John 6:48-51 I am the Bread of Life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
What do you really want out of your religion? Some people want magic. Do you like magic shows? When I was growing up, the big name in magic shows was David Copperfield. When I got a little older, I heard about acts like Penn and Teller. They add humor to the formula and make things more interesting still. It can all be hugely entertaining. But no one is accusing any of those guys of promoting some kind of religion. Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller is an avowed atheist.
Perhaps you know people who want the miracle show on Sunday morning, too. At the least, they want it to be an entertaining experience. Maybe we would like a little more pizzazz as well.
Some people are all about the practicality. They measure a faith by the difference it makes when they go back to work on Monday morning. Is this making me more successful? Is this helping me build better relationships, put food on the table, or live a healthier life?
The people in front of Jesus were looking for some of both, entertainment and practicality. They had seen Jesus do his magic and turn five loaves of bread into a feast for thousands. They had eaten their fill. What could be more practical than free food? Later they challenged Jesus with the example of Moses and 40 years of miraculous free food in the wilderness. Could he top that? Magic and meals–that’s as far as their religion went.
What did this kind of religion get them? “Your forefathers at the manna in the desert, yet they died.” Whether you die of starvation, obesity, or just a ripe old age, the story ends the same. “Yet they died.” Mere magic can distract you from your final fate. It just can’t prevent it. Food and entertainment may be a pleasant way to spend your life. It just can’t give you a life that lasts.
There is no virtue in boring or irrelevant. The faith of the Bible is supremely engaging, saturated with the supernatural, and firmly entrenched in all the practical daily needs and issues of our lives. But there is more. Jesus doesn’t stop at giving us daily bread. He is the bread of life. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.” He will live forever. The Father has drawn us to Jesus to give us life that lasts…forever.
Life that lasts forever–is that not practical? How many of us are going to run out of earthly life someday? Every hand has to go up. As one of my professors used to say: “The death rate throughout the ages has remained the same-one per person.” (Okay, you can quibble about the handful of people who were raised from the dead and later died a second time, but you get the point). Death is a problem for which Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the solution. Is that not magical, or perhaps we should say, miraculous? All the science, all the medicine, all the nutrition, all the money, all the good behavior in the world can’t keep us alive forever. But one day Jesus will say the word, and all the dead will leave their graves. Those who have fed on the Bread of Life, who have consumed Jesus and his grace by faith, will live the perfected and purified life with him that never ends. That’s not part of the benefit package of any other faith.
For only Jesus can say, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus isn’t an otherworldly life coach advising us on how to behave, then hoping we do it well enough to finish in heaven. Life–the eternal kind–is what he gives. First he gives his life–gives it up. He let all our bad behavior–every self-indulgent lust, every nasty word behind someone else’s back, every little lie, every vindictive scheme, every unreasonable grudge–he let it all crush him and kill him on the cross. His body, his flesh, paid the price for our crimes.
Then he gives us life, life that lasts, not because we earned it, but because he earned it. It’s his gift, a gift he gave for the whole world.
You won’t find that trick in a Las Vegas magic show. You won’t get that kind of practical value out of anything your grocery store has to offer. Eat the Bread Jesus offers, and live forever.