Monday, April 29, 2013

His Words are Spirit and Life (John 6:59-71)



Have you ever heard someone say something, and thought to yourself, “I can’t believe he said that!” This week, someone in another church told me that they were planning a “big ladies retreat.” I remarked that I thought that was a great thing, because “big ladies” need ministry too, and I commended that church for reaching out to “big ladies.” The response was predictable: “I can’t believe you said that.” I’ve actually been on both ends of that conversation before, and you probably have too. I’ll be really honest with you – sometimes I’ve even thought this about things I read in Scripture. There are a number of passages I’ve read that have caused me to do a double-take and say, “Wow! I’m really surprised that it says that!” There have even been times when I’ve thought, “I really wish it didn’t say that!” Have any of you had that experience, or is it just me? Some things are really hard to understand. It shouldn’t surprise us that there are statements in the Bible that are hard to understand. After all, the Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:16 that some of the things that the Apostle Paul writes in his letters are “hard to understand.” So, if you’ve ever thought that, don’t feel bad – even Peter had the same thought. If our surprises were all limited to those parts of the Bible that we don’t understand, that would be one thing. But a bigger problem seems to lie in the parts of the Bible where the meaning is perfectly clear. As Mark Twain allegedly said on one occasion, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts I do understand.”[1] There are passages that we understand quite plainly, and what we understand it to be saying is quite troubling. If you’ve had that experience, you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. If we were honest, we’d admit that we’ve all felt that way.

In our text today, we read about a number of people who felt similarly when they heard Jesus speak. In verse 60, they say, “This is a difficult statement.” If we were to translate the Greek quite literally, it would say something like, “This is a hard word.” That word that we translate “difficult” or “hard” here is the Greek word skleros. We have a similar English word: sclerosis. It refers to a hardening, for example like arterial sclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. But the word used here does not mean “hard to understand.” They understood what Jesus saying, and therein was the problem. They mean that it is “hard,” in the sense of “harsh” or “offensive.”

Now what is the “word” that they are having such a hard time with? Verse 59 tells us that they were objecting to the “things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.” And if we go back to the very beginning of this passage in verse 26, we see that Jesus was teaching a lot of things. He told them that they were carnal people seeking their own self-interests rather than the purposes of God. He has taught that they cannot do any works to earn eternal life. He has taught that eternal life is given only to those who believe in Him, and only those that the Father sovereignly draws can come to Him. He has taught that He is greater than Moses, uniquely sent by God from heaven into the world with the authority to give life. And then He said that to have eternal life in Him, we must come to Him and eat His flesh and drink His blood. Which part of this has been so difficult for them? We might rather ask which parts were not difficult for them. This is not the sermon of a smiling televangelist. This is not a seeker-sensitive message that goes down like honey. There is hard truth in these words – not hard to understand, but hard for some to receive, hard for some to believe.
We must not forget that Jesus knows the words of our every conversation as well as every meditation of our heart and idea in our head. Remember that John 2:24-25 tells us that He knows all men, and knows what is in man. This is why the Psalmist prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord.” He knows our words, and He knows the condition of our hearts that underlies those words. And so, in verse 63 of our text, the Lord Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” It is this statement that unlocks the meaning of the entire passage. Because the words that Jesus speaks are spirit and life, then we must be attuned to every syllable that passes across His glorious lips, and we must be very careful how we receive and how we respond to those words.

I. His words are spirit, therefore we must be careful how we receive them.

Jesus’ words in the Capernaum synagogue on this occasion began with a discussion about bread. Just a day earlier, He had miraculously taken five loaves of bread and two small fish and multiplied them to feed a crowd of 5,000 men, in addition to the women and children – a group of upwards of 20,000 people or so. The next day – the day on which Jesus says these words – that crowd woke up to find Jesus had disappeared from among them and they set out to find Him. Coming across the Sea of Galilee to the town of Capernaum, they discovered Him here in this synagogue, and they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus says to them in verse 26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” He said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (v27). He said that they must believe in Him if they desire eternal life. The people did not deny that they were interested in bread to fill there stomachs. In fact, they asked Jesus to perform some sign to indicate that they should believe in Him. Nevermind the fact that He had done so the day before. They missed that sign. They only saw the food that was given to them to eat. So when they asked Him for a sign on this particular day, they kind of set it all up for Him. They said, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread out of heaven to eat” (v31). In other words, “If you want us to believe in you, how about you give us some more food to eat?” This sets the stage for all that follows, in which Jesus tells them that He is able to do something better than their fathers experienced in the days of Moses, because He had not come to give them bread for their stomachs. He had come to be the bread that would satisfy their spiritual hunger forever. Therefore, He says of Himself, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (v35). He goes on to say in vv48-51, “I am the Bread of Life. … I am the Living Bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” And then He proceeded to tell them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood (vv53-56). In other words, Jesus is saying, “You people came here seeking bread to eat, and I am telling you that I am the bread you need, so My word to you is that you must eat Me.”

But the people who heard Him say this had no idea what He was talking about. In verse 41, it says that “the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.’” Verse 52 says that “the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’” Now, even some of those who claim to be His disciples are grumbling and saying, “This is a difficult statement.” Well, indeed it is a difficult statement. It is perfectly okay to admit that. But where they went wrong is in their next statement. They conclude, “who can listen to it?” Because this word was hard – because it offended their sensitivities – they chose to not receive it. They were hungry for bread – you know, the kind that is made of wheat and flour. This guy is talking about cannibalism or something. But Jesus says here that they are just listening with the ears of their flesh. They are not considering the spiritual truth that underlies His words.

He says in v63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” It is not bread that makes you alive. You have to eat to live, but you do not live to eat. If you eat all the bread that your hungry belly desires, it will not prevent you from dying. You might die with a full stomach, but die you will, because all human beings are subject to death because of our sin. If we want to truly live, in a way that death cannot touch us, then we must receive life from the Spirit of God. Thus Jesus says, “The flesh profits nothing.” If you were to spend your life gratifying the desires of your flesh, it would profit you nothing. The old saying is not true which says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Rather, “He who dies with the most toys is just as dead as the one who dies with the least.” Jesus says in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Will you exchange eternal life for bread?
It is the Spirit who gives life, and Jesus says, “The words that I have spoke to you are spirit.” These words are not the deranged ramblings of a wandering vagabond. The source of these words is the life-giving Spirit of God. There is life-giving power in Jesus’ words. That is why when Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn a stone into bread, He responded with the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Jesus is saying that when He speaks, God is speaking, and the Spirit is bringing life to spiritually dead souls through these words. That is why, when Jesus perceived that they were grumbling about His words, He says to them in vv61-62, “Does this cause you to stumble?” In other words, “Do these words offend you?” He says, “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” And where is that? He has said multiple times in the preceding verses that He has come down from heaven! He is saying here that if you could see Him for who He truly is, you would not be offended at His words. But to see Him for who He truly is, you must not look with the eyes of flesh alone, or hear with the ears of flesh alone. You must perceive that there is spiritual truth here, spoken by God Himself, with the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.

This is why C. S. Lewis so famously said, in his marvelous little book Mere Christianity, that we must never say “the really foolish thing that people often say about Him.” That really foolish thing that people say is this: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” Lewis says,

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[2]

Is He just a good man? Is He really just a good teacher? Well, He says that He’s greater than Moses, that He has come from heaven as the only way to eternal life. He says that He is the bread of life, and that anyone who wants to live forever must come to Him and eat His flesh and drink His blood. I tell you, if those words are not the truth of God, then Jesus does not deserve an ounce of respect or reverence from us. He is truly a psychopath or a pathological liar. If those words are not true, then to say that He is a good man or a good teacher is nothing but patronizing nonsense! But if those words are true, then He is God in the flesh. That is who He claimed to be. And He said that the words that He speaks are words of spiritual truth that have the power to bring life to us. Therefore we must really be careful how we receive His words – even the hard words that He speaks.

II. His words are life, therefore we must be careful how we respond to them.

My grandfather was something of a master when it came to telling tall tales. He was a Marine in the Pacific Theater in World War II, and he had an old cigar box filled with mementos from his military career that always fascinated me as a child. Among those items were several medals, and when I asked them how he earned them, there was one particular one that he held up and said, “I received this one when I shot down the Admiral Yamamoto.” I believed him. Being an inquisitive child, I looked up Yamamoto in the encyclopedia, and it didn’t say anything in there about my grandfather. When I asked him about it, he said that it was classified information, and asked me to not talk about it with others. Some time later, when I was browsing through some military artifacts in an old salvage store, and I ran across an identical medal to that of my grandfather. I asked the man at the store about the medal, and he told me, “This is a World War II Victory Medal. It was given to every service person who served during the War.” When I went back to tell my grandfather about this, he fell into hysterical laughter. He never considered that I’d spent the better part of my childhood believing that he shot down Admiral Yamamoto. But, looking back, I suppose I am no worse off for having believed it, and no better off for learning the truth about it.

There was another occasion when his words nearly became a matter of life and death for me. He had a huge weeping willow tree with a big branch that stretched out over the lake in his back yard. Knowing that I couldn’t swim, he warned me, “Don’t get out on that limb, because you could fall into the lake and drown.” I didn’t pay his words any attention, and I climbed way out on the limb one afternoon. Sure enough, I slipped and started to fall toward the water below. It was about eight or ten feet up, and the whole experience seemed to take place in slow motion. I remember thinking the whole time I was falling, “This is it! I’m a goner!” Now, thankfully, the water was low that day, and it was only a couple of feet deep, so I just got really wet and muddy. Under normal conditions, that water might have been six or eight feet deep. Under normal conditions, it is very likely that I wouldn’t have made it out of the water alive. That was a time when it really mattered whether or not I believed my grandfather’s words. I never climbed that tree again.

You know every day, you hear a lot of things that it really doesn’t matter whether or not you believe. But when you open the pages of the Bible, it matters a great deal whether you believe it or not, even when the words you read are hard. That is why we must be careful how we receive these words. On this particular occasion, we see a stark contrast between those who believed Jesus’ words and those who did not.

Notice, first of all, the response of the first group we see in these verses. By this time, all of those who were disinterested in Jesus had probably gone away, and the only ones left were those who had become, in some sense, His disciples. Now, don’t assume that means that they were born-again, fully committed followers of Christ. Among those who were following Jesus as disciples were some who had really not made any kind of faith commitment to Him yet. They were curious. He had piqued their interest and so they tagged along. There are similar kinds of folks in every church in the world. We don’t always know who they are, but Jesus does. Verse 64 says that “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe.” He knows the condition of our hearts better than we do. But sooner or later, these false disciples show themselves by their response to the Word of God. It happened on that day with many who had been following Jesus up to that point.

We see a progression in their response. First, they remark, “This is a hard word.” Well, we can’t fault them for being honest. In fact, they are more honest than some of us are. It’s okay to admit that there are hard words in Scripture. That’s not the problem. The problem is that they move from what we might call confusion to rejection. They say, “Who can listen to it?” They don’t even want to hear these words. The absolute lack of desire to hear God’s word is a dangerous sign. But from this, notice that they move to grumbling about it. That is what Jesus calls what they were doing. They were complaining about His teaching. And they were offended by it. When Jesus says, “Does this cause you to stumble?”, the word He uses is the Greek word from which we get our word scandal. It describes something offensive. But all of these things are symptoms of a bigger issue. The reason that they reject the word, grumble about it, and are offended by it, Jesus says, is that they “do not believe.” And “as a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” They abandoned Him.

One of them, who continued to hang around, went even a step further. He began to plot to betray and destroy Jesus. For Judas Iscariot, confusion, rejection, grumbling, offense, and abandonment produced a hatred for Jesus that Satan capitalized on. It didn’t take Jesus by surprise. He knew “who it was that would betray Him.” He even said, “one of you is a devil” (v70). Judas is personally culpable for the decision he made to betray Jesus, but Jesus could see beneath the surface of things to the true source of Judas’ actions. It was satanic. At the Last Supper, before Judas went out to betray the Lord, John 13:27 and Luke 22:3 say that “Satan entered into him.” Judas stands as a warning to us that if we walk away from the Lord in disbelief, offended by His word, there is no limit to the depths to which we can sink. In a sense, the sin of Judas is unique in history and can never be repeated. But in another sense, the Lord is betrayed somewhere in the world every day by those who have walked away from Jesus with offended, hardened, and unbelieving hearts. Some of the most vehement enemies of the faith today are people who grew up in church. But somewhere along the way, they decided that they could no longer accept His words. They grumbled. They became offended. They walked away and followed Him no longer. And they betray Him with their attacks on His nature and His church.

Be warned by this. To walk away from Jesus because you reject His word is to walk away from life! It really matters whether or not you believe this! His words are life! There is no life to be found away from Jesus. And there are many who hold on to Jesus and His precious words – even the hard ones. We see them exemplified here as Jesus turns to the twelve. As multitudes walk away in disbelief, Jesus asks them, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Peter’s response indicates the heart of a true disciple. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” It is significant than, in spite of His hard words, Peter recognizes Him as Lord. If He is Lord, then we cling to His words as if our lives depend on them – and they do! Where else could we turn if we turned away from Jesus? He alone has the words of eternal life! Apart from Him there is no hope. And while multitudes have walked away in disbelief, Peter affirms his own faith, and that of his brethren as he says, “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” We believed it, he says, but moreover, as we have walked with You, Lord, we have come to know with certainty, that You truly are who You say You are: the Holy One of God!

Lest we who believe and know Christ in this way get the wrong idea, and think that somehow we are more intelligent, more morally upright, or in some way superior to those who walk away from Him, Jesus reminds Peter and the band of true believers, including ourselves, “Did I Myself not choose you?” We did not think our way to Jesus. We did not earn a place in His family and His kingdom by our own works or our own moral character. We are just as flawed and sinful as the rest of humanity. It was His divine, sovereign grace that brought us to Himself. We belong to Him, because for reasons unknown to us, for reasons of His own, so that the glory of His saving grace might be manifested, He chose us. This is the same thing He said in verse 65, “I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” He said it also in verse 44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” And thanks be to God, we have this precious promise in verse 37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” We have come to Him and believed upon Him because we have been drawn to Him by the glorious grace of God, and coming to Him, He has received us, and will preserve us in the faith until the end, when He will raise us up on the last day. Then, we will experience life – life that goes on beyond death; life that is eternal in His presence. And until that time, we go through these days abiding in Him, and He in us, as He promises in verse 56. What glorious promises are given to those who cling to Him, believing His beautiful words, His wonderful words of life! His words are spirit and life. Where else can we turn? To whom else can we go? He alone has the words of eternal life. Sometimes those words are hard. But we believe His word and follow Him as Lord, even when His words are hard. To do otherwise is to walk away from life itself. It is the Spirit who gives life. And the words of Jesus are spirit and life to us who believe them. Let us always be careful therefore how we receive these words and how we respond to them.



[1] Paul E. Little, “God’s Will for Me and World Evangelism” in John R. W. Stott, et al., Christ the Liberator (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1971), 214.
[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York

Mothers' Day 2013 Meditation

Below is my article for the May 2013 IBC Newsletter:

When I think of Mothers' Day, my mind goes immediately to one of the seven statements that Jesus uttered on the cross. Amid all of the wondrous words that He spoke as He died, He looked to His mother and said, "Woman, behold your son." To the Apostle John, he said, "Behold your mother." With these words, we see a God-glorifying, Bible-obeying, parent-honoring compassion as Jesus commits his mother Mary into the care of "the disciple whom He loved," and we see at the same time a revolutionizing of human relationships within the family of God. The Lord Jesus, during the days of His earthly life, fully satisfied every detail of the law of God, including the command to honor one's mother and father (Exodus 20:12). It is interesting that after the account of Jesus in the temple when He was twelve years old (Luke 2:41-51), we never read anything about Joseph, the righteous man who became the earthly foster-father of Jesus. This has led most students of Scripture to conclude that Joseph died at some point not long after that. As the first-born son, Jesus would have had the responsibility of caring for his mother for the rest of her life. Now, with death only moments away, Jesus did the most compassionate thing He could do for His mother. He committed her to the care of His friend and follower John. We may wonder why He did not transfer the responsibility of caring for her over to one of her other sons or daughters (Mark 13:55-56). There are two very basic reasons why He chose John rather than these earthly siblings. First, they were not there; John was. But secondly, we also know that at this point His brothers and sisters did not believe in Jesus. Thankfully, later Scripture records that at least some of them did come to believe in Him, but at this point, they did not. He entrusted her to the care of John because he was a fully committed follower of Jesus, and for Jesus, this was the ultimate criteria for one who would care for His mother. It was essential for her to continue to grow in her own faith and understanding of Jesus, not only as her son, but as her Savior. That kind of relationship can only be fostered within a family of faith. If we would truly honor our parents, then we must care for them, and we must desire to see them growing in spiritual maturity. Jesus exemplified both as He entrusted Mary into John's care. 

With these words, we also see that Jesus revolutionized human relationships within the family of God. He did not say to John, "Take care of My mother." He said, "Behold your mother." He did not say to Mary, "Behold My friend who will care for you." He said, "Behold your son."  On a previous occasion, it was reported to Jesus that His mother and brothers had come to have a word with Him, and He responded by saying, "Who are My mother and My brothers? ... Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:31-35). In the family of God, all those who follow Jesus are brothers and sisters, even mothers and sons and daughters, to one another under the Fatherhood of God. These revolutionized relationships are not a pretend kind of family. These ties are even more real than our biological relationships. While we may say that "blood is thicker than water," the blood of Jesus that binds us together in His family is thicker still. Within this spiritual family are those who were unable to have children, those whose children are not followers of Christ, those who never knew their parents, or whose parents were the cause of hardships in their life. There are those who never had a sibling, or never had a good relationship with their brothers or sisters at home. But, if you are a follower of Christ, then the Church of Jesus Christ has become your family of faith. Somewhere within the church, there is a young Christian that needs a godly mother and a faithful father-figure. There are ailing widows who need faithful sons and daughters to care for them in their advancing age. There is a hurting believer who desperately needs a faithful brother or sister to help them bear their burdens. Look around you. Behold your son. Behold your mother. Behold and embrace these revolutionized relationships that have been created through the death of the Savior. We must ask ourselves: Is there some young Christian that I can be a spiritual mother, father, or older sibling to? Is there some older Christian that I can be a spiritual son or daughter to? Is there some hurting Christian that needs the comfort of a brother or sister in the faith? This takes intentional investment of time and energy to build and nurture these relationships. The reward of that effort is a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, family of faith where honor and compassion are shared selflessly, sacrificially, and even eternally as we carry these bonds beyond the door of death into our eternal home. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Bread of Life (John 6:48-59)

Audio 

Today, we are sometimes surprised by the number of wild accusations that people make against Christians. They say that we are unloving, hate-filled, intolerant, narrow-minded, ignorant, bigots. And those are some of the more polite things that are said about us. But, wild accusations are nothing new for the Church of Jesus Christ. Had you been a Christian in the first 250 years of Church history, you might have been accused of unimaginable things by your neighbors. They were charged with all sorts of gross immorality, including incest, because of people misunderstanding the reference of Christians to one another as brothers and sisters, the frequent use of the word “love,” and the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss. Christians were also charged with being anti-family, because they maintained their allegiance to Christ even when threatened with being cut off from their families. Early Christians were called atheists because they refused to worship the gods of Rome, including the Emperor. Add to that the idea that the one being they did worship was someone known as a man, Jesus Christ. And, if you had been a Christian at that time of history, it may well have been that your neighbors might have reported you to the authorities on the charge of cannibalism. Since Christians often met in secret places under a cloak of darkness, there was a lot of mystery and speculation about what went on in these gatherings. Imagine one of these curious neighbors overhearing something being said between believers about eating the flesh or drinking the blood of Christ. Of course, among Christians, we understand very clearly that this would be a reference to the Lord’s Supper, but to one who had no understanding about this, it would be an alarming thing to hear.[1]

The idea of eating human flesh and drinking human blood is particularly repulsive to all of us. For those who live under strict regulations about eating and drinking, there are often very explicit requirements about blood. For instance, in the Old Testament law, God said, “As for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’” (Lev. 17:14). So, imagine the shock of this Jewish crowd gathered at a synagogue in Capernaum as they heard Jesus talking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. It would have been a scandalous statement, at once offensive and repulsive. And yet to be offended at the presumably cannibalistic language of this statement is to miss the bigger truth, which may perhaps be even more offensive to them, were they to understand it.

It is apparent at just a casual reading that at the heart of this passage is the idea of the “bread of life.” Terms having to do with “bread,” “eating,” and “food” occur in every single verse in this passage, often more than once in every verse. So, the questions that arise are, “What is the Bread of Life?”, “Why should I eat the Bread of Life?”, and “How do I eat this Bread of Life?” Those are the questions we will seek to answer as we move through this text.
I. What is the Bread of Life?

One of the most glaring differences between life in America and that in many other parts of the world is the overwhelming number of choices that we have available to us every day. For example, suppose you want some bread, so you go to the grocery store and make your way to the bread aisle. Not only are there various brands of bread, but there is white bread, whole grain bread, wheat bread, white-wheat bread, and all kinds of other bread. There is bread that is high in fiber, low in gluten, enriched with vitamins and minerals, and all sorts of other things. But Jesus talks about a kind of bread that is not available at the local grocery store. He talks about a “living bread,” a “bread of life,” that enables the one who eats it to live forever.

He says that this bread “comes down out of heaven.” That language is reminiscent of the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness. When the Lord began to provide that manna following the Exodus, He said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you” (Exo 16:4). It is a divinely provided bread that comes down to the earth from heaven. But, Jesus says that there is a qualitative difference between the bread of which He speaks and that which the fathers ate in the wilderness. Namely, they ate the manna, and they died. But when a person eats of the bread that Jesus is talking about, they do not die, but rather they live forever. So, He isn’t talking about manna. This is something better.

In verse 48, Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” He is this bread that enables one to live forever. And then specifically, He says in verse 51, “the bread which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” So, Jesus is the bread of life, and more specifically, it is His flesh – His body. You recall from that glorious first chapter of this Gospel those familiar words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” God became a man, He took upon Himself human flesh, as He came down from heaven to dwell among us. And He did this in a town called “Bethlehem,” which means “House of Bread.” This bread – this flesh – Jesus says He will give for the life of the world. This tells us two things about this bread. First, that Jesus will give it; and second, that He will give it “for the life of the world.” This tells us that He is speaking of something sacrificial and something substitutionary. He is going to give His flesh – that’s a sacrifice. And He’s going to give it for the life of the world – that’s a substitutionary sacrifice. Thus, in referring to Himself as the Bread of Life, Jesus is speaking of His death on the cross for the sins of humanity. This is the reason He has come down from heaven – to be our substitute in giving away His life in exchange for ours. And yet, even though He speaks of His own dying, He can still refer to Himself as “living bread,” for His life cannot be extinguished by death. Thus, in His subsitutionary sacrifice, His flesh becomes for us, as v55 says, “true food,” and His blood “true drink.”

So, in answer to the question we asked, “What is the Bread of Life?”, we can answer that Jesus points to Himself, and specifically to His body, His flesh, which was given in His death on the cross for the life of the world. Now, that brings us to the second question that this text raises:
II. Why Should I Eat this Bread of Life?

Over the last few years, several food companies have been forced to change the labels on their products because of grossly exaggerated claims. So, for example, oatmeal can no longer be claimed to “actively find cholesterol and remove it from the body.” Yogurt products cannot be claimed to keep one regular or serve as a cold or flu remedy. [2] Some of the claims of the food we eat are simply outlandish. But nothing comes close to the claims that Jesus makes for the Bread of Life.

Notice first of all the claim that this Bread will allow those who eat of it to live forever. It is kind of hard to miss this here in the passage, because it is repeated so often. In verse 50, He says, “One may eat of it and not die.” In v51, “if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.” In v54, “”He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” And finally in v58, “he who eats this bread will live forever.” Now, lest we be mistaken and think that there is some sort of magical quality here, like the Fountain of Youth or something, that one taste of it will preserve us in our present state forever, Jesus clarifies the nature of this future, endless and eternal life in verse 54. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” He is talking about a life that goes on beyond death. There will be a raising up – just as He has at various times spoken of Himself, that He will die and rise from the dead – so He says that He will raise those who eat of the bread of life on the last day.

What an astounding claim! Jesus is facing His contemporaries – they know Him, they know His family, they’ve watched Him grow up – and He says to them, “I am the one who will raise the dead to everlasting life on the last day.” This is nothing less than a claim to be God. And if that is not clear enough, He goes on to say, “As the Living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he will also live because of Me” (v57). The eternal life that this living bread offers to those who eat of it is only possible because of the Lord Jesus. He is the exclusive way to eternal life, just as He Himself says in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

But notice also that Jesus is not saying that one has to wait until death, or until the end of time, to enjoy the benefits of the Bread of Life. He says in verse 56 that he who eats His flesh and drinks His blood “abides in Me and I in Him.” These are present tense verbs. There is a union with Christ that begins at the moment that this Bread of Life is eaten, a mutual abiding, whereby we abide in Him and He in us. This idea of the believer’s union with Christ is going to become a major theme in John’s Gospel, but here it is introduced for the first time. It means essentially that Christ has come to dwell in us, and that we have been placed in Him. From the moment at which we partake of the Bread of Life, He lives in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. This indwelling of Christ sets us apart as God’s own possession, it identifies us with Christ and seals us to Him in an unbreakable covenant. Additionally, it means that we have the unlimited supernatural power of God Himself at work within us to transform us daily into the likeness of Christ. This is why Paul speaks of Christ in us as the hope of glory (Col 1:27). Our hope of glory is to be in the presence of Christ. And that hope is a present tense reality because Christ is in us. And we are in Him. Because we are in Him, we stand before the Father, not stained by the foulness of our sin, but radiantly covered with the resplendent holiness of Christ Himself. You could spend the rest of your life exploring the treasures of all that the Bible promises about us being “in Christ,” and still not exhaust the riches. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

What wondrous things are promised to those who eat of the Bread of Life! And we know that these are not false claims because they were made by the Lord Jesus Himself. When He says He will raise us up on the last day, we can believe it because He Himself has been raised up. As 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.”

So, what is the bread of life? It is Christ, and particularly His flesh, given in substitutionary sacrifice for the life of the world in His death on the cross. And those who eat of this bread receive life eternal, and they abide in Christ and He in them. So that begs the final question we’ll address today, one that was asked by those who heard Jesus when He originally said this.

III. How do we eat the Bread of Life?

The thought of taking a bite of Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood is certainly less than palatable. The original audience even broke out into an argument over the expression, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” The Greek wording indicates that they were arguing bitterly with one another about this. Surely no one, or at least very few, assumed He was speaking literally. But they just could not figure out what it was the He meant by this. Had they been paying attention to what Jesus had been saying, it would have been more clear. In verse 54, Jesus says, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Compare this to what He had just said in verse 40: “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” So, verse 54 is saying figuratively what verse 40 was saying literally. To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ is to behold Him by faith and believe upon Him.

But why would Jesus liken believing in Him to eating Him? Well, in a number of ways, there is great similarity between believing in Him and the act of eating. First, food is useless unless it is eaten. It doesn’t do you any good if it is just sitting on a shelf or in the fridge. You have to personally appropriate that food into your mouth and your digestive system to derive any benefit from it. And the same is true with Christ. Your belief or unbelief in Him does not affect Him so much as it affects you. He is still there whether you believe in Him or not. But you are not gaining any spiritual benefit by His presence unless you have appropriated Christ into your life by faith. You must transfer your trust from yourself and other things over to Him and begin a personal relationship with Him.

Second, we eat food when we are hungry. We recognize that we have a need that we must satisfy, and we turn to the kitchen to satisfy it. Of course, nothing that we eat can satisfy us forever. We get hungry again. And when we do, we eat again. But the Lord Jesus offers a living bread to us that He says in v35 will cause us to never hunger again. But we must recognize our need. Just as all of us experience hunger, so all of us have a need in our lives because of our sin. We say that we have a message of good news, and that good news includes the fact that we are sinners. You say, “That doesn’t sound like good news, that sounds like bad news.” Well, the good news is that Jesus came to save sinners. So, unless you are willing to recognize yourself as a sinner, Christ can be of no benefit to you. If you aren’t hungry, you won’t go seeking food. If you aren’t a sinner, you have no need for Christ. But, we are all sinners, and we all need Him. The question is, are you willing to recognize and admit your need for Him.

Third, the food we eat becomes a part of us as we absorb and digest it. The nutrients and benefits of that food are transferred to our bodies in a way that could never happen unless we eat the food. So it is with Christ. Many people focus on the benefits that Christ can bring them – blessing, grace, forgiveness, provision, etc. They may admire Him and appreciate aspects of His life and teaching. But the benefits and resources of Christ are not internalized within us until we appropriate Him by faith, in a way not dissimilar to eating food. As we come to know Him, we become one with Him.

Then also, eating food involves a deep level of trust. You see, we can admire how food looks, how it smells, and how it has been prepared. We can have a fondness for every ingredient included in the recipe. But this requires no commitment on our part. Eating, on the other hand, requires a commitment of trust. We believe that if we eat it, it will bring good to us. No one ever knowingly eats food that they know is poisoned, spoiled, or contaminated. We eat food believing that it will not make us sick, but in fact help us physically. Now, most of us have had experiences where we did get sick from something we ate, but we didn’t know or think that would happen when we ate it. We ate it with complete confidence that this was good and good for us. So, friends, when we come to Jesus, we must believe that He is good, and that He loves us, and that if we believe in Him, He will save us and impart life to us. This must be a deep level of personal trust. And unlike the food we eat, which sometimes disappoints us, Jesus never will.

And then finally, eating is a personal task that you must do for yourself. No one can eat for you. You have to put the food into your own mouth and digest it for yourself. And the same is true of Christ. I cannot believe in Him for you, nor can anyone else. Just as you must eat your own food, so you must personally come to appropriate Christ into your life by exercising your faith in Him. When Jesus says you must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, He is inviting you to do something that no other person can do for you. He is inviting you to come to Him and know Him personally and intimately in a faith relationship. He has made this possible because He is the Bread of Life and has given His flesh for the life of the world. And He is inviting all of us to come and receive Him as such.

If you never have before, I pray that you would come to see the Lord Jesus Christ as the all-satisfying Bread of Life that has come down from heaven to give Himself for the life of the world. I pray that you would see Him as the satisfaction of your every longing, and know Him as Your Lord and Savior. And for those of us who have come to know Him in this way, I pray that day in and day out we would grow in our understanding and experience of being in Him, and He in us, until the day comes when He raises us up to life everlasting.

Appendix

Believers in Christ are often mistaken about what this passage is teaching. Because we are accustomed to observing the Lord’s Supper, in which we refer to the bread as a symbol of the body of Christ and the cup as a symbol of His blood, we are quick to assume that Jesus is speaking of the same thing here. Thus, we understand His words to mean something like, “He who receives the Lord’s Supper has eternal life and I will raise Him up on the last day.” This is most certainly NOT what Jesus is saying, and we know that for several reasons. Most simply, we can know that Jesus did not refer to the Lord’s Supper here, because the Lord’s Supper had not been instituted yet. How could He be telling them that their eternal life was conditioned upon something that did not yet exist? As it was, He was telling them that their eternal life was conditioned upon their response to Him – He is the Bread of Life – and their faith in the promise He was making to give His flesh for the life of the world. Additionally, Jesus was addressing unbelievers here, whereas the Lord’s Supper is something to observed only by believers. To say that the Lord’s Supper offers eternal life to those who partake of is nonsensical when only those who already possess eternal life are welcomed to receive it (see 1 Cor 11:23ff, et al.). Thirdly, the eating and drinking that Jesus speaks of here is something that leads to eternal life, and we know that there are no works that can be done, no rituals that can be performed, that can merit salvation, for it is a free gift of God’s grace received only by faith (Eph 2:8-10). Finally, the Greek word that Jesus uses here for “flesh” is the word sarx, which is not the same word that is used more commonly in reference to the Lord’s Supper, soma (translated “body”).

As pointed out in the main body of the foregoing message, the key to understanding Jesus’ words lies in a comparison of verses 54 and 40. In verse 54, Jesus says, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Previously, in verse 40, He had said, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” So, in both verses, Jesus is saying that ___________ leads to eternal life and being raised up on the last day. In verse 40, we can fill that blank in with “beholding and believing in the Son”, while in verse 54, we can fill in the blank with “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.” Thus, it appears that verse 54 is saying metaphorically what verse 40 was saying literally. To eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood is to behold Him and believe in Him as Savior and Lord.

Thus, the words of Jesus do not point to the Lord’s Supper here, though these words and the Lord’s Supper are both pointing to the same ultimate reality. Jesus’ words are pointing to the reality that He is the sacrificial substitute who, as the Bread of Life, gives His flesh for the life of the world. The Lord’s Supper points to the same reality. So, as Carson says, “None of this means there is no allusion in these verses to the Lord’s table. But such allusions as exist prompt the thoughtful reader to look behind the eucharist, to that to which the eucharist itself points. In other words, eucharistic allusions are set in the broader framework of Jesus’ saving work, in particular His cross-work. … In short, John 6 does not directly speak of the eucharist; it does expose the true meaning of the Lord’s supper as clearly as any passage in Scripture.”[3]




[1] David Calhoun, Lecture transcript “The Persecutions: The Martyrs Who Lived” from course Ancient and Medieval Church History, Covenant Theological Seminary. http://www.covenantseminary.edu/media/pdf/ CH310_T_031.pdf. Accessed April 19, 2013.
[2] http://cspinet.org/new/200704171.html; http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/12/dannon-pays-21-million-for-yogurt-dairy-drink-claims/#.UXHGGbWmgYs. Accessed April 19, 2013.
[3] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991),297-298.