jesus Himself gave the day before. All who ate of that bread, no matter how miraculous, would still die. But Jesus has come to give an even greater food, bread that gives eternal life to all who eat of it. Jesus has come to give us the gift of Himself, for He is that bread. “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The feeding of the 5,000 was the sign and seal that the One greater than Moses was here, the One who had come to give eternal bread, who indeed was Himself eternal Bread. Those who partake of Him in faith will have life. Those who receive this Bread will never die.
Jesus is the eternal Bread, the Bread which gives life, because He had come to conquer death. That was the work, the labor that was ahead of Him. Jesus worked harder than any athlete, for only He could give life to the world; if He failed, all was lost. His was a race of endurance. He endured the insults of men, the temptations of Satan, the wrath of God, and even death itself. His labor was more intense, His work more difficult, than anything that you, I, or any other person has ever faced. And He conquered. He won the victory upon that cross, for there the Bread of Life was offered for the sin of the world. There the sacrifice was given that removed sin, that defeated death. And God raised Him from the dead on the third day, declaring to the entire world that death had been robbed of its power. The eternal Bread, Jesus Christ, is the Bread of Life only because He was offered up on the cross for the sin of the world; the eternal Bread, Jesus Christ, is the Bread of Life only because He was raised up on the third day. Only because of the cross and empty tomb can Jesus say to you, me, and all people, “I AM the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Those who partake of the crucified and risen One will never hunger or thirst ever again. They will be satisfied for eternity, for the new heavens and the new earth is a place where every need is provided for completely. In this life, we are constantly facing need, we are threatened by hunger and thirst. But by partaking of Jesus, the Bread of Life, you have the promise that for eternity hunger and thirst will be no more. You will be provided for perfectly, for the most important food you receive in this world isn’t the three meals a day upon your table but the eternal Bread, Jesus Christ, given to you through your Baptism into His Name, though the feast of His Word, and though the bountiful gift of His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all work to bring you the Bread of Life, the only Bread that endures, the only Bread that gives life, and you will enjoy that Bread for eternity, for all who receive this Bread will live forever. In the Name of Jesus, the Bread of Life who came down from heaven to give life to the world, Amen.