In the world today you will hear a number of ideas about Jesus. There will be those who teach that He was God in human form (like we do) and there will be others who teach that Jesus was simply a good man who parlayed his popularity into a new religion. Some teach that Jesus never claimed to be God but was elevated to that state by His followers.
Who is Jesus? is an important question. In fact, it may be the most important question. Since we believe the Bible is the Word of God and is an accurate and trustworthy record of the life and teaching of Jesus, we are going to look into the Gospel of John to see what Jesus said about Himself. The Gospel of John is unique in recording a number of statements of Jesus that begin with the statement “I am the . . . “. In these statements Jesus uses various metaphors to describe His person, character, and mission. These statements will be the focus of our study this holiday season. Jesus declares
- I am the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48)
- I am the Light of the World (8:12, 9:5)
- I am the Gate for the Sheep (10:7)
- I am the Good Shepherd (10:11)
- I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
- I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6)
- I am the True Vine (15:1)
This morning we are going to look at the first of these claims. In John 6:35ff Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life.
Jesus was the master of what might be called, “the teachable moment”. The day before Jesus spoke the words about being the bread of life, He had fed over 5000 people miraculously with five barley loaves and two fish. After that miracle we are told that the people were ready to make Him to be King by force.
Jesus sent His disciples to Capernaum in a boat and went off to pray by himself. (The applause of the crowd can be intoxicating and very tempting . . . Jesus knew to get away and listen to the Lord rather than to the accolades of the crowd). In the middle of the night Jesus came to them walking on the water. He calmed the storm and got into the boat.
The next day the people looked for Jesus (they knew he hadn’t gotten into the boat with the disciples). When they didn’t find him they went to Capernaum (where Jesus often taught) and met up with Him again. The people wanted Jesus, but for the wrong reason. They were looking for another “free lunch”. Jesus used this setting to try to teach them about something more important than lunch. There are several lessons for us to learn.
PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY
Jesus uses our natural hunger as a metaphor and used it to illustrate a hunger that is much deeper.
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.” (v.27)
All food contains an expiration date. It is therefore temporary. Pastor Kent Hughes rightly says,
Crowds wildly pursued Jesus because he had supplied them with the material things of life. They liked the idea of a fish maker and bread baker—someone who could give them the material things they wanted. They failed to take a step farther and realize that a man who could miraculously supply bread was also the One who could meet the deep spiritual needs of their lives. So he lifted their sights and brought them to a place where he could bless them.
People still do the same thing today. They look to Jesus as the One who will
- Make them happy
- Solve their problems
- Heal their sickness
- Fulfill their dreams
- Guarantee that we will all live “happily ever after”
They want a Jesus who will help them live “the good life”. Jesus tells them that they are being short-sighted. They are like a child who copies the homework assignment from a friend instead of actually learning for themselves. They are like the person who chooses a candy bar over Thanksgiving dinner. They are like a patient who chooses to cover their pain with a pain pill instead of getting the life-saving surgery they need.
JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE
Jesus, in his remarkable patience, continued to explain himself to the people. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v.33) Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”. He doesn’t say, “I can give you the bread of life” or “I know where you can find the bread of life” or even “I have the recipe for the bread of life”. He says, “I AM the bread of life.” He is what we need.
Jesus told the people that several things happen when we turn to Him as the bread of life. First, He says the person who comes to Him will never be hungry or thirst again.(v.35)
Max Lucado puts it well,
What bread is to hunger, Jesus claims to be for the soul.
Travel to almost any country and sit in any restaurant and they’ll serve you bread. Bread is a staple. If the poor have nothing, they have bread. If the rich have everything, they still have bread. Bread is not a regional food nor a national dish. No country claims to be the exclusive source of bread. It may be in the form of a tortilla in Mexico or a bagel in New York, but bread is available everywhere. So is Christ. He is not bound by boundaries. No country claims him. No region owns him. No nation monopolizes him. He is everywhere at the same time. Universally available.
Bread is eaten daily. Some fruits are available only in season. Some drinks are made only at holidays. Not so with bread. And not so with Jesus. He should be brought to our table every day. We let him nourish our hearts, not just in certain months or on special events, but daily.
Bread is served in many forms. It’s toasted, jellied, buttered, flattened, and grilled. It can be a sandwich, sweet roll, hot-dog bun, croissant, or dinner roll. Bread can meet many needs. So can Jesus. He adapts himself to meet our needs. He has a word for the lonely as well as for the popular. He has help for the physically ill and the emotionally ill. If your vision is clear, he can help you. If your vision is cloudy, he can help you. Jesus can meet each need.
Jesus meets our hunger and thirst in the fullest sense. He satisfies the deepest yearning in our soul.
Second, Jesus says in Him we find security. In verses 37-39 we read,
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.
These are powerful words. Jesus says that when we eat of the Bread of Life (Him) that we will be His forever. He will not push us away (verse 37) and He will not allow us to wander away (v.39). In other words, the Lord will never say, “I’ve had it!” He will never tell us to get out! But He will also never let us get out of His sight and wander away.
During World War II, the Germans forced many twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys into the Junior Gestapo. These boys were treated very harshly and given inhumane jobs to perform. When the war ended, most had lost track of their families and wandered without food or shelter. As part of an aid program to post-war Germany, many of these youths were placed in tent cities. Here doctors and psychologists worked with the boys in an attempt to restore their mental and physical health. They found that many of the boys would awaken in the middle of the night, screaming in terror. One doctor had an idea for handling that fear. After feeding the boys a large meal, he put them to bed with a piece of bread in their hands, which they were told to save until morning. The boys then slept soundly because, after so many years of hunger, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.
Having the Bread of Life gives us that same sense of security. No matter what circumstances swirl around us, no matter what failures overtake us, no matter what fears overwhelm us, the bread of life will hold us secure.
Third, Jesus says, He will give us eternal life.
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.” (v. 40)
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.(v. 51)
Jesus says that He is the unique means to eternal life. He is the one who alone can satisfy that deep desire we have to live forever. It’s a craving every one of us has deep down inside of us. The reason we hate the idea of death is because it feels like it is stepping off of a cliff into a bottomless pit. We fight death with every ounce of our physical strength and with every resource of our brain and technology because we don’t want life to end. It all seems so pointless. “You live, you die, that’s it”.
Deep inside we know there must be more. We want there to be more! Jesus said there is more . . . and He is the One who will lead us to this life that extends beyond the grave and forever.
SECURING THE BREAD OF LIFE
In light of the fact that everyone needs the bread that gives life and that Jesus is that Bread, the most important question would seem to be: How do we obtain this bread? How do get Jesus, the bread of life? Jesus seems to answer in two ways,
First, in verse 29 Jesus said we “must believe in the one He has sent”. As far as these people were concerned, they did believe in Him. They believed He was a unique man, a miracle working man and maybe even the best of men. They believed He could give them things they could not get on their own. However, in verse 36 Jesus says the people “see Him but still do not believe”. This would seem to mean “believing is about more than believing facts about Jesus”. I think it is safe to say that there are many “believers” in the world who do not “believe” in the sense that Jesus is talking about.
We are called to believe Jesus’ testimony about Himself. We must believe that He is God in human form who gave His life willingly as a substitute payment for our sin. Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of God’s law in His own death which makes it possible for Him to extend mercy and forgiveness to us. We must believe that He is the unique Savior we have been looking for.
In verse 51 Jesus takes this a step further. He told the people that they needed to eat this bread. For a piece of bread to be beneficial to a hungry man he needs to do more than simply look at the bread, or smell the bread, or even “have a taste” of the bread. He must eat it and allow it to feed and restore His body.
Jesus is making the point that we must do more than dabble with Christ. It’s not enough to learn facts about Jesus or sing songs to Him. It’s not enough to be a part of His “crowd”. It’s not enough to “have an experience” or even to feel like you have “a new beginning”. Jesus calls us to commit ourselves to Him. He calls us to trust Him and to follow Him in our day to day activities. Jesus is calling for commitment rather than just confession. The kind of belief that Jesus calls for is a belief that says: I am willing to bet my life on Jesus. I am willing to trust His direction for my life and trust His sacrifice to make it possible for me to be forgiven and live eternal life beginning right now.
Jesus reminded us that our salvation comes because of something God does IN us. We become His disciples not because we have earned a position on Jesus’ team or are better than others. We do not become believers because our income level, our church affiliation, or our nationality. We become His disciple when we respond to His gracious and undeserved invitation to be made new and He places His Spirit in us.
The invitation to follow is extended to those who were raised in the church and to those who have ridiculed the church. It is for those who have good reputations and for those who have a deeply stained past. It all starts with hunger. If you are hungry, Jesus offers you new life.
So as we begin another Christmas season let me pose a question: What will you “feast on” this Christmas Season? Will you feast on the presents, the parties, the good food and the good cheer? If you do, you will probably have a good time. But within a short period of time you are going to be hungry again. Before the Christmas payments come due you will be looking for something more. Jesus offers something better. He offers you forgiveness and a new life.
Evaluate your life. Are you truly committed to Christ? Detroit Lions Pro Bowl wide receiver Roy Williams said his Quarterback, Jon Kitna, changed his life with a simple question. Kitna (a bold follower of Christ) asked, “What’s holding you back from walking with God.” That’s a good question isn’t it? What’s hold YOU back from really following Jesus Christ?
Dr. Boice puts it in clear terms,
Is [Jesus] as real to you spiritually as something you can taste or handle? Is he as much a part of you as that which you eat? Do not think me blasphemous when I say that he must be as real and as useful to you as a hamburger and french fries. I say this because, although he is obviously far more real and useful than these, the unfortunate thing is that for many people he is much less.3
Penetrating question isn’t it? Is your relationship with Christ as real and as useful to you as a Big Mac? Is Christ at least that real to you? Does your relationship with Christ impact
- The way you work?
- The way you spend your money?
- The approach you take toward difficult people?
- Your view of death and eternity?
- The things you do in your free time?
- The things you hold dear?
- The way you deal with problems and failures?
If it does not impact your life in these ways, I suggest your “belief” in Jesus is not the kind of belief He requires. This Christmas season I encourage you to celebrate Christ as one of his followers rather than just one of His fans.
One more thing. As we try to share the story of Christmas with the world around us we need to remember that a person who is hungry doesn’t want a lecture on nutrition; they want food! They don’t want to be shown the factory that makes the food . . . they want to eat! They don’t want instruction on marketing. They want something to eat!
Our job is not to promote the church or to lecture people about theological nuances or to give them all the facts about the Christmas story. Our job is to introduce people to the Bread of Life Himself so that they can know Him personally and find that life that He alone imparts.
So, let’s work hard to keep the spotlight on Jesus. Let’s continually bring our conversations back to Him. Let’s go into our Christmas programs seeking to draw attention to Him rather than to ourselves. Let’s try to do more than tell people they need something more . . . let’s introduce them to Jesus.
My hope this Christmas season and throughout the year is that every time you smell homemade bread, or pass the bread aisle in a grocery store, or get ready to take a bite into your favorite sandwich, you will be reminded of Jesus’ words that He is the bread of life. And in remembering, may you be renewed in your commitment to the One who gives you that food that endures for eternal life.