Summary: From the feeding of the 5000 to the breaking of the Bread.
THE BREAD OF LIFE
THE FEEDING OF THE 5,000 (John 6:1-15)
It was now nearly a year since Jesus had cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem, and Passover was fast approaching (John 6:4). Jesus and His disciples had tried to withdraw from the throng in Galilee, and sought some rest and relaxation in the Golan Heights: but the crowds followed. Just this one time in the year the grass is green (Mark 6:39), and no doubt lambs skipped in the fields as the Good Shepherd tended His own flock with the words to local boy Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5).
Sometimes Jesus makes us face up to the magnitude of our problems in order to demonstrate our total dependence upon Him. It is a comfort to know that He already knows what He is going to do (John 6:6)! Poor Philip was overwhelmed, quickly calculating in his head that even eight months wages would only provide a small portion for each person.
Andrew now volunteered a boy with a packed lunch: “but what is that amongst so many?” (John 6:9). Our gifts and offerings seem so small, a drop in the ocean: but as Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, each drop goes toward filling the ocean. Jesus takes our little, “gives thanks” (the same word as in the Communion, from which we have “Eucharist”), and transforms it into plenty (John 6:11).
Think of it: 5,000 men, plus who knows how many women and children, and each one was filled to the full; and there was more gathered up in leftover fragments than there had been at the start. There were twelve baskets full, the same number as the tribes of Israel, symbolising God’s sufficient provision for all of His people. The sign was so powerful that the Galileans were ready to pronounce Jesus king right then and there (John 6:14-15).
THE MEANING OF THE SIGN (John 6:25-35)
Jesus understood these hardy Galilean folk. They were working day by day trying to scratch a living out of the land, and they were interested not so much in His miracles (which John calls “signs”), nor even in Him to whom the signs pointed, but in His ability to produce free meals (John 6:26). However, God is offering not only food sufficient for today, but everlasting life with effect from today (John 6:27)!
The Galileans recalled God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, but Jesus now presented Himself as the true bread which comes down from heaven, who gives life to the world (John 6:31-33). Like the woman at the well when she asked for the living water (John 4:15), they were still thinking in earthy and earthly terms when they said, “Lord, evermore give us this bread” (John 6:34). Jesus said, “I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
“I AM” is, of course, the name of God (Exodus 3:14). Jesus identifies Himself with God, and proclaims Himself to be the all-sufficient Saviour bringing life to mankind. Bread is for all, and as bread Jesus satisfies the fundamental needs of our hearts.
THE BROKEN BREAD (John 6:47-69)
Everlasting life is not a thing that is earned: it is a free gift of God. All that is required is that we put our trust wholly and entirely in Jesus (John 6:28-29). Jesus says quite categorically that whoever believes in Him has everlasting life (John 6:47), and calls this “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” (John 6:54).
Jesus emphasized again that He is the bread of life (John 6:48). Unlike the manna which was eaten by men that are now dead (John 6:49; John 6:58), Jesus is the living bread which when a man “eats” it, i.e. puts his whole trust in Jesus, causes him to live for ever (John 6:50-51). This is made possible because of the sacrifice which Jesus was going to make: “the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
Like Nicodemus who struggled with the concept of being born again (John 3:4; John 3:9), the Jews in the Capernaum synagogue (John 6:59) struggled to understand what Jesus was talking about (John 6:41; John 6:52). Jesus’ response (John 6:53-57) is only a veiled reference to the communion in its immediate context. However, since these words were spoken at the season of Passover it is not inappropriate to refer to “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” at Communion, provided we understand that this is only a figurative expression and symbolic action for “believing unto everlasting life” (cf. John 6:47).
Again it is a sad reflection upon humankind that with such weighty teaching many of Jesus’ would-be and so-called “disciples” turned back (John 6:60; John 6:66). Let us be like Peter and the eleven who remained: “We believe and are sure that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). Amen.