During our last vacation, we visited Yellowstone National Park. One
of the reasons why we chose to come to this place was that we wanted to spend
some free time farther away. But Yellowstone actually has a very mysterious and
fascinating aspect to it. The children would say to me, “Dad, you should talk
about this place in your sermon.” It seemed that we could not forget about my
position as a preacher.
Anyways, I would recommend Yellowstone because of the scenery of
course, but also because there is no place to buy food. We would just carry
around rice bowls and make rice at hotels to eat. It’s such a big park, but
there is not a single place that sells food. Even if the children would plead
me for ice cream, we couldn’t buy any anywhere. In all, it was a little hard
but ended up as a very frugal vacation.
I never realized this at home, but when we were on the road, we
started to notice how the food problem was so cumbersome. It would be easier to
have one meal a day, or for that one meal to last us 2 or 3 days. But every
time we eat, we become hungry again so quickly and once we finish a meal, we
have to start worrying about the next. Sometimes I would get confused whether
we were on vacation or we were in hunt for food.
Strangely, this week’s
sermon was about Exodus 16:3, “The Israelites
said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots
of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this
desert to starve this entire assembly to death,"
as well as John 6:27, “Do not work for food that spoils, but
for food that endures to eternal life.” If I had
known that this was to be the sermon, I would have used them for when the kids
would complain to me about being hungry.
Anyways, as I reflect on today’s words, it keeps reminding me of our
vacation, bringing a smile on my face without my realizing it. The Israelites
who started the great Exodus journey complained about the problem with food,
and Jesus’ followers also seemed most confused about food.
I started to think that we are also in the same situation. During our
journey through life, the biggest complaint is the problem of providing
ourselves with food. Not even just that, but we also don’t know the type of
food we have obtained, whether it is food that spoils or food that endures to
as we reflect on today’s sermon, let us think together of how we can live not
for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.
First of all, Exodus chapter 16, verse 1, “The whole Israelite
community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between
Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come
out of Egypt.” The actual date the Israelites left Egypt was January 15, so
this verse is dictating at about a month after the exodus.
So after about a month of hardship, the memories of their slave
days seem to be better than the current situation they were placed in, where
they were starved. So in verse 3 the Israelites started to complain: “The
Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt!
There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.’”
The occurance of the Exodus in the lives of Israelite is an
event with an extortionate meaning. However, after a month the meaning
disappeared and was replaced by hunger. So how did it end? In verse 4 it
records that God gave them food from the skies as if it was raining; in verse 8
it records that they were given meat every night.
But, God did not give manna just to feed the Israelites
miraculous food. If God wanted to give them miraculous food, he would have
given them food that would allow them to not feed again for 40 years. However,
that was not the case for manna. The Israelites were unable to last a week
after eating manna, like any other food they had to reap manna. In other words,
‘manna’ was special food that was given by God, ‘manna’ itself was not very
different from ordinary food, and the food manna itself was a value neutral
food since people who ate manna had to eat again like eating any other food and
the manna that was reaped on the Sabbath day deteriorate and insects would
gather upon the food.
But really it is not just any typical food, Exodus chapter 16,
verse 12, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At
twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread.
Then you will know that I am the LORD your God’” He said that through manna
they will get to know God. In verse 4, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will
rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and
gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they
will follow my instructions.’” Here it is recorded that manna was used as a
test by God; therefore, it’s not food that one just throws away, it was a test
to see how God’s law was being followed.
‘the people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day’ is really
important, if the Israelites thought that manna was like any other food, when
the time was right one would reap more to save themselves from the trouble.
However, manna was not food that came from nature, and was not food that was
harvested. No matter how hard they try to reap more manna, it was not possible.
Sensibly it was given by God. So there is a reason to why one cannot gain more
even if one tries hard to get more on the Sabbath day. Rationally it is because
God gave them manna…
Thus, manna is a very special food, and at the same time a very
ordinary food. Linking to the title of the sermon today, manna is a
‘deteriorating food and also food that gives eternal life.’ Just because the
title includes ‘deteriorating food’ one should not think so pessimistic about
it… ‘deteriorating’ has the meaning ‘destroy’ and ‘subvert’ but it also has the
definition ‘disappear’ and ‘tendency to throw away.’ Therefore, old food becomes
corrupted and needs to be thrown out, and even for those people who only eat food that is good
for them they will die one day. Anyway, when ‘manna’ is viewed in this type of
perspective it is no different from the normal food.
But manna is not the only item that has two characteristics, all
food are similar… It might have been from the long car trip with the children
bored, they had a conflict with one another and most of the time it was for
food… They were told many times that if they negotiated that they would be
given tastier food, but the conflict went on. The conflict was intensified if it was for ice
cream. The food was a test given by their father was not known by the children.
While I was contemplating today’s verses, if there was a way to
get God’s ‘blessing,’ I think it can be done by sharing the food that is going
to deteriorate. Over time it will spoil, and disappear, so there is no meaning
to selfishly holding to the food. No matter how well one eats, eternal life
cannot be obtained so sharing will bring blessings to our lives. I hope that we
all can share this blessing.
There is another
common point between food that spoils and food that endures to eternal life. To get either of two, we should pray, anyhow.
Wouldn’t it be a real miracle if they did not have to eat
any more with a bite of ‘Manna’ while crossing the wilderness? But God let them take and eat Manna every day continuously. Why? Manna in the Old Testament is similar to
‘daily bread’ in the Lord’s Prayer.
In fact, this is quite confusing because after this prayer, Matthew 6:31 reads “So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall
we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?” Yes, only the
pagans worry these things.
Version 34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will
worry about itself.”
It sounds very strange. God
orders us pray for daily bread while He says to us not to worry for food
because He lets even wild flowers be clothed and birds be fed. These seem contradictory to each other.
It is because there are different
concepts of “daily bread”. Daily bread is ‘lachma’ in the Aram language, which means not only food and bread, but also wisdom, mother and support. Therefore, praying for daily bread does not mean for us to
pray for food, but in fact to pray for the support and help of God in our
lives, who is like our mother. ‘The bread of life’ in John 6:48 also means lachma. So, it is telling us that we must pray daily for bread that endures to eternal life, not that which spoils.
We need to think of another
reason why we should pray for ‘lachma – daily bread.’ One is related to the
words in the
Lord’s Prayer, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).” That is, we have to pray not
for food for physical needs, but for spiritual needs that we will let God’s will be done on earth. We want God to supply us spiritual energy with which we can live
such a life. As we constantly need food
to keep our physical health, we constantly need spiritual
energy to live for God’s will. This is why the Lord tells us to pray for lachma, our daily bread.
The thing for us to think about here is how
we can distinguish between ‘food that spoils’ and the ‘food that endures to
John chapter 6 verses 26 and 27 talk about
the reason why people have come across on the boat looking for Jesus, “You are
looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the
loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that
endures to eternal life.”
The thing I wondered while reading these
verses was, ‘why did Jesus refer to these people as those who are looking for
food that spoils?’ They had come all the way to Capernaum on a boat to find
Jesus. They even asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
(6:28). Wouldn’t you say that these people were wise enough to be able to
distinguish between the two ‘foods?’ And yet Jesus referred to them as people
who have eaten the loaves, had their fills and were now looking for food that
The answer can be seen when we look at the
passage more closely. In verse 28, we see that the people have asked what ‘works’ were required of them from God.
However, when Jesus answers, he uses the word ‘work’ instead, meaning that there is only one thing that the people
had to do, in contrast to their beliefs of it being multiple.
The Jews at the time thought that there were
various things that God had required them to do and that if they practiced at
least one of these ‘good willed deeds’ they’d be saved. However, Jesus is
telling them that there is only one thing that is required of them, ‘to believe
in the one God has sent.’ Just as the expression ‘food that spoils’ can be
interpreted in two ways, so can ‘food that endures to eternal life’ – the food
itself leads to eternal life, and by consuming the food, one can endure to
In other words, what must we do in order to
seek food that endures to eternal life? ‘Jesus answered, “The work of God is
this: to believe in the one he has sent.”’ (6:29)
In order to examine whether we are seeking
for food that spoils or food that endures, we have to see whether we are doing
what has been required of us – to believe in the one he has sent, Jesus Christ. In a church, there are numerous ‘God’s works’
– worship team, choir, teacher, members of various teams etc… And in order to
prevent these works from becoming searches for foods that spoil, there must be
faith in Jesus Christ at their cores. We must examine to see whether these
works are renewing our spirits or are making us even more hungry and thirsty.
Why? Because Jesus had declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me
will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35).
This very thought was lurking around the back
of my head during the last couple of weeks. I wondered whether although I
seemed to be doing God’s work diligently, I was really in search for food that
spoils. Whether I truly believed in Jesus Christ and whether this faith was really
at the foundation of the things I did… I hope that we will all put some time
into thinking about this issue. So that the members of our church aren’t
working for the sake of working but work in search for food that endures to
To conclude… I visited the Montana Old Prison
Museum in Yellowstone last week. Despite the fact that it has been over fifty
years since it has last been used as a prison, I wasn’t able to visit the
prison cells in the basement and the execution ground. Why? Because it was
When someone is imprisoned, he is not starved
to death. In fact, he is given three meals a day and the prison even has a
convenience store. However, no one wants to be imprisoned? Why? Because living
in a prison isn’t actually living. The same line of though can be applied to
today’s sermon. Food that spoils is still food, but a life in search of food
that spoils isn’t really life. It’s as though we are trapped in a bigger form
What must we do in order to escape this
prison and truly become free? During the trip, Peter had said, “Dad, I think
things are a little different with you on this trip. Last time, we went
somewhere close but you were still dozing off and did everything you could to
try and chase sleep away but this time, you don’t seem tired at all!” Although
I hadn’t told him then, I wanted to recite John chapter 4 verse 32 to him, “I
have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Tell him that I have food that
you don’t know about.
Of course, this ‘food’ doesn’t refer to
Jesus’ secret stash of food but our daily bread. Rakhma that is filled through
our prayers and gives us new strength. Doing what was required of him by God,
completing what he was sent to do was Jesus’ strength and the source of his
energy. That is how Jesus was able to walk down his path.
Beloved church members, I hope that you too,
will be able to walk down your paths by believing in God, the food that endures
to eternal life. So that you will gain new strength through food that others
know nothing about.