Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent - John 6:1-15
The work of Christ in you is one to release you from everything that binds you. All the things that hold you prisoner. For Isaiah this is a picture of those who have so much, and spend all their life on that which wastes away. “Come everyone who is thirsty, come to the water, come buy and eat without cost. Why do you spend silver on that which is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy?” How much of our lives are filled with things that feed us for a moment? Even life itself. You woke up hungry this morning, more than likely. Isaiah here paving the way for you to be fed by that which is more than this life itself. Something more than bread or water or wine or milk.
Paul takes it a step further to tell you that your prisoner status is tied to every attempt we make to subject ourselves to the law. To subject ourselves to something other than Jesus and his work for you. To make ourselves better. Attaining everlasting life by mortal struggle, or at least saying the right thing. Whether it is the actual 10 commandments, or our own set of rules and regulations we make for ourselves, Christ has died and risen to set us free from that. From boxes that either try to limit and contain or add something to his death for you. That add something more to his sacrifice for you than what has already been done. Using the story of Hagar, Abraham, and Sarah as an allegory of the worry we as sinners bring to our own lives.
Abraham was promised by God that he would be the father of many nations while he was childless. He was told an heir would come from his own body. Sarah and he were impatient, lacking faith in the promise, and so they took the promise into their own hands and gave Hagar to Abraham as a trophy. She conceived and bore Ishmael. Abraham thinks he has done it and fulfilled the promise on his own. Then God throws a spanner into the mix and says, “No. The promise will come through Sarah who is 90 years old. She will bear you a son so that all of the promises I make to you are not in your hands but in mine.” When we try to take all of our life, especially our life before God, into our own hands, we think things are well, then God interrupts and takes over and does the impossible to save sinners from themselves.
The Galatians were being fooled into thinking they needed to live as Jews to be true Christians, when Paul steps in and corrects the situation. “No. It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” For freedom that Christ has set you free. You don’t make that statement to people who are free. You make that statement to those in bondage. Saying that you are free from saving yourself. Free from being worthy. Free from anything that isn’t Jesus for you. I often hear at funerals people saying, “O, she lived a god life.” It has become necessary for me to step in and say, “She may have, but even better – she has a good Jesus.”
John takes things further. Here he does not place the feeding of the 5000 into some abstract position in the Gospels, for this is the only miracle apart from the resurrection of Jesus that is in all four Gospel accounts. John takes it to the next step and makes sure Christ puts this feeding within the whole scheme of salvation for you. Here the feeding happens in the wilderness, from a mountain, with minimal supplies, just as in every other account. So too though in the wilderness, with the Israelites, during the Exodus. Bread was sent from heaven. Water from a rock. Quail from the winds. The people ate there but were never satisfied. Never filled. Israelites who received so much from the hands of God and never could have enough.
Jesus fulfills this whole narrative. Sitting on a mountain, the Word of God does his work one more time. At Sinai was the proclamation of the Law. The necessity to fulfill that which we could not. On this mountain, the Word speaks and feeds rather than demands. On this mountain, unlike the one Paul alludes to where the 10 commandments came, Jesus takes of meager supplies and grants to all those gathered there, 5000 men not counting women and children, food. And it says they were satisfied. With doggy-bags to spare.
The problem is coming to grips with the fact that you are in need of something you cannot gain, buy, or earn. You could have all the riches of the world, be the most powerful person in history, be the nicest person ever, do great acts of mercy, have all the women, all the men, servants, gold and silver, but none of it saves you. You will die. I love walking through cemeteries. Looking at the hulking mausoleums of the rich and powerful. The ones who spent a percentage of their wealth to build a monument to their mortality. News flash. They’re still dead. They built a hulking marble edifice to themselves and all it does is hold their bones.
Now imagine if life is more than physical needs. More than bread and fish. More than being fed for the moment. Something spiritual. Something that has an impact more than just providing for your hunger. Christ becoming for you this freedom fighter who hands to you himself to make sure that every time the world comes to you to tell you that you either are the best person ever, or to remind you of that one sin last week, or 50 years ago, Christ’s freedom is one that hands to you the Kingdom of God made for sinners. Where the only one’s in heaven or hell are forgiven sinners. The danger is when Christ tells us, “Here I am for you” and we say, “No, Jesus, I’m good.”
Let me read to you again from John 6:
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again…For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of him who sent me: that I should lose none of those he has given me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Christianity being more than just a country club or relief organization. At the heart of it is the raising of the dead. The finding of the perishing and bringing rescue. The Gospel being a call to sinners that Christ has died for you. Christ was raised for you. The bad news being that you are dead in sin, and you need life in Christ. All other religion goes away in Jesus. Every attempt to raise ourselves, to make for ourselves life in death fails because of sin.
Again John 6.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that anyone 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. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
“Truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, because my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the manna your ancestors ate—and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Life in Jesus, true life, is a devouring, a gobbling up of everything that Jesus is for us. When Maundy Thursday comes, we will commemorate that night when Christ first gives to us of this flesh and blood as a sure sign of his mercy. The feast that is his Table. A Body broken that is true food. Blood shed for the forgiveness of your sin as true drink. Given to you from his table. That each time we come to his table we confess that we are the worst of sinners in need of salvation. Sinners in need of mercy. Sinners in need of heavenly food. Praise be to God that that is why Christ lives again, to set you free. Thanks be to God. Amen.