This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: John 6:1-71
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 50
Sermon prepared by Rev. Henry Jonker, Delta, B.C.
Dear Children of God:
When I was a child, I could never figure out why we prayed for our daily bread when the Lord’s prayer was prayed at our meal times. It just didn’t make a lot of sense to me to pray for the food that was already lavishly spread before us on our dinner table. Especially, at those times when the big thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner was put on. Why pray for what you already had? Confusing or what! Especially for a pre-teen.
It took me a lot of years to figure it all out. Frankly, it didn’t happen until I did my first in-depth study of the Lord’s Prayer (hereafter LP). The thoughts and conclusions back then are still very relevant for us today. So, here we go...! To understand the meaning of the 4th request of the LP, we need to back up and make brief mention of the first 3 requests. We need to take note that the first 3 requests focus on God: “hallowed be Your name; Your Kingdom come; Your will be done.”
Then there is this rather abrupt change from focus on God to focus on us. Notice, not on me, myself and I, but on us. The community of the faithful, you might say. After all, in the church of Christ no person is an island.
We note then that the first of the requests focussing on us has to do with our daily bread. And that begs the question, why? Why might the LP start with this request when the focus shifts to us, God’s people?
Well... a significant clue comes when we read the LP backwards. So let’s begin with the 4th request and move our way on up: “Give us this day our daily bread, your will be done, your kingdom come, your name be hallowed or praised.” What do you think — is there a light going on in your heart yet? What the 4th request comes down to is this: God, give us this day our daily bread, provide us with the necessities for living, so that we may have the physical necessities to go about the business of doing Your will...so that through our doing of your will...we may make a contribution to your coming Kingdom...and in so doing will be busy hallowing, praising Your most Holy Name.
What was Lord Jesus really doing here? He gave us a Biblical perspective on receiving our daily bread. A perspective quite different from our common materialistic notions concerning the necessities of life. The materialistic understanding of this 4th request would result in little more than understanding that we depend on God alone for our daily sustenance. Now...this is true, of course, but the meaning of this request is significantly deeper. The Biblical perspective on receiving the necessities for living relates these gifts to the doing of God’s will. On the whole, even we in the Christian community, do not make this connection very well.
Now I suppose we could take some comfort from the fact that the folks of Jesus’ day didn’t get it either. A careful reading of John 6 will verify this. Jesus fed some 5000 people from 5 loaves of bread and a couple of fish. And...oh boy...were these recipients of this miraculous supply of food ever impressed. So impressed that they chased Him all over the countryside because they wanted to make Him king. ‘Jesus is our ticket to life on easy street!’ All He has to do is snap His fingers and He’ll meet our every need. Now I ask you, who wouldn’t want a king, prime minister or president like that?
But... Jesus saw through the selfish and materialistic motives of these folks. He got away from them for a while but they were rather relentless in their search. This man just had to be found. And... when they found Him, what did they do? It’s like they called Him to account. When did you get here Jesus? What did you think you were doing taking off on us just like that? Jesus didn’t bite, did He? Instead He warned them not to labor (chase after) the food that perishes but to chase after the food that endures to eternal life. Jesus strongly rebuked them for following Him because they had their tummies full. He berated them for following Him because of what they thought He could provide, rather than following Him for who He really is.
All this, of course, developed into a further discussion. It began with the question: “if we’re not supposed to be laboring for the food which perishes, then what must we be doing to be doing the works of God.” Take careful note of the startling answer Jesus gave: “this is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (6:29)
The issue is not what we need to do, this is all about what God is seeking to do. God wants us to enter into the things that He is doing and that begins with believing in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. “This is the work of God: that you believe in Him...” A little later: “no one comes to me unless the Father has enabled Him.” (6:65) It’s a call to faith. Yes, but wait a minute Jesus, ”what sign do you do that we might see and believe in You?” (6:30) Oh, and by the way Jesus, “our forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness.” (6:31) Hint, hint!
Where is this comment coming from? It’s no doubt a comment that has as background the Jewish expectation that Messiah’s coming would be preceded by a renewed manna miracle at Passover time. Now, note carefully: according to John 6:4 the celebration Passover was near. All this is taking place within the context of Passover. A time when anticipation of Messiah’s possible arrival heightened somewhat.
Conclusion? They would only see and believe in Jesus as Messiah if there was a repeat of the manna miracle. Obviously, the miraculous feeding of the 5000 just didn’t quite cut it as a sign.
How did Jesus respond? Well... if that’s the bread you’re looking for, you’ve really missed the boat. You see, folks, I am the manna — the bread — “which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (cf. 6:33)
And the crowd? What’s their response? “Lord, give us this bread always.” (6:34 RSV)
That response sounds a lot like the 4th request of the LP doesn’t it? “Lord, give us this day our daily bread.” It was only then... in response to the crowd’s request “give us this bread always” that Jesus fully identified Himself as the Bread of Life. And... what was the further response? They grumble!!! (6:41). They got into sharp and bitter arguments (6:52). Even many of His disciples stopped following Him. (6:66).
Jesus is the Bread of Life. He gave them a sign in feeding the 5000 plus folks. He is the one who completely did God’s will. He learned obedience through what He suffered even unto death on the cross. Through Jesus’ doing of God’s will, the coming Kingdom of God was inaugurated. God’s name was fully hallowed, made holy. And... this is the work of God that we may believe in Him whom He has sent...Jesus...Messiah! What will your and my response be?
Remember, the folks and even many of the disciples stopped following Him because He just didn’t measure up to their expectations. We can easily find ourselves in the same boat, when God or Christ just doesn’t measure up. When He doesn’t supply us with the things we think we need (and it would be good to admit that most of what we think we need are not needs at all but wants).
Today, we as believers, as followers of Christ are called to live out of and in the Spirit of Christ... When we pray for our daily bread, for the necessities of life, we pray that the very food that graces our kitchen and dinner tables will nourish, refresh and strengthen us for the doing of God’s will... For making positive contributions to His coming Kingdom. And so, to praise, hallow, His most Holy Name!
So, when we see the abundance of food that lavishes our tables on a daily basis, remember, these gifts are there for us to eat, to enjoy and to ready us for doing His will. For living in obedience to His commands and His mission.
The perspective for us Christians on food, clothing and shelter is much different from the world’s perspective. We eat in order to work while the unbelieving world thinks it needs to work in order to eat. That’s pretty radical stuff don’t you agree? Eat in order to work?
We too are easily fooled into thinking that it needs to be the other way around. But, from the beginning it was not so. Take it from the Bible. Eating in order to work has been the order all along. God provided our first parents, Adam and Eve, with a food-filled garden. They hadn’t lifted a finger to cultivate that garden and yet they had food.
Israel was given the entire promised land. They were able to eat to their hearts content before they had to set up shop in their new surroundings. And God has provided us with Jesus, the Bread of Life, before we could even lift a finger to earn our salvation. Amazing isn’t it? God provides the necessities of life (even Jesus the Bread of Life) so that we will have the strength, the things necessary for the doing of His will.
It makes me think of those beautiful words of Psalm 111:5: “God provides food for those who fear Him; He remembers His covenant forever.” That’s right — the very food on our tables: a sign of His covenant faithfulness — even today.
Let us then respond to God’s wonderful, extravagant provision and faithfully serve Him — so that through the doing of His will, we may make contributions to His coming Kingdom and in the process hallow, praise His great name. Let us eat in order to work both at our dinner tables and at the Lord’s table. Let us eat in order to work soli deo gloria (only to the glory of God).
Proposed Order of Service
Opening of the Service
We Greet Each Other (“The Peace of the Lord Be With You...”)
A Time of Praise (singing a medley of songs)
Suggestions: Hymns #237, #240, #280
Maranatha Praise (Expanded 3rd Edition):
Song #235, “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise”
#71, “Come Into the Holy of Holies”
#204, “We Have Come Into His House”
A Time of Confession
Prayer of Confession
Song or Hymn of Confession: Hymn #543, “Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer”
Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 55:1-3
God’s Will for Our Lives: Isaiah 55:6-7
Hymn of Rededication: #239, “Amid the Thronging Worshippers” (in light of the readings from Isaiah, pay special attention to stanza 3)
A Time of Thanksgiving
The Prayers of and for the Congregation
(concluded with a prayer for the Spirit’s guidance for the sermon reader)
A Time of Listening to God’s Word
Bible Reading: Excerpts from John 6, Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 50
Sermon: “Praying for Bread in Prosperous Times.”
Prayer of Application
Hymn of Response: #111:1, 3, 6, 7, “O Give the Lord Wholehearted Praise!”
Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (optional)
Closing of the Service
Doxology Hymn #593:1, 2, 5, “My Song Forever Shall Record” orMaranatha Praise (Expanded 2nd Edition) #230, “Praise the Name ofJesus”
Note: the songs selected are only suggestions. Worship leaders may well need to adjust song selection and music to meet their particular worship environment.