August 18, 2002
So who is this Jesus? We already know from earlier in the Gospel that this Jesus can heal the sick, lame, and dying. We already know that this Jesus can feed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. We already know that this Jesus can walk on water. Honesty compels me to tell you that I myself have a hard time comprehending the things this Jesus does. Faith allows me to believe that all is possible with God, but my own human frailty brings me back to this world and I am amazed, awe struck, dumbfounded at what this Jesus has done. Who is this man who can do all these things?
It shouldn’t surprise us a bit to see the crowd eagerly and enthusiastically seek out Jesus. Wouldn’t we do the same? Wouldn’t we too be intrigued and curious by the possibilities offered by this Jesus. Certainly the crowd was eagerly awaiting some kind of revelation about who this Jesus is, after all he had offered them the possibilities of a new social order and an endless supply of food. We should remember that these peasants worked hard for their farmers and landowners, and in return earned just enough to keep their bodies alive. But with Jesus, their bodily appetites were satisfied. He provided them with that which they continually and desperately need. No more class struggle, no more hunger.
But, you see, the problem was that the people were more interested in what this Jesus can do for them than who this Jesus is to them. This is why they came searching for Jesus and Jesus knows it. When the crowd found Jesus they were surprised by his sudden appearance, and they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” But Jesus does not answer their question; instead he brings out into the open their motive for seeking him. “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves”.
Jesus is not fooled by our trivial questions. He sees right through our motives and our rhetoric right to the point of the matter, our heart, and he confronts us with our true motives for seeking him. Let us never forget that Christianity is not a social club or organization to add to our list of all the other clubs and organizations we have joined. Being a Christian is a calling, a way of life where sinners, who are loved, forgiven, and reconciled by the grace of God, are united together through the waters of Baptism into a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Being a Christian means that we must stand before Jesus everyday of our lives and ask ourselves not what this Jesus can do for us but who this Jesus is to us. And it is to this question that Jesus gives us an answer. He is the only food that endures for eternal life. He is the one on whom God the Father has set His seal.
The crowd’s preoccupation with the benefits Jesus can give them in the present life has kept them from seeing what really matters, the eternal life given by the Son of God, but now they begin understand and ask Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” On the one hand this is a tremendous question for them to ask. They have sensed that there is more at stake than their selfish pursuit of self-satisfaction. They have begun to see Jesus as being more than simply a worldly king. They have begun to sense that life is more than the here and now, that life is eternal and has a purpose.
But on the other hand they have missed the purpose of the miracle. They have missed the sign of Jesus’ grace. The have missed the heart of the Gospel, which is the revelation of God’s grace demonstrated for all of us in the person of Jesus Christ. They have transformed the free gift of God’s grace into a question about their performance of works. The sin of all of us is that we have re-defined our salvation from being a free gift of the grace of God into a self-gratifying, self-justifying, individualistic act of works. How dare we think we have the ability to save ourselves.
Jesus answers the crowd by saying there is only one work that God desires, they are to have faith in him whom God has sent. Dr. Charles Cousar, a New Testament professor at Columbia Seminary, writes, “The miracle that really matters is the miracle of faith, when God breaks through the misconceptions we have held about life, our pursuit of unsatisfying answers, our self-centered worlds, to reveal the radically new age embodied in and taught by Jesus.”
Upon hearing that the only thing they are to do is to have faith in Jesus, the crowd asks two startling questions, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you, and what work are you performing?” These are startling questions, because they show that the crowd wants to shift the burden of who is to work from themselves to Jesus, and they imply a contingency. What the crowd is really saying is that they will do God’s work only if Jesus does God’s work first and performs a sign.
“But why should we believe in you”, they ask. What is there in you to call out such devotion and allegiance as you claim from us? Where are your credentials? Sure Jesus fed a crowd in a desert place without enough supplies, but what of it? As great as that is, it is not unique. Moses did the same thing for the Israelites in the wilderness. Why should they turn to Jesus? Why is this Jesus any different from Moses or any other great leader or prophet?
Even today this is a popular argument, that there is nothing unique about Jesus Christ, that there is nothing original in the revelation of God he brings us, or in his message of salvation, or in the Christian standards and way of life. But Jesus is quick to remind the crowd that it wasn’t Moses who gave their fathers bread from heaven it was God, and it is this same God who now gives the whole world the true bread from heaven and he is giving it to them in Jesus.
My friends, the bread the crowd requested is already standing before them. The sign they demanded is none other than Jesus himself. The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The crowd completely misses the point of the conversation. And, frankly, to be quite honest, they are only thinking with their stomachs. All they really want is more bread, actual bread. But the true bread that Jesus is talking about is Jesus himself. It is Jesus who is the real subject of the conversation, and the bread that Jesus offers to us gives us much, much more than what actual bread can give us.
The true bread from heaven that Jesus speaks of is not given “always,” but is given once and for all in the very person of Jesus. Listen to me as I say that again. The bread that Jesus speaks of is the bread that is given once and for all in the very person of himself. Who is this Jesus? This Jesus is the bread of life. It is this Jesus who is as necessary to us as our food. It is this Jesus who is our food, who restores us, who strengthens us and who sustains us in our calling and purpose in life, which is to be holy and blameless in love and to be witnesses of the Gospel.
For as long as I can remember, there is one question that I couldn’t answer: when were you saved? I don’t have a specific date when suddenly I became a Christian. There have been many important dates in my spiritual life, but I would not call any of them my date of conversion. Just recently, I met a guy at seminary who asked me when I was saved, and I fumbled around with an answer. It left me feeling inadequate, like I should’ve had some kind of religious experience. I wanted to be able to tell people when I was saved. It took another pastor to remind me that there is a date when I was saved, when we all were saved, and that date is 2000 years ago on the cross.
My friends, this is why we partake in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. For it reminds of the saving act of Jesus on the cross, where God gave us the body and blood of Jesus Christ once and for all. When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, not only do we remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but we are renewed and empowered by that memory, and the hope and promise of Jesus’ return. We are sustained by Christ’s pledge of undying love and continuing presence with God’s people, and we are sealed in God’s covenant of grace through Jesus’ offering of himself as the true bread of life.
Who is this Jesus? To me, he is my very food. He is what I need everyday of my life. And it is through the Lord’s Supper that I am restored, strengthened, and sustained in my ministry and in my Christian service.
So I end today with this question…who is this Jesus to you?