I’m not real big on New Year’s resolutions, but at the beginning of this year I set a personal goal to know Jesus better this year. So I’m really excited about the next seven weeks because we’re going to get to know Jesus better through His own words. Near the end of his gospel account, John describes why he has written that account:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written 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.
John 20:30-31 (ESV)
The whole purpose of writing his gospel account is to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that his readers might believe and receive eternal life. And one of the ways John does that is to record the account of seven miracles, or signs, that reveal Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God.
But John also records seven times that Jesus describes who He is in His own words, using the words “I am…” As we’ll discuss in some more detail during the “Connections” time this morning, Jesus was clearly identifying Himself as God by using the very same words that His Heavenly Father had used to describe Himself as He spoke to Moses in the burning bush.
So for the next seven weeks, we’ll examine each of these seven sayings, and, as we do, we’ll let Jesus reveal Himself to us in His own words.
[Scripture readings and song]
[After the “In the Bag”]
There is nothing quite like hot bread right out of the oven, is there? So I’m sure that none of you are too disappointed that the “In the Bag” message this morning featured some fresh bread and that you got to share that bread with the kids.
How is that bread? It’s really good, isn’t it, and if you’re hungry it will satisfy your hunger, at least for the moment. But the problem with this bread is that some of you will already be hungry again before I’m done with this sermon.
Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus also shared a sermon that used bread as an object lesson. That sermon is recorded for us in John 6, so go ahead and turn there in your Bibles and we’ll read His message in just a moment. But first let’s set the scene.
Passover was approaching and Jesus went up on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee and prepared to teach. But before He proceeded to teach, Jesus fed the entire crowd with only five loaves of bread and two fish. After that Jesus withdrew from the crowd and later that evening He walked across the Sea to join His disciples who were in a boat on their way to Capernaum. The next morning, the crowds, realizing that Jesus was gone, got into their boats and also crossed over to Capernaum. We’ll pick up the account in verse 25:
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble 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 heard and learned from the Father comes to me—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one 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. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
John 6:25-59 (ESV)
As I pointed out earlier this morning, this is the first of seven times in the gospel of John where Jesus reveals Himself using the phrase “I Am.” So this morning let’s focus on what Jesus reveals to us when He identifies Himself as the Bread of Life.
As the Bread of Life, Jesus reveals:
1. That the essence of human life is spiritual, not physical
In this passage, the people in the crowd speak to Jesus six times, either asking a question or making a statement. And in every single instance it is clear that they are focusing on physical matters, not spiritual matters. Let’s look at each of the six briefly:
“Rabbi, when did you come here?”
Jesus’ response to that question makes it clear that the people are only seeking Him out because he filled their stomachs the previous day and they want to see what else Jesus might provide for them physically.
“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
Even though Jesus had already told them not to work for food that perishes, they were still focused on what they could do in order to get something from God.
“Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
They are challenging Jesus to give them more. In essence, they are saying something like this: “Jesus, Moses gave our ancestors manna in the wilderness day after day. Sure, you gave us some bread yesterday, but what do you have for us today?”
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
The people still don’t get it. They still want Jesus to feed them physical bread every day.
“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Many of these people have watched Jesus grow up or at least know of His earthly family. And they just can’t get past that knowledge in order to understand how Jesus could possibly have come down from heaven.
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
We’ll look at this some more in a bit, but when Jesus told the people they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to receive eternal life, they couldn’t get past the physical to understand the spiritual meaning of what Jesus was saying.
But despite the fact that the crowds didn’t want to focus on spiritual matters, Jesus consistently brought the conversation back to that which is the essence of our lives. And in His sermon, Jesus focuses on the stark contrasts between the physical and the spiritual:
Three contrasts between the physical and the spiritual:
• The physical will perish, the spiritual endures
Although Jesus specifically uses the example of food to distinguish between that which will perish and that will endure, that principle obviously has a much broader application that we see elsewhere in Scripture. For instance, Paul confirms the temporary nature of the physical and the eternal nature of the spiritual in this passage:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)
Those things which are seen – the physical things – are only temporary, and they are all wasting away. Those things which cannot be experienced with our five senses – the spiritual things – are eternal and that is where we are to focus.
Jesus confirmed this same principle with His own words:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10:28 (ESV)
Because our physical bodies will all perish some day but our soul will live forever, then it follows that we should be focusing our time and effort on developing that which will last.
The implication for our lives is clear. If we want to experience Jesus as the Bread of Life, then we must focus on developing our souls rather than only on providing for our physical needs. One last passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy is instructive here:
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)
• The physical focuses on what we can do, the spiritual focuses on what God has already done
The crowds were focused on what they could do. As we saw earlier, they asked Jesus what they should be doing in order to be doing the works of God. They were obviously influenced by their religious leaders, who, as we saw in our examination of the Sermon on the Mount, were more concerned about putting on an outward show of religion than on developing a heart for God and the things of God.
So it is not surprising that they were so concerned about what they could do to obtain this bread that Jesus was offering which would keep them from getting hungry again.
But Jesus attempts to turn their focus from what they could do to what God had already done for them – because that is what really counts in the spiritual realm. It is clear here that everything that is required in order to have a relationship with God is all God’s work:
o He came down to earth in bodily form in order to give life
o He draws men unto Himself
o He holds firm those who belong to Him
o He will raise up those who belong to Him in the last day
o He gives His flesh in order to provide life
This is a truth that is really hard for most people to accept in a culture that values a so called “self-made man.” Even when it comes to spiritual matters, it is natural for people to still feel like they need to do something in order to merit favor with God. But Jesus makes it clear here that if we want to be right with God, it begins with recognizing what God has already done for us and relying on that rather than what we can do.
As we’ll see in more detail in just a moment, that doesn’t in any way imply that what we do isn’t important. God certainly is concerned with how we live our lives. But the real issue here is our motivation. Are we serving God out of a desire to earn favor with Him or are we doing that out of gratitude for what He has already done for us?
This familiar passage from Ephesians helps us to develop the proper understanding of this principle:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)
Our salvation is a gift from God. It is not based at all on our works. But at the same time, we are created, as God’s children, for the purpose of doing good works. But we do them as a result of our salvation, not as the basis for our salvation.
• The physical focuses on what we can get, the spiritual focuses on who we can become
The crowd followed Jesus only because they were looking to get something from Him. He had already provided a meal for them and they wanted to see what other miracles He might perform and what they might receive from Jesus as a result of those miracles.
But Jesus wanted them to focus on becoming more and more like Him. We’ve all heard the expression “You are what you eat” and that’s exactly what Jesus was promising to them in a spiritual sense.
We’ll look a bit more at what Jesus meant when He exhorted them to eat His flesh in just a moment. But the obvious implication here is that if they will feed on Him – spiritually, of course – then they will become more and more like Him.
In fact, God uses everything in the life of every Christ follower for the express purpose of conforming us to be more and more like Jesus:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:28-29 (ESV)
The irony is that when we focus on becoming more like Jesus, rather than trying to get something from God, we end up receiving far more than we could ever ask for or even imagine. We get an abundant life on earth right now and an eternity spent in glorious resurrection bodies In the presence of Jesus, being taught face to face by Him. And, as Jesus points out in His own words, we get also the physical things we need for our life here on earth as well:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33 (ESV)
As the Bread of Life, Jesus reveals:
2. That the answer to our spiritual hunger is to pursue a person, not seek a solution
French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote:
There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus
I believe that the Scriptures bear out that observation. And if you don’t believe me, just go down to Bookman’s and check out their self-help section. What’s really interesting to me is that since Bookman’s specializes in used books, these are all books that somebody has read and decided they no longer need. And I can’t help but think that there are probably a lot of people who keep returning to that section over and over, searching for some program or method that is going to fill the void in their life, only to find that nothing provides any lasting relief. So they live their whole life never really finding anything that satisfies that hunger deep down inside.
Later in John’s gospel account, Jesus makes it really clear why these people are never going to find the solution they are seeking apart from Him:
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
John 17:3 (ESV)
Satisfying our spiritual hunger requires a spiritual remedy. And that remedy is not some program or method – it is in a person. The only way we will ever satisfy our spiritual hunger is by pursuing a love relationship with Jesus in which we strive to get to know Him better.
As you read through this account in John’s gospel, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is revealing Himself as the only one who can fill that God-shaped vacuum in the lives of His audience. But these people are blinded by their familiarity with Jesus. Many of them have watched Him grow up right there among them. They know His family. But unfortunately, that familiarity actually keeps them from seeing that the answer to their deepest need stands right there before them in person.
Not much has changed in the last 2,000 years. Today we still have people who refuse to accept Jesus as the answer to their spiritual needs because their familiarity with Him prevents them from giving their lives to Him. Some only know Jesus as a good moral man, or a fine teacher. They might even believe that He died on a cross and rose from the dead. But they, like most of the crowd in Capernaum that day, refuse to accept Him as He reveals Himself to us – the Bread of Life who came down from heaven to offer His body on the cross in order to give us eternal life.
So they keep looking for something to fill the void in their lives every place except in the one person who could actually do that for them.
Fortunately for us, Jesus provides us with some very practical guidance regarding what is required to pursue Jesus so that He can fill the God-shaped vacuum in each of our lives:
Pursuing Jesus requires:
• Belief that results in action
When the people ask what they must do to be doing the works of God, Jesus replies that they must believe in the one God had sent, obviously referring to Himself. Later in His discourse Jesus confirms that it is those who believe that have eternal life.
But not just any kind of belief will do, according to Jesus. He goes on to say that if anyone wants to live forever they must eat of the bread He is offering. And just to make sure they get the point, He goes on to say that unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood they have no life in them.
Unfortunately this particular part of this passage has been abused by taking it out of context and trying to use it to support all kinds of false teaching.
Obviously Jesus is not saying that His followers are to literally be cannibals and physically eat His body and drink His blood. For one thing that would clearly violate many of the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus came to fulfill, not abolish.
And this has nothing to do with the Lord’s Supper, which is not even instituted until at least a year later. So Jesus is clearly not teaching that the bread and wine used in the Lord’s Supper actually become His body and His blood, as some people teach.
Jesus is obviously using symbolic language here to make the point that while belief is required, not just any belief will do. The kind of faith that results in eternal life requires a depth of belief that causes one to act upon that belief.
James summarizes what this kind of faith is like quite well:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder!
James 2:14-19 (ESV)
James is not saying, as some have claimed, that works are required for salvation. He is merely pointing out here that the kind of faith that consists merely of words that is not demonstrated by one’s actions is insufficient for salvation. And he uses the example of the demons to demonstrate his point. They believe in Jesus. They even fear Him. But they never act based on that kind of belief.
We’ve already mentioned how many people in our world today have some kind of belief in the person of Jesus. But that belief is not backed up by actions that demonstrate that they accept Him as the Bread of Life.
• A consistent diet, not just a meal
Jesus actually uses two different words for eating in this passage and the ESV does a really nice job of showing that with their translation. You’ll notice that between verses 53 and 54 there is a shift from the word “eat” to the word “feed”. The word “eat” is the normal word that means to consume a meal. But the word translated “feed” means to “gnaw” or to “chew”.
It is also instructive that Jesus uses present tense verbs in this part of the passage:
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him…
When we put all this together, the picture we get is that it is not enough to just come to Jesus once and taste of Him. We must consistently chew on His Word so that we can really get to know Him.
The bread we all ate at the beginning of the message was really good wasn’t it? But that bread will only satisfy our physical hunger for a while and then we’ll need to eat again. The same thing is true for our relationship with Jesus. Just a onetime snack is not enough. We need to make Him our consistent spiritual diet.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” What are you doing each day to feed on that living bread?