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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Jesus teaches you to pursue the imperishable food he gives
Text:John 6:22-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-06-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 77

Psalm 38:1,2,7,8 (after the law)

Psalm 81:1,9,14

Hymn 61

Psalm 93

Scripture readings:  Isaiah 55, John 6:1-21

Text:  John 6:22-29

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Have you noticed how Australian history is full of searches?  In 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt went for a swim on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.  When he didn’t return, there was a massive search.  But Holt was never seen again – to this day, no one knows for sure what happened to him.  In more recent times, you can think of the search for Malaysian Airlines flight 370.  MH 370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, 2014 and a short time later disappeared.  All indications are that it flew somewhere over the Indian Ocean to the west of Perth.  Millions of dollars and hundreds of hours have been spent searching for it, but so far all for nothing.  Apart from a few pieces that washed up in Africa, MH 370 remains one of the great mysteries in aviation disasters.  Then there’s the great continuing search in Tasmania for the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger.  I talked to a lady recently who was convinced she saw one.  But the definite proof they’re still around is elusive.  People keep looking.  Some are convinced that if they just search hard enough and long enough, some day they’ll find a living Tasmanian Tiger.

Searches make for great mysteries and great stories.  In these stories, there are successful searches and there are failures.  There are fruitful searches and there are searches that were obviously a waste of time from the start.

In our passage from John this morning, we witness a search.  At first glance, it appears this is a worthwhile search.  But as the passage unfolds, we start to see the true picture.  Sometimes people waste time searching for the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.  You wouldn’t want to be one of those people.  We’ll see in our text how Jesus teaches you to pursue the imperishable food he gives.

We’ll see:

  1. The frantic pursuit of the crowds
  2. The fruitful pursuit taught by Jesus

The background to our passage is what we read from the first part of John 6.  On the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Bethsaida, Jesus fed over 5000 men, women, and children.  He did it with five loaves of bread and two fish.  It was an amazing miracle – it was a sign pointing to superabundant grace provided by Jesus.  When the crowds saw it, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”  They then wanted to make him King, so Jesus went off by himself.  The crowds were impressed with Jesus, but Jesus knew their agenda could not be his.

Meanwhile, his disciples got into a boat to travel to the northwestern shore.  They’re on the northeastern shore of the lake, and they want to get to Capernaum on the northwestern shore.  As they sail across through the night, they encounter that terrible storm.  In the midst of the storm, Jesus comes walking to them across the water.  They’re terrified, thinking he must be a ghost.  But he reassures them, “It is I, do not be afraid.”  His presence comforts them and sends their fears fleeing.  Then, miraculously, Jesus and his disciples arrive at the other side.

But the people on the Bethsaida side of the Sea of Galilee haven’t forgotten about Jesus and what they’ve seen him do.  They want more of him.  In verse 22, the crowds of people go down to the water to see what had happened to Jesus.  They knew there had only been one boat down at the shore, the boat Jesus and his disciples had arrived in.  The boat was gone.  They knew Jesus had gone off by himself somewhere else and the disciples had gone down to the boat without him.  So logically that meant Jesus had to still be around Bethsaida somewhere. 

Verse 23 sees more people coming on the scene.  There are additional boats arriving from Tiberias, which is on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  There are different theories about these boats.  One theory is that they were just fishing boats blown over from the storm during the night.  Another theory, a better one I think, is that these are people who are also coming for Jesus.  Word has gotten around that he was on the other side of the lake and so they came over looking for him.  In the context that seems to make better sense.  Note as well that these boats are said to come near the place where the miracle had happened. 

Except it’s not the miracle that’s mentioned, at least not directly.  It says that this was near the spot “where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.”  The Holy Spirit focuses on the fact that Christ gave thanks before they ate the bread.  In so doing, he wants you to see again Christ’s faithfulness and obedience.  Our Saviour was thankful for the food God had given.  He was thankful where so often we are thankless.  And when he gave thanks, you can be sure he did it with sincerity, straight from the heart.  Even when we pray and give thanks for our food, how often don’t we do it in a ritualistic or thoughtless way?  Sometimes we just go through the motions, and then we’re not really being thankful at all.  We’re just mechanically saying some religious words because we should.  But not Christ.  When he gave thanks earlier in chapter 6, he really gave thanks.  He did it faithfully, he did it properly, and he did it not only as an example to us, but also in our place.  Remember: his obedience is ours when we believe in him.

So the crowd on the northeastern shore gets larger with these other people from Tiberias.  All together they’re frantically looking for Jesus.  Where could he be?  Eventually they conclude that somehow he’s slipped away.  The boat is gone, the disciples are gone, and Jesus must be gone too.  Where did they go?  Somehow the crowds figure out that the best place to search would be Capernaum.  Probably they know that this is where Christ is based out of when he’s in the region of Galilee.  So there are these boats from Tiberias and large numbers of people crowd into these boats and they sail across to Capernaum in pursuit of Jesus.  This is a distance of about 8-10 Km across the water, so not too far.

When they arrive, they find the One they’re looking for.  It says they “found him on the other side of the sea.”  If you skip ahead to verse 59, you’ll find exactly where they found him:  in the synagogue in Capernaum.  Synagogues were where Jewish people gathered for worship each Sabbath day.  At the synagogue, Jews would listen to the reading and explanation of the Scriptures.  Still today, Jews have synagogues all over the world.  Capernaum had a synagogue too.  Archaeologists have located a synagogue building from the 3rd or 4th century after Christ.  Under that building are the ruins of an earlier synagogue, and that synagogue was probably where the crowds found Jesus in verse 25.  He was there to teach and that’s what he was doing.  That’s what we hear him doing through the rest of chapter 6. 

When the crowds find him teaching in the synagogue, they address him as a teacher:  “Rabbi.”  They respectfully recognize that he’s a Bible teacher.  They ask him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  They can’t figure that part out.  How did he manage to get from Bethsaida to Capernaum?  How long had he been there?  It’s all a great mystery to them.  They’ve been frantically pursuing Jesus and now finally they’ve caught up to him.  Their search is over, but the mystery of how he got where he is remains for them.

Now interestingly in verse 26, Christ replies to them, but he doesn’t answer their question.  They asked when he got there, but he ignores the question.  Instead, he gets to the heart of the matter.  Instead, he gets to the reason why they were frantically searching for him.  Why was it so important for them to find him? 

He begins with “Truly, truly.”  We’ve heard those words before.  Literally, it’s “Amen, Amen.”  It’s a solemn affirmation that he’s being deadly serious.  Then he lays it on them.  Jesus exposes what’s going on in their hearts. 

He says in verse 26, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  They saw signs.  They saw the miracle of the bread and the fish.  They witnessed how Jesus was able to feed them with more than enough left over.  But just because they saw the sign doesn’t mean they understood what was being signified.  Just seeing the miracle itself doesn’t mean you understand what the miracle is really all about.  It wasn’t only the crowds who didn’t understand.  In Mark 6:52, we read that even his disciples didn’t understand, “but their hearts were hardened.”  In other words, there was this widespread failure to get what this miracle was pointing to.  They saw the signs, but they didn’t see what -- or better who -- the sign was about.

Instead, their frantic pursuit of Christ was driven by more earthly and pragmatic concerns.  They ate the bread he provided and they had their stomachs filled.  Jesus was very useful for meeting their material needs.  They chased after Jesus because they wanted more miracles.  More bread, more fish, more healing, more of all these material blessings.  They wanted more of the miracle worker and that’s why they frantically pursued him.  Rather than raising their eyes to the heavenly realities to which the sign was pointing, they got stuck on earth.  The crowd has a kind of tunnel vision – they can only see what they want to see.  They only want to see Jesus as a stomach-filler.  That gets them running around Bethsaida seeking for him.  That gets them into the boats to come across to Capernaum.  Do you see the problem?

But Jesus not only exposes the problem, he also provides the corrective.  That’s in verse 27.  He says, “Do not work for the food that perishes…”  That’s what they’ve been doing.  They’ve been working hard chasing after him because they think he’s the miracle bakery.  He’s got free food and lots of it.  But, he says, that bread is perishable.  Earthly bread isn’t going to do you any good for eternity.  Bread made of flour will never do you any good in the hereafter. 

When our Lord Jesus says that, he’s echoing the words of Isaiah 55.  You can think especially of Isaiah 55:2, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”  There the Holy Spirit is speaking about wasting your effort on things that don’t matter for eternity.  Investing time and energy in pursuing things that will perish.  Why waste your life chasing after what’s vain and ultimately useless?  Instead, he says, spend your labor on that which does satisfy.  Chase after and pursue the real bread, the real food.  Work for food that’s going to last. 

That’s the point Jesus is making in verse 27 as well.  He says, instead “work for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”  By work, he means “pursue.”  Pursue and chase after imperishable food.  Pour your effort into going after food that’s going last.  And how can you obtain it?  It’s a gift from the Son of Man.  You need him, and you need him on his own terms, as he reveals himself.  “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself.  He’s saying, “Come after me as I’ve revealed myself and I will give you the food that will nourish you into eternity.”  Jesus is saying, and he says this to you too, “Seek after me on my terms and I will freely give you what you need to live forever.”   

Brothers and sisters, you can be confident he’ll do this because, as he says at the end of verse 27, “For on him God the Father has set his seal.”  In the ancient world, a seal certified that something was genuine or authentic.  If something had a seal on it, you could be sure it was the real deal.  God the Father has set his seal on the Son of Man.  There is some question there about what that means exactly.  Commentaries disagree about when God set his seal on Christ and how.  Some say at his baptism, others in the miracle with the loaves and fish.  Both are possible.  But the Greek grammar here suggests Jesus was not thinking of a particular moment when God did this.  He’s simply speaking in general terms.  He’s saying God has placed his seal on Christ and it’s readily evident from everything that’s happened to him, everything he’s taught, and everything he’s done.  All his life, all his teaching, all his miracles, everything said about him in the Old Testament, all of it shouts out that God certifies Jesus as the real deal, the one who can give the food which endures to eternal life.

Our Lord Jesus is teaching us that you can waste your life pursuing the perishable.  You can spend your days chasing after the wind.  John Piper writes about this in a memorable part of his book Don’t Waste Your Life:

I will tell you what a tragedy is.  I will show you how to waste your life.  Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Readers’ Digest, which tells about a couple who ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51.  Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells.’  At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke.  A spoof on the American Dream.  But it wasn’t.  Tragically, this was the dream:  Come to the end of your life, your one and only precious God-given life – and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this:  playing softball and collecting shells.  Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment:  ‘Look, Lord.  See my shells.”  That is a tragedy.  And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream.  Over against that, I put my protest:  Don’t buy it.  Don’t waste your life.

  Piper is exactly right.  Loved ones, you can waste your life pursuing the perishable.  Whether it’s shells or whatever else, you can chase after all kinds of things that are meaningless for eternity.  I enjoy skiing documentaries, Warren Miller films.  They always have beautiful scenery and some pretty amazing skiing and snowboarding -- wild stuff.  But it strikes me that all the skiers in these films have made this their one driving passion in life.  They live for skiing.  Their lives are all about that and that only.  You could do the same with all kinds of things.  To that our Lord Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes!”  Don’t waste your life. Don’t make your life all about earthly stuff that in the end really amounts to nothing.  Because it makes your life amount to nothing and leaves you without anything worthwhile in eternity.  So let me ask you, is there something in your life that perhaps has become a frantic pursuit, a chasing after wind?   Jesus says, “Instead, pursue the food I have for you as a free gift.”

When he said that to the crowds, they still didn’t get it.  It still didn’t register.  They heard Jesus talking about work and their thoughts went to doing works of the law.  That’s what’s in their question in verse 28, “What must we be do, to be doing the works of God?”  They say, “You’re talking about work.  Aha, that’s something we like to do.  We want to do some good works of obedience.  That’s easy.  So, tell us, Rabbi, what are the requirements God has for us?  What laws should we prioritize?”  You see, their minds are right away wired into the law mode.  They’re Jews, they’re in the synagogue.  He’s a Rabbi.  They’re used to hearing other rabbis in synagogue talk all about law.  So what does this rabbi teach about what the works they should be pursuing to have eternal life?  Notice how they completely missed the part of verse 27 where Jesus says that he will give the food which endures to eternal life.  They completely missed that the food is a gift.  Instead, they say, “How do we get it for ourselves with our efforts?”  He’s talking gospel, but all they’re thinking is law.

The answer of Jesus in verse 29 is meant to bring them back to the gospel again.  If you want to talk about what God requires, okay, here it is:  you have to believe in the one he has sent.  In other words, Jesus says, you have to believe in Me.  That’s what’s being called for.  It’s faith.  It’s resting from your efforts and trusting in the Saviour God has provided.  The train of thought of the crowds runs on the law tracks, but Jesus derails it with the gospel again.  He says, “Forget about working for your eternal life.  If you want the free gift I have to offer, you take hold of it just by trusting in me.”  It’s that simple.  This is a fruitful pursuit.  If you pursue Jesus with faith, that’s how you will receive the gift of “food that endures to eternal life.”  If you pursue Jesus with belief in him, that’s a worthwhile pursuit that will bear fruit into eternity. 

That, Jesus says, “is the work of God.”  In other words, this is what God requires above all.  He first of all wants faith in Christ.  And I draw your attention again to where Jesus says this and to whom.  He said it in the synagogue to Jewish listeners.  He said it to people who belonged to the church as they were gathered in a house of worship.  God’s covenant people needed to hear what God required above all.  They had an expectation that what God wanted first was their law-keeping.  They expected that Rabbi Jesus would tell them to be good boys and girls and keep commandments x, y, and z.  But instead, he told these covenant people that what God wants as number one is faith.  Still today, this is the work of God for covenant people.  He still commands us to believe in his Son whom he has sent.  Just being covenant people in itself doesn’t cut it.  To have the food that endures to eternal life, to not miss out on that, you need to believe in Jesus Christ.  You need to have a true and living faith in him.  That faith says, “I will never earn my way to God.  I am a sinner, stained with sin from head to toe.  I need the imperishable food Jesus gives – I need his salvation today and every day.  I need him in the way he says I need him.  I need him on his terms.” 

Loved ones, when you speak that way, you are doing the work of God.  You are working for the food that will never rot.  You are pursuing the Saviour who will guide your ways into eternal life.  Seeking after him is the best way and really the only way not to waste your life.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Merciful God and Father,

We praise you for the food that endures to eternal life.  We thank you that we have that as a free gift from your Son.  We want to do your works.  We want to believe and continue believing in the One whom you have sent.  So we pray Father for the help of your Holy Spirit.  May he work in us all so that we pursue the imperishable food offered by our Saviour.  Father, feed us always with that food.  Please keep us from vain and worthless pursuits in life.  Please keep us from wasting our lives.  Help us to always have the proper perspective and to find the meaning and purpose of our lives in connection with our Saviour.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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