Bread from heaven
Series: Face-to-face with Jesus. (John’s gospel)
By Rosie Moore.
For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:33-34).
When I was a little girl, I remember the hour long journey to and from Church every Sunday. We lived on a farm far from the nearest Bible-teaching church, so we had to be ready to leave by 08h00 sharp. “No peace for the wicked!” was my mom’s favourite wake-up call, as she hurled the blankets off her four children and ordered us to get ourselves in gear.
But if I’m dead honest, the highlight of Sundays wasn’t the church service, but the very special bakery we visited afterwards. All the way through the sermon, I dreamed of squishy jam doughnuts, Chelsea buns and the aroma of baking bread! It was a Dutch bakery called “De Bakhys” and there was a big sign outside that read:
“Man shall not live by bread alone…but it helps!” I loved reading that sign because I knew the treat that lay ahead.
‘De Bakhys’ sure helped take the edge off that long journey to and from church every Sunday. You’ve never tasted dough that good. And if I could transport that bakery to my own kitchen today, I would be munching their heavenly bread every day of my life!
Bread from heaven.
But in John 6, Jesus claims to be the real heavenly bread. He says, “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. 27 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….
“I tell you the truth, 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 he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world…this is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live foreover” (John 6:26-27; 32-33; 35; 51; 58).
I am the bread of life.
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”.
After feeding over 5000 people with just five small loaves and two fish, Jesus discusses the meaning of the miracle. He combines the Old Testament name for Yahweh, I AM, with a graphic metaphor of ‘bread’, to express his saving relationship with the world. This is one of the seven “I AM” statements Christ made in John’s gospel. Jesus knew exactly what He was saying, and he was neither ashamed nor reticent about declaring his divinity.
As for the Jewish crowds that ate that lavish picnic and heard Christ’s subsequent claims, they would surely have remembered strains of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy 700 years earlier:
“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; Listen that you may live” (Isa 52:2-3).
But in John 6:53-54, Jesus drops the biggest bombshell of all:
“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
These are stunning claims for a man to make about Himself! I have pondered this text for many days now and hope that you will do the same. My prayer is that we may know our own spiritual hunger and find satisfaction in the risen Christ as our life-giving bread.
Bread of life.
Bread is more than just helpful. It’s the necessary staple food that most of us eat every day. It’s not a luxury, but an essential need of life. Think of some idioms about bread:
Someone’s ‘bread and butter’ is their essential income and livelihood. ‘Breaking bread’ implies deep spiritual fellowship, as well as the physical meal we eat together. The ‘greatest thing since sliced bread’ refers to something more sublime and wonderful than we can imagine.
Bread is also an essential part of the Jewish Passover meal. Jews had to eat unleavened bread during the Passover Feast, and for seven days thereafter, to remember their rescue from slavery in Egypt. And of course, as we saw last week in “Surely this is the Prophet”, bread hearkens back to God’s provision of manna for the Israelites in the desert, through his prophet Moses:
“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3).
In fact, Jesus stands his ground against Satan by quoting this exact text from Deuteronomy when he is led into the wilderness to be tested. Jesus was hungry after fasting for 40 days when “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’” (Matt 4:2-4).
But in John 6, Jesus doesn’t merely say that He supplies the bread of life. He says that He is that bread. He identifies himself as the bread of heaven that never spoils or perishes, and gives life to the world. He tells the crowd to come to Him and believe in Him— to feed on him spiritually. This was no ordinary prophet! He was either a megalomaniac or truly God.
Through feeding the 5000, Jesus exposes a much greater spiritual hunger that is in every human being. We desperately need the spiritual bread that God has provided in the person of his Son.
Feeding is a graphic verb that Jesus gives to describe true faith in Him! Metaphorically, when we put our trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53-56). Jesus used this same metaphor at the Last Supper, when he “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
The crowds specifically ask Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answers them pointedly, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent”. Jesus’s clear answer reminds us that the gospel is all about believing Christ, from beginning to end:
Pleasing God doesn’t come from the works we do, but from whom we believe. The religions of the world are man’s attempts to answer this big question, ‘What must we do to satisfy God?’ But Christ’s reply is so simple and profound: We must believe on Him whom God has sent! Nothing else is required to satisfy God.
And so, the very first step to feeding on the bread of life is to accept that Jesus is who he claims to be and put our trust in Him alone. It is not religion or noble works that can save or sustain us. It is believing that Christ is the One sent by God to give us life and trusting in His finished work on the cross. That is how we feed on Him by faith.
Bread that cannot spoil.
Only Christ can fulfill our eternal longing to be in a right relationship with our Creator. And only He can satisfy the deep hunger of our soul to be righteous. Jesus is better than manna, which went mouldy after a day and ultimately could not save the Israelites from dying. He is better than the unleavened bread of the Passover. He is the eternal bread of life, because his sacrifice confers a righteousness that lasts forever. It’s why Christ says, “Blessed is the man who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, for he shall be filled” (Matt 5:6). The filling is sufficient and complete.
But Jesus is also the bread that cannot spoil, because He has risen from the dead and promises to raise believers up on the last day. Imagine John’s incredulity a few months later, when he saw the risen Jesus standing on the beach, after providing a huge catch of fish that broke the disciples’ nets. It was just like the massive picnic all over again! But this time, Christ said, “Come and have breakfast…Then Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish” (John 21:13). It was like déjà vu. No wonder John knew it was the Lord!
The Lord Jesus is the only bread that cannot spoil. If we follow Him only for temporal benefits, we are no different from the crowd that ate their fill of bread, tried to force Jesus to be their king and pressured Him to prove himself by spectacular signs ((John 6:14; 26; 30-31).
And yet it’s so easy to fill our lives with temporal things — bread that spoils. Unless we feed on Christ, we will remain forever empty, shriveled and parched. He is our daily bread.
Our daily bread.
When asked, “Sir, from now on give us this bread” (John 6:34), Jesus says “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
This is not just a promise for the future, but for life here-and-now too. The Christian life is a present continuous process of feeding and filling by Christ. There is no one else, and nothing else that can fill and feed our souls. And yet, we are so often preoccupied with other ‘bread’ that can’t bring lasting satisfaction.
Feeding on Christ is not just a once-off meal of faith. It is an everyday coming and believing. We know this because Jesus likened himself to manna that the Israelites gathered daily in the barren wilderness (John 6:32-33). It is exactly the same for believers today, as we travel through this barren land. Faith is coming to Christ every day–Not weekly, monthly or yearly. It is only He who can save and sustain us. This is something that the Lord teaches us over and over again, as he is teaching me.
Last week, amongst the excitement and jubilation of our daughter’s wedding this Saturday, our son phoned to say that he had tested positive for Covid! Not only was I deeply disappointed that he may not be able to celebrate with us, but I was also afraid for his health and capacity to isolate and look after himself in a flat shared with other students. I know of many who are experiencing much worse than this, but in the moment, it was hard for me to find God’s provision and peace.
But as I read and re-read this story, Christ consoled and nourished me as if He were right beside me. He made me see that a believer is always sustained by the true bread from heaven, who gives life to the world and will raise our bodies to eternal life with God when He comes again (John 6:54). He is the bread that enables a Christian to live a life of faith that pleases God, and He has borne our sin and sorrows on the cross. He will amply provide for us, not just physically but spiritually too. And He has given us his peace, love and presence, and many other blessings besides. The Lord Jesus has opened my eyes to see his manna all over the ground around us.
If Christ fed 5000 people with just five small loaves, will He not also provide our daily bread?
Lord Jesus, thank you for giving your body for us on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice to give us life. Thank you for abundant, eternal, resurrection life that you have purchased on the cross for all those who believe in you. May we feed on you daily by faith. And thank you, Lord Jesus, that you are the bread that really satisfies and always meets us at our point of need. Thank you for the gift of your people with whom we can break bread and share deep love and fellowship in your name. Give us today our daily bread. Amen.