Thriving (and Single) Part 2: Feasting
Read Part 1 of this series here.
In John 6, we read about a conversation Jesus had with some Jews about food. The day before this particular conversation, Jesus had fed several thousand people with the contents of one kid’s lunchbox. Now, the crowds have sought him out to ask for a sign that he’s from God.
The miracle they’d witnessed the day before reminded these folks of a pretty significant period in Israel’s history: the years their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. Six days a week for 40 years, when the ancient Israelites stepped outside their tents in the morning, they found white flakes on the ground, which they could grind into flour to make bread. They called it manna, which literally means, “What is it?” If they gathered more than they needed for a day, the leftovers went bad and had to be thrown out. Everyone was instructed to gather one day’s worth of provisions, except for Fridays, when they would gather an extra helping in preparation for the Sabbath.
Going back to John 6, it’s been less than 24 hours since Jesus prepared a miraculous feast of loaves and fishes, and now the crowds want to see if he can make bread appear not just once, but every day. Then they could be sure, like really really sure, that Jesus was sent by God. The problem is, they’ve missed something important in the original story.
The manna that fell from heaven wasn’t just a convenient way for God to feed a couple million Hebrews in the desert. It was meant to train God’s people to look to him for regular provision. And most importantly, It was meant to prepare them to receive Jesus.
Here’s what Jesus says to the crowds who asked him for a sign:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die…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, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” (John 6:48-50, 53-57)
His response is basically, “Oh, you want a sign? The manna that fell in the desert was a sign, and it was pointing to me.” So how did the manna point to Jesus? Let’s look at three ways God’s provision for ancient Israel pointed to Jesus as the superior bread from heaven.
Jesus Satisfies and Sustains
Jesus says that he is the bread of life and whoever eats this true bread will never go hungry. Have you ever attended a fancy event that was supposed to include a dinner, but when you got there, it was only drinks and appetizers? Jesus isn’t like that. He’s a full meal. Hearty and nutritious. He fills everything in every way, so no one who comes to him leaves hungry. Jesus is enough to satisfy us.
Not only that, Jesus is better than the daily meals God provided in the desert, because he is the bread that nourishes eternal life. He told the crowds, your ancestors ate manna and died but whoever eats the bread from heaven will have eternal life. By that, he doesn’t simply mean that we will live forever in heaven, although that’s true. The eternal life that Jesus offers is about more than longevity. Jesus is referring to a quality of life; eternal life means sharing the inner life of Jesus himself.
How does that work? Well, let’s think about food for a second. Maybe you’ve cut certain food groups out of your diet to test their effects on your health. Or maybe you’ve tried increasing your consumption of other foods to see if your health improved. Whether or not you’ve experimented much with different ways of eating, you’ve probably noticed that different foods have different effects on our bodies.
To feed on Jesus is to direct our hunger toward him and take in what he offers. It is to make him our primary source of life and satisfaction. When Jesus calls himself the bread of life and says "whoever feeds on me will live because of me,” he’s saying that depending on him will produce a different kind of life in us. And when we feed on Jesus in this way, it has a different effect on us than when we go to other sources. We’ll be sustained by the love of the Father, the same love that sustained him. We’ll be motivated by doing the Father’s will, just like Jesus was. He will produce the kind of life in us that he lived.
It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Feeding on Jesus energizes all the vital functions of our spiritual life. Eat the bread of life, and your spiritual metabolism will increase.
Jesus is the Same
Second, Jesus is like the manna that appeared in the desert because he is always the same. The Book of Exodus tells us that before long, the Israelites started to get bored with manna. It arrived at the same time every day. It always looked the same, always tasted the same, always smelled the same.
They started to grumble, which led them to idealize their time in Egypt. “In Egypt, we had meat and spices and vegetables,” they said. Four centuries of forced labor begins to sound more like a really great buffet.
The Israelites were prone to complaining, and it numbed them to the miracle they witnessed every morning. We may shake our heads and wonder, “What’s wrong with these people? Who complains about the faithfulness of God?” But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not a big mystery. Most of us have done the same thing. We can start to think that our daily bread is a little bland, a little repetitive. We can idealize what life would be like if we were fed by some source other than Jesus. Instead of questioning our appetites, we complain about the food.
However, the food is not the problem. God hasn’t changed the menu to fit our appetites because it’s our appetites that need adjusting. Jesus is and always will be the meal that God sets before us, and even his sameness is meant to sustain us. Because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we can trust him. He’s steadfast, constant, reliable. There will never be a morning when we wake up and he isn’t ready to greet us with new mercies and fresh provision.
We Need Jesus Daily
If anyone had told me when I was 26 that I would still be single at 36, there would have been great weeping and gnashing of teeth. Or, at the very least, a few tears and a couple gallons of ice cream. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined a life as happy and full and satisfying as the one I’m living now. I thought singleness after 30 had to be miserable and sad.
A few years ago, I heard Terry Virgo teach on the subject of manna, and something he said stuck with me. He was talking about the habit of imagining some terrible future and then losing faith in the present because we think, “Oh, I could never endure that. That looks miserable. What in the world would I do if God called me to do that thing?”
Terry’s advice was not to go further in our imaginations than God has given us grace to go in the present. In the desert, the Israelites received enough manna for one day (or two days before the Sabbath). But when they tried to stretch it out over longer periods, it went rotten.
In the same way, God has given us wonderful provision for today. We have everything we need for life and godliness. (And consequently, for singleness.) But if we start to think about tomorrow, or a week from now, or 10 years from now, we’re going further in our imagination than today’s provision is meant to stretch.
I’m not going to worry about what I’ll do if I’m still single a week from now or 10 years from now. That’s trying to stretch today’s provision further than it’s meant to go. Grace for tomorrow hasn’t come yet. In the meantime, God has provided everything I need for today. And the same God who supplied today’s need will miraculously cover the ground with tomorrow’s provision, too.
Like the Israelites who collected manna every morning, we must go to Jesus for something fresh. Yesterday’s provision won’t cover the needs of many days (or many years). And not only will he meet our needs, but when we we go to Jesus for food, he produces his life in us. Jesus is the feast God has set before us. Let’s enjoy every good thing he’s put on the table today.