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The Bread of Life



Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”


He said this after feeding the multitudes with just five loaves of bread and two small fish, the donated lunch of a young boy. Five-thousand people with just this. This mind-tripping happening is the only miracle that is in all four Gospels.


Thousands had followed to where Jesus was because it says, “they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.”[1] And then, after this miracle where Jesus feeds everyone and they see there is still some leftover the people want to take him by force and make him king. This Jesus has power. This Jesus is usable. He could go against the Roman government and bring political revolution. He could give us what we are looking for. But Jesus withdraws and gets away by himself.


Later, crowds go in search of Jesus and find him on the other side of the lake of Galilee. When they find him, Jesus calls them out. He says, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”[2]


It raises the question “why do we look for Jesus?” What do we really want from him? We want our fill.


When Jesus no longer satisfies expectations people will often stop follow him. Our faith becomes one-sided when we are no longer willing to submit to Jesus and are not willing to be taught and molded by him as he knows best.


“I’ll follow you, Jesus, if you keep feeding me, doing what I want, and fulfilling what I believe I need.” “As long as it is feeling good I’m in.”


Sometimes people leave one church for another, or grow cold in their walk with Christ, or just no longer follow, because they are searching for the experience more than the substance. They want the filling more than the faithfulness.


Jesus recognizes that the multitudes searching for him do so because they got a good meal and were now happy. St. Augustine wrote centuries ago, “How many are there who seek Jesus, only to gain some temporary benefit…Jesus is scarcely ever sought for Jesus’ sake.”[3]


Feeding the 5,000 certainly made people happy and made Jesus wildly popular. But Jesus did not come to make people happy, or to be popular. In hiding so as not to be made an earthly king, he baffles the people. Why isn’t he leveraging this moment? Because Jesus is not dependent on the wants, desires, and need of others. Nor does he need to secure authority or power for himself. “Jesus does not need to be made a king – he already is.”[4]


Then Jesus says to this confused and excited crowd, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”[5]


We all need food. Food is essential to live. But Jesus speaks of a food that is eternal which only he can give. This is a different food than I get at Fresh Market. Jesus gives more, much more, than temporary benefit. Yes, Jesus can give temporary blessing too, but he points the crowds beyond the temporary food that they ate to something eternal.


The people point to how God gave bread – it was called manna - to the people of Israel under Moses’ leadership during the years of wandering in the wilderness. Surely that was eternal. Now, they want to know what sign Jesus will do to match that - as if his feeding of the multitudes wasn’t enough. What more do they want?


The people want Jesus to prove himself to be greater than Moses. “One more thing, Jesus.” Are we always looking for one more thing?


Jesus tells them, “It wasn’t Moses who gave Israel bread from heaven. It was my Father who was the source, and he is the source of my feeding of the thousands.” To claim that God was his Father was to make himself God’s Son and was to make himself divine.


Jesus goes on, “And while my Father gave you manna then, he is giving you, right now, something greater that is in your presence. Manna can’t compare with what the Father is giving you right now. You don’t need another miracle. You need to believe in who I am and who is before you.


“And furthermore, the bread in the days of Moses was only for the little nation of Israel. Now God’s offer of bread is for the whole world.”


And that is when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. The person who comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”


The crowds become enticed with this bread Jesus speaks of, and say, “Lord, give us this bread always.”


Boy, that’s the right prayer to make to Jesus, isn’t it? Don’t we want bread that will give us life, where we will never hunger, and where we will not die?


“Jesus, we want to live. Please keep giving us this bread because we are afflicted with dissatisfaction. We are bored, anxious and have so much to care about. This pandemic is wearing us down. We are searching for true rest, true peace, and real life.”


But Jesus, of course, wasn’t speaking of physical bread. He was speaking on a deeper level.


Jesus is not just bread but the Bread. He does not just have some life but the Life. “Jesus is claiming in his own person to be that for which all human beings most long.”[6]


Belief

The way we receive the bread of life is by believing. Four times in our verses this morning Jesus speaks of believing in him.

· The work of God is to believe in the one who he has sent.[7]

· Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.[8]

· Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him will have eternal life.[9]

· The one who believes has eternal life.[10]


Do you remember what Jesus asked Martha after he told her at her brother Lazarus’ tomb that he is the resurrection and the life? He asked her, “Do you believe this?”


John writes that the purpose for him writing this Gospel is “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”[11] Jesus wants us to believe in him.


To believe is to trust. Literally, the biblical term means to “believe into.” Of course, we would never put it like that. But to believe into someone is to be committed. We sometimes say, “I’m not really into that,” or “I’m not that into you.” I’m into jazz music, trail running, reading the Bible, and eating. I do and enjoy those things. I am not into video games, home remodeling, and buying stylish and expensive clothes.


When we say we are into something we mean that we are committed to it. Believing into Jesus is commitment to Jesus. We are “into” him. We lean into him. That commitment may be less than we hope at times, but it is never casual.


Belief is a verb. It is an action word. Belief shows in the way we live. For many of us, saying “Jesus is Lord” is not a problem. Getting our lives in line with that in the hard practical realities of life is another thing altogether. To believe is to yield our allegiance to Christ.


John Paton wanted to be a missionary from his early boyhood. He served for ten years as a city missionary in Glasgow (Scotland) before going to school to study theology and medicine. After graduating he was ordained and sailed to New Hebrides as a Presbyterian missionary.


Three months after arriving on the island of Tanna, Paton’s young wife died, followed by their five-week-old son. Paton labored for three more years among the islanders, who were hostile toward him. He ignored their threats as he tried to make Christ known, before he finally had to leave, escaping with his life. Later, he returned and spent fifteen years on another island.


He was working one day in his home on the translation of John’s Gospel – puzzling over how to translate John’s favorite expression “to believe in”. The islanders were hostile and cannibals; nobody trusted anybody else. There was no word for “trust” in their language. How would he get them to understand the concept of “believing in” and “trusting in”?


He had a servant who was a native. The servant happened to come along, and Paton asked him, “What am I doing?” “Sitting at your desk,” the man replied. Paton then raised both feet off the floor and sat back on his chair. “What am I doing now?” Paton’s servant replied with a verb which means “to lean your whole weight upon.”


That’s the word Paton used throughout John’s Gospel to translate to “believe in.” To believe in is to put our whole weight upon.[12] It is to put the entire weight of my life upon Jesus, the Son of God. Not just when everything is going great and miracles are being done, but even when things aren’t so great.


Jesus never attached extras to “belief.” He never said “believe deeply” or “believe completely” or “have strong belief.” Sometimes our belief isn’t so deep, or is incomplete, or isn’t very strong. I know mine is like that. We are working it out in fear and trembling, aren’t we? It is a lifetime process.


Sometimes that belief tends to be strong, and sometimes not. Maybe your faith is stronger on Sundays and not so hot on Wednesdays, huh? We believe, and sometimes our belief isn’t so hot.


But the beginning of the great surprise of the Christian gospel is that the right relationship with God for which we were created is not the result of what we do, but it is the gift of the one main thing God does for us and in us. Then, knowing what he has done, we give our trust back, in turn to the Son.


We don’t have to work up this trust of Jesus inside of us. Jesus didn’t give any spiritual techniques. It is not some huge ladder we have to climb, or some list of rules we have to fulfill. Getting a right relationship with God is believing and trusting that God gives us this through Jesus and is the one fundamental and foundational thing we must do. It is square one of the Christian life. Anything else comes only after that.


We are merely invited to come to Jesus. The bread of life is free. We are into Jesus.


Of course, bread is to be eaten. We can’t hear Jesus say, “I am the bread of life” without thinking of The Lord’s Supper.


John’s Gospel does not tell us of the Lord in the upper room and that first Communion with his disciples. No, John 6, the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ words about him being the bread of life is the “communion” story in John’s Gospel.


As Jesus goes on in his “I am the bread of life” sermon he will say, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…”[13]


First, Jesus spoke of his bread as flesh, and broken bread points us to his broken body and the cross.


Second, bread is something everyone needs for life and nourishment. Jesus is absolutely essential for life and our spiritual nourishment. Jesus made Communion indispensable in believing in him – in being into him - when he said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”[14]


Third, Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (6:56) The Lord’s Table connects us to Christ and helps bond us in relationship to him. It happens mysteriously, certainly spiritually, perhaps more physically than we know, and certainly by faith in what he says.


We are told that Jesus doesn’t invite us to eat his flesh and drink his blood based on our own understanding. There is much I can’t understand. We come in simple faith – whatever faith we have - believing Jesus’ word that this is a way that he gives himself to us.


Jesus invitation is to come and believe. We are all he wants. He is all we need. We don’t have to work for it or earn it. Just come to him. Just trust in him. That’s all and that is enough. And that is the gospel.[15]

[1] 6:2 [2] 6:26 [3] Found in Dale Bruner’s commentary on John, p.386 [4] Earl Palmer, The Book That John Wrote, p.171 [5] John 6:26-27 [6] Bruner, p.400 [7] 6:29 [8] 6:35 [9] 6:40 [10] 6:47 [11] 20:31 [12] Morning Glory, Sept./Oct., 1997, p.50 [13] 6:51 [14] 6:53 [15] Dale Bruner, Commentary on John, 401

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