Audio Only (with the Old Testament Scripture Reading)
Working for Food that Perishes
Well, after centuries and centuries of research, the verdict is out. Despite all the work and effort of
mankind over the last several millenia, we live in a world that dies. Everything dies. You will die. I
will die. There will most likely be a time when we will not be remembered at all.
We don’t just die—by the way, we are dying. Every time you eat food, it’s only staving off the
inevitable. You eat now for a fresh surge of energy, only to wear your body, get hungry again, and
(eventually) die. You’ll never eat enough to curb the inevitable. You’ll get hungry again. You’ll get
thirsty again. You’ll get tired again. Eat, sleep, eat—keep eating—exhaust your body, and then die.
That’s life, isn’t it? It’s an exhausting cycle of death and fatigue, striving for fulfillment and strength.
Keep searching for whatever might give you a surge of strength; a surge of what some might call
“youthfulness”. Find it, enjoy it—at least, for a moment. Just know that, despite man’s best efforts,
there is no such thing as a “fountain of youth”. We are all dying with every breath we take, and every
piece of bread we consume, despite moments of feeling rejuvenated and strengthened.
That’s probably not the sort of thing you wanted to hear at 10:00 this morning. Why is that
depressing? Here’s the problem. There’s something deep down in our hearts wherein we want
nothing more than to be remembered—or, at least, to know that our hard labors mean something.
We want to have meaning and fulfillment. If we don’t, we get depressed. Any counselor, regardless of
their counseling methods and philosophy, will eventually get down to that matter of helping people
find fulfillment and meaning in life. That’s a huge part of a counselor’s job, no matter who the
counselor is. We must find meaning in life to be happy—and, God made us that way. “He has put
eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He gave us an awareness of eternity for a reason. He
gave us a desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves for a reason—except, when we are
really honest with ourselves, we are forced to concede with the preacher in Ecclesiastes—"vanity of
vanities! all is vanity”. So, that’s the situation we’re in. We’re keenly aware of eternity. We desire to
have fulfillment in something bigger than ourselves. Yet, we’re keenly aware that everything is
vanity, dying—and, every breath we take is one breath closer to dying and being forgotten forever.
So, it’s all meaningless. It’s time to be depressed and unfulfilled.
Does the Bible give an answer to this? Consider what Jesus says in verse 27—
27 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.
It really is something else, folks. Jesus, here, is claiming that he is able to give you an opportunity to
work for food “that endures to eternal life”. We’re talking eternity, here. We’re talking of working for
a kind of food—a kind of benefit or blessing—which is of infinite, imperishable value. Whatever
Jesus has to say, here, is incredibly important for us to hear, this morning. Do you want fulfillment,
meaning, strength, purpose in life? Do you want the cycle of working to death to stop? “Eat, sleep,
grow tired, eat, sleep, grow tired, build things to watch them crumble, build things to watch them
crumble, toil for bread that perishes, toil for bread that perishes”—do you want that cycle to stop?
Isn’t it exhausting? Depressing? Jesus has something to say about this, here in this passage. “Work...
for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” That’s where this
passage is ultimately taking us, and it ought to give us great hope. The only questions are, (1) exactly
what food is Jesus talking about? (2) do we actualy desire it? and (2) how can we get it?
Those are the questions we’ll seek to answer in this passage, as we walk through it together. (1)
exactly what food is Jesus talking about? (2) do we desire it? and (2) how can we get it?
What Food is Jesus Talking About?
So, what food is Jesus talking about? “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.” Jesus is obviously talking about food,
here—what food is he talking about?
Considering The “Bread of Life Discourse”
Let’s take a quick step back and make a greater observation on this passage. The verses we’re
considering this morning are the opening verses to what many call Jesus’s “bread of life discourse”.
This is one of Jesus’s discourses, or sermons. One minister rightly pointed out that this sermon
ranks right up there in importance with Jesus’s sermon on the mount, or his parables of the
kingdom, or the Olivet discourse wherein he discussed the future of his reign and kingdom, or his
upper room discourse wherein he prepared his disciples for his death, resurrection, and ascension to
glory. This “bread of life discourse” (or “sermon”) is a weighty, awesome teaching, here in John 6—
except, it’s been greatly misunderstood and misapplied throughout the church.
Just think about what Jesus says later on in verse 53, and consider how Jesus’s words in this teaching
have been used by the church. Verse 53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the
Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my
blood has eternal life...”.
When, or where, do you often hear that sort of language in the church? It’s often brought up in
reference to the Lord’s Supper, especially by the Roman Catholic and perhaps Lutheran traditions.
Now, I’m not here this morning to pigeonhole and smash them—I’ll just say that I think it’s a leap
to say that Jesus is speaking about the Lord’s Supper in this passage. Jesus hadn’t instituted that meal
yet. Nobody in his audience would have known anything about the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is talking
about himself, here, directly, without any sacramental references. If you want to be saved and satisfied
and strengthened by God, you must have Jesus in you, by faith, as you are spiritually united to him.
Now, we can tease that out more in the coming weeks as we unpack this bread of life discourse. For
now, I’ll just repeat what an OPC minister Joel Ellis said about this. He said to the effect, that
Jesus’s words here are not about the Lord’s Supper—although, the Lord’s Supper is about what
Jesus is saying, here in this passage. I’ll say that again. Jesus’s words here in his bread of life
discourse, are not about the Lord’s Supper—although, the Lord’s Supper is about what Jesus is
saying, here in this passage. The Lord’s Supper is entirely about the truth that Jesus is the bread of
life who satisfies and saves us forever. The Lord’s supper is about Jesus and his revealed, life-giving
glory and salvation. That’s what the Lord’s supper is about, and that’s totally what this entire bread of
life sermon is about. This is about Jesus, folks—and only indirectly about sacraments.
Just think about the context in this passage. What has been going on, which caused Jesus to start
speaking this way? The short answer, Jesus has been revealing himself!
A Sermon on Two Sign-ificant Miracles
Do you remember what we read about last week, from the first part of John 6? Jesus performed two
jaw-dropping, incredibly significant signs back-to-back, within 12 hours each other. He wasn’t
holding back, at all—and, he was doing this during that time in his ministry when the Jews were
beginning to seriously ramp up their persecution against Jesus. They were out for his head, at this
point—seeeking ways to kill him. So, Jesus performs a massive miracle. He feeds the 5,000—and,
again, that’s only counting the 5,000 men in the crowd. The real figure was more like 20,000. He fed a
massive crowd—and, get this, he did it on a mountain, in the wilderness, during the time of
Passover. The crowd relentlessly followed Jesus into the wilderness, ready to serve him and hear him
speak, and they followed him all the way to the point of physical hunger. The disciples had to come
to him as he was preaching to them, to remind him, “Jesus, it’s getting late and we’re in the
wilderness. We have no food. How are we going to feed these people?”
This is phenomenally significant—and, I mean that literally. This is fuming with signs—sign-ificance.
Jesus is repeating the story of the Exodus when God peculiarly and mightily revealed his glory over
Pharoah, through Israel. Last week, I said something to the effect of this—
Just as the Isrealites followed Moses into the wilderness, so these people followed Jesus into
the wilderness. Just as the Isrealites heard Moses speak God’s word in the wilderness from
the mountain, so these Jews have heard Jesus speak God’s word in the wilderness from a
mountain (verse 3). Just as the Israelites were delivered from Egypt on the Passover, so this
crowd anticipated Jesus would deliver them from Roman oppression. Now, the people are in
the wilderness and they’re hungry.
That’s what’s going on, here, folks—and, it’d be tempting for someone to say “the only thing that’s
missing is God’s glory cloud—the full revelation of God’s presence and glory in Israel’s midst”. It’d
be tempting to say that—but of course, that’s just the point. God is in their midst. God is revealing
his glory to them, feeding them, and teaching them. The only problem is that they don’t see it.
So, Jesus feeds the massive crowd in the wilderness. Then, he walks on water. He crosses a massive
body of water, just as the Israelites did after God fed them in the wilderness. Only this time, he’s not
walking through the Jordan, but rather on the Sea of Galilee. Why would he do that? Again, he’s
revealing his glory to them just as God did to the people of Israel at mount Sinai. Jesus walks on the
water, and when the disciples saw him and were afraid, he said “I am who I am, do not be afraid”.
This is all about God revealing God, folks—giving the people a greater appreciation, fearfulness,
thankfulness, humility, and dependence before his glory and salvation. Oh, if we could just taste and
see a sliver of God’s glory in Jesus Christ, we would have no reason to fear at all. If the Exodus
revealed anything about God and about man, it’s that God is glorious and can defeat all his enemies,
and that we are sinful, helpless, and in desperate need of his grace. When Moses was in a difficult
spot, and God threatened to leave Moses and Israel, Moses got it entirely right when he pleaded with
God, “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct?” Moses knew who Israel was—a
desperately sick, sinful, helpless people. They were nothing—NOTHING—in comparison to the
other nations, much less in comparison to God. The only hope, help, protection, and strength that
Israel had was God himself—the person and work and promises of God. That’s what the Exodus
reveals. It’s no wonder that the whole Exodus story begins with God revealing himself to Moses in a
bush, and revealing himself in no less way than simply, “I am who I am”. That should be enough.
“I am who I am, do not be afraid”, Jesus says as he’s treading upon the stormy seas to protect his
frightened disciples. He’s bringing about a second, greater Exodus—an Exodus that’s entirely about
(you guessed it) God revealing himself to his people for their salvation and comfort.
So, that happens. He feeds the crowd, treads upon the stormy seas, reveals his glory through
unmistakable, Exodus-like signs. Then what does he do? He opens his mouth and delivers a sermon
to explain what just happened. What was that food—that meal all about, anyway? Was Jesus simply
being kind to the hungry people? Did he feel bad that he brought them into the wilderness—you
know, he could have left them to their own resources. Hopefully they weren’t too far away from the
nearest restaurant. Perhaps Jesus fed them because he felt responsible for bringing them out into the
wilderness—he felt bad for being a long-winded preacher, and putting them in that position.
That wasn’t the purpose. All of that—the feeding of the crowd and the walking on water—was so
that he could reveal himself and his glory as the bread that came down from heaven. I don’t think that
it’s a far stretch at all to say that this is a massively climactic point in the Bible. I said earlier that I
don’t think that this passage is about the Lord’s Supper, but the Lord’s Supper is about this passage.
That’s right. Although, I’d go a step further to say that this passage isn’t about the Exodus and the
manna in the wilderness either. Rather, the Exodus and the manna is all about this passage. God
designed the Exodus to stir us up, and prepare us, for this sermon, right here—where Jesus reveals
himself as the bread from heaven when alone can satisfy and fulfill our deepest needs and longings.
The Exodus, the manna, the Lord’s Supper—and yes, the last supper which we still look forward to,
the marriage supper of the lamb—is all about this sermon. Jesus is revealing his glory for our
salvation and our benefit.
Jesus is the Food (and, Don’t Miss the Object Lesson)
So, what food is Jesus talking about in this passage? He’s talking about himself. The object lesson of
food is just that—it’s an object lesson which we taste and experience every day. We know what it’s
like to be hungry. We know what it’s like to be famished, in search of food. Have you ever been
there, perhaps you had a scanty breakfast, and your day was super busy and stressful. You didn’t
have an opportunity to eat or drink much through the day (too busy for lunch). Then, you finally get
home from work and you’re almost sick to your stomach from all the stress and the hunger pains,
the dehydration. You feel a headache coming on.
I can remember working concrete when I was making my way through seminary, and it was one of
my first days on the job. My body was still adapting from student life behind books to concrete life.
Needless to say, I’ll never forget the pain I experienced one day on my commute home from a hard
day of work. I was so hungry I was getting headaches. I had drank all my water. I was all out. Then, I
had Minneapolis traffic jams, in our 20 year old green van that didn’t have air conditioning. It was 95
degrees out, and opening the windows for a breeze meant that the Minneapolis smog would
suffocate me. It was a miserable, miserable moment—and, all I wanted was an ice cold water with
whatever food my wife was preparing for me. I knew that’d make it all better.
We get food, folks, especially when you’re stuck in a desert like the Israelites were. It’s an easy object
lesson. Jesus says—“I’m like that. I am the bread of life”.
So, we’ve answered the question “what food is Jesus talking about”. The only question, then, is do
we think we need it? Do we need—much less desire—Jesus like we need food?
When we are hungry, anxious, toiling mercilessly for fulfillment and peace—what food do we reach
Do We Desire This Bread?
Look at how Jesus addresses the crowds, here. It’s incredibly humbling, in these first few verses.
When We Appear to Desire Jesus
At first, it seems that the crowds deeply desire the bread Jesus offers. Starting in verse 22—
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that
there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his
disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near
the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
“On the next day”, the verse says. Remember, Jesus dismissed the crowd after feeding them that
previous evening. There was a mighty storm that night—during which Jesus went out, walked across
the sea with his disciples, and arrived on the other side. Meanwhile, the crowd wakes up after a really
good night’s rest on the other side of the sea. Seriously, I have to imagine that they had a great night’s
sleep. Have you ever feasted until your heart was content—and then, you go to bed to the sound of
rain pattering on your roof? There’s something about storms that make a night’s sleep all the better.
Then, the morning is all the fresher and sweeter, isn’t it? Waking up to the fresh morning dew after a
night of rain is a wonderful, wonderful feeling. It just smells of God’s bountiful provision—and, it’s
provision this crowd is after. They are just on cloud 9 with pleasures and contentment, folks. They
wake up, happy and content, looking diligently for more of Jesus. They can’t find him. They assess
the boat situation, and they conclude that Jesus must have made his way to the other side, back to
his hometown of Capernaum. “So”, verse 24—
24 when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into
the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
It really is telling, folks, that when Jesus’s provision and bounty are tasted by the masses, it is his
provision and bounty that the masses desire. They were relentless with Jesus at this point in his
ministry. When Jesus tried to get a break from them, and he sailed by boat to the wilderness, they
followed him by foot, along the coastline! That’s how they got into the wilderness, on the northeast coast of
the Sea of Galilee—and, it paid off! Jesus gave them more teaching, and he fed them. He didn’t turn
them away! Now, when he escapes back to Capernaum, they keep following him.
It seems noble, doesn’t it? It reminds me of what he says in Matthew 11:28, “8 Come to me, all who
labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”. Or, you might think of what he says just a little
bit later in this very bread of life sermon, here in John 6. He says in verse 37, “whoever comes to me
I will never cast out”. These people are coming to him—he won’t cast them out, right?
Were these people seeking Jesus, to come to him? Keep reading in our story. Verse 25—
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did
you come here?”
Isn’t that a strange thing to ask Jesus? “When did you come here?”, they ask. D. A. Carson points
out that the question can mean both “when did you come here?”, and “how long have you been
here?”. So, it might seem that some time had elapsed between verse 24 and 25. They were seeking
Jesus—possibly, for a few days. It took a little while to find him, and I presume they were anxiously,
tirelessly searching long and hard for him. Remember, (1) they were eager for his miracles, his food,
his bountiful provisions, but also (2) they were eager to make him king. After he had fed them on the
mountain, they confessed in 6:14, “this indeed is the Prophet who is to come into the world!”, and
they tried to grab hold of him by force to make him king.
I think they were anxiously looking for him to make him king. Then, when they find him, you
almost wonder if they didn’t take him by the shoulders and say “where have you been?! How long
have you been here?! why did you run away?! don’t you realize it’s time to make you king, to bring in
the golden age of Israel?! It’s time for you to give that kind of bread and bounty to the whole nation,
Jesus Rebukes and Redirects Us
Look at what Jesus says about all this in verse 26.
26 Jesus answered 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. 27 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.”
That’s a rebuke, folks. “You are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill
of the loaves”. Isn’t that something? “You didn’t see the signs, Jews! You think you saw them—you
think you see in me “the prophet who is to come into the world [verse 14], but you’re not seeing the
signs! You ate your fill of the loaves, and it’s made you drunk with worldliness.” Jesus is saying that
this crowd sought him out not because they wanted Jesus. Rather, they wanted what they thought
Jesus could offer them—more food, more riches, and perhaps even a kingdom rich with more of his
Folks, remember that when the people of Israel saw Jesus multiply the bread, they did conclude it
was a sign. They did conclude that it meant Jesus is the prophet to come—the greater Moses, if you
will. Although, they didn’t conclude what they should have concluded. They were missing something
incredibly important, when they read the sign of Jesus’s bread and miracles.
Back in Deuteronomy, when Moses proclaimed to Israel that God would rise up a like him, these
are the exact words that Moses said—and, which every Israelite should have known very well.
Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among
you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
That’s what the sign meant—especially for them. “To him you should listen”. What did these people
do, once they concluded Jesus was the prophet? Did they listen to him? Did they say, “keep talking,
Jesus, reveal more of God’s glory and will to us!”. That’s what the sign meant! “I’m the greater
Moses—listen to me!”. The people didn’t listen. They ate their fill, became increasingly carnal minded,
and sought glory for themselves. They sought glory for Israel—a glory, which by the way, would
perish in only a few decades’ time when Rome crushed Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Meanwhile, if we just
jump ahead a few chapters in John, we’ll hear Jesus say this—
“My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
Paul says this,
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and
peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
Had the people been pricked by the sign with humility—had they been pricked with a desire to listen
to Jesus rather than take him by force—they would have been richly blessed beyond measure.
Instead, upon finding Jesus, they get rebuked for their carnality and worldliness. “you are seeking
me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves”, verse 26.
Do You Want the Bread, or Do you Want to Toil?
Do you want the bread Jesus offers? Do you want to sit at his feet, listen to him, and receive whatever
wisdom and hope he might offer to you? Or, are you too filled with your own desires and pride? Do
you want Jesus for who he is, in and of himself—or, do you want him for what he can do for you, as
you make deals with him?
Folks, if you don’t want Jesus simply for who he is, as he’s revealed himself in all his glory, then
you’re necessarily going to create an exhausting religion of works. You’re going to treat Jesus as
someone to bargain with. “I’ll do this, I’ll pay my dues even with religious zeal—if only you’ll do that for
me, Jesus.” Seriously—what goal—what reward, or prize, is on your mind? Is Jesus your goal and
prize, or is Jesus a means to an end? If he’s a means to an end, then you’re going to be working a life
of deep frustration. You’ll be working for perishable, fake, broken food and fulfillment—because no
end, no purpose or fulfillment, can fulfill and satisfy as Jesus can.
That’s where Jesus goes, in this conversation. Jesus sniffs it all out. They ask him, “where are you?
We’ve been working tirelessly to find you and make you our king!” Jesus says, verse 27—
27 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...”
Do not work for food that perishes, Jesus says to these people. Notice that the emphasis Jesus is
drawing out, here, is the fruit of labor, not the labor itself. “Don’t work for fruit that perishes. Work
for fruit that endures to eternal life.” Jesus is trying to draw their attention away from their folly and
works—away from Jerusalem, away from their miracle-seeking pleasures. He’s drawing their
attention onto him! He alone can offer the fruit that lasts forever. It’s a gift, Jesus says here. “Work for
food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give to you”.
Jesus is offering you the fruit of his labor, folks. That’s what he’s saying, here. Work for food that
never perishes—the food, the fruit, that I will give to you. You might say, “well, where did you get
that? Nothing is free, after all”. Jesus says “I labored for it. I gave my life for it. I laid my life down
that your sins would be forgiven. I lived a perfect life of righteousness so that you might have a
human righteousness credited to your account, to stand blameless before God. Work for that food.
It’s imperishable, blameless before God”. Sounds pretty wonderful, doesn’t it? The focus, there, is
on him and his grace and glory. “To him you should listen”—it’s about him, who multiplied the
bread and walked on the sea. He’s worthy of worship and glory, folks.
Or, you could go back to working for fulfillment and meaning that perishes. It’s your choice—
although, it’s a hard-pressed choice. It’s hard work to pursue the world—to pursue our worldly
desires and ambitions, and find fulfillment in them. It’s incredibly hard work—and, to go back to
what we spoke of in our introduction, it’s fruitless. All it does is fill the belly, and not the soul. Go
ahead, work for food that perishes. You yourself perish after a long life of fruitless toil. Work for your
hard-earned career and reputation. Work for your picture-perfect family. Work for your children.
Work for your marriage. Work to make your community a little bit nicer. Work to put a smile on
your neighbors’ face—to brighten their day. People make a religion out of this stuff—but, it’s all
going to perish. And, I mean perish. Later in John 15, Jesus will remind us that he’s talking about
perishing under God’s wrath. You and your fruit will perish like branches thrown in a fire, if done
outside of Christ without faith and thankfulness before him.
So again, do you want the bread—the food, the fruit, the blessings—which Jesus offers in and of
himself? Or, will you work for the food that perishes? What do you desire?
We’ve considered what bread Jesus is talking about. We’ve considered whether we should desire this
bread or not—whether we should desire Jesus and the food he gives. Now, the question remains,
how can we get this bread?
How Can We Get This Bread?
Jesus has already answered that question—and, we already touched on it. What did Jesus say in verse
27? “Work... for the food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give to you”.
How do you get the bread? How do you work for it? You receive it! It’s a work of receiving! We’re
talking about “the bread which the son of man will give to you”. It’s a work of receiving! That’s
what Jesus is saying, here! So, how should you respond?
How did the Jews respond? You’d think these Jews would be elated! “You have imperishable food?!
You’re just giving it away?! How can we receive it?!”.
Look at how they responded. Verse 28. “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”. Do
you hear the bargaining chips dropping, there? They make no reference to the imperishable food.
They make no reference to the fact that Jesus said he’ll give it away. They focus in on themselves,
their own fulfillments, their own desires, and what they can do to merit God’s blessings as they would so
please. The patience of Jesus, here, not to retaliate in anger or frustration. What does Jesus say? He
gives them a simple, straight, wonderful answer of good news. Verse 29, “this is the work of God,
that you believe in him whom he has sent”. Just believe, folks. Repent from your sins, turn from
your worldliness and your empty, perishable passions, and believe upon Jesus as he offers you
imperishable fruit. It’ll free you from a life of exhaustion and frustration. He’s done the hard work.
He’s merited God’s forgiveness and favor through this blood and righteousness. He’s ascended on
high and seated on the throne, to protect and preserve you forever. He’s equipping you with
everything you need for life and godliness. He’s poured his Spirit upon you, to fill you with “the
peace of Christ which surpasses understanding”. He’s made you acceptable and holy, so that you can
finish a hard days’ work and say “it’s ok my work is frustrated right now, I’m working to the glory of
Christ, and he accepts me despite my imperfections and weaknesses”. That’s faith in Jesus, folks.
He’s done it all, he gets the glory. Believe in him, and enjoy the food—the fulfillment and
acceptance—that’s deeply meaningful and accepted before God forever.
So, remember—this is all about Jesus as he’s revealed himself and offered himself to you. What’s the
bread? Jesus himself. Do we desire it? I certainly pray we do, lest we’re blinded by our worldliness
and make Jesus a means to an end? How do we receive it? By faith, for imperishable pleasures