The churches were full. In my imagination the same thing was taking place in many of them. People with cheerful expressions were eating sandwiches as the organ played. “Mine has such a lovely roast-beef flavor.” “Mine is turkey with herbs.” “Mine tastes like fresh tomato and lettuce, though the texture is strange.” “Mine is honey and peanut butter.” Hungry people being filled? Nourishing food becoming a part of each person’s growing body? No. Then what is taking place in this flight of fancy?
These “sandwiches” are filled with sawdust. Cleverly flavored sawdust is filling people’s stomachs, giving them a comfortable, full feeling. Cleverly prepared imitation bread filled with imitation meat, imitation vegetables, imitation honey, has been handed out and eagerly accepted, eaten without question. People walk out, thinking they have been fed. “Wasn’t that a lovely lunch? So tasty and satisfiying.”
What a tragedy it would be if well-flavored imitation food with no nutritional value were placed on the plates of hungry people. Physical illness would soon result, and in time death. “What a fiendish plot!” we would say, if nations succeeded in luring their enemies into “eating” to their own destruction without any resistance.
What would be worse—sawdust sandwiches fed to physically hungry people or sawdust Christianity fed to the spiritually hungry? When is it more important to examine the content of “food” being handed to us, when it is a silver platter of sandwiches or a silver platter of pulpit eloquence? Are we meant to open our mouths and swallow anything that is being served? No. The food we need has been carefully described for us, so that we have a base from which to judge, a sample with which to compare.
It was while hearing a discussion of what some board examining young candidates for the ministry felt was most important that my mind became filled with this picture of thousands of people eating sawdust sandwiches Sunday by Sunday. Two young men were refused ordination because they would not say they would take part in services to ordain women as pastors. One pastor said in effect that it did not matter whether a pastor believed in the virgin birth of Christ (or other such things!) as it would not hurt any other person if he did not, but that not to believe in the ordination of women was to dispossess other people and hurt them. What an attempt to flavor sawdust so it would taste like roast beef! To toss away the importance of belief in the virgin birth and insist instead upon belief in the ordination of women is a mind-boggling thing.
“And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, the virgin-born Son of God, who “was in the beginning with God” and without whom “was not anything made that was made”—this Jesus is moved with compassion because of the hungry people who need spiritual food that will nourish and bring lasting health.
The moment comes when physical food is needed also, and the command comes, “Give ye them to eat” (Mark 6:37). The undershepherds were to give food to the hungry, but where was it to come from? “He looked up to heaven and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes he divided among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled” (vv. 41, 42). The same powerful God who was able to feed the Israelites with manna day after day in the wilderness multiplied the nourishing bread and fish so that the thousands were fed properly. The physical food was not false: it was made by the Creator of all things, and it was passed out in real baskets by the disciples, who were commissioned to give what Jesus had prepared. Jesus speaks later to Peter and to the many “Peters” who are the true undershepherds or pastors, saying, “Feed my lambs.” The feeding is to take place with that which Jesus has prepared, a precious basket full of real food.
The Pharisees, who did not believe in the virgin birth, who did not believe Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, are accosting him with questions. The disciples are seeking answers so that they will know more about this One in whom they are coming to trust. Jesus speaks clearly and strongly:
Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said unto him, What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee?… Our fathers did eat manna in the desert.… Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.… Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not [John 6:27–36].
Bread is to be given to the hungry. That bread is the “flesh” of the Son of God, who through the virgin birth became Son of Man that we might have this flesh. The Bible tells us that the angel Gabriel was sent from God “to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.… And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for … thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus.” Mary herself had a perfect right to find this hard to believe: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The angel gently answered her question: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” The angel went on to tell Mary whom she could share her news with: another woman, her cousin Elizabeth, who also had a miracle in her body in that she had become pregnant in her old age. Elizabeth was prepared to believe that “with God nothing shall be impossible.”
Some believed Jesus when he spoke to them face to face; others were those of whom he said, “Ye have seen me, and believe not.” It is a serious thing to give a person the task of serving bread when he cannot distinguish bread from sawdust.
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.”
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