Today’s Old Testament reading is a beautiful compliment to today’s Gospel because it helps us understand the full richness of what Jesus is saying and doing in the Gospel account. Here is the right way to read and understand Scripture: read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament; read the New Testament with its rich OT background. Although Holy Scripture was written over the course of over a thousand plus years by the different prophets and apostles, it is really only one book with one Author--the Holy Spirit. In one of His discussions with the Jews, Jesus told them [John 5.39]: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify of Me. Not just the New, but also the Old Testament is all about Jesus, as the holy evangelist records: And beginning with Moses and all the prophets [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. It’s not that the Old was meant for the Israelites and the New for us; instead the Old Testament without the New is like an unfinished book and the New without the Old is like a table without legs. Luther also comments here: We must go back to the Old Testament and learn to prove the New Testament from the Old. There we shall see the promise concerning Christ, as Christ Himself declares [Jn 5.46]…”If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me.” The simple long and short of it is to look for and see Jesus everywhere in Scripture; and know and study Holy Scripture and see how it all so beautifully fits together/ see its richness. Yes, it’s “Jesus loves me this I know”; but it’s also much more, with a solid inter-connected foundation that is rock solid. The more we recognize that, the harder it is for the devil to come and destroy, disrupt, rock our faith. There is nothing more firm and certain than what our faith rests on: Jesus and His word and work.
That is what our hearts and minds should be set on. But what happens with us so often is that our thoughts, attention, gaze all get turned away from Jesus and His word and work. Our thoughts, which should constantly be ascending heavenward are instead drawn to and focused on the things of the world, of the things that surround us, of the things that we are feeling and experiencing at the moment. St. Paul tells us [Col. 3.1,2]: If then you have been raised with Christ [this is the language of baptism--in baptism, which unites us with Jesus, we die with Him and we are raised with Him], see the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
In today’s Gospel, we see what happens when we look down and around and are focused on the things of the world, not on the things of Jesus, not on heavenly things. Today’s Gospel is a continuation from last week's Gospel, which itself was a continuation of the account of Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the 5000. If you remember, after Jesus had just fed the 5000, some wanted to take Him and make Jesus their king--their “bread king.” Jesus went away from there and sent His disciples ahead in a boat to the other side of the lake. Then while they were fighting the wind and rowing and getting nowhere, Jesus walks on the water to them and as soon as He gets in the boat, the boat was at the land where they were going. But the next day, the crowd, and this is where today’s Gospel comes in, saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, [and so they] got into boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. Why? Were their minds fixed on the heavenly? Were they longing for the words of eternal life they had heard from Jesus? Jesus greets them with: Amen, Amen, I tell you: You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not continue to work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval. Notice what Jesus says: He, who knows the heart, knows that this crowd was not looking for Him because of Who He is--the Son of God and Savior of the world--but because of the bread He fed them with. Their eyes/ gaze was on the earthly, not the heavenly; they were looking around, not upward and beyond. Notice that interesting thing Jesus says: You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Wasn’t the miraculous sign the feeding of the 5000? Of course! It pointed the people to the fact that Jesus is the same God who had fed their ancestors in the desert for 40 years. God was now in their midst! But what happened? The people didn’t look beyond the sign; they simply saw in Jesus someone who would take care of their physical needs.
That’s the symptom of our sinful nature. It looks for and is used to and seeks the earthly; seeks what perishes, what spoils! It looks down and around, not upward and beyond. Do not continue to work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life. We, fellow sinner, because of our sinful nature are accustomed to what is perishing and unable to make sense of the eternal. That’s the exact opposite of how God made us. He made us to long for Him; He made us for the eternal. But because of sin, where do we look? Where do we think our happiness is found? What do we think is the most vital? You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled Our minds, corrupted by sin, are materialistic--thinking we can be only and truly happy when we have things, are surrounded by things of this world that we can see, feel touch--and yes, some of those things are absolutely vital for life in this world in which God has placed us--like food and drink.
And how insidious this is! It even corrupts our thinking as we try to think biblically. Our text: Then they asked Jesus, “So what miraculous sign are you going to do, that we may see it and believe You? What miraculous sign are you going to perform? The crowd was trying to dictate to Jesus the sign He was supposed to do. Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” The crowd was not looking for the heavenly but at the temporal and perishing--bread!
Now carry it a step further: don’t many people reject Jesus because He doesn’t give them what they want, some earthly blessing that they want--as vital as it may be? Don’t many in our country preach some sort of prosperity Gospel? --And don’t many follow it because they want earthly stuff from Jesus? You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Don’t even many of us stumble in our faith at times and question our Lord because He doesn’t give us some earthly blessing/ necessity? You see how we, instead of condemning this crowd, must see ourselves as part of it and repent as we find ourselves accustomed to the things that spoil and that our minds are set on the earthly and material, not the heavenly. Let us recognize it as the sinful delusion that it is, repent of it, and turn our gaze upward and beyond to Jesus and to the eternal things. Because we are eternal, there is our true contentment; there is the One and the things that truly satisfy.
What miraculous sign are you going to perform? The people were demanding a miraculous sign, even more than the feeding of the 5000, namely Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Their point was: You, Jesus, fed 5000 people once but Moses fed the nation for 40 years; You, Jesus, gave earthly bread to the 5000 but Moses gave them bread from heaven. So what was Jesus’ response? He tells the crowd in our text: Amen, Amen, I tell you: Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven. Here Jesus corrects the crowd. It wasn’t Moses that gave them the bread, the manna, but God. But pay special attention to what Jesus says next: but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven. Notice--the real bread from heaven. The bread from heaven, the manna, that the Israelites ate was not the real bread from heaven. Yes, the manna sustained the Israelites during those forty years, but what happened? All the people that ate that manna, that bread from heaven eventually died. What did the manna benefit them? Manna--yes, it was a great gift and miracle from God--but it was only temporary, only for this life. It wasn’t the real bread that lasts and gives eternal life. All these earthly blessings--as vital as they are--are not the true/ real gifts that God wants to give us. Instead, My Father gives you the real bread from heaven. In other words, Jesus is telling the crowds that day and us today: quit concerning yourselves about perishable food but look for the real bread, the One the Father has sent. Only that real/ genuine bread that the Father sends gives God’s mercy and eternal life; only that bread gives the heavenly and eternal blessings.
So here we come to what makes the manna so valuable. Yes, it preserved the Israelites who ate it, but what makes the manna so valuable to them and to people of all time is that it points to Jesus. Manna pointed forward to Jesus, the true bread from heaven who would give true nourishment to the soul and feed us with every heavenly and spiritual blessing. Let Moses, let the manna, let the entire OT direct us to Jesus. We read the OT rightly when we let it point us to Jesus; our faith is strengthened when we see Jesus as the center of the Bible. It’s all about Jesus. Let us look up and beyond the manna and see Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Now Jesus’ discussion with the crowd has moved to Someone/ Thing more important than simple manna. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. That’s Jesus--the Bread of God! He is God Himself--the Bread which is God; He is like no other bread that really existed. Jesus didn’t simply “fall down” like the manna. Instead in great love He came down from heaven, in human flesh--He became also true man; He came in a servant’s form to be our Savior, to undo the devil’s kingdom; and He did by suffering and dying on the cross for our sins. Now in Jesus, we are forgiven our sins and reconciled to God. This forgiveness, this life, this peace with God, this mercy and grace are all given us in Jesus, the bread of God...who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, not like the manna, just to the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, but to all people until the end of the world.
“I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them. “The one who comes to Me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Jesus, the Bread who is God, is the living Bread that gives life. Food/ Bread--the most basic need of life is linked to Jesus. Jesus fills our most basic and essential need, what we truly need: forgiveness of sins and life. When we fill up on Jesus, when we eat the bread of life, our greatest hunger and thirst are filled and stilled. This is the eating and drinking of faith. Coming to Jesus means believing in Him as Savior; our heart and will are joined to Him in faith; to come to Jesus is to trust in Him and fully embrace Him as the source and sustenance of life. And here too Jesus gives us grace upon grace as He also gives us His holy body and blood to eat and drink physically in the Sacrament. In Holy Communion we receive Jesus bodily in our mouths while receiving by faith the blessings of forgiveness, peace and life He gives us.
So dear Christian, instead of looking down and around focused on the things of this life looking for satisfaction and fulfillment in them, this earthly bread that spoils, let us look up and beyond these things to Jesus, the Bread of life, who gives us what we truly need and truly satisfies all our deepest longings. INJ