The sentence is found in John chapter four as part of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This village well was located outside the town of Sychar in Samaria. In the story, Jesus had stayed by the well while the disciples had gone into the market to purchase some food. Jesus purportedly stayed at the well to rest because he had grown weary from the journey; although he also had stayed there because he knew that he had been appointed to speak to the woman who was soon to arrive at that place. It was a conversation that he had with her while the disciples were away.
Soon the twelve returned with food for Jesus. However, when they offered it to him, he declined. They urged him, “Rabbi, eat something!” The disciples could not understand why Jesus would not eat, since at the time they had left him to go into the town and buy some food, he had been famished.
ntinued to turn down the urgings of the disciples. “I have food to eat that you know nothing about,” he told them.
And indeed, Jesus was acting as if he had eaten. He simply was no longer hungry. When Jesus told the disciples of the food that they did not know about, they began to wonder if someone could have brought some food out to the well without them being aware of it.
But that did not happen. It was not for that reason Jesus was not hungry.
He was not hungry because, as he told them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:32).
That is the sentence that has been on my mind: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.”
On another occasion, Jesus was giving a teaching to group of people sitting on the grassy slopes on the side of a mountain. He was teaching them about the blessings of God, one of which was, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 BSB).
Jesus spoke in these terms even to Satan, telling him, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mathew 4:4 BSB).
The Will of God as Daily Bread
These were not the only times that Jesus talked of doing the will of God in relation to the food that we eat. In fact, it was a reoccurring theme with him.
On yet another occasion, when Jesus was addressing the multitude in Capernaum and explaining to them not to work for the food that perishes, he again spoke of doing God’s will in relation to food. Instead of working for our temporal food, he told them, we should work for the food that will endure to eternal life. In this case, Jesus did not specifically use the words, “the will of God,” but he instead spoke of doing the work of God.
Jesus told the crowd, “This is the work of God—that you believe in Him whom He has sent”
Jesus then said about himself, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:29, 38 NAS).
Feeding Five Thousand
Jesus spoke these words on the day after he had performed one of the most public of his miracles—the feeding of more than five thousand people by multiplying the food in the lunch of a boy. This was to another multitude, sitting in groups on the slopes of a yet another mountain. When this crowd became hungry, Jesus took five small loaves of bread and two fish, spoke a blessing, and with his hands broke the bread and fish into pieces, giving the food to the disciples to distribute among the great assembly of people.
As he divided and distributed the food, the quantity of it continued to increase. As the hands of Jesus multiplied the food, all five thousand people were fed to their satisfaction. In addition to this, in the end, the disciples gathered twelve baskets full of pieces that still remained.
It was this same multitude of people that sought out Jesus the following day on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They searched for Jesus not because they wanted to hear more of his teachings, but because after the night sleeping, in the morning they were again hungry for food to fill their bellies.
Jesus reprimanded them for their attitude. He told them, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
To this the people inquired, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”
It was to this question that Jesus gave his reply, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:27-29)
As Jesus continued to speak, it seemed the people may have been beginning to see that the importance of food was not for physical food to fill their bellies, but for the spiritual food that Jesus was speaking of. Although they may have been beginning to see this distinction, it was not that they understood everything completely or even accepted that which they did understand. As the discussion continued, the talk again turned to the people wanting food for their bellies. Much like their ancestors who were given the manna, the appetites of these people also again won out.
The teachings of Jesus were either too difficult or too unacceptable for many of them. A great number of those who heard the words of Jesus would listen no more. They decided to leave entirely.
“This is a difficult teaching,” they said. “Who can accept it?”
Nothing has Changed
In our present day, the response of many is the same as it was to the multitude on that day. People may listen and give an uncertain acceptance to some of the teachings of Jesus, but when it comes to true life-changing issues, they walk away. It is the reality that most people act as if they are not particularly interested in what happens after they die, at least not as much as what their lives are here in the present. They want to fulfill their desires in this life. They want physical food for their bodies, but they have little interest for the spiritual food for their souls.
But Jesus teaches us that it is the spiritual food for our souls that is truly important for us. On that day he told the people, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life.”
Later he told them, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:27, 63 BSB).
The Bread of the Lord’s Prayer
In our church we have the custom to recite the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” When we pray those words, what do we mean? What is it are we asking? Are we content to have Jesus multiply the loaves and fish so that we have full bellies? Do we simply want the physical manna that appears on the grass?
If our daily 2000 caloric intake is all that we are concerned about, we are missing the entire point of what we are praying, because another phrase of that prayer is, “Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
If we mean what we pray every week, then we had better learn the words of Jesus when he says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” We had better focus on what God’s will is here on earth. After all, this is our prayer. This is what we are asking.
The Will of God
“Thy will be done on earth.”
When we say those words, what is it that we are requesting? Is this simply a nice sentiment without any real meaning? Are these just gracious sounding words that have no true significance, or which carry no important consequences for our day-to-day living?
If we are sincere when we pray this prayer, then it is important that we learn what God’s will on earth is. It is even necessary that we do so. It is even more vital for us to learn individually what the will of God is for each one of us, as his followers.
What does Jesus teach us about his will for us? Perhaps you will be frightened to learn what his will is for you. What is more, when you do find out, will you begin to grumble as did many of the people who heard Jesus when he spoke of seeking the food that endures to eternal life instead of the food that perishes?
Will you walk away and no longer follow Jesus, saying, “This is a difficult teaching. Who can accept it?”
Or will you, like Peter, say, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”
Spiritual Food and Spiritual Drink
Like most of the people to whom Jesus was speaking, we today also most often miss the point when we ask the Lord to give us our daily bread. It is true that there is a sense that he was speaking about our daily physical needs, but more importantly, he is speaking about our deeper spiritual needs.
When Jesus was speaking to the people, he spoke several times about the bread of life. He did this because of their slowness to understand the concept.
Finally he said to them, “Your fathers may have eaten manna in the wilderness, yet they died.”
Jesus was referring to the time in the history of the Israelites when they endured the forty years in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. When Jesus spoke of the death of these people, he was referring not only to the fact that they died physically, but especially that they died in the spiritual sense. They may have eaten the physical manna, which preserved their lives during their days in the wilderness, but because of their rejection of the true bread from heaven, they were actually dead spiritually, even while their physical bodies remained alive. In the end, they were never allowed to enter the Promised Land. They fell short of their goal.
Paul also mentions this in his letters when he writes of the people of that day. “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:3-5 BSB).
The Lesson of the Manna
The people of that day missed the lesson that when God began to supply manna to the people in the wilderness, it was more than simply a way to provide them with food for their journey. In many ways it was a test for them. In fact, Moses actually called it a test. Near the end of their years of wandering, this is what Moses told the people in relation to the manna:
Remember that these forty years the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commandments.
He humbled you, and in your hunger He gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had known, so that you might understand that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3 BSB)
These are the words of Moses that Jesus recited when he was tested by Satan. Jesus had fasted forty days, and was no doubt even at the point of starvation. It was no small test for Jesus when the tempter told him to prove that he was the Son of God by turning stones into bread.
But unlike the Israelites, whose only response in their hunger was to grumble, Jesus instead repeated the words that Moses spoke to the people of his day: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Failing the Test
The response of the Israelites in the wilderness to their hunger was not like the response of Jesus. Moses told the Israelites that the long years that the people spent in the wilderness were a test in order to know what was in their hearts. It was a test for them that in some ways was similar to the testing that Jesus endured. Providing the manna was more than a provision of their physical food. It also showed the states of the hearts of the people.
At first they were thankful for the provision of the Lord, but that thankfulness did not last. They eventually began to complain about the bread from heaven. They complained because they were merely thinking of their physical appetites. They did not learn the lesson of the spiritual bread from heaven.
“Who will feed us meat?” the Israelites began to complain. “We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now our appetite is gone; there is nothing to see but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6 BSB)
Since their cravings were only for their bellies and not for the spiritual food of the word of the Lord, God decided to show them the actual results of allowing their physical hunger to rule their lives. The Lord decided to give them what they wanted, and to give it in abundance.
When Abundance is not a Blessing
It is interesting to see that this abundance was nota blessing, but because the “anger of the Lord was kindled greatly” against the people. God instructed Moses to announce to them the following words:
Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you will eat meat, because you have cried out in the hearing of the LORD, saying: ‘Who will feed us meat? For we were better off in Egypt!’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat. You will eat it not for one or two days, nor for five or ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and makes you nauseous—because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have cried out before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ” (Numbers 11:18-20 BSB)
Indeed, that is exactly what happened. The Lord sent a wind from the sea, which drove in great flocks of quail. The account of this event is very brief, so it is difficult for us to get a sense of exactly how it all happened. The text simply says the quail came in near the camp, “about two cubits above the surface of the ground, for a day’s journey in every direction around the camp.”
Apparently, the quail fell dead, since nothing is mentioned about the Israelites slaughtering the birds. Two cubits is about three feet, and I cannot imagine that the text means to tell us that the dead birds lay as a ground covering all around the camp three feet in depth. Perhaps the winds caused the birds to be driven in low, three feet off the ground, which caused them to strike objects such as rocks, and killing them.
In whatever means it all happened, the quantity of birds was very great. So great in fact, that for all that day and night, and all the next day, the people stayed up gathering the quail. So greedy were the people for meat to eat, that no one gathered less than ten homers (which, in case your conversion table for measurements does not have “homers,” is about sixty bushels).
The people began to feast. They reveled in their gluttony. To them, it may have been a party, but to the Lord, the event indeed demonstrated what was in the hearts of the people. They craved food for the stomach, but not the word of the Lord. They hungered for the satisfaction of the world, but not for the bread of the kingdom of God, and engorged themselves on the quail meat.
The text continues: “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and the LORD struck them with a severe plague. So they called that place Kibroth-hattaavah (the graves of craving), because there they buried the people who had craved other food” (Numbers 11:33-34 BSB).
What Peter Said
When many of the five thousand people whom Jesus fed stopped following him when he began to speak of seeking spiritual food instead of always only craving after their physical needs, Peter’s response was different. Peter said to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.”
It was this same Peter who wrote in one of his letters about seeking spiritual food. “As obedient children, do not allow yourselves to be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance…Rather, like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 1:14; 2:2)
Do we get the lesson? Do we see what God is telling us when he teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”?
It is not so much that we are asking him to give us our minimum daily requirement of nourishment as recommended by the US federal government. He is teaching us that we need to be fed by every word that God is speaking to us.
“Truly, truly, I tell you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone 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. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh.” (John 6:47-51 BSB)
It is Finished
In response to the urgings of his disciples to eat the food that they had brought to him at the well of Samaria, Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:32).
Considering that statement by Jesus, it is significant that the very last words that he uttered before he died were these three words: “It is finished.”
They are three words charged with great significance. The work that Jesus had come to achieve was finished. He had completed the will of the Father, then, having uttered these final words, Jesus bowed his head and yielded up his spirit.
My prayer for myself is that on the day that I yield up my own spirit, I will be able to utter the same three words. God has sent me to work, and with my last breath, I intend to complete all that he has given me to do.