If the police arrest someone, we say they "nailed" them. In the Olympics, gymnasts "nail" their routine. "Hitting the nail on the head" means to be spot on, getting to the heart of the matter. However, the first use of that expression was in a religious context. It was in a 15th century book about a religious visionary. There "hitting the nail on the head" seems to mean to speak so accurately as to be painful to the one spoken to (www.phrase.org.uk/meanings). It's this use that applies to our text. Jesus reveals our problem and the solution so clearly that the point is sharply driven home like a well struck nail.
Our problem is that we are nailed to the things of this life. That's what St. Chrysostom concluded in a sermon on our text: the Lord says here don't "be nailed to the things of this life" (NPNF, 14, 158). The crowd sure was. Rather than focusing on what the miraculous sign of feeding 5,000 pointed to they focused on the food. Rather than the grab on to the words of eternal life that came out of Jesus' mouth they focused on the food His hands could provide. They really were no different than the general population of Rome that was happy as long as the government provided bread and entertainment.
Do you think you're really so different? Aren't you nailed to this life? I know I am. I criticize the churches that set out to meet people's felt needs: be it child care, youth programs, marriage classes, English as a second language courses. Yet my felt needs all of them earthly are what I focus on. I think of taxes, aging, retiring, ailing, buying, selling. All these cares, all this focus, is no different than the crowds following Jesus because He fed them. The only way I differ from them is that I'm so well fed my belly doesn't grumble regularly like theirs did. In the end both the crowds and I are firmly nailed to the things of this life. How about you?
If you, as I am, are nailed to the passing, perishing things of this life, it's because you didn't understand the Feeding of the 5,000 either. I know, I know. That's ridiculous. What's to misunderstand? Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed thousands. It was a miracle. What more is there to it than that? Plenty.
The crowd misunderstood it. They didn't see it was a means to teach them something more important. Jesus says they didn't regard it as a miraculous sign pointing to something other than earthly bread. They missed the sign so badly that they think Moses was a bigger deal for providing manna in the wilderness than Jesus was for feeding thousands.
But the crowds and we are in good company. Mark 8 records Jesus' frustration with the apostles for missing the real point. Jesus says there, ""Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? When I broke the 5 loaves for the 5,000, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they replied.Jesus said to them, 'Do you still not understand?'"
Driving through Kansas in the early 80s, there was sign in the middle of hundreds of acres of wheat. It read "This Kansas farmer feeds 256 people and you." Don't know if that was true, but I do know the Lord Jesus Christ feeds 7 billion people and you. He keeps the hearts beating of 7 billion people and you. He fills the lungs of 7 billion people and you. The hands of Jesus can feeds thousands with what could only feed a small boy. All our fretting and focusing on earthly things does nothing. Our caring, worrying, and considering can't feed, provide, protect, or help. Even worse it nails us so firmly to the things of this world that we miss the next. Or as in this text, we miss the Lord of the next.
In Genesis Bible class we heard how Esau nailed to the things of this life profaned his birthright by selling it for a bowl of lentils. In Revelation Bible class we're hearing how the 7 churches are encouraged to endure the sufferings of this life so as not to miss the next. In Galatians Bible class we hear how there are those who would attach the promises of the next life to doing certain works in this life. My point is that all of Scripture warns you about the danger of being nailed to the things of this life. In our text Jesus wants to pry us loose.
First, Jesus rebukes us for focusing on food that spoils. All the earthly things we are nailed to are no different than the manna Israel was given. Remember how if they tried to store it, to save it, it only rotted over night? So goes all the earthly things we try to depend on. But Jesus does want us thinking about those earthly things. He wants us thinking about the appetite we have for food, for life, for living. Because Jesus is going to use these earthly things to speak of heavenly things.
This empty, aching, need we have, we feel, we long to have satisfied and wrongly try to with earthly things can never be satisfied with the things of earth. Be it food, money, power, sex, possessions, prestige all of these earthly things will only pass away and so will all those nailed to them. There is, however, a food that endures to eternal life. There is something that can satisfy this empty, aching, need, and it's not a thing, but a Person. Not just a Man but God in flesh and blood. Not the man who filled your belly with bread but the Man who is the Bread of God.
Can you feel some of the nails popping free? Can you see some of the things you are nailed to for what they really are: Passing, spoiling, decaying, temporal things? This hunger, this wanting, this longing you have can only be filled by God. And He's yours for the believing. He says, "'Don't work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.' Then they asked Him, What must we do to do the works God requires?' Jesus answered, The work of God is that you believe on the One whom He sent.'"
Did you hear how prominent the word "work" was in our text? Jesus says, "Don't work for food that spoils." The crowd asks, "What must we do to do the works of God?" Jesus says, "The work of God is that you believe on Me." The crowd then asks, "What work will you do that we might believe on you?" But all this work, work, work comes down to Jesus saying, "My Father gives you the true Bread from heaven and I am that Bread of Life."
Leaves you kind of flat, huh? Just about had you popped free from being nailed to the perishable, perishing, things of this life, and then I tell you the climax is Jesus is the Bread of God, the Bread of Life? We're going to see that the crowds were disappointed too. The majority of His disciples stopped following Jesus after this. Their hunger was not satisfied by Jesus. It was for the apostles; they stayed. How about you? Yes, yes I know you're nailed to the things of this life, but Jesus would pry you loose today by showing you Himself nailed to a cross.
This is the full picture Jesus puts before us. Jesus tells us that God the Father has put His seal of approval on Him. Earlier John had identified Jesus as the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world. Sacrificial lambs were always sealed, certified to be blemish free, before they were sacrificed. So Jesus is by the Father. Remember? "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." The Father had nothing but good feelings, delighted feelings, happy feelings toward the Son, but the Son is sealed as a sacrificial victim in place of the sinful world. That means all God's good feelings were placed on the world and all of His wrathful ones were placed on His Son, the Lamb of God, carrying the world's sins.
For Jesus' sake God smiles upon you. Is happy with you. Is content with you. For Jesus' sake, God doesn't remember, let alone care, about anything you've ever done wrong. For Jesus' sake, because of His blood and holiness, God can't find one of your sins, one of your failings, one of your shames. But all this is for Jesus' sake. No Jesus means God does see and judge all your sins, all your failings, all your shames right now and forever.
Get Jesus, get forgiveness. Well then, how does one get Jesus? Based on our text we say: Get God's Bread and you got Jesus." He's the Bread of God sent down from heaven to sop up the mess of your sins. He's the Bread that constantly gives life to the world. That's what Jesus says: "The Bread of God is He who comes down from heaven giving life to the world." From the Word He teaches in Bible classes to the Word He preaches here, life is constantly given out to a dead world and to sinners dead in their trespasses and sins. From the baptismal font constantly flows a life-giving water that is rich in grace. On this altar, the Bread of Life comes to constantly feed, forgive, and free the fallen children of men.
What are you waiting for? Why aren't you reveling in His Words? Why aren't you wallowing in His Waters? Why aren't you eating and drinking life? I know why because the blinders haven't come all the way off. We must transition from Jesus being God's Bread to Jesus being God. Jesus says, "I am the Bread of life." This is the first time Jesus claims the Old Testament name of God, Jehovah, I am that I am, for Himself. He will go on in the Gospel of John to proclaim I am: the Light, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection, the Life, the Way, the Truth, and the Vine.
Jesus culminates all these "I am" revelations in Gethsemane. Right before He allows Himself to be arrested and led to suffer brutal torturing by men and God's eternal wrath, Jesus says simply, "I am." And at the declaration that He is Jehovah all of His captors, all of His enemies fall down helpless. This shows that Jesus is Jehovah in flesh and blood. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who put Noah in the Ark and met Moses on Sinai willing gave His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, for your sins. And now He gives His Body for Bread to be eaten with the ears in Bible classes and sermons, with the body in Baptism, and with the mouth at this Table.
Our text is the first "I am" proclamation. The one, holy true God is here. He's here to give Himself up to be nailed to a cross so that His Body might be eternal life giving Bread for sinners to free them from being nailed to the things of this life that can only spoil and perish. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20120812); John 6: 24-35