Jason Ingalls: A Sermon on John 6

Jason Ingalls is a friend and colleague of mine from Princeton Theological Seminary, from which he graduated this past May. He is currently engaged in preparation for ministry with IVF. This sermon was preached on August 6th at Montgomery Evangelical Free Church in Montgomery New Jersey. I was present to hear this sermon. Although it is clearly addressed to a particular context, I believe that it is worth reproducing for the benefit of any who might take the time to read it. Please do.


I love movies with surprise endings, movies like Signs or the Sixth Sense. But those of you who share this love know the real problem with surprise-ending movies is that, after a while, they don’t surprise us anymore. Ok, ok, we say to ourselves, we know that he’s dead and that water kills the baddies. It’s right about then that I turn the DVD off and watch television.

Our passage today is something like that. I struggled to find a way to express it to you like a movie with a surprise ending, hiding the end until I could get to the end of the sermon and pull it out with a flare…but I am no M. Night Shyamalan! Besides, you know how the story ends: Jesus proclaims himself the bread of life and that whoever believes in him will never go hungry or thirsty. If we are to understand the surprise (and maybe experience it again ourselves), we are going to have to do some work.

The reason for surprises is false expectations, and the crowd in our story today had several. Let’s set the stage. If you look in v. 59 of John 6, you’ll see that Jesus says all of these things in the synagogue in Capernaum, and the beginning of this passage says his audience was the people who followed him across the sea after he had fed the five thousand, perhaps the same people who had tried to make him king by force. They have followed Jesus and sought to make him their leader, and he has already denied them. Tension hangs in the air as heaps of people cram into the bare room of the synagogue. Perhaps Jesus was just putting down the Scripture scroll when the people interjected (v. 25), “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Already there are expectations building—Jesus is to them a rabbi, a teacher, but not just any teacher, a miracle worker, and not just any miracle worker, a miracle worker like Moses.

And it is no wonder. As I said, Jesus has just fed 5,000 people with little more than a lunchbox full of food. So it is understandable that when in v. 27 Jesus tells the people to work for food that doesn’t get old and useless they find it a very appealing message. Some of them are probably thinking, “Maybe he didn’t want to be king, but maybe he’ll feed us and we’ll get what we want anyway.” The people that followed Jesus across that sea and had tried to make him king were probably farmers, probably people who knew what it meant to put in a good, hard day’s work in the fields. These people knew what it meant to work for food! The crowd that met Jesus looking for a leader probably showed all the signs of doing hard labor. Perhaps one man was sunburned; another had a long scar up his right arm. One man was missing an eye because he got on the wrong side of a Roman soldier one day. Another just wanted revenge. Some days, most days, it was all these people can do to hold their ship together, to put food on the table, to live a life worth living.

Look at verse 30-32 with me: “So they asked him, ‘What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written [and here they quote a Psalm]: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’.” The crowd quotes Scripture to Jesus. It’s a challenge. Moses had given them bread from heaven, they say. What will you do to prove who you are? They could not force him to be their king, but maybe they could get him to be their prophet. They would make Jesus their leader no matter what.

In the whole text we get this one expectation from the people—they want a leader. They want someone powerful who can feed them, who can lead them out of persecution, and who can give them what they desire: they want another Moses. You might ask what’s the problem with that? The problem is this: in their desire to make a leader of Jesus, they missed that their true leader and provider was God.

And, we have to admit, we are not too different ourselves. Montgomery Evangelical Free Church corporately and its members personally are in the midst of transition. Your pastor is gone, and you are seeking other leadership. Some days, most days, it is all you can do to hold this ship together. I can see the strain on your faces, especially at the end of a VBS week! Some of your faces have been sunburned, looking up into the sky trying to figure what it is that God is going to do next. Others of you have those long scars that show this whole process has hurt you. Others of you feel like you’re missing eyes since Dwight left, not really able to see. Others might be angry or resentful.

And I’m sure that many of you are yearning for a leader: someone who can feed you spiritually, someone who can lift the oppression of this interim time, someone who can be with you, pray for you, give you rest. You want a leader.

But how many of you have felt it? I know I felt it before I left. How many of you know the “if only?” If only we get a pastor who is a shepherd, we’ll be okay. If only we get an administrator, we’ll be okay. If only we can find the right person, we can avoid past problems and be delivered into a time of wonderment, peace, and satisfaction. We look for human, all-too-human, Saviors with our “if onlys.” If only, if only, if only…

They will kill us, these “if only’s,” especially if, like the Israelites, we start to look for someone other than God to be our Savior. We will shrivel and die like a vine cut off from the branch. In Christ, there is no “if only we get this person or that.” In Christ, it is already finished.

But, the people of Israel did not know this completion in Christ…according to our passage they could not even recognize the Hand that fed them in the wilderness. Quoting the psalms, they meant to make Moses their savior (“He [Moses] gave them bread from heaven to eat”). They wanted Jesus to play a similar role. Jesus rebuked them: “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father, who gives you the true bread from heaven.” The people wanted and needed leaders…but the problem was when their desire for a leader became the desire for an all-too-human Savior. That desire blinded them to the work of God. Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven, even now only God the Father gives the true bread from heaven.

False expectations lead to surprises in good movies, and the false expectation that Jesus would be a leader like Moses, the leader of a nation, set the crowd up for a real shocker. When Jesus rebuked them, he pointed out that in the present, it is the Father who gives the true bread from heaven. [Pause] But how can that be? Jesus already said in v. 27 that the Son of Man would give this food! Are there two givers, or just one? The people were hungry in their bellies; they wanted a leader to save them from Rome; they wanted security; so Jesus made it very clear that it was never Moses but God the Father who gave the manna from heaven, and it would be God the Father who would now give the true bread from heaven. Jesus continues in v. 33, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Not quite understanding, the people press on, “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread’.” They came here for food and leadership, after all, and they were going to get it.

And they got more than they bargained for. In response, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Can you imagine the shock rippling through the crowd at these words? Jesus himself is the bread of life that is given by God the Father and the Son of Man? If anyone is to come to the Father, they must eat of this bread? The rest of John 6 tells how these scary words led Jesus to lose all his disciples save the Twelve. They drive everyone looking for normal food away.

The people’s surprise and disappointment is that the Father gave Jesus as a leader to be followed, but instead of giving security and freedom, Jesus gave a cross and bondage to righteousness. The food the people wanted was not the food that God was offering. The work required of them was not the work they expected. They wanted a king and a revolution. Jesus offered a servant and peace. The work they had to do was actually no work at all.

Doing the work of God, Jesus said in v. 29, is nothing other than believing in the one He has sent. Some of the people in that synagogue in Capernaum took this food and responded in faith and obedience to the call of God that He gave and gives in Jesus Christ. They heard it and received it in faith, and were changed from fishermen and goodwives into disciples and apostles. These disciples and apostles were the beginning of the Church in which you and I sit today. They learned that in Jesus Christ, they would never hunger after things that would not satisfy or thirst after things that would not quench. They learned that in Jesus Christ was hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. They learned that the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord was all in all. In Jesus Christ, the food and the one who gives it are one and the same Person. In Jesus Christ, the Gift and the Giver are one.

And if we can ever learn this truth freshly for ourselves and receive Christ as all the food we need, we too might be changed. The people wanted a leader, someone who could feed them and keep them safe. We, too, want a leader, don’t we? We want someone who can feed us spiritually, divide the Word of God rightly among us, pray for us, look out for us, keep us safe, and lead us out of the Egypt we find ourselves in. The problem comes when all too often we find ourselves looking to a human being to be that for us, and in so doing we forget, at least in practice, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Montgomery Evangelical Free Church, receive the good news of the Gospel: Only Jesus Christ can rescue us. Only Christ can pull down bread from heaven for you. Only Christ is all the food we will ever need. When we do not seek the provision God the Father has already given us in Jesus Christ, there is no person on this earth who will fulfill our wants and needs! There is no other Savior save Christ alone.

When we were incapable of knowing God, the Father revealed Himself in his Son Jesus Christ. When we were unable to have a relationship with God, the Father sent his Son Jesus Christ to reconcile us to Him. When we were unable to obey God, Jesus Christ obeyed for us even to death on the cross for our sin. In his resurrection, the Father justifies us in Christ. In his ascension, we are promised eternal life with the Father. The Father has met every single one of our needs in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the true bread from heaven. Jesus Christ is the true vine. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Only Christ completes and fulfills and enables our relationship with God the Father. Hallelujah. Amen. Seek no other.

We, today, must do the work of God. Doing the work of God is nothing else than receiving Jesus. There are people in the world who will claim that if you subscribe to their teachings or buy their books or embrace the purposes or pray the prayer of an Old Testament nobody that you can find fulfillment in this life. We all feel the temptation to put human beings in place of God. To this all I can ask is that we listen again to the words of Jesus, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Following Christ is not glossy or trendy; it is a “long obedience in the same direction.” In this stretch of transition, I implore you to stop doing and working and striving for a few minutes each day to pray. In this time of transition do not let the days pass you by without constant prayer for the committees searching for pastors. Do not let the days pass you by without thanking God the Father for having already given you all that you will ever truly need in Christ. Do not let a day pass you by without reminding yourself and telling others that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Seek no other than him.

Let us pray.

Almighty Father, who has given us eternal food from heaven in Christ, grant that we might come to you in humble prayer so that we might not forget that no human Savior can replace Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for our continued salvation. We pray this through Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


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