"I am the Bread of Life"
Jn 6:32-51 March 1, 2009 1st in Lent
GOING FOR GRIT NOT GRAIN
One day this past week I looked out our front window some time after the township truck had been by to sand the slippery road. There was a flurry of activity - no cars, but a flock of birds, sparrows or something similar.[PHOTO] They were busy gobbling up the particles of sand and bits of gravel - I suppose to serve as grit in their gizzard to help break up hard food particles. But it seemed strange to see them out there, when I could look out the other window and see several bird feeders with an ample supply of sunflower seed.[PHOTO] Quite a contrast - grit with absolutely no nutritional value, or grain - packed with goodness. If we didn't know better, one would be tempted to scold the flock on the road: "Silly birds! Don't you know sand won't nourish you? Why busy yourself for that which may fill you up but won't really help you?"
But then, isn't that much like what God must think as he watches us humans scurry around looking for fulfilment and satisfaction in all the wrong places? Isaiah prophesied, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!...Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." (Is 55:1ff) God was offering the people good bread that would really satisfy, bread that would give life to their soul - all they had to do was come and get it.
Silly birds...silly people. We look for life's 'high' in all the wrong places. Janine Schultz' By Peaceful Waters counselling ministry uses a couple of diagrams to depict how addictive patterns develop. [diagram 1] Say an individual has some emotional pain causing them discomfort: perhaps fear, or shame, low self-worth, or they've bought into Satan's lies about power and control. For whatever reason, they're suffering emotionally. Rather than turn to God for healing and help to deal with the lies causing the pain, people try first the easy way out: masking or self-medicating the pain with addictive behaviour. [diagram 2] There is a whole array of means people use to try and block out the pain: chemically, such as drugs, smoking, alcoholism; behaviourally - sleeping, aggression, perfectionism; or other negative tacks - pornography, sex, workaholism, eating disorders, hurting oneself, and anger, for example. While each of these actions delivers its own short-term 'fix' - you feel better and forget the root pain temporarily - the long-term effects can be destructive, in fact worsening the pain, rejection, shame, alienation. And so the cycle continues. What promised relief didn't actually address the real need.
Adultery for example can be very destructive to a marriage. Yet it actually stems from an emotional cause, not physical drives. Seven magazine reports that in The Truth about Cheating, Florida psychotherapist found that only 8 percent of men interviewed who'd had an affair said the main reason for it was sexual dissatisfaction. The number one reason they gave for having an affair was emotional dissatisfaction at home. They felt they couldn't win at home, so they medicated the emotional pain with the verbal and emotional support of a mistress. But that's looking for a solution in the wrong place, with disastrous results.
In John 6 Jesus identifies Himself as 'the bread of life' who can truly satisfy our deepest hunger. When we come to Him, like Isaiah's free food, our soul delights in the richest of fare. God wants us to be free from unsatisfying 'grit' substitutes and enjoy real life in His Son.
BETTER THAN DEMPSTER'S OR EVEN WONDER-BREAD
If someone in your family asked you to go to the store to get some bread, a natural question would be, "What kind do you want?" There are so many varieties of bread it can be hard to choose. "Let's see, shall I buy white or brown? Locally made - even here in the deli - or trucked in from a distance? Loaves or long skinny continental? Bagels or buns, pita or pumpernickel, sliced or spiced?"
One way to appreciate Jesus is to describe the 'bread' He offers by category - its nature, its origin, effect, appeal, and use.
First, what's the NATURE of this bread? Jesus describes Himself as TRUE bread, the genuine article. Not like the perishable stuff we eat and then find ourselves hungry again. V32 in John 6, "It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven" - contrasted with the manna the Israelites ate in the desert, then died. Yes it did keep them going for 40 years in the wilderness, but it stopped when they had their first harvest in the Promised Land, and they all eventually died. Jesus could say in v55, "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink;" substantial, nourishing down deep in spirit.
The nature of this bread is also that is it LIVING bread. V51, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven." Not a loaf with arms and legs sticking out, but a real live person who has come to profoundly change us forever. Those who ate the manna died (49, 58); v53 says unless someone eats the flesh of the Son of man (figuratively, not cannibals!), "you have no life in you."
A second feature that makes this bread so special is its ORIGIN. There's bread that comes from hundreds of miles away, wrapped neatly in a plastic bag, packed with preservatives and a 'best before' date on it. OR there's the bread that's just come hot out of Momma's oven, steam still rising off it; you cut a thick slab, plaster some butter and strawberry jam on and take a big bite - now THAT's tasty bread! The origin makes a difference. Nothing compares with bread straight out of Momma's oven.
Jesus' origin is straight from the 'heavenly' oven, the Father's side. This is repeated for emphasis throughout this passage - vv32, 38, 50, 51: "My Father...gives you the true bread from heaven.For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven...Here is the bread that comes down from heaven...I am the living bread that came down from heaven."
Jesus is driving home a most unpopular point. This 'came down from heaven' business is identifying Him with God in a way that could make Him subject to a charge of blasphemy, a breaking of the Jewish law punishable by death. Note in v41 how his listeners "began to grumble about Him because He said, 'I am the bread that came down from heaven.'" They knew His parents, Mary and Joseph; Nazareth was only 20 miles from Capernaum. They were looking for a political messiah to save them from Roman oppression and taxes; after Jesus fed the 5000 with only 5 loaves and a couple of fish, the crowd got all excited thinking this was the Prophet foretold by Moses, and intended to make Jesus king by force (6:14f; Deut 18:15). They wanted a great charismatic human leader who could cause their earthly wishes to succeed, who would do their bidding in exchange for popularity. "Bread and circuses" as a Roman poet put it. Somebody they could manipulate and control to suit their liking. But they didn't want 'living bread' with a mind of its own - a Son of God keen on the Father's agenda.
If Jesus knew He was offending them, He accentuated it in v46: "No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father." Not only has He come down from heaven, He implies He's the only one who has seen God directly! Now they'd really grumble. But it's only the bread hot from the oven that tastes best.
What's the bread's EFFECT? "Bread of life" can mean 'living bread' (as we've seen) or it can mean 'bread that gives life'. Jesus spells that meaning out in vv33, 50, 51: "The bread of God is he who...gives life to the world...Here is the bread...which a man may eat and not die...This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
Jesus seems not just to be talking about life at a mechanical level - you know, heart beating, lungs breathing, neurons sparking - but life at a much deeper and richer level, a sense of peace, wellbeing, and fulfillment. Somebody saying, "Boy, I'm feeling really alive today!" Better even than those once-in-a-lifetime moments: finding an egg in a robin's nest; watching a monarch emerge from its cocoon; your first kiss; the wonder of a child's birth.
Without Jesus, all that emotional baggage - pain, shame, fear, guilt - is always simmering just under the surface and detracting from our experience of life-as-it-is. Like looking through a pair of dirty sunglasses, always blocking you from seeing the true colours. But when you invite Jesus to come in and spring-clean the house of your heart, exposing that junk you've been trying to hide for what it really is, He heals those old injuries and enables you to truly love and experience life again, with a new baseline of inner joy, peace, and contentment. So we don't need those addictive 'fixes' to patch over the wounds any more; we can be ourselves with people - our new, true selves in Christ - resting in Him. Jesus can help disconnect those buttons people used to push that we would react automatically to; it may still hurt to see them pushing the buttons, but He gives us a place to be safe and understand when it's happening.
V57, "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." Here He's describing an ongoing, continual contact with God inwardly, moment-by-moment being sustained through the Spirit.
When this physical life is over, "bread of life" takes on additional meaning. In vv39,40,44,54 Jesus says He will 'raise up at the last day' those who look to and believe in Him. This refers to physical resurrection: Paul wrote, "We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." (1Cor 15:51f) Clothed with a supernatural, glorious body that can't be corrupted/cankered/rotted. A brand new hyper-worldly outfitting like Jesus had when He could enter a room that had the doors locked (Jn 20:19).
As if that's not special enough, Jesus goes on to say He gives eternal or everlasting life - life that will go on forever; vv40,47, 51,54. "He who believes has [note present tense - starts now] - HAS everlasting life.I am the bread of life...If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." That's a whole lotta life beyond this earthly life! I remember Bruce Wilkinson describing eternal life like a line that goes on infinitely; our entire present life is like the single 'dot' at the beginning of the line.
We talk about 'shelf life' in regard to perishable food; sometimes you may prefer items with a shorter shelf life because there's probably fewer chemical preservatives. With Jesus though, His 'preserving' quality is exceptional. His 'keeping' ability is phenomenal. V37, "Whoever comes to Me I will never drive away...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." If you come to Jesus, He's not going to lose you. You're safe with Him, He'll protect you. No one can 'snatch' Jesus' sheep out of His hand (Jn 10:28).
The bread's nature; the bread's origin; the bread's effect; finally, the bread's USE. What's it 'for'? I think it was Erma Bombeck who told of a time when they ran out of wholesome homemade bread and were making-do with a loaf of plain store-bought white bread. While they were eating, her teenage son took a slice of the thin white stuff, rolled it into a small ball and drilled it against the wall. She took it as a compliment!
However that's not the usual 'use' of bread, that's not what it's supposed to be 'for'. Neither is a man who calls Himself 'living bread' to be taken literally and eaten. Jesus tells us in this passage what to do with His bread: "He who comes to Me will never go hungry..." We are to COME to Him - see also vv37, 44,45. Like in Isaiah 55, "come, buy and eat!" Another way to 'come' is to BELIEVE in Him. V35 in parallel with 'come'; also 40, "Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life;" and 47, "He who believes has everlasting life." 'Believe' for John is a verb, an action, putting your trust in someone, relying on them, making a commitment. Will you start acting like Jesus really IS your Lord and Saviour? How's your life going to show it?
Jesus also pushes the bread metaphor to even say people should 'eat' Him and 'feed on' Him - 50,51,54, 56-58: of course not literally, but taking Him by His teaching and command into our being. There are sacramental overtones here; perhaps Jesus already knew He would infuse the Passover meal with new meaning, turning it into the Lord's supper, calling the bread His body and the wine the new covenant in His blood.
But this sure caught the attention of religious Jews: the very idea of consuming blood was unthinkable, forbidden by the law of Moses (Lev 17:10f). Jesus felt it was an important enough image to get across to risk being considered heretical. The orthodox stumbled and grumbled at His message, plotting to crucify Him - thereby bringing about the innocent sacrifice that would make it possible for sinners to be reconciled to a holy God. While to those who believed in Jesus, His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood became a precious picture of the unity a follower experiences with their indwelling Lord.
So, rather than rolling up this bread and throwing it away in rejection, what's it for? How do we use it? Jesus invites us to come to Him, believe in Him, feed on Him to the depths of our souls. Don't reject Him but receive Him.
WHAT MONEY CAN'T BUY
Everybody has their 'fix', perhaps what used to be known as a 'besetting sin' - a sort of default bad habit we resort to in order to dull the pain or anxiety, when instead we could be turning to the Lord to speak peace in our being. 'Respectability' leads people to dally in less visible sins such as materialism, shopping, idolatry, self-sufficiency, and pride. Good-living church-going folks can secretly harbour greed without it being obvious. But ultimately the stronghold of temporal values disappoints us, too. Those beating the RRSP deadline this past week were probably very dismayed when they looked at their funds and saw how the money they'd set aside as 'a high wall in their own imagination' had shrunk in value and failed them these past few months.
Gerry Bowler describes how men can put too much security or significance in 'stuff', trusting it for something it can't deliver. He writes, "We dare not venture forth into the world without charging our cell phones, digital cameras and iPods. Our cars have been remotely started; our seats are electronically warmed; the warm female voice of our talking GPS system guides us to our destination. We know that Bluetooth is not a pirate. Our high-definition televisions have screens measured in yards, not inches, and the sub-woofers in our home theatre systems emit bass notes so low that sperm whales run themselves aground on the B.C.coast... (!)
"...The problem with possessions though is that sooner or later they end up owning us more than we own them...We find that while money can buy us momentary distraction, it can't buy us anything approaching satisfaction. The list of things that money can't buy is instructive. You will find, for example, that your dog is unimpressed by the size of your bank account. He would far rather tussle with you for possession of a slobbery tennis ball than a wad of hundred dollar bills...Money can't buy a good woman - in fact, that's one of the definitions of a good woman - and it certainly can't buy anything as precious as the respect of your kids...
"...This is not how we are really measured by those that love us: our wives, our kids, our dogs and our God. They want our time, our focused attention and our devotion. In return we get love and real happiness. None of that is taxable or subject to loss when the stock market declines."
What was that Isaiah was talking about? "Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Come...Buy without money--everything's free! Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?...fill yourself with only the finest...come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words." (Is 55:1ff The Message) Praise God for the gift of His Son Jesus, the bread of life. Coming to Him we will never go hungry; believing in Him we find life that bursts beyond the tomb-walls of this mortal frame. Let's pray.