Feeding on Christ
When I was younger, I really wanted a jeep. I wanted to jack it up and go four-wheeling. And I have the personality that gets incredibly focused on something until I learn everything about it. So as I began to learn more and more about jeeps, all their particularities, and how you could identify each model and year, a funny thing happened I began to see jeeps everywhere. The more my eyes were accustomed to picking them out, the more it seemed they were everywhere I looked. Before, the Jeep had seemed a pretty unique vehicle, but soon it seemed to me that everyone had one. So it is with scripture, once you have something in your mind, if your not careful, you may come to find it everywhere—even places it’s not.
Today is Maundy Thursday, a day where we remember Christ’s last night with his disciples. There, in the intimate setting of the upper Room, Jesus washes his disciple’s feet and institutes the Lord’s supper. Unlike the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John doesn’t give us an upper room discourse. But he does give us a sermon on the bread of life. So tonight, we will look at John 6:22-59 called the Bread of Life Discourse. Some have come to this text, and because they are sacramental, they have seen in this sermon a discourse on the Lord’s Supper. But like me when I loved Jeeps, I saw them everywhere, so too do others when sacraments are on the brain; they can’t help but see them here. One commentary summed this up so well. “John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper; rather, the Lord’s Supper is about what is described in John 6.”1 Therefore for us to better understand what the Lord’s supper is, we may ask how does Jesus feed our faith? It seems the Jews had food on the brain when they came looking for Jesus in John 6. And so Jesus points them to the only bread that is life-giving for all eternity. I am confident that as we open up this text tonight, the reality exhibited for us in the Lord’s supper will come into laser focus. Since Christ is the bread of life, we must come to Him and receive Him by faith.
Not with earthly bread.
Not with earthly bread.
How Does Jesus Feed our faith? Just to set the stage a bit. Jesus just yesterday had feed five thousand who had followed him because of the signs he had done. After feeding them, they perceived that he was the great Prophet, perhaps the one Moses had spoken about in Deut. 18. So they sought to make him their king—but Jesus alluded them. Now the next day, they have gone searching for him, only to find him back on the other side of the lake in Capernaum. They question Jesus about where he had gone too, but Jesus is perceptive and always sees the heart of the matter. In v. 26, he rebukes them because they are not seeking Him, or even the signs he performed; but they seek him so that their bellies could be full. They’re hungry, which makes sense—but Jesus uses their natural longing to teach them the gospel.
As he so often does, Jesus draws them out with a loaded statement, like the Samaritan woman at the well when he asks her for a drink. Here he exhorts them not to work for food that perishes but for that which lasts forever. They’re all thinking, great, do you know how much simpler my life would be if I didn’t have to worry about food. We take this for granted because of the state of wealth all of us have always grown accustomed to. But for much of the world and most of history, people lived hand to mouth. Their daily bread was a reality, for often dinner was not always a guarantee. In comparison, we have enough to eat to live comfortably for a week and much longer from our pantry if we needed to. So this crowd perks up when Jesus claims to have food that will feed them for all eternity. They want it; how do we work for that, they say. Jesus says, “it’s simple believe in the one he sent.”
Now to them, it begins to sound like a trick—too good to be true. So they want a sign to prove he is the one sent from God. After already seeing a sign yesterday. So because they are still hungering for earthly bread, they want another food sign. If your a prophet like Moses, then give us more of this bread. Again Jesus corrects them, pointing them to the true author of that sign, the Father. And “the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” We’ll have some of that, they say.
We are creatures that are driven by our desires, by what we want. Advertisers and social media influencers know this all too well. They play to our desires by painting a picture of something desirable and then wedding that desire being fulfilled by something that they are selling. They paint a picture of the “good life” and then purport to be able to offer that to you if you will only buy such and such product. Because we are modern people, so much more enlightened than primitive first-century Jews, with their base desire to be fed, we miss the point Jesus is diving at. But in reality, we are just as base as they are, for to be a creature made in the image of God is to be made a desiring creature—with our hearts inclined after those desires.
The right question to ask then is, what do you want? Jesus wants them to examine why it is that they are coming to him. Are they seeking Jesus for the right purpose or to have their belly filled? What becomes incredibly clear, both from scripture and our own experience, is that when we pursue our desires for things, relationships, success, security, whatever, as ends in themselves their appeal, and ability to grant our desires always alludes us. This is the message of Ecclesiastes. The preacher pursues everything, wisdom, folly, laughter, pleasure, but in the end, he finds that unless he had pursued God, all of those things vanished like smoke before him—they were vanity. But when you flip that on its head, and you pursue God, with a sort of reckless abandon, you find that you get the whole world thrown in. For whoever would lose his life will find it. How does Christ feed our faith? Not with earthly bread.
Not apart from the will of the Father.
Not apart from the will of the Father.
OK, so Jesus corrects their aims by refocusing them on the fount of all blessing, namely himself. But he does this in a trinitarian fashion, pointing to his mission and the love of the father. For to them, it certainly seemed like they were pursuing Jesus. I mean, that’s who they are searching for, or at least that’s what they thought. Jesus, after proclaiming “I am the bread of life,” gives us a bit of theology behind why it is that we, as creatures in the first Adam, look for bread when we should be looking for Jesus. In v. 36, he rebukes them because they have come to him and seen him, but they don’t believe. Why is this?
Well, what is motivating the one who comes, sees, and believes? For it is obviously not enough to come and see if it is not driven ultimately by faith. What then drives faith? That Jesus teaches in v. 37-40. It is that the Father has given to the Son those who will come to Him. These, the elect, come because God has given them to the Son. And Jesus will meet their coming with an open reception, and the promise of perseverance—not ours but Jesus’. For He will not lose any, the father has given to him. For it is faith that draws them to come and look upon the Son and believe. Those who do that will have all their desires met—for they will not hunger and never thirst (v. 35).
But instead of seeing Jesus with eyes of faith, they grumble how can Jesus come from heaven? Inst’ he Mary and Joseph’s son, we know where he comes from, and its certainly not heaven. Jesus rebuke is then a veiled condemnation that the father has not drawn them by faith to come and see him as the bread of life. Jesus appeals to Isaiah 54:13 and the promise God gives to the latter day Israel that they all would be taught by God. You have to recognize that Jesus is not just “proof-texting.” But he intends to draw in the context of Isaiah into his discourse. The section in Isaiah that comes before this is the servant section. Listen to the description of the servant:
4 The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.
That section ends with this:
10 Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.
It is the servant who is both taught and will teach the people to trust and rely on God so that “all may be taught of God.” He then reiterates what he had already told them, that those who believe would have eternal life—believe what? Believe that he is the bread of life, the one who has come down from heaven. But the bread he gives is better than the bread his Father gave to Israel in the wilderness because they all died. Whereas the bread he will give them prevents death.
For those who are taught by God, the operative word is believe. Faith is the driving force that the father uses to draw those to come and see Christ. And those who by faith have been drawn to Christ have the very great and precious promise that he will never cast them out but will ensure that they persevere until he raises them on the last day.
But there is also a warning here. If you grumble, like Israel in the wilderness, you can be assured that if the bread you ate was from heaven, but was only manna, bread that left you hungry for more, then you can be sure that you also will die without having your desires met. If Christ is not enough, nothing will be. How does Christ feed our faith? Not apart from the will of the father.
But by giving us Himself.
But by giving us Himself.
You want bread. I am the bread of life, Jesus says. If they didn’t have enough trouble understanding that, he adds insult to injury by saying that this bread is His flesh, given for the life of the world. In fact, his flesh is true food, and his blood true drink. So then, apart from eating his flesh and drinking his blood, you have no life. He reasons this way: The father has life, he is life—and he sent me, and I live because of him, so if you would have life, from the father you must feed on my flesh, and drink my blood—this is what it means to abide in me.
OK, Jesus, that clears up everything glad you put it in terms we could understand. And of course, with hindsight, we can’t help but read the practice that Jesus instituted at his last Passover meal with his disciples. When he said:
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
So you can see why we might hear Jesus speaking here about communion. But let me remind you of what I quoted from Colin Brown earlier: “John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper; rather, the Lord’s Supper is about what is described in John 6.” 1 Why do I keep stressing that? Because Jesus is teaching the reality of what the Lord’s supper spiritual holds out for us. But not literally. Christ is not here saying that the supper he would institute later would literally be his body and blood and that if we don’t eat it that way, then we are not really abiding in Him and don’t really have life. Jesus is not teaching transubstantiation—where the bread and wine, through an incantation, literally become the body and blood of Christ that the priest is sacrificing agar for you.
But Jesus is using the weakness of the Jews—their hunger—to teach them a spiritual lesson about union with Christ. What happens to food and drink when you eat and drink them? Your body breaks them down, and they become incorporated into your body. Through eating and drinking, your body is nourished and sustained—and apart from that, you will die. You cannot live without food. So it is with Christ. If Christ is not diffused through your eating of his flesh and drinking his blood so that he is incorporated into your whole body and soul, spiritually mind you, then you cannot have life.
Your thinking Oh, then the supper is merely a teaching tool that helps us remember the death of Christ and our faith-union with Him. No. It isn’t as simple as just a memorial as Zwingli taught. This is precise because Jesus is here teaching about his death, and we know that because he directly connects his death with the institution of the supper. Saying this is my body broken for you, this is my blood poured out for you. So life is found in his death, and more specifically in our own participation in his death by our union with him. Paul in Gal 2:20 makes this explicit:
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul was crucified with Christ so that Christ now lives in him. So then Jesus exhorts us that abiding in him, which is an active word for our continued participation in the reality of our union with Christ, is sealed for us in this covenant meal that Christ furnishes for us of himself.
Well, why is it this way? Partly because he knows our frailty, he knows our weakness that we are creatures of the dust, and we need God to accommodate our weakness. But also because we are embodied souls, and lest we drift off into Gnosticism and begin to hate the material world, he gave us tangible, visible reminders of his broken body and shed blood. Reminders that we can see and touch, smell and taste; reminders that outward signs of a spiritual reality—that we by faith are feeding on Christ. So how does Christ feed our faith by giving us Himself.
John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper—but the Lord’s supper is about John 6. Even though Christ instituted this meal as a participation in his death for the purpose of feeding our faith, we easily forget that we are meeting Christ here. Owing to our flesh’s weakness, we allow this meal to lapse into something we take for granted and therefore abuse. Your elders are concerned that may happen here, and that is why we only celebrate once a month. But abuse does not negate proper use. So I would ask you this, how often do you need to eat—every day. How often do you need the preaching of the Word—at least once a week, but ideally more. How often then should you feed on Christ in the supper, I would say as often as you come together as the body of Christ. How often we take the supper aside, how are you coming? Are you like the Jews coming and seeing Jesus but without believing? Or are you coming in faith? But how big does your faith need to be? As big as a mustard seed. What if you lack assurance and you are wrestling with doubts—should you come? Yes, this table is for doubting and shipwrecked sinners. Examining your heart does not mean cleaning yourself up to be worthy of Christ. You are worthy not because you have cleaned yourself up but because Christ has made you worthy. That very same night before the supper, Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, but Peter wasn’t having it—he wouldn’t have his lord stoop that low. But Jesus warned him that if he didn’t wash his feet, then Peter would have no part in him. So typical Peter, he says then not just my feet but my whole body. Jesus says that’s not necessary because you are already clean. You also, if you have trusted Christ for salvation and been baptized and received into the church, are already clean. Washing your feet is then just confessing your inability to live consistently with your profession of faith. Feeding on Christ is then the food your faith needs to grow and produce fruit.
So come and welcome to Jesus Christ.
1 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 280.