More Jesus, more bread of life. Like the loaves in the wilderness, this text keeps on giving more, pushing things further and deeper. With Jesus, one can never say, “Enough already!” Faith is always hungry, always thirsty for more, and Jesus is the bread that never runs out.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Hunger is the absence of bread, food. Thirst is the absence of drink. Emptiness waiting to be filled. That’s what faith looks like before God. Empty hands, empty bellies, empty mouths. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, says Jesus, for they will be satisfied.
To come to Him is to believe in Him, and no one comes to Him or believes in Him unless the Father draws him. We say that in the Small Catechism. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Neither your brains nor your brawn will get you closer to Jesus. That’s because there is nothing good in you, that is, in your flesh. We are conceived and born sinful, turned inward, deaf and blind to God and His Word. Dead in trespasses and sin, says St. Paul. The Father must draw the believer by the Spirit whom He sends, preaching the Word into your deaf ears, breathing life into your dead clay.
“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.” This is the first “resurrection day” saying of Jesus. His promise to you, and to all who believe, is that He will raise you up on the Last Day and give you eternal life. And this is as certain and sure as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.
But when He first said this, He hadn’t yet died on the cross and rose. All He’d done was given them bread and fish in the wilderness. Something Moses had done for forty years. Nothing new there. Yet everything new. Moses gave bread from heaven, the manna in the wilderness, and still the people died. Manna could sustain them but not save them. Elijah ate bread in the wilderness too, and it sustained him for forty days. But the bread that Jesus gives is not like the bread that fell from the sky for Moses or the bread that the angel brought Elijah. The bread that Jesus gives is Himself.
“I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
He wants to be our bread, food from heaven that satisfies the deepest of our hungers, the hunger for righteousness. No food from earth can deliver that. Vitamins and minerals, yes. Fats, carbs, and proteins, to be sure. Food is God’s gift in the first article, His providing and caring for His creation and for you, His creature. Clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, family. All of it from God’s gracious fatherly hand without any merit or worthiness in us. But the bread spoils, the food rots, the milk goes sour. You die. Food from the earth cannot save you. Food from heaven can. Jesus is that food come down from heaven. True food, true drink.
The Jews began to grumble about Jesus. Who does He think He is? Isn’t this Y’shua, the son of Joseph, the carpenter’s boy from Nazareth whose father and mother we know? Well, His mother they knew, and probably gossiped about her. His Father, they did not know, which was precisely the problem.
This is the sacramental scandal. God comes to us in the ordinary, “in, with, and under” the humility of our humanity. He comes amidst scandal and controversy, a Virgin’s Son, so that only faith can answer who His Father is, and that only as the Father draws you by His Spirit and Word. We get hung the same way on this sacramental scandal. We can’t see Jesus, and that’s good, because seeing gets in the way of believing. But the Bread of Life comes to us in, with, and under the bread of His Supper, the wine that is His blood, in the water of baptism, in the mouth of the preacher. All of it so terribly ordinary, as ordinary as a carpenter’s son from the north country, the crucified man on the cross.
We expect something more than the ordinariness of our own humanity. We’ve gotten into our collective heads that when God comes down to dwell with us it has to be a spectacle, an event for the ages, something “otherwordly,” something “spiritual.” We invent religions to climb the ladder of holiness upward to God, not believing that God would deign to descend to us.
We’ve lost touch with our being made in the image of God. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to image God before the creation, to walk with God in the cool of day. Adam’s sin has so tarnished God’s image in us we can’t recognize it anymore. We think we’re gods instead of God’s image. We turn it all inward to ouselves and compare everything to us and who we are. We hold God to our standards and judge Him, forgetting that He is Judge of all. And so when the Son of God descends from His royal throne, puts on a servant’s form, and takes up His cross, the religious world is scandalized by the whole thing and wants no part of it. Crucify Him! Get Him out of here! That’s not the kind of God we want. That’s not the kind of bread we seek!
To the hungry, even a crumb of bread looks good. To those who hunger and thirst for a righteousness they do not have and cannot acquire on their own, Jesus brings words of hope and joy. “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.”
Imagine if word got out. We have a bread that brings immortality. Eternal life. A cure for death. A bread that has the power to raise you to life from the dead. Imagine if people believed it. The demand would be overwhelming. The crowds would rival major sporting events. The clamor would be like Black Friday, the shopping day after Thanksgiving. This is the bread that Jesus gives. His flesh, given into death for the life of the world. And the world says, “Meh. Thanks but no thanks, Jesus. We have plenty of bread.”
In the OT reading, Elijah was suffering from an “Elijah complex,” thinking he was the only faithful Israelite left on the face of the earth. A one man Israel. The queen was after him; he had death threats on his head; he couldn’t trust his best friends and family. He wanted to die. So he sits under a broom tree in the wilderness and asks God to call him home. He’s had enough.
But God sends an angel bringing bread and water with the command, “Rise and eat.” “Rise and eat, Elijah, for the journey is too great for you.” That sums up our wilderness wandering too. Surrounded by Jezebels. Idolatry, immorality the new normal for our society that once prided itself on being “religious” if not “Christian.” It’s easy to get an “Elijah complex” in this kind of wilderness, thinking you’re the only one who gets it. The last faithful Israelite. Those delusions come with malnutrition. The journey is too great. Take and eat.
By the way, Elijah wasn’t the last faithful Israelite standing. God always has His remnant. Seven thousand who haven’t bowed the knee to Baal. Remember that the next time you think you’re the only one, a one-man show. Jesus was Israel reduced to One, and you’re not Jesus. But you are His people, and His people number more than just you.
The journey is too great. The wilderness saps our energies. We’re hungry, we’re thirsty. We need food and drink that endure. We’re dying, and we need life. We’re sinners seeking forgiveness. We’re captive to Sin and Death, and we seek redemption, release, freedom.
Jesus comes to us, the Son of God in the flesh comes to us by way of His cross and tomb. He extends His hand from the right hand of God and says, “Here. Take and eat this bread. This is my body given for you. My flesh which I gave for the life of the world. Here Take and drink this cup. This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for you and for the world. My life for your life. My death for yours. Eat this bread, drink from this cup, and I will raise you on the Last Day.
He cannot deny His own Body and Blood, nor will He abandon it to the grave. He will raise you up on the Last Day. As surely as He Himself is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.
In the Name of Jesus.