[Read Exodus 16:2-21 and John 6:1-15]
Jesus, Bread of Life
In our Old Testament reading and Gospel reading, we encounter two miraculous breads. The manna in the wilderness and the five loaves which feed five thousand men. Two miraculous breads, centuries apart, and there is yet a third bread – a more heavenly bread – to be known. The Israelites who received the manna with Moses and those in today’s Gospel who received the miraculous bread from Jesus miss the point.
The Israelites, for forty years, wandering in the wilderness with Moses, would wake of every morning, without fail, to this miracle of manna – a fine flake like thing, gathered and baked into bread – a most amazing experience, yet, after not long they despise it.
Though daily receiving the manna – and quail – and even water from the Rock – they would still complain, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food” [Number 21:5]. What they received from God as miraculous they counted as worthless. They desired to return to the bread of slavery in Egypt.
Those five thousand men in today’s Gospel – they receive a meal that fills each of them, plus their wives and kids, from a meager offering, by a young boy, of five barley loaves and two small fish. “What are they among so many?”
From these meager provisions, Jesus feeds all. Yet, the crowd’s response, in the end, is earthly not heavenly. In the last verse, Jesus must withdraw from the crowd because He perceives they are about to make Him into their earthly king. A heavenly miracle, but their minds are stuck in earthly concerns.
A few verses later in John 6, in John 6:26ff Jesus tells the same crowd, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs – not because you recognized it as a heavenly act – but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life – which the Son of Man will give to you.”
And our Savior proceeds with a discussion about that bread of eternal life for the rest of the chapter – and that discussion causes many, in fact most of the crowd, to part ways with Jesus. They wanted from Him the earthly and not the heavenly discussion.
In our time, Christ does for us things greater – greater and more heavenly – than these two miracles we read about today. Yet you too so often only want the earthly and groan at the heavenly. And sometimes we even desire to return to slavery.
What is our Bread that the Lord gives in such abundance today? Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” [John 6:32-33]. Your bread is a Man – the Son from heaven – Jesus Himself. And consuming Him involves occupying your time and your mind in heavenly things.
Let’s hear and consume these heavenly things, promises from our Savior:
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.”
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” [John 6:35-59]
Jesus has given, not five loaves, not fish, not manna or quail, but Himself to be your bread. He gave Himself on the cross – gave His flesh for the life of the world – gave Himself to be consumed by hearing and believing the message of what He’s done for you. Jesus gave Himself to be consumed and received in heavenly miracles – Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession & Absolution.
Jesus united you to His own death and resurrection by Baptism and thereby saved you. Jesus hears your sin confessed and responds through a minister that He forgives you. Jesus gives you Himself as an actual meal – His true body and true blood – as your heavenly bread and heavenly drink received here on earth.
Jesus is Bread to you, Bread which does not perish – Bread greater than the manna or the five loaves – Bread to be daily chewed on in your heart and in your mind. Occupy yourself with it.
Yet, like those Israelites, we so quickly loathe the heavenly and only want earthly words and promises. We can’t give more than an hour to receiving the heavenly bread without grumbling, yet we drink down the news and eat up the gossip for many hours on end. We focus energy on bodily life and pandemic concerns – and on political concerns, earthly kings. But it’s a struggle to give fifteen minutes to the concern of heavenly things – God’s Word, prayer, your Catechism, learning your faith.
You idolize earthly security yet take your heavenly security casually and for granted. The Israelites yearned to be slaves again for the guarantee of earthly bread, though God gave them heavenly. We find more security, somehow, in the slavery of our earthly fears than we do in the freedom of trusting in our Savior’s heavenly promises.
And how often do we avoid truly – truly in heart – drinking down the heavenly because we fear that it might free us – cause us to be freed – from slavery to some sin to which our flesh still clings? The heavenly bread might make me heavenly, so my earthly flesh – which loves its sins – avoids that bread, or receives it outwardly but avoids ever taking it too much to heart inwardly.
But Jesus has come to give us freedom. Freedom from earthly fear. Freedom from slavery to the sins in our flesh. Guarantee of heavenly security by forgiving sins. Freedom from eternal death by guaranteeing resurrection and pardon.
Jesus does give us the daily bread we need for this body and life – even from the most meager provisions – five loaves, two fish. He loves you and provides for you. And, so much more so, He has provided for your eternal life. Jesus became your Bread of Life by taking up your sins and your earthly flesh into Himself and dying on a cross of wood for you. The Righteous for the unrighteous.
Now He is risen and lives to feed you daily for your heavenly needs. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” [John 6:40]. As Jesus gives Himself to you in the Word of His Gospel and in His Supper so often, consume Him as a life-giving Bread by believing His heavenly promises and occupying your mind with them. And give attention that you do consume Him often. Amen.