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This message was not written or preached by myself.
Jesse Caulfield, a member of our congregation who preaches every now and then to give me a Sunday off, is the author.
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Jesus the Bread of Life
Read John 6:25-59
Lucas favourite book is called Zed’s bread. It talks about a little boy and his brother – Zed - who make bread together. At the end of the book it lists many different types of bread – which Lucas has now memorized –
Pitta bread, chapatti bread, brown bread, white bread, crispbread, croissant, focaccia, pretzel, pizza bread, flat bread, frenchsticks, rye bread, and so on.
He can now point out these types of bread litter our shelves at coles, or woolworths or aldi , we have so many types of bread available to us! We don’t think about where they came from, or frankly worry about the cost. 85c for a loaf of aldi bread is incidental.
I had a friend who spent many years in the south pacific working on the remote islands as an I.T. support officer. He would often recount about coming back to Australia having spent 10 years there. On the small island where he lived, if he wanted bread he would go to the shop – not shops – shop. And the bread would be on one row of the first shelf. That was it. If there was no bread there, it meant they were waiting on the boat to arrive. And no bread, well, you had to scrounge around for something else – like cassava or tarot root if you wanted to eat staples.
When he came back to Australia and went to the supermarket he spent all day in there, standing, staring, he describes as almost traumatic, looking at row after row on the shelves of the different types of bread the different types of butter…
Supply of bread isn’t seasonal at coles. We are not worried about the aussie dollar dropping and affecting our cost of bread. We aren’t worried about the drought, if we can’t grow it, we have so much money we can fly it in and in fact, probably find it is cheaper anyway.
Some of us might think of bread in terms of something we might have on the side of our plate – we don’t need daily bread – there is so much food, there are so many options… we could easily go without ‘bread’ and not even miss it.
But not so in the time of Jesus. In that society -first century Palestine / Judah - 85 % of a daily wage (a denarii) would be spent on something like a loaf of bread and some cheese or fish. If you didn’t work, you starved. If you didn’t like bread or fish, you probably starved. Pastor Allan, you would be in trouble lol. I suppose there was corn ? or rice ?
Half the people in the world today live on a basic diet - a cup of rice and few bits of fish or green pick from the jungle or arid landscape around them. They get what Jesus is talking about in this passage far easier then we do.
For us, the motif “daily bread” is lost on us. But not so Jesus audience. They knew with absolute certainty what Jesus meant when he said “daily bread”. He was talking about the difference between living, and dying.
Our Scripture reading today can be summed up by the statement “in order to have life – that is, God’s life which is a qualitatively different life - I must believe, that is put my faith in, the one he sent, Jesus Christ”. Our author – John, the evangelist – follows the same pattern of story that we read in chapter three, chapter four, chapter five, and once again the same line appear on the lips of unbelieving crowds, Jews, or individuals…. “” (viz what are the works God requires), (which of course is a silly question) to which Jesus gives the same response – it is a gift and therefore you can do nothing but accept and put faith in the one God has sent – Jesus, the true bread.
However in this passage he uses the metaphor - bread – required every day to stay alive - to show how vital it is for a person to believe that Jesus has taken their place for their sins, on the cross; that he has died, so they don’t have to – and this is a matter of life or death! It is not just faith, but rather faith in Jesus - he is the object of faith – in his substitutionary death, as he explains that the bread must be broken and ties it to his flesh and blood which must ‘eat’ – a clear allusion to the cross – and so we have to believe that he died for us, in our place, in order to receive this life from God.
In short, we are stuffed, but God’s gift of Life is freely given to those who receive it by faith in Jesus.
So today I’m going to unpack that one big idea by breaking it down into three simple points
1) Jesus is the life giver, because he is the manna from heaven
a. He is God’s manna – the true bread
33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
The people came to him because the day before, they got a day off work. A free feed. They liked this very much. If 80% of your income was suddenly freed up, and this could happen at the command of a man on apparently, his whim, what would life be like if he was king. He could make bread – every day “viz always give us this bread!”… disposable income, no longer at the mercy of the elements, or the empire. I totally get the people’s response!
But Jesus is no false King – he is no imposter. He was not willing to be their puppeteer, performing miracles at their request ! No he has come to do the will of God – that’s whom he obeys.
The irony here is laden – the people should be obeying him and asking Him what is God’s will, and yet here is Jesus full of grace and truth explaining that he is the one coming to do the work – the work of the cross – the work of the atonement – for their sakes.
b. Jesus is the life giver – because He is the one sent by God
44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
57 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
Jesus has come as the life giver to give his life, as this is God’s will. Jesus has not just ‘turned up’ and decided to start doing this. This is God’s plan, God’s purpose. That he chose to come and deliberately – knowing well in advance that he would be rejected by His own people – set out in this world, with the destination being the cross. He was sent, to die.
c. Jesus is the life giver because He truly reveals God
i. (I am the bread of life– ego eimi, one of 7 sayings in John… emphatic, recalling God’s self disclosure in the burning bush) I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the vine, I am the good shepherd etc.
37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
All the Calvinists hear the first half of this verse – and say Amen. All the Arminians hear the second part of this verse and say, Amen. Jesus must’ve been calminian.
I once had a young man say to me in prison, in the middle of a church service. He stood up angry and said “ I can’t believe in a God I can’t see” and turned out walked out.
That’s fine. He wasn’t really interested in my response “neither do I!”. I am a finite flesh and blood being. I can not wrap my head around a universe breathing speaking spirit who creates time and space just so he can put matter in it. That’s beyond my comprehension. In that sense God is unknowable… and so some religions simply leave God in ‘that space’. Unknowable. Is he good, is he bad… who knows..
But not the Christian.
The Christian says, ah, we know who God is. He decided to pull the curtain back and show us. We call that revelation.
Unless God reveals himself to us, how would we know him ? It would be like an ant trying to understand a mountain – or the sea.
That’s who Jesus is. “the God man”… the one who comes and says “hey, here I am! Over here!” It’s me !!! – manna in the desert – hallloooo ‘that was me’. Water in the desert ‘ halloo, there I was.
The feeding of the 5000 was a certain sign for the Jews. The fact that he created food out of air, - only God can do that. In fact, God had done, just that in the exodus – a point not lost on the crowd in the synagogue!
The fact that he ‘walked across the ocean that night’… as John shows at the start of this chapter – they understood that. God did the same thing for his people in the exodus also. These two signs were obvious to any Jew- they knew their Torah. Here is Jesus saying and doing the things that God ALONE can do – what does that make Jesus… no wonder why many were saying he is the messiah. But he was not doing what they wanted… they just didn’t get it.
Jesus reveals God as He is – and reveals God’s standards for us as they are – and not as we want them to be.
2) The life Jesus gives is qualitatively different, not mere ‘existence’
a. The life is zoeh (17 times - not bios. It is a qualitatively different life… it’s not just about being the physically ‘animated’, or even ‘concious’. It is about a quality of life, an experience of life that is sourced in and finds its goal in God – and in relationship to God. Jesus bangs on and on and on about it.
i. John announces this at the start of his gospel - In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. And John spends the rest of his gospel narrating the story.
b. It is an everlasting (ainon) life (six times)
I am not a huge fan of the translation ‘eternal’. The greek here ‘aionon’ is elsewhere translated as simply ‘day’ for example, in the Septuagint, the greek translation of the old testament, they use the same word in Genesis 1 – which we translate as day. Yet we don’t talk about ‘in the first eternity, God created the stars…”… but you get my drift here.
It is an everlasting life – because it is sourced in an everlasting God. Concepts of time here don’t do justice… (and if Jesus wanted to talk about a long time, why wouldn’t he use kronos to talk about time…) and unending experience of the living God.
John makes this explicit
c. John 17:3
3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Obviously, Jesus is wrong. He should’ve said… this is eternal life, that you will be forever young… or that you will live forever, in a place umm, you know, called heaven… and umm, play ping pong when it rains or something.
Jesus says – eternal life “zoeh ainon” = relationship with God – that you will ginosko (know) God. What does he mean when he says that… a special intimate knowledge… a close relationship… in the way that a husband and wife know each other.
It is relationship to God – those drawn by God, called by God to himself, who can not fall away . This is the everlasting life that Jesus has given to us.
3) The life of Jesus is received by faith
a. Pistis – normally translated faith.. .but here translated “to believe” appears five times in this passage.
You are all people of great faith – I see you sitting there on your chairs… putting all your weight through your backside, down into them. You have faith in the structural integrity of the chair, to keep your posterior elevated and ensure you don’t suddenly become 30 centimetres closer to terra firma :D In short, you have faith the chair isn’t going to break. Why, based on the evidence! You’re sitting on it, aren’t you! More then that, you know that the chair won’t break because it is made of strong steel. It is not rusty. It is soundly engineered. We all have great faith. The question is what do we have faith IN !? Do we truly trust God, or do we want to argue our own case – like the people.
b. Not by works “what are the works we must do” – BELIEVE
i. They wanted Jesus to be sort of king that does their bidding, moses gave us bread (he didn’t, God did!), prove your better then him by doing it every day and we’ll make you our King – yes, that’s the king we want!!!!
ii. Jesus rejects this – as if he has to measure up to their standard of judgment – he is the true bread, and the manna comes from God, not moses.
iii. They were only interested in material blessing, a free feed (viz the 5000), Jesus shows the real issue – their separation from God and unwillingness to believe in Him!
c. Believing in Jesus as the object of faith, and that he has died in our place… the substitutionary atonement is so vivid here – so much of Jesus teaching is tied to his death and resurrection – the teaching of Jesus and his actual death and resurrection are inseparable.
i. Yet this is a hard teaching – eat my flesh, drink my blood – the stuff of vampire stories….
This is why Anne rice – a famous author of vampire stories – wanted to write about the greatest vampire in legend / mythical history. Jesus, the one who said you would live forever if you drink my blood – right. And like all good authors she wanted to be able to write a convincing novel that had that ring of historical truth about it – so she set out to research first century Palestine and Judaism. And the historical Jesus. And she had planned to do this for six months.
Six years later and having read all the literature that liberal scholars had put together arguing against the ‘supernatural phenomena’ and coming up with all sorts of reasons for the establishment of Christianity – and the responses from evangelical scholars who put Jesus in his context and did writing context, and all the work of historical criticism, literary criticism, canonical criticism and every other criticism that you can level against the Scriptures… she finally concluded, that the arguments against were shoddy, and the arguments for, were compelling. And so she became a follower of Jesus.
Now I should say l ogic alone doesn’t bring you to faith, but it can clear away the obstacles.
More importantly I want to add - Faith is Jesus is rational - based on the words and deeds of Jesus ‘ the true one – the true bread – the only bread – this stuff only make sense in its context and only make sense when tied to his work on the cross. John presents all of his gospel as ‘evidence’, i.e. ‘data’, so that we can believe. (cf 21:31) 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
I think John would’ve been an excellent lawyer – from his opening remarks, Jesus is the life of the world, to his closing remarks, all this evidence is presented, your honour, so that believing, you may have life in His name…
How do we apply this in our lives ?
Jesus is the true bread – all other breads lead to just more hunger, he alone satisfies.
We might have looked at other religions, or no religion, and found that they all come up short. We might dare to think of jesus as just another loaf of bread – like the crowd ‘always give us this bread’ so that we can get a better deal – but Jesus isn’t just another loaf wrapped on the shelf.
He is the true bread from heaven. The one sent, from God to reveal God. He alone satisfies. He alone gives rest to our bodies, life to our spirit and peace to our soul. He alone truly stands over and above every other god, would be, imitator, or no God.
Our supermarkets are so sanitised. We find food on the shelves, all wrapped in plastic. We don’t stop to think of the cow that makes up the meat for our burger. We don’t think of the chicken in our chow mein, or the wheat that had to fall to ground and be crushed – giving its life, for ours.
Jesus’ hearers understood, either wheat dies, or I die. The fish dies, or I die.
Jesus drew upon that knowledge to explain what would happen at the cross – his life, for ours. He dies in our place, so that we may live.
Your fathers ate manna in the desert and died… Whoever eats this bread will live forever
Come and eat.