John 6: Bread of Life

Do you ever skip breakfast?
Maybe you don’t hear your alarm and sleep too long.
Oh no!  So late!
No time to eat!
You have to run and catch the bus to get to class.

Later that day, you’re in the library, trying to study.
You start to feel your stomach.
There’s a hole.  It’s empty.
Then you start to hear your stomach.
It rumbles.  It grumbles.
You look around, you hope no one can hear.  So embarrassing!
Have you experienced that?


Free Food for Hungry Stomachs

Imagine you are in a big crowd of people, and everyone is hungry.
No shops, no food, no lunch.
Can you hear the crowd?
It’s like an orchestra tuning.
A low grumbling like a double bass.
Bursts of bubbling like tapping a drum.
A symphony of stomachs!

Let’s turn to John, and meet the huge hungry crowd.

After this, Jesus crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. 3 Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. 4 (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.) 5 Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, ”Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” 6 He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!”
8 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. 9 ”There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”
10 ”Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. 12 After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, ”Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.
14 When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” 15 When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.

John 6:1-15

That was one big picnic.
Fish and chips for everyone!
Well okay, fish and bread.
All those stomachs were satisfied.
All the rumbling stopped.

After this Jesus and the crowd talk about the meaning of what happened.
It’s the longest chapter in John’s Gospel – 71 verses.
We’ll just see some highlights.
First, some Jewish history from early in the Bible.

Long before, the Jewish people were slaves, working in Egypt.
It was no picnic.
The Egyptians treated them like dirt.
If they didn’t make enough bricks, they were whipped.
The people of Israel cried out to God.
God heard, he cared, and he answered.

God sent a prophet, a man called Moses.
He had a long fight with the evil king of Egypt.
More action than Manga comics.
In the end, God defeated Egypt.

Moses led them out into the desert.  (There were 600,000 men, Exodus 12:37)
Freedom!
But: no food.

Stomachs started to rumble.
People started to grumble, “Moses, why did you bring us out here to starve?”  (Exodus 16:3)
Moses cried to God, “How can I feed all these people?”  (Numbers 11:13)

The next morning they woke up, they rubbed their eyes.
All over the ground, like little stones.
It was bread from heaven.
They called it manna (Exodus 16, Psalms 78:24-25)

In the time of Jesus,
In a way, they were still slaves like in Egypt.
Now the Romans were in charge.
Roman soldiers bossed them around.
If the farming or fishing was bad, they didn’t have much to eat.
Life was hard.[1]

But they had hope.
The Bible said one day, once again, God would send bread from heaven.
God would send another prophet like Moses to rescue them again.
And even save them from death.
Look at this promise:

On this mountain, God will spread a wonderful feast
for all the people of the world…
He will swallow up death forever!
God will wipe away all tears.
Isaiah 25:6-8

They were waiting a long time for this.
And now, on the green grass of a hill by the sea, came Jesus.
Have you seen a magician pull a rabbit from a hat?
That’s nothing.
This was rolls and sardines to feed 5000 men, plus their families,
From five rolls and two fish in Jesus’ bare hands – nothing up his sleeves.

It was like manna in the desert.[2]
Could it be a sign?
Could Jesus be the one they were waiting for, come to rescue them again?
Someone who can feed thousands of men from nothing.
That’s the kind of king we need.

Jesus didn’t seem so excited.
He kind of disappeared.


Real Food for Empty Souls

When they found him the next day they were hungry again.
They wanted another free lunch.[3]

Back in the desert, Moses had said:

People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Deuteronomy 8:3

Now Jesus said much the same – put your life into something that lasts.

“I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that I can give you.”
John 6:26-27

Today, we see starving children on TV.
And famines in Africa where there’s no food.

Here in the West, our stomachs are mostly full.
But there’s a different kind of famine.[4]

Go down Queen Street and walk through a crowd.
If you had spiritual ears,
You could hear the rumbling and grumbling of empty souls.
Groaning and moaning of hungry hearts.
A lonely violin.  A piano in pain.
A sad symphony.

A rumbling soul is even more embarrassing than a rumbling stomach.
We stuff ourselves with spiritual junk food so no one will hear.

We eat more and more.
We buy more and more things.
Get more and more friends on Facebook.

But our soul stays empty.
There is a hole, eating us up inside.
It’s a hunger for something lasting, something eternal.
So only the eternal God can satisfy it.

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
St Augustine

Someone said to me last week,
“I’ve got so many friends, so many DVDs, but what am I on this earth for?”
What is my purpose?  Why am I here?
Do you ask yourself that?

Maybe there’s a line in a song that breaks your heart,
a book or a movie that makes you cry,
a sunset that takes your breath away.
Something that makes you homesick.
That makes you hungry for something more.

Jesus sees the deepest hunger in our heart.
I believe our deepest longings come from God.
He wants to fill those needs.
Let’s read what he said.

48 I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”
John 6:48-51

“I am the bread of life.”
If Jesus was in Japan, he might have said,
“I am the rice of life”
or “the sushi of salvation”!

Remember the manna God gave in the desert through Moses?
It was really just ordinary bread – like you and I buy in the supermarket.
If you left it overnight, it got mouldy.
After eating it, you got hungry again.
In the end, you still died.

Jesus is the real manna from heaven.
Maybe in Chinese, he could be called Sky Rice.
If we eat his bread, these bodies will still die one day.
But he will give us new bodies that live forever.

Moses rescued Israel from physical slavery in Egypt.
Jesus can set me free from everything that makes me a spiritual slave.
My anger, my selfishness, my pride,
my bad habits that I never seem to overcome.

Real freedom and a real feed.
Bread that never goes mouldy.
Life that will never die.
That’s what Jesus offers.
He is the living bread, Sky Rice, Supermanna!


Flesh and Blood for Lasting Life

What did the crowd think about all this?

Then the people began arguing with each other about what he meant. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked.
John 6:52

If you want to live for ever, says Jesus, just eat me.

“Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
John 6:54-55

Eat his flesh?
Drink his blood?[5]
It sounds like a horror movie!

No wonder the crowd was upset.
What did Jesus mean?

They say, “You are what you eat”
What we eat goes into us, it becomes part of us.

In some tribes in Africa, a man might kill a lion.
Then he eats its heart, or drinks the blood.
He believes that will give him the strength and life of the lion.

Maybe that’s what Jesus means.
He has eternal life: God’s new life that lasts for ever.
If we feed on him, we’ll have his lasting life ourselves,
and no longer be slaves to death.

Or, imagine someone in a car accident.
They are bleeding badly, losing blood, getting weaker and weaker.
When the ambulance comes, what does the doctor do?
Gives a blood transfusion.

It saves their life.
But it has to be the right sort of blood, healthy blood, that matches.

The only thing that can fit our spiritual hole is the one who made us, God himself.
The only blood that matches our soul and can save us is the living blood of Christ.

African lions, blood transfusions – maybe those pictures help.
Jesus is also saying something more:
Eternal life, lasting life, living forever life,
can only come through blood and death.[6]

A year or two later, Jesus’ friends saw what that meant.
They saw what it cost Jesus to give us new life.
At another Passover, on another hill,
They saw Jesus hung up on the cross.

When Jesus talked about eating his flesh that day,
Many people found it all too hard to swallow.

Work for the bread that lasts, said Jesus.
They just wanted bread to fill their stomachs today – am I the same?

If you feed on me, you’ll have eternal life, said Jesus.
They didn’t like the taste of blood.

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, ”Are you also going to leave?”
John 6:66-67

And that’s the question for us.
Jesus calls you and me to trust in his death and share his life.
To find true freedom in him.
To feast on his living bread.[7]

Will we walk away like the crowd?
Or will we answer like Jesus’ best friend Peter did:

68 Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”
John 6:68

If we want that eternal life,
What do we have to do?
Two times in this chapter, Jesus says, we can only come to him if God draws us (44, 65).

We can’t earn or buy or bake the living bread ourselves.
All we can do is ask God for his bread of life.
Come to him with open hands and wait.

God is not into fast food, so we may have to wait a while.
(There’s a lot of waiting on God in the Psalms.)
Don’t run off and stuff the hole with junk food.
Keep the hole in your heart open – let your hunger be your prayer.

Our God loves to feed the hungry with good things (Psalms 107:9)
Jesus is a generous giver: how many baskets full of bread were left over?
When the time is right, he will give you all the food you need.

That’s the first and only thing that really matters: ask and wait.
But as we finish, here are four practical ways we can feed on Jesus.

We can feed on Jesus by asking him for what we need,
And thanking him for what he gives – that’s called prayer.

We can feed on Jesus,
By reading his words of life in the Bible.
Some Bible reading notes are even called “daily bread”

We can feed on Jesus by meeting with people who know him
and can teach us more – like here in church at Global.

We can feed on Jesus by taking the bread he’s given us
And giving it on to others who are hungry.
Remember today’s story: this is miracle bread.
The more you give away the more you’ll have yourself.
Like the loaves and fish, it multiplies!


Conclusion

So what have we seen today?
My body is made to need physical food,
and my spirit is made for God.
My stomach will rumble and grumble until it gets bread or rice,
and my heart will have a hole until I feed on Jesus Christ.

And where are you at today?
Do you feel like a spiritual slave, like the people in Egypt?
Working hard for things that won’t last.
Or is your soul starving in the desert?
You don’t know how to survive.
Or do you have everything you ever wanted,
but you still aren’t really happy?[8]

Jesus said, happy are those who hunger, for they shall be satisfied.  (Matthew 5:6, Luke 6:21)

Happy are you who cry out,
“God help me.  Set me free!
I’m so hungry: give me this bread of life.”

Don’t be embarrassed.
Prayer like that is a symphony to God’s ears.

God will satisfy the hunger of your heart.
He will set you free.
He will give you a big, rich, heart-warming feed
of the everlasting bread of life.


Questions

When were you the most physically hungry?
What makes you feel spiritually empty or hungry?
How do you try to fill that hole inside?
Are you hungry for the bread of life?
How can we feed on Jesus?

A few years ago, I preached a sermon on the same miracle in Luke 9: “Fishing and Feeding with Jesus“.


[1] Barley was the rough bread of the poor.  Elisha fed 100 people with 20 loaves of barley (2 Kings 4:42-44).
[2] There are other echoes in John 6 of the Exodus, when God freed Israel from Egypt.  God opened the Red Sea for the Israelites to walk through on dry land; Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee.  On the night of Passover, they ate the flesh of the Passover lamb and sprinkled its blood on the doorposts and were saved from the Angel of Death that killed all the Egyptian firstborn; John says this is Passover time (6:4), and we are saved from death by eating the flesh of Jesus, the lamb of God (1:29) who was himself killed at the Passover.  The crowd grumbled against Moses in the desert and about Jesus here.
[3] Those who convert just to get material help or food are sometimes called “Rice Christians”.  Like the populace in Rome, the crowd wanted “bread and circuses” – free food and entertaining miracles.
[4] Not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of God. (Amos 8:11)
[5] Drinking blood was especially shocking to the Jews, because the Old Testament forbids this (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:10, Deuteronomy 12:16).  Kosher butchers drain out the blood.
[6] The grain of wheat must die to produce a harvest (John 12:14).
[7] In Proverbs 9:5, Wisdom invites “come, eat of my bread and drink of my wine”.  In Sirach 24, Wisdom says, “Those who eat of me will hunger for more”.
[8] For example, see the lyrics of Britney Spears’ song “Lucky“.

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