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12 November 2018

Seek the living bread! Accept no substitutes.

Because some of our visions of New Jerusalem are awfully materialistic… and aren’t so much about being with Jesus.

John 6.25-29.

At the beginning John’s chapter 6, Jesus had his students feed 5,000 people with five rolls and fish spread. The people’s conclusion? Jesus was the Prophet, the End Times figure, the “prophet like Moses,” Dt 18.15 whom the Pharisees wondered whether John the baptist was. Jn 1.21 Because Jesus fed ’em bread, just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna. So he’s a prophet like Moses!

The next day they sought Jesus and couldn’t find him. So they returned to Jesus’s home base of Kfar Nahum… and there he was.

John 6.25-27 KWL
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 In reply Jesus told them, “Amen amen! I promise you seek me not because you saw miracles:
Instead it’s because you ate the rolls and were filled.
27 Don’t toil for perishable food! Instead seek food which lasts for eternal life.
The Son of Man will give it to you, for Father God sealed this man.”

Various preachers love to claim this lesson is all about the people coming to Jesus for free bread, and Jesus responding he didn’t come to teach people to expect handouts. And whenever I hear this, it’s obvious they didn’t study the text, and instead they’re preaching their stingy politics instead of God’s kingdom. God doesn’t want us to be dependent on him for daily bread? Have they heard of the Lord’s Prayer? What bible are they reading?

Being dependent on God is precisely what God wants. You do realize he gave the Hebrews free manna for 40 years. The only work they had to do for it, was go pick it off the ground and stick to a liter a day. (Two liters on Friday; no liters on Saturday. Sabbath, y’know.) No planting, no watering, no waiting, no harvesting, no winnowing, no grinding; just free manna. As easy as when we buy flour at the grocery store; easier ’cause you pay nothing. You wanna agitate about handouts? You need to learn about God’s generosity, ’cause you’re deficient in it.

Free bread, free food in general, is one of the traits of Kingdom Come. Because of sin, humanity was cursed to toil for our food. Ge 3.17 Once God deals with our sin, the curse gets lifted and no more toil. That’s what we expect in heaven: Eternal rest! The Galileans expected it too. And suddenly after one of Jesus’s lessons, his students walk round handing out bread the Galileans didn’t have to work for. Then Jesus tells them about “food which lasts for eternal life,” and “the Son of Man will give it to you.” It doesn’t sound at all like Jesus was telling them, “I’m not here to give people handouts.” Just the opposite!

But.

Yeah, there’s a but. A big huge one. A but which also applies to us, because we’re guilty of precisely the same thing as the Galileans. Jesus told ’em to not seek perishable bread, but eternal-life bread. Because they were seeking perishable bread. They were seeking something material. Lots of it; enough so they’d regularly be filled; an abundance of it; so they were seeking a wealth of this material. Do I have to spell it out any more? Fine: Material wealth.

So… how many Christians are hoping to make it to Kingdom Come so they can have a crown filled with jewels, and a mansion on a street of gold?

And instead Jesus wants us to have living bread. Which—spoilers—is Jesus himself. Jn 6.35

Settling for material prosperity.

Jesus doesn’t tell a lot of parables in John. Some folks claim he doesn’t tell any, but that’s because they’re expecting a full-on story, not his little one-liner parables in the middle of his lessons. (Like talking to Nicodemus about wind, Jn 3.8 or talking about sheep in a pen, Jn 10.1-6 or the grain of wheat that bears fruit when it dies. Jn 12.24) But even in his lessons, Jesus uses plenty of analogies and metaphors. In this lesson he consistently speaks of “bread,” but you know he doesn’t literally mean bread. Or at least you should. Those with ears to hear, listen!

Jesus told the Galileans, “Don’t toil for perishable food!” Jn 6.27 It’s a similar idea to when Jesus told the Samaritan about living water, which likewise isn’t perishable, ’cause those who drink it will never thirst again. Jn 4.13-14 He’s offering us something eternal, and wants us to stop settling for the temporary and fleeting. Food and drink are really good examples of this. Here today, eaten tomorrow; and if not eaten it spoils.

And of course you remember in the Sermon on the Mount when he taught about treasures in heaven: Stop putting your trust in the perishable.

Matthew 6.19-21 KWL
19 “Don’t hoard wealth for yourselves on earth, where moths and corrosion ruin it,
where thieves dig it up and steal it.
20 Hoard wealth for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor corrosion ruins,
where thieves don’t dig, nor steal: 21 Where’s your wealth? Your mind will be there too.”
Luke 12.33-34 KWL
33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity:
Make yourselves a wallet which never wears out.
Infallible wealth in the heavens, which a thief can’t come near, nor moth destroy.
34 “Where’s your wealth? Your minds will be there too.”

Since the imperishable “bread” Jesus speaks of in this chapter is himself, obviously he’s talking about our eternal relationship with him. Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Jn 3.16 KJV And of course this confused the Galileans completely, because they were fixated on literal bread. This bread metaphor still confuses Christians; just look at all the Catholic and Lutheran ideas about how literally communion bread represents Jesus, deduced from John 6—and this chapter isn’t even about communion bread! But y’know, those with ears to hear.

Here we see the beginning of the Galileans’ misunderstanding. ’Cause they go straight from Jesus’s bit about the Son of Man giving them bread, and wanna know how they can earn this free bread. You know how materialistic Christians tend to use this lesson to knock people who seek free handouts? The Galileans weren’t entirely big on free handouts either. They wanted to merit this bread by doing God’s works. Pharisee conditioning, y’see. Humans expect things to work on karma, not grace.

Jesus’s response? You don’t earn it. You just trust him.

John 6.28-29 KWL
28 So they told Jesus, “What can we do so we can do God’s works?”
29 In reply Jesus told them, “This is God’s work—so you can trust in that man he sent.”

You want a relationship with Jesus? You want eternal life? Start by trusting him. Put your faith in him. Believe him. Then start following him. But it starts with trust—something the Galileans didn’t really have.

From this point onward, the Galileans couldn’t make sense of Jesus. Couldn’t reason with him. Couldn’t accept him. Because they couldn’t get beyond that hurdle of trust. The Twelve (well, except the one dude) did trust him, Jn 6.67-69 having followed Jesus long enough to know better. But the other Galileans only saw a few miracles, got their bellies filled with bread, and leapt to a bunch of extrabiblical conclusions, based on speculative End Times timelines and their desires for a political savior who’d smite the Democrats the Romans. (And, incidentally, give them free bread like the Romans did for the citizens who lived in their capital.) Anything beyond this mindset, they didn’t care to hear.

I’ve seen this mindset myself. Materialistic Christians, who don’t wanna hear that maybe God wants ’em to do without. Fearful dark Christians, who envision a world with devils round every dark corner, who can’t love their neighbors because they’re too afraid of them. These folks think they’re following Jesus, but they’re too busy following their favorite interpretations instead of the Sermon on the Mount.

Let’s not make their mistake. Or the Galileans’; it’s the very same mistake. Trust Jesus. Seek him, the living bread.