Text: John 6:22-35
There’s a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur and his knights encounter the Bridge of Death. This bridge spans across the Gorge of Eternal Peril and is guarded by a bridge keeper. Each knight must answer three questions or face certain death. Lancelot is the first up and answers wisely. The three questions: What is your name, what is your quest, what is your favorite color? Robin and Galahad fare poorly and are thrown into the chasm before King Arthur prevails by asking the bridge keeper whether he would like to know the airspeed of an African or European swallow. It’s the second question that connects us to the Gospel reading: What is your quest? To put it another way, What do you seek? In our text Jesus teaches us not to seek the food that perishes, but the food that endures forever.
What do you seek? That is the question, or at least it’s one we’re brought to by the text. We pick up in John’s Gospel after the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ walking on water. St. John writes that the next day the crowd that was fed began looking for Jesus. They had been so satisfied with Jesus earlier that they tried to make Him king by force, but He withdrew from them. They go to find Him and see that only one boat remains on the shore. Jesus did not depart with the Disciples, and yet He wasn’t there. (We know it’s because He walked on the water.) Some other boats come from the other side, but without either Jesus or the Disciples them. The crowd then hops into their own boats to go find Jesus.
“When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’” The crowd found Jesus back on the west side of the sea, but were confused at how He got there. This is another clue that they weren’t thinking the way they should. Jesus didn’t ask them what they seek, because He already knew. He says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” These people that were looking for Jesus were not looking for Him; they were looking to get fed again. They didn’t believe the signs but assumed that the Gospel had more to do with filling their stomachs than saving their souls.
Lest we fault the crowd for their ignorance, a large part of Christianity has fallen into that trap as well. How could we not? It takes weeks to die of hunger, a slow and painful death, and yet most of us can’t even go 6 hours without food unless we’re asleep. We have families to feed and houses to fix. We’re Christians and so we naturally pray to God that He would provide for these needs. When we look at our own prayer lives, though, what would the ratio be of prayers asking for temporal blessings versus the prayer of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”?
Jesus said to them and us, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Do not seek the things that perish, Jesus says. God causes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. God actually gave us many temporal blessings before the Fall. But food, clothing, homes, cars, will all perish. We must long for the food of eternal life.
Jesus told the crowd to seek the food that endures to eternal life, but it doesn’t click with them. So they resort to a different question: “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” Jesus told them to seek the food of eternal life, but they didn’t ask what it is or where to get it. Instead they attempt to self-justify: “What must we do to get this bread of life?” Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” What must we do to work for the bread that endures forever? Nothing.
I love that verse because I think Jesus is being a little smart. They were asking what they must do to be saved, and He answers that the work of God is to believe in the one whom He has sent. The work that they must do to be saved is believe, but believing is the work of God. With these words Jesus cuts out all works-righteousness. Works-righteousness is the teaching that the good works we do merit righteousness and favor before God. But all our attempts to please God or to do good works turn out to be working for food that perishes. Our good works are meant to serve our neighbor, but as with anything, they fade and are forgotten.
The jailer in Philippi was terrified when God opened the doors to all the cells. He was about to kill himself, fearing that the prisoners escaped, when St. Paul called out him that they were all there. The jailer later asked him, “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ [They replied], ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.’” What must we do to be saved? Seek not the food that perishes, but that which endures forever. Do not long for a full belly, but for a full soul. But without Christ, that is impossible.
The crowd was convicted by Jesus’ instruction not to seek food that perishes and that the only work of God is to have faith, and so they tried to defend themselves one last time, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus showed them that what they were really seeking was a full stomach, and that they were wrong to assume that they could perform the work of God. They lifted up Moses as the reason they believed in God, because Moses gave them bread. Moses, the great figure of the Law, wasn’t the one who gave the bread, Jesus says. In fact, what He says is that Moses didn’t give them bread and he still doesn’t; the works of the Law will not merit eternal life.
No, Moses wasn’t the one who gave them bread in the desert. It was God, who is now giving them the true bread from heaven. Jesus said, “The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
What do you seek? That is the question. What do you seek? Do you long to be well-fed and warm? Health, wealth, and happiness are good and fine, but when you come to church, is that what you’re after? If so, you could’ve just as easily stayed home, because God provides those things whether ask for them or not because He loves us. But food and clothing and house and land, those things fade. Jesus says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” What you don’t get just by staying home and sleeping, though, is the food of eternal life.
What is the food of eternal life? Jesus. In Him we find our security, our peace, the forgiveness of our sins. Because we are human we all long to have full stomachs and good lives, and that’s fine, but those things fade. Jesus’ forgiveness doesn’t. In Him we find the true food and the lasting peace. Through faith we feast on His body and blood knowing that as far as the east is from the west, thus far are our sins removed from us through His death and resurrection.
What do you seek? On our own we might answer any number of things. The reason we are here today, though, is because we have been called by the Holy Spirit. You have been given the gift of faith in Christ and are daily drawn out of your own sinful to nature and taught to seek after Christ and Him crucified. In Him we have the full forgiveness of our sins and the food that endures to eternal life. Amen.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 6:25.
 Lk. 18:13.
 Jn. 6:27.
 Jn. 6:28.
 Jn. 6:29.
 Ac. 16:30–31.
 Jn. 6:30–31.
 Jn. 6:33–35.
 Jn. 6:27.