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The text of Sunday’s message was John 6:60-69. It begins with many of Jesus’ disciples struggling to accept what they considered a hard teaching. We have to look back a bit to verses 16-59 to see what teaching they were grumbling about. After Jesus had fed the 5000, in the evening, Jesus’ disciples took a boat across the lake to Capernaum. Jesus did not go with them but later, after dark and amid strong winds and rough waters, Jesus walked across the lake to their boat which was 3 or 4 miles out. The disciples were frightened at first, but when Jesus identified Himself and told them not to be afraid, they took Him into the boat and almost immediately found themselves on shore.
The crowd that Jesus had fed stayed on the opposite shore, but the next day, when they realized that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they boarded boats that had landed from Tiberius and crossed the lake in search of them. When they found them, they asked Jesus when He had got there. (They had seen the disciples take the boat and knew that Jesus had not been with them.)
Rather than answer their question, Jesus called them out as to their motives for “following” Him. “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.” They didn’t care so much FOR HIM as for what they thought He could do FOR THEM. Little did they know He could do so much more for them than they imagined.
Their response was to ask what work they could do that would please God, to which Jesus replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (See Hebrews 11:6) Evidently Jesus’ admonition about their motives had fallen on deaf ears because they asked for another sign or miracle. They asked for more bread!
They referred to events recorded in Exodus 16 when the Lord had told Moses that He would rain down bread from heaven for the Israelites grumbling in the wilderness. They were to go out and collect each day just enough manna (a bread that was white like coriander seed and tasted like wagers made from honey) for that day. It was a miraculous provision of God that they were now asking Jesus to duplicate.
In effect, Jesus told them, “That was just bread, but the true bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Not understanding the difference between bread that satisfies physical hunger and THE BREAD that would satisfy their souls, the people carelessly said, “Yeah, give us some of that!”
Jesus’ answer would shake them out of their shallow and superficial ignorance. It would confront them with truth and force a choice to believe or not- to follow or not. “I am the bread of life.” The truth was not lost on the Jews who remembered the “I Am” who had led their ancestors out of captivity in Egypt and into the Promised Land. (Exodus 3:14). They began grumbling. How dare this son of a carpenter who grew up here among us claim to be God!
Jesus did not stop there. He told them to stop grumbling and took his claims further by saying, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” WHAT???
As the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves about how Jesus would give them His flesh to eat, Jesus continued, ““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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
As Christians, we read this and we think of communion. That is PARTLY right. It is the reason we celebrate communion – to remind ourselves that Jesus is our nourishment – that we have eternal life because we received Christ. We believed in Him whom the Father sent and we received the sacrifice of His flesh on our behalf. We took His blood which cleansed us of our sin and it was applied to our innermost being, washing over us and satisfying the judgment of God and our spirits within us. We are sustained by the flesh and blood of Christ forever. Our salvation is complete in Him.
Remember that after Jesus’ baptism, He was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil forty days in which He ate nothing. This is recorded in Matthew 4. The devil tempted Jesus to satisfy His physical hunger by changing the stones into bread. Jesus answered him, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Interestingly, this was a reference to Deuteronomy 8:3 which pointed to the same provision of manna that the Jews brought up in John 6 when they wanted Jesus to give them more bread. “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.”
The Jews in John 6 would have known this Scripture contained within their Pentateuch or Torah, the primary reference for the Judaic religion, the first five books of our Bible. They would have known it, but seemed oblivious to its import and application in this conversation with Jesus which was reminiscent of a former conversation Jesus had with his disciples in John 4. Jesus’ disciples had urged Him to eat something, and He had responded, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” He went on to say, “My food is to do the will of the One Who sent me and to finish His work.”
While our physical life is sustained by eating food of which bread is considered a staple and therefore representative of all food, eternal life which is so much more important is sustained by Jesus – the Word of God. The Jews in John 6 were more concerned with the temporal, with satisfying their flesh while Jesus was offering them satisfaction for their souls. They closed their minds to His teaching because it was difficult. It would rearrange their priorities, interrupting and complicating their lives. Jesus offered them His food, and they refused Him. They chose to starve their spirits and feed their flesh.