Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Sermon: Eating the Bread of Life - John 6:51-58

Click here for the audio version of this sermon.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, 
he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the 
world. Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this 
man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you 
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him 
up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever 
eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your 
forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. 
John 6:51-58

By a show of hands, how many people in here know what bread is? Nothing is certain in this world besides death and taxes as the adage goes, but bread is a close second, an almost  universal human experience, so much so that bread has become for many cultures a metaphor  for the basic necessities of life and sometimes for living conditions in general. In the Russian  revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik party promised three basic necessities “peace, land,  and…bread.” In India, to describe life’s basic necessities again they use three words “Cloth,  house, and…bread.” Here in the United States, we even use the term bread to refer to material  provision or money. You’ve probably heard of the term the “bread-winner of the family” or  putting “bread on the table.” When the Notorious B.I.G. wrote “Gotta let it show, I love the  dough”, he wasn’t talking about the dough the Pillsbury dough boy peddles, but dough, bread,  money. Bread, one of the oldest prepared foods in humanity, in many different forms, in many  different cultures conveys a meaning beyond just “bread”. The same is true in Scripture today  when Jesus refers to himself as living bread. Particularly this metaphor, this imagery of bread  spoke so well to Jesus’ disciples who lived in a place and a time period where people really did  worry about whether or not they would have the basic necessities to get through the day,  where bread really was a staple that people depended on to live. When Jesus says things like, I  am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35), people listened. Think of how people would respond in Haiti, if you went down there and said I have something that will make you never be hungry or thirsty  again. How valuable that would be!

 We, probably of all cultures so far in history, are maybe the most disconnected from this
imagery of Jesus as “living bread.” We live in a place and a time period where most of us have
very little worry or concern about getting our daily bread, about surviving. How many of you
think of bread as one of your favorite foods, that when you go out to eat and order your main
dish you say, I’ll just have bread please. When I met my wife I was surprised to find out she’s
one of those people who loves bread. She’ll eat so much bread sometimes that when the main
course comes, she just asks them to box it up. It’s amazing to me, because I’m the kind of
person who usually thinks of bread as just filler. When I eat a hamburger, the bread is just
there to get the meat to my mouth. Bread is so abundantly available to us that at the end of
the day many stores are literally throwing tons of the stuff out into the garbage. We live in a
culture where we actually have diets based on the premise to avoid bread entirely, like bread is
evil. Bread is the reason I can’t fit into my skinny jeans. We have such an abundance and
over-consumption of food that our goal is to find the food that goes beyond regular food, we
need superfoods in our culture.

The first superfood I encountered was something called Acai (ah-sigh-ee) Berry in a
Yogurtland store in Orlando. I was intrigued, what is this “superfood” that comes from the
Amazon that has so much nutrition and benefit that it is a food beyond all other foods, a
superfood. I completely fell for the marketing scheme and kept buying Acai Berry yogurt
thinking, I’m going to be so energized because I’m eating a superfood. That was of course back
before everything became a superfood. I looked recently online at a list of superfoods and
basically now a superfood is just food that’s not bad for you like yogurt, eggs, nuts, broccoli,
sweet potatoes, beans, you know you’re not special anymore when beans is on your list. We’ve
gone from the Acai berry, deep from within the Amazon, a food beyond foods, a superfood, to
beans. But there is a superfood that I know of that stands alone. It’s a superfood that is even
more exotic than coming from the Amazon, it comes from another world, another reality, from
God himself and it provides such nourishment that when you eat it, when you completely take
this food into you, it changes everything because this food provides such deep permeating
nourishment that not only will you experience the abundant life now, but it will provide such
nourishment for your soul that you will have eternal life.

 When Jesus says I am the living bread that came down from heaven (John 6:51), he’s
saying so much more than what we might picture as bread. He is saying I am God’s provision
that you might live. I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). I am life! I came that [you 3
might] have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b) I am the true superfood, I deliver on my
promises, I’m not of this world. I’m so much more than you will ever need.

 There’s so much packed into these statements that Jesus makes about being bread. Just
to give us an outline of where we’re headed today: First, Where does this bread, this
supernatural superfood come from? What is it? Second, what kind of an effect does this bread
have when we eat it and Thirdly, because great sermons always have 3 points, what’s the
proper preparation of this food, how do we dig in to what God has provided.

 First where does this food come from? What is it? Jesus compares himself to the Bread
of Heaven and when He says this He is saying He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and
that he is the supernatural provision. He says in the first verse that we read, verse 51, “I am the
living bread that came down from heaven” and in the last verse we read, verse 58, “This is the
bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feed on
this bread will live forever.” Who is Jesus talking about when He says your forefathers ate
manna and died? He’s talking about this moment in the Old Testament, when God provided for
Moses and His people in the dessert. If you want to go back later and read this, it’s in Exodus
chapter 16. The basic gist of this story is that the people are hungry, they are grumbling about
how much better it was in Egypt before they started following God. Many of them are
questioning, now that they’re on the other side of the Red Sea in the dessert with this guy
Moses, if God really is going to provide for them. Despite their unfaithfulness God shows up in a
miraculous way each and every morning for 40 years. There is a layer of dew every morning
around where they are camped and when the dew was gone, the bible describes this material,
this manna, as “thin flakes like frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14) and that it “was like
coriander seed, white, and tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). The Israelites
experiencing this say “What is it?” and that’s what the word Manna means in Hebrew “What is
it?” Moses tells them it is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. Clearly it’s not loaves of
bread, the Israelites have never experienced this type of food before, it’s beyond their
experience, that’s why it’s called Manna, “What is it?”

 This “What is it” doesn’t appear until the hour assigned, it doesn’t stop coming until the
people enter the promised land, no change of weather prevented it from appearing, there was
a sufficient amount of it each day and the quantity was doubled on the 6th
 day so that the  people could collect enough to rest on the Sabbath. If you tried to gather too much on one of  the other days, it would breed worms and stink but when you gathered double for the Sabbath
it was good to eat. This event was a daily experience of the Israelites for 40 years in the
dessert. God provided for His people miraculously and supernaturally. It was an event that
they cherished, that they remembered. They gathered an amount of this Manna and put it in a 4
pot and then placed that pot in the Ark of the Covenant next to Aaron’s rod and the 10
commandments. In this case also, miraculously, it did not breed worms and stink but lasted
perpetually. God did this, not only to provide for his people but also, as Deuteronomy 8:3 says
to humble them, “to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that
comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This is the formative time of the Jewish people, they are
freed from slavery, they are given God’s Word – his law, and they are learning to trust in God,
that he will provide, and he will provide abundantly!

 This miraculous, supernatural, bread of heaven, this “what is it”, that God provided day
after day for His people is what Jesus compares himself to because we too have been freed
from slavery, we too have been given the Word of God and the Word made flesh, and as we
day by day abide in Jesus we are spiritually nourished by this abundant provision. As Manna
came from God to provide for His people, so Jesus was sent from the Father to seek and save
the lost. As Manna gave daily physical sustenance to His people so Jesus gives us daily spiritual
sustenance. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians makes this connection between the physical
and the spiritual. He writes that they, the Israelites in the dessert, “all ate the same spiritual
food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied
them, and that rock was Christ.” In other words, the Israelites, through this shadow, this
foretaste of God’s provision, were actually spiritually sustained by Christ in addition to being
physically sustained by the Manna. The same way in which later this morning the bread we
break and the cup we drink is for us the body and blood of Christ and spiritual nourishment for
us. The Israelites asked “What is it?” this spiritual sustenance, and in time God answered it is
all of me, it is my son, it is Jesus.

 Jesus is the “What is it?” bread, miraculous bread from heaven and the effect that this
has on us is to produce life within us. He is the Bread of Life. In verse 55 Jesus says “my flesh is
real food and my blood is real drink.” The word there for “real” in Greek is the same word for
truth (alethes). It means true, truthful, honest, genuine, real. Jesus is saying “I am real food. I
am superfood that provides the kind of soul nourishment that gives eternal life.”

As I mentioned earlier, we live in a culture with an abundance of food options and in a
culture where we struggle more with obesity and filling ourselves with the right kinds of food
than trying to find enough calories to get through the day. And we usually choose poorly, just
speaking for myself. We constantly fill ourselves with empty calories, foods that usually supply
a temporary energy boost but little or no nutrition. The way in which we deal with food is true
spiritually as well. We consume so much that provides little to no nutrition, that gives us a
temporary feeling of fullness but doesn’t really provide. We go to sex, power, possessions,
even good things like family and relationships and we try to fill ourselves. They may taste 5
delicious, they may even make us feel full for the moment but in the end we’re just eating toilet
paper compared to Jesus who is real food and real drink. In verse 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell
you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in
you.” Jesus says in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

 Jesus is the bread of Heaven, He is the “What is it?” superfood and when we are filled
by him we are filled with life, with true abundance that ultimately one day will blossom into
eternal life. So finally, what’s the way in which we consume this food? We are to eat the bread
of heaven, the bread of life completely and daily.

First, just in case you haven’t picked up on it. When Jesus says eat my flesh and drink my blood. He is using a metaphor and not talking about cannibalism. His disciples initially think of what Jesus is saying as literal. This is common in the bible that the people Jesus speaks to think in a physical pattern rather than a spiritual one. In John 3, which many of you in life groups will study this week as we finish our churchwide study, when Nicodemus is told by Jesus
you have to be born again, Nicodemus replies “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4) No Nicodemus, Jesus is not asking you to go find your mother and be born again. Neither here is Jesus saying, literally you need to eat my flesh and drink my blood. When Jesus says “my flesh and my blood” it is an idiom like the “whole enchilada”. This isn’t a taste testing, to experience the life giving and sustaining spiritual  nourishment that comes through Jesus we must take him in completely, he must be digested and absorbed, to become one with us and be the nourishment that flows intimately through our very veins.

 Jesus says “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 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.” Jesus says that the same way in which God the Father is the source of life,
the “living Father”, for Jesus and He abides in Him, so also Jesus is the source of life for us as we
abide in Him. This is clearly a mystery, this indwelling. John 15 uses the imagery of a vine and
branches to describe it. Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me
and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) This is a
constant and daily dependence upon Christ. The same way that branches thrive because they
are one with the vine, we too experience this soul sustaining, life giving nourishment when we
take Jesus in completely and abide in him daily.

 Jesus is the bread of heaven, he is the “What is it?” superfood that when we stop eating
toilet paper and fully take him in as our daily bread, he wells up within us as the abundant life
which becomes eternal life. When we say “God Provides”, we can apply that in many ways, but 6
fundamentally at the core God provides abundance and life through Jesus Christ the Bread of
Heaven, the Bread of Life.

 For some of you, today may be the first time you have seriously thought about not just
tasting, but completely and fully eating this bread. As we enter into prayer, I encourage you to
think and to pray about if this is the moment that you put aside the empty calories and put your
faith and trust in something real, true, genuine. If you do come to that moment today,
tomorrow, a month from now, please tell someone. Whether it’s checking the box on the
communication card, speaking to a pastor, or someone on our prayer team who will be up here
after the service, or to a friend you know that has a relationship with Jesus, don’t delay it. Eat
the Bread of Life completely, daily that God provides in Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment