The Bread of Life
Today we begin a new seven-week sermon series focusing on who Jesus is. There are a lot of ways that the Bible answers that question. For this series, we will be looking at seven key statements that Jesus makes about himself that are recorded in the Gospel of John. These are called the seven “I am” statements:
- I am the bread of life (6:35)
- I am the light of the world (8:12)
- I am the door for the sheep (10:7)
- I am the good shepherd (10:11)
- I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25-26)
- I am The Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)
- I am The Vine (15:5)
So one way to think about this series is this: if you’re curious about who Jesus is, if you say to him, “Who are you?”, he gives at least these seven answers. Who are you? “I am the light of the world.” Who are you? “I am the door for the sheep.” Who are you? “I am the good shepherd.” So we’ll spend the next seven weeks trying to understand these answers, these metaphors, these “I am” statements.
We begin this morning with the first statement: “I am the bread of life.” Let’s start by setting some background. Jesus is in the midst of his ministry. He’s been gathering disciples, teaching crowds, and performing signs. Now, the apostle John gives special attention to Jesus’s signs. In his book, signs have particular characteristics. Signs are 1) public, supernatural acts 2) performed by Jesus himself that 3) show the glory of Jesus to the disciples (2:11) and crowds (6:2; 12:18). They are 4) designed to bring about faith in Jesus as the Son of God (2:11; 4:48; 6:14; 7:31; 20:31) or 5) to harden the unbelieving (12:37-43), 6) are explicitly identified as signs within the gospel (2:11; 4:54; 6:2; 6:14; 9:16; 12:18; 2:18)), 7) confirm his identity as the one sent by God (2:23; 3:2), and 8) emphasize that Jesus brings life to the world through physical representation. John seems to focus on 7 particular signs. The first is when Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding (“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee” 2:11). The second is healing an official’s son (“This was now the second sign that Jesus did” 4:54). The third is when Jesus heals the paralytic in chapter 5. We know this is a sign, because in 6:2, we’re told that a large crowd was following him because they saw the signs he was doing on the sick. The fourth is when Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. That occurs earlier in chapter 6. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, and “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This indeed is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14). And because they are so amazed, they want to force him to become king, so Jesus withdraws into a solitary place. Later that evening, his disciples go across the sea in a boat, and Jesus walks to them on the water, and they all make it to the other side of the sea. The next day (6:22), the people realize that Jesus is gone, so they sail across the sea, “seeking Jesus” (6:24). And that brings us to our present passage. I’m going to walk through it, making a few observations and comments as we go.
The Bread of Life
When they find him, they ask, “How’d you get here?”
Verse 26: Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
In other words, Jesus knows what these people are after. They’re not seeking him because they saw public, supernatural acts that showed his glory and called forth faith. They’re seeking him because they want some more bread. They saw the sign, but they didn’t really see the sign. They didn’t see what the sign signified. All they see is that this guy can multiply bread. If they stay with him, they’ll never go hungry again. They’ll always have full bellies.
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
Jesus says, “You worked hard to find me. You went through a lot of effort in order to get another free lunch. Don’t just work for food that perishes, that rots and gets moldy. Work for food that lasts, that remains, that abides to eternal life, which the Son of Man (that’s Jesus) will give you.”
Verses 28–30 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?
In other words, “Show us something. Do one of those public supernatural acts and we’ll believe in you.” And in case Jesus can’t think of a sign to do, they have an idea.
Verse 31: Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Now this is a reference to a story from the Old Testament (Exodus 16). God rescued his people, the Hebrews, from slavery in Egypt. After he did so, they were out in the desert, and the people start grumbling and complaining. “We’re starving. If only we’d stayed in Egypt. We had food there, but out here, we’re going to die.” And God graciously provides them with food. Every day they would wake up and there would be this bread-like substance on the ground. They could gather it up and have enough for one day. If they tried to store it over night, it bred worms and stank. It was food that perished and rotted. They had to trust God to supply it every day. They called it “manna,” which is just a Hebrew phrase that means “What is it?” It’s like you come out of your tent, there’s food on the ground, you’re not sure what it is, but you eat it and it fills your belly, and then you name it, “Whatchamacallit.” The point is: God provided magic bread from heaven to his people in the wilderness. Jesus shows up and multiplies bread like magic, and the people are thinking, “Yes! Lunch time! A new Moses! He gave them bread from heaven to eat; you give us bread from heaven to eat.”
Verse 32: Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
The people are fixated on filling their bellies, their natural appetite, and Jesus is trying to show them a different kind of bread. He’s trying to take them deeper. They’re saying, “Give us bread like Moses did.” And Jesus says, “Actually Moses didn’t give it to you; God did. And he wants to give you true bread from heaven, which is the person who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” But they’re not really getting it, so they say, “Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Just give us this magic bread always.” And then he gets clear and explicit about what he means.
Verses 35–40: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
And then they start grumbling because he’s not multiplying magic bread but saying that he himself is the bread. And they say, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his mom and dad. How can we say, “I’ve come down from heaven?” (6:41-42).
Verses 43–51: Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
In other words, “Don’t stumble over the sign. I’m the real bread. I don’t just want to fill your belly for a few hours. I want to give you eternal life. I want you to come to me and eat the bread of life. I want you to eat living bread, to feast on me, and be truly satisfied forever.”
After this, they start arguing among themselves (“What’s this guy talking about?” 6:52). Jesus tries to explain some more, but then a number of these followers say, “We don’t get it. This is too hard and complicated (6:60). We’re out (6:66).” And they turn back and no longer followed him.
So that’s the story. What I want to do in the remaining time is draw out five implications of this story for us. That’s what happened back then. What is the significance for us today?
Reality is designed by God to reveal Jesus.
This implication is a banner over this entire series. Each week, we’re going to focus on a different “I am” statement, a different metaphor that Jesus uses to explain who he is. But we need to understand the significance of these metaphors (bread of life, light of the world, door for the sheep, good shepherd). Here’s what they tell us: God has designed the entire universe to reveal Jesus. Long before you existed, long before Jesus came in the flesh, before the Bible was written down, from the very beginning, God invented something called hunger, and something called bread, so that some day, when Jesus showed up, we would have categories for understanding who he is. In other words, when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” he’s not finding or discovering a convenient metaphor. He’s revealing the main reason that bread exists. Every growling stomach, every empty belly, every hearty meal, every satisfied hunger in the history of the world has been leading to this moment when Jesus shows up and people say, “Who are you?” “I am the bread of life.” God doesn’t just discover and use analogies. He designs them. He builds them into the fabric of the world so that he can reveal Jesus to us. That’s true of our universal experience of hunger, and that’s true of Israel’s history. Why did God give his people Whatchamacallit in the wilderness? To feed them, yes. To keep them alive in a desert, yes. But ultimately, he gave them bread from heaven so that one day, Jesus could say, “I am the true bread that comes down from heaven. That story points to me. It creates a category in your mind so that you know how you should relate to me.” And before moving on, let me just underscore: everything in reality and everything in history is like that.
The Argument from Desire
Let’s press into this metaphor. Jesus is drawing a connection between our universal experience of physical hunger and our universal experience of soul hunger. All of us have been hungry, and all of us have eaten food to satisfy that hunger. And all of us have a soul hunger, and all of us have tried desperately to satisfy it. Now that universal experience of longing, of soul hunger, is an argument for God’s existence. C. S. Lewis called it “the Argument from Desire.”
The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
Every human being experiences this longing, this ache, this inconsolable desiring for we-know-not-what. We are fundamentally desiring beings. We want to be happy and full and satisfied. There is an unappeasable want, an incommunicable hunger, a wild and sweet homesickness at the core of who we are, and we are always searching, searching, searching for the object of this Desire. And Bono speaks for many when he says, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” The very existence of this Desire is a testimony to the existence of God, just as the fact of physical hunger testifies that we come from a race that repairs its body by eating and inhabit a world where eatable substances exist. If there is a God-shaped hole in the human soul, it must mean that God is real, and we were made for him.
So consider this an experiential argument for God’s reality. If you have that soul hunger, if it’s been awakened by the beauties of nature or the joys of fellowship or the power of good stories or the sweetness of happy memories, recognize that your soul hunger is pointing you to the bread that came down from heaven.
Jesus often doesn’t meet our needs in the way we expect.
He multiplies loaves and fishes; the people follow him looking for more, and he surprises and confuses them by his response. In essence, these crowds are trying to bargain with Jesus. “What do we have to do to get more of your magic bread? What works do you require?” That’s how many of us relate to God. We come to him and want to bargain. We want to have a fair exchange. “I give you this. You give me that.” “We’ll make you king; you’ll give us magic bread every day.” “If you fix this problem, or solve this situation, or heal this sickness, or give me this request, then I’ll follow you, Jesus.” That’s not how Jesus works. For some of you, the thing that you think you need, the thing that is holding you back from following Jesus, isn’t what you really need. Just like more magic bread isn’t what these crowds needed. All of us are tempted to labor for food that spoils, for things that, in the end, will let us down and disappoint us, that won’t ultimately satisfy us. What is it for you? How are you trying to bargain with Jesus? What perishable food are you fixated on that is keeping you from seeing your deepest need, that is keeping you from life? Eternal life. That’s what Jesus offers.
What Is Faith?
How do we get eternal life? Jesus is clear. When they ask what works God demands, he says, “This is the work of God, to believe in the one whom he sent” (6:29). Or again, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:40). There’s not some special, unique accomplishment you must have or action you must perform to get eternal life. Jesus doesn’t want to bargain with you; he wants you to believe in him. But what does that mean? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? This is where the metaphor shines. Look closely at 6:35. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Notice the parallel. Whoever comes to me = whoever believes in me. So coming to Jesus = believing in Jesus. But coming to him how? Coming to him as the bread for your hungry soul. We see this same parallel in 6:47 and 6:51: “Whoever believes has eternal life” = “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” That’s what faith is—coming to Jesus for the satisfaction he offers. It’s turning away from all of the perishable food that you’ve sought to satisfy that deepest of hungers and coming to the bread of life to have life. And when you do, Jesus promises to keep you. “I’ll never cast you out. I won’t lose you. I will raise you up on the last day, and you will live forever with me, fully and completely satisfied in all that I am for you.”
The Choice of Ways
This is the fundamental Choice here. In the passage, the crowds were “seeking Jesus” (6:24). They found Jesus (6:25). But not all of them really found him. Some of them heard what he offered, and walked away. That’s possible for you. It’s possible for you to hear who Jesus is and what he offers and to walk away. And there have been times in my life where I’ve felt like walking away. I’ve had doubts about whether Christianity is true, about whether God is real, about whether the Bible is his word. Those were torturous times. And the words of Peter at the end of this passage really helped me. After some of those disciples turn back, Jesus turns to the twelve, his closest disciples, and says, “Do you want to go away as well?” (6:67). And Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” That’s where I’ve landed as well. Where am I going to go? Jesus is real. Christianity explains reality to me. It explains me to me. It explains why I feel this inconsolable longing and ache for something great and glorious, why I have a desperate need to be happy that no experience on earth every fully satisfies. It explains why the world is broken and ugly, and yet everything in me cries out for goodness and beauty. It explains the horror in the world, and it explains why I find it horrible. And it explains how it can be put right. Jesus came down from heaven to satisfy us, to bring us to God, to give us eternal life. He died, and he was raised to forgive our sins and give life to the world. Where are you going to go? These are the words of life. He is the Holy One of God. He is the bread of life, the living bread that came down from heaven. So come to him.
Every week as pastors, we have to land the plane at the table. All of our sermons have to get us here. Sometimes we have to work to get from the passage to the Table. I did not have to work to get here. Jesus is the bread of life. The bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh. And this bread at this table is a sign; it represents and pictures and communicates that his flesh was torn so that we could have life. And so when we eat this bread in faith, when we eat this bread while seeking our soul’s satisfaction in Jesus, we spiritually feast on his flesh and spiritually drink his blood. And when we do, we live because of him. We have eternal life, and we eagerly look forward to our resurrection with him on the last day.
Let me invite the pastors to come. This bread and this wine is for the people of God. It’s our family meal. So if you’ve trusted in Jesus, and if you’ve been baptized into Jesus, you’re invited to feast with us on the bread of life. If not—if you’re curious, if you’re searching, if you’re questioning, then we’d love to talk to you about it. But for now, let the elements pass. His body is the true bread that came down from heaven. Let us serve you.