We’re continuing our series of looking at the I AM statements in John – Jesus’ declarations to his disciples and everyone about who he is. As Sharon put it last month: Jesus in his own words.
Sharon kicked things off brilliantly as we looked at the beginning of John’s gospel. We considered what John the Gospel writer said about who Jesus is, we examined the other John’s – John the Baptist’s – testimony about who Jesus is, ‘The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (1:29) and ‘this is God’s Chosen One’ (1:34).
We saw how the first disciples came to follow Jesus and their reasons for doing so: ‘We have found the Messiah,’ Andrew told his brother (1:41) and ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote,’ Philip told Nathanael. When Jesus displays supernatural knowledge of him, Nathanael declares, ‘You are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel’ (1:49).
And most excitingly, we got to hear what Jesus said about himself. He identified himself as the Son of Man! Sharon unpacked what that means: It speaks of his nature and also his authority. He’s truly God but in appearance human and sharing in our human experiences. He will suffer and become the first human-esque creature to conquer sin and death.
Not only that but he’s been given authority by God. He has the ultimate power at the end of time (on the last day) to judge each soul.
Jesus repeatedly invites people to come and see who he is. And if we do, WE WILL see the place where God reveals himself and comes down among humans – and that is in Jesus.
Tonight we’re looking at John chapter 6 and the first official I AM statement in this Gospel: I am the bread of life.
Hopefully you had a chance to meet up with your study buddies to look at Jesus’ well-known miracle of feeding the five thousand. Like many/all of the miracles Jesus performed – this wasn’t just a random miraculous act but a signpost to teach us something about who he is and what’s so special about him.
The question is, how will we respond?
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand: John 6:1–15 – quick recap
So before we get to the first chunk of Scripture, let’s do a quick recap of John 6:1–15:
A significant amount of time has passed since Jesus began his ministry – we know it’s been over a year, since it was almost time for the Jewish Passover when Jesus cleared the temple courts, see the account in John 2, and now John tells us in John 6:4 that it is again almost time for the Jewish Passover.
Jesus has been traveling around, busily doing and saying all sorts of things which have gained him quite a following. He’s gone from having a few disciples to many and it’s now difficult to escape the curious crowds seeking him out wherever he goes.
However, whilst those early disciples were actively looking for the Messiah, it seems that as the crowd has grown, people’s reasons for seeking Jesus out have become more mixed.
In his commentary on John’s Gospel, Bruce Milne says the crowd in Galilee whom Jesus fed that day were peasant types, labouring hard to be able to eat – a kind of hand to mouth existence. It’s no surprise that their primary concerns are physical health and food, and understandable that they would seek Jesus out for those material things – for free too!
But Jesus doesn’t just feed the five thousand because the crowd is hungry and this is his solution. We know it’s a test of sorts for his disciple Philip, the local lad from Bethsaida near where the miracle took place. He’s already recognised Jesus as the one Moses wrote about and he’s seen Jesus perform miracles before – where will his mind go faced with this challenge …? Surely he won’t just get hung up on the practicalities? Oh.
So if it wasn’t just about filling empty bellies, what does the miracle tell us about Jesus?
It tells us that Jesus has miraculous power over material things that could only come from God and it teaches something similar about Jesus’ character to the miracle where he turned water into wine.
The transformation of water into wine was miraculous in itself (regardless of whether it turned out like supermarket own brand or the finest vintage). The account of that miracle makes it clear that nobody would have questioned wine of a less superior quality – that’s actually what they were expecting. But Jesus doesn’t provide cheap plonk, he provides ‘the best’ wine.
Likewise, multiplying five small barley loaves and two small fish to feed five thousand men (let alone the women and children likely present) was miraculous in itself. But Jesus doesn’t just provide a little taste for everyone – just enough to stop them collapsing on their way home – no, he gave them ‘as much as they wanted’ … and then some! The disciples gathered twelve baskets with the left over pieces. They ended up with more leftovers than the original picnic they started with!
In both cases, Jesus doesn’t just sustain but he satisfies.
In performing these miracles, Jesus is also defining what kind of King he is … and it becomes clear he’s not the kind of king people are after. Seeing his power and authority, the people want to forcefully recruit him to their nationalistic cause – kicking out the hated Romans and re-establishing the Davidic kingdom.
Jesus escapes their clutches … and they next catch up with him on the other side of the lake, in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Let’s read the first passage: Vicki Kelly to read John 6:24–40
Break out 1 – questions:
Why are you a Christian?
When you seek Jesus, what are you after?
What does this look like in your day to life?
How does it come out in the things you pursue, the things you ask God for, the things you expect to receive from him?
In the passage we’ve just read, Jesus displays supernatural knowledge of the people’s real motivation for seeking him and he straight up calls them out in verse 26. ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.’ Despite superficial appearances, he knows there’s nothing spiritual about their desires – they’re just basic, material desires.
It’s not their empty bellies they need to be worried about, but their spiritual emptiness. ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life …’ (verse 27a).
Do we sometimes feel swamped with the daily reality of meeting basic needs? Does it feel like that’s all we do? Is it sometimes hard to see how faith connects to daily life? Yes, it’s necessary to take care of ourselves and work for things we need to survive but this isn’t meant to be the sole purpose of our lives!
Jesus doesn’t just rebuke them. Speaking about himself, he says the Son of Man WILL give them ‘food that endures to eternal life. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval’ (verse 27b).
He’s saying, the fundamental concern of our lives SHOULD be about ETERNAL LIFE! And that is the Son of Man’s alone to gift to us. When he talks about God the Father’s ‘seal of approval’ he’s saying that he’s the only one with the authority from the Father to grant eternal life.
Perhaps it’s worth pausing here to ask: do we truly appreciate that Jesus sees us and knows us. He knows our heart attitudes, he knows why we’re seeking him. It’s not hidden from him. Does that unnerve you at all?
If our motives are not quite right, it’s good that Jesus calls them out.
If he points out, ‘You’re after worthless things. But what you should really be seeking, because it’s the only way to be truly satisfied, I’m that!’ – how will we respond? With resistance and grumbling? Or will we embrace the much better, life in all its fullness that’s on offer?
Back to John 6. Perhaps a natural follow up question would be, ‘what do you mean by eternal life?’ I mean, it’s quite hard to picture isn’t it, even if you accept the principle?
However, still hung up on food and ever practically-minded, in verse 28 the crowd in the synagogue essentially say, ‘Full bellies forever? Sounds great. How do we earn it/what do we have to do to get it?’ They’re probably thinking oh boy I bet this is going to be expensive/I wonder what lengths I’ll have to go to …
I’m encouraged by Jesus’ patience here. He ignores the food obsession for now and focuses on their question about the ‘works God requires’ and comes out with this stunning statement: ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (verse 29).
What? All we have to do to receive eternal life is believe in/have faith in/trust in the one God’s already sent to give it to us? Isn’t that incredible? The crowd seems suspicious. It sounds too easy maybe?
And Jesus is making a big claim about himself. There’s also a sense of exclusivity. He’s saying, I’m the one God has sent and the only one who gives eternal life. You might think having seen the feeding of the five thousand Jesus has already provided ample proof but they seem to forget about that, asking for yet another sign to prove the veracity of his claim.
Maybe it’s because they’re still obsessing over food or maybe it’s because it’s almost Passover and Moses is on their minds but they bring up the manna the Israelites ate in the wilderness. Having understood that Jesus might be a prophet like Moses, they want to see if he can perform similar signs.
Remember last month Sharon pointed out that when Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you’ (or verily, verily I say unto you in King James speech) it means PAY ATTENTION. THIS IS CAPITAL ‘T’ TRUTH YOU CAN’T IGNORE? Well Jesus says that now. He’s very keen to point out that in those days it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven in the wilderness but the Lord – God the Father (verse 32) and on top of that in this day he’s giving them the true bread from heaven.
This bread won’t just satisfy the hunger of the Jewish people for a day and need to be sent anew each day. (And in fact God’s provision of Manna was never meant only to signify that God would meet Israel’s physical needs. It was meant to teach them that their whole lives were to be sustained by the Lord and governed by his word).
No, ‘the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world!’ (verse 33). Once and for all!
Wow isn’t that incredible? The crowd responds enthusiastically but if you think they’ve finally understood … I’m afraid verse 34 suggests not. ‘Sir’, they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
THEY’RE STILL THINKING ABOUT LITERAL BREAD!
Jesus finally seems to lose his patience a bit, ‘declaring’ or, as I imagine it, ‘bursting out’ with his I AM statement: “I am the bread of life.” I’m talking about myself you lot, not bread. And by the way, I’m much better than literal bread. He continues: “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (verse 35).
We also sense his impatience in the following verse when he says, ‘as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.’
Now, given the crowd’s obsession with literal bread … we might think, are you sure that’s the best metaphor to go with Jesus?
But if you feel like ‘face-palming’ at how dense the crowd is – even if you think you understand that Jesus is using a metaphor – there’s still a danger of going off track trying to work out what it means … I admit, I went off track for quite a while.
My brain was busy fizzing away making ‘interesting’ bread connections:
What type of bread would Jesus be? Not the supermarket ‘stay-fresh-for-a-week’ loaf I remember from my childhood. (It was so bad. In my family we called it ‘chemical bread’. In fact, I don’t think you can buy it any more). Oh no, Jesus would be the fanciest freshly-baked loaf in the artisan bakery.
Or, getting a bit more biblical, I was thinking about the Lord’s prayer: ‘Give us today our daily bread …’ (Matthew 6:11, NIV)
Is this all about Jesus supplying our basic daily needs? No, Jesus already seems to have refuted this notion.
What about when Jesus was hungry having fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness and the devil tempted him?:
The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ (Matthew 4:3–4)
That kind of fits? It raises the point that we need spiritual food, and more so than we need physical feeding.
Or is this something to do with the last supper/communion? Neat as the connection sounds, it’s unlikely in this context.
Much as I clearly like to make things more complicated than they are – blame the ex-English teacher in me – I eventually came full circle and realised I should scrap all of the above and get back to the only bread reference directly relevant to this passage. The one we’ve already looked at in verses 30–33. Jesus says he’s the bread of life in response to the crowd’s question about Moses and the manna.
SO WE’VE GOT IT LET’S NOT GET HUNG UP ON BREAD … Instead, let’s look again, more closely, at what Jesus says next, ‘Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (verse 35) and in verse 40, ‘my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.’
Wow! This is truly good news! A glorious promise! Relish and enjoy Jesus, as your Lord; “come to [him],” and you will never thirst, never hunger, you will always be fully and eternally satisfied.
Yes, this is a wonderful promise! But does it raise any questions in your mind? How does it compare to the reality of your heart and mind right now?
I believe in Jesus … but can I honestly say that I’m completely content/satisfied? Am I missing something?
Maybe you’ve seen this quotation from Matt Haig’s book, Reasons to Stay Alive doing the rounds?
“THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”
Does this resonate with you? How much do you recognise this influence in your own life? The crowd in Capernaum had a lot less than we have today. But are we just as materialistic, albeit at the other end of the scale?
When Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life – it’s me – come to me and be eternally satisfied’ – how am I really responding? Is my response a bit like saying, ‘Yeah great – but actually I really want health, attractiveness, food, comfort, ease, family, happy relationships and a fulfilling job … always give me those please?’
Have I grasped how much more Jesus offers than any worldly thing which will perish and fade? Is it that I want both? Well which aspect does my life display as being more important to me and which bit looks like the ‘add on’?
In verse 40, Jesus speaks of ‘eternal life’ and raising believers up ‘at the last day’. Have I thought much about what that really means?
We know Jesus is coming back, on judgement day he’ll be the one to hand out the final verdict on everyone. As he explained back in John 5:24, ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.’
Have we truly grasped what this means? How does it shape our lives, physically and more importantly – spiritually?
Do we find that because that ‘last day’ or ‘eternal life’ thing is difficult to visualise right now, we end up taking a more tangible route, mostly focusing on our material circumstances right now?
What sense do I have of the eternal life I have in Christ and what is going to matter when he raises me up on the last day? Do I live every day in a way that reflects an awareness that Jesus Christ is all I need and far more, far superior to anything this momentary life has to offer?
Break out 2 – questions:
Would you say you are truly satisfied? If not, can you identify the source(s) of your dissatisfaction?
If you’re feeling a bit ‘shaken’ or even wondering if you are really saved, what assurances can you find in John 6:37–40 that you are saved?
‘This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up on the last day’ (verse 39). Let’s hold on confidently to this beautiful assurance as we continue reading.
Let’s read the second passage: Christine Coltman to read John 6:41–59
From here onwards, John 6 focuses on how people respond to Jesus and who he says he is.
Did you notice the crowd’s shift in mood in the passage we just read? They went from seeking Jesus to grumbling about him. Why? What’s their gripe?
They hit back with scepticism and raise a determinedly literal/material argument. How can he say he came down from heaven? We know his dad!
I don’t know if this was even a strong argument. Wouldn’t people have heard of Jesus’ miraculous birth? Ultimately though, what they’re really insisting is that Jesus is a man, just like any other. He says the Father sent him, but they don’t accept it. He’s not God’s son. He’s not from heaven.
Jesus is quick to tell them to stop their fruitless grumbling. He’s not shaken by their unbelief in any case because he knows that no one can come to him unless the Father draws them.
It’s not that he doesn’t care BUT those who will come and receive the gift are secure! And those whom the Father hasn’t drawn, who won’t accept the Son and his gift of eternal life are already condemned.
If the devil is using this to make you doubt your salvation in any way, I found this from Josh Moody’s commentary on John very helpful: Believe, and you will be saved; and if you are saved, you are secure, for God the Father has drawn you. (p. 120)
That’s not to say we have no responsibility but that there’s a close relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Quoting Kostenberger, it says this in the commentary:
“John 6:44-46 points to the cooperative effort between the Father and the Son in bringing a person to salvation. While salvation is the result of the Father’s saving work, it is brought about by an individual’s believing reception of God’s revelation in Jesus.” (John, page 214)
If you are coming to Jesus, believing in him for salvation, you can be confident that your salvation is secure.
Anyway, back to verse 45. Jesus further makes the point about who he is and God the Father’s saving work when he paraphrases Isaiah 54.13: ‘It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.’ He’s really saying, won’t you believe what the Prophets said? I’m the fulfilment of this prophecy. If you don’t accept me, you are not listening to or hearing the Father …
He reiterates what he’s already said: ‘Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.’
Yes the Manna from heaven was miraculous provision from God but the people who ate it still died! In me, you have something more. As Moody says in his commentary: We “have” eternal life; when we believe, we switch from the realm of death to the realm of life, and not even our physical death can interrupt that new reality which is ours through faith in this Jesus. (p. 121)
You will not die – you will be raised up on the last day and have eternal life. These verses contain precious promises to every Christian. Whoever comes to Jesus, he will never drive away because that’s the will of God himself.
Then we hit verse 51 though and afterwards the grumbling escalates sharply.
He’s told them he’s the bread of life and now he’s saying they must eat that bread! He uses even more graphic language: ‘This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’
Now, I hear this and I instantly think of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, where he acts as the substitute, atoning for the sin of the world.
But, as it hasn’t happened yet, perhaps it’s understandable that this isn’t what the crowd focuses on? I mean, they’re right back to where they started – eating. It’s unlikely that even then anyone really thought Jesus was suggesting cannibalism. That’s why they ask, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’
On the other hand, as we’ve already said, it was nearing Passover. A time to commemorate the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt. They were told to kill a lamb and smear its blood on their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over their house. The first born sons of the Egyptians would be killed but no first born son in a house with the blood of the lamb on it would be killed.
The Passover lamb was a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrificial lamb, the One who would deliver God’s people once and for all. Not just from oppressors or a life of enslavement BUT from sin and death.
Last month Sharon spoke of John the Baptist pointing the Jews, including those who were following him, to Jesus – testifying about him saying, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). Jesus is the ultimate Passover lamb who was slain in our place, taking away our sin and changing the judgement on us from death to life.
Was it possible for them to make the connection, with all that talk of his flesh and his blood in verses 53–57?
Something we must note is the exclusivity of Jesus’ claims in verse 53 and it’s even prefaced with another ‘Very truly I tell you …’ Pay attention! This is Truth with a capital ‘T’: ‘… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’
There’s no way around it. As Jesus will later say, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (14:6).
They’re going to have to decide whether the accept it or not. What will they decide? What will you decide?
Let’s read the final passage: Esther to read John 6:60–71
It’s tragic isn’t it? Here are people who were actual eye witnesses of Jesus’ life! He spoke to them directly and they saw first-hand the miraculous signs he performed. As Jews they know the Scriptures and every year, with all the different commemorative feasts and festivals, they had several prompts to remember what God had done and what he had promised.
And yet they can’t … or won’t accept what Jesus says and as a result, ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.’
Jesus asked them, ‘does this offend you?’ Jesus seems to say, you haven’t seen anything yet! ‘Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!’ (verse 63). Oh boy, you won’t know what to do with that …
Just like he did when they first found him in the synagogue in Capernaum and they were after bread instead of eternal life, he points out their spiritual emptiness:
‘The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe’ (verses 63–64).
What might offend those hearing Jesus’ words today?
Those who take a relativistic view would probably be offended by the exclusivity of Jesus’ claims, by God’s sovereignty. They want to believe there are many ways to God. Nobody’s going to dictate spiritual truth to them. They want to decide what’s good and they can’t accept that only God decides what is good and what is evil.
They would certainly be offended by the idea that people they think are good, and living good, moral lives will be condemned on ‘the last day’. What? Just because they didn’t accept Jesus? That’s outrageous, they say!
Those who take a rationalistic view of things and think there’s no such thing as the miraculous or the spiritual and everything can be explained by science, would dismiss Jesus’ signs, reject the idea that there’s anything more than the material and scoff at the idea of an afterlife or a judgement day.
In verse 65 Jesus says, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’
Again, Jesus is unperturbed by the disciples who leave him. Not because he doesn’t care but because he already knew what was in their hearts and he has the assurance that he will not lose any whom the Father has given him.
Contrast this with how a person with a following today might react if people turned away from following them. I follow a number of ‘influencers’ on social media and I can tell you that if people ‘unsubscribe’ in significant numbers from their channel, they do panic. They might back-track on something they’ve said or they might try to change the type of content they’re putting out entirely to give those disappointed followers what they want (assuming they can work out what that is and deliver it).
And what about the impact on us when we’re in a crowd and others leave? Does it shake our convictions? Do we see others leaving and slip away too thinking they must have good reasons or worse just follow whatever the majority are doing? ‘Uh … this thing or person looks suspect now. We want nothing more to do with them …’
This is essentially the dilemma Jesus presents to ‘the twelve’ when he asks, ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’
I wonder what it was that was more attractive (other than a full belly obviously) to those disciples that turned away?
We have a mention of Judas Iscariot in verse 71. He turned away from Jesus. We know he betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver which shows what was more attractive to him! We also know how empty his life having rejected Jesus was. In fact, he took his own life.
Following Jesus is costly. Being a true believer is costly. But it’s worth it! Where else are we going to go? Any other thing we pursue to get life in all its abundance will fail to satisfy.
So, what will we decide to do?
What will we do when Jesus and his word are dismissed?
What if an atheist publicly challenges your faith and rejects your reasoning and explanations? What if onlookers seem to think you’ve been beaten and your belief in Jesus is illogical, irrational, anti-intellectual or naïve? Will it shake your faith in Christ? Will it tempt you to become a secret Christian? Or will you continue to outspokenly and publicly follow him?
And sadly, dismissing Jesus and his word might not just happen outside the church!
There are an increasing number of progressive or liberal churches. They claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus BUT they’re busy rejecting several things the Bible says and even things Jesus said about himself, in favour of what the world says is good and loving now.
They preach another gospel – not the true one. And they’ll tell you, ‘oh you poor/odious Bible-believing Christian. You’re hopelessly misled and your ideology is barbaric and harmful. Don’t you know we’ve progressed? Yes, we have a superior understanding to those ancient believers of the past, we NOW know what Godly love really is … and it’s basically exactly like ‘the world’ and its ideas.
Stop being so judgemental and hateful. It’s embarrassing, it’s not Christ-like, and it’s wrong. You must deconstruct your primitive beliefs and turn away from them! Come over here with us enlightened ones …
I was watching on the apologist Mike Winger’s YouTube Channel recently and he put it this way: ‘Progressive Christianity in a nutshell: “Saving Christianity from the harmful effects of Jesus and the Bible.”’
What about when we meet nice people who do good things but don’t follow Jesus? How dare you say I’m not saved? Will you be tempted then not to articulate the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except through him?
What about when the Bible’s teaching gives us ‘brain-ache’ and seems to involve a lot of study and thinking we don’t have time for? This other way of looking at things sounds much more simple and attractive and let’s face it tangible …
What about when suffering or persecution comes and we become part of a small, ostracized minority?
What about when we become aware of or even hurt by hypocrisy and sin within the community of believers? Will we then be tempted to abandon Jesus?
What about when life is hard? We’re sick, struggling and the life of faith doesn’t seem blessed at all! What’s the point? We’re tired of everything, tired of being faithful. We might as well not be Christians for all the difference it makes?
Will we decide to follow Jesus, no turning back, no matter the cost?
Will we say like Simon Peter: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God’?
Let’s pray and then respond in worship!