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Bread of Life

John 6:22-71

There is something strangely modern about the crowd in this passage. It seems that human nature has not changed; we are still looking for a full belly first, and then (if we have time and inclination) we might think of things spiritual.

Looking for Miracles

22The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

The World’s Attitude

Perhaps the Romans were right. It may just be that all we really want are bread and circuses. Having had the bread, the crowd now looks for the show. In short terms, the crowd is laying out its terms for belief: “do this, and we will believe.” Look at our attitude problem:

  • First, we decide on what is true and what is not. We do not discover truth; we decide upon it. We make ourselves the supreme arbiters of truth. If someone claims to be The Truth, we will tell him just what he has to do to prove it. Do you see the presumptuousness of this?
  • In particular, being of a “show me” mind, we will prescribe the hoops through which you must jump, Mr. Truth. So it is that the truth is something which is under our control. Why must this be so? Because we want to use the truth (the power of God) for our own purposes. We’re interested in a partial God with a keen prophetic eye on the stock market.
  • Of course, to be fair about it, we shall reply in kind. You be the nice, partial, unassuming but very helpful god; we shall give you partial devotion in return. Bread for today, circuses tonight (on our new wide screen TV) but no reminder that we might be sinners.
Miracles and Magic

“Magic and Science are twins,” said C. S. Lewis. It’s true. Both of them are ways to manipulate the universe around us for our own benefit. Recite the right incantation at the right time and the crops will grow. Apply the right fertilizer and insecticide and the crops will grow. The logic is the same: “if” you do this, “then” thus and such result will occur.

In this view, God is a “force,” as portrayed in Star Wars™. By invoking this force in just the right way, it will assist us in obtaining our heart’s desire. But what if God is not a force, but a person? What if he is a person, a being with personality?

The Crowd

The crowd here is looking for the God who can be manipulated, the God who will do as he is told. As we are told here, the crowd follows Jesus not because they have seen a miracle but because their bellies were filled. We are seeing the sin of gluttony having its way.

We can see this in the sign (miracle) that they ask for. It might seem rather stupid to ask for something to eat (manna) again today. After all, they’ve already seen that trick once. But that was yesterday; besides, we haven’t seen it fall like the manna we read about in the Scriptures. If you’re really the Holy One, surely you could arrange the trick for us?

The Tyranny of the Belly

Jesus sees through them, however. He knows why they are there. They have come for seconds. Their bellies were full yesterday, but now they are hungry again. That’s the motive.

Have you ever heard of a “rice Christian?” The phrase refers to Christians (particularly in China) who are in the faith because some charitable church in America thought it best to send rice to their starving brethren. Of course, as soon as the rice arrived, the number of Christians in town greatly increased.

You might think we could not be like that. It is not so. Among our numbers are those who continue to go to church simply because things are good – they are going well. At some time in their lives they made the connection between the bounty God has given them and the church. Therefore – like amateur magicians – they continue to go the church, thanking God for their blessings. At least they are grateful, if not faithful.

Bread of Heaven

Jesus now explains it to them – in words they don’t understand.

28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’£

32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, 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. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

35Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

41At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

The Metaphor: Food

It appears that God understands that we like to eat. From the earliest times of the Jewish nation he prescribed dietary laws. In this way he placed their attention on what they ate – so that they might apply what prevailed in the physical realm to the spiritual realm. As a result, it is a frequent metaphor. Here we see it bringing the idea that eating the right food results in life, just as in the Old Testament eating the wrong food brought uncleanness and therefore death.

“You are what you eat,” as the old saying goes. In a spiritual sense, that’s very true. That which you take into your heart, mind and spirit determines what you are. This is the peril of pornography, for example. By taking this in you determine what your view of marriage will be.

Also, we know there is a right food for infants, and right food for adults. Christ here tells us the truth: He is the right food for adults in the kingdom of God. Take him into your heart, mind and spirit, and you will grow strong in the kingdom of God.

What Shall We Do?

Christ now makes one of those amazing statements which eliminate all doubt as to who he really claims to be. They ask (rather logically), “what should we do?” Give us directions; how about a plan of action here? His plan is very simple: believe in the one whom God has sent.

At first this appears silly to us. We do not connect “believe” with “action”. But they were not such fools. In their time, believing meant doing as well. So we must understand their astonishment. It is not the astonishment of those who have been told to “do nothing” by the God who is always commanding their obedience. It is the astonishment of those whose lives have been run by rule and regulation now hearing that the only rule – is a person standing in front of them. God in the flesh now calls for their total and complete obedience.

What, then, about good deeds? Surely God wants us to do such? Of course he does. They are the natural effect of believing. To believe is the work (and it is work) which causes good deeds.

Bread of Life

Christ now puts the metaphor before them: He is the bread of life. But this metaphor he now expands to assure them that it completely encompasses all of their salvation. This is no ordinary bread!

Its sufficiency.

Is there anything we need to do? Any great adventure we must complete? No; we need only to come to Him. That is sufficient. How do we come to Him? In our time we cannot go geographically – but we can go in belief. If we trust Him completely, his grace is sufficient for us.

Its sureness.

See now the sureness of God. All that the Father gives, Jesus will keep – he will never drive them away. So if you come to Jesus, you know that only one person can drive you away from him – and that is you, yourself. No one else can pry you loose.

  • What an impact this has on the sinner! Are your crimes too horrible to mention? No matter; the Father draws you on, the Son will keep you forever.
  • Why is this so? It is because this is God’s will – and has been so from the beginning. The lamb is slain from the foundation of the world. What the Father wills, the Son does.
His Sonship

All this is done because of the relationship of God the Father and Jesus, the Holy One. His purpose in being born was to do his Father’s will – a will that drove him to Calvary. By that same will, he will lose none of those who come. (What a blessed assurance!) It is God’s will that anyone who looks to the Son (Jesus) and believes will be saved.

Saved? Yes, the shorthand for the benefits:

  • That you – the real you, not the husk of your body, will be eternal.
  • That you – the real you, clothed in an immortal body, will be raised up from the grave on the last day by the power of the Holy Spirit.

No wonder we call it “amazing grace.”

Words of Life

41At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’£ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just 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. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit£ and they are life. 64Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

70Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

The Problem of Predestination

It appears to be a contradiction. The Father “draws” us to himself – but we are to “eat.” How is it then that we say that we obtain grace or reject it of our own free will? Surely, if God does not draw us, we cannot come.

The matter is simpler than it appears. It is also the case that God the Father wills that all be saved. There are two possibilities here:

  • Some hold that all who are to be saved have been predestined to have such – no matter what they say or do. It is all by the “drawing” of the Father.
  • The ancient scholars looked at it differently – with more humility. Coming to the Father is so far beyond us that unless He draws us to Himself, not one of us have the strength to make it.

As Chrysostom put it, “the words do not take away our free will, but show we need assistance.”

We see here the source of the sacrifice: God’s will. He wills that not one of us perish; all who want to come to Jesus will be drawn towards him. By his divine power we grow closer to God.

The Metaphor Becomes Reality in Communion

One fact is apparent here: God chose his words for his Scripture so that the messages would be clear in any language. The metaphor of food – the body and blood of Christ – is shown to us on three levels.

  • On the level of physical reality, Jesus became our sacrificial lamb, the perfect, unblemished sacrifice for the sins of all people. His body, His blood are our salvation, and can be understood to be so in this quite literal sense. If he is not sacrificed according to the Law, then there is no hope of our salvation.
  • On the level of worship and symbolism, we see this in communion. Our Lord was quite explicit: “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” You are what you eat, and by taking in his body and blood you grow in Christian maturity. Is it just a symbol? Is it the essence of Christ? Men may argue, but one thing is clear: no other meal ever had so much influence over who you really are.
  • Deep within our own persons, there is a third level – the level of the spirit. We know that the spirit gives life; the Spirit gives us the only life which is eternal. How is this? This is the Holy Spirit, the same who raised Jesus from the dead – as we take him in, we take in life itself.
The Great Divide

“This is a hard teaching.” Students sometimes complain to the teacher that the problems were too hard – it’s the teacher’s fault they are failing. We need to look at the teaching here, for it forces a division in the ranks – some leaving, some staying.

A Hard Teaching.

Why is his teaching hard? Because it requires our total, radical commitment to Jesus Christ. This is not something which we achieve by our own good deeds, though those good deeds will flow out of it. (One must not confuse cause with effect). But do you not see that the very hardness of the teaching, the very absoluteness of the statement, forces a division? No one is left sitting on the fence; there is no fence to ride.

The Inevitability of the Divide.

Christ does nothing here to convince those who are leaving. Indeed, he makes his teaching even more difficult to accept by telling them that the time will come when those who believe will see him ascend into heaven. Not exactly the kind of news you want to deliver when you’re trying to hold on to a following!

There it is. Some people, despite any and all evidence, will not believe. I did not say “can not;” I said “will not.” The commitment is too great. Painfully, they turn back. If they turn back, God will not draw them to himself. There is no reverse gear in God’s transmission.

To Whom Shall We Go?

Christ, it seems, will take only volunteers. God will enable them to come to the kingdom of heaven, but they must be volunteers. Worse yet, even then there will be hypocrites and traitors in our midst. So how is it then that the remaining disciples decide to stay with Jesus?

Simple. For those who are victorious over the world, there is no “option B.” Only Jesus has the words of life; only He knows the way to the Father because He is the way to the Father. No matter what it costs, no matter how hard the trail, He is the way, the truth and the life – the only way. God give us strength to walk in that way; may He draw us on to life eternal.

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