First Wednesday in Lent, 2014
Text: John 6:25-40, Exodus 16:9-30
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
Spring Festival Gala Evening is annual Chinese national TV celebration for the Chinese New Year. During the gala evening this year, there was a magic show. It seemed a long loaf of French bread was pulled out of thin air by a magician. Unfortunately, some TV audience spotted a small mistake he made. A few minutes later a picture was circulated on the internet highlighting that mistake. A black hole can be seen on the screen at the time when he finished pulling the “bread”. So, now everyone knows that the “bread” was not really bread. It was made of an elastic material and was pulled out of a pipe. How smart and incredulous people are! They are ready not to believe anything and are able to expose any falsehood. Think about it for a moment. This was on national TV. With specially-designed stage, well-chosen angles of camera, modern optical illusion equipment, and all kinds of high tech at their disposal; one of the top magicians was caught making a mistake in action when he turned out a loaf of plastic bread.
Now you know how impossible, more than 2000 years ago, for Jesus to turn out (not one loaf of plastic bread but) thousands of loaves of real bread and fish. There was not any modern equipment or high tech of any kind. He was surrounded and closely watched by more than 5000 people. If he had had anything to hide, it could have been very easily exposed by the disbelieving crowd. Please remember Jesus fed at least 20,000 people if you include women and children. And after eating, there were 12 baskets of leftovers. What a huge amount of bread and fish! And this was not a one-time event. Jesus fed 4000 people in another occasion, not to mention He healed the sick and drove out demons right before people’s eyes again and again. They were all done in a very short period of time and were witnessed not by a few, but by people of the whole city or entire region. No wonder the crowd tried to take Jesus by force to make him a king after feeding. Why did they want to make Him a king? That’s the topic we are going to talk about next. Jesus knew their heart. So He withdrew himself. But for now, there was no doubt in people’s mind that what Jesus did was truly a miracle. It had to be the work of God.
The problem is not that people don’t see the work of God, the problem is their unbelief. Unbelief is not a matter of evidence. It’s a matter of the will. Unbelief comes from our sinful nature replacing God in our heart with things of this world. Sin and unbelief are self-centered turning away from God. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Unbelief is especially reflected in our anxiety in this life. Today’s text says, the crowd came all the way to seek Jesus the next day. But Jesus said to them, “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.” Are you laboring for the food that perishes? Are you seeking Jesus only for the worldly things? Is your spiritual life choked by “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches?” Because of sin, people see and seek after work of God differently, on different terms.
Jesus is doing and talking about the work of God in Himself for them, for us, and for all the humanity. When Jesus mentions “eternal life,” He says “which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” It’s God’s work in Christ Jesus that gives us eternal life. Unfortunately, people understand differently. As soon as people hear the word ‘eternal life’, they immediately say to Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” You see, again they return back to themselves. They think the work of God is something they have to do for God. The critical question is who does the work. Is God or human being is subject of the work? People think that they are the subject of the work of God and they should be doing some pious work for God to earn eternal life. But this is not what Jesus says. Eternal life is God’s gracious gift to us given by Jesus sealed by the Father. This is what Jesus talking about. Eternal life is God’s work for us, not our work for God. Since it is about God’s doing, not ours, it is absolutely makes sense that what we can do is to believe. That’s why Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God (Please pay attention. He is giving us a definition), that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” If you take a look at both creation and redemption, you can see they are all God’s doing the work for us. How many of us made the sun rise and shine? How many of us sent rain down from the sky? How many of us died on the cross and became alive again? You can labor for money. But God is the ultimate one who provides the water and bread in your life, is it not? It is all God’s work and His gracious gifts. That’s why Jesus mentions the manna that people of Israel ate in the wilderness. And He points out to the fact that it was not Moses, but the Father of Jesus who rained down the true bread from heaven. The only thing they could do was to believe, and trust God would provide. Then they survived. Tonight’s Exodus reading tells us that when they did not believe, what happened? The leftover bred worms and stank, or on the Sabbath day they went out to gather, but they found none. Now, Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Last Wednesday, Pr. Lehrer talked about fasting and our humbleness before God, who knows our sins and waits us to bring them to Him alone. He pointed out that fasting is not our pious work to show off but to feel our mortality, our needs and dependency on the great I AM. Food is absolutely necessary for human beings to live. Here Jesus uses another I AM sentence to reveal Himself when He says, “I AM the bread of life”. Jesus points to who He is. He is YHWH, the great I AM, who created everything, who rained down manna from heaven, who sustains us with daily bread. Now, as He spoke to the crowd, He came down to earth as bread of life to give us eternal life. This time, He was doing the work of God in new creation. So, what should be the correct response? Again, it is to believe. That’s why He continued to say, “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” To do the work of God is to do the will of God, which is to save us from our sins and raise us up on the last day. Jesus does mention our work here. Our work to do the will of the Father is to look on the Son of God and believe in Him. It’s faith. But even faith depends on Jesus’ faithful work to “lose nothing of all that the Father has given Him.” Jesus not only did the work of the cross, but also continues to feed us with the bread of life in His Word, His body and His blood. What Jesus did and does is truly the work of God because He is the great I AM and the bread of life, Who gives us eternal life. The work of God that we do is to believe in Him.