John 6:41-59: Jesus: The Living Bread
“Follow me, Vicar, into the red zone… Life is too short, and my time left too precious…This is why I shall not be going to church any more. I’ve never been a fan of the baby Jesus, but now, as the summer of middle age begins to fade and small walls become too big, I can no longer tolerate the interminable hymns and the dreary psalms and the saccharine lectures on peace and imperialism and recycling from beardy in the pulpit. In the past I could sit on my hands and bite my tongue and count the seconds, knowing that soon I’d be released into the fresh air. But today I just don’t have the time to waste and I’m filled with a sometimes uncontrollable urge to throttle the vicar, goose the organist and make a break for freedom through the vestry…. Me? Well, since I believe you should live life and not spend half of it in church, preparing for death, I’d take the Mazda, warts, beeps and all, every time.”
That’s how Jeremy Clarkson introduced the new Mazda CX-7 in the Sunday Times last week. Jeremy’s programme Top Gear has at least two male fans at the Vicarage, not counting Tiger the cat, and his In Gear review in the Sunday Times is usually the first thing I read when I get home after the morning service. But last Sunday, Jeremy made me realise Jesus was right, when he said “you cannot serve both God and money” or in the case of Jeremy, “You cannot serve both God and cars.”
I would love to have a one-to-one with Jeremy and find out whether, like many other people, he has been turned off Jesus by the caricature of Christianity he may have encountered. In our reading from John’s Gospel today, we meet some more people who had misunderstood Jesus. Lets consider this encounter under three headings:
1. Hungry Sceptics
2. Eating Jesus
3. Christmas Stuffing
1. Hungry Sceptics (John 6:41-42)
Who were these grumbling skeptics who were following Jesus?
1.1 The Materialists
Some of those
who were following Jesus were merely looking for handouts. Jesus was the latest
and greatest gravy train. In fact, when the crowd arrived, notice the rather blunt
way Jesus greets them "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.” (John 6:26). They were after
their free ‘goody bag’ and they drifted away when the food ran out.
Some people will attend a church for the same reason.
For the business contacts, for community status or to get their children into a good school. They look to Jesus for what they can get. Jesus answer to the materialists among us?
not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which
the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of
approval.” (John 6:27)
1.2 The Legalists
“Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”” (John 6:28). If they couldn’t get a free lunch, they at least wanted a list of rules. They were looking for a dominating, charismatic leader to call the shots and take over their lives. I watched one of the most scary films in my life recently – The Stepford Wives. There is a new cult group on every corner these days led by a control freak who turns his followers into some sort of “Stepford Christians.” When the crowd demanded a list of rules, Jesus gave this surprising answer: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:29).
It may be hard to believe but Jesus wants a genuine relationship with every one of us. That kind of relationship can’t be bought with goodies, and it can’t be built on rules. The materialists wanted the goodies more than they wanted God. The legalists loved the law more than the giver. A third group walked out on Jesus that day.
1.3 The Sensationalists
They asked Jesus this absurd question: “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:30-31)
Think about it. Jesus had just fed over 5,000 people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. The very next day, they are asking him for a sign! Obviously the miracle of feeding the 5,000 gave them enough faith to climb in boats and row all the way across the lake to find Jesus. But yesterday’s miracle was not enough to last until the next morning. I meet people like that today. They are not looking so much for a free lunch or a set of rules. They are looking for entertainment. Ronald Reagan once said, "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."
The same could be said of some who claim to follow Jesus. An insatiable appetite for spiritual excitement, but total lack of responsibility toward the Lord Himself. Wow them and you’ll keep them. Bore them and they are gone. They crave spiritual excitement. They love spectacular entertainment. They want new experiences all the time. They want Jesus to take them from one mountaintop experience to the next with no valleys in between. They want rewards without responsibility.
The sad truth is that some who claim to follow Jesus are actually very fickle. Looking for the newest style, the latest seminar, the most electrifying concert, and the most exciting presentation. “Forty days of this… fifty day adventure to that… seven habits of successful whatever… 21 irrefutable laws of yadda yadda yadda…” It never ends! Now, I’m not saying these things are bad. We need to focus on special emphasis now and then, and some of these programs are helpful. But Jesus did not come to give us endless spiritual highs. He came so we could know Him. Look at the message Jesus gave to the materialists, the legalists and the sensationalists that day: “The bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (John 6:33). "Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.( John 6:34-36)
The response of the crowd tells us a lot about the difference between what people want and what people need. So often the very thing people need the most is the last thing they are looking for. Look at the sad response of the crowd:
“At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?’ ” (John 6:41-42)
When you think about it, the people who walked out on Jesus were treating him the way a customer might demand service from a shop worker. They wanted Jesus the soup kitchen, Jesus the cult leader, Jesus the miracle-worker. Jesus, the Bread of Life didn’t resonate with them. They were hungry because they were materialists and materialism will never meet our deepest need. They were sceptical because they were sensationalists – always seeking another experience to confirm the last one. That is why Jesus raises the spiritual temperature and takes them back to the word of God. Hungry sceptics to eating Jesus.
2. Eating Jesus (John 6:43-58)
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. Instead of answering the sceptics who wanted Jesus to prove his claims, Jesus takes them back to the Word of God. He reminds them that God is sovereign and will not be manipulated.
2.1 Sovereignty of God (John 6:44)
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:44)
It is God who chooses and draws us, not we who choose him. The sovereignty of God.
2.2 Revelation from God (John 6:45-46)
It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46)
The Word of God points to Jesus who alone can fully and finally reveal the Father heart of God. The sovereignty of God leads to revelation from God of:
2.3 Reconciliation with God (John 6:47-51)
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
Jesus here reveals that he would give his life to bring life to the world. See how he moves from manna to flesh. But this is too much for his skeptical audience. They may be hungry for food but this is strong meat.
“Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52)
They are still thinking in worldly materialistic terms and fear Jesus is talking about cannibalism. Jesus is thinking in terms of atonement sacrifice. At Passover, every Jewish family would sacrifice a lamb, cook it and eat it. “There you must sacrifice the Passover in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. Roast it and eat it at the place the LORD your God will choose. Then in the morning return to your tents.” (Deuteronomy 6:16-17)
Jesus was claiming to be the Passover Lamb of God. But notice he does not clarify the misunderstanding. He merely drives his point home with even more graphic language.
53 Jesus said to them, “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. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 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. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 (John 6:41-58)
There is much more to believing in Jesus than saying a prayer. There is much more to following Jesus than offering intellectual assent, or following a moral code or turning up on Sundays. Jesus calls us to the closest of intimacies. Receiving Jesus is as graphic and life changing as eating food. By eating it becomes part of us. It sustains us. It gives life. In a moment we will eat some bread and drink some wine.
The Roman Catholic Church errs when it teaches transubstantiation - that the bread and wine literally becomes the body and blood of Christ. In the words of Article 28 of the Church of England, such a view “cannot be proved from holy Scripture, but is repugnant to the plain teaching of Scripture. It overthrows the nature of the sacrament and has given rise to many superstitions.” However… the bread and the wine is more than a memorial – remembering the death of the Lord Jesus in our place.
Again, to quote Article 28, it is “a sacrament of our redemption through Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and similarly the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.”
I do believe in the real presence. The real presence is not in the bread and the wine. The real presence is of the heart. Christ in you – the hope of glory. When we speak of receiving Jesus into your heart, it is more than mere metaphorical language. A true follower of Jesus Christ is someone who literally feeds on Christ. Seeing is not believing. These people had eaten bread and they wanted more bread. They had the Law of Moses and they wanted more rules. They had seen miracles and they wanted more miracles. Seeing is not believing. Eating is. Eating is believing! Nothing less than eating Jesus will do.
Hungry sceptics. Eating Jesus.
3. Christmas Stuffing
You and I have friends and family who view the world the same way Jeremy Clarkson does. They may not be as articulate or as ‘in your face’ as Jeremy. They may have been turned off Jesus by the kind of caricature of Christianity you tire of in the media.
They may be materialists, legalists, sensationalists or just plain sceptical. But what they have in common is a spiritual hunger. Christmas food and expensive presents will not satisfy their deepest hunger. Only feeding on Jesus can do that. And you are best placed to invite them. And there is no better time than Christmas. A recent survey showed that 43% of adults nationally are planning to attend church at Christmas. Christmas church attendance figures have been rising since the year 2000, from 33% in 2001, to 39% in 2003 and 43% in 2005. Almost half the adult population in London (48%) said they would go to church on Christmas day.
That leaves just one in two who still needs an invitation. Last year over 1600 people attended one or more of our Christmas services. And many of them came because you invited them. Take a moment to look at the invitation in your weekly news. There should be two copies. One for you and one for giving away. Decide which services you are going to attend and who you will invite. As we meet around the Lord’s table in a moment, and as we eat the bread and drink the wine, lets use this occasion to re-dedicate ourselves to Jesus.
As I say the words “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving” may Christ be very real to you. Then as we leave this place, let us seize the opportunities this season of Christmas will provide, to connect a spiritually hungry world with the very Bread of Life.
With grateful thanks for inspiration and ideas from K. Edward Skidmore and Kristopher Morris, and those lovely people at www.serrmoncentral.com