On Sunday I preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch. They use the Revised Standard Lectionary and the gospel reading for Sunday was John 6: 51 – 58.
So as usual I give you the reading before we get to the talk.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” 52 This started an angry argument among them. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked. 53 Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in yourselves. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day. 55 For my flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.57 The living Father sent me, and because of him I live also. In the same way whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This, then, is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread that your ancestors ate, but then later died. Those who eat this bread will live forever.”
Our reading today from John’s gospel comes soon after the account of the “Feeding of the 5000”, when Jesus fed many thousands of people from just five loaves and two small fishes.
Bread has feature as a part of mankind’s diet for thousands of years. The first traces of bread making are possible 30,000 years old. The world’s oldest evidence of bread‑making has been found in a 14,500 year old Natufian site in Jordan’s northeastern desert.
Bread is eaten virtually every where in the world except south and east Asia where rice or noodles are the staple food.
In Slavic countries such as Russia and Ukraine, visitors are welcomed with a gift of bread and salt.
Often we talk about breaking bread with someone when we share a meal with them.
Or the main income earner in a household is referred to as the “bread winner”.
Bread features throughout the Bible. There are 246 references to bread in the Bible. The first is in Genesis 14 when Abraham meets Melchizedek king of Salem.
Famously God fed the Israelites with Manna, bread from heaven everyday for 40 years until they settled in the promised land of Canaan and were able to grow their own crops. God was able to get the Jews out of Egypt in a night but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Jews, so that they were ready and willing to do things God’s way. Yet through out that time he fed them.
When God gave to Moses detailed instructions on the building and furnishing of the tabernacle which proceeded the Temple in Jerusalem he said that there were to be 12 loaves of bread in the holy place, one for each of the tribes of Israel. This was the “Show bread” or “bread of the presence”.
So the Jews were aware of the significance of bread both from a physical sense and a spiritual sense.
At the beginning of his ministry Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness by the devil. This is what we read in Luke 4:1 – 4 ” Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, AIf you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.@ Jesus answered, AIt is written: >Man shall not live on bread alone.”
Jesus rebuked the devil with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 “…. people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”
I wonder how many of us have memorised scripture so that we can recall it in time of need?
When I was still in the Church of England I led a day time Bible Study Group and one day I asked if people knew any Bible verse by heart. Encouragingly several people came up with scriptures they had learnt, but one elderly lady who had been a church member for many years and head of the Mothers Union came up with what she thought was a bible verse “they say you are nearer to God in a garden“.
So here in John 6 the crowds who Jesus fed the previous day have caught up with him and want to see him do yet more miracles. Some no doubt want to be sure that Jesus is who he says he is. Other are just here for a free meal or to watch a good show.
This is part of the conversation: 31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.‘ “ 32 Jesus said, AI tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. 33 The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.“ 34 “Sir,“ they said, “give us that bread every day.“ 35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
You do wonder from the Jews’ reaction if they get that Jesus is talking about spiritual food, rather than physical food. After all life for the average Jew at the time of Jesus was fairly tough so being well fed would be great and a real blessing. And never being hungry again would be brilliant in a land where you can never rely on the rains coming at the correct time and all the other problems that can beset farmers.
Earlier in John 4, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well and she misunderstood Jesus speaking about spiritual thirst with physical thirst. John 4:13 – 15 ” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.“ The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won=t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus points out that those who ate the manna, the bread from heaven, have died, but those who eat the bread that Jesus brings will never die.
The Jews of Moses’ time who ate the manna, physical food, have died. Yet those who eat the spiritual food Jesus offers will live on past physical death.
People naturally got worried when he talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. To some this could have seemed like human sacrifice or cannibalism which were abhorrent to the Jews as indeed was drinking blood. How are we going to eat him and drink his blood?
The Jews of Jesus’ day were used to the idea of animal sacrifices, after all that is went on from dawn to dusk, day in and day out, at the Temple in Jerusalem. And it is what the Passover meal was about, a lamb being sacrificed and eaten by the people and the blood used on the doorposts of the house to save all who were inside.
But Jesus is talking about him being a sacrifice, his body broken and his blood poured out on the cross of Calvary for our salvation. Jesus paying the price for our sins to put us right with God.
All we have to do to have eternal life is to believe and trust in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. When we come to faith in Jesus we have the Holy Spirit within us to help us feed on Jesus to become more like him as we grow and mature in our faith.
Just as when we eat physical food we absorb its energy and its goodness into our bodies, so through faith we can absorb Jesus’ life and goodness into our lives, our spirits.
And Jesus’ words point us to the Last Supper. We read in Luke 22:19 – 22 “And 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.“ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, AThis cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.“
Jesus wants us to have a personal intimate relationship with him. We are not to keep him at a distance. We are not to say “yes we believe” and then do nothing about it.
I visit many families who will tell me that mum or dad believed but weren’t church goers or anything like that. And sadly there is no evidence of them actually having a faith in Jesus, which is very sad.
So how do we feed on Jesus?
I would suggest that we:
- Spend time in prayer, both talking to God and Jesus, as well as listening to them.
- Read and study our Bible
- Meet with fellow believers for prayer and worship and fellowship
- And also we need to celebrate Communion as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:23 – 26 “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, AThis is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.@ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, AThis cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.@ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord=s death until he comes.”
We do not need anything else to have eternal life. We cannot earn our way into heaven no matter how hard we try.
Sadly some people get led astray and walk away from Jesus to the equivalent of eating spiritual junk food. It may taste good and fill you up for a while but what does it really do to you?
Others say that they believe in Jesus and do nothing about it, so sadly at best they are more or less bonsai Christians.
Jesus is the way to heaven. There is no other way and no matter how sincere followers of other faiths may be, they are sincerely wrong. Jesus said in John 14:6 “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“
We are all going to die, unless the Lord returns whilst we are still alive, but we have his promise to hold on to from John 6:54 “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day.”