Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 6, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Our Old Testament and Gospel are very closely related today—two stories about thousands of hungry people without food. And, in fact, the old story becomes the interpretation of the new story.
The children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, but they were always looking over their shoulders—not to see if they were being pursued, but thinking back to how great they had it in slavery. Meat pots and tables full of food. “What did you do, Moses, bring us out here just so could starve!?”
The Israelites typify human nature. God performs great and mighty works, delivers from oppression and death, gives hope in an even greater promise—and all we can do is think about how much our tummies are grumbling. And grumbling tummies inevitably lead to grumbling voices.
But there’s good news here already. God hears their grumbling, and He answers immediately. He doesn’t require humble, heartfelt prayers. He doesn’t ignore pleas unless they’re eloquent and beautiful. When the people grumble that they don’t have any bread, God answers as if He indeed gives daily bread to all people without their prayers, even to all evil people.
In answer to their selfish grumbling, God gives them a gift that not only cures their hunger, but also their selfishness. “I will send you bread like rain from heaven” the Lord told Moses (Ex 16:4). When the people see it, they give it a name: Manna. It’s a word that literally means, “What is it?”
It’s bread from heaven. But there is no way to know this except that it is bread that came from God’s Word and promise. Before one flake came down from above, God already said by the mouth of Moses that He would show His glory and give them bread to eat and cure their grumbling hearts and bellies. “This is the food the Lord gives you to eat,” says Moses (Ex 16:15).
In this way, God is showing His people what Jesus would remind the devil of a few centuries later: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). This is not something that Jesus invents whole-cloth, as if it’s some new concept, but it was first stated by the Moses, who was called to be the mouthpiece of God, in Deuteronomy 8:3– He made you suffer and go hungry and then fed you with manna that neither you nor your fathers knew, to show you man doesn’t live on bread alone but on every Word of the LORD.
Manna. What is it? It is bread from heaven that shows that life is not in bread. It had a few characteristics. First, it was fine, and flaky, and came with the morning dew. They were given instructions to gather only enough that they could eat, although everyone would have enough to eat. On the sixth day there would be a double portion so that they could observe the Sabbath rest on the seventh day.
But it also had another peculiar distinction that separated it from other bread. Freshly baked bread, without a bunch of preservatives, will last a few days before it becomes stale and moldy. But this manna from heaven, if it sits for more than a day (unless that day was a Sabbath day), it bred worms and stank, as if it was a rotting corpse.
In this way, God shows that even though this bread sustained and strengthened life, it is not life itself. It cannot give life. In fact, separated from God’s Word, the same bread that sustained life became death—worm-ridden and decaying.
There are bumper sticker slogans that you occasionally see that say something like, “Hunting is life,” or, “Running is life,” or, “Volleyball is life.” Some people make their work their life. Some people make their family their life. This year there are many people who are making politics their life. But none of these things are life. Yes, they are good gifts that sustain life, and support the body in their own various ways. But they are not life themselves. And separated from God’s Word, they will end in death. Worm-ridden and decaying.
Manna. What is it? It is God’s bread from heaven, with His Word included, in order to show us where true life is found.
On a mountain on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, there were another several thousand grumbling bellies. Although Jesus is already prepared for what He’s going to do before anyone can think to pray, “Give us some daily bread.” Jesus is the One who initiates what’s to come. Then lifting up His eyes and seeing that the great crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where could we buy bread so that these people might eat?” (v 4). Of course, He knew what He was about to do, but He asked the question in order to frame the discussion that followed.
Phillip answered the question straight up. “Two hundred denarii would not be enough for them so that each would receive a little bread.” Two hundred days’ salary. Almost a year’s worth of work to provide one meal. Think of it. There were 5,000 men, plus women and children. This could easily triple or quadruple the number. This would be a sold-out Scottrade Center. And the amount of food and staff needed to provide concessions for that crowd is pretty extensive.
That’s one of the unseen miracles in this story. Twelve disciples serve all those thousands. When I worked in catering, we would have a serving staff of about a dozen, maybe more, but it was hard work to serve even 250 people. And it would take about an hour for the full meal. This was an all-afternoon miracle, and the disciples did not grow faint while they were serving. Certainly they ate some of the bread they served, as the Scripture says, Do not muzzle the ox as it’s treading out the grain (1 Tim 5:18).
At the end of this miraculous feast, the people misunderstood the purpose of the miracle. Then, when the people saw the sign He did, they said, “This One is truly the Prophet who is coming into the world.” Then Jesus, knowing that they were about to come and seize Him in order to make Him a king, departed again into the mountain by Himself (vv 14-15). The people confessed Jesus to be the Prophet and the King, but they didn’t yet know the nature of His prophetic and kingly office. They thought it was simply to fill grumbling bellies in an earthly reign. But the next day, Jesus explained exactly what it means.
I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered them, “you’re not looking for Me because you’ve seen miracles but because you’ve eaten some of the bread and been well fed. Don’t work for the food that spoils but for the food that keeps for everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you because God the Father has sealed in Him the power to give it.” “What are the works God wants us to do?” they asked Him. “What God wants you to do,” Jesus answered them, “is to believe in Him Whom He sent.” “What miracle can You do?” they asked Him. “Let us see it, and we’ll believe You. What can You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven. God’s bread is coming down from heaven and giving life to the world.” “Lord,” they said to Him, “always give us this bread.”
“I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them. “Come to Me, and you will never be hungry. Believe in Me, and you will never be thirsty. But I have told you, ‘You have seen Me, and you don’t believe!’ All the Father gives Me will come to Me, and anyone who comes to Me I will never turn away, because I came down from heaven, not to do what I want but what He wants Who sent Me; and He Who sent Me doesn’t want Me to lose any of those He gave Me but to raise them on the last day. Yes, My Father wants everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him to have everlasting life, and He wants Me to raise him on the last day.” Then the Jews grumbled because He said, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” “Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s son,” they asked, “whose father and mother we know? Then how can He say, ‘I came down from heaven?’ ” “Don’t grumble among yourselves,” Jesus answered them. “A person can come to Me only if the Father Who sent Me draws him. Then I will raise him on the last day. The prophets wrote: ‘God will teach everyone’. Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father; only He Who comes from God has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has everlasting life. “I am the Bread of Life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, and they died. But this is the Bread coming down from heaven so that anyone may eat it and not die. I am the living Bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this Bread, he will live forever. The bread I’ll give to bring life to the world is My flesh” (Jn 6:26-51 AAT).
Now Jesus distinguished between daily bread and living bread. Manna means, “What is it?” But the question should be, “Jesus—who is it?” He is this Living bread that has come down from heaven. Not daily bread, but heavenly Bread. He is the Word of God become flesh, every promise fulfilled in Him.
The difference between this Bread and every other bread is that all other bread sustains and supports life. But this Bread that comes down from heaven, the flesh of Jesus, is life. The manna God gave in the wilderness was to make a sharp distinction. After one day, the manna bred worms and stank. Like a corpse. But God did not let His Holy One see decay. The flesh of Jesus is not food for worms, but food for the life of the world. Jesus is Living Bread because He is the Risen One. And whoever eats this Bread will not live only until his next meal, but forever.
Jesus. Who is it?
Jesus Is Living Bread, Come Down from Heaven, for the Life of the World
Jacob W Ehrhard