Good morning everyone. As you've already heard, you've joined us on this special Sunday when we celebrate that we are an international church. Last time we counted there were over 30 different nationalities represented and hopefully this year there will be even more! At this time of year, we always have many new people joining us – undergraduate and postgraduate university students, language students and visiting scholars. Maybe you've moved here because of your work or you are seeking safety in this country - I would like to add my welcome to those you have already received!
If you are new, we would love it if you joined us at this church and that we will soon be like a family for you. We're a large family who love Jesus, and my prayer is that you will feel so at home here that when you are with us you never feel like that you are different, but simply a brother or sister in Christ. I know some of you will be in a meeting like this for the first time – it is great that you have come and you are very welcome! Let me explain what happens next. We believe this book - the Bible - is God's Word and tells us what to believe and how to live. We are going to study a part of it and see what God is saying to us. To study it you need to see it, so please pick up a Bible and turn to John 6.22-29. Before we look at this together, I will speak to God and ask for his help to understand it. Let's pray.
Father God, we know you have something to say to each one of us this morning - help us to want to listen to you. Please help us to understand this part of your word and then help us to believe what you have to say to us through it. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
1. Don't just work for something that will not last.
That is the first thing Jesus says to you. Don't just work for something that will not last. Jesus was a real person. He lived in the country of Israel 2,000 years ago. This part of the Bible tells us about the things he did and said. Look John 6.27 and you will see what Jesus said:
"Do not labour for the food that perishes".
To understand what Jesus means, we need to know what was going on when he said those words. The day before he said these words, Jesus had done an amazing miracle at the side of the Sea of Galilee, near a place called Tiberias. He had fed a huge crowd of over 5,000 men with just five pieces of bread and two small fish. He took the food that was enough only for a small boy's lunch, thanked God for it and fed the whole crowd! After everyone had finished eating there were still twelve baskets full of food.
They all thought this was amazing and Jesus knew they planned to make him their new King. That way, instead of paying taxes to the King - they could receive free food from him! To stop this happening, Jesus hid from them in the mountains. Jesus had twelve close friends, called disciples, who he left alone with the crowds. In the evening, they took one of the boats and crossed the Sea to Capernaum. They left without Jesus. But, while they were crossing, Jesus did another miracle and walked on the water to join them in the boat. The crowds of course did not see this second miracle. The section of the Bible we are looking at today continues the day after all that happened. Please look at it again, as I read from verses 22-24:
"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. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus."
The people really wanted to find Jesus. They looked everywhere but could not find him. So, they followed the disciples. They took boats and crossed the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum to check that side as well. They were looking for Jesus. That sounds very good doesn't it! Let's see what happens next. Verse 25:
"When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?""
At last they had found him on the other side of the lake! They had looked everywhere for him and here he was! But, they were confused. How had he got here so quick? They knew he wasn't in the only boat that left the night before with the disciples. So they asked him for an explanation. "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Rabbi is the word for teacher in their language. But he doesn't give them one! Instead, he discusses the real reason he had given them all that free food the day before and the real reason why they had spent so much time trying to find him again. Verse 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.""
Jesus did not reply to their question. Instead, he told them that they were concentrating on the wrong things. They were only looking for him because he fed them. They had seen him feed over 5000 men with only a small amount of food. This was a wonderful miracle. But they did not understand the real meaning of the miracle. The miracle itself was just like a sign pointing to the truth about who Jesus was and what he could give them - which was more than just a free fish sandwich! They had spent a lot of effort finding Jesus. But what was it they were looking for? Jesus knew that it was just more loaves of bread to fill their stomach with. That is all they wanted. Jesus said to them, verse 27:
"Do not labour [or work] for the food that perishes [does not last], but [labour] for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you."
In other words: Don't just work for something that will not last. He says the same thing to us. What is it that you are looking so hard for? What are you putting greatest effort to get? Instead of bread, maybe it is money that you want and so you work hard to get a good degree so you can get a good job so that you can earn as much money as you can so you can buy that iPhone 6, or car, or clothes, or house, or holiday. Or maybe you know material things will not make you happy and are not worth working hard for. For you, what drives you is wanting a body that looks good, or the pleasures of sex, alcohol and drugs or success in sports or a promotion at work or getting top marks in your class. If it's not money or pleasure, maybe for you it is to do with people - wanting a girlfriend or boyfriend or a husband or wife or to be popular with your friends.
Now these things are not bad things – in the right context and used in the right way they can all be good things. Jesus is not saying give up your studies or get a job so you can house and feed yourself and your family! But the point is that these things do not last. Things break, or are stolen, or get old and lose their value. The things that give us pleasure do not satisfy forever - all that hard work is wasted. We grow old, injure ourselves or realise there is someone else better than us. People disappoint and let you down. So, we need to hear Jesus warning us to not just work for something that will not last. But Jesus does not stop there. Look again at verse 27:
"Do not labour 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."
Now we come to the second thing we learn:
2. Jesus offers life that lasts forever.
This is what Jesus wants them to see - they have searched everywhere so they can ask Jesus for a piece of bread - which won't last very long! They don't realise who it is who is standing in front of them and they don't realise what he can offer them. This Jesus is God's son who offers eternal life. What does he mean by eternal life? It's a different quality of life to what you've ever known before and it is a life that will last forever - even beyond the grave.
When you haven't eaten, you feel hungry. You know that you need food and you look for some. But there a hunger that you may not realise is there and there is another kind of food that we all need more than anything else. We are more than just bodies. We have spirits, too. And just like we have physical hunger in our bodies, we also have spiritual hunger, inside our hearts and our spirits. Only God can satisfy it, because he created this spiritual hunger in us. This hunger is the desire to know and to love the God who created us.
Some people do not know why they feel empty inside. Other people have not yet realised that what they are looking for in life is driven by an empty feeling inside their hearts and their spirits. They feel strong desires, but they do not know how to satisfy these desires. They may buy more possessions or work hard and look after their families. But still they cannot satisfy their desires. Jesus wants to offer them 'food that endures to eternal life' but all they seem interested in is 'food that perishes'.
What about you. What do you want? Are you interested in experiencing the kind of life Jesus is talking about here? Eternal life is all about having a relationship with God. And because all of us have a broken relationship with God, what we need to be forgiven by God. Let me explain:
God created the whole world and everything in it including us. He created everything that exists from nothing - just like Jesus created food out of nothing. When we create something, we own it - it belongs to us. And what we own, is ours to rule. It is like that with God - we belong to him and should honour him and obey his instructions as our creator. But, from the very beginning, men and women everywhere have rejected God by doing things their own way. We all do this. We don't like God telling us what to do or how to live—so we refuse to listen to him. We ignore him and just get on with our own lives.
What will God do about this? He gives us exactly what we ask for. When we say to God, 'Go away. I don't want you telling me what to do. Leave me alone', that is exactly what God does. His judgement on rebels is to withdraw from them, to cut them off from himself—permanently. But since God is the source of life and all good things, being cut off from him means death and hell. That is what all of us deserve. But, because of his great love and kindness, God did something to save us. He sent his own son Jesus into our world to become a man. Jesus did things that only God could do - such as create food for 5,000 people from nothing - so that we can know who he is. That is what it means that God the Father has set his seal on him. We know from what he did and said, that Jesus belongs to God.
And as he says in verse 27, he came to give us eternal life. He was able to do this because he died on a cross as a substitute for rebels like us. Unlike us, Jesus didn't rebel against God. He always did what God said, and so he did not deserve death or punishment. Jesus paid the debt that we owed God by dying instead of us. He took the full force of God's justice on himself, so that forgiveness and eternal life might be available to us.
The crowd don't understand what he is saying to them. Jesus has told them they should labour for the food that endures to eternal life and so they ask him what they need to do to get it. Look at verses 28-29:
"Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.""
The amazing news Jesus came to bring, is that eternal life is not something we deserve. It is a generous gift, from start to finish. Jesus offers us new life, both now and eternally. Our sins can be forgiven through Jesus' death, and we can make a fresh start with God, no longer as rebels but as friends. Jesus will give us eternal life, not because we have earned it, but because he has died in our place.
So, there is nothing they need to do. The 'work of God' is not something we do. It is something that God has already done. It is God's work. It's not about us trying to be good enough by keeping religious rules. Verse 29 tells us the only thing left to do. We need to "believe in him [Jesus] whom he [God] has sent" to give us eternal life. When we do that, God accepts Jesus' death as payment for our sins, and freely and completely forgives us. He pours his own Spirit into our hearts and gives us a new life that lasts forever, and is not ended by death. We are no longer rebels, but part of God's own family as his adopted sons and daughters. We now live with Jesus as our ruler.
Most of us here have already come to Jesus and know what it is to receive life that will last forever. We still need to be careful that we don't get distracted and put all our energies into getting something that is not going to last. We also need to continue to believe in Jesus and trust that everything needed to give us eternal life has been done by him. If you're a Christian who has just moved to Newcastle the best way to make sure that happens is to join a church as soon as possible and to make meeting with Christians a priority. JPC is a large church, so to help you settle and feel you belong here we'd encourage you to join one of our small groups – where people can get to know one another and help each other to follow Jesus.
Can I also say that the start of a new season in life is a good time to make sure you have a regular routine for studying the Bible and praying yourself. If you need help with that, please come and speak to us at the resources area at the back of church and we'd love to help you with this.
It is not enough just to know about eternal life. We have to receive it ourselves to know how wonderful it is. Maybe you are ready to take this step and accept Jesus' offer. You don't need to know everything that is in the Bible before you do this. You just need to speak to God and tell him what you've realised – say sorry that you haven't treated him as he deserves, that you believe he sent Jesus to die on a cross so you can be forgiven by God and ask him to give you eternal life. Don't leave it till later - do it now – don't leave this morning without speaking to me or someone here about this!
Or maybe you would like to hear more about this. I suggest three things:
- Keep coming on Sundays - you're always welcome at any of our services.
- You might also like to join one of the groups we run where we look at a part of the Bible together and learn more about what Jesus has been saying today. You can find out more at the welcome desk or come and speak to me at the end.
- We'd love you to take away one of these free copies of Mark's gospel - they have more of what Jesus said and did and it will help you to see that if we come to Jesus, he will give us life that will last forever.
Let me pray:
Father God - thank you so much for sending Jesus to make it possible for us to have eternal life. Please help us to see that it makes no sense to only work for things that will not last and instead to come to Jesus, to accept his offer of life that will last forever. Amen