Isaiah 55:1-8, John 6:25-51
My dear brothers and sisters, I read this just yesterday:
I walk up to the grocery cupboard looking for food, but the only things I see are the ingredients.
Ready-made meals can be so convenient. Mothers who labour long hours in the kitchen to prepare meals for their families might just love the idea to not put together the ingredients and actually prepare the meals.
The crowd who, seeing Him multiply the bread, followed our Lord only for the bread. Jesus Christ said to them,
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. (John 6:26, NIV)
It therefore seems quite possible to be a follower of Jesus Christ purely for the earthly benefit it might bring. There are some churches who preach what is called prosperity theology, or the name-and-claim theology. This teaching misleads people to claim certain things they want in the name of Jesus Christ and then believe they will receive it. If it doesn’t work out, they are told to try harder, confess secret sins, and even put more money in the plate so that the good times can start rolling.
But our Lord taught those who followed Him just for earthly comfort something we need to learn today too. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19, NIV)
The best food in the universe
Some people just buy brand products; they won’t not even have a pain tablet if it doesn’t have a known brand stamp on it. Generic medicine is considered to be less effective, irrespective of the fact that all the ingredients are the same.
Jesus is the best food in the universe: it endures forever – He has no use-by date; and on top of it, He bears the seal of the Father.
For on Him God the Father has placed his seal of approval. (John 6:27, NIV)
Don’t you find it interesting that our Lord addressed the crowd who was following Him for a free feed, warned them to not work for food that does not spoil?
This can mean two things: it can literally mean that we can be so occupied with this cares of this life, the we lose sight of eternity. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus thought his disciples,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21, NIV)
So, let’s search our hearts today: where is our treasure? What are we working for? What do we put our trust in? Some years ago the morning news broke telling the world the bank robbers had dug a tunnel under a busy city intersection right into the vault of a bank and blasted the safety boxes open, only to disappear with jewellery, diamonds, and even gold bullion. Many people were pictured outside the bank, hopelessly crying. There were even those with emotionless faces – they probably had some undeclared treasure, then lost, which they could not even report as stolen.
Don’t work for food that spoils. As the saying goes, “Death shrouds do not have pockets.”
The second warning which the words of our Lord contains is what was so typical of the teaching of the Pharisees: do your best, work hard as you follow the Lord, and He will reward you with eternal life. And this is not limited to the Pharisees. How many times have my courage sunken under the floor boards when I hear good church people say (when you ask them about their relationship in the Lord), “Well I try my hardest.”
No! Stop trying your hardest. Good works do not get anyone in heaven. Our merits don’t count. It doesn’t matter how hard we work to gain eternal life, it will always fall short. How terrible must it be for someone who has devoted all his or her energy in being good, relying on own effort to enter eternity, to one day stand at heaven’s door only to hear, “Away from Me, you evildoers; I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23) This is in spite of what they might bring to heaven’s door,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7:21–22, NIV)
How hard it might be to hear this, it remains the truth; our Lord said it.
What does it cost?
If we have to “work” for food that does not spoil, how much does it cost? More than that, if we cannot work to get into the kingdom of God, what are the “works” of the Kingdom of God?
This was precisely the question to our Lord that day.
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28, NIV)
Listen to the reply of Christ,
“The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:29, NIV)
Faith is not a work; to believe is not a set of good works. What is it then? Can I just interrupt myself here and go the verse we read earlier from Isaiah 55:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. (Isaiah 55:1, NIV)
Have you thought about this verse? If we don’t have money, and if the wine and milk cost nothing, how can we buy it? This takes us back to John 6: to work is to believe in the One God sent. How does that work? Listen carefully; this is the heart of the Gospel: we don’t work for our salvation; Jesus Christ did. We believe in Him, we set our hope in Him, we put our trust in Him – what then happens is this: the work which He has done to satisfy the righteousness of the Father, is reckoned to us as righteousness. By faith through grace an exchange happens: my guilt and sin are put on Him, and his righteousness is put on me. That’s why He died on the cross, and that’s why He rose again. Paul writes in Philippians 3 that he understood that all his self-righteousness was nothing more than rubbish. When he understood God’s grace in Jesus Christ he said that only wanted to
… be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:9, NIV)
So, when the people asked Jesus about a miracle He could do so that they could believe that He really and actually did the work of the Father, He pointed them to Himself and the mission He would complete:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51, NIV)
His birth, his life, his death, his sacrifice, his resurrection is the miracle of God’s salvation. When the people wandered through the desert God gave them manna. That was indeed a miracle – it provided for them till they entered the Promised Land. The life, death and resurrection of Christ are the ultimate manna. More than that, He is the Promised Land! He gave his life for the world! His body and his sacrifice satisfied that wrath of God upon sin, and provided righteousness and eternal life!
How much does this eternal bread cost? Nothing! It is free! But listen: the price is your life. Nicodemus learned that he needed a new life; the woman at the well, after meeting the Messiah, lived a new life. The man at the pool was told, “Stop sinning!” Jesus told the Pharisees in order to have this life, they had to come to Him and have life – they had to leave behind all self-effort and trust Christ.
They same applies to us today: to be a disciple of Christ is to leave behind a life of self-effort, to take up our cross and follow Him. The reward is literally out of this world.
Is it available for me?
Yes! When? Now! How can I say this? Listen:
All those the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away. (John 6:37, NIV)
So, if you hear the call of the Gospel, and you come to Christ to trust in Him only and entrust you life into his hands, with the desire to please Him in all you do – even if it means hardship and battle – the invitation says “whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” To this our Lord adds,
For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:40, NIV)
Listen to these words of Christ,
Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35, NIV)
Take note of the tense: it’s present tense; not past tense – it speaks of a living relationship. It is not build upon what you believed somewhere in the past; no, it speaks of an ongoing life in Him, an ongoing eating and drinking from Him.
Endlessly more than manna
Just a last thought: The Israelites in the desert had to gather the manna every morning; when the sun set it was stale and went off. Not so with the Bread of Life. He has no use-by date. He is eternal, and who feeds on Him is eternally satisfied.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. (John 6:49–50, NIV)
After we listen to the Good News about eternal life, I just want to point out to you what John 6:44 says: “I will raise Him up in the last day.” Do you get the impact of these words? He who gives eternal life, is the One who will open the grave. If you look into his face now and see you Saviour, hold this thought in your heart: the first One you will see when the greaves are opened on the last day, will be your Saviour. What a glorious thought! Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 20 November 2016