We are continuing to explore the identity of Jesus using Jesus’ own words. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, the true vine, the bread of life, the gate, the way, and the resurrection.” These were expressions of the nature Jesus was claiming. They are claims and identities that excited some of his followers, confused other followers, but always seemed to incite his detractors. These identities meant something in Jesus’ day and today Jesus’ claims should mean something to those within and outside the Christian community. Today, we are exploring Jesus’ claim, “I am the bread of life.”
Bread. Bread is one of those foods that has exceptionally wide use within virtually every culture of the world. We know that bread does not occur naturally; humans must work other natural ingredients together to produce bread. Bread is thought to be one of the oldest and continuous forms of human developed food. Bread has been with us and will be with us in the future as a fundamental staple of our lives. Let’s begin with what Jesus said about bread and why Jesus’ words matter to us.
We start in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, verse 35. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” What do we make of Jesus’ statement? What did Jesus mean when he said, “I am the bread of life.” How can someone be bread? How can bread be alive? Now, some people, often on social media, will take a statement from the Bible, such as this one, and then apply some meaning to it. But we are smart enough to know you cannot take a statement from the Bible without understand the context of those words. We need to reflect on such questions as who was speaking. Who was listening? What happened to prompt these words? What followed in response to these words? Once we know the context of the words, then we can decide about what those words mean.
Context matters. Let me give you a quick example. A few years ago, I was at a business in Clifton Park. I needed to use the bathroom. I entered the men’s room and discovered three men were already in the men’s room. One man was completely naked. One man was getting undressed and one man was getting dressed. Now confronted with this situation should I have left the men’s room or remained? The answer is I remained. Why? Because the business was Planet Fitness. I had just completed working out and entered the men’s locker room. The man who was naked had just come out of the shower after working out. One man was getting dressed to leave and the other was changing into his gym clothes to begin working out. There was nothing wrong with the scene; what was missing in the initial telling of the story was the context. Context matters.
In our scripture passage context matters. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” What was the context? What was going on to make him say such a thing at that moment in time? First, we should note that a day earlier, Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people bread and fish starting with just five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus then left the crowd of people with their physical appetites satisfied and went with his disciples in their boats went further along the Sea of Galilee. But the crowd of people did not want Jesus to leave them, so they march along the shoreline to the place where Jesus landed. The crowd of thousands were looking for more bread. When Jesus met the crowds and realized they want bread for their stomachs, Jesus said to them, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus was telling the people the bread they need is God given and is not made with ingredients of the earth but comes from heaven. This bread of God is complete. Once taken in, God’s bread gives life to those who eat it and God gives it, as a gift, to the entire world. Jesus was telling the crowds and his disciples of a blessing from God far beyond bread for the stomach. The people were so excited. Bread from heaven. Bread that could make and keep them alive. Hunger would be over. With great enthusiasm the people shouted back to Jesus, 34“Sir, always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” I am sure Jesus words were not what the people had expected. The crowd wanted bread that would forever satisfy their physical life. Jesus offered eternal satisfaction of their hunger and thirst for God, for meaning and purpose in life, by coming to Jesus and believing in him. Jesus surely disappointed many in the crowd; there would be no miraculous free lunch of bread and fish today. Jesus confused some; “I thought we were talking about bread but now we are talking about God.” Jesus intrigued a few; “Rabbi, tell me more about bread that gives eternal life.” Jesus words separate out those who have opened themselves up to God call. For the crowd was comprised of three kinds of people. The first group we might call users of Jesus. The users were people only interested in the free lunch. The second group we might call buddies of Jesus. The buddies of Jesus enjoyed the lunch. They enjoyed Jesus’ ability to preach, teach, and tell stories. Jesus was a cool guy. The third group were his brothers and sisters. They were the men and women who understood that Jesus was not just another Rabbi. He was not just a miracle worker and healer. They understood Jesus was someone through whom God became real, personal, and intimate. They wanted to follow Jesus. They believed in Jesus even though his promise of eternal life could not be proven until death.
Picture the scene. Jesus just said, ““I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The large crowd of people, users, buddies, and brothers and sisters, all murmuring to others of their group with their disappointment, confusion, and fascination about what Jesus said. To the side stood the religious leaders, wary crowds and suspicious of Jesus. And wondering would Jesus say or do next?
We see in verse 36 Jesus has more to say. But what he has to say will eventually separate the crowd. Jesus said, “36 But as I told you, you have seen me [you saw a sign of my authority from God in feeding the multitudes] and still you do not believe. [You do not believe in the truth I share with you about God and myself.] 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” Jesus made it clear to the crowd, not all of you will be moved by the Holy Spirit to come to me. Jesus was saying that many in the crowd will resist God’s invitation and moving in their life to accept the truth about God and Jesus. But for those who accept the invitation, Jesus will never push away. The crowd was a about to get smaller.
Jesus explained, “38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. [Jesus was saying, “I do not speak my own words but God’s words to you.] 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. [Those coming to me are not lost. They will have eternal life and they will be raised into new life.] 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 them up at the last day.” Accepting the God’s invitation to follow Jesus and believe in him guarantees eternal life with God.
As we return to our picture of the crowd, we can well imagine the murmuring is now grown even louder and may even be a bit unruly. Those intrigued by Jesus are more alive than ever with excited expressions on their faces of joy. They are talking loudly with perhaps hands raised to the heavens. The buddies in the crowd had scowls on their faces saying to one another, “I thought Jesus was going to take charge of the country and kick the Romans out. We thought we would be living large.” The users of the crowd were angry as though they had been given a fake lottery ticket. There would be no free lunch for life.
As the discontentment of the crowd increased, John wrote in verse 41, “At this the Jews [the religious leaders] there 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 them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned 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 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life.”
Jesus repeated his claim, “I am the bread of life,” to accentuate the message in between the first time he said those words and second time he said them. Reducing this message technique to a simple visual picture, you might think of it as a sandwich. The first expression of “I am the bread of life” is the bottom slice of bread on a sandwich. All that follows that first statement is meat of the sandwich or in our case the meat of the message. The second expression of “I am the bread of life,” is the top slice of bread of the sandwich. Giving the message this way focuses our attention on what lies between two identical statements; the meat. The meat of Jesus message was this, God calls and invites each person to believe in Jesus. In accepting the invitation, Jesus receives that person as a brother or sister and will not push them away. In accepting God’s call and following Jesus, that person, that brother or sister has eternal life with God. On another occasion Jesus “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50). This is the good news of the Gospel; that we can become brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Now what happened to those who heard Jesus say these words directly to them? Verse 66 revealed the crowd’s reaction, “66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him [Jesus].” Those who were users and buddies of Jesus turned away from Jesus and abandoned their plans to follow him. God had moved them to hear Jesus words, but they were not interested in believing Jesus and giving their life him.
What then does this passage, these words of Jesus, mean to you and me? What does this story mean for our relationship with God and with other people? There are three things we can draw from Jesus’ words.
First, Jesus reminds us that everyone hungers and thirsts. We know this is true for our physical life. Everyone gets hungry and thirsty and seeks food and drink for their bodies. There are no exceptions. Just as true, everyone is hungry and thirsty for a life of meaning and purpose. This is a spiritual hunger and thirst in each of us. There has never been a time in human history where people did not earnestly desire to satisfy their spiritual longing. Those desires have been expressed in a multitude of ways ranging from worship of animals to building of pyramids to being here in this sanctuary. People have always sought to satisfy their spiritual life. It has been said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” The problem we all face is that our physical hunger and thirst become so great, that we are willing at times to eat soiled food and polluted water. The same is true of an unsatisfied spiritual hunger and thirst.
Second, the one true God stirs our spiritual life and invites us to come and follow Jesus. Many respond but do so as users. They associate with Christ for the benefits in the here and now. They are interested in the free lunch program of the Christian community but do not genuinely accept Jesus. Some respond but do so as buddies of Jesus. They attach themselves to the good sayings and good times of Christ and shun the difficult parts of their walk with Jesus. But a few people respond and embrace Jesus as the answer to their spiritual longing. They hold onto to Jesus as one would with a brother they longed to see.
Third, for those who become part of Jesus’ family and believe in him, they have the assurance of purpose, of meaning, and of eternity for their life. In receiving that assurance through the love of Christ, they are freed. Freed to love others. Freed to forgive others. Freed to be the hands and feet of Christ. They live life satisfied knowing they are Jesus’ sibling and God’s child.
God is calling each one of us to him through Jesus. How shall we respond to that call? Shall we be known to God as a user of Jesus who just associate with him? Shall we be known as a buddy of Jesus who attach to the good and shun the work? Or shall we be known as a brother or sister of Jesus willing to walk where he calls us to go? Jesus will reject the users and his buddies, but never will he reject a brother or sister.
In a moment, we will take the bread and cup. Symbols of Jesus. Symbols of his body and his blood. Jesus offers the bread and blood for his family. If you are in Jesus family, then you have eternal life, you are freed to love others, and you are welcomed to come and eat in remembrance of the bread of life, our brother, Jesus.” Let us pray.