TEXT: JOHN 6:21-35
THE THRILLING ANSWER OF JESUS!
Preached by Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To the saints at Luther Memorial Chapel who are faithful in Christ Jesus, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ;

“What must we do to be doing the works of God?” they asked Jesus.  After His feeding of the five thousand, after they followed Him and he scolded them for working for perishable food, they asked “What must we do to be doing the works of God?”  His simple answer is our life!  His unexpected answer is our joy!  His thrilling answer is your one unshakable hope in this dying world!  And you don’t believe it as you should – nor do I!  That stubborn sin clings to us everyday – unbelief in our absolute need for and God’s free gift of His love and goodness for us in Christ!  “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

TEXT: JOHN 6:21-35
THE THRILLING ANSWER OF JESUS!
Preached by Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To the saints at Luther Memorial Chapel who are faithful in Christ Jesus, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ;

“What must we do to be doing the works of God?” they asked Jesus.  After His feeding of the five thousand, after they followed Him and he scolded them for working for perishable food, the asked “What must we do to be doing the works of God?”  His simple answer is our life!  His unexpected answer is our joy!  His thrilling answer is your one unshakable hope in this dying world!  And you don’t believe it as you should – nor do I!  That stubborn sin clings to us everyday – unbelief in our absolute need for and God’s free gift of His love and goodness for us in Christ!  “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.”


This summer my thoughts rested for a time on a verse from Psalm 147.  In preparing this sermon my thoughts kept going back to that verse.  I believe it foreshadows and advances the thrilling answer Jesus gives here.  As the Psalm praises God for His creative and healing power, it also states what God takes pleasure in – in this way.  His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love (147:10, 11). 

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.  Think for a moment of what you take pleasure in – of what most delights your heart!  I’m not speaking of sinful temptations offering artificial pleasures that produce guilt; that lead to ultimate disappointment, that God condemns.  I’m speaking of God-given delights and pleasures of daily bread - His good blessings. 

How those pleasures change through the years.  A child delights in simple things – a toy – a tasty treat – a time for play.  Later there is pleasure in accomplishment – a job well done – a degree completed.  There is the pleasure of a Bridegroom in His Bride and a Bride in her Bridegroom.  There is the pleasure of new parents over the miracle of a baby’s birth or their delight in a toddler’s smile and first steps and growth.  There is the pleasure of a family reunion – a gathering for a special day – with feasting and fun and fine conversation.  Even in difficult times there are simple pleasures from God’s merciful hand; rest and reading the refreshment and refuge of friends who care for us!  Think of a gift of God that you take pleasure in that delights your heart.   Then turn your thoughts to what the Lord takes pleasure in.  The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Think of the holy God of the universe with no thought of wrath, no hint of disappointment, not one regret in His view of you.  Think of the holy God of the universe receiving complete satisfaction and delightful pleasure from you.  If this is true – you who fear your sin is great and who see no hope but Christ - your future is secure.  If this is true - you who fear you don’t measure up and can only plead for God’s mercy in Christ – you now measure up.  If this is true – you who fear your sin is too stubborn and struggle against it every day (apathy, worry, pride, lack of love, self-centeredness) – your slate is nonetheless clean before God and your conscience should be too. 

You see, dear sinner, God delights in your despair of yourself and your hope in His steadfast love!  The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.  Or as Jesus answered; “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  It is the one work God requires!  It is faith in the One person he has sent – not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Gandhi, not nature, not a wispy spirit – but in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior in the flesh.  It is the work that God alone can do in the human heart.  And when such faith is at work – He is delighted – He takes pleasure in you!

Unbelief regarding this gracious truth that daily clings to us is the cause for all manner of problems in our lives.  Two of them are noted in today’s readings.  One is grumbling!  The other is to seek the wrong Jesus while being skeptical of the real Jesus.  First consider the grumbling of the whole congregation of Israel against Moses and Aaron and thereby against the Lord.

God had given them freedom and assured them of the Promised Land.  He knew the provision He would bestow in the wilderness but they looked at the bleak landscape and longed to return to slavery and the meat pots of Egypt.  Faith clings to God’s promises – but a bit of hunger had them clinging to their past existence under a dreaded Pharaoh rather than their promised future.  It’s called regret or second guessing or coveting what we don’t have and we’re good at it too.  But good heavens remember how the male babies were killed and how Moses had to be rescued in that land.  Remember how Pharaoh made them sweat to produce the same quota of bricks for the slave drivers with the added burden of gathering their own straw.  When the human heart gets to pitying itself, all manner of enslavement looks like greener grass than what God is giving at the present time.  It seems sometimes as if nothing could be worse than what we have at present.  And so they grumbled at their lot and at not being in control.  God’s response was simply to give them enough manna for each day with his promise for the next day.

Like the Israelites in the wilderness, our hearts are not immune to grumbling.  We often want things to be more certain and more predictable and more controllable than they seem to be.  Whether politically or financially or in matters of health and home, murmuring hearts and grumbling voices can easily surface!  This doesn’t mean there isn’t hardship and trouble in this wilderness.  Nor does it mean we should always wear a manufactured smile and refuse to speak of our hardships and our hopes.  The Psalms can help us understand Godly complaint that God longs to answer.  What all this does mean is that our default setting is not to quietly trust God’s care in the midst of our troubles.  It does mean that we are tempted to doubt that God is delighted with us and working for our good even in the hard times.  As with the Israelites, we can find fault with being asked to simply receive daily from God’s hand.  Or like the people in our Gospel, we can easily get fired up about the wrong Jesus and skeptical of the real Jesus. 

Make no mistake – these folks were all fired up about Jesus.  They pursued Him with a passion and a purpose.  His miracle of feeding the five thousand is the reason for the focus on food in this text.  His miracle of walking on the sea is the reason for their question, “Rabbi, when did you come here?  Jesus had avoided these people trekking a liquid path across the sea that they could not follow.  He purposely evaded them because they wanted to make him king by force (v.15).  They pursued him out of desire for what you hear on the news each day – more things, more earthly security, more political power.  If He could feed thousands with five loaves, think of what he could do for the gross national product or for improving their health care or for removing the political yoke of the Romans choking their freedom.  Their thoughts were of a bread king so Jesus responded accordingly.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me…because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you…

That’s when they asked – “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Their question shows the predisposition of human hearts for salvation by works.  When humans are not foolishly denying the existence of God or fabricating their own gods, then their minds are often marshalling works to do to make things different with God.  This desire can be evident or hidden.  It can be present constantly or periodically.  It can lie dormant for years and then surface with a vengeance.  It is frequently and forcefully felt when death is drawing near.  How will I ever stand before God’s holiness?  What must I do to set my house in order and be ready to die?  What must I do to be doing the works of God well enough to make up for all my failings?

Drink deeply of Jesus’ marvelous answer!  This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.  You mean to say that you work in God’s behalf by letting God work in your behalf!  Yes, that’s exactly what God says!  You mean to say that you thank God for all His blessings to you by receiving another blessing, salvation in Christ.  Yes!  For all His favors toward us God would regard it as a favor toward Him if we would simply be the recipients of His eternal favor.  This is a wondrous revelation of His nature!  God loves us so that He can love us more!  God gives to us so that He can give to us more!  All of the blessings that God gives to you now have this purpose; that you might be on the receiving end of His blessings for all eternity! 

And there’s more to this marvelous mystery!  This one work that God requires of you is His work.  He doesn’t come to mankind dead in sin and say, “decide to believe in me” – “open our heart and let me in”.   No, no, no!  This is the work of God…that you believe!  Your belief in God’s Son is God’s work in you, God’s gift to you (Eph. 2:8, 9).  It is a miracle of His doing, for faith comes by hearing and hearing through the speaking of Christ!

Dear Christians, without this foundation we can be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and by Satan’s accusation.  Without this bedrock footing we can never be certain of salvation and our conscience never at rest.  Oh, we teach that good works are necessary – but not for salvation!  Salvation is God’s free and total gift to you in Jesus Christ.

Confusion here is no small matter!  I often eat a bowl of oatmeal in the morning as fuel for my body and I often put gasoline in the tank to fuel my car.  Imagine what would happen if I confused the two, putting the oat meal in my car’s tank and trying to consume the gasoline to fuel myself.  Attempting to put your good works into the realm of salvation is like that spiritually – destructive to God’s true work.  “This is the work of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Beloved, you are not relying too heavily on the real Jesus – that is impossible.  Human hearts can fabricate a false Jesus that winks at sin - that is a bread king - that is a puppet for strings they want to pull.  But human hearts cannot rely too heavily on the real Jesus.  On Him God the Father set His seal.  On Him God the Father also settled His wrath against your sin.  On that day Jesus walked a different path that no one could follow.  On that day He didn’t walk on the water he created but sank down into the sea of our sin – allowing it and its wages of death and damnation to roll over Him and pull Him down.  You know His beautiful cry on that day – His cry that undergirds His thrilling answer on the day of our text – “It is finished”.

It is so finished that there is only one baptism and in the holy waters of your one baptism the Lord put His mark on you and sealed you as His child.  It is so complete that He who is the bread of life now makes bread to be His body and wine to be His blood.  As the risen Lord serves you this heavenly food today He still speaks this truth in love to you.  “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  He is here now, taking pleasure in you who hope in His steadfast love.

In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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