Free food always draws a crowd. It never fails. You want people to come out in droves? Offer free food. They’ll flock to it every time. There is nothing better than bread you don’t work for. No sweat of the brow involved here. All you can eat bread and fish from Jesus. Such a deal! The crowds flocked after Jesus. They even chased after Him in boats. Free food. Who can resist it? We elect politicians on the promise of a chicken in every pot, or at least today’s equivalent. Imagine it. The end to world hunger and welfare. No one goes hungry when Jesus doles out the bread and the fish. They just keep on multiplying endlessly. No more food banks, no more food stamps, no more work. Give us this day our daily bread, and poof! There it is.
Bread is the food of affliction in the bible. The original diet, according to Genesis, was fruits and nuts. Life in embryonic form. No death. When you eat fruits and nuts, no trees are harmed in the eating. And even the seeds get scattered. But bread is another story. Bread involves sweat. The sweat of the farmer who plants and harvests, the miller who grinds the grain, the baker who kneads the dough. Sweat every step of the way. “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread until you return to the ground; for dust you are and to the dust you will return.” And so the farmer sweats, the miller sweats, the baker sweats, as along with the eater, they work to their death. Bread is work. Bread you labor for, fruits and nuts are grace, gifts.
The people saw Jesus as a bread machine, a source of free food. But Jesus sees right through them to the heart. “You’re chasing after me not because you saw signs but because your bellies are full of bread. You didn’t catch the significance, you just stuffed your faces with free food.” And isn’t that so often the case? You remember the food but not the occasion. We remember the meal but not the chef or the host or the reason. All the people saw in Jesus was a meal ticket, a means to free food. Who needs to work when bread and fish can be multiplied on demand?
“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food the endures to eternal life.” Your food is dead and perishing. That’s why we need refrigerators and preservatives. Our food is dead and decaying. Your bread on the counter is drying out and will get moldly. Even the manna, the bread the Israelites collected in the wilderness went stale and moldy after a day and couldn’t be stored. It may have been wonder bread from heaven, but it was still subject to decay. It didn’t endure to eternal life. The bread we eat is for this life, not the life to come. And while it may build strong bodies twelve ways, it won’t lengthen your life or bring eternal life.
And yet, that’s the bread we literally burn ourselves out working for. Temporal bread. Bread for our bellies. Bread that does not last. Bread that is gone with the next economic downturn. Bread that cannot rescue us from our condition of Sin or from our Death. Bread that we continually hunger for until we can eat no more. Bread that fills us in one moment, and leaves us hungry in the next. We’ll trade off church for work, even when it isn’t necessary. The old Adam in us will push aside the Lord’s bread for the world’s buffet any day of the week.
The prophet Isaiah cries out, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” You want richness? Hear the Word of the Lord! You want bread that satisfies forever? “Take and eat, this is my body.”
And there’s the problem. The food we eat is dead, and we eat it to our death. We expend our lives chasing after bread that spoils and food that can’t save. Oh, there is always that promise, isn’t there, of the ultimate diet or the next superfood that promises to be a veritable fountain of youth, but aside from lining the pockets of their salesmen, and providing some necessary carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, they do nothing for us spiritually or eternally. That is asking too much of bread, or any other food, for that matter.
The bread God gives is quite another matter. The manna was a picture/type of it, but only a type. Like other bread, it went bad after a day and the eater still died. But the manna provided a pattern and picture for the true bread that God gives in the sending of His Son. This isn’t bread you work for, but bread that is given you as a gift of grace. This isn’t bread that fills your temporal hunger pangs but bread that goes straight to your soul, a bread that will raise you up on the Last Day.
This is bread that God alone gives. No man on earth can bake it. “What must we be doing to do the works of God?” they asked Jesus. Listen carefully to His answer. “The work (singular) of God (God does it) is this: That you believe in Him who He has sent. That you believe in Jesus. Faith is a work. That’s right. Faith is a work. Not a work we do, but a work that God does. Salvation is God’s work. Forgiveness is God’s work. Justifying sinners is God’s work. Faith is God’s work and gift to us, the means by which we receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation Jesus died to win for us. Without a mouth, you can’t eat bread. Without faith, you can’t eat the Bread of Life.
Without faith, you can hear the Word, study the Bible, know the Scriptures backward and forward, know its literature, parse its verbs and nouns, its adjectives and adverbs, but without faith, you’ll not catch the “for you” that is your salvation. This is all “for you.” The words for you require all hearts to believe.
Without faith, you can be baptized and have the certificate to prove it, you can have all the gifts of salvation that Christ won for you, but if you don’t draw on it, use it, enjoy it, lay claim to it when the devil, the world and your conscience trouble you, then Baptism does you no good. It’s like having bread but never making a sandwich or toast. It’s like having a million dollars in the bank and never withdrawing any of it.
Without faith, you can eat and drink the bread that is Christ’s body and the wine that is His blood, and still leave the table spiritually hungry, craving the forgiveness, life, and salvation that these gifts bring. Faith receives, withdraws, digests the gifts of Christ. No faith is like no digestive system. You can eat the food but it does you no good.
Think about what bread is. It’s baked grain, the seed. The seed is the concentration of all the energies of vitalities that the plant has received from the soil and the sun. It’s all concentrated in the seed. The seed is ground up and milled into flour, kneaded into dough, and baked in the fire. When you eat bread, you release all the energies and vitalities of the seed and they become yours.
Now think about that Promised Seed, the kernel of wheat from the hand of the Divine Sower, who sprouted on Israelite soil in the womb of the Virgin, who was ground to death and baked in the oven of God’s wrath against Sin and Death and fire of His passion to save us. He is the concentration of God’s love and mercy toward sinners. He is the Food of eternity, the Bread of Life, living Bread come down from heaven. He is true Manna in the wilderness, Bread that the Father gives at great cost to Him and no cost to us. The energies and vitalities of this bread are not vitamins and minerals that build strong bodies twelve ways, but the forgiveness, life and salvation of the Son of God who will raise your bodies on the Last Day from the grave and give you life as you never had it before. Life overflowing, life in abundance.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says to you. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The feeding of the 5000 with bread multiplied beyond measure was just a foretaste of the feast to come, a picture of what Jesus was up to, a sneak preview of the coming attraction. That deep hunger that you feel – no bread from this world can fill it. That deep thirst in your soul that leaves you restless and thirsting for something more – no drink in this world can quench it.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they will be satisifed. Come to Jesus, the Bread of Life. Eat and drink of Him by faith in His Word. Hear His Word forgiving you. Eat and drink the bread of His Body, the wine of His Blood, the gifts of His cross for you. He won’t let you down. He won’t leave you hungry for more. He won’t make you thirsty. Trust Him. He is true Food, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else. He is true Drink. The deepest longings of your soul will find strength, and nourishment, and refreshment in Him.
Trust Him, and you will not hunger. Trust Him, and you will not thirst.
In the name of Jesus,