Truth Infused With Hope: The Bread of Life
9/26/2018 1:48:18 AM
September 23, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: James 3:1-12
We live in strange times! Indeed, times are changing rapidly around us. There are those here who remember when everybody went to church. It was normal and expected. There are those here who lived through the 1960’s and the “sexual revolution.” There are those who remember, who have lived through the cultural and philosophical shift from “modernism” to “postmodernism” and seen its effects even if they cannot define those terms.
For those of you wondering, Postmodernism is a worldview, a lens through which to view reality, that rejects the notion that there are objective truths, truths that apply to all people at all times. We are not able to go into all the details on this today. There have been tons of books written on the subject from both Christian and non-Christian perspectives. But, suffice it to say, one of the consequences of Postmodernism is that people say things like, “What’s true for you is true for you, what’s true for me is true for me.” Truth, right and wrong, religious views and the like are all considered equally valid or invalid, it’s all a matter of personal preference.
But times are changing! You see, even at the height of Postmodernism, people recognized that it was a transitional worldview. Almost immediately, people recognized that statements such as “There is no objective truth” is a statement about objective truth that is either true or false. It cannot be the case that there are objective truths or universal truths for just some people, but not all people. Postmodernism has very little firm foundation. It has some legitimate critiques of the “Modern” worldview, but in and of itself it is insufficient.
We no longer live in a Postmodern culture. We live in a post-truth culture. [Abdu Murray, Ravi Zacharias Summit 2018: “Clarity in a Culture of Confusion,” Toronto, July 2018.] What is that? Post-truth culture elevates feeling and preference over fact and truth. This is the culture we live in today. Postmodernism is a worldview that is ignorant or agnostic. We either cannot know absolute truth or we are unsure if absolute truth exists. Agnostic means “We can’t know” or “We don’t know.” Post-Truth culture, by contrast, is not only ignorant but also apathetic “I don’t care.” There may be absolute, objective truth, but in a Post-Truth worldview it doesn’t matter, we don’t care.
In Postmodernism truth, morality, right and wrong are individual preferences and choices. You can see how that really elevates our preferences and choices! We get to choose right and wrong for ourselves! That puts us in the driver’s seat. It gives us control. It makes us powerful- the arbiters of truth and morality! At least for ourselves.
What matters most now, however, is not truth or reality but feeling and preference. In a Post-Truth culture we may grant you that there is objective truth out there, but we don’t care. We’ve literally idolized our feelings and preference, made them our gods, so truth is less important than how I feel or what I want.
Example: “I think” vs “I feel.” How often do we say things like, “I feel that….” But we express an opinion or idea. These are technically thoughts, not feelings! But we have learned people argue with thoughts and ideas, but feelings are sacred. Last year in our course Emotionally Healthy Relationships, there was a lesson on articulating how you feel. That lesson includes real “feeling” words! Why? Because we have so confused thoughts and feelings we don’t know what feelings are anymore! Feelings are things like happy, sad, frustrated, excited, cold, sick, afraid, joyful and the like. These are the words that should come after, “I feel….” Instead, we insert ideas, “I feel that the government should raise the minimum wage,” or “I feel that churches should be more involved in their community.” These are not feelings! These are thoughts. But thoughts deal with truth and we’ve rejected truth and elevated feelings and preferences. So we speak in “feelings” but actually we are describing thoughts.
Why does this matter? Postmodern, Post-Truth, do we really care? Should we care? Yes! And here’s why: In a Post-Truth culture, when two people have competing preferences or competing desires, truth will not
decide the matter but power. Once upon a time, when people had competing preferences, it would be decided on principles of truth or universal, objective truths. But now what? Who wants it more? Who has the most power to enforce their desires? This is at the heart of the current battles over “fake news.” Truth is no longer what arbitrates between competing narratives in the news! Power is. Who has the most subscribers, followers or fans?
This whole shift has left us feeling empty, apathetic, and hopeless. The Western world is the richest society in the world- in the history of the world! And yet depression is on the rise, addiction is on the rise, suicide is on the rise, and greatest in the demographic where they are on the rise is that of teenagers and young adults!
Why? Because we have robbed life of meaning, we have divorced experience from reality. Having abandoned the anchor of truth we are cast adrift in a sea of emotions. We live in difficult times. Where will we turn? What are we to do?
In his book, the Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien has two characters lamenting the fact that they live in difficult times. Frodo, the innocent hobbit, laments, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.’
Gandalf: 'So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
Postmodernism and Post-Truth have left us hungry. They have left us empty. Into this culture we have been called as God’s people to speak truth, but not just “cold, hard truth” but truth infused with hope. We may wish we had not lived to see such times, but so do all who live to see such times! It is not for us to decide. Rather, it is for us to decide what to do with the time given us. Thank God there are forces at work in this world besides that of evil. You and I were meant to live in this time, and that is an encouraging thought.
Jesus lived in difficult times as well. Israel was occupied by Rome. The people were oppressed and poor. They were looking for a revolution. Into that difficult time, and into all times, Jesus brought truth infused with hope. Turn to John 6:1-15, 25-35, two passages inextricably linked.
What It Says
The first passage is the miracle of the Feeding of 5, 000. This is one of the few accounts in all 4 Gospels, and the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry in all 4! We are told that Jesus and his disciples set out for the far shore of Sea of Galilee. That would mean they went to the eastern shore, near Bethsaida. To make a contemporary link, this region’s modern name is “the Golan Heights” and is part of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. I say this to remind us all that Jesus is anchored in history and geography. When we remember that it helps us to link Jesus with our world today.
V 4 says the Passover was near. That was the major Jewish festival of the year. Passover for ancient Israel was like Canada Day or Independence Day today. It was a celebration of patriotism or nationalism. When we remember Rome’s rule of Israel, that changes the picture of “independence day.” For occupied Israel, Passover was a powder keg! This is why, after the miracle of bread, the people were keen to make Jesus king! Passover meant certain things were on people’s minds= Exodus from Egypt, deliverance from slavery and oppression, Moses in the desert (manna). All of this gives context to what the people were thinking on that day as well as context for what Jesus says in the second passage.
Verse 3 says that Jesus sat down to teach his disciples. Sitting was the usual posture for teaching in that culture. Jesus sees the multitude coming and asks Philip where they could buy food for all of them. Philip was from Bethsaida! He’s local. So it makes sense Jesus would ask him where they could find a supply of food for the people. Philip can only see the problem, not the supernatural power of Jesus as the solution. Andrew sees a glimmer of hope, but not much. But Jesus says, “order the people” into groups. The church, Jesus’ followers, have the privilege of working with Jesus, often in terms of preparing and ordering the people who are about to receive his blessing!
We are told that there were about 5, 000 men. Notice, they didn’t count the people, just the men! So 5, 000 men means even more people including women and families! Maybe as many as 20k people!
After giving thanks and distributing the food, the disciples are told to collect the remainder. They collect
12 baskets full of leftovers! Take note of the number- symbolic “12.” This is representative of the 12 Tribes of Israel. It tells us too that it was not just a bite each, but a feast! This passage is not a lesson in sharing but a supernatural act – a miracle. (Otherwise why would they want to make Jesus king? If it was about sharing, wouldn’t they want to make the boy king because he began by sharing his food?)
The people recognize the sign but misunderstand its significance. They know Jesus is “a” prophet. They think he may be “The Prophet” foretold by Moses in Deut 15:18. It’s funny because they’re right! But they misunderstand the nature of “The Prophet” Moses foretold- they expect him to bring political deliverance, just as Moses brought them freedom from slavery in Egypt. So the crowd tries to make him “king by force” but Jesus slips away. Think about it: there were 5, 000 men. That would make a large and immediate guerilla army to take on Rome!
Jesus brings this up with them later when back on the Western side of Sea of Galilee in Capernaum. This will be our focus for today. Back on the Western side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus addresses the crowd. Jesus speaks metaphorically of eating bread like we speak of eating our words, chewing over a matter or swallowing a story. Jesus speaks of the Son of Man – his favourite reference to himself as saviour – taken from Daniel, one of the images of the Saviour in the OT with the least “baggage” attached to it in 1st C. Judaism
Jesus and the people refer to manna – bread from heaven. What they are referring to comes from the Old Testament. When the Jews were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, God provided a white food for them each morning on the ground. They named it “manna” literally “What is it?” [Ex 16; Nu 11]
What It Means
So that’s what it says. But what does it mean? We are going to focus in on Jesus’ explanation of what they had misunderstood at the feeding of 5, 000. The people’s mistake is that they had been focussed on the food and (potential) victory (over Rome), not what the feeding really was: “A divine disclosure mediated through the incarnate Son!” [DA Carson, John, p. 271] They were fixated on their tummies and their politics. Jesus sets them straight….
The people ask Jesus 3 questions: Where have you been? What should we do? Who should we trust?
Jesus answers these questions with the who, what and where of the will of God! “Where have you been?” Or, in the NIV, “When did you get here?” is their first question. They are asking, “Where did you go? We were trying to make you king!”
Jesus rebukes them for their selfish motives. He basically says, “You’re here because you ate the bread- you’re here because I filled your tummies.” This is the same problem in John 4 with Samaritan woman at well – “Give me this water so I don’t have to keep coming to the well….” Jesus says do not work for merely material blessings! Similar to Matt 6, store up treasures in heaven! Jesus is asking, “Why are you really here?” That’s a challenging way to open a sermon!
Jesus says, Do not work hard in life for passing pleasures, but for a quality of life found only in the God-certified Son of Man. This brings their second question, “What should we do?” They had the right idea, seeking to be obedient, but the wrong understanding! They think they can do what God requires – whole OT is a record that we cannot do what God requires! Paul- no one is made righteous through the Law!
The work of God is this: Believe in the one he sent à notice 2 things: it is the work of God to believe in the Son! This means faith is a gift from God, a work of the Holy Spirit in us, not a work we can do, but a work to which we respond and with which we cooperate. Second, believe means faith – they are the same word. It is not based on our behaviour- not works righteousness, but by faith alone. So the answer to 2nd question, “What do we do?” is “You don’t ‘do’ anything! God does it and you receive it, you respond to it.”
First Jesus gave them real bread, then he offered them Real Bread. – Capital R, Capital B – ie himself [Frederick Dale Bruner, John, p. 357] In response to this great self-giving in the form of his service to them (atonement), his person, his Word and his Meal (Lord’s supper which replaces Passover) our response and privilege is to receive his service (atonement), trust his person, believe is word and enjoy his meal. So there are things we do, but not of our own initiative. They are a response to the initiative taken by Christ.
Interesting- when given the chance to respond to Jesus, to receive instead of to do themselves, the people hesitate, they retreat. They ask, “What sign are you going to give to prove you’re the one to trust?” That is, “Why should we trust you?” They were ready to make him King a moment ago! What happened?
They ask him “What sign he will give.” His bread was like Moses’ manna, but Moses did it every day for 40 years, you did it once. What’s up? Are you going to be as good as Moses was?
The Bread Jesus offers is himself, a bread that sustains eternal life, not merely temporary life. The people, however, like Jesus’ regular bread, they like what he can do for them politically, but they don’t like his theology!
After v. 35 he goes on to describe that he came from Heaven. He claims that he will raise up his followers in the Last Day – the day of judgment! He is claiming for himself the role of God à The people start to grumble, many leave him!
What are we to do with this? There are two levels of application: to us and to our culture. Jesus offers us himself, Bread that sustains eternal life. Not just life like we know it now that goes on forever- that would be excruciating! Rather, Jesus offers life as it was meant to be, without sickness, pain, sorrow or death and in intimate relationship with God.
We live in a culture that just about everything it could want materially. Our tummies are full! And yet we are still obsessed with filling them, with satisfying our desires. We want food in our bellies, but we want our bellies to remain flat and trim! And don’t even start about our politics! We are fixated with both our tummies and our politics, just like the people of Israel in Jesus’ day.
Jim Carey, quoted in Alpha video #1, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.” We have all that we should want. But we want more. Those who have more are starting to realize that it’s not the answer! Remember, we live in a Post Truth culture- filled with anxiety, depression, apathy. Jesus offers you and me a bread that satisfies! He offers Real Bread that satisfies the hunger we have that we are trying to fill with material things, pleasurable things, experiential things or escapist things. Jesus doesn’t offer us material gains, political solutions, or even moral rules or religious structures. He offers us himself in relationship.
Relationships matter. God is love. That is profound. That is relational! Out of that relationship with God we find in Jesus, others things flow, like good works and moral guidelines, but the relationship must be present first! Our culture is lonely and listless. We are all getting connected online, with “social media” but those are not real relationships. We are directionless and lonely. We don’t know up from down, we just know our wants and preferences. Our goals are self-centred not other-centred and certainly not God-centred. We are in desperate need of food that endures to eternal life!
The burden of defining for ourselves truth, morality and purpose is a burden to great for individuals or even a society to bear. This is why we are exhausted, anxious, depressed, listless and hopeless. We have taken upon our own shoulders the weight that only God can bear- to determine that which is true, that which is right, that which is good and to good purpose. Our necks are too thin to bear the weight of God’s crown.
But into this void, Jesus offers himself. He offers relationship. He offers restoration and reconciliation with God, the one who rightly determines these things, the one who gives value and opens the opportunity for works that last into eternity!
Jesus offers us truth infused with hope. It is significant Jesus says, “I AM the truth” rather than “I Know the truth.” The truth is ultimately found in a person- is ultimately relational rather than intellectual. The truth is not something we grasp, but rather something that grasps us! Truth that matters is truth known through relationship rather than research.
And this is what we, in turn, can offer to our culture. It is scary living through such times of upheaval and change. It is hard to find our footing when the very foundations are shaking and falling away. Just as Frodo wished the ring had never come to him and that he did not have to live in such difficult times of upheaval, so we, too, may wish we did not see such times as this.
Tolkien was a devout Christian, did you know? So there is some deeper wisdom and truth in the words he puts in Gandalf’s mouth: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world… besides that of evil. … And that is an encouraging thought”
We have hope to bring to our world. We have hope for ourselves! We know the One who is the Bread of Life, the One who is the Truth. And that is an encouraging thought. Amen.
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