The Bread of Life
This morning we’re going to look at what might be considered as one of the oddest sayings of Jesus. In reaction to His words, many took offense and turned away from Him.
In answer to the people’s question of “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”, Jesus answered “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29) Last week I presented that this indeed can take some work to achieve- not necessarily work to believe in Jesus’s existence or miracles, but work as in a daily surrender to King Jesus, believing in His sufficiency and authority in every moment of every day. It might take a little reprogramming of our minds in order to stop seeking Jesus for the “bread” He offers, and instead seek Him because He is The Bread, the only one that can truly satisfy, the only one through whom eternal life is gained.
As we’ll see this morning, Jesus’s words upset His listeners. They loved Jesus’s healing miracles, and they loved His miraculous provision through the multiplying of food. But then Jesus got a little “spiritual” on them. He began spelling out to them His divinity- that He was the only one who could satisfy hunger and thirst, that He originated from and came down from Heaven, and that He Himself would raise up the dead in the last day- at these words, the crowd began to turn on Him. Let’s see what happened, John 6:41-42.
The hang up being experienced was not a hang up on Jesus’s power or miracles, but rather on His origin. Jesus had just claimed that He was the Bread of Life, the Bread that had come down from Heaven. Normal human beings, even ones that work miracles, don’t talk like that. Perhaps even Mary and Joseph, who knew that Mary had conceived Jesus by God’s Spirit alone, perhaps even they didn’t quite understand that Jesus was somehow God Himself who had come down from His throne in Heaven. In fact the only way Jesus could be the “Bread of Life”, was if He was the “Bread that came down from heaven.” But instead of defending His deity, Jesus chose to redirect them again to the work of God that we talked about last week. Verse 43. (John 6:43-45)
So here Jesus reiterates God’s work: helping those believe in Jesus whom He has sent. And in verse 44 we are given insight into how God works in that way. Does He force people to believe in Jesus? No. Does he remain silent and just leave people to figure out things on their own? No. Verse 44 says He helps people believe in Jesus in that he “draws” them. God attracts mankind to the glory of Jesus, He draws people into the beauty of a relationship with Him. And as the 2nd part of verse 45 implies, if you claim to truly believe and know God, if you have truly heard from and learned from God, then you will come to Jesus. Which would lead me to say the reverse of that statement- if you do not come to Jesus, then you have not truly heard from and learned from the true God. After stating this in verse 45, Jesus offers a little bit of clarification in verse 46 to those who were questioning how God draws and conveys the knowledge of Jesus. (John 6:46)
So, God reveals Jesus- draws people to Him- but not by direct encounter with mankind. Jesus clarifies here that He alone has that direct face to face contact with the Almighty Holy God. Verse 47. (John 6:47-51)
To the people still viewing the manna in the wilderness miracle as being greater in scope than Jesus’s miracle of multiplying the bread and the loaves, Jesus says “those guys who ate the manna, still died. But if you take and consume the Bread of Life, then you will live forever.” And in verse 51 Jesus points to how this eternal life is made possible. Here he foreshadows His death on the cross, by saying that He “will give” (future tense) His flesh “for the life of the world.” Through Jesus giving His body on the cross, life would be given to the world. Of course, many there with Him still didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking in a metaphorical, spiritual sense. Verse 52 (John 6:52)
Everyone is getting really riled up at this point. Before they were grumbling, now they are arguing over what Jesus said. And this is wild- at this point Jesus doesn’t say “hold on guys, you’re misunderstanding me, I’m talking spiritually”. No, He actually takes the seeming absurdity even further. Verse 53 (John 6:53-58)
These verses are what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned we’d be looking at perhaps one of the oddest sayings of Jesus. You must eat Jesus’s flesh and drink His blood in order to abide in Him and thus have eternal life? Now cannibalism is referenced several times in the Bible, but in each instance, it is regarded as a horrible tragedy and a disgusting act of desperation. And in an even more specific manner, the Bible strongly prohibits the consumption of blood- from any source. In the law book of Leviticus, God said “You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.” (Leviticus 17:14) Blood makes atonement for the soul, it was the element of life poured out before God instead of the life of the soul. Drinking blood was an evil pagan practice, a practice that the Jews would never have committed. When these Jewish folks ordered a steak, it was never ordered “rare”. They probably wouldn’t even touch “medium well done”. It had to be completely “well done” through and through, before they would even come close to taking a bite of it. This figure of speech Jesus gave them was made repulsive on purpose, in order that it might lead the people of that day- and people of our day- to penetrate to the real meaning of what He was saying. We’re going to come back to this odd saying of Jesus, but first let’s read a little further. (John 6:59-62)
So even Jesus’s own disciples who were following Him- not the 12 closest disciple/apostles, but other disciples who were following Him- were offended. And in verse 62 Jesus was basically saying, “would you still be offended if you were to see me return back to heaven from where I came? Would that prove to you the authority and validity of what I am saying?” This verse also provides a clue to let us know that Jesus wasn’t talking in a literal sense of eating His flesh and blood- if He was eaten, how would He then ascend back into Heaven? And then the next verse, verse 63 gives another clue to understanding this odd teaching. It says… (John 6:63)
Here Jesus very clearly makes a distinction between the physical world of flesh and death, and the spiritual world of spirit and life. The words they have taken offense against do not profit anyone if taken in a physical, fleshly sense. Rather His words are spiritual in nature, leading one to life. Of course it doesn’t make any sense to physically eat the flesh and blood of Jesus, but to eat of Him in a spiritual sense- consuming His every word, accepting His sacrifice of blood- in this manner, we are given life. When one eats food, he or she incorporates into their own body the food of which they consume. And when one trusts and believes in Jesus- His words and sacrifice- they partake of Him and incorporate Jesus Himself into their own body- never to spiritually hunger or thirst again.
Here is the teaching Jesus was trying to convey: You cannot separate what Jesus gives (the multiplying of bread and fish) from what Jesus is (The Bread of Life). This is what so many were missing as Jesus was performing miracles. People often accept what He gives instead of what He is- God in the flesh, the Savior of the world, the way, the truth, and the life. You can take the teachings of a great teacher, and then completely disregard the teacher themselves, but with Jesus you can’t just take His teaching or gifts- you’ll miss the whole point. You need Jesus Himself! When you trust in Him fully, you get more than good teaching and gifts, you get Jesus Himself. And we take Him into ourselves, and that food nourishes our spirit, giving us true life- eternal life.
Having a bible on a bookshelf somewhere and never reading it is like someone dying of hunger who sits before a delicious feast and doesn’t eat anything. Going to church but not allowing the words of the Bible to change you is like dying of thirst in the desert while sitting on a cooler of Gatorade. And this consuming of Jesus and His word has to be continual. The Thanksgiving meal you enjoyed last year doesn’t help you with the hunger of today. Partaking of the Bread of Life last year will not necessarily nourish you now. You have to eat again, to continually nourish yourself. Verse 64 (John 6:64)
John and the others probably didn’t realize it at the time, but later as John was writing his account of Jesus- after seeing Jesus’s ministry from start to finish- he then realized the divinity of Jesus. After witnessing His resurrection, and also His ascension back into Heaven, he and the others started to put together all the pieces, and here in verse 64 John wants the reader to know of Jesus’s omniscience- a characteristic that could only be ascribed to God Himself. John wants the reader to know that Jesus saw and knew things in advance, from the beginning. And after John’s omniscience footnote, Jesus then says in verse 65… (John 6:65)
What Jesus says in verse 64 has to be tied to what He says here in verse 65, another way to say it would be “Because some of you do not believe, I have thus told you that no one can believe in Me unless God is involved”. You see, the people claimed to believe in God and follow His ways. During this whole conversation they were in essence saying, “we’re good with God, and that God sent Moses, and that Moses did miracles on behalf of God; but we’re not good with You saying You came from God, we’re not good with You saying you will be the one who raises the dead- we’re just not good with the idea of seeing you being any more than just a physical man who can perform miracles.” But these showed that they weren’t really “good with God” by their rejection of Jesus. And so this is where many who had been following Him this whole time, who had witnessed so many miracles, departed from Him. Verse 66 (John 6:66)
They had witnessed His miraculous works- the healings, commanding the storm to stop, casting out demons, raising the dead back to life- and yet they weren’t able to believe in Him being more than just a miracle worker. They drew the line right there and said “Thanks- it’s been entertaining, but it’s too much to believe in the spiritual-God-things you are talking about. I’ll just stick to the physical world I know- the occasional miracle, God is distant, if I do good things I’ll get good things, if I bring an offering to the priest once a year that covers any offense against God.” And often, that’s where people today draw the line as well. There is a concept of Jesus as loving, doing good to others, treating others with equality- and thus people define Him as just an example of a physical man who we should imitate. But Jesus says that definition of Him is not good enough. That type of definition does not lead us to true, eternal life. Rather the path to eternal life involves us consuming Him. We take ALL of Him- His goodness, sacrifice, deity, exclusivity, ALL that He taught- and we take it into all of us. Verse 67 (John 6:67-69)
Here Jesus checked in with His closest 12, after the other disciples parted ways with Him. And Peter, often the disciple who spoke up quickly for Himself and for the others, said “Who else would we follow, where would we go?” John the Baptist was dead, and John himself had said that Jesus was the guy to follow. And the disciples had already learned to beware of and not to eat the “leaven of the Pharisees”. To whom could they go? They didn’t fit in with the religious leaders of the day, nor the Romans and their false gods, nor did they fit in with the Godless heathens. They hungered for real life- eternal life, a relationship with God; they desired a world much greater than the world they lived in. And even if there was a teaching that was hard to grasp- what choice did they really have but to wrestle with that teaching? They knew that Jesus had the answer to the question of eternal life. They knew that Jesus was holy and set apart by God and that He was sent by God- there was no other explanation to the things He did and taught. He obviously wasn’t just human, and He obviously wasn’t an agent for the dark powers of evil. Whether they liked it or not, an honest look at Him compelled them to believe He was indeed who He claimed to be.
I’m sure there have been many in this world that have turned away from Christianity because of a difficult teaching to understand. They don’t do the investigative work required to properly understand Jesus’s teaching. They don’t properly seek the true God, rather they just give up in offense, and search for another religion that would satisfy their physical needs. Instead of properly analyzing what they do know of Jesus and His teaching, and assessing His claims against the claims of every other religion, they just turn away. Please don’t ever do that. Don’t let difficult passages in the Bible turn you away from the truth of God’s word. Don’t be the one who stops believing in the God of the Bible because in it God says some difficult things.Start from what you do know of God’s perfect character, and work from the known into the unknown- assuming the best of Him, digging for answers. We state that the Bible is the standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. Don’t be the one who stops believing in that standard because there’s something in it that doesn’t make sense to you. Most often the answers are contained within God’s standard of the Bible, we just have to spend time looking into it. Know that Jesus has the words of eternal life, that He is the Holy One of God, who has given us this treasure of His word. Eat of it, nourish yourself, feed on Jesus- the Bread of Life.