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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Bread of Life

John 6:22-71

Lesson audio

It is of some comfort to note that Jesus spoke things to ordinary people – who just didn’t get it.

I am the bread of life

Joh 6:22-40 NIV The 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. (23) Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. (24) Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

(25) When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" (26) Jesus 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. (27) Do 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." (28) Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" (29) Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (30) So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? (31) Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'[3]" (32) Jesus 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. (33) For 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." (35) Then 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. (36) But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. (37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (38) For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (39) And 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. (40) 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 him up at the last day."

We may note that many of Christ’s most difficult moments concern his desire for the crowd to know who He really is – God in the flesh. He will express this thought in many ways; the phrasing “bread of life” is one of the richest of those ways. But, as always, the transmitter sends and the receiver receives.

Contemporary attitude towards truth

We may think our attitude toward truth – especially that there is no absolute truth – is unique to our time. It isn’t. What is unique is that those who should know better (philosophers and thinkers) now agree with the mob, formalizing their mental laziness into philosophical principle. See if our contemporary attitude shows in this vignette from two millennia before:

  • We no longer discover truth; we decide it. Even in matters technical. We are the arbiters of truth (which is why something can be “true for you” but not for me.)
  • Not only do we decide truth, we decide the criteria for truth. Certain subjects are now incapable of truth (see intelligent design, for example).
  • Once we have decided, we are rather paternalistic about “our truth.” We defend it not so much because it is true but because it is our truth.

These people are not so different from us, after all.

“Give us this bread”

Let us be clear: one of the biggest reasons these people don’t get it is that they’re not looking for it. As Paul put it,

Php 3:18-19 NIV For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (19) Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

Gluttony – for that is what this really is – has always been recognized as a sin. But you might well ask why they couldn’t see that He was not talking about baker’s bread. The answer, I’m afraid, might well be known as the “familiar mud hole problem.” We tend to stay in our own little realm of thought, no matter how dirty it is.

It takes a supreme incentive for most of us to break out of the mud hole. See, therefore, the incentive Christ gives – eternal life! The resurrection of the dead! The coming of the Lord of Glory! Mercy at the Judgment Seat! Shake, rattle and roll – and some still stay in the mud hole.

Bread of Life

But if you do “get it,” there is still a problem here. Some would read this passage as being a clear teaching of predestination. The argument goes that God has called certain ones, the elect, and not others. All who are predestined are saved for sure; all others are surely bound for hell. But this has its little problems:

  • First, the passage can also be read that we need the Father to draw us to himself because we could never make it on our own. As Chrysostom put it, “the words do not take away our free will, but show we need assistance.”
  • Second, if we are completely predestined, how can blame be attached to those who sin? They had no choice in the matter; is it just to send them to hell for that which was impossible to change?

We may, however, say with certainty that the Father’s power to draw us to Himself through Christ is all-sufficient. Those who are drawn to him, no power on earth or heaven or hell can bar the entrance.

We may note one other thing. Christ gives us a work to do: believe in Him. To modern minds this sounds like no work at all. But the ancient knew better. To believe is to do. Belief is work, because belief implies commitment and action. Belief is the necessary foundation of good works. It is not “academic only.”

Missing the Metaphor

Joh 6:41-59 NIV At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." (42) They 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. (45) It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.'[4] Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. (46) No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. (47) I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. (48) I am the bread of life. (49) Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. (50) But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. (51) I 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." (52) Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (53) Jesus 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. (54) Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. (56) Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. (57) Just 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. (58) This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." (59) He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Prophecy, not weather forecast

One has only to look at the number and variety of interpretations of the book of Revelation (all of them true, at least for their authors) to know that prophecy is not necessarily easy to get right. Often enough, the language is pictorial or metaphorical – and the correct interpretation is only known after the fact. We say, “Ah, that’s what He was talking about!”

But this does not relieve us of our responsibilities in regard to prophecy:

  • First, we must do the best we can to understand it – even while admitting our failures.
  • Second, such prophecy has within it moral lessons, and these we should understand and learn even when we are unsure of the prophecy itself.
  • And whatever else you do, believe in what the Scriptures tell you. I may not understand it, but I know it is true. My stupidity does not negate his truthfulness.
Nature of Christ

In this section we see clearly some of the nature of Christ. It is sufficient to point out three areas which Christ makes plain – and his hearers muddle.

  • First, He is come from heaven itself. The virgin birth is not a footnote; it is essential if Christ is to be both perfectly man and perfectly God.
  • Second, He makes it clear that He is superior to Moses – the highest authority in the Jewish faith.
  • Third, he promises to raise up the believers on the last day, giving them eternal, bodily life.

This, we might point out, is a lot to grasp at any one time. Fortunately for us, Christ repeats himself.

Bread of Life – Metaphor

If you like fuzzy logic, listen to our modern liberals re-interpret this section. There are a couple of questions we need to answer.

First, just how are we supposed to feed upon Christ? How do we eat the bread of life? I submit that there is an obvious answer: Communion.

1Co 10:15-17 NIV I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. (16) Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? (17) Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Next, just how did this ceremonial meal acquire such significance? How can this be effective? Christ himself makes it clear that the connection is his sacrifice on the Cross. By that sacrifice he makes himself available to feed on him. Just as the priests of the Old Testament fed themselves on the sacrifices brought to the altar, so the royal priesthood feeds itself symbolically on the sacrifice of Christ. The one who spoke and the worlds began now says, “This is my body.”

“Feed on me, for I am the food of a grown man.”[1]

To Whom Shall We Go

Joh 6:60-71 NIV On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (61) Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? (62) What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! (63) The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit[5] and they are life. (64) Yet 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. (65) He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." (66) From 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. (68) Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (70) Then 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.)

Why is this so hard?

From our side of the Resurrection, this appears to be straightforward, allowing for the paths of metaphor in the mind. Why was it so tough then?

  • It is offensive. It is an abhorrent thought – some form of cannibalism. More importantly, it means that we need to acknowledge Jesus for who he really is. That offends; we’d like to be in charge. The stone of stumbling and the rock of offense are always with us.[2]
  • Some of us live in the flesh alone. Something can’t be spiritual as long as there is a physical interpretation; pass the bread, please.

It is a problem. Christ’s hearers put their problem into a verb. The King James says “hear” – as if it’s a problem with our ears. The New American Standard says “listen” – the problem is that we won’t pay attention. The New International uses “accept” – we understand what’s said; we just don’t buy into it. The Contemporary English says “understand” – it’s beyond our mental abilities. Perhaps it is all the above. Sometimes, a lack of desire is a lack of hearing, listening, acceptance and understanding.

Problems with those who do stay

It would be nice to state that this exercise in metaphor separated the sheep from the goats. The actual process is a bit simpler, and less final.

  • “If I don’t understand, I don’t stay.” Teachers know this student. He’s lazy. When it’s at all hard to understand, he tunes out – and blames the teacher for not making it clear.
  • Often, the problem is that of the herd. One leader or two, and hundreds of people who get along, go along. And if the leader leaves?
  • Worst of all, there is the devil within. Jesus knew what Judas would do. It’s a lesson for us; the wolves in sheep’s clothing are ever with us.

Just because someone stays in the building doesn’t mean he’s in church.

“Will you also go?”

We may note from this remark that Christ gives his disciples the choice: they may come or go as they please. But it would please him to have them stay. Free will is rampant, in Christ’s eyes.

But in the eyes of Peter, at least, this is not much of a choice. There is no option B. Interestingly, the “words” here are not logos, but another Greek word meaning “something said.” It is precisely the exposition that Christ has been giving that Peter finds irreplaceable.

Why? His eyes are set on the goal: eternal life. No where else can such be found, whether Peter understands it all or not.

The late Bill Blodgett, a student of ours, often found himself in the position of not knowing just what the Scripture meant at various points. His solution was not to leave until he got smarter, but to say, “I don’t understand – yet. But I do believe.” Words for all of us.

[1] Augustine

[2] 1st Peter 2:8, quoting Isaiah. This phrasing is from memory in childhood – the King James. Eloquence is now out of fashion.

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