What if you could be satisfied?

‘Congratulations on your marriage. You’ll never be happy.’

In Hamilton the Musical, that’s essentially what a secretly-regretful Angelica sings at the wedding of her sister, Eliza, to her beloved Alexander:

He will never be satisfied.
I will never be satisfied.

It’s rather inappropriate for a wedding speech, isn’t it? And while we wouldn’t let something so brutally honest slip out at so joyous an occasion, it does ring true: we’re never happy. Not really, really. 

Not truly.

Angelica loses, and she’s dissatisfied. Okay, that’s understandable, we reason. But Alexander gains – and he’s still dissatisfied. Oh, that doesn’t make sense. He has it all – love, success, fame – but it’s not and it never will be enough.

We’re the same. We all want to be happy, of course. But we want more than just a ‘I had fun last night’ sort of happiness, or a ‘things are going well at the moment’ solace. We long to be deeply, lastingly fulfilled, to the core of our being. That’s more than a flippant, fleeting happiness. We want a gladness that not only lasts us through the storms, but is founded on something more substantial than the sunshine.

We yearn to be satisfied.

Intellectually – for what we know to be enough.
Relationally – for who we know to be enough.
Personally – for who we are to be enough.

And I could go on. We long for acceptance and intimacy and belonging; for a limitless and unconditional love. We long for security and rest – to feel like we’ve come home. We long for freedom, for hope. For healing, for comfort. We long to be made clean and new, to be beautified and to gaze at beauty.

That yearning is behind everything we do. We’re all on a quest to find whatever it is we’re longing for, to settle the gnawing hunger within us. The problem is, none of us are really quite sure what that might be.

The American Declaration of Independence delineates that “among [men’s rights] are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s only the pursuit though; we can chase after happiness all we want, but it’s never quite caught. It’s always just beyond our grasp.

Sure, we get a disappointing sort of buzz, but it’s easily blown out by the gentlest of inconveniences, or else it fades with time. Our happiness is a temporary and fragile sort of thing – nothing more than a mirage in the desert. And those things that we search for joy in – relationships, popularity, sex, success, knowledge, image, morality, religiosity, stuff, our phones, anything – are first class liars, promising so much, but always failing to deliver.

Wasn’t that supposed to make me happy? No, maybe I’m mistaken, of course it did, but I lost it, it slipped away again. And so we go on; we try again or we try something new – constantly seeking the next high, anything that’ll distract us from our hunger pangs.

We’re all desperately hungry. But terrifyingly insatiable. We’ll devour whatever comes along, while trying to ignore the lingering fear that we may never be satisfied.

Non-working, free food and real bread

Things haven’t changed much since the first century. In John 6, a crowd of people are on mission to quell their emptiness. Rightly – but wrongly – they think that Jesus is their guy. He has turned water to wine, healed the sick, fed over 5000 people, and then moved from Tiberius to Capernaum without using a boat! So they want to make him their king, and they’re ready to use force.

When they catch up with Jesus, they try to figure him out. But Jesus has them figured out; “you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” he says. In other words, ‘you’ve seen the miracle, but missed the point. You want me because I gave you bread, and not because of what my bread-miracle communicates – what it tells you about me.’

The crowd wanted Jesus as a puppet king, a genie in a lamp, to magic up whatever it was they wanted (starting with more free food). They wanted a ‘king’ who would be at their service. They realised that Jesus could be useful – he could make them prosperous and wealthy and rid of the Romans. They wanted what Jesus could do for them, and not what Jesus was for them. You see, “Jesus did not come into the world mainly to give bread, but to be bread… He did not come to be useful, but to be precious.” (John Piper).

Being incredibly kind, Jesus knows that what they want from him won’t settle their hunger. He offers something far better:

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.

‘Don’t work for mouldy bread – don’t gorge yourself on things that will not satisfy you forever, on things that’ll ruin you. Don’t give yourself to the pursuit of fading, shallow happiness. Don’t buy into the myth that fulfilment is found where it isn’t. There’s better bread to feast on – far better than anything else you’ve tried – that gives forever life and complete joy. What’s more, you don’t have to work for this food at all, because I’ll give it to you, freely.’

Jesus echoes the words (about him) penned centuries before:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Isaiah 55:1-3

The crowd ask, “what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” And Jesus replies, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

At default, our hearts are inclined to work and to earn, because we hate to feel undeserving. But Jesus says, ‘I don’t want your work; the ‘work’ of God is non-work – ‘belief’ – leaning on the one that God has sent.’

This is the work – that you do no work. The ‘work’ is to rely on the one who was sent to do the work perfectly on your behalf. Jesus is the breadwinner – we were unable to earn satisfaction for ourselves, but Jesus lived and he died and he rose to provide forever bread for his starving people. Lasting fulfilment was earned and is gifted by him.

This is what we call the gospel, and it’s completely different from anything else we’re used to. Religion compels its adherents to earn the deity’s favour by obedience, and so does secularism. Whatever we ‘worship,’ whatever we seek satisfaction in, ends up a slave-driver to which we give everything to; we strive to appease the god of appearance or romance or academia, but it never rewards us with what it promised.

We work for these ‘idols,’ but they end up robbing us, disappointing us, and leaving us just as empty as before. It doesn’t really make sense, does it? You wouldn’t work for no wage, you wouldn’t spend money in a restaurant that didn’t serve you food, you wouldn’t try to drink from an empty, broken glass (Jeremiah 2:13). C.S. Lewis captured it well, writing:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The problem is not that we are hedonistic pleasure-seekers and God is decidedly anti-joy. Not at all! The problem is that we seek delight in all the wrong places, when joy is found in knowing God.

The crowd respond, “Then, what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ “

‘Give us more evidence, and we’ll believe you. Come on, give us a performance, impress us, like Moses. He fed our ancestors with bread from the sky – what can you do?’

The people are still missing the point of Jesus’ miracle; they’re obsessing over material bread when ‘better bread’ is being offered. They’re rather like me – they want a show and they want stuff, but they don’t want Him.

If Jesus didn’t know it already, I guess he’d be glad that they brought up the whole manna topic. He says, “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.

‘I’m greater than Moses, and I’m better than the bread given back then. My coming down is the most awe-inspiring miracle of all. The manna, the loaves that fed the 5000, every meal you eat – they’re all shadows and signposts, pointing to me. Just as I filled your hungry stomachs, I fill empty hearts. I’m the true and better manna – I came down to be bread for my people, who are starved, dead in the desert without me.’

Frustratingly ignorant (like me!), the people are still looking for Jesus to rustle up more (material) bread. “Give us this bread always,” they ask. And Jesus will reply, ‘I have. I am.’

Like the crowd wanting the wrong bread, you and I don’t know what’s good for us. What we want, and what we think will be life-giving, just isn’t. We fail to see that Jesus is the end to our search for satisfaction. He is the true bread,

For he satisfies the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Psalm 107:9

Jesus says,

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

I think Jesus likened himself to bread, because it does 3 things:

1. Bread gives life

Bread is great (especially Hovis’ Granary loaf – 10/10 would recommend. I was quite chuffed to bag it for €0.43 in the reduced isle of Tescos last week, but that’s besides the point…)

In the ancient world, bread wasn’t just nice, it was a necessary staple; you really couldn’t live without it. So when Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life,’ he doesn’t mean that he’s merely a healthy addition to an already balanced diet, he means ‘You desperately need me. I am all that you need. Life is found in me alone.’

The Bible explains that without Jesus, we’re really dead men/women walking, because sin = rejecting God = rejecting life = death.  And we all know that dead people are utterly gone, absolutely helpless; dead people can’t make themselves alive.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
Ephesians 2:4-5

Death is no match for Jesus, the ‘resurrection and the life.’ Since I am joined to Jesus through faith, when he died, God buried my sin and deadness in the grave, and when Jesus rose again, I was pulled up out of the grave too. I’ve been brought to new, real life, that will never be taken away.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

The manna merely prolonged the death of the Israelites; after all, it was only food, powerless to stop the inevitable. But Jesus has defeated death, by giving his life.

2. Bread fills

Unlike quick fixes of temporary, slight happiness, Jesus satisfies – fully and forever. Having him, you’ll never hunger: you’ll never need to look anywhere else for what your heart craves. In Jesus, we find acceptance and intimacy and belonging; a limitless and unconditional love. In Jesus is security and rest and home. In Jesus is freedom, hope, healing, comfort. In Jesus, we are beautified; made clean and new. In Jesus, we gaze at unparalleled beauty.

Paul said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

In other words, nothing beats knowing Jesus. He is infinitely valuable, and everything else is rubbish, compared to having him as Rescuer and King.

We yearn to be fulfilled relationally – and having Jesus is enough; he pulls far-away rebels close to God, making them His children.

We strive to be satisfied intellectually – and knowing Jesus’ crucifixion is enough; it’s the deepest mystery, the most earth-shattering wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

We long to be contented personally – and being ‘made right’ by Jesus is enough; he makes the unacceptable welcome before God, taking their sin and transferring his perfection to them.

3. Bread sustains

Carbs give us energy, keeping us going during the day. And Jesus – the bread of life – keeps his people.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

This isn’t to say that things don’t get tough, but that in suffering or even the shame of sin, those who belong to Jesus know that he’ll keep them forever, because it’s his un-thwartable plan to preserve them. They are held secure in his irrevocable grip; nothing can snatch them away, nothing can separate them from his love. He won’t ever let them go – he’s promised to bring them home.

God is mind-blowingly committed to his people; He is so, so faithful. He won’t ever lose interest or patience, and he’ll never push away those who come to him. So come, because He’ll have you. We’re never too sinful for him to reject us.

I am what you eat

So how is Jesus the forever-life-giving, full-joy-providing, ever-sustaining bread that beats everything else?

The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” he said.

Jesus is the bread of life because he was consumed on the cross.

He came down from heaven like manna and he died with his body broken like bread – so that we may feast and be filled, so that we may ‘not die’ but ‘live forever.’

The people thought it was crazy. ‘Is Jesus advocating cannibalism?’ they wonder, offended that he would suggest something so contrary to the law.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

What does it mean to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus? Well, according to verse 35, coming to Jesus = eating, and believing in Jesus = drinking. (“Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”).

So, to eat and drink means to come to Jesus for satisfaction of your soul-hunger, it means to take of and to claim his sacrifice as enough for your rescue.

True food and true drink – Jesus’ broken body and shed blood are the most gladdening realities in the universe. His death in our place is what we need most.

So, what if there is real bread? What if Jesus satisfies?

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
Psalm 63:5

You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11