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Every time I read John 6, which features Jesus first offering bread to satisfy hunger and then offering the bread of life to satisfy spiritual hunger, I think of Bruce Springsteen’s song, Hungry Heart:
Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Both Springsteen and Jesus acknowledge a fundamental truth about human beings: that we possess a deep desire to seek and find that something in life that will truly satisfy.
In His ‘bread of life’ sermon, Jesus not only acknowledges this need to discover satisfaction but also attempts to derail two of the most common philosophies that falsely promise to deliver.
The first is represented in John 6:26-27 where Jesus desires to lift His hearers above a material understanding of the miracle of feeding.
This system says if you want to feed this restless hunger you sense deep down inside
for more significance in life, then surround yourself with ‘things that perish.’
How readily we bow the knee to the advertising gods who lure us into believing we can discover true life by possessing more … or bigger … or better perishable things. Gary Burge, in his commentary on John, writes,
Living in a consumer society fueled by sophisticated advertising and relative affluence, we have been given the means and the motivation to pursue countless forms of bread. If I simply possess this car or that cologne, my self-image will be healed and my sense of safety and well-being renewed. Once we possess these things, of course, their seductive appeal evaporates, and we move on to new targets of gratification. 1
I was getting ready to come over for Disciple Thursday evening, Fox 8 News was on and one of their personalities was at the Auto Show highlighting the 2018 Chevy Equinox and all its fancy tech/safety features. I told Gail we might have to go visit a Chevy dealer soon. “Everybody’s got a hungry heart, lay down your money and you play your part.”
So how does a Christian know when his search for life is on shaky ground? When our desire for possessing things that perish interferes with our ability to render unto God that which belongs to God, that’s when we better reevaluate our priorities.
The abundant life Jesus offers includes becoming a channel of God’s resources. He pours blessings into one hand so that we can open the other. To live with one hand closed is not life. When our clenched hand is opened by the grace of God to become generous, Jesus would say to us as He did Zacchaeus, ‘Life has come to this house today’ (Luke 19:9).
Of course, things that perish include more than things we can hold in our hands. People are driven to satisfy the itch through substance abuse and before they know it they find themselves addicted to alcohol, drugs, food. Others turn to fame, power, relationships, or sex to get their high.
“I am the bread of life,” ‘life’ the key word to John’s gospel ‘abundant life’ (10:10) he who comes to Me will not go hungry, he who believes in Me shall not thirst.” On another occasion, in the so-called beatitudes, He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be truly satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
And the second philosophical system Jesus says distracts from that which truly satisfies is religion. Yes, I said religion!
When the people understand that Jesus is turning the discussion from things that perish into eternal life they are willing to discuss it
But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:27-29).
Note that Jesus does not say what they are expecting. They are expecting Him to say something like, This is the work of God: You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make false images. You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain. They are expecting Him to say, when you sin, don’t forget to offer an animal’s blood for forgiveness.
Many today expect Him to say, read your Bible, go to church, give to the poor, pray, tithe do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or whatever our religious sensibilities would dictate. But notice Jesus doesn’t say those kinds of things at all!
What does He say? This is the work of God: believe in Him whom He has sent. Or as The Amplified Bible has it: “cleave to, trust in, rely on, have faith in” religious traditions, your ability to do more good deeds than bad? A thousand times no! Cleave to, trust in, rely on Jesus! “I am the bread of life.”
When Jesus reiterates the same truth again later in the sermon:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh (51).
it becomes clear that Jesus is inviting His hearers yesterday and today to ‘cleave to, trust in rely on and have faith in’ His sacrifice on the cross. “This bread which I will offer (sacrifice) so that the world may live is My flesh’ a clear reference to the cross.
Cleave to, trust in, rely on and have faith in the truth that Jesus has done for us what we could never do in a thousand lifetimes do for ourselves. He has given His life as a sacrifice for our sins so that we could be forgiven and receive eternal life in us.
I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life (47).
May I remind you that Paul affirms Jesus words when in Ephesians he indicates that we cannot earn, that is we cannot pay for the gift of eternal life; it is a gift of grace to be received.
Alas, the difficulty we have in accepting any kind of free gift keeps some from discovering the bread of life.
Several years ago when my children were still living at home we were enjoying an evening at a restaurant when I noticed a couple from our church sitting across the room. I waved at them and they winked back at me. As they left, they came by our table, shook hands and said, “Hi.” About the time we finished our dinner, our waitress came by to say that our dinner had already been paid for “by that couple who walked over and said good-bye to you when they left.”
And I said, “Well at least I’ll take care of the tip.”
And she said, “No, you really don’t have to, that was all taken care of too.” It was all paid in full. I had the hardest time accepting that. In the worst way, I wanted to call them and offer to split it with them. But I knew that wouldn’t be the right thing to do, so I called them up and simply said the only thing appropriate to say: “Thank you.”
God, in His marvelous grace, says, “I’ve picked up the tab, tip and all. I’ve taken care of everything; it’s a free gift. Don’t insult me by trying to pay for it; just believe it and accept it for what it is.” That’s what Amazing Grace is all about.
Ultimately, all human beings hunger and thirst for GRACE. Don’t we really? Who really wants to face eternity on our own merits? Is there really anybody here or anywhere else in the world who has the audacity to think that they can stand boldly before God’s throne and be judged solely upon how they lived their lives and expect a grade of perfection?
Anybody; any takers? None of us would be so foolish. We may have trouble accepting a free gift, but ultimately in our heart of hearts we long for, we hunger and thirst for a free pass because we know that without one our goose is cooked.
For all the ugly memories of Auschwitz, there is one most wondrous one that Francis Gajowniczek has of fellow prisoner Maximilian Kolbe. Kolbe, a Franciscan Priest, was incarcerated in February 1941. Despite the brutality of the camp, Kolbe maintained the gentleness of Christ: He shared so much of his food that others wondered how he survived. He gave up his bunk, he prayed for his captors and before long earned the name The Saint of Auschwitz.
They had a rule in that camp that 10 would die for every man that escaped and in July of that year, one man tried and escaped. So the commandant gathered all the prisoners into the courtyard to randomly choose the ten who would then be taken to a cell where they would receive no food or water until they had all died. Francis Gajowniczek was the tenth named called. And when it was, he began to sob “what will become of my wife, my children?”
Suddenly a prisoner leaves his row and is pushing toward the front. It is Kolbe. He is ordered to stop or be shot. “I want to talk to the commandant,” he says calmly. For some reason, he isn’t clubbed to death or shot for speaking. He stops a few paces from the commandant and looks him in the eye. “I wish to make a request; please. I want to die in place of that prisoner” as he points to the sobbing Gajowniczek. “I have no wife and children; I am old and not good for anything.”
“Who are you?” ask the commandant.
“A Catholic Priest.”
After a moment the commandant says without emotion, “Request granted.”
Gajowniczek later wrote, “Prisoners were never allowed speak. I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned; the immensity of it, I the condemned am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me? The grace of it all was astonishing; is this some dream?”
The Saint of Auschwitz outlived the other 9, all of whom died within a week. In fact, he didn’t die of starvation at all. After two weeks of claiming that he had food that they didn’t know about and the Germans inability to find it despite tearing his cell apart, they injected poison into his veins on August 14, 1941. 2
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, amazing love now flowing down, from hands and feet that were nailed to the tree, grace flows down and covers me.”
1 Burge, Gary. The NIV Application Commentary. [Grand Rapids, Zondervan © 2000] page 210