Sunday, 14 November 2010
Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:48)
This sermon was preached on 14/11/2010
We have been considering various names of Jesus found in the Bible and presently we are focusing on the seven ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. So far, we have thought about his claims to be the Light of the world and the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). A glance at the Bible references shows that we have not taken the sayings in their biblical order – in fact, the one that comes first is the one we will consider today, ‘I am the Bread of Life.’
Sometimes Jesus gave his teaching during a discussion that involved an Old Testament feature. Here, the context of this saying of Jesus concerns the response of some of the crowd who had participated in the feeding of the 5,000. During their interaction with Jesus they had referred to the manna which their ancestors had received daily during their journey through the desert from Egypt to Canaan. The crowd were comparing Jesus and Moses – Jesus had miraculously fed a large crowd but Moses, they thought, had provided even a larger amount of bread for a bigger group for a longer period.
Yet even when Jesus had pointed out that the contrast was not between him and Moses, but between him and the manna, they were not convinced. This was despite them knowing that the manna had not provided the Israelites with eternal life – those who ate it all died. In contrast, Jesus taught that if people fed on him they would live for ever.
There are some lessons to note from this historical connection. First, it is not always wise to refer to historical incidents unless we are prepared to take on board all the details. The Israelites of Jesus’ day were in danger of repeating the quarrelsome attitude of their forefathers against Moses. It was bad enough to disagree with Moses, but here was a greater than Moses.
Second, the manna given by God in a miraculous way did not remove the divine judgement that its eaters were under. They had been judged by God because of their unbelief regarding entrance into the promised land – the judgement was that they would die in the desert, which is what happened despite their daily eating of the manna. So to experience a longstanding miracle is in itself not sufficient for the needs of one’s soul.
Third, there is a parallel between the giving of the manna and Jesus as the bread of life. Both come from above, although Jesus came from far higher than the manna did. He came from heaven, his eternal dwelling-place, and he was sent here by his Father, his eternal companion. Jesus came down into our world in order to be the bread of life.
Fourth, there is also a similarity between how near the manna came to the Israelites and how near Jesus comes to us. All that an Israelite had to do in order to obtain some manna was to step outside of his tent and all we have to do to get Jesus is to step outside of ourselves and go to him with our hearts.
The imagery of bread is one that has universal meaning and continual meaning. Every society, past and present, has understood the necessity of making bread and consuming it on order to maintain life. So what lessons can we apply to ourselves from this word picture?
1. Bread has to be baked in an oven
In order for bread to be produced, a baker had to gather all the ingredients and put them into an oven to be baked. This is a reminder of the sufferings of Jesus. Before he could be the bread for others, he had to go through the oven of Calvary where he experienced the heat of God’s wrath against sin. It was a terrible experience for Jesus and during it he cried out in great distress. Yet he knew that he had to go through it all in order for him to become a means of blessing to others. The way in which he became the bread that gives life was by tasting the reality of death. Therefore, we must feed on a crucified Saviour. It is not a proper loaf if no regard is paid to the cross.
2. Bread is provided for the starving – a picture of sinners
We are all familiar with images of hungry people after a tragedy receiving loaves of bread. They may have had nothing beneficial to eat for several days and their health was becoming worse, with death a real prospect. Their dreadful plight is a clear way to illustrate the state of those who are starving because they have not fed their souls on Jesus, the bread of life.
Those who are starving are sinners, in fact every person is a starving sinner. They may not realise that they are starving because they have fed their souls on material which they imagine will curb their hunger. Just as a person with physical hunger could resort to eating grass, so those with spiritual hunger will continue to feed on sin which will not remove their hunger. They will try all kinds of products to satisfy their cravings – pleasure, materialism, self-righteousness – the list is illness. But all the time they are spiritually dead because they are not eating the right bread that will keep them alive.
Sometimes this failure is because of ignorance (no-one tells them the bread of life is available), at other times it can be because of distrust (their leader, the devil, informs them that it would be unwise to trust the offer of a Stranger), and at other times it is because they think that they will not like the taste of the Bread of life. For whatever reason, they fail to do anything with the Bread of Life, despite the fact that ample is available.
But who provides the bread of life?
3. Bread has to be sold or shared
In everyday situations, bread has to be sold or shared by the company that owns the bread. The Owner of the heavenly granary in which the Bread of life is stored is the heavenly Father. Out from his storehouse, he offers this bread to all who pass it. In fact, he has outlets (various local churches) who advertise that the bread is available.
One amazing detail about this Bread of life is that it cannot be purchased. All who avail themselves of it have to receive it freely from the kind Owner’s hands. He stands at the storehouse door and offers his Son freely to everyone who is passing by. From heaven, he calls with offers of full provision and this message is repeated in all of his outlets.
Yet the surprising thing is that most passers-by ignore the kind offer. This is unusual because with regard to everything else they are always looking for a bargain. But when the greatest possible provision is offered freely to them, they look the other way or shout words of disrespect as they refuse to take the Bread of life.
4. Bread can be sliced
We are familiar with sliced bread. It is possible to regard Jesus in this way as well. As the Bread of life, he contains many different slices and perhaps the interest of the starving will be whetted if they are informed about some of the individual slices found in Jesus, the Bread of life.
There is the slice called forgiveness of sins. The reason why people are spiritually starving is because they are sinners. None of them knows the number of sins he or she has committed. Their consciences tell them that they have done wrong, and they have a sense of unease because deep down they know that they will give an account to the Judge of all the earth. They know that a day of reckoning is ahead and they would like to know that their offences could be pardoned. One slice of the Bread of life promises complete pardon for free.
There is the slice called fellowship. Starving people are often lonely because they are always looking for the needs of their souls to be met. They are marked by restlessness, even if they would not describe it in such a way. What they would love to have is a community where no-one is hungry and where all in that community always have plenty to share. The fellowship of Jesus, that is his people, have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in him, and they are all given freely.
There is the slice called fortune or wealth. Despite the sad fact that the spiritual famine they had gone through had made them penniless, commencing to feed on the Bread of life had made each one of them wealthy beyond compare. They had become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus. They could look forward to heaven as their eternal home, the place in which gold is so plentiful that its inhabitants walk on it, and it is all free.
5. Bread has to be swallowed
We know that it is not enough for an aeroplane to fly into a country with lots of food. In addition the food has to be eaten. It would be a tragedy if a large amount of provisions arrive at a hungry village and all the inhabitants did was stand and admire it. No, each of them has to go to the provisions and eat what he needs. This eating is a picture of faith in Christ.
I would mention two details about having faith in Jesus. First, such faith is essential. Just as there is not another way for a hungry person to get the benefit of the food apart from swallowing it, so the only way by which we can have an ongoing link with Jesus is by faith. Second, faith in Jesus is personal. We can imagine a hungry parent being delighted because his hungry children now have food, but we would think he was foolish if he continued to remain hungry himself, especially if there was a plentiful supply. Is that not where some of us are? We have ties with family members and friends who have trusted in Jesus and yet we have not done so ourselves.
6. Bread is a staple, satisfying foodAll life long we eat bread. I have eaten it at home, in school, at work, on holiday, in restaurants and when visiting friends. I have taken it for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, and for evening snacks. It is suitable anywhere and for anyone. If that is true of physical bread, it is much more true with regard to Jesus, the Bread of life. He is suitable for all ages, for all places, and for all circumstances. He never causes spiritual indigestion because the taste is always sweet. He does not have to eaten in reduced amounts because feeding on him is never bad for us.
So there are several reasons for feeding our souls on Jesus. In a short time, we will feed our bodies. Hopefully we will also feed our souls on Jesus.