The sixth chapter of John tells us the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. By this miraculous act, Jesus shows the importance of feeding people’s stomachs. The crowd had listened to him all day, and he would not send them home hungry. This miracle got the attention of the crowd, and the next morning they met Jesus and his disciples on the other side of the lake.
Recognizing these people, Jesus said, “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
With these words Jesus confronts us with the truth that our bodies can be well fed while our souls are void of meaning and hunger for spiritual food. With Jesus’ definition of a starving person, do our names need to be on the list?
If the pictures of starving children and adults make us aware of those who are dying from lack of food, does the picture of Anna Nicole Smith symbolize how starved we are spiritually? (For those who do not recognize this name, she was a 39 year-old woman who was prominent in the entertainment world. A few weeks ago she was found dead and left behind a baby. The world will not know who the baby’s father is until scientific testing is completed.)
In our text Jesus reveals how much larger the problem of starvation is than most people realize. Might it not be that the multitudes are starving for lack of food because the world is spiritually starved and are not moved by a love for people to share just a little bit of their wealth to feed the hungry as Jesus told us to do?
As Jesus converses with people by the sea, the conversation becomes very personal. Imagine this conversation: A man shouts, “Listen, Jesus. You did a great miracle yesterday when you fed those 5,000 people, and it impressed all of us. But it doesn’t begin to compare with the miracle that Moses performed when he was with the Israelites in the wilderness. He fed 600,000 men for weeks.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, 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. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world . . .” Then Jesus declared, “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.”
The Word is clear. Our souls are hungry until they are fed by the Lord Jesus as he speaks to us in his Word. We are a part of the world’s starving population until we are fed both physically and spiritually.
Let’s apply this biblical teaching to our everyday lives. Imagine that, as a member of Congress, you voted for the war in Iraq. Today it is your conviction that this was the wrong thing to do. A gnawing feeling is inside of you, but you are unable to say you were wrong. To make this confession would hurt you politically. You recall the reasons why you voted the way you did, but they give you little peace. Assuming you feel your vote was wrong, why can’t you say, “I am sorry. I was wrong. Look at the loss of so many lives and the destruction of property.”
This is an illustration of how we carry guilt around that Jesus would like to forgive. The Bread of Life says, “If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive you your sins” (I John 1:9). The soul that is carrying around a lot of guilt is not experiencing the abundant life that God wants them to have. The well-fed soul is a repentant soul who has tasted of God’s grace.
What if you are having trouble forgiving someone who has wronged you? Do you have to live and die with these feelings? The starving soul will say, “Yes, I will go to my grave with these feelings, because I could never forgive this woman who stole my husband away from me.” This is a statement from an unhappy person who is a starving soul.
What does the Bread of Life say? “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14).
To love and forgive those whom we do not like might be an item on the menu that we cannot accept. Jesus is telling us to get serious about the way we are living. What is this intense dislike or hatred for another person doing to us? Is it making us happier people? Is it making us a stronger Christian witness for our families and friends who wonder how a Christian can act this way? Hatred is a symptom of spiritually starved people, because they have not taken God’s Word seriously when it tells us to love those who hate us.
The other day, as I visited with a person in a coffee shop, she shared with me some of her health problems. She was being treated for an illness that had affected two other members of her family, and she expressed a real fear of what the future might be like for her. She had seen her father suffer for several years before he died.
I could hardly believe it when, in the midst of our conversation, another member from our congregation who was taking treatment for lymphoma hurried by. When I asked her how it was going, she looked at me with a big smile and said, “Just fine. I had my last treatment yesterday. The people who are treating me are so thoughtful and caring. I am in good hands. I hope to live and enjoy more time with my family, but if that is not to be, I will go home and be with the Lord.
As this lady went on her way, my friend with whom I was talking asked, “Who is that bundle of joy?” I quickly replied, “A committed Christian who feeds on God’s Word and believes his promise when he says, “The eternal God is your resting place, and underneath are his everlasting arms. She is being well fed on his eternal promises.”
Yes, the world is full of starving people. Who are these people? We learn from Jesus that millions of these people have satisfied stomachs but empty souls.
And now the important question needs to be asked: Are we a part of this starving population? If so, remember Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life, and I would love to feed you.”