Sermon delivered by David Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., on August 2 2009.
Recently in Dallas, a “Husband Shopping Center” opened where women could go to choose a husband from among many men. It was laid out with five floors, with the men increasing in positive attributes as you ascended up the floors. The only rules: Once you opened the door to any floor, you must choose a man from that floor, and if you went up a floor, you couldn’t go back down except to leave the place, never to return.
A couple of girlfriends went to the Husband Shopping Center to find men. On the first floor, the door had a sign saying, “These men have jobs and love kids.”
The women read the sign and said, “Well, that’s better than not having jobs or not loving kids, but I wonder what’s further up?” So up they went.
The second floor said, “These men have high-paying jobs, love kids and are extremely good-looking.”
“Hmm,” said the women. “But I wonder what’s further up?”
The third floor: “These men have high-paying jobs, are extremely good-looking, love kids, and help with the housework.”
“Wow!” said the women. “Very tempting, BUT there’s more further up!” And up they went.
Fourth floor: “These men have high-paying jobs, love kids, are extremely good- looking, help with the housework and have a strong romantic streak.”
“Oh mercy! But just think what must be waiting for us on the fifth floor!” So up to the fifth floor they went.
The sign of the fifth floor said, “This floor is empty and exists only to prove that women are impossible to please.”
Okay ladies, before you have a coronary, let me hasten to add that all of us—men included—are impossible to please!
Many of you have heard me allude to my list of best opening sentences of books. The best first sentence of all time is, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, taken from Genesis 1:1. Other honorable mentions for best first sentence include the one written by Scott Peck in The Road Less Travelled- “Life is difficult.” And that written by Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”
Now let me add to that list another nomination for not only the best first sentence but the best first paragraph of a book. Ronald Rolheiser opens his masterpiece, A Holy Longing this way: “It is no easy task to walk this earth and find peace. Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest. Desire is always stronger than satisfaction.”
Desire is always stronger than satisfaction.
Sometimes we wonder why we find it so hard to be fully satisfied. No matter how fine the experience, there’s always a fly in the ointment somewhere. Lord knows my parents have their problems, but even my friends at school can let me down. I like my college, but my roommate is no prize package. I enjoy my job, but my boss is a pain in-the-you-know-what! My marriage is not in trouble, but it just seems to lack pizzazz. My church is okay but sometimes the preacher can bee longwinded. My children are wonderful, but I wish they’d visit more often. My retirement home is fine, but it’s not the same as home.
Why oh why can we never be satisfied? Because desire is always stronger than satisfaction. Desire is like a fire that always burns inside us, and nothing ever quite quenches the fire. We need more money and fewer pounds, a brighter brain and a better-looking body, a more fashionable home and a more exciting sex life. The word “enough” may be in our English vocabulary, but the concept seems to have been left out of our human DNA because our body, mind, and spirit are always clamoring for more and better.
Jesus understands the raging fire of our desire very well. We see his insight into our fundamental hungers in John 6 by the way he interacts with people who are starving for food. In the opening verses of John 6 we discover that Jesus affirms our desire for food, and he’s quite capable of providing for our physical needs. Jesus furnishes food for 5,000 hungry men and their families by miraculously multiplying five small loaves of barley bread and two small fish. In fact, after the estimated 15,000 people eat to their heart’s content, 12 baskets of food are left over.
This free meal reminds folks of an even greater miracle that occurred centuries earlier when God fed Moses and an estimated two and a half million people wandering in the wilderness with ample portions of manna and quail every single day for 40 years. Someone has calculated that this incredible task required 72 billion quarts of manna.
Don’t let anybody tell you God and the Son of God are not interested in feeding people physically. Jesus understands our legitimate desire for food to energize and sustain our bodies. Today, while millions of Americans are trying to lose weight (two-thirds of us are either overweight or obese), one billion people around the world are going hungry, and two billion are malnourished. And the church, the body of Christ, still ought to be in the business of multiplying our loaves and fishes to alleviate that hunger.
That said, Jesus also understands our tendency to overemphasize the importance of physical food. After Jesus fed the masses, they tried to make him king. The prospect of ongoing free meals sounded mighty fine to a people who went day to day with their meals. Many of these people believed the coming Messiah would be able to feed his people just like Moses did in the wilderness, and Jesus claimed to be that Messiah. So they chased Jesus all over the Sea of Galilee looking for their free meal ticket for life.
Judging by our waistlines, we are still too focused on food. Many of us eat and drink not only to nourish our bodies, but to alleviate stress, loneliness, desperation, and emptiness. Two thousand years later we still believe lasting joy and peace lie in a jelly doughnut or filet mignon—or for that matter, in a host of other physical pleasures and possessions.
When the famished crowd finds Jesus, he says, Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
Later in chapter 6, Jesus reminds the crowd that as wonderful as the manna in the wilderness was, everybody who ate it still died. Not even manna from heaven sustained God’s people for eternity. If my math is correct, I’ve calculated that if I eat three times a day, I will have polished off more than 82,000 meals by the time I’m 75. But here’s the thing—despite all that good food, I’m still going to die.
Jesus is so wise. He knows our tendency to believe that our salvation lies in bread and other material things. He knows we misunderstand him, and often just want to use him as one glorified meal ticket.
Read John 6 carefully and you see that the crowd comes off looking dull and disingenuous. When they stalk Jesus across the Sea of Galilee and locate him in Capernaum, they ask, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Notice Jesus doesn’t bother answering that lame question because he knows the crowd is looking for a free lunch.
Then when Jesus describes bread that won’t spoil, they ask, “Well what do we have to do to earn that kind of bread?” The crowd thought the bread that satisfies the soul forever was a commodity that could be obtained by labor. When Jesus said the work involved believing in him, the crowd said, “Prove it. We want to see another miracle. After all, you feed a few thousand one time. Moses fed millions for 40 years. Can you match that?”
After Jesus reminded the crowd that God, not Moses, provided the bread, and that he himself was the ultimate bread from heaven, the crowd said, “Okay, give us this bread.” They still didn’t get it! They didn’t realize the Bread of Life was standing right in front of them, and that they could access this bread by having a relationship with him.
2,000 years later, I’m not sure we’re any smarter. We still think Jesus exists to serve us, not vice-versa. We still think we can earn his favor if we attend church and do a few good deeds. We’re still looking for the quick fix—the fast way to lose weight, the quick way to be a disciple without the muss and fuss of maintaining a relationship. And we still want Jesus to prove himself with frequent miracles. Otherwise, we may give our devotion to other things—and we often do.
2,000 years later, so much has changed. And so little has changed. We’re still wanting Jesus on our own terms, and Jesus will have none of it.
But for those who are interested, Jesus offers something far better than a free meal ticket. He offers us himself, the Bread of Life.
Listen again to Jesus—I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Later in John 6:51, Jesus adds, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Predictably, the crowd misunderstands what Jesus is saying. They are offended because they think Jesus is recommending they literally feed on his flesh like cannibals. But Jesus is now speaking about spiritual, not physical nourishment. And he adds in verse 53, Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, there is no life in you.
It seems that those who were offended by these remarks were not only being deliberately dense, but forgetful of scripture contained in their sacred book of prophecy. Centuries earlier the prophet Isaiah had written, Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you (or “your soul”) will delight in the richest of fare (55:1-2).
Jesus is making an astounding claim! He’s claiming to be the fulfillment of that prophecy from Isaiah. He is saying that he and he alone can satisfy the deepest desires of your heart. I like the way one commentator puts it—Jesus didn’t come to give you what you want, but to be what you want. Jesus is the Bread of Life, that richest of fare that takes away hunger and thirst forever, that satisfies our deepest longings, that sustains us not only for this life but for the next. Think about all the ways you pursue love and joy and peace in your life. How long will you continue under the delusion that fine cuisine, or a flask of alcohol, or a fancy house, or a full bank account will satisfy your deepest hunger and thirst? Only one kind of bread satisfies at the deepest level, and his name is Jesus.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, is a free gift of God served fresh from the oven of God’s love. But at some point, we’ve got to do our part to absorb the Bread of Life into our bodies and souls.
If God provides the Bread, what must we do to feast on this Bread that gives life, abundant and eternal? Step one is to believe in Jesus, to believe he is who he says he is and can do what he says he can do. It is to believe in Jesus so much you are willing to give him control of your life and entrust your welfare to him.
The reason people come to church and are still starving to death spiritually is that when all is said and done, they’ve never believed in Jesus in this way, not really. They hear about him, sing about him, read about him, talk about him. But they don’t believe in him, not enough to give him their lives.
But as important as believing is, it’s just the first step. Beyond believing comes practicing the spiritual disciplines. When we study, and reflect on, and memorize the scriptures, we are feeding on the Bread of Life. When we gather to worship, we are feeding on the Bread of Life. When we pull aside with Christian brothers and sisters and go beyond the surface in our sharing, we are feeding on the Bread of Life. When we pull apart for long periods of prayerful solitude and silence, we are feeding on the Bread of Life. When we serve others in Christ’s name or tell someone about Jesus, we are feeding on the Bread of Life. When we are immersed in the waters of baptism, and receive the bread and wine of communion, we are feeding on the Bread of Life.
Many centuries ago the early church father St. Augustine posed the following experiment. Imagine God saying to you, “I’ll make a deal with you if you wish. I’ll give you anything you desire: pleasure, power, honor, wealth, freedom, even peace of mind and good conscience. Nothing will be a sin; nothing will be forbidden; nothing will be impossible for you. You will never be bored and you will never die. Only…you will never see my face.” (Peter Kreeft, Heaven:Tthe Heart’s Deepest Longing, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1980, p.49)
There was a time when I honestly would have made that deal with God. But now that I’ve gotten a glimpse of God’s face, now that I’ve tasted the Bread of Life, that time is past.
What about you?