The Bread of Life
Text: John 6:24-35
By: Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
An old man goes to a diner every day for lunch. He always orders the soup du jour. One day the manager asks him how he liked his meal. The old man replies, "It was good, but you could give a little more bread. Two slices of bread is not enough." So the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him four slices of bread. "How was your meal, sir?" the manager asks. "It was good, but you could give a little more bread," comes the reply. So the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him eight slices of bread. "How was your meal today, sir?" the manager asks. "Good, but you could give a little more bread," comes the reply. So . . . the next day the manager tells the waitress to give him a whole loaf of bread, 16 slices with his soup. "How was your meal, sir?" the manager asks, when he comes to pay. "It was good, but you could give just a little more bread," comes the reply once again.
The manager is now obsessed with seeing this customer satisfied with his meal, so he goes to the bakery, and orders a six-foot-long loaf of bread. When the man comes in as usual the next day, the waitress and the manager cut the loaf in half, butter the entire length of each half, and lay it out along the counter, right next to his bowl of soup. The old man sits down, and devours both his bowl of soup, and both halves of the six-foot-long loaf of bread. The manager now thinks he will get the answer he is looking for, and when the old man comes up to pay for his meal, the manager asks in the usual way: "How was your meal TODAY, sir?" The old man replies: "It was good as usual, but I see you are back to serving only two slices of bread!" (From: I Am the Bread of Life. By: Brett Blair. Sermons.com)
Bread, in many ways, is something we take for granted. Bread is easily accessible to us at pretty much any time. We can go to the store and find a large selection of breads from all over the world. When we go to a restaurant, we may be given bread as a side, or, if you go to the Texas Roadhouse, you can have a small loaf of fresh, hot, bread at your table before the appetizers arrive. There is nothing like bread still hot from the oven.
Yet, there are places in this world, where bread is not so easily obtained. There are places where bread is scarce, or maybe non-existent, yet, people are still in need of it. Bread is a staple food: it is part of a necessity of life. Without it there is suffering and famine.
Just as bread is important now, it was important in Jesus’ day. It was a necessity of life and something that was an important part of a meal. Bread, believe it or not, has been a part of many important theological events. The most important event in the Old Testament of course, was the Exodus event--the trip from Egypt to the Promised Land. But what caused the Hebrews to be in Egypt in the first place? It was for want of bread. The wheat crop had failed due to draught, and the Hebrews had migrated to the land of the Pharaoh because there was a surplus in storage there. It was bread, or the lack of it, that began this chain of events.
Later, when the Jews were on their way to the Promised Land, and they were facing starvation in the bleak wilderness, God rained down bread from heaven, as it was called, in the form of manna.
When Jesus began his ministry, he went into the dessert where he was tempted. As the hot sun beat down upon him, he looked out with sweaty eyes at the round white rocks, and we are told that Satan tempted Jesus to turn those stones into bread and feed himself. After all, what good could he do if he died of starvation for want of bread, that he could so easily provide for himself. Yet, Jesus spurned that temptation because, he said, that man cannot live by bread alone.
One day, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray like John taught his disciples.” It was in the midst of Jesus’ prayer that he reminds us of the importance of the staff of life. He prayed: Give us this day our daily bread.
Perhaps, and most significantly, we remember bread, because it was on the night that Jesus was betrayed that he met with his disciples in that event that we now call the Last Supper. As he did so, he took a loaf of bread and broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: This is my body, which is given for you.
Which brings us to the story this morning. It begins with that event known as the feeding of the 5000. A small boy is brought to Jesus with five barely loaves and two small fish. It is from that meager supply of bread Jesus is able to feed the vast multitude that had assembled. After this event Jesus goes into his teaching but there is an issue. His miracle has generated controversy. Many in the crowd, upon experiencing this miracle, wanted to approach Jesus and call upon him to be king. In John 6:15 we read, “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
Now, as we get into verse 24, we find that Jesus, along with his disciples, have gone across the Sea of Galilee to a town called Capernaum. In the meantime, the people he had fed had started looking for Jesus. They realized he had left, and then, upon some investigation, figured out he had gone to the area of Capernaum. So, they got into some boats and followed and started looking all over for Jesus. When they found him they asked, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” To which, as we see in the text, Jesus replied, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father set His seal on Him.” (John 6:26-27).
Jesus is pointing out, “you haven’t come looking for me because you think the signs you’ve seen point to the Messiah, you want to have your bellies filled again. Physically you need that, but there is something else that is needed that is far more satisfying and life-changing.” There is more to life than eating and drinking. There is more than physical comfort and satisfaction. There is one thing that can really make a quantitative and qualitative difference, and that is what we need to be looking for.
Jesus wanted His hearers, and us, to understand that although bread eaten to satisfy physical hunger was important and necessary, there is something else even more important. This got the people’s attention. So, they asked, “what shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” And Jesus responded, verse 27, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” For which the people wanted Him to perform a sign. “Okay, Jesus. We’ll believe in you if you perform a sign for us.” Mind you, these very same people were part of the 5,000 Jesus had fed with five small barley loaves and two small fish. You would think that would be a sufficient sign. But, no, they wanted more. They wanted Jesus to do the same thing Moses had done. After all, Moses fed the people who had left Egypt with manna in the wilderness. And this was done over a period of forty years. “Jesus, do something like that and we’ll believe.”
Can you imagine asking something like that after having been a part of a miracle? It’s as if the people were saying, “what you did was pretty cool. But, if you feed us breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of our lives, then we can know you are who you say you are.” Jesus had to work with them to open their spiritual understanding. He pointed out that it was not Moses who had fed the people the bread from heaven in the wilderness. It was God. Jesus said, “…but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32b-33). Moses may have prayed on behalf of the people but, it was God who had provided the means of sustaining the people with the manna, the bread from heaven. The manna only gave the people temporary physical strength. The true bread from heaven would give eternal life.
There was a hunger the people were feeling, but they had mistaken it for physical hunger. Much like we tend to do. We sometimes feel an emptiness and figure it is because we are lacking some physical thing, so we go in search of finding a way to fill that emptiness. All too often we try to fill it with “stuff”, not realizing the only way to fill that space is by seeking out Jesus and receiving what He has to offer. Jesus here, is letting the people know that God is giving something to the world that will fill its emptiness and bring life. God is providing bread that will satisfy a deep- seated hunger forever.
How wonderful that would be! To be filled and not hunger any more. The people said to Jesus, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Mind you, at this point they are still thinking of the physical. “Yes, give us this bread so we won’t be hungry anymore. Satisfy our physical hunger with this bread.” Jesus then says, in verse 35, one of the most profound and important statements for us to get our hearts around. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” “I am the bread of life.”
The bread we eat to nourish our physical bodies is important because we need physical sustenance in order to function. But, more important than the physical bread, is the bread of Jesus that will nourish our soul. The emptiness and hunger that gnaws on our heart and causes us discomfort, that causes us anxiety, is our soul crying out for the only bread that can truly satisfy. That is, the bread of Jesus. Jesus will fill us and nourish us all the days of our life here, and in the life to come where we will be forever in His presence.
Are you hungry this morning? Would you like some bread? Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” Receive Him and be filled and satisfied to the very depths of your being.
He invites us to His table this morning. Reminding us that what He gives us is the best, and will connect us to Him, and strengthen us for the journey. Let us prepare our hearts to come to the Table of our Lord. Amen.