Bread of Life
November 29, 2009
On April 24th, in Experiencing God Day by Day, Henry Blackaby wrote about “Spiritual Bread” and quoted John 6:35 “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.”
We know how to use physical bread. Whenever we are hungry we simply go and eat. Do we do that spiritually? Jesus said if we believe in Him, we will never be spiritually hungry, or malnourished, for He is the “bread of life.” Every time we face a spiritual need, it is a simple matter of going to Christ and allowing Him to provide us with what we need.
Our problem is that sometimes we interpret Scripture based on our own experience. We say, “Yes, but I remember a time when I was spiritually hungry.” If that is true, then either God did not tell the truth, or we misinterpreted our experience. Could it be that we tried to satisfy our spiritual hunger with human resources? Could it be that we relied so heavily upon friends and the experiences of others that we have never learned how to go to Christ for our own spiritual food? Could it be that we had a great spiritual feast several years ago, and we were so “full” of Christ that we thought we would never have to eat again? We grew lean and hungry because we were still operating on an encounter with God we had years ago. If you are lacking something spiritually, it is not because God does not have an abundance of resources prepared and available for you. It is that you have not come to Him in faith as He invites (John 10:10).
When God gave manna in the wilderness, the children of Israel had to go out each day to receive God's daily provision. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Spiritual nourishment is something you must seek daily. Have you found spiritual food from Christ today? Did you get your spiritual nourishment this past week? Where did you go for it? It’s only available from the Bread of Life – Jesus, right? How many of you took up the challenge that I threw to you last week to give up Christian television and, instead, go directly to the Word for your spiritual nourishment? If you haven’t taken up the challenge yet, I urge you to consider turning off the TV for this next month. Instead, delve into God’s Word – delve deeply. Set yourself a goal to read the words of Jesus and savor them again. He is spiritual meat and potatoes and dessert.
Today we’ll read of one of Jesus miracles: the miracle of feeding the 5,000. Turn with me to John 6 and I’ll begin reading in verse 1:
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
One of the reasons God created bread — or created the grain and the water and yeast and fire and human intelligence to make it, and I mean the really good kind, that’s not mainly air — is so that when Jesus Christ came into the world, he would be able to use the enjoyment of bread and the nourishment of bread as an illustration of what it means to believe on him and be satisfied with him. I believe that with all my heart. Bread exists to help us know what it is like to be satisfied in Jesus.
This is true for water (John 4:14) and light (John 14:6) and every other good thing that God has made. Nothing exists for itself. “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Every honorable pleasure that we have in the created world is designed by God to give us a faint taste of heaven and make us hunger for Christ. Every partial satisfaction in this life points to the perfect satisfaction in Jesus who made the world.
The pleasures of warm bread should send our senses and our spirits to Christ as the bread of life. The pleasures of cold water when we’re hot and thirsty should send our senses and our spirits to Christ as the living water. The pleasures of light making all other natural beauties visible should send our senses and our spirits to Christ as the true light of the world.
So in John 6 we watch Jesus work a miracle with natural, created bread — the kind they ate every day. That’s verses 1-15. Then in the rest of this long chapter, verses 16-71, Jesus shows people, with increasingly provocative and even offensive language, that this miracle of bread is about himself as the bread of God that comes down from heaven.
By the time Jesus is done pressing on this comparison between himself and bread, many of his followers have abandoned him. Verse 66: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” But not all left him. When so many left, Jesus asked the Twelve in verse 67, “Do you want to go away as well?” And in verse 68, Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Indeed, to whom shall we go? There is no other!
Today I want us focus on how Jesus set up this long discussion — namely, with the miracle of making real bread — enough real bread to feed over 5,000 people by using only five barley loves and a few fish. So the chapter — the story as John tells it — has these two parts: the miracle itself, verses 1-15, and the explanation and controversy over Jesus as the bread of heaven in verses 16-71. So let’s concentrate on verses 1-15.
The beginning and the end of this section about the feeding of the five thousand shows us both that Jesus is doing more than feeding people with natural bread, and that the people in general are in no spiritual condition to see what he is doing. We have seen this before in this Gospel. Jesus says something or does something in the natural realm as a way of pointing to the spiritual realm, and the people don’t get it.
He told the leaders in Israel, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” (John 2:19). And they said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple.” He told Nicodemus that he had to be born again, and Nicodemus asked how you get back in your mother’s womb (John 3:4). He told the woman at the well that he would give her living water (John 4:10), and she said, But you don’t have a bucket.
Now notice how this happens again in the feeding of the five thousand. And the point of John’s showing this to us again and again is to wake us up from being this dull. His aim is our faith, so he shows both the deadness of unbelief and the greatness of Christ.
Notice first verses 1-2: “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.” They were following him because of the signs they saw him doing. He was healing the sick, and they were amazed and desired more of the benefits of this power.
But this is not encouraging. We have seen this phrase before: “because they saw the signs he was doing.” John 2:23 said, “Many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” But then John adds in verse 24, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people” (John 2:23-24). Something is wrong with their hearts. They are excited by Jesus’ signs. They believe he is a genuine miracle-worker. But something is wrong.
Now jump to the end of the story of the feeding of the five thousand in John 6:14-15, and we will see what’s wrong. “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Why did Jesus withdraw? Because the enthusiasm these people have is not for who he really is. This is so important for our day and for your life. People can have a great enthusiasm for Jesus, but the Jesus they’re excited about is not the real biblical Jesus. It may be a morally exemplary Jesus, or a socialist Jesus, or a capitalist Jesus, or an anti-Semitic Jesus, or a white-racist Jesus, or a revolutionary-liberationist Jesus, or a counter-cultural cool Jesus. But not the whole Jesus who, in the end, gives his life a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). And if your enthusiasm for Jesus is for a Jesus that doesn’t exist, your enthusiasm is no honor to the real Jesus, and he will leave you and go into the mountain.
So these people saw that Jesus was the predicted Prophet and the long expected king of Israel. Isn’t that right? Verse 14-15: “They said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king Jesus withdrew.” Isn’t he the king of Israel? Isn’t he the Prophet?
The reference to the Prophet points back to Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses prophesied, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” Jesus was indeed this predicted Prophet like Moses. In fact, that may be why in verse 3 he goes up on a mountain for this miracle, the way Moses went up on the mountain. “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.”
But the people who saw Jesus’ miracle didn’t understand what it means for Jesus to be this predicted Prophet. Look at verses 32-33, “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. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’” In other words, when you think of me as the Prophet like Moses, don’t draw the parallel too tightly. I am like him. But I am O so much more.
What Jesus was saying was, “Do you think Moses gave you the bread—the manna—from heaven? No, it was God who gave it. And now I am giving it. Do you understand? I am giving the miracle bread, the inexplicable bread. Out of five barley loaves, I am multiplying the mystery manna, so to speak, the way God did. I am not merely another Moses. I am not merely another prophet. I am like Moses. But I am as much greater than Moses as God is greater than Moses. I am as much greater than manna and barley as the Creator of manna and barley are greater than manna and barley.”
“And as the Creator of barley and manna, I don’t just give the bread of life; I am the bread of life. You certainly see my power, but you do not yet see the glory of how this power will be used. You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am, or what I have come to do, or what it is about my power that makes it a glorious power.”
The clearest statement of what that is comes later in verse 51, “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.” Jesus is saying to them, “There are at least three things about me that you don’t see. First, you don’t see that I am going to use my power not to triumph over the Romans but to triumph over sin. Second, you don’t see that I myself am your food. It’s me, and not my signs and wonders, that your soul needs. And third, you don’t see the: the way I become food for the everlasting satisfaction of sinners is by laying down my life. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51). So you call me the Prophet, and so I am, but not the way you think I am.”
But what about “king”? Is he not a king? Verse 15: “Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Is he not a king? He is. At the end of his life, Pilate asked him in John 18:33, “Are you the King of the Jews?” and Jesus answered in verse 36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” In other words, yes, I am a king, but not the way you think I am.
When Jesus says that, he doesn’t mean that this world doesn’t belong to him. It does. He made it. He will come again to claim it. What he means is: I have come into the world the first time to rule men’s lives not by being their military captain, but by being their bread. I am going to triumph not by subduing armies, but by satisfying hungry souls. I am going to conquer not with the power of armed forces but with the power of radically new appetites.
And what we see back in chapter 6 is that the crowds did not understand this at all. Verse 26 is the key to why Jesus withdrew and would have nothing to do with their excitement about his kingship. “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.’” This is why you want to make me king (6:15). To have me as king mean full stomachs.
They hadn’t been changed. Jesus didn’t come into the world to lend his power to already existing appetites. That’s the fundamental mistake of the prosperity gospel. Our natural appetite for more wealth is not what Jesus came to satisfy. “Set your mind on the things above”. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” says Matthew 6:33, ‘and all these things will be added unto you”. “Be not conformed to this world”, says Paul to the Romans in chapter 12, verse 2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might change the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you.” Leave people untransformed in what their cravings, and simply add the power of Jesus as the way to get it? That is not the gospel. It’s this kind of notoriety that Jesus walks away from. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). He walks away from our plans for Him, when they are not His plans!
So what is Jesus doing in this miracle of taking five loaves and a few fish and feeding over 5,000 people? He is opening a window on who he is. He is manifesting his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (John 1:14). And he is opening this window on his glory not that we might get excited about how useful He might be in getting what we already crave, but that we might see that he himself is better than anything we ever wanted. Is this how we see Him? Or do we see Him simply as someone who will give us what we want? Our answer to the question is important, eternally important!
The point of making bread, as it were, out of nothing—like God making manna—is that the Son of God has come into the world not to give you bread, but to be your bread. And, since we are all sinners and do not deserve this bread, how will he give it to us? “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). When he gives his flesh on the cross, he becomes bread—all-nourishing, all-satisfying bread—for sinners who believe.
Verse 6 says that Jesus was testing Philip when he said in verse 5, “Where are we going to get bread for these people?” And I would say, Jesus is testing us now. Right now. Will we be like the Jewish leaders? “It took 46 years to build this temple, and you’ll build it in three days?” Will we be like Nicodemus? “How can a man be born again, enter into his mother’s womb?” Or like the woman at the well? “How will you give me living water when you don’t even have a bucket.” Or like Philip here in verse 7? “Jesus, 200 days’ wages couldn’t feed these people.”
Or will we see the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth? Will we see Jesus crucified for sinners and risen from the dead to become not mainly a Giver, but a Gift, not mainly your benefactor but your bread? – your Bread of Life. Taste and see that that the Lord is good.
Listen to this from David Jeremiah: it’s entitled, BRING AN OFFERING
In Psalm 96:8, we’re told to: Give to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts.
In writing of her years in China, missionary Bertha Smith tells of a time when Dr. Wiley Glass, missionary educator, was kneeling during a prayer service at a large church. Mr. Wang, the church treasurer, was kneeling nearby. Suddenly Mr. Wang cried out, "Lord, have mercy on me! I've stolen! I'm a thief! I have stolen from God!" In astonishment, Dr. Glass thought, Not you, Brother Wang; surely not you! All these years you have been such a trustworthy, devoted deacon, faithful trustee of the seminary, and upright Christian gentleman. You just could not have taken money from the church treasury! '
After a while, Brother Wang managed to explain, "I've not paid my tithe to the Lord! According to His Word, I've stolen it from Him!" The Chinese keep accurate records. Brother Wang calculated his tithe from the time he became a Christian, more than twenty years before, subtracted from it the total amount contributed to the church, and sold some land in order to pay what he felt he owed. From then on, he was aflame for Christ.
Do we love our Lord? He gave Himself, the Bread of Life. What do we give Him in return? How else can we express our love except by giving? After all, God so loved the world He gave .. .
Meditate on these words. Do they apply to you? If so, consider following Brother Wang’s example. If you’d like a copy of this story, let me know – I’ll copy one for you.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent when we expectantly await Jesus coming again. Will He find you faithful? Do you love Him?
We prove our love for Jesus by obeying Him, right? So then, how much do you love Him?
Oh, Lord, by the truth of your Word, and the power of your Spirit and the ministry of your body build men and women at Good Shepherd Community Church who don't love the world more than You, who don't care if they make much money, who don't care if they own a house, who don't care if they have a new car or two cars, who don't need recent styles, who don't care if they get famous, who don't miss steak or fancy fare, who don't expect that life should be comfortable and easy
who don't feed their minds on TV each night, who don't measure truth with their finger in the wind, who don't get paralyzed by others' disapproval, who don't return evil for evil, who don't hold grudges, who don't gossip, who don't twist the truth, who don't brag or boast, who don't whine or use body language to get pity, who don't criticize more than praise, who don't hang out in cliques, who don't eat too much or exercise too little;
who are ablaze for God
who are utterly God-besotted
who are filled with the Holy Spirit,
who strive to know the height and depth of Christ's love,
who are crucified to the world and dead to sin,
who are purified by the Word and addicted to righteousness,
who are mighty in memorizing and using the Scriptures,
who keep the Lord's Day holy and refreshing
who are broken by the consciousness of sin,
who are thrilled by the wonder of free grace,
who are stunned into humble silence by the riches of God's glom
who are persevering constantly in prayer,
who are ruthless in self-denial
who are fearless in public witness to Christ's lordship,
who are able to unmask error and blow away doctrinal haze,
who are tough in standing for the truth,
who are tender in touching hurting people,
who are passionate about reaching the peoples who have no church,
who are pro-life for the sake of babies and moms and dads and the glory of God
who are keepers of all their promises, including marriage vows,
who are content with what they have and trusting the promises of God,
who are patient and kind and meek when life is hard.
I’ll close with these words from David Jeremiah. It’s entitled, Be Your Own Judge
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18
In the public square, when Christians voice their opinions on moral or ethical issues, often against the opinion of the majority, they are accused of being judgmental: "Who are you to judge us?" While we are warned in Scripture not to judge from a self-righteous perspective, Jesus also made it clear that "by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:20). And that means judging--measuring, evaluating, considering, and deciding. Grapes do not grow from bramble bushes (Luke 6:44).
But there is another category of judging Christians must do to be biblical, and that is judging ourselves. Paul wrote that "if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged" by God (1 Corinthians 11:31). Are we growing in Christ or are we stagnated? Over time others can look at us and tell. It would be a shame for us not to be as discerning about ourselves as others are about us. There is no standing still in the Christian life since the plan of God is continually moving forward. To fail to grow is to lose ground in the kingdom of God.
Take a moment today to judge your own spiritual growth. Are you where you should be? Could be?