Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. During the 1990’s the American dairy industry began a hugely popular ad campaign to encourage people to drink more milk. It featured smiling celebrities, like athletes, models, movie stars, and singers sporting milk mustaches and the tagline, “Got milk?” Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Venus and Serena Williams, Tom Brady, and Brett Favre, Kate Moss, and even Bart Simpson all lined up for a glass of milk. It became one of the most successful advertising campaigns of the last 20 years and spawned hundreds of parodies, including the line that could have been inspired by today’s Scripture readings: Got bread?
When somebody told the out-of-touch Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, that the people had no bread, she gave the asinine reply, “Then let them eat cake!” Not a smart thing to say… Off with her head! (And off with Louis XVI’s head too!).
The people of Israel were about to lose their heads when they did not have bread in our Old Testament lesson. And it wasn’t because they were concerned about the latest zero-carb diet or gluten intolerance. The Israelites were hungry! They didn’t have bread. They couldn’t eat cake. (And they probably didn’t have much milk, for that matter, either!)
In Exodus 16 the Israelites were in the Sinai Peninsula on their way to the Promised Land. Just a few weeks earlier, the LORD God, Yahweh, had rescued them from slavery in Egypt by means of the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Unscathed by the angel of death or Pharaoh’s armies, the children of Israel were free for the first time in more than 400 years! They were slaves in Egypt for centuries longer than African slavery lasted in America. They were on their way to the Promised Land, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8, 17; 13:5). And how did they celebrate their newfound freedom? They complained!
“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Ex. 16:2, ESV). Because their tummies were grumbling, they wished that God had killed them in Egypt, where at least—so they claimed—“we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full” (v. 3). In other words, they would rather die as slaves in Egypt than enjoy the freedom of God’s rescue. At least they would die with their bellies full!
Despite the fact that Yahweh had done miracle after miracle after miracle to rescue and provide for his people, they still didn’t believe and trust God. They didn’t love him. They should have known better than to complain to Yahweh. He was the living God, the great I AM, who did signs and wonders against Egypt and led them out with a mighty hand. He gave them the Passover Lamb to save them from the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12-13). He parted the waters of the Red Sea so they could cross to safety on dry ground (Exodus 14). He made the bitter water sweet so they wouldn’t die of thirst (Exodus 15). And now they didn’t think he could take care of dinner? Got bread? More like: got faith?!
Yet in his great love, God provided for his ungrateful people. Even though they grumbled against God and his servant Moses, Yahweh assured his prophet that he had heard the Israelites’ grumbling, and he was going to take care of their needs. He sent flocks of quail for them to eat in the evening and rained down bread from heaven in the morning. According to Moses’ description, it was “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost” (Ex. 16:14). The people called it manna, which is Hebrew for “What is it?” (cf. v. 15). And Moses told them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”
Even though the Israelites were ungrateful and unfaithful, Yahweh still provided for their needs. He gave them daily bread—literally! And for 40 years of their wilderness wanderings, they ate manna every day. This was not the last time that the Israelites would complain about their food. In Numbers 11 and Numbers 21 they would remember the cucumbers and watermelons they ate in Egypt and gripe that they were sick of eating manna. “There is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food” (Num. 21:5). Like teenagers who open the door of a refrigerator full of food and yet complain, “Mom, there’s nothing to eat!”, so also the Israelites were not content with the gifts that God gave.
And neither are we. The Bible says that we should be content if we have food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8), but we always want a bigger house, a faster car, fancier clothes, and the newest electronic gadgets. We are not satisfied. We always want more, more, more! We rack up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt to buy things we don’t need and can’t afford, and yet when the Lord tells us to tithe ten percent (10%) to our church, we balk and say that we don’t have enough money. We have to pay for HBO and the NFL network and our $5 cup of coffee before we can offer thanks and contribute to the work of the kingdom.
We suffer from a scarcity mentality. We claim that we have no time, no energy, and no money to help and serve other people—or to volunteer at our church. And then we wonder why, after all our grumbling and complaint, we feel crummy and unsatisfied instead joyful and blessed. We fail to recognize God’s gifts, and so we are left wanting.
But in our Gospel lesson we discover that even after our bellies are full, we still crave more. After Jesus fed a crowd of over 5,000 people by the miraculous multiplication of five loaves and two fish, the people chased after him to make him their “Corn King” (C.S. Lewis, Miracles). There is no greater way to ensure your popularity than to promise free food to the masses. But Jesus didn’t want to be King for a Day. When the people tried to make him king by force, he withdrew and scolded his audience (John 6:15).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 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” (John 6:26-27).
Their greatest need—and ours—was not to get their fill of bread or make it rich or win free pizza for a year. Our greatest need is Jesus. “This is the work of God,” Jesus says, “that you believe in him whom he has sent” (v. 29).
But in their stubborn unbelief, they begged for another miracle, another sign, even though Jesus had just fed the five thousand and walked on water. What more could they ask for? “Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness” (v. 31). Always more, more, more! Got bread?
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 33).
Sounds pretty tasty! “Sir, give us this bread always.”
And now Jesus gave them the big reveal: “I AM the bread of life!” he declared. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The Israelites ate manna in the wilderness, and they still eventually died. Here in Castle Rock, Colorado, USA, we live in one of the richest counties in the richest country in the history of the world. And still we never think we have enough—this, despite the fact that God promises to provide for us.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” because God always gives what he promises. In today’s Psalm we pray, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15-16). Jesus says that God provides for birds and flowers (Matthew 6). How much more will he take care of us! “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31-33).
Don’t worry! Trust God. He will provide. My dad used to say, “Worry means that you’re praying to the wrong god.”
Fifteen years ago I moved to St. Louis to begin my studies at Concordia Seminary in order to train for the ministry. I had just paid my tuition, room, and board, but all my money was spent, and I had nothing left to buy my books. How was I going to get through the semester without textbooks? I worried and prayed—and complained. “What are you doing, God? I gave up everything to serve you? And now are you going to leave me hanging?” I grumbled against God. Sound familiar?
Then a few days later, a card arrived in the mail at my new address. Opening the envelope, I discovered a check for $500 and a check from my Grandma that read, “Thought you could use this for books.” Can you believe it?! I never even mentioned my need to my family. I was too embarrassed. But God knew my need, and he took care of me. That check was just enough money for all my books. God bread?
We are not that different than the children of Israel. We are all lazy, selfish, ungrateful, sinners who grumble about God’s gifts and worry about everything. But Jesus is more than enough for us. He is all we need. Jesus is the Bread of Life come down from heaven (John 6:41, 51). If we believe in Jesus and listen to his Word and eat his Body and Blood in his Supper, then we will have eternal life. And even after we die, yet shall we live. The bread that Jesus offers is himself. “If anyone eats this bread,” Jesus says, “he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).
So stop living your life with a scarcity mentality. Start believing Jesus and trusting God to take care of your needs. Be assured that Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sins. And if God loves you enough to send his Son to die for you, don’t you think he’ll take care of the rest (cf. Rom. 8:32)?
Got milk? Got bread? Get Jesus! For he is the food that lasts forever. He forgives your sins. And he has dinner covered! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.