“I Am The Bread Of Life”
Throughout the Gospels, we witness Jesus making a variety of bold claims about who He is and what He has come to do. Among these bold claims, perhaps none are more curious than this claim to be “the bread of life”.
Having first identified Himself to the woman at the well as the promised Messiah (4:26), Jesus now identifies Himself with a commonly used food item—bread.
With the wide variety of carbohydrates that are available today, I confess that I do not eat very much bread anymore. I do, however, remember a time when bread was a primary component of my meals.
As a child I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents, on their fruit farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Their lunch table was a simple one, and I vividly remember that every meal was accompanied by a tall stack of bread slices.
Frankly, I did not find the idea of filling up on bread slices particularly appealing, but I soon learned that if I did not eat the bread I would suffer in the afternoon. You see, after lunch, I was expected to continue working on the farm. I quickly learned that a cup of soup and a dill pickle was not sufficient to fuel an afternoon’s labour. The stack of bread slices was on the table for good reason—we needed that bread if we were to succeed in getting the work on the farm done.
My understanding is that, in the ancient world, bread was even more necessary. In Jesus’ day, bread often constituted the entire meal. As such, people needed bread—not simply to energize their work, but they needed bread to stay alive! In other words, for the people of Jesus’ day, bread was something that they could not live without.
This helps to explain the prominent role of bread within our biblical text. When Jesus multiplied the loaves, He was not providing a mid-day snack for a group of curious onlookers—He was providing them with their physical nourishment for the day! This helps us to understand why the multitudes continued following Jesus after He fed them. The people were so amazed at this miracle of food multiplication that they went so far as to cross the Sea of Galilee in small boats in order to keep up with Jesus (6:24).
Sensing their skewed motivations for following Him, Jesus responds to the multitude by challenging them. Jesus suggests that their interest is not that of prospective disciples, but rather, this was of a group of miracle seekers who simply wanted their bellies filled (6:26).
To correct this way of thinking, Jesus, as He did with the Samaritan woman, attempts to persuade the people to not focus on their physical needs. Jesus points instead to their spiritual needs: "the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world"(6:33). Jesus points the people to supernatural bread, He points them to life-giving bread, and He does this by boldly pointing to Himself.
Jesus makes the bold claim: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst"(6:35).
In this one sentence, Jesus teaches us a great deal about Himself. Jesus' statement reveals, at least 3 important things about Himself and His mission. We learn, first of all, that Jesus came from heaven. Jesus explains that "the bread of God" comes from heaven (6:33), and then follows that statement with the more explicit claim, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven” (6:41).
The second thing we learn from Jesus’ statement is that something is required of us in order to benefit from this life-giving bread. The bread of heaven, we are told, is given only to those who "come" to Jesus; it is only for those who "believe" in Him (6:35).
The third thing we learn from Jesus' statement is that what we receive from Jesus has eternal value. With this bread from "heaven" Jesus promises that we will never hunger again. With His "living water", we shall never thirst. Jesus is offering the best kind of nourishment we could hope for—perpetual nourishment for our soul.
We spent a lot of time last Sunday on this last point as we examined the character and the quality of the living water made available to us in Christ. In order to better grasp our need for this living water, we spent considerable time contrasting and comparing the physical resources and the spiritual resources made available to us. We examined our own ordering of temporal and spiritual obligations, and the implications of our prioritization.
What I hope you came away with was an acute realization of your need to prioritize Christ and His benefits above every temporal blessing and above every temporal obligation. What I hope you learned from last Sunday was the lesson Saint Augustine learned—the lesson that the human heart will remain restless until we find our rest in Jesus.
Worldly things will only satisfy us for a season. Our thirst for ultimate satisfaction cannot be quenched by what the world offers, but rather, our hunger—our thirst—can only be satisfied by the supernatural resources available to us in Christ.
What remains for our attention this morning then, is the manner in which we appropriate these benefits. How do we get this living water? How do we procure some of this living bread?
These questions relate to the second component of Jesus’ statement in verse 35. There is something for us to do if we are to benefit from the bread of life. Jesus says we must "come to (Him)". Moreover, He says we must "believe in Him."
The Greek word for "believe" that is used here means "to entrust" or "to put one's faith in". To believe then, involves more than agreeing with a body of information. Belief, in the sense of the word used by Jesus, is active. Where genuine belief exists, a corresponding action should follow.
A helpful illustration of this comes from an account from the late 1890's, when a famous tightrope walker strung a wire across Niagara Falls. As 10,000 people watched, the tightrope walker inched his way along the wire from one side of the Falls to the other.
When he got to the other side, the crowd cheered wildly. Finally, the tightrope walker was able to quiet the crowd and shouted to them, 'Do you believe in me?'. The crowd shouted back, 'We believe! We believe!'.
Again he quieted the crowd and shouted to them, 'I'm going back across the tightrope but this time I'm going to carry someone on my back. Do you believe I can do that?'. The crowd yelled back, 'We believe! We believe!'. He quieted the crowd one more time and then asked them, 'Who will be that person?'.
The crowd suddenly became silent. Not a single person was willing to apply the very truth that they professed to believe in—that the tightrope walker could cross the Falls with a person on his back.
I fear that there are many within the Christian Church today who are like those cheering spectators. Jesus says, ‘I am the Christ’ And we shout, ‘We believe! We believe!’ Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’ And again we shout, ‘We believe! We believe!’ But then Jesus challenges us to act upon our belief and we suddenly become silent.
It appears that there are at least two kinds of belief. There is belief that merely agrees with information provided, and there is belief that actively submits to the information provided. It is the latter of these two that Jesus calls for, and it is the latter of these two that truly honours.
Again, by way of illustration, I think of those times when I am visiting a parishioner in their home. Quite often, my visits immediately follow lunch and so if I am offered cookies to go with my tea, I sometimes need to decline. I say something like, ‘These shortbread cookies look very appealing, and I am sure that they taste great, but I am already full and so I must pass.’ In this instance, my expression of belief in the tastiness of the cookies is polite, but it is nonetheless lacking.
For my expression of belief in the tastiness of the cookies to most meaningful, for my expression of belief to honour the host, I must taste the cookies.
In a similar manner, I suspect there may be people who articulate an esteem for the things of Christ—people who would concur with the importance of religious devotion, but who—for whatever reason—are unwilling to taste of the bread that Jesus offers.
Perhaps what is necessary, before we can appropriate what Christ provides, is we have to give up something. If I am to have room for shortbread cookies, I should probably give up having second helpings at lunch. Similarly, if we are to enjoy the bread that Jesus offers, we should be ready to put aside our other pursuits.
Jesus does not present Himself and His benefits as something we can add on. Jesus presents Himself and His benefits in exchange for our current priorities. Jesus says, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (6:27). He warns us elsewhere, “No one can serve two masters” (Mt. 6:24). And, again, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26).
Each of these verses implies that there is a choice to be made between the things that compete for our devotion. Clearly, Jesus wants us to choose Him as the supreme priority of our lives. To this end, Jesus chooses appropriate images of bread and water. In the ancient world, if you didn’t have bread and water, you would die. By choosing these images Jesus was claiming to be the One whom men and women could not live without.
I fear that some people don’t view Jesus this way. I fear that some see Jesus as the icing on the cake—that is, we’ve got enough to satisfy us, but adding Jesus gives life a little extra zip.
No, without Jesus, we perish. If we want life; if we want ultimate satisfaction, we must seek that in Christ.
Now, most of us, I presume, can point to a day—or to a time in our life, when we earnestly sought Christ. We recall a day when we tasted the living bread and were satisfied. What has it been like for you since that day?
Because those with whom Jesus spoke would have viewed bread as something to be eaten daily. The prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” would have been prayed in a very literal sense. The disciples were instructed to pray each day for literal bread that would nourish their physical bodies.
And then Jesus expands our understanding of bread: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst"(6:35).
Those things that provide us with the taste of the living bread—prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship, and Christian fellowship—these are things to be sought as often as possible.
It is not enough to esteem these practices; it is not enough to say Christ is the supreme One and to cheer Him on. The bread of life is not to be admired—the bread of life is to be tasted.
Tasting the living bread is how we best honour the Host of the Universe. Tasting the living bread is the way to bring satisfaction to your soul. Amen.