I AM…the Bread of Life
Pastor Jefferson M. Williams
Chenoa Baptist Church
I remember the first time I visited Maxine's grandma in Leesville, Louisiana for Thanksgiving. We ate for what it seemed like for hours - multiple courses and several desserts that we were strongly encouraged to eat our fill.
After lunch, we retired to the living room to watch football. Not more than a hour after the meal, her grandmother came in with a plate full of food for me.
I was absolutely stuffed. I didn’t think I could eat one more bite. But I was Mickie’s new husband and wanted everyone to like me so I smiled and ate the sandwich and tried hard not to throw up!
I think they were trying to kill me!
After that meal I didn’t eat again for six months!
Is that true? Of course not.
No matter how “stuffed” I felt, I was hungry before the sun went down.
That’s the nature of hunger. It’s never satisfied.
Today, we began a new series entitled “I AM’ and we will be going through the “I am” statements in the book of John:
“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51) As bread sustains physical life, so Christ offers and sustains spiritual life.
“I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) To a world lost in darkness, Christ offers Himself as a guide.
“I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7,9) Jesus protects His followers as shepherds protect their flocks from predators.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) Death is not the final word for those in Christ.
“I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14) Jesus is committed to caring and watching over those who are His.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the source of all truth and knowledge about God.
“I am the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5) By attached ourselves to Christ, we enable His life to flow in and through us. Then we cannot help but bear fruit that will honor the Father.
By the way, we are studying the Gospel of John verse-by-verse in the Wednesday morning Bible study and would love for you to join us.
Let me start with a question? Why did the religious leaders want to kill Jesus?
Is it because He did miracles?
Is it because He taught in parables?
Is it because people followed Him?
Not exactly. The Jewish leaders wanted to kill Him because of these two words - I AM.
In order to understand the meaning of these words we need to go back to the middle of nowhere and a burning bush.
Moses had blown it. He grew up in the palace of Pharaoh and had it all. But something didn’t feel right.
He knew he was an Israelite and it hurt him to see his brothers and sisters in bondage. He witnessed a Egyptian beating a man and he killed him and hid him the sand.
The word got out and he became a wanted man. He fled to the far side of the desert and spent the next 40 years raising and tending sheep. He thought that was all there was.
Until God showed up In the form of a bush that burned but was never consumed.
God told Moses that He had chosen him to lead His people out of Egypt and out of slavery. Moses spends the next few minutes arguing with God!
“Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13)
God responds with a mind shattering revelation:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14)
One of the study Bibles I consulted this week tries to explain the staggering truth of God’s name:
I AM is the ultimate statement of self-sufficiency, self-existence, and immediate presence. God’s existence is not contingent upon anyone else. His plans are not contingent upon any circumstances. He promises that He will be what He will be; that is, He will be the eternally constant God. He stands, ever-present and unchangeable, completely sufficient in Himself to do what He wills to do and to accomplish what He wills to accomplish.
Fast forward to Jesus. In a heated exchange with the religious leaders of His day, they call Him a Samaritan and accuse Him of being demon possessed. They make it clear that they follow Abraham and that he is their north star.
Jesus replies,“before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)
In the Greek, “Ego Eimi” - I am who I am. They got it. He was claiming to be God. And they picked up stones to kill Him.
That brings us to our verses today. Turn with me to John 6 and we will begin in verse 25.
The Text in Context
We need to make sure to take the text within it context.
John 6 begins with the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels - the feeding of the 5,000.
Jesus’ popularity was growing and He was attracting large crowds to hear his teaching and, perhaps, see a miracle or two.
At the end of a long day, the people are hungry. Jesus tells Philip to feed the people and he is absolutely at a loss for how. He tells Jesus that it would take 8 months wages to feed a crowd this big.
Thinking inside the box, Andrew brings a young boy to Jesus that had packed a lunch - five biscuits, made of barley, and two sardines.
Jesus said, “That will work” and gave thanks and the disciples distributed the food and afterwards picked up twelve basketfuls of crumbs.
Although we call this the “feeding of the 5,000,” that number did not include women and children. So the crowd could have been 20,000+!
The people knew their Torah and understood that a great prophet was among them. Maybe even THE Prophet that Moses had talked about in Deuteronomy 18.
So what was their response? They wanted to make Him king by force!
Jesus lived in a time where there were no refrigerators, or walk-in freezers. People were obsessed with food and had a lot of anxiety about where their next meal would come from.
This guy can make bread out of nothing. He could be our leader and defeat the Romans! Someone find a crown!
Jesus wanted no part of that coronation so He slips off by himself.
He sent His disciples off in a boat to the other side of the lake and they got caught in a violent storm. Jesus walks out to them on the water and, once He got in the boat, the boat immediately reached shore.
They next day, the crowd knew that Jesus wasn’t in the boat with his disciples when it left so they searched for Him.
Finally, many of them made their way around the lake on foot and on the sea and find Him.
Here’s where the Q and A session begins.
Jesus Uncovers Their Motivation
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “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. (John 6:25)
Jesus, doesn’t even acknowledge their question. He goes straight to their motivation.
They were not searching for Him because the signs, the miracles, He had been doing.
In the book of John, “signs” point to Jesus’ divinity.
After the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, John records:
"What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)
Many of them had witnessed the signs with their eyes but not with their heart. They saw but didn’t comprehend.
They were looking for Him because they “ate the loaves and had their fill.”
The Greek word for “eat” here is used for animals chomping away. This could be translated, “You pigged out yesterday!”
Leon Morris writes, “They weren’t moved by full hearts but by full bellies.”
In Greco-Roman thought, to be ruled by your stomach was to be a fool. Jesus is never one to mince words.
He continues teaching:
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.”
Jesus then contrasts two kinds of bread. There is a kind of bread that doesn’t last. That is temporary. That is not life sustaining.
To put all your effort, to “work” toward this kind of bread would be a tragedy. An ultimate waste of a life.
Solomon wrote about this in his thoroughly depressing book Ecclesiastes in which he tries his hand at multiple things - He drinks, becomes wealthy, acquires power, buys property, experiences sexual gratification, and views artistic entertainment. And, in the end, he sees it as completely “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
In case you think thee Bible has nothing to say to our modern day ears, doesn’t this hit home in our culture today?
The great rock theologian Bruce Springsteen once crooned, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.”
In our culture today, people are working for bread that doesn’t last.
We ignore our family in order to climb the corporate ladder only to be left alone with our success.
We obsessively check our “likes” in Instagram and judge our worthiness by how many people follow us on social media.
We sell our souls for fame and fortune and discover that it’s all an illusion.
I read this week about the end of Somerset Maugham’s life, the famed author of “On Human Bondage.”
At 91, he was living in a villa on the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by servants and extravagant wealth.
His nephew, who was a Christ Follower, wanted to write an article about him before his death.
He found Somerset reading a large print Bible that he had giving him. He said that he had come across a quotation, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”
He told Robin, his nephew, that quote actually hung on the wall in his bedroom when he was a child.
He concluded, “Of course the Bible is a lot of bunk. But the thought is quite interesting all the same.”
During the interview, Robin was amazed at his level of despair:
“I’ve been a failure the whole way through life. I’ve made a hash of everything.”
Robin reminded him that he was one of the most famous writers alive to which he replied:
I wish I had never written a single word…it’s brought me nothing but misery…everyone’s who’s gotten to know me well has ended up hating me…my whole life has been a failure…and now it’s too late to change.”
Even in the midst of incredible success, fame, and wealth, he could not help but sense that it was all meaningless.
Augustine famously wrote that “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart are restless until they rests in you.”
We search for happiness, contentment, truth, love - only to find that what the world offers is only a shadow.
But Jesus says there is another kind of bread. One that cannot spoil and endures to eternal life.
Where can they get that bread? The “Son of Man” will give it as a gift from the Father. This is one of Jesus’ favorite descriptions of Himself that comes from the book of Daniel.
Speaking in third person, Jesus affirms that God the Father has placed His mark of identification on Him.
Let’s Get to Work
The crowd then asked another question that showed the depth of their ability to miss the point:
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28)
Out of Jesus’ answer, they only really heard one word - work. They ask what do we do to get this bread? What boxes can we check off? What works can we focus on to get enough brownie points with God? What hoops can we jump through?
Jesus answers as simply and clearly as He could:
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)
Notice that the crowd asks what works they can do and Jesus responses that the work of God is to believe in the one He has sent.
Eugene Peterson paraphrases this beautifully:
“Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.” (John 6:29, The Message)
They didn’t have to try to jump through hoops of being good. They simply needed to believe. The word “believe” is in the present tense. This indicates that believing isn’t a one time event in the past. It’s an ongoing life of faith in the present.
Notice also that this work is of God. Remember, that even our faith is a gift from God:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
Instead of responding in faith to Jesus words, the crowd gets snarky.
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:30-31)
This is their third question and if were Jesus I would be pretty frustrated by now.
The feeding of the 5,000 was a nice but they wanted another miracle. Jesus fed a huge crowd for a day. Moses fed the nation of Israel for 40 years!
After the Israelites came out of Egypt, they started to complain / grumbling and were afraid that they would starve to death in the middle of the desert.
They actually wished they were back in Egypt!
“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:3)
God calls the whole assembly together:
That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.
When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. That’s why it’s called, “manna.”
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded:
Asaph wrote this in Psalm 78:
"Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens; he rained down manna for the people to eat he gave them the grain of heaven. Human beings ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat." (Psalm 78:23-25)
This is the third question and Jesus gives me a theology lesson in response:
“Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (John 6:32-33)
First, He needed to remind them that Moses had no ability to call down manna from heaven. It was God who gave them the manna.
And it was God gives the “true bread.” This is in the present tense. This bread is being offered to them in this very moment.
This bread “comes down from heaven.” This bread originates with God and this is an allusion to the virgin birth and what we call the incarnation- God in a bod.
By the way, where was Jesus born? Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”
This bread also “gives life to the world.” We see this idea again and again in John:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
The crowd responded sarcastically with a request:
“Sir, always give us this bread.” (John 6:34)
This is very different than the response of the Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well.
"Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:10-15)
The crowd was sarcastic and she was clueless.
I AM the Bread
“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:35, 48-51)
In response to their sarcastic request for bread, Jesus responses with the first of seven I AM statements found in John - I am the bread of life.
The manna pointed to Jesus and Jesus is the manna of God.
Jesus says that whoever believes and comes to me by faith and comes away from the world and their old way of life, will never hunger or thirst again.
Every single one of the manna eaters in the desert died. The manna provided temporary sustenance but in the end it wasn’t enough to keep them alive forever.
Jesus offers them eternal life because He is the “living bread.”
And then He equates the bread with His flesh and tells them of the sacrifice that He headed toward. This bread would be broken to mend our souls.
But they couldn’t just half way commit. They had to appropriate by faith His sacrifice for them.
“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
The crowd then accuses Him of promoting cannibalism. Of course they did.
Responses of the Crowd
In the rest of the chapter the crowd grumbles (which they did about the first manna), debates with Jesus, and argues amongst themselves to the point a fist fight almost broke out.
Even His disciples had a hard time understanding this teaching.
Some couldn’t accept it.
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60).
It wasn’t that they couldn’t understand it. They just didn’t want to accept it.
I heard a story about a time that Ravi Zacharias visited Harvard and a Christian student brought two of his non Christian friends to hear Ravi speak.
After the lecture, this student asked his two friends if they thought he had made a rational case for Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ.
They both agreed that Ravi had more than made the case.
This student asked if they, based on what they had just heard, wanted to commit their lives to Jesus. Both just laughed and said no.
The next night, he came to the lecture alone and stayed afterwards to talk with Ravi about this.
Ravi helped him understand that the problem with his two friends wasn’t intellectual it was moral. It wasn’t a issue of the brain of the heart and will.
A lot of people in America have a vague understanding of who Jesus is but they don’t want to commit their lives to them because they don’t want to stop sinning.
It’s like Augustine who prayed, “Give me chastity, just not yet!”
Some walked away.
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66)
These people had followed Jesus and loved watching him do miracles. They weren’t necessarily true believers. They just want to see what Jesus could do for them.
John Piper states:
“Jesus did not come to the world to give bread but to be bread. He didn’t come to be useful but to be precious. He didn’t come to assist you with the desires you had before you were born again. He came to give you a new birth, a new heart, new desires.”
Jesus was asking too much of people now and they bailed on Him.
This happened more than you would think.
Jesus encountered a wealthy young business man who is very interested in spiritual matters. After discussing theology for a while, Jesus challenges him to
“…sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But Jesus had exposed his idol. He didn’t own things. His things owned him.
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matt 19:21-22)
People still do this all the time.
There’s a very popular notion right now in our culture of “de-conversion.” Most recently, Joshua Harris, mega church pastor and bestselling author, announced that he was no longer a follower of Christ. He left his church and divorced his wife and apologized for leading people astray.
De-conversion stories litter the landscape of evangelical Christianity. But remember, becoming a Christian isn’t like joining a club where you can renounce your membership when you get tired of belonging.
Becoming a Christian is to become a new creation - a caterpillar to a butterfly.
These people that walk away need to hear the Gospel because it’s apparent they never really understood it the first place.
Someone asked me once why I don’t do an “altar call” every week. I tried to explain them that when the Word is preached the Spirit calls. The real question is will you answer or will you walk away?
For some the teaching was too intense. For others, it was time to move on to another rabbi who was safer and didn’t ask as much out of them.
Jesus looked at the crowds walking away and turns to His twelve disciples and asked them:
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67)
I can imagine Him saying this with a little sadness.
Peter, who was never at a loss for words, immediately spoke for the group:
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
They had made their choice. They knew, not jut with their minds, but with their will and their hearts, that Jesus was the Messiah - the I AM!
Come, Look, and Believe
There are three words that are very important in these verses and I’d like to close by pointing them out to you.
In verse 37, Jesus declares that “All the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)
Here we see both divine election and human responsibility.
In verse 44, Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”
Steve Lawson writes, “No one calls on the Lord until one hears the external call of the gospel and God issues the internal call to the heart.”
The Father draws people to Jesus and gives them to the Son but we are told to come.
Charles Spurgeon was once asked how do you reconcile Divine election and human responsibility. He replied, “You don’t have to reconcile friends.”
Come to Jesus for true spiritual nourishment. Come to Jesus for the meeting of the very deepest needs you have. Come to Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Isaiah wrote these words;
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:11-12)
For those of you who are weary and overwhelmed, Jesus says,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Hortatio Bonor wrote in an old hymn:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,?“Come unto Me and rest;?Lay down, thou weary one, lay down?Thy head upon My breast.”?I came to Jesus as I was,?Weary and worn and sad;?I found in Him a resting place,?And He has made me glad.
Come to Christ today!
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
The writer of Hebrews said that looking to Jesus isn’t just about a one time glance but it’s a intense gaze that helps us run our race:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Look to Jesus and live! ?
What is the work of God? - “to believe in the One he has sent.”
John uses this word, or a variation of this word, 84 times in his Gospel.
"Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:12)
And Jesus told a religious leader named Nicodemus:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:16,18,36)
And in response to the religious leaders questioning his authority, Jesus said,
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)
And in John 20, he gives us the reason he wrote the book in the first place:
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
This is more than just intellectual knowledge. I know a lot about Barry Manilow. But if I went to his house and rang the bell, I would probably be arrested. Why? Because I don’t know him. I just know about him.
Christianity is not about information it’s about transformation at the deepest level.
Our churches are filled with people who know a lot about Jesus but have never believed on him. They may be good church people but they are not born again.
This world says seeing is believing. That was true yesterday at Tanner’s Orchard when the Goose (my granddaughter) met a unicorn named Hank.
But Jesus says believing is seeing. Faith gives us spiritual eyes to see Jesus for who He is.
Here’s the real question. Do you believe in Jesus or have you believed on Jesus?
George Whitfield and John and Charles Wesley formed a small group Bible study at Oxford that they called the “holiness club.” They fasted, read the New Testament in the Greek, prayed, served, and took communion, and not a single one of them knew Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Charles Wesley handed a book by a Scottish preacher Henry Scroogle to George Whitfield entitled, “The Life of God in the Soul of a Man.” Its was about the new birth.
As 21 year old George Whitfield, realized that it wasn’t what he could for for God but through what God had done for him on the cross.
He was saved and went on to be one of the greatest evangelists of the modern time, leading the Great Awakening revivals in 18th contrary America.
Have you admitted you are a sinner and that you can never hop high enough for God’s holiness?
Have you placed your full faith in trust in Christ as your Savior who died on the cross, in your place, for your sins, to give you eternal life?
Bread in Hand
After the Korean war, there were thousands of orphans to care for. Orphanages provided them with plenty of food, clean clothes, and a safe environment. But what the workers noticed was that the children became very agitated at night and had trouble sleeping.
When they talked to them they discovered that no matter how much they had eaten that day, they were anxious and afraid that they wouldn’t have food the next day.
The workers came up with an idea. As they put the children to bed, they placed a piece of bread in their hand. This wasn’t to eat. It was to remind them that God would provide bread for them tomorrow. Nearly all the children slept through the night clutching that piece of bread.
They knew that they would have food in the morning and they could rest in that provision.
You have a piece of bread in your hand right now. We are going to end with several songs. As we worship through music, I want you to consider whether you know the bread of life.