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The Bread of Life

Jesus: I Am  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:13
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"The Bread of Life" Exodus 3: 1-14, John 6: 25 - 42 We're looking today at the first of the seven "I am sayings" of Jesus that we find in John's gospel, which is the only one of the four gospels that has these statements. And it would seem that John has included them because they fit in with how he wants to present Jesus to us ... which is as the Christ, promised by God from generations past and now at last here. Indeed we find John stating towards the end of his book, chapter 20 verses 30 to 31 that: "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." In chapter 1 of his gospel John tells us that Jesus is the word who was in the beginning with God and was God, the word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. That he is the one who John the Baptist pointed to saying: "Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!", the one who John contrasted himself with when giving a series of "I am not" statements. As we read from verse 20 of that chapter: "He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Christ.'"; verse 21, "They asked him, 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not'"; verse 27, "He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." And lastly in chapter 3 verse 28, where we find him saying: "You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ'" John the Baptist then was keen to point out that he was not the Christ but the messenger sent to prepare the way for Christ, to declare the identity of Jesus before he arrived and took over from him, when Jesus, through his words and works of miracles, revealed his identity to those who would listen and see, announcing not "I am not", but "I am." And as we hear that term, we think back to when it was used before, in Exodus chapter 3 and our first reading. When the Lord met with Moses at the burning bush telling him to go to Pharaoh and bring the people out. Moses said to Him what if the people ask me for your name, what shall I tell them? To which God replied, "I am who I am" Tell them "I am has sent me to you." In other words the Lord was revealing his character in terms of what he was about to do for the people. He was the God who was present with his people, working out his purposes for them such that his nature would become apparent in what he would be and do in human history. In other words the true definition of God would be unfolded in the events of the exodus of his people from Egypt. And now here Jesus was applying that term to himself. For those who could understand, he was saying in effect that the same God who'd been at work revealing himself to the Israelites in the exodus, was now again at work in human history revealing himself in Jesus himself, who is the Christ. Therefore, when he used the term "I am" as part of a statement, he was saying: "this is my nature as God the Son, this is how I work, this is what I will be for you if you will accept me. And so firstly, here in John 6 verse 35, we find Jesus saying: "I am the bread of life." At the beginning of chapter 6 John tells us that Jesus had just fed 5000 plus people with five barley loaves and two small fish. And the people were obviously tremendously impressed by this, but the fact was that they couldn't see the spiritual significance of the miraculous sign. And that was because their minds were earth bound, because they saw Jesus not as the Messiah who'd come to save them from their sins but rather as the Messiah who'd come to overthrow the Romans. They began to say, in verse 14, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world" but yet they thought of him as the leader of a revolution, the one who could and would provide for all their temporal needs. In fact they were all for making him king at once by force such that we're told that Jesus, knowing this, withdrew from them. And then in verse 25 the crowd have found him again. It's the next day and Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum somewhere where it would have been natural for questions to be put to him as he taught ... the sort of questions that we find in our passage. The first question they ask Jesus is, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" A perfectly normal question you'd think, after all they're eager to see him, they've been looking for him since he left them the day before. But then Jesus knows why this is. He knows that their enthusiasm is misguided; that they don't understand at all his purpose in coming to them. The fact is that they're materialists, so obsessed with the material world, and with what they can get of it, that they aren't able to see that the true blessing that God is offering them isn't of that nature at all. They've been looking for him not because of what his miracles are a sign of, his divinity, but because their stomachs were filled and they want more. How much easier life would be if Jesus were to provide them with their food, and anything else they needed, on a daily basis! The woman at the well in John chapter 4, you might remember, had a similar idea when she asked Jesus to give her the living water he spoke of, so that she wouldn't have to return every day to the well ... or so she reasoned. But then the truth is that in this respect they're no different to their forefathers. They've always been a people concerned with what they could get out of their relationship with God in a worldly sense. And yet they've also so often not been satisfied with what he's given them. For example, after the Lord had brought them out of Egypt the book of Exodus tells us that in the desert, when they became thirsty, they began to complain against God so that he gave them water when Moses struck the rock with his staff. And then no sooner was their thirst satisfied than they began to ask for something more substantial ... putting God to the test again. Sure he can give us water, they said, but what about bread, and what about meat? We need those too, don't we? And so God gave them the manna and the quails. The people it seems were unable to see past their next meal, and they waited expectantly for God to provide it. They were unable to see beyond the provision to the provider; unable to grasp the implications of God's miraculous care for them. Unable to see that their God was one who they could depend on utterly for all their needs, both spiritual and physical. That he was a God who they should humbly wait upon to act, rather than demand more and more of, seeing him as the obliging satisfier of their insatiable needs. Well little has changed, the peoples thinking here in our passage is still bound up with their earthly needs and so Jesus tells them bluntly: "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give you." Is able to give to you because, "On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." In other words "You're not getting the point", says Jesus. "Forget about all this physical food. It won't last; it perishes; look beyond that to the spiritual food that God wants to give you; Food that will last, forever." That sounds wonderful say the people, still not understanding what he means, what good works do we have to do to earn it? "Simply believe in me" says Jesus, "as the one sent by God". But then this doesn't satisfy either them. They need some physical evidence similar to that which they received in the desert when Moses fed them; "what are you going to give us to prove you're able to do what you say", they ask? Will you give us manna like Moses did? And once more we find that the people's thoughts are earthbound. They see God's gifts as being things that they can see with their eyes, things that were tangible, things that will make their daily lives better. But Jesus contradicts their thinking again, pointing them to the true bread from heaven. The manna wasn't given by Moses but by God, he explains, and it didn't last. The bread that he's talking about is also given by God, but it's of an entirely different order. This bread gives life to the world. "Sir, give us this bread", the people demand eagerly. And so Jesus tells them: "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." Well, you can almost feel them taking a step backwards can't you? This isn't going to be as easy as they thought. The rules appear to have changed. Up until now they've known that if they did certain things and refrained from doing others, then God would reward them. But now, to get this blessing of the bread of life, they're expected to believe in this man Jesus. And who does he think he is anyway, saying he came from heaven? Haven't they known him since he was a boy, known his parents, Joseph and Mary? It's no coincidence that later in the chapter we read that many of his disciples fall away at this point. The truth was, of course, that throughout the history of God's dealings with humanity the emphasis had always been on God's gracious forgiveness and mercy shown towards unworthy people, and on the need for man's faith and trust in him demonstrated by their humble obedience to his will. As we're reminded in Hebrews chapter 11 for instance where the writer lists the faith shown by so many of God's people of the past speaking of the promised blessings that were to be a result of that faith. But then what of us today, what of modern men, women and children? What can Jesus' claim to be the bread of life have to say to a people who're brought up on pizzas and beef burgers? What relevance can it have for people for whom anything and everything, it can seem, is obtainable? Most of us, in the rich west at least, are unlikely to be ever caught with no food to eat. Our freezers tend to be well filled. We spend our lives working hard to earn money to live comfortably as individuals, not having to worry about such things. So what can Jesus the bread of life have to offer such a people? Many churches in fact are asking just this question. What relevance do Jesus' words have to the modern world? Perhaps, they say, we need to modify the message; bring it up to date; make it more exciting. But surely if this is the way that we're thinking, then we're in danger of falling into the same trap that the people in Jesus' day, and earlier, found themselves in. In danger of being taken up by the material sense of the term "Bread of life", at the expense of its spiritual meaning. Because the fact is that when Jesus talks of life he gives it qualitative as well as quantitative meaning. In other words not only is the life that he gives eternal, it's also "life in all its fullness", John chapter 10 and verse 10. Which means that knowing Jesus as crucified Lord and risen Saviour still transforms a person's whole life as they taste the bread of life, as they experience Jesus as part of them through his Holy Spirit and as they're enabled to understand the things of God and their place in his plans, secure in the knowledge that they are his forever. And in the light of this their previously material priorities become less important as they grasp the actual poverty, the spiritual poverty, which previously was their lot. People around us are indeed busy working at building a comfortable life, as we once were. Busy accumulating possessions and experiences that we're taught will make our lives more satisfying. Whilst they're oblivious to the fact that there's more, much more, to life; and that filling our mental horizons with the seeming unending wealth that the world has to offer leads to the real danger of missing out on the true wealth, the true satisfaction, that Jesus the bread of life offers to us. Because of course these things, these goods that the world offers, will spoil. And perhaps in the current economic as well as moral climate, which exists in our society, people's eyes are opening up to that fact. We can only hope and pray. But then what alternatives are they looking towards? Political systems and messiahs? More satisfying relationships? New age religions? More spirituality? Ways of self-improvement? What about the basic, yet wonderful, Bread of Life? And we in the church too can ourselves be tied up with so much that is irrelevant, with so many things that keep our thoughts rooted in this world. So that we also are in danger of forgetting that it's the spiritual and not the temporal, the obedient faith and not the earth's rewards, that really matter. And so, as a result, we're in danger of missing out on that which we're called to be and to do. The question is, as always: do we know from experience that Jesus is the bread of life? If so then we have a story to tell. Jesus challenged the people who didn't understand his actions and his message, with their own error. Clearly communicating the truth. In love offering himself to them. And we who are Christians have been given that same message to speak out ... as if "God were making his appeal through us", Ephesians 5: 20. Therefore, as the writer to the Hebrews encourages to do, "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us". Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the bread of life, let's "not grow weary and lose heart." Instead let us declare loudly the truth that only he can satisfy, that only he is the answer to the inevitable inadequacy of all that the world has to offer. Amen
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