Theme(s): Bread from heaven / Bread of life / Believe! / Equipping the saints / How then shall we live?
Sentence: Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1)
you see how your children hunger for food,
and fellowship and faith.
Help us to meet one another's needs of body, mind and spirit,
in the love of Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
General Comment: a superb book to read on Jesus and the Last Supper (and by extension on what Jesus says about the bread from heaven in John 6) is Brant Pitre, Jesus and The Last Supper, Grand Rapids/Cambridge UK: Eerdmans, 2015. Especially applicable here and in weeks ahead are Chapters Two (The New Moses) and Three (The New Manna).
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
This passage tells the story of God's provision of food for the Israelites in the wilderness, and thus provides background to mention of manna in the wilderness and bread from heaven in the gospel reading today.
A point Brant Pitre makes is that this kind of background means it is entirely plausible that Jesus taught we we read in John 6. We do not need to assume (as many do) that John 6 represents the eucharistic theology of the later church being retrofitted back into the life of Jesus.
These verses also refer to the story of the provision of food in the wilderness.
Ephesians 1-3 in sum is 'theology'. Ephesians 4-6 in sum is 'application'. (Although this is an over simplification of the contents of Ephesians, it is a useful distinction).
The 'therefore' in 4:1 represents the pivot point in the letter, when Paul moves from 'this is what God has done for you' to 'this is how you should live for God responsively.'
This responsive living is summed up in the remainder of the first verse, 'lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.' We have been called by grace, saved by faith which itself has been God's gift to us. There is nothing we need to do to earn God's favour and approval but we can choose to live lives which worthily reflect that favour and approval.
Such a life (2) - logically - would be one which reflects the very character of God ('with all humility and gentleness, with patience') and reaches out with love to others. It will also be a life - noting the theology in ch. 2 of breaking down barriers between Jew and Gentile - in which 'the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' is paramount (3).
Paul being Paul, in Ephesians, 'theology' and 'application' are not strictly segregated, so we find a little theology appearing through verses 4-6 (the oneness of the body of Christ), 7-12 (the gifts, perhaps we should say 'major gifts' of ministry), 13 (the purpose of these gifts, unity and maturity), 14-16 (themes of unity and maturity developed).
Yet woven through these verses is more than a little application: those who have the major ministry gifts, to be apostles, evangelists, etc, are taught here to focus their work on God's desired conclusion for the church. All in the church, whether we are apostles, evangelists etc or not, are forced in these verses to take stock: what is our congregational life like? Is it marked by unity? Are their signs of growth into maturity? Is there freedom to speak 'the truth in love'? Are we understanding the way in which Christ is part of this growth (16)/
A couple of 'exegetical' points are worth noting.
- verse 8 involves a reversal of what Psalm 68:18 actually says (there, tribute is received rather than gifts given). What is going on? I refer you to the bigger commentaries for a full discussion, but essentially this verse is evidence that some biblical writers such as Paul felt a considerable freedom in how they went about using the scriptures of Israel to illustrate points in their argument.
- in verse 11, is there a list of five ministry gifts or four?
If the former then the list is: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.
If the latter then the list is: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors-and-teachers.
The point then is that pastoral ministry should not be divorced from teaching ministry (and vice versa).
- verse 12, 'to equip the saints for the work of ministry' makes an often overlooked point. The tendency in church life is to clericalise, that is, to expect even demand that the clergy/ministers/paid officials do most of the 'work of ministry.' But Paul is saying here that he expects the apostles, evangelists, etc to 'equip' (train, teach, encourage, model, upskill) all of the church to be able to take a participatory share in the ministry.
We began John 6 last week with the telling of two miraculous events, one of which, the Feeding of the Five Thousand, is deemed by John to be a 'sign', that is, an event which points (or signposts) the true significance of Jesus.
As the crowd catch up with Jesus (24-25), Jesus criticises them: they have not chased him around the lake 'because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves' (26). They live materialistic lives. The bread filled their stomachs but sparked no reflection about the significance of the miracle in their minds. Jesus will attempt to lift their sights to a spiritual plane, for only on this plane is life lived which is 'eternal' (27).
The crowd gets into the spirit of the conversation, but still, in a sense, at a material level, 'What must we do to perform the works of God?' (28). Fed by bread, they are eager to act. Jesus stops them in their tracks, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent' (29). God's challenge to Israel, with the coming of the Incarnate Word, is that the primary response to God is no longer the doing of the works of the Law, but relationship with the Incarnate Word (i.e. 'believe').
Verse 30 can be interpreted as obtuseness. The sign has already by given which enables them to believe in Jesus, but they obtusely ask 'What sign are you going to give us then ...?' But they do seem to have some sense of the connection between 'bread' and 'sign' because in v. 31 they talk about the 'manna in the wilderness' and link it to 'bread from heaven to eat.' Noting verse 32, perhaps they were at least opening their minds to Jesus as a new Moses. But Jesus pushes beyond such a notion: it was not Moses that gave the manna/bread from heaven, but 'my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven'.
The new bread from heaven - the new manna is this: the broken and distributed few loaves which fed 5000 comes from the Father through the Son. The sign of the feeding of the five thousand is a sign which points to the Father and Son working together to feed God's people, but it also points beyond the bread itself to the 'true bread from heaven' (32) which is 'the bread of God ... which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world' (33).
Naturally, with this logic, the crowd can say nothing other than 'Sir, give us this bread always' (34).
That is the cue for Jesus to make one of his great 'I am' statements: 'I am the bread of life' (35).
Only by coming to Jesus, by believing in him will people 'never be hungry ... never be thirsty' (35). The ultimate satisfaction in life is through union with Christ. But this will be explored further in the verses which follow (i.e. come back for next week's sermon)!
All of these verses, with the logical argument woven through them, set up the exposition to follow, on the true meaning of the body and blood of Jesus.