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Jesus Is the Living Bread that Came Down from Heaven

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Sermon on John 6:51-69 for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, August 23 & 26, 2018

  1. When Jesus fed the 5,000, he had a double purpose, like he did for all his miracles. First, to meet someone’s need. (This is actually the way Jesus fulfills the fifth commandment for us. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and provided for people’s needs above and beyond anything we could do.) The second purpose was to show people a bit of his glory to connect what he was saying with what he was doing—to show he had the right to say what he was saying. After Jesus’ first miracle, changing water to wine, John wrote, “He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11b). It didn’t always work that way—not because of any fault on Jesus’ part, but because of the hardness of peoples’ hearts. And that’s what we see after the feeding of the 5,000. (We heard about this the past two weeks.) Jesus feeds the crowd, and some people follow him because they want another free lunch. The free lunch is all they can think about. They even seem to be playing a game with Jesus. After he gave them the food, they asked, “What miraculous sign are you going to do, that we may see it and believe you? What miraculous sign are you going to perform?” (John 6:30). Well, what had he just done? Wasn’t that spectacular enough? They were thinking only of another free lunch.
  2. I would imagine that Jesus was sad and a little frustrated. He came to give them much more than food. The disciple John wrote, “No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is close to the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18). He came to teach about his Father’s love. And he came to do more than that. John the Baptist said “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28). And this message of the Father’s love that is ours because we have Jesus our Savior—and everything Jesus has revealed about himself, forgiveness, and the new life that is ours because of his grace—that is our bread of life. That is the food for our soul.

I. A Substantial Bread,

  1. In the last 20 years, a series of books came out called Chicken Soup for the Soul. And those books are full of heart-warming stories. I glanced at one the other day and it had this nice story about two people, each hurt in previous relationships who came together, found true love, and lived happily ever after. Stories or inspirational articles to make you go “Awww.” Jesus has more to give us than chicken soup.[1] He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” You could live on bread alone if you had to. Bread is something that has the power to sustain. (Because it’s a carbohydrate, it’s about the purest energy food there is.) And how is Jesus, his work and his Word like bread? This is the message that sustains our souls and gives us energy—power to live a new life connected to him.
  2. What is the basic message of the gospel? You may have memorized a verse that is called “the gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” It’s a simple verse. You all know it. But the meaning is pure substance. Why should you feel good about yourself? Why should you be hopeful about anything? It has nothing to do with you, really. It has nothing to do with your circumstances. It is all about God’s love. And how is this love yours? How do you know God loves you? It is all about Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son. So when you are dealing with some hardship—some great loss—you still have  a promise, yes more than a promise of eternal life—you have that connection to your God now. When you are dealing with some failure—something that is your fault—you still have the goodness of Jesus covering you—connected to you in baptism (Galatians 3:27). Trust in Jesus. Because of Jesus, you will not perish, but have eternal life. When you face some difficult task, something you know you must do because it’s one of God’s commands—something that may be uncomfortable because it calls on you to be selfless instead of selfish, it is the love of Jesus that empowers you. When you don’t have the strength in yourself—Jesus work for you empowers you to love your neighbor, to “regard disgrace for the sake of Christ to be of greater value than the treasures of [the world]” (Hebrews 11:26), –to speak the truth in love when it would be so much easier to scream all your frustrations without love. Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. A substantial bread. It feeds your soul. It empowers your life.

II. A Bread We Must Eat,

  1. What happens if you don’t eat—physical food. Well, biblical fasts were for forty days and forty nights. They still needed to drink water. But without food—you wouldn’t want to go beyond forty days. You would get weak. There would be nothing to sustain you or give you the energy you need for the day. You also would be lacking vitamins and other things the body relies on. Eventually you would die of malnutrition.
  2. Jesus talks about himself as the living bread that came down from heaven, and he talks about himself exclusively, too. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves.” He’s talking about spiritual malnutrition, isn’t he. Unless you take me and my Word in, you won’t have life. Now, we have to say something about that word Many times, the Bible uses the word life to mean more than a beating heart. Biblically, life means that you have a connection to God. We see that at the beginning. “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve didn’t fall over dead when they ate the fruit, but their connection with God died. The holy image of God in them died. That’s why they ran and hid from God out of fear. Life is our connection to our God. Later Jesus would tell his disciples, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him is the one who bears much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” That also is exclusive. We only have life, that is, an eternal connection to God, through Jesus. …through Jesus alone. Your own good deeds, your own ambitions, the things you might decide to do for God… none of those will give you life. Only Jesus. His work. His life. His love.

Conclusion: If Jesus, his whole being, flesh and blood, life and death,  is our living bread, what should we do with him? That picture of living bread tells us. We take him in, daily. We draw our strength from his holy gospel daily. We fuel up daily. That is the value and the importance and the urgency of Christian education. We do educate here in church every Sunday. The repeated prayers and songs of the liturgy teach. Reading Scripture teaches. Sermons teach. Here at St. Stephen’s, we have many more opportunities. We run a school to keep Jesus, the living bread who came down from heaven, in front of our children every day. We have a Sunday School to teach the basic Bible stories as the building blocks of faith. We have an adult Bible study (“Lord, teach us to pray,” about the doctrine and practice of prayer, starting September 10.) We have women’s Bible study. We have a men’s Bible study. We have Bible Information Classes which are adult catechism for new members and review for long-time members. This is what we have. This is what we are doing. So we should eat this living bread from Christ—using these opportunities. We should use our treasures to feed others and support the teaching and the preaching of the Word here. Here. That is what a Christian congregation is all about. Maybe you’ve heard the analogy, “Not a country club for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” I like another picture better—a restaurant for heavenly food. A gas station to fill your spiritual tank. We have the Word of Christ—our greatest treasure. Our love. Our strength. Our life.

Amen.

John 6:51-69

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 At that, the Jews argued among themselves, “How can this man give us his  flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day. 55 For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like your  fathers ate and died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 When they heard it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching! Who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, asked them, “Does this cause you to stumble in your faith? 62 What if you would see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life. The flesh does not help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is given to him by my Father.” 66 After this, many of his disciples turned back and were not walking with him anymore. 67 So Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (EHV)

  1. [1] Actually, I love chicken soup. It’s one of the first things I reach for when I’ve got a cold or the flu. But chicken soup is not very substantial. A look at the nutrition facts on a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup shows that nutritionally, there’s almost nothing in it except sodium.

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