Hunger is a powerful motivator. When we are physically hungry, we get something to eat. When we are spiritually hungry, we look for something to satisfy it. Just like there is physical food that can best be described as junk food, there is also spiritual food that can also be described as junk food. Take, for example, some TV evangelists. I know of one who promotes the physical and material blessings you will receive if you call in and order his prayer handkerchief.
God works in us to create spiritual hunger because he loves us and wants us to get to know him and love him in return. He uses the spiritual hunger to convict us of our sin and convince us to turn to him.
Spiritual hunger is the same whether we live in a mansion or a homeless shelter, whether we’re a movie star or a stay-at-home parent, whether we’re a millionaire or an ordinary person. Whoever we are, wherever life has taken us, however much we have or lack, we hunger for more-something richer, deeper, prettier, tastier, faster-something that satisfies. Whichever category we fit into, our need is the same: God. The only way to find God is by surrendering to Him. It might not be easy for us to do, but it’s very simple to do.
We all suffer from spiritual hunger. We all hunger for something more in life. Some people try to satisfy their spiritual hunger through beauty, power, prestige, sex, drugs, alcohol or other worldly means. The world’s way is the way to sorrow and despair. You only have to consider what happened to people such as Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and John Belushi to see what happens when people try to satisfy spiritual hunger by worldly means. Jim Bakker lost his ministry and was sent to prison, Jimmy Swaggart lost his ministry in disgrace and the others died from drug and/or alcohol abuse.
The crowd was like the boys who went on a camping trip with their Sunday School class. “When are we going to eat?” Alec asked as he and the others in his Sunday school class hiked down a trail in a national forest. For weeks the class of sixth-grade boys had been planning this outing–a couple days of backpacking, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping under the stars. “My stomach has been growling for an hour,” Alec added.
“Mine, too,” agreed Todd. “I hope we stop soon.”
“It won’t be too long now,” Mr. Larson assured them, and soon they came to the place where they were going to set up camp. “This is it, boys,” said Mr. Larson.
“Good! When do we eat?” Alec asked again.
Mr. Larson smiled. “We’ll start a fire right away, and then we’ll fix supper,” he answered. “You can all help gather wood for the campfire.”
The boys got to work, and soon they were eating beef stew from tin mugs. “Yum! This tastes better out here than it does at home!” declared Todd, and everyone agreed. After supper, they played games and told stories around the fire.
“Do we have any more food?” asked Alec after a while. “I’m hungry again!”
“Me, too,” echoed several other boys.
Mr. Larson nodded. “Okay. We’ll have more to eat,” he said, but he got out his Bible. “Spiritual food–we’ll have devotions. But don’t worry. Before we turn in, we’ll have a snack, too,” he assured the boys with a grin when they looked at him uncertainly. “Okay. Who knows the Bible verses we studied in class the last few months?”
The boys began to recite the verses and were doing fine till someone quoted, “I am the Bread of Life.” Everyone moaned in hunger.
“Okay, okay!” Mr. Larson laughed. “We’ll eat. But while you enjoy eating your snacks, I want you to think about something. How do you think you’ll feel when you wake up in the morning?”
“Hungry!” Several voices gave the same answer.
Mr. Larson nodded. “Always remember,” he said, “that the food we eat satisfies us for only a short time. But when Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life, He means He can satisfy our spiritual hunger forever.” Then Mr. Larson gave the boys the go-ahead to get out fruit, cookies, and crackers.
Jesus knew that the crowd was only interested in the physical food He provided. He told them, “Stop laboring for the bread that simply fills your stomach. I am the Bread of Life. I want you to focus on spiritual things. I didn’t do that miracle to just feed you that day. I was trying to teach you something more. Don’t labour for the food that perishes.”
People sought Jesus for physical substance, but He was offering them the food which endures- everlasting life. The first gift satisfies for a few hours; the other, for eternity. Jesus responded to the crowd with an indictment. Like the Israelites who wandered in the desert for forty years because they failed to trust God, the crowd failed to trust God. The crowd only wanted physical food. Jesus told them to be more concerned about getting spiritual food. Physical food represents everything that satisfies physical needs such as food, clothing, shelter, medicine or sex. Spiritual food represents the human soul’s need to be sustained by God.
There are many people who know Christ, but spiritual junk food have left them hungry again. The truth is that this wholesome, satisfying bread of life can only come through a daily relationship with Jesus. When we follow Jesus He helps us avoid the potholes of life. He helps us spend our money on the bread that sustains both body and soul. He sustains us with the knowledge that God listens and cares.
Our physical needs will come to an end, but Jesus will remain forever. If our prayers only deal with presenting our requests to God, we miss a great opportunity to get to know the One with whom we’ll spend eternity. There is nothing wrong when we are in need, but Jesus has even more to give us, because our greatest hunger is the hunger we have for God. If we invest time in pursuing intimacy with Christ, we can enjoy the benefits of that relationship forever.
When Jesus claimed to be the bread of life, He was saying that He is the staple needed by everybody. He was saying that He is the most important part of life. He was saying that He is the is the food that never perishes and the bread that never grows stale. Just as eating and drinking are necessary for physical life, belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection is necessary for eternal life.
Jesus offers to fill us with his love. Only he can save our souls, change our tomorrows and grant us peace and joy for today. Jesus takes the initiative in our salvation, even if we confess him as our Lord and Saviour. He creates a longing within us. His love and presence and the difficulties he allows to enter into our lives force us to open up to him. Jesus takes the initiative and we choose to cooperate with him. That is the very definition of the Christian life.
There are parallels between the manna God gave to the Israelites in the desert and Jesus. The manna came at night, and Jesus comes into our spiritual darkness. Manna was God’s gift to the Israelites, and Jesus is God’s gift to us. All we have to do is claim it for ourselves, and we will never be spiritually hungry again. The manna from heaven was associated in the minds of the Jews with the giving of divine teaching, and Jesus sees his own teaching as being just as essential as our daily bread. Manna was God’s gift to the Israelites. All they had to do was receive it. Jesus is God’s gift to us, and even better than manna, He provides life, not measly existence.
As manna sustained them, so Jesus offered himself as our nourishment. He is the Word of God which nourishes and sustains our entire beings. When we come to Him, and, by listening to Him, take His life into ourselves, we enter into a whole new way of being, a whole new quality of life. It is when we listen to God’s voice that we are drawn to Jesus and find life in Him. God’s invitation is always being proclaimed throughout the world to anyone who will listen-through creation, through other people, through the Scriptures, and through our inner voice.
The crowd’s logic appeared to be that Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000 was a small miracle compared to what Moses did. In order for them to believe in Him, they would need to see Him feed the nation of Israel on the same scale that God did when He sent manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. They wanted Jesus to outdo Moses before they would believe in Him.
We need to receive Jesus’ spiritual food on a regular basis, just like the Israelites needed to receive the manna and quail from God every day. Without it, we will always be spiritually hungry. We can’t get enough spiritual food by going to church only at Christmas or Easter or on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, baptisms or confirmations. Our spiritual hunger can only be satisfied by regularly studying God’s Word and applying it to our lives. This means regular attendance at Sunday worship services.
In order to live with Christ, we have to die to our worldly way of life and take up his life-a life of forgiveness, goodness, trust and service. If we are grounded in Christ’s unconditional love, we are free to lead like Jesus and love and serve others. It will not be easy, but God has drawn us to faith in him, and that faith will sustain us.
The Christian life requires a lot from us. It asks for our very lives. Before we can do anything we are reminded that God has a key role to play in our lives. God sent the Word made flesh, Jesus, to us. God draws us to Him and through Him to Himself.
The people asked for signs and continued talking about food, when the One who would meet their deepest needs was standing before them. Jesus’ miracles were not for display but as signs to demonstrate His identity as the Son of God.
The crowd’s response showed a breakdown of communication. They were so concerned by physical concerns they couldn’t understand Jesus’ figurative language. They asked, “What shall we do to work the works of God?” They were spiritually blind. They didn’t realize that the only “work” required is belief in Jesus, which involves no work at all.
The crowd asked for a sign. Jesus associated the provision of manna with God’s grace, the largest portion of which was the provision of His Word. This is a metaphor for God’s provision of His Word in human flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus linked the concepts of belief, bread, eternal life and Himself.
The ancient Jews misunderstood the purpose of the Saviour’s coming. They wanted political freedom from Roman rule, but Jesus came to set them free spiritually. Jesus presented a different view of the relationship between “signs” and belief. Faith responds to God when He reveals Himself.
Just like the Israelites complained about the food (or lack of it) in the wilderness, the crowd didn’t accept the truth of Jesus’ coming from heaven. The people saw Jesus during His childhood and thought they knew all about His roots.
The bread that is eaten and the blood that is drunk are separate realities, signs of Jesus’ life and death. It was through His flesh that Jesus lived out a life of holy obedience. In eating His flesh we take part of this life of surrender and begin to manifest His life in all those fleshly places where we are called-at sales conventions, on used car lots, at work, washing our clothes, making love and bearing children, watching TV and even going to church.
Jesus is the bread of eternal life in heaven, not just the source of abundant life here on earth. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He was the sacrifice of atonement. He would pay the penalty of sin on behalf of the whole world. Only those who believe in Him receive this gift and then apply it to their sins will benefit. The first Passover illustrated this truth. Those who didn’t apply the blood to their doorposts lost their firstborn sons. Those who did were spared.
Jesus reassured authentic believers when He said, “I will raise him up on the last day.” If not for the Last Supper and Jesus’ subsequent sacrifice on the cross-commemorated by the taking of Communion, the words “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” would seem as strange to us as they did to the Jewish leaders. They are Jesus’ instructions to rely on Him as the source of life, fully committed to Him, and they are contained in the words of the hymn which I will sing in a minute, but first, an explanation.
In the Anglican Church of Canada, when it is time for people to receive Communion, the priest and those who are going to give the choir and congregation the bread and wine receive the bread and wine first. Next, the choir and organist receive them, and then the members of the congregation receive. While the congregation is receiving Communion, the choir and congregation sing one or more hymns. This hymn is one of them:
Hymn: “The Bread of Life
I am the bread, the bread of life
who comes to me will never hunger.
I am the bread, the bread of heaven;
who feeds on me will never die.
And as you eat, remember me—
my body broken on the tree:
my life was given to set you free,
and I’m alive for evermore.
I am the vine, the living vine;
apart from me you can do nothing.
I am the vine, the real vine;
abide in me and I in you.
And as you drink, remember me—
my blood was shed upon the tree:
my life was given to set you free,
and I’m alive for evermore.
So eat this bread, and drink this wine,
and as you do, receive this life of mine.
All that I am, I give to you,
that you may live for evermore.
(Text: Brian R Hoare (1935-) © 1988 Hope Publishing Company)
Perhaps you have seen yourselves as too dirty, or unworthy, or flawed to hope for forgiveness and healing and salvation. But Jesus promises eternal life to everyone who believes in Him-no matter what family you come from, what mistakes you have made, or how low you may feel.
Life in God’s kingdom won’t be easy. There will be crises and conflicts because God’s ways conflict with the world’s ways. We must remember, though, that joy and fulfillment in this life can only be found in one place-God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Do we want to experience God’s life in us and have a deeper relationship with God? That’s the bread that Jesus offering us. We are on a journey and we don’t know how long it will last. Some sections of the trip may be dangerous, faith-testing, exhausting and disorienting. We will need the food that only Jesus can provide.
Jesus also wants us to share this bread with others. Who do we know who is traveling through the desert these days? How can we “break bread” with them? What specific “bread” do they need-the bread of compassion, understanding, encouragement, etc.? Do they need the physical bread of food, housing, job, protection, etc.? How can we provide that “bread of life” for them?
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