The Living Bread--John 6

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The Living Bread—John 6

            The history of bread spans millennia. Archeologists have unearthed loaves of bread and rolls in ancient Egyptian tombs. Most bread from Old Testament times was leavened bread, or bread that rises. During the Passover in which everything that the Jews did required hastiness, unleavened bread was baked because the Jews did not have time for it to rise. In 168 B.C., a bakers’ guild was formed in ancient Rome, and we know that from the time of Pliny (70 A.D.), the Romans preferred white bread over dark, the white wheat being imported from Alexandria.

            Wheat, barley and rye grains have the ability to be stored after harvest for long periods of time; they are available during winter months and times of famine.

            There are many ancient recipes, some requiring the inclusion of cheese, some requiring eggs and butter, and some requiring much more mundane ingredients, especially those for the poor who could not afford the richer varieties. Bread could be baked in ovens, on hearths, or in pans over an open fire. In ancient Greece, cities vied for the title of having the best bread. Local breads were a matter of local pride.

            Bread is such a satisfying food because it is not only nourishing and nutritious, but it also has a pleasing, airy texture. Yeast, a single celled fungi, eats sugar and in the process emits alcohol and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, a gas, enables bread to rise; the alcohol burns off as bread is cooked and contributes to the flavor of bread.

            Bread rises because of a unique quality of certain flours that come from grain; when this flour is mixed with water, it can be kneaded, or worked with the fingers, making the flour and water mixture elastic and stretchy—this is called gluten. It is gluten that will capture the gas emitted by yeast’s digestion of sugar; it is gluten that will make the mixture swell because pockets within it will fill like a balloon with gas.

            John chapter six is the great chapter in which Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). John carefully selects and organizes his gospel around seven “I am” statements of Jesus and seven specific miracles, or signs that Jesus performed. The Tyndale Bible Dictionary states that in the synoptic gospels, “the miracles of Jesus are seen as acts of mercy and divine power.” John selects specific miracles of Jesus, or signs, that point beyond themselves back to Jesus himself; the miracles illustrate who Jesus is and why he came into the world. Jesus’ great “I am the bread of life” thus follows the sign of the feeding of the five thousand on a hill in Galilee.

            Before we discuss what Jesus meant by stating, “I am the bread of life,” let’s spend a few moments understanding the miracle, or the sign of the feeding of the five thousand. This event supplies the context of Jesus’ discourse on him being the bread of life.

            John 6:2 tells us that a large crowd followed Jesus because they witnessed the signs “that he was doing on the sick.” They wanted a show, a spectacular, an entertainment, someone who would meet what they thought were their needs—physical healing from their ailments. What they didn’t understand was that their infirmities were not physical, but spiritual.

            When the disciples realized that so many people were following Jesus and that there was no food to feed them, Jesus quizzes Philip as a test, and asks him where they are going to buy bread to feed so many people. Philip responds, probably with concern and despair, and says that the wages for two hundred full days of labor would not be sufficient to purchase the bread necessary to feed such a large crowd. Andrew mentions that there is a boy in their midst who has five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus has the people sit on the grass, takes the loaves, and after he gave thanks, he distributes the loaves, and the miracle is that all are fed—so much so, Jesus commands that the leftovers are to be gathered, and twelve baskets are filled. The people responded, according to John 6:14, with “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

            But this crowd was interested in the bread of the world, physical bread, physical well-being, and because of this, they later intended to take Jesus by force and make him king (John 6:15). Jesus then withdraws from the crowd, going once again onto a mountain for solitude. After this time of solitude while the disciples are crossing the sea of Capernaum in a boat, Jesus frightens them by walking on the sea. He reassures them, and enters the boat.

            The next morning the crowd discovers that Jesus has left. In commandeered boats, they cross to the other side, and ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” It is then that Jesus presents his “I am the bread of life discourse.” Jesus begins by pointing to the true motive of the crowd: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26). It was the hunger in their bellies that compelled them to follow Jesus, not the hunger in their souls.

            It appears that too many Christians seek physical bread from the Lord, rather than spiritual bread. This seems verified by the cover story of the September 18, 2006 Time magazine entitled, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” The authors of this article, David Van Biema and Jeff Chu, interviewed over the telephone 770 professing Christians across the United States and asked them to agree or disagree with the following statements:

            God wants people to be financially prosperous.
            Agree: 61 percent
            Disagree: 26 percent

            Material wealth is a sign of God's blessing.
            Agree: 21 percent
            Disagree: 73 percent

            Poverty can be a blessing from God.
            Agree: 45 percent
            Disagree: 49 percent

J           Jesus was not rich, and we should follow his example.
            Agree: 48 percent
            Disagree: 44 percent

            If you give away your money to God, he will bless you with more money.
            Agree: 31 percent
            Disagree: 63 percent

            Christians in the U.S. don't do enough for the poor.
            Agree: 49 percent
            Disagree: 43 percent

This key chapter in John’s Gospel

  • This key chapter in John’s Gospel reveals that what is important is not the material as seen in an abundance of physical bread, but the spiritual which is our relationship to the Triune Godhead.
  • This key chapter in John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the true bread of heaven and that he gives life to the world.
  • It also tells us that this bread is ours to feed upon if we are willing to believe that Jesus is this bread. When we appropriate this bread of life and it becomes a part of us,

I.          We will labor for the food that never perishes—John 6:27

            That food is Jesus himself. Jesus fully understands that we have physical needs. The fourth petition in the Model Prayer, or what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, grants us permission to ask God to provide our daily needs for us. He is concerned with meeting our needs as long as we put our needs in proper priority. In the Model Prayer, eternal food takes priority over temporal food—“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Note that we are to ask for our “daily bread,” not a silo filled with grain and a complete bakery in which to bake more loaves than we will ever be able to eat. Planning for the future is wise Biblically (all one need do is read Proverbs to realize this), but depending upon one’s own plans for the future instead of depending upon God is not Biblical.

            The crowd, much like the Roman crowd of that day, wanted bread and the circus, wanted Christ to bless them with material wealth and to dazzle them with his miracles and to elevate Israel to its former glory. It wanted things that would perish. Jesus tells them to “labor for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him, God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27). Leon Morris, in his magisterial commentary on John, points out that as often happens in this gospel, the expression “the food that endures to eternal life” has two meanings: (1) the food that remains forever; (2) the food that produces a life that lasts forever (Leon Morris, NICNT, The Gospel of John, p. 359). Jesus then says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). The crowd had already experienced the feeding of the five thousand with the five barley loaves and two fish, yet they said, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you?” (John 6:30).

            As used by John, “believe” implies an element of trust, not just mere intellectual acceptance. Robert W. Lyon’s article, “Faith,” in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible  defines “faith” as:

Faith in the OT and NT carries several meanings. It may mean simple trust in God or in the Word of God, and at other times faith almost becomes equivalent to active obedience. It may also find expression in the affirmation of a creedal statement. Thus it also comes to mean the entire body of received Christian teaching or truth. So in Colossians 2:7, the term suggests something to be accepted as a whole and embodied in personal life. In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul witnesses to having “kept the faith.”

            God the Father has placed his “seal” upon the Son. F. B. Huey, Jr.’s article, “Seal,” in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible states how ancient seals were used:

Since they first developed from an amulet, seals continued to serve as protection. An unbroken seal proved that the contents had not been tampered with, whether on a document, a granary door, or a wine jar. The lion’s den into which Daniel was cast was sealed with the king’s signet and those of his nobles (Dn 6:17). Jesus’ tomb was secured by sealing the stone (Mt 27:66). The seal also served as a mark of ownership or as a trademark (e.g., placed on pottery before firing). It was also used to validate documents (letters, bills of sale, government documents, etc.). Jezebel wrote letters in her husband’s name and sealed them with his seal, thus bringing about the death of Naboth (1 Kgs 21:8–13). Jeremiah sealed a deed of purchase when he bought a kinsman’s land (Jer 32:10–14). An edict with the Persian king’s seal could not be revoked (Est 8:8).

            Leon Morris states that the specific use of “seal” in this passage is the approval of the owner of the seal (p. 359). In the early church, the baptism of believers was called a “seal.” Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30 states that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.

            As we stated previously, this key chapter in John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the true bread of heaven and that he gives life to the world. This bread is ours to feed upon if we are willing to believe that Jesus is this bread of life. When we appropriate this bread of life and it becomes a part of us,

II.         We will be fed perpetually and eternally—John 6:35

            Jesus states, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

            When we appropriate this bread of life and it becomes a part of us,

III.       We will be eternally secure—John 6:37

            Jesus states, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37-39).

            Jesus is our bread of life because, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 4:44).

            When we appropriate this bread of life and it becomes a part of us,

IV.       We receive the Spirit who gives life—John 6:63

            Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

            Buddy Odum, a member of our church, has a profound ministry mentoring young ministers in the faith. He is the type of guy who will not let people slip into pretense. He told a young minister I know the other day, “You, personally, are not that impressive. But Christ within you at this point in your life is very sweet.” The works of the flesh are to no avail whatsoever. It is the work of Christ within us, the Spirit of life, that is sweet.

            In his Letters to a Young Evangelical, Tony Campolo shares a story from his youth about taking Communion:

Sitting with my parents at a Communion service when I was very young, perhaps six or seven years old, I became aware of a young woman in the pew in front of us who was sobbing and shaking. The minister had just finished reading the passage of Scripture written by Paul that says, "Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27). As the Communion plate with its small pieces of bread was passed to the crying woman before me, she waved it away and then lowered her head in despair. It was then that my Sicilian father leaned over her shoulder and, in his broken English, said sternly, "Take it, girl! It was meant for you. Do you hear me?"

She raised her head and nodded—and then she took the bread and ate it. I knew that at that moment some kind of heavy burden was lifted from her heart and mind. Since then, I have always known that a church that could offer Communion to hurting people was a special gift from God.

            Let me end with one other quick illustration. When I was in the service, packages from home reminded us of our families and how we were connecting to them. One Christmas I was at Great Lakes Naval Base in Hospital Corps School and I could not go on leave. I had expected to go on leave, but my duty week fell the week of Christmas and I had to serve in the Hospital there. My mother and sister did not have time to send me a Christmas package so I experienced a sense of loneliness and isolation that was very intense. I was alone in our barracks in that everyone in my company was at their homes. Service men and women know that their families love them, but packages from home are tangible expressions of this love, this connection to family. Families who are far away somehow come close when a package is received. Packages and mail are given out during mail call which follows roll call so everyone in the company knows when you receive a package or mail. We would enjoy the jars of jam, the candies, the cookies, the cakes that would invariably get smushed in transit, especially if we were out in the field or far away from the United States. Packages like these are very important to the morale of the men and women who serve our country because they come as gifts from their home.

            The sacrament of the Supper—a sacrament being an outward and visible sign of God’s inward and spiritual grace—is a gift from our heavenly home, reminding us that our Father and all of our heavenly family loves us. It visibly connects us to the invisible, and through the agency of the Holy Spirit, Christ feeds us spiritually by being spiritually present—his body and his blood—in this sacrament. In a spiritual sense, we feed upon the flesh of the Son and we drink his blood. But remember, a spiritual reality is as true and real as any physical reality.

            Eat and drink and savor this delicious gift that comes from heaven. It is God’s gift of his Son and in it is his grace.


OT Old Testament

NT New Testament

e.g. for example

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