Stay hungry!

Pastor Jeff Struecker

I want to tell you about one of these moments when I was completely starving, (and I mean literally), and I got so disappointed. For anybody who’s been there, when my friends went to the US Army’s Ranger Course, when they went to Ranger School, they all came back talking about how much weight they lost. And by the way, the average guy or gal that goes to Ranger School will lose somewhere around 15% to 20% of their total body weight. I lost 45 pounds while I was in Ranger School. And they all come back talking about these famous blueberry pancakes way up in the mountains of north Georgia, when you get up there and you start doing some mountain training.

So, I had been through the first phase of Ranger School here in Columbus, Georgia, here in Fort Benning, and I’m making my way up to the mountains for the next phase of Ranger training. And I’ve been looking forward to these pancakes for weeks. But by the way, I had been hungry for weeks, starving, quite literally, and losing weight every day in this extreme conditions of food and sleep deprivation.

So I get up to the mountains, and they give us a chance to go to the dining facility and have breakfast one morning, and I’m like, “Okay, here’s the moment that I’ve been waiting for. I get a chance to have as many of these blueberry pancakes as I want, like all of my buddies talked about when they came back from Ranger School.” But here’s the deal: This morning, when they were making the blueberry pancakes, there was only enough for one pancake per person. I went through the line, and my heart was crushed looking at this one blueberry pancake. I was hoping for a stack of them this big, and instead, I get one.

Now, the consolation prize is that they would let me drink as much coffee as I wanted. It was cold; I wasn’t even a coffee drinker. And by the way, if you’ve never had coffee in the military, it’s like quart of motor oil in a giant cauldron that they stir around in some hot water, and that’s what they serve you. That’s basically what it tastes like. But I was so hungry, and they let me have 12 cups of coffee. So instead of 12 pancakes, I substituted it for a cheap 12 cups of coffee. 

You can already guess what happens, right? I’m hungry immediately after leaving breakfast that morning, but now I have to pee 47 times today, because I filled up on coffee instead of pancakes, and do I need to remind you, coffee doesn’t fill you up.

Well, I’m using this story, true story, to tell you about this soul-crushing moment where I was really longing for and looking for something, and I didn’t get what I was looking for. Last week, I started to use Jesus’s language to describe for you who he is and what h’s done for his people. And last week, I told you what is going to sound like something contradictory to this week. Stay with me; I’m going to explain the differences. 

Last week, I reminded you we’re physical people, and we all have physical hungers. That’s the hunger that you experience in your stomach. But you are also a spiritual person, and because of that, you have hungers at the soul level, and daily bread can’t fill you up. Only the bread of life, only the Lord Jesus Christ can fill you up at the soul level.

Well, here’s my challenge for us today. It’s two words. The challenge for this week is right here: 

Stay Hungry!

Yes, what Jesus is offering us is, “Hey, come to me, and I will satisfy you.” But I want you to hear what he’s also saying. “Don’t come to me just once; I want you to keep coming to me.” So, I think I need to describe the distinction between this Sunday, staying hungry, and last Sunday. 

How many of you would be embarrassed if you went to your parents and you asked them for something really awesome and they gave it to you, and then you turned right back around and asked them for more the next day? How many of you, that would just embarrass you?

Or you went to your boss and you said, “Hey, I really believe that I’m working hard enough that I deserve a raise,” and your boss is generous, and your boss gives you a raise. Would you be embarrassed, would you feel a little bit greedy if you went back to your boss tomorrow and said, “Hey, can I have another raise tomorrow?” In human relationships, we all have limitations, and the boss is thinking, You’re wearing me out right now, asking for more and more and more.

But that’s not how a relationship with Jesus works. In fact, what Jesus invites you to do is, “Come to me and ask for more today, and I’m going to fill you up, and I’m going to satisfy you. But I want you to be hungry tomorrow. And tomorrow, I want you to show up hungry for more than you got today.” And the way a relationship with Jesus works is, he doesn’t get frustrated; he doesn’t get disappointed, because he is limitless. 

He is happy to give you more tomorrow than he gave you today, if you’ll come to him longing for and looking for more. And many of us approach our relationship with Jesus like we do our parents. We think, “I’d feel a little bit guilty if I ask Jesus for more tomorrow than I asked him today.” Today, you will see him inviting people to stay hungry and to keep asking for more, because he loves to give you more of himself.

There’s a crowd that shows up in John chapter 6. Jesus does this great miracle, and he feeds 20,000 to 25,000 people to the point that they’re full at the stomach level. And then Jesus leaves, and they go chasing after him. And last week, what we saw is, they were actually not looking for a Savior. They were looking for a baker, somebody who will give them more bread tomorrow, because they’re hungry again tomorrow. 

Jesus says, “I’m not going to be that kind of person for you, but if you want somebody to fill you up at the soul level, you stay hungry, and I’ll keep feeding you at the soul level.”

Stay hungry to know Jesus.

We’re going to pick up with this idea today, and I want you to see three areas where I think Jesus is inviting us to stay hungry every day of your life. And if you will stay hungry in these areas, he will feed you. He will give you something that satisfies your thirst, your desire of your heart. Here’s the first area that he wants you to stay hungry. He wants you to stay hungry to know him more today than you knew him yesterday. 

You see, when Jesus stands in front of this crowd, they have an idea of who they’re talking to, but Jesus wants to make sure that they don’t miss the spiritual significance of who’s standing in their midst. And for some of them, this is a challenge. Let’s just be honest; for some of you, this is going to be a challenge today, just like it was for those people in Jesus’s day. Let’s pick up where we left off last week. We’re in John chapter 6, and we’re going to start in verse 41. Here’s what the Bible says for us:

John 6:41-47 Therefore the Jews started grumbling about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  They were saying, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Stop grumbling among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets: And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God. He has seen the Father.

Jesus is making a distinction between just hearing a sermon today, just reading the Bible and putting it into practice. It’s one thing to just hear it with your ears or just see it on a page; it is a totally different thing to put what you’re hearing into practice, and he’s talking about the people that will put it into practice. 

What Jesus is actually doing here is, he’s describing who he really is. And for some of them in the crowd, this is a theological problem, because, “You’re telling me that the kid that I went to school with actually came from Heaven, not from Nazareth? I thought I was just seeing a regular man in front of me.” 

And all of those morons out there who tell you, “Hey, Jesus was just a good man; he was just a prophet, but he never claimed to be God,” well, obviously they’ve never read the book of John, because he’s saying it as clearly as he can here. “You don’t know who God is, you don’t get a chance to see God, unless you’ve been with him in Heaven. And by the way, the one who is sent from God is standing in front of your midst right now.”

What Jesus will eventually say in the book of John is “Anybody who’s seen me has seen God.” He is describing the Trinity: how our God can be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all at the same time, these three in one, in perfect unity and in perfect harmony with each other.

Now, this crowd is fickle. They’re fickle in Jesus’s day, just like the crowd is fickle today. “When Jesus does good stuff for me, I’m on your team, Jesus. But when you start to preach hard words to me, hmmm. I’m not sure if I really want to believe this Christianity stuff anymore.” 

You see, when the Bible uses this word “grumble,” it’s talking about them being disappointed. “I showed up looking for Jesus to give me a loaf of bread, and now he’s not offering me a loaf of bread anymore. Now he’s offering me something different, and I’m not sure I want what you’re offering me, Jesus. I came to you looking for a loaf of bread.”

Here’s what the crowd does today. They go from misunderstanding Jesus to disappointed with him. Eventually they go from disappointed, if you continue to read in the book of John, they’ll go to disgusted by what they hear from Jesus today. For them, it’s so much of a challenge that it’s offensive, because what Jesus says is, “If you look for anything or anyone else to satisfy your thirst, you’re going to get let down. But if you will look to me, and if you’ll look to me for the right reasons, I will satisfy you at the soul level.”

God created human beings to hunger and to thirst. It’s part of the way that he wired us. And if a mama doesn’t give a baby milk, that baby will die. That’s the way that we are as physical beings. But God also created us as spiritual beings, and we have the same hunger and the same thirst. Apart from Jesus Christ, you will die. Actually, you’re literally dead at the soul level until you have been satisfied, until you have been filled up by Jesus at the soul level. We are both physical beings that have a real need for food and drink, just like we’re spiritual beings.

And Jesus is challenging people: “Come to me hungry, and I’ll fill you up, and then you don’t have to be guilty, you don’t have to be ashamed. I love to give you more of myself. So come to me hungry again tomorrow. Actually, come to me more hungry tomorrow than you were today, and I’ll fill you up more tomorrow than I did today.” 

See, what Jesus is actually asking us to do is to replace one hunger with another, to replace what you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands with something you can’t see and can’t touch, but it’s much more satisfying. It’s a relationship with him. And the way that it begins is by just understanding who he is and what he’s done for you. So, he’s inviting this crowd to know him deeper than just “the kid I went to school with.” Obviously, there’s more to this guy than that.

Stay hungry for Heaven. 

Here’s the second way that Jesus invites us to get to know him. He invites us to be hungry for Heaven. I feel like I need to do this every so often. If you’re kind of new to our church, can I describe our logo to you, or the name? Maybe you don’t understand the real significance behind this name. The number 2 in 2 Cities does not refer to 2 physical cities here on earth. It actually refers to here and Heaven.

In our logo, there is a dark part of the city and a light part of the city. This name for our church comes from a book that’s almost 2,000 years old. It was written by one of the greatest of the church fathers in the early centuries, a guy by the name of Augustine, who said in his book The City of God, God created you for a relationship with him, and he wants you to be in his kingdom, so you belong to the heavenly city. That’s city number one. 

But then Augustine said, “Hey, y’all…” He didn’t use the word “y’all”; I do. “Hey Y’all, while you’re here on earth, he’s left you in this earthly city, and you have to figure out how to be a good person in 2 cities at the same time, both the heavenly city and the city of here, both the eternal city and the earthly city.”

And to be honest, our church exists for the sole purpose of helping you figure out, “Well, how do I do that, Jeff? How do I be a good citizen of Heaven the same time that I’m here?” I’m going to give you Jesus’s words to this, because in order for you to hang on to Heaven a little bit harder, you’re going to have to let go of here a little bit more. And the more that you hold on to here, the less you grasp at Heaven. And the challenge for all of us, being men and women who live in 2 cities, is to let go of here so that I can have Heaven. Listen to Jesus’s words next. 

John 6:47-52  “Truly I tell you, anyone who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and 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. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” At that, the Jews argued among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 

Now, there’s a problem with the way that this is worded in the English language. Don’t hear me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with the Bible, but the way that we interpret the word “believe” in English, we generally understand it as, “I read it in a book, and I think that stuff really did happen a long time ago.” That’s not the way Jesus is using the word “believe” right now. He’s not reading the Bible like just reading a history book. He’s talking about believing with your life at stake.

There’s a theological or an Old Testament problem, because in the Old Testament, the Bible strictly forbade eating food that was raw, eating meat that still had blood in it. And when Jesus starts talking about bread and flesh, they’re starting to say, “Wait a second; we’re not supposed to eat stuff that still has blood in it. We’re not supposed to eat raw meat. How can this guy say that he is the bread, and that his bread is the flesh?” And you know what is going through some of their minds right now: “This is cannibalism, and that’s just gross.”

But for a few people in the crowd, it got even worse for them, because they made the connection, “Wait, I don’t think we’re talking about cannibalism right now. Do you know what I think we’re talking about?” For some of them in the crowd, they started to hear human sacrifice. And for them, they would’ve been shocked and appalled. “If Jesus is talking about human sacrifice, we in Israel are strictly against that. He can’t possibly be talking about human sacrifice right now. Is he?” For some of the crowd, they were just grossed out about it, but others in the crowd, they were like, “Wait a second, if this guy is talking about human sacrifice, we’re supposed to be against that.”

And for those of us on this side of the cross and the empty tomb, we know exactly what he’s referring to. He’s referring to his personal sacrifice on the cross. He really is talking about his flesh beaten to a pulp for our sins and his blood being poured out, because without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin, the Bible tells us. 

And for some of them in the crowd, they started to walk away disgusted. For others in the crowd, they went home shocked at what they heard, because Jesus just said, “I will give you heaven if you will look to me as the bread that fills up your soul. But if all you’re looking for is daily bread, if you’re looking for the bread that’s going to fill up your stomach, if that’s all you believe me for, I won’t be that kind of Savior to you. I will only be the one that satisfies you at the soul level.”

There are many people, I’m afraid, that go to church and they hear Jesus’s words, and in their mind, they’re thinking, Well, I believe that there is a guy by the name of Jesus. I actually believe that he lived a long time ago and that he died on the cross. I even believe that he did it for me… but it makes absolutely no difference in my life whatsoever. 

Meaning, if Jesus never existed, nothing about my life would look any different. For you, that’s not the kind of belief that Jesus is talking about. He’s talking about the kind of belief that, if he didn’t come, we have no hope; our lives are meaningless. In fact, in the New Testament, it says we’re worse than unbelievers if he didn’t come and if he didn’t give his body and his blood.

It’s the kind of belief (I try to say this often) where you have to take a step into the unknown and really exercise faith that Jesus is calling us to. And in order to do that, you have to give up here just a little bit, so you can get a stronger grip on Heaven. And I feel this as powerfully as you do. Here gets my attention, so Heaven starts to become a lot more distant and a lot more unimportant. In order for me to grab ahold of Heaven, I’ve got to let go of here just a little bit.

 Stay hungry for intimacy.  

You see, Jesus is asking us, “Would you stay hungry to know me? Would you stay hungry to be with me in Heaven?” And ultimately, what he’s offering us is coming into a deeper relationship with him. In a friendship, in a marriage, we would use the word “intimacy”. What Jesus is really asking us is, “Would you hunger for intimacy? Because if you’ll hunger for that, I’ll give it to you. And if you’ll show up more hungry tomorrow than you were today, I’ll give you more intimacy tomorrow than I gave you today, if you will just stay hungry.”

Now, I’m going to ask you to do something for me. I’m going to ask you to hold a finger up every time you hear the word “life” or the word “live,” because I want you to see just how hard Jesus is working to explain to this crowd what he’s really describing for them. So, hold a finger up every time you hear these 2 words.

John 6:53-59  So Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves.  The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, because my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the manna your ancestors ate—and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 

How many times does he use these? Six or seven? Many times in seven verses, Jesus is offering them life. “I’m not offering you bread. I’m not offering you drink. I’m offering you life. And if you’ll come hungry for life, I’ll give you life. But it’s not the kind of life that you can get by putting food in your stomach and going through your day tomorrow. The life that I’m offering you is much different. It’s much bigger than that. It lasts forever.”

Probably the most important word you heard today, I just blew right by. Maybe one of the most important words that you read in the entire book of John is the word “remains.” You see, what Jesus is saying is, “Just because you heard some words in the Bible, just because you read it, and just because in the back of your mind, you really think there really was a guy by the name of Jesus who lived a long time ago, that doesn’t give you life. No, the one who comes desperate for me, hungry for me, and he remains hungry.” Do you see what I just did? “Who stays hungry, she’s the one who really gets life. He’s the one who will be full at the soul level. And tomorrow, I will fill them back up again.”

These are what one of the ladies in our church refers to as “well-watered women”. These are folks that are hungry for Jesus, and the more that they get to know him, the more that they want to know him. When you have a friend that you really, really like, you want to get to know him or her better. And when they’re the kind of friend that really inspires you, that you really enjoy spending time with, the more time that you spend with them, the more you want to spend with them. The more that you know them, the more that you want to get to know them.

And what Jesus is saying is, “Look, I want you to have that kind of intimacy, that kind of relationship with me. You come to me hungry today, and I’m going to fill you up at your soul level. And by the way, I’ll probably fill your stomach up too. But tomorrow, if you come back more hungry than you did today, I’m not going to tell you to get out of my face or that I’m too busy and I’ve got too much stuff going on.” Jesus is not like that. He’s going to say to you, “I’m glad you came to me hungry. I’m ready to give you more of me.” And as you get to know Him more, you start to think, “Man! I want to know more.” And so you come back tomorrow more hungry than you did today, and he delights, literally, to give you more of himself.

Do you know what this sermon today is describing for you? It’s actually describing one verse in the Bible. It comes from the book of Luke, and I want you to listen to the full force of Jesus’s words now that you’ve heard this whole passage about life from the Gospel of John. In Luke 12:32, Jesus says this: “Don’t be afraid, little children. Don’t be afraid, little flock. Because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.” 

Don’t be afraid to ask him for more, because he delights to give you more. And when you get more, you want more, because that’s how good our God is. When you taste and see how good he is, you want more. And Jesus is saying in Luke and in John, “Don’t be afraid to ask for more,” because he wants to give you more tomorrow than he gave you today. And here’s our challenge: Don’t be satisfied. The enemy of staying hungry is getting satisfied with a cheap substitute.