In All The Wrong Places
In North Africa, around 354 A.D., a baby boy was born to a Christian mother and a pagan father. As the boy grew into a young man he found trouble and mischief at every turn. When he turned 16 years old, he traveled to Carthage, which was a Roman territory. There he studied rhetoric and debate. While studying in Carthage, this young man sought fulfillment in his life. We might say he was looking for love in all the wrong places.
The young man met a young woman and moved in with her and they had a child together. His mother, who never ceased to pray for her son, was not happy about his new living arrangements and continued to intercede for him.
As he got older he became quite accomplished in the area of rhetoric and was a much sought-after teacher. Students from all over the Empire came to study under him. He enjoyed all the privileges and things the world had to offer. However, every time he went home to visit his family, his mother asked him when he was going to become a Christian.
A Restless Heart
And though he would never admit it to his mother, his soul was restless. He still desired meaning and purpose for his life; something deeper and more meaningful than he was experiencing. Everything he had sought after and trusted in, up to this point in his life, was fleeting. The things of the world just didn’t last. So, he began studying the different philosophies and religions of his day, everything except Christianity.
He had nothing but contempt for Christianity. He believed Christianity had nothing to offer, because becoming a Christian, he thought, meant having to stop thinking altogether. Not only that, he believed becoming a Christian meant he would have to change the way he lived. He didn’t want any part of that.
A Mother’s Love
However, his mother continued to pray for him. In fact she would occasionally pester the local priests, asking them to “save her son.” Well, because she loved her son, she decided to find him in Carthage and beg him to become a Christian. However, after several weeks of his mother’s “persistence,” he decided to sneak out of Carthage and head to Rome, without telling her. So he left, and wouldn’t you know it, his mother followed him there as well.
While in Rome, the young man began to have doubts about his beliefs. Nothing seemed to satisfy the restlessness of his soul. In an effort to ease his restless conscience, he visited a church and listened to a preacher there. He never went all the way in the church, but stood at the back, just to listen. And, as time went on, his perspectives about life began to change. He began to learn more about Christianity.
Intellectually, he was fighting becoming a Christian, but his heart (via the Holy Spirit) was convicting him about the way he was living his life. This led to a spiritual crisis for him.
One day, he and a friend were sitting in a garden, when suddenly, he cried out to his friend, “What is wrong with us?”
He then said,
“as I was saying this and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house. The voice repeated over and over again, ‘pick up and read, pick up and read.’ At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children’s game in which such a chant is used, But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me – to open the book and read the first chapter I might find. I picked up the book of the apostle, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: It said, ‘Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’”
After he read these verses from Romans he testified,
“I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of the sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”
After this experience, the young man searched for his mother to tell her all that happened. After sharing his joy with her, they moved back to Carthage together. Two days later his mother died. It was as though she didn’t need to live anymore, for her son was now a Christian – he had tasted the Bread of Life.
Taste and See
This man who had lived a sinful and idolatrous life, whose daily life was filled with sexual immorality and drunkenness, who bowed before the altars of false gods and philosophies; this very man who tried everything the world had to offer, finally found the one thing the world couldn’t offer. He found the bread of life – Jesus Christ.
You may know this man of whom I am speaking. And those of you who don’t have probably heard of the city and beach that bears his name. His name is St. Augustine, and he became one of the greatest saints in the 2000-year history of the Christian church. Protestants and Catholics alike claim Augustine as a patron saint. God used this man with such a wretched past, to bring honor and glory to Christ’s name.
Augustine found the very bread Jesus was speaking about in John 6. The crowds were following Jesus because of the miracles he did. They wanted him to provide more bread for them to eat. But Jesus told them not to put all their hope in bread that would spoil, but instead, to seek that bread which would give them eternal life. The crowd, however, didn’t understand Jesus’ words. They said to him, “then give us this bread that you are speaking of.”
Jesus responded to them in verse 35,
“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.”
Then in verse 40, Jesus described what God’s will for them was on this matter. He said,
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
A Treasure Found
This is the treasure St. Augustine found. This is the bread he tasted. This is the single most important truth he knew he would ever find in his life. Augustine responded to Jesus, the bread of life, the way Jesus told the disciples they should.
In Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, two men found treasures beyond their wildest dreams. Both men sold all they had to secure their discoveries. They recognized the value of what they had found, and they determined to have it. They sold all they had so they could buy it, and that’s exactly what they did.
Jesus told his disciples that this was the reasonable thing for them to do. It would have been foolish of them to find the great treasure and do nothing about it. Augustine saw the great treasure. His mother had been telling him about it for many years, and yet he did not have eyes to see it. And then suddenly, the veil was lifted and he saw it – and he sold all he had to purchase it. He sold the pleasures of all his sin. He sold the prestige he had as a famous teacher. He sold his friendships he had with those who would no longer be his friends. This was no light decision, free of consequence.
A New Life
And yet, what Augustine got in return was infinitely more valuable than what he gave up. What he received in exchange for those earthly things filled him with eternal satisfaction and joy. Augustine gave up much, but got even more in return. He knew the value of the bread of life – Jesus Christ his Lord. Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life,” are words that express the glorious truth that he alone can give the gift of eternal life.
The crowd Jesus was addressing did not realize he was teaching them about a spiritual experience. What is this spiritual life like? Jesus said the person who has this life will never be hungry or thirsty. Perhaps you, like Augustine, know what it is like to thirst and hunger for significance, dignity, and love. Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to have peace or stability in your life. Augustine knew what it was like to go day after day without stability. He knew what it was like to have a restless heart, knowing there was more in life than what he had, but not knowing how to get it.
Jesus says the one who comes to him will never hunger because the bread he offers is completely satisfying. Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher, is often attributed to have said we all have a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts – and they can only be filled by God. Putting your family, friends, careers, money, school, drugs and alcohol, prestige, power or anything else before God, will leave you hungry and unsatisfied.
The Fate of Sisyphus
If those things are your life’s pursuits, you will find that you are much like the character of Greek mythology, Sisyphus. He was the poor guy who was condemned by the gods for betraying them. So, for his punishment, he was sentenced to roll a giant boulder to the top of a huge hill. That would be hard enough. However, each time he worked and worked to get the boulder to the top of the hill, it would always roll down the other side. He was condemned to eternally repeat this meaningless task of rolling the stone to the top of the hill – over and over again, never finding rest or satisfaction.
Jesus taught that pursuing anything else but him, the bread of life, is like pushing a rock up a hill, over and over again. It will be futile and have no end. Instead, when you turn to Jesus and trust in him, you will discover the abundant, meaningful, and eternal life God has promised you.
Jesus preaches the same message today through his Word and Spirit,
“I am the bread of life. If you come to me you will never go hungry, and if you believe in me you will never be thirsty.”
The men in Jesus’ parables found out this was true. St. Augustine found out this was true. In fact, people for 2,000 years have discovered this same truth. An evangelist once said that evangelism is merely one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. It’s my privilege to tell you that we are all beggars and Jesus is the only bread we will ever need.
Have You Tasted the Bread of Life?
Have you tasted the bread of life? Have you come to Jesus? Or are you trying to cram other things into your life, instead of the only thing that can give you meaning, satisfaction, and rest?
What do you have to do to receive this great treasure – this pearl of great price – this living bread? Jesus taught you must sell all you have – your agenda and desire to go your own way instead of God’s way. You must hunger for the bread God supplies and not for praise, power, and popularity. You must put everything and everyone else behind God and seek God and his righteousness first and foremost, and all else will be given to you. This is never easy, and it will cost you a great deal. But what you get in return will be more than worth the price. So, seize this opportunity. Taste the bread that Jesus offers. St. Augustine did, and he never regretted it. In fact, he wrote a prayer to express his gratitude to God, and I would like to share it with you.
You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised; great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable. Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being bearing mortality with him, carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you resist the proud. Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. Amen.