My first full summer as a pastor was Series B in the lectionary. In those days, I was a Sunday-to-Sunday preacher. That is, I would look up the texts for the upcoming Sunday on Monday morning, no advance planning, not much intentionality. Like I said, it was my first year. When the Gospel readings that summer left Mark for John 6, I was delighted to preach a sermon on Jesus as the Bread of Life. Then, Monday rolled around, and I discovered John 6 was up again. I still had a few Bread of Life ideas which had not made it into the previous sermon, so I went with the Gospel again. But then the next Monday came and, much to my chagrin, it was John 6 once more. I am sure my homiletics professors had encouraged me to plan ahead, but some things you have to learn the hard way. Did I mention it was my first year?
I tell this story because, if you have not noticed, the Gospel readings for the next three weeks are all from John 6. Following Mark’s account of the feeding of the five thousand last week, these three weeks turn to John’s description of what happened next by dividing the Bread of Life discourse into three sections. This suggests a three-part series of sermons beginning this Sunday.
There are many ways you could organize such a series. Here are a few possibilities:
- You could pick up on three different groups of people to whom Jesus spoke during this discourse (the crowds in verse 22ff, the Jews in verse 41ff, and the disciples in 60ff). Each sermon could consider Jesus’ claims from the perspective of one of these groups.
- You could focus on three miraculous feedings related to this chapter (God’s provision of manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, God’s provision for the Church in the Lord’s Supper, and God’s provision for all eternity in the Feast to come). While these feedings are not central to the narrative of John at this point, each is implied and closely related to Jesus as the Bread of Life.
- You could draw a specific promise from each of the three readings and call the series “The Bread of Life Promises.” Each sermon would examine a promise Jesus makes in this chapter as the basis for present day proclamation.
Of the three, I suggest you follow the third approach. This and the next two reflections will explore some ways in which you might do this. Here are some potential titles:
Sunday, August 1 – “The Bread of Life Satisfies” (based on John 6:35)
Sunday, August 8 – “The Bread of Life Raises” (based on John 6:40)
Sunday, August 15 – “The Bread of Life Abides” (based on John 6:56)
“The Bread of Life Satisfies.” This sermon is based on Jesus’ promise in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
This is quite a promise. Hunger and thirst are universal experiences. We all experience both every day. No matter how many times you go back to the buffet, and no matter how many times you refill your cup, satisfaction never lasts. Keith Richards’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (which has been named the second greatest song of all time) and Angelica Hamilton singing “I will never be satisfied” in the hit musical Hamilton (which has been viewed more than 35 million times) capture the idea. Those songs are about more than food and drink, of course. They notice we are always hungering, always thirsting, always searching for more. We humans can’t get no satisfaction.
Since this is the first sermon in a series of three, you will want to spend a little more time on the context. This includes some time retelling the miraculous feeding at the beginning of John 6. There you can remind your hearers that the crowd pursuing Jesus was looking for physical satisfaction. They were hungry. The previous day Jesus fed them by multiplying the loaves and fishes. They had eaten “as much as they wanted” (6:11). But as it always does, their hunger returned, which led them to seek Jesus again. This time, however, Jesus offered more than loaves and fishes. He offered food that does not perish, but rather “endures to eternal life” (6:27). This food comes from the one who was sealed by the Father (ἐσφράγισεν), which may be a reference to Jesus’ baptism (see John 1:32-34) or perhaps a proleptic reference to His resurrection. The people liked the sound of this food and, not surprisingly, asked how to get it. That is when Jesus spoke the promise for this week’s sermon: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (6:35).
Jesus offered more than loaves and fishes. He offered food that does not perish, but rather “endures to eternal life.”
Your hearers (like you and me) are constantly searching. We are searching for a happier home life. We are searching for medical treatment that will work. We are searching for more recognition, more vacation, more income, more security, more something. The search never ends because, no matter how satisfied we are for a moment, the moment always passes. The problem, of course, is all the things we search for are perishable. I think about this every year when baseball season begins again. No matter who won the World Series last year, even the champions are driven to defend the title. One season’s success is never enough.
“Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” When Jesus promises He can relieve hunger and thirst for good, He is talking about more than food or drink. Luther calls it a “spiritual hunger” (Luther’s Works 23:43). To satisfy it, Jesus offers something which does not perish—namely, Himself. He alone is imperishable, for He alone has risen from the dead, never to die again (see Romans 6:9). In His grace, He promises that all who come to Him in faith will live abundantly (John 10:10) and eternally. That does not mean we will always be satisfied with everything in this life. Rather, it means our desires will be shaped and met by the only One who can satisfy (see Psalm 37:1-4).
The first thing the Bread of Life promises is satisfaction. Proclaim that promise to your hearers. Invite them to come to Jesus with confidence He can and will satisfy.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 6:22-35.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 6:22-35.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 6:22-35.