Pentecost 11b

Preached: August 12, 2012

Approved Soul Food
John 6:24-35

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God which Jesus speaks to us today is John 6.

So when the crowd saw that Jesus and his disciples weren't there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on this side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied and said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you fed on some bread and got full. Don't work for food that perishes, but work for food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For he's the one that God the Father has sealed.”

Then they said to him, “What should we do in order to be doing the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said, “This is God's work that you believe in the One he has sent.”

They said to him, “What sign are you, then, performing that we may see it and believe you? What are you doing? Our ancestors ate manna in the dessert, as it's written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”

Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I tell you, Moses didn't give you the genuine bread from heaven. For the Bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They said to him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of life. Whoever comes to me will not be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:24-35).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Meat hanging in an Egyptian open-air market. Flies buzzing all around. The stench of dried blood. Would you feel safe eating this meat? Or would you prefer something USDA approved from Willie's? We want our food safe, and we want to be assured that we're getting the quality we're paying for.

What about food for our souls? Let's hear what Jesus says about approved soul food. That's the theme today. And through these word in John 6, may the Holy Spirit lead us to feast on the genuine food and to believe the heavenly seal. Those are the two parts.

A. Feast on the genuine food

Let's begin by joining the crowd back then. We wake up in the morning in a remote area along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What a day yesterday had been! Thousands had come here. What miracles Jesus had done, healing the sick. Then when evening came and we were all hungry, he had fed us all with only five loaves of bread and two fish. In fact, after everyone had eaten as much as they wanted, twelve basket-fulls were left over. Some wanted to make him king, since with a king like that we'd have no worries. But Jesus would have nothing to do with that. He sent his disciples off in the boat, and he went up into the hills alone for the night.

Now in the morning other boats have arrived. Jesus is no where to be found. He hadn't left with his disciples in the boat the night before. There had been no other boats. Did he begin walking back to Capernaum? If we took these boats that have just arrived, we could get back before he did. What else do you think he could do for us? He fed us once. How else could he make our life easier and happier?

What a surprise when we arrive at Capernaum! Jesus is already there. How could he have gotten here first? Might there be another miracle here to amaze us? “Rabbi, when did you get here?” (John 6:25 NIV84).

But Jesus doesn't answer that question. In fact he rebukes our attitude and mindset. He says, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs 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. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (John 6:26, 27 NIV84).

Now, dear friends, let's return to the present. Jesus' words still rebuke us today. How often do we look at church, religion, even at Jesus with the attitude and mindset that asks: “How's this benefiting my life now? What's this doing for me and my family?” That's the way the crowds viewed Jesus' miracles. They didn't see them as signs pointing to God's truth. They saw them as ways to improve their earthly lots, to satisfy their wants, to fill their stomachs.

How much does this attitude infect you and me? One way to answer that is by looking at what we focus on for our energy. What are we working for in life? How are we investing our time? What are we feasting on as our hopes, goals, and dreams? Is our focus to have a happy life on this earth, working so that we can enjoy ourselves and have a secure retirement? Do we figure we'll have fewer worries and less stress if we have more money? Are we doing it all for the kids, for the next generation, so they can have a better life here? But in the end isn't this all food that spoils, as Jesus says? Is that what we want to be feasting on?

Now, it's a blessing when God gives us happiness in this earthly life or a good retirement. It's a blessing to have financial resources. And God certainly wants us to take care of our families, to love them dearly. But none of that lasts. Earthly happiness fades. Retirement may start well but aches and pains increase. Money brings its own minions of worry and stress. And even children grow old. If these are the ultimate hopes, goals, and dreams we're working for, if this is what we're feasting on for our souls strength, how fruitless it all is in the end! The grave shatters every one of them. None of this is genuine food. “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27 NIV84). Feast on genuine food, approved soul food.

But how do we know what this food is? Believe the heavenly seal.

B. Believe the heavenly seal

You see, dear friends, the crowds felt the truth of Jesus' words. But if they weren't to work for food that spoils, what works did God want them to be busy with to gain eternal life? Their question still betrays their misunderstanding. Jesus' answer totally changes the viewpoint. Rather than to their own works, he point them to the work God does in us. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29 NIV84), Jesus says. Eternal life doesn't come from our doing but through faith in Jesus.

Now, some today are confused about what faith is. They imagine they can stir up faith in their own hearts if they try hard enough to believe. Rather than God's work in us, they turn faith into the one work we contribute to come to Jesus.

But faith is not a self-induced opinion. Rather something outside of us, something that is trustworthy and reliable, draws us to trust its truthfulness, to rely on its validity with confidence. That trusting confidence is faith. For example, I might tell you that I'm forty-three, but I could be lying about my age. You might not believe me. However, if I showed you my driver's license that adds creditability to what I say. Why? Because the authority of the state of Minnesota confirms my words. The driver's licenses carries the state's seal. It's an authority outside of ourselves that leads us to believe what it says.

So also Jesus calls on the crowd and on us not just to believe the heavenly seal -- a much higher authority than the state of Minnesota or the USDA. Referring to himself as the Son of Man, Jesus says, “On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (John 6:27 NIV84). Is there any authority more reliable, trustworthy, and faith-inspiring?

But what's Jesus referring to? What's the heavenly seal? Throughout his ministry there were many examples. But consider the immediate context. The day before Jesus had not only healed the sick but also fed five thousand men plus women and children with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Only God could do that, confirming, like a seal does, that Jesus is from God. Must not his words also come from above and have divine authority and reliability? Believe the heavenly seal.

Yet the people weren't satisfied. They wanted earthly blessings rather than faith. Moses fed their ancestors in the desert with manna from heaven for forty years. Could Jesus top that? Do you see how they're still angling for food that spoils?

Jesus corrects them again. As miraculous as the manna had been, it was only food for the body, food that spoils. Only the Father could give the genuine heavenly food, the true manna for the soul, the bread that has the heavenly seal. This bread of God was not just for one small nation wandering in the desert but for the world. It doesn't simply keep the body functioning for forty years. It brings life, real life, life with God, eternal life. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33 NIV84).

Do you long for this heavenly bread, dear friends? Even these earthly minded folk plead, “From now on give us this bread” (John 6:34 NIV84). And here it is: Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NIV).

Believe, dear friends, believe these words of truth. You can't make yourself believe, but the record of Jesus' words and works draw us to him in faith. Take to heart this record. Ponder it. Cherish it. Treasure it. For through this record recorded in the Scriptures -- that's the authority from outside of ourselves -- faith burns in your heart. Without the word from outside ourselves there can be no true faith.

Believe these words of truth. Jesus is the bread of life who came down from heaven. He was with the Father from all eternity, from before creation. But he came into this world, sent by the Father. He came from his heavenly throne of glory as a baby, poor and lowly, laid in a manger. He came for you, to bring you life, real life with God. He came to reverse our deadness in sin, our hostility against God, our friendship with evil. He came to bring you life, for he is the bread of life, who gave his life for you. Believe the heavenly seal, not only the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand but above all his own resurrection from the dead on Easter. What a seal that drives out doubt and calls forth faith!

Jesus. He is the bread of life. He alone is approved soul food. Feast on him, for he is genuine food. Everything else fails. Everything else is food that spoils. Even God's earthly blessings to us, as good and wonderful as they are, are not approved soul food. Don't set your hearts on them. Don't build your hopes, goals, and dreams on them. Rather seek first Jesus. Seek to know him better and better as he speaks to you in his word, as you grow in spiritual knowledge by studying his word, as he strengthens you through his word and Sacrament. What hope his word and Sacraments bring to you! Strive to follow him, serving one another with his attitude, growing to be more and more like him. What a goal for your life right now! And anticipate seeing him face to face in heaven before his rainbow-circled throne. What a dream to inspire us, a true dream! Set your heart on these kinds of hopes, goals, and dreams.

Feast on Jesus. He is the bread of life, the genuine food. Believe the heavenly seal. He alone is approved soul food.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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