I must stop shopping when I’m hungry. I keep throwing out food that’s past its sell-by date. Being unmarried, those three for two offers don’t help of course. As I head out to the supermarket, I don’t even plan on buying one ready meal, but come home with three. Throwing away spoilt food is so frustrating, not to mention an enormous waste of money.
Jesus uses the food past it’s sell-by date imagery to illustrate a vital spiritual point. After the feeding of the five thousand he warns the crowd now following him to “not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life…” (John 6:27).
There are two kinds of food then – one that perishes and one that endures. This crowd has just seen and benefitted physically from a miraculous provision of the perishable type. Five small loaves and two small fish multiplied before their very eyes. Amazing!
Tragically, though, they’ve missed the major teaching point of the miracle. They get that this sign bears the divine hallmark of the manna God supernaturally provided for their Jewish forefathers in the wilderness. But what they fail to see is the eternal significance of Jesus now providing bread from heaven. They still insist on him proving his credentials: “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” (John 6:30).
We too can make the mistake of following Jesus for the wrong reasons. We can treat him as our servant, as if he’s there simply to do things for us, or to provide for us, or to make life a bit more comfortable for us. Some Christians get caught up in a relentless quest for the next sign, for proof that Jesus is who he claims to be. ‘What will you do, what sign will you give so I may see and believe you?’ The focus is on perishable things, not on that which endures.
But as we read the gospel accounts our guiding question shouldn’t be ‘what can this Jesus do for me?’ Rather we should ask: ‘Who is this Jesus?’ and ‘How should I respond to him?’
Who is this Jesus?
The essence of life
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
This scripture is our ‘theme verse’ for Satisfied in Christ and is at the heart of what we’re about. Jesus cannot be treated as an add-on to an already busy life. Nor as a miracle-worker and provider who simply performs signs for us and gives us the things we need. Yes, he certainly is the provider of every good thing that we need for life. He is infinitely more than that, though. Jesus is life. He is the bread, the very essence, of life itself. Jesus should be our staple diet, the one that we feed on and drink from.
The stark implication is that without Jesus we don’t have life. Not true life. Not the abundant life that he promises later in John’s gospel. And not the eternal life that he freely gives to those who trust in him. What we have is a perishable life necessarily focussed on labouring for perishable stuff. Stuff that, before we know it, will all be passed its sell-by date.
The source of satisfaction
Jesus makes a staggering claim in our theme verse. The person who comes to him won’t go hungry and the person who believes in him will never be thirsty. The very essence of life declares himself as the source of ultimate satisfaction.
Now we know he’s not promising that Christians will never go physically hungry or thirsty. The Apostle Paul, remember, knew about being “in hunger and thirst, often without food” (2 Corinthians 11:27). And today there are Christians around the world who lack food and water.
No, Jesus has given us a huge clue as to what kind of hunger and thirst he wants to satisfy, by speaking about imperishable food that endures to eternal life. Clearly he’s promising spiritual nourishment and satisfaction to those who come to him and believe in him. As he put it to the woman of Samaria earlier in John’s gospel: “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
How should I respond to him?
Not by treating him as a side order
One obvious question for believers to ask is ‘do I live as if Jesus is the essence of my life?’ Not in theory, but in the practicalities of daily living. Is it obvious to people at work, in my family, at school or college, or among my friends that I’m feeding and drinking on Jesus, that he is everything to me and I’m nothing without him? Or do I relentlessly pursue perishable things that won’t last and have no value in eternity? Things such as money, or sexual fulfilment, career progression, selfish ambition, the quest for a body beautiful, or the perfect home, a better car etc.
If I’m driven by the same kinds of passions, desires and priorities as people who don’t believe, then at best I’ll portray Jesus as a side order to the main meal of the rest of my life. At worst, people will think he’s a historical, religious figure who makes no difference to my life in this world and offers little hope for the next. People certainly won’t be awestruck by Jesus the essential bread of life, who lives in me and sustains me.
Not by feeding on junk food
Our pleasure-seeking world will offer up countless enticing alternatives to the life-giving, wholesome spiritual nourishment that Jesus offers. These things may well give temporary thrills, but they never ultimately satisfy our appetite. If we really believe Jesus is the true source of satisfaction, we need to show this by coming to him to satisfy our deepest longings. How do we do that? Here are three suggestions:
- Earnestly hunger and thirst for the Lord with your whole being (Psalm 63:1). Pour out your heart and ask that your “soul…be satisfied as with fat and rich food” (v 5). He’s the God who delights to satisfy our desires with good things. (Psalm 103;5)
- Feed often on the word of God that is full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63) and that refreshes the soul, is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey. (Psalm 19)
- Pray for the life-giving Holy Spirit to help you appreciate and rest in the supremely satisfying love of God, which he’s poured out into your heart. (Romans 5:5)
Now in a sin-impacted, perishable world our satisfaction is inevitably incomplete. Jesus graciously gives us foretastes of the fulness of life and satisfaction to come. But here on earth – living as aliens in a foreign land as Peter puts it – they’ll always be some sense of dissatisfaction, frustration and of longings unfulfilled. Even so, Jesus promises that the nourishment and refreshment he gives starts to spring up now in the life of a believer. And then wells up to eternal life.
Many take offence at Jesus’ teachings in John 6. They turn back and no longer follow him. But Peter recognises who Jesus is. He knows there’s simply nowhere else to go for eternal life and satisfaction and he makes this great statement of faith:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)