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The Power of Bread from Heaven

What’s the best meal you have ever had?

I remember the first time I travelled with my parents to Europe. My father bought a car in Stuttgart and we had to travel from the south of Germany to the north, where we would drop off the car at the port of Bremerhaven so that it could be shipped back to the United States. Somehow, we ended up doing most of the driving in one day, and we were down to the wire getting the car to the port on time. Thus, we traveled for most of our last day in Germany without eating a thing. When we had dropped off the car and reached the airport where we would fly to London, we were starving. The airport had only one, very simple restaurant that served the plainest sandwiches you could ever imagine. We ordered ham and cheese. However, we felt like those simple ham and cheese sandwiches were the best that we had ever tasted because we were so hungry.

The crowd that followed Jesus during part of his earthly ministry was hungry too. Jesus had just fed thousands of them from five loaves of bread and two fish, but then he had departed. The crowd wanted Jesus to feed them again. That is where we pick up the story today in John 6:22-35....
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “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. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” 
The crowd that went in search of Jesus figured that if they stayed close to him then perhaps he would always meet their basic needs, just as he did on the day he fed thousands from five loaves and two fish. However, Jesus tells them that they are seeking him for the wrong reason. He tells them that they shouldn’t work for bread that doesn’t last but for bread that lasts forever.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how we can have room for some types of food but not others?

Speaker Mike Benson tells how one night, as his family was finishing dinner, his eight-year-old daughter left six green beans on her plate. She normally ate her veggies, and Mike did not usually let this sort of thing bother him, but this night he was irked and said to her, “Eat your green beans.”

She replied, “Dad, I’m full to the top.”

“You won’t pop,” he responded.

“Yes, I will pop!” she said.

“Risk it!” he said. “It will be okay.”

“Dad, I could not eat another bite.”

Mike knew that night they were having his daughter’s favorite dessert: pumpkin pie squares. So he asked his little girl, “How would you like a double helping of pumpkin pie squares with two dollops of whipped cream on top?”

“That sounds great!” she responded as she pushed her plate back, ready for dessert.

“How can you have room for a double helping of pumpkin pie squares with two dollops of whipped cream, and not have room for six measly green beans?”

She stood up tall out of her chair and pointing to her belly said, “This is my vegetable stomach. This is my meat stomach. They are both full. Here is my dessert stomach. It is empty. I am ready for dessert!”[1]

Now, it’s not that big a deal when a child has room for dessert but no room for six green beans. Life will go on.

However, it is truly sad, heartbreaking even, when people seem to have room in their life for all sorts of physical bread, but no room for the bread that lasts forever.

What is the bread that lasts forever that Jesus is talking about? That is the most important question. Jesus answers it, but not until the end of our passage for today. Instead, Jesus first tells the crowd that he can and will give them the bread that will last forever because God the Father has set his seal of approval on him.

Intriguingly, the crowd asks: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Their assumption seems to be that they must work to earn the bread that Jesus promises to give them.

However, Jesus tells them this is not the case. He tells them that all they have to do is believe in the one that God has sent.

At this point, people in the crowd begin to doubt. They wonder: how can we be sure that Jesus is worthy of our trust? Are we really doing the right thing by following him? Thus, they ask for proof that Jesus has been sent by God. They point out that Moses provided bread for their ancestors in the wilderness, thus suggesting that Jesus should do the same as a proof that he has been sent by God.

The crazy thing about this is that Jesus has already given the crowd bread in the wilderness. However, the crowd still wants more proof. It seems that some people will never believe, no matter how much proof is offered to them.

Jesus counters the crowd’s demand for proof. He points out that Moses didn’t provide manna in the wilderness, but rather God working through Moses. Jesus tells them that God will provide bread from heaven that will give life to the world.

In response to this the people say to Jesus, “Sir, always give us this bread.” That is a great prayer, if only the crowd understands what they are really asking for.

It is at this point that Jesus reveals his hand; he makes clear what he has been hinting at all along in this conversation. He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus is the bread that lasts forever. This is the first of Jesus’ famous “I AM” sayings in the Gospel of John. This one is so important that it will be repeated in verses 48 and 51.

Jesus is promising spiritual nourishment for all eternity. However, the crowd is focused on obtaining physical nourishment. Jesus suggests that so long as they are focused on the things of this world, bread that perishes, their deepest hunger, the hunger for spiritual nourishment, will go unsatisfied.

The power of bread from heaven is that it is meant to reveal who Jesus is and lead us to believe in him.

Bruce Milne says, “In a society which has experimented to the point of satiation with every form of material, physical and spiritual palliative to fill the inner emptiness of its heart, Jesus’ invitation comes with wonderful relevance—He who comes to me will never go hungry … will never be thirsty.”

Blaise Pascal once wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself. God alone is man’s true good…”

Jesus promises to meet our deepest hunger. He is the bread of life.

There are at least five things that are true about bread, that are also true about Jesus Christ. First, bread is necessary for life. In Jesus’ day, it was the staple in the human diet. Without bread, human beings died. Thus, by claiming to be the bread of life Jesus was claiming to be someone human beings could not do without.

I wonder: are we trying to live without Jesus? We may go to church, but that is not the same thing. I imagine there are many people that attend the worship services of a church every Sunday, but they do not have a personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ. It is one thing to know about Jesus; it is another thing to know him personally.

We may say, “But my life is just fine. I have a good job and a good family. I am happy.” Perhaps we are happy, for now. However, Jesus promises to feed us for eternity. That’s the real question isn’t it? How can we be eternally happy? Jesus suggests that we can find eternal satisfaction only in him. He is the bread of life.

A second thing about bread is that it is suited for everyone. Now I know there are some people who need to be on a gluten-free diet. However, even for those people there is gluten-free bread. I even saw gluten-free Bisquick in Wal-Mart the other day! Bread, in one form or another, is a part of virtually everyone’s diet.

In the same way, Jesus is perfectly suited to the needs of all people. Jesus is not just for clever people; he is also for the simple-minded. Jesus is not just for the poor; he is also for the rich. Jesus is not just for the educated; he is for those who can’t even read or write. Jesus is not just for the old; he is also for little children. Jesus is not just for women; he is for men too. Jesus is for all.

It is significant, I think, that Jesus did not say he was caviar. Very few people enjoy eating fish eggs. Jesus said he was the bread of life. Bread is enjoyed by virtually everyone, all over the world, in every culture. Jesus is for all.

I like what Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers fame once said: “Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.”

There is something deep yet simple about bread. There are all sorts of fancy foods in the world that are nice to have once in a while, but it is always good to come back to the deep simplicity of bread.

That leads to a third truth about bread: it is something we eat every day. Bread is not something we eat just one time and say, “Oh, that was nice, but if I never have it again, that’s ok.” No, bread is something we want to eat, and most of us do eat every day. It is a staple of our daily diet in some form or another.

In the same way, we need to feast on Jesus every day. He is not simply someone we need to hear about one time and ask to be our Savior and that’s it. No. Jesus is someone we need to spend every day of our lives getting to know and enjoy. He wants to walk with us every step, every day, of our earthly journey and beyond.

In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Certainly, that refers to God giving us the physical food we need. However, it also refers to God giving us the spiritual food we need. Jesus is the spiritual food we need every day.

This leads to a fourth truth about bread. Bread produces growth.

Some people say they don’t believe in miracles. To anyone who does not believe in miracles I invite you to come to my house. I will show you three miracles that live, at least sometimes, under my roof. We have three sons. It is the most amazing thing: we feed them bread and it turns into muscle. We feed them bread and their bodies grow—some of them to over six feet tall now!

Jesus is the bread of life that produces spiritual growth. Do you want to see people who are spiritually well developed, well rounded and well grounded in life? Look at those who feed spiritually on Jesus every day. There is peace, joy, and love about such people that demands an explanation. The only explanation is Jesus. The power of bread from heaven is that it produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, when it is feasted upon every day.

Have you ever thought of what bread has to go through to become the thing we eat at our tables? Bread becomes bread by a process.

First, you have to plant the grain of wheat. Then it has to grow. When the full-grown grain is ripe, then it has to be cut down, winnowed, and ground into flour. Then the flour has to be shaped into a loaf, along with other ingredients. Finally, it has to be put in a pan and baked in an oven. Only by this process does bread become the thing we want to eat that sustains life.

In a similar way, Jesus became the bread of life for us by a process. The Son of God came down from heaven. He is truly the bread of heaven. The Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was born into poverty and laid in a feeding trough—an appropriate place for the bread of life to be laid, don’t you think? Then he lived his whole life as an attempt to reveal to us the life-creating and life-sustaining power of God. He is the bread of life that not only sustains life, but also creates life in the first place. Then Jesus went through the fiery trial of suffering and death, even death on a cross. Furthermore, he did that for you. He did that for me, so that he might become the bread of life for us. How can we then withhold ourselves from feasting upon him? How can we not come to him to receive eternal life, every day?

Ravi Zacharias tells the following story: 
Two years ago, a woman in my audience wrote to invite me to visit her, if I could. A few weeks ago, I was in her home city, along with my teammate and my wife. The woman was suffering from AIDS and by that time was dying. She had come here two years ago knowing she had AIDS. She hungered for something more than she had found in life. She had found Christ and came here for the deeper teaching and enrichment.

When we walked into her apartment, she was absolutely surprised. I’ll never forget her expression. Her mom and dad stood next to her with a friend. She looked like a bag of just bones—a pathetic sight. She muttered words of gratitude that we had come. We spoke with her and prayed with her. When I turned to leave, I noticed a book on her table: The Hunger for Significance by R. C. Sproul. In her loneliest moment, her greatest hunger was being filled, her hunger for significance. That’s what our faith in Christ can do. People are able to endure life’s unavoidable passages. Today she is with her Lord.[2]

Jesus is the bread of life. He meets our deepest hunger: the hunger for significance, the hunger for peace, the hunger for love, the hunger for joy, and the hunger for eternal life.

[1] Phillip Gunter, pastor of Crossroads Chapel, Round Rock, Texas
[2] Ravi Zacharias, “If the Foundations Be Destroyed”, Preaching Today, Tape No. 142.


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