And they ate and were satisfied. ~ Mark 8:8
We all get hungry. In fact my stomach is rumbling a bit right now as I type these words. Part of this is the way God designed our bodies. We need food to fuel ourselves. Too little food (or even too much of the wrong foods) and the body doesn’t have the protein, nutrients, and calories it needs for health and good functioning. Too much food and our stomach rebels with pain and we gain extra wait we don’t need, all making us feel slow and sluggish.
Finding that balance of food and activity is good.
A good meal in this balance will satisfy. Like the people Jesus fed with bread and fish when they had come to hear his teaching, when we’re hungry a good meal fills our bellies and we sit happy. But one thing is true in our lives from the day we are born to the day we die: we will never find a meal we can eat and at the end say, “I need no more food ever.” This satisfaction lasts only for a moment. Once the food digests and our body uses its nutrients, we are left craving more.
Even though Jesus fed people when they were hungry, his purpose was never only to provide temporary satisfaction to our physical hunger. Jesus also spoke of spiritual hunger. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And in John 6, the day after feeding a crowd containing 5000 men, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to be shall not hunger” (6:35).
Jesus satisfies our hearts and souls in a way nothing else can, because Jesus is our righteousness.
Again, in Mark 8 after feeding the crowd with 4000 men, Jesus cautioned his disciples, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (8:15). The disciples discussed the fact that they had forgotten to buy bread, but Jesus reminded them of his miracles and asks, “Do you not yet understand?” (8:21)
I forget the source, but this idea is not original to me: When Jesus said to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod” he was pointing out two truths: (1) don’t try to find your ultimate satisfaction and joy in religious ritual (the Pharisees) or (2) in the ways of society (Herod, who was known for some interesting parties and ways of life, see: Mark 6:14-29).
When we use religious rituals and good works to try to satisfy or to make ourselves righteous before God or to sooth a guilty conscious, the joy and sense of satisfaction will not last. We base it on what we do, and we will ultimately stumble and fall and fail. Our works and rituals get us nowhere with God. When we use the ways of society to satisfy, our joy will also quickly fade. Yes, there are passing pleasures in sin, but the consequences are much, much greater and eternal.
Jesus alone satisfies. Jesus alone brings true and lasting joy. Even when we are hungry for food, we can rest content knowing that God will care for us now and for eternity. Jesus is our righteous works. He frees us to live without fear or worry or guilt. He frees us to do good without worrying if we have done enough to make God happy. In Jesus, God is satisfied with us and that reality gives the greatest satisfaction and joy.