We’re spending some in John 6. But it gives us an opportunity to deeply examine the themes, symbols and images in this chapter. Thus far:-
Thousands have been fed on the hillside; the forces of nature have been manipulated by Jesus walking on the water and still the fickle crowds demand something more tangible and keep asking for something more powerful contesting Jesus with Moses. Jesus insists the bread Moses gave sustained life. But it was temporal. Likewise the bread and fish He multiplied will only last a day. However, the true bread He feeds them with, His flesh and blood, gives them spiritual provision throughout eternity! “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never be hungry. He who puts his trust in me will never be thirsty.” (v.35).
In our weekly Bible study we have heard the same message over and again as John’s recurring theme is always to show that Jesus is God. He wrote his gospel so that we might believe this. His generation and people throughout the ages have asked, “Who is this Jesus Christ” – they want what He has to offer, but they don’t understand Him. Pilate said He was without fault. Napoleon called Jesus the “emperor of love”. Strauss said He was the highest model of religion. Others see Jesus as the guide of humanity. How insufficient this is. Jesus is God, Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. John states His spiritual origin right from the start – “The Word made flesh” – yet Jesus, is just often seen as the “best of men”, a good teacher who spouted profound truths, not God fully man: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” (v.42). He’s just a man. His monumental claim is nonsense. Yet Jesus’ teaching here is really trying to hammer the point home. “I am the Bread of Life” – He repeats Himself adding emphasis, “I am the Living Bread that comes down from heaven” (vs.48,51). I am one with the Father. But their eyes were so blind with unbelief that He couldn’t get the message through, “Your souls are hungry, God sent food, I’m the bread that satisfies!”
What’s your favourite food? Think back to the food pyramid. What is it you really enjoy eating? Blessed with the abundance we have a typical person apparently spends 35,000 hours of their lifetime eating! It works out to about 8 years! That’s a lot of food we consume. And as much as we enjoy food, it will only satisfy for a few hours and we need to eat again.
According to the OT, when the Israelites complained to Moses that they didn’t have enough food to eat, he fed them with manna to make them realise “That man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Dt.8:3). Before Christ that ‘word’ was the Law and the Prophets – but now here’s Jesus, teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum offering something more, as He is superior to the bread of the Law and superior to Jewish faith and practice (v.59). It’s a staggering claim, but not one of exaltation as Jesus’ only purpose, as He states: “Is to do the will of the One who sent me…” (v.38). The whole point of Jesus coming down from heaven is to satisfy our hungry souls. No matter what we buy, no matter what we earn, no matter what we achieve, no matter what we eat – it’s true we’re only satisfied for a brief moment. It’s a common experience. Something eludes us and we just don’t find what we’re looking for (as many contemporary songwriters have told us!!). Unless we look to “the Word” – Jesus came so that none will be lost and explained where satisfaction in life can be found. Those who put their trust in Him will have life that lasts forever (vs.39-40). At this point I think we understand there is earthly food or things that never completely satisfy, and there is heavenly food that endures forever. The Bread of Life means nothing more, and nothing less, than that.
Predictably this declaration leads to grumbling and complaining. It’s a usual reaction. It happened with Moses. It happens with Christ. You’re either for or against Him. You either accept or reject His divinity. He’s just a carpenter’s son or He’s God’s Son claiming that God is His living Father and that we need not die. By the end of the chapter it will bring conflict and dissent that continues throughout the gospel. The “Jesus for king” campaign starts to evaporate. The cannibalistic notion of eating flesh was hard to grasp. But to a Jew, the mere notion of drinking blood was outrageous. Animal butchers drained off all the blood. None should pass their lips. It was kosher practice written in the Law. So what did Jesus mean?
Think about it – who does He promise eternal life to? Those who believe in Him. Believe what about Him though? His sacrifice.
That the breaking of His body and spilling of His blood, like a lamb led to the slaughter, pays in full the penalty for our sin. This is gruesome talk but it’s why I’m a minister of the Word and Sacraments. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we would always remember His Eucharistic words: “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk.22:19; 1 Cor.11:24) as they anticipate the cross and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb.9:22). Eating steak bloody and rare was forbidden because the blood was considered to contain the animal’s life. However, if we want to have Jesus’ life in us then we must drink His blood. Not literally of course that would be idiotic. It’s vivid symbolism of sacrifice and how through Holy Communion we come to the Lord of Hosts and He feeds our souls so that we may live and abide in Him: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life that lasts forever…and I live in him” (vs.54,56).
God does the urging, but we must accept the reality of Christ and decide whether or not to believe and make a sincere commitment to Him and for the Holy Spirit to sustain our daily spiritual life in order to be resurrected from death to eternal life. Perseverance of the saints is something John brings to mind several chapters later: “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn.8:31-32).
Many years ago a Christian missionary was distributing Gospels in the central provinces of India and he came to some non-Christians on the railway line and offered a man a copy of John’s Gospel. The man took it and in anger tore it in pieces. He did not want to be defiled by Christianity. But it so happened, in the providence of God, there was a man anxiously seeking for truth walking along the railway line that very day, and he picked up a little bit of paper and looked it, and the words in his own language were ‘the Bread of Life’. He didn’t know what it meant; but he enquired among his friends who told him it came from a Christian book and that he should have nothing to do with it. The man was spiritually hungry and was determined to read the book that contained this beautiful phrase. He approached the missionary who gave him a copy of the NT and showed him the bit where the Lord’s spoke these words – “I am the Bread of Life” and as he studied the Gospel, the light poured into his heart, he came to know Jesus Christ, and he became a preacher in that part of India. That little bit of paper was indeed the Bread of Life to him, satisfying his deepest need.
Bread is beneficial only if it’s consumed. The same is true of Jesus Christ. We live in a hungry world, our souls our hungry, frustrated and empty and Jesus says, “I’m the only one who can fill that void.” A man must eat but give up the spiritual junk food and consume the Bread of Life! Come to Jesus and believe in Him. He’s more than just a good teacher. Desire a relationship with God who offered His own flesh on the cross, to cleanse your sin and to give you, not only abundant life, but eternal life. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (Js.4:8). So let me echo what King David wrote thousands of years ago: Let us “Give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” (Ps.107:8-9).