Jesus, Our Food

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” John 6:27

Jesus declared that one must work…for the food that endures to eternal life.  This maxim of Jesus—like most of His teachings—generated questions in the hearts and minds of the hearers. The first question they asked Jesus dealt with this “work” described by Jesus: What must we do, to be doing the works of God [v 28]?  What works are you talking about, Jesus?

Jesus responded, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent [v 29]. Jesus now generates more questions, one of them being, “Who is this one whom God has sent?”  Jesus has already answered this question, and He will repeatedly answer it by explaining that He is the one God has sent:  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me [v 38].  So the work of God is that people believe in Jesus, the Sent One.

When Jesus speaks of the work of God, especially from an Old Testament perspective He is NOT speaking about a work that God requires us to do, but He is speaking about the work that God does!  This is God’s work—in other words this is the work that He performs—that you believe in the one whom He has sent.  God enables people to believe in Jesus, and Jesus frequently presents this miracle.  For instance in verse 44 Jesus explains, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And again in verse 65 Jesus reiterates, I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.  It is truly God’s work… that we are enabled to come to Jesus, that is, believe in Him.  Many today consider their faith to be their own work, but it is God’s work.

Nonetheless, to believe in Jesus is—empowered by God—something we truly “do”, for we are not mere objects like puppets.  We each can rightly maintain that believing in Jesus is indeed “my” faith, “my” trust in Him.  Thanks be to God that He takes spiritually dead people (Eph 2:1ff) and gives them new birth, so that such newborn people can and do believe in Jesus!  Through His Word, God sends forth the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, and by the Spirit’s power people are connected to and believe in the One whom God the Father has sent.

What then is the food that endures to eternal life [v 27]?  Such food is not the mere bread that Jesus miraculously provided in the feeding of the 5,000, nor is it the manna that God provided through Moses.  Both of these miracle-breads were merely for the body, and such bread will rot and perish.  The food that endures to eternal life is Jesus Himself!  Jesus thus avows, I am the bread of life…This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one 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 [vv 46, 48-51a].

Jesus then immediately connects this bread to His crucifixion: And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh [v 51b]. By identifying himself in this way—speaking of giving His “flesh”—Jesus is directing His followers to see Him as a sacrifice. An example of an Old Testament connection is found in Leviticus 7:15 where we read about the flesh of a peace offering:  And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. For Jesus to give His flesh, meant that He would offer Himself as sacrifice.  In this way Jesus is directing us to realize that our faith in Him is directly linked to His crucifixion (and resurrection).  To believe in Jesus is to believe that He came purposefully to be sacrificed for mankind’s salvation.  This faith is indeed “eating” the food that endures to eternal life; it is the food flowing from Christ’s cross.

How then do we work…for the food that endures to eternal life?  A Christian, having been given spiritual life, thus “works” to continually receive the food (God’s Word and Sacrament), eating the Bread of Life (Jesus) to eternal life.  A wondrous continuity flowing from the Old Testament is that spiritual nourishment involves the actual bodily eating of a sacrifice.  Recall from the Leviticus quote above, that the people were directed to eat the flesh of the thanksgiving peace offering.  So now—but in a far superior way—we not only feast upon Jesus as we hear his word, but we feast upon Him as we eat of THE sacrifice.  Christians must thus be continually encouraged to “work” for the eternal-life food, to be lifelong partakers of Jesus (the Bread of Life) through His Word and Sacrament.