Have you ever been given a gift for no apparent reason, no ulterior motive? I think deep down we all know it is the unexpected gifts of life which tend to be the best gifts. When gifts are given not because it is your birthday or Father’s Day or any other special occasion it tells you something important about the gift giver. No matter if the gift is big and breathtaking or simple and small, it means the giver was thinking about you. Perhaps they were perusing an aisle in a store and came across something that reminded them of you, and they thought you would appreciate it. So, without any grand reason they purchase it and give it to you. That is an awesome gift, perhaps better than a Christmas present or a birthday gift. It was given without obligation or expectation. It meant at the time when they were not in your presence you were still on their mind. You still mattered to them and in this small way they have demonstrated it to you. That is truly wonderful, don’t you think?
Now, to be sure, there is an artform to the giving of gifts. Some are just better gift givers than others. In my family we all know my little brother is the superior gift giver. He is creative and thoughtful in what he chooses. He clearly does not just get what he thinks you might like but he has clearly thought it through. It is usually something meaningful and rarely practical. It is often something which gets more to the heart who you are as a person rather than what you need. So, I suppose, if we wanted to, we could develop a sort of hierarchy of gift giving. The bottom of the list would be the gift cards you get on your birthday, they are expected and not at all personal. The other end of the gift giving hierarchy would be the unexpected and unearned gifts, they are the ones that speak to deeper and more profound issues of who you are. They demonstrate a correlation between the understanding you have of yourself and the thoughtfulness of the giver. Therefore, the very best of gifts are freely given and lift you beyond the temporal needs of this life.
Our Lord, throughout His earthy ministry was a giver of gifts. When He looked out at the crowds His response was usually one of compassion and mercy. From His abundance of love, He brought out gifts. He healed the sick, freed the tormented, gave sight to the blind, and speech to the mute. He fed the hungry and raised the dead. While these gifts were truly spectacular, while they met the needs of the individuals and gave hope where there had only been despair, these gifts were only the beginning of what He came to offer. All of His gifts pointed to something greater, something beyond this age, something eternal and lasting, something which would never fail or wear out.
As the crowd comes to our Lord in John 6, they are eager to see Him. They enthusiastically call Him Rabbi and long to receive what He gives. Jesus then begins to make a distinction. He says, “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. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” He says they come because He is the giver of gifts, because He is like some cosmic Santa Clause who feeds them when they are hungry. But this food is temporal. This food will satisfy for a while, but it will not last. All temporal things will perish. He directs them instead to food enduring to eternal life. This is what we are to consume, what we are to long for. The great things our Lord does are signs pointing to something great, to greater gifts, eternal gifts that fundamentally change us.
Now, all this sounds pretty good. Who does not want eternal gifts? So, they ask Him, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” What must we do to receive this eternal gift, this food which endures to eternal life? His answer is simple. “This is the work of God, that you believe in whom He has sent” (John 6:29). What He calls for is faith. Faith is the means by which such eternal gifts come. To believe in the one whom He has sent is to trust He is the Messiah, the anointed one of God who speaks His Word and hands on His gifts. It is to trust that here is the one who will reconcile God and man. This is our hope and assurance of eternal life.
The focus of all our hope, the fount from which the promises of God spring, is the great gift giver Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything is being honed down to this precise point. Everything is directing us to our Lord. He alone is the giver of the most underserved, most unimaginable gifts of all time and space. This is the One sent by God to stand in the place of fallen humanity, the One born under the Law to keep the law perfectly. He is the One to die in your place, to face the wrath of the Almighty for your sin. Christ alone is your salvation and hope.
But it turns out this is precisely the problem. There is a very real part of all of us that struggles to trust this simple promise. It is like the gift is too good to be true, to grand to be so simple. There must be something more to it, something we have overlooked. Perhaps we have had too many failed gifts, too many that left us longing for more. The crowd gathered around our Lord that day asked for some proof of why they should believe in Him. “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe You?” They say, “What work do You perform?” Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness, what are You going to do? In other words, they followed Moses and trusted Moses because every morning when they got up there was manna which had fallen from Heaven. If Jesus is going to continue to feed them, if He is going to regularly take care of all their temporal needs, well, they just might believe Him. We are not much different. We want the gifts that give momentary relieve and temporal comforts, we pray for them and long for them and if we receive them why we are more eager to believe.
But Jesus is not playing this game. He is not a bread king who comes to give gifts which easily perish. For in Christ what has come down from Heaven is not manna that only satisfies for a day but a gift of incomparable blessing. Jesus says to them, look Moses did not give them bread to from Heaven, it was a gift of the Father. And the Father has given something far greater. In fact, that giving of the manna was but a foretaste, a shadow of the greater gift to eventually be given. The greater gift reaches beyond this age and on into eternity. The greater gift not only feeds you this day but feeds you forever. In fact, according to your Lord, the greater gift gives life to the world, real life, abundant life, a full and rich life.
Well, there is only one response to this. Actually, there are two. You can either reject it, say no thank you and just move on with your life. Or you receive the gift, your empty hands will be empty no more, your hope for eternal life is satisfied in the gift He gives. There is no debating the gift, no bartering for a different shape or color or timeframe. No, the only real response is that of the crowd gathered around our Lord. “Sir, give us this bread always.” This gift is unexpected and grand and eternal, and we want it, we need it, give it to us always.
So, our Lord says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger; and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). The gift from Heaven the ultimate gift, the gift all other gifts aspire towards is our Lord Himself. He is the bread of life. He is the source of your salvation and the author of the promises which carry you day in and day out. His gifts never run dry. He gives you Himself for all eternity. So, what He says to you stand for all eternity. He says, “I forgive you. I forgive your doubts and fears and disbelief. And I give you life, real full life which stretches out for all eternity. Of this gift there is no end.”