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Jesus: The Bread of Life.

May 8, 2014

Read John 6: 1 – 15 and 25 – 59

I have recently spent some time studying the gospel of John. One of the 4 biographies of Jesus that are available to us. We often encourage those seeking to understand the Christian faith to start with one of the gospels. To begin with Jesus. And often as Christians I am sure we find ourselves drawn back to these accounts of the life and ministry of our Saviour. To remind ourselves of his works and his words. To bring our faith alive. We continue as we began – with Jesus.

It is often difficult to read a book for a second time. If we read a detective thriller again, we already know what the outcome is going to be. So that sense of suspense can never be repeated. So it is interesting that for many of us, who have been Christians for many years, we have read these gospel accounts maybe literally hundreds of times. And we might imagine that there will be such a familiarity that there will be nothing new to find. No surprises. Indeed even as we read the gospels the writers tell us from a very early stage what the ultimate outcome is going to be, the betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus.

So as I have spent time recently studying John’s biography of the earthly life of Jesus, I have been surprised at how much this book still surprises me. Things are not how I would expect them at all. I remember the outline of the story so well, but the detail is far from the expected account. This is a reminder I believe to all of us that God’s word is never to be treated as familiar or unable to teach us any more. We can always open the pages expectantly, looking to God’s Holy Spirit to breathe new life into them and to us.

When we think of the ministry of Jesus, we can see 2 main aspects of Jesus. His works and his words. The thread running through all this is of course his mission, to be accomplished through his victory on the cross at Calvary.

The gospels record something in the region of 35 miracles. Extraordinary things that Jesus does, including healings of many kinds, amazing evidences of his dominance over nature, and even occurrences of raising people from the dead. What surprises me about the gospel of John is that the writer is very selective. He chooses a mere 8 miracles spread throughout the book’s pages. Everything is carefully chosen towards John’s ultimate stated goal, that his readers will believe in Jesus.

I have read recently that the atheists who are so vocal in our society today, use one of their major arguments about the credibility of Christianity today, that some Christians still believe in miracles. I am not sure what the other Christians they talk about believe, for the Bible is very clear about Jesus and the things he did. On the day of Pentecost as Peter preached he reminded the crowd of Jesus of Nazareth, “a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs”. If we take away the miracles of Jesus, we may gain credibility with the people around us but we undermine the uniqueness of the one we follow and render his mission futile. We reduce the life of Jesus to his words.

Today it seems Jesus does still have his admirers, even outside his church. People have a high regard for his Jesus. They hold his teaching up as being of great value. Sometimes people will even single out Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as a great example to live by. Sad to say that on closer questioning few of them can probably tell you many of his sayings. They may just summarise Jesus’ message as “Do as you would be done by”.

As much as I am struck by the scant references to the miraculous works of Jesus, I am also taken aback this time around on the sheer volume of words. John’s gospel is full of talking, whether Jesus is addressing crowds, or individuals, friends or opponents. Often his words accompany his works, explaining what has happened. His words win him friends, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did”. His words cause people to want him dead. It becomes clear that Jesus says things which people find deeply offensive, a far cry from a simple “Do as you would be done by”. Paul warns us that our gospel message will be offensive to many – we should not be surprised by this.

Works and words together. And that is what we find here in this chapter of John. An extraordinary miracle. One of the most memorable. One of the top Sunday school miracles. Followed by words of explanation that alienated many offended listeners.

Jesus ministry in the gospel so far has been relatively low key. His first recorded miracle, the turning of the water into wine seems to have been a secret to all but a handful of people. John tells us that the Master of the Banquet gave credit for the wine’s quality to the bridegroom, rather than Jesus. John records that Jesus heals 1 lame man in a crowd of many sick people, and an official’s son. He has long one on one conversations with a Jewish leader and a Samaritan woman. But John tells us in our passage that his miracles were being seen and, presumably, talked about. Surely we would expect the Son of God to do things on a larger scale. Now the perfect opportunity presents itself.

 

DAY ONE

Jesus it seems was looking to spend some time alone with his disciples at the start of our passage, but the word is out, and he is followed a great crowd. When Jesus looks up he is confronted by a sea of faces. Of course we all know how many there were in this crowd. We call it the feeding of the 5,000. As we do that we fail to do it justice. John makes it clearer there are 5,000 men. Plus women. And children. One can imagine a fairly average football crowd.

Faced by this multitude Jesus cracks a joke. At least that’s probably what his disciples hoped it was. “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” What kind of question is that? It has to be a joke doesn’t it? I mean you can’t even begin to answer that. Jesus disciples to buy food for maybe 15 or 20 thousand hungry people. It is a nonsense, a joke.

If we think that, John, who of course was one of those disciples and present on this occasion, quickly dispels our illusions. Jesus already has in mind what he is going to do. His question is just to test his followers. Jesus may have been wanting a quieter time with his apprentices, but he is not caught out by this turn of events. He is totally in control and has a plan.

Where do you find yourself, like the disciples, totally overwhelmed, by what faces you? The challenges of living the Christian life before your colleagues and neighbours. The struggle of being a church that reaches those around with the life transforming gospel of Jesus. We frequently get caught out, but it is worth remembering that our Lord is never taken by surprise and he has a plan. Plans that will involve us.

2 disciples speak up. It sounds as though Philip has a calculator with him or tremendous ability at mental arithmetic. He actually rises to the challenge and attempts the maths. Eight months wages. Imagine that in your own mind. Eight months of your wages. A lot of money to most of us. In fact Philip says even that won’t be enough.

Andrew speaks up. He is an expert at bringing people to Jesus. We see him doing that in the gospel accounts. He points out a boy. He’s looked around to see what food is available in the crowd. “Here’s a boy with 5 small loaves and two small fish, but what good is that to a football crowd?”

So why did he even mention it? Perhaps thoughts were forming in his mind. “My teacher has turned water into wine. Why not one boy’s picnic into a feast? Probably not.”

But Jesus doesn’t flinch. That is exactly what he is going to do. He makes the people sit down and he says grace. It looks farcical. But  from one lunch box everybody has more than enough.

There is an emptiness in people around us. This story reminds us that Jesus is more than enough to fill the hole in people’s lives. To fill their lives with meaning.

We talked about how as Jesus’ followers we are overwhelmed. We feel that God is calling us to do something for him, but we don’t have the gifts and abilities. Like the boy I haven’t got much to offer. But that is all Jesus asks of us. He does not ask the boy if he has got any more with him. He doesn’t ask us to be something we are not. He just asks us to place our lives in his hands with all our strengths and weaknesses – and he will do the rest, in his power. Don’t try to be like somebody else. Be you. Because you are what God made you.

There are baskets left over, the people are amazed. It’s fantastic exposure for the Kingdom of God. But Jesus leaves them. He is not going to be the kind of leader they want him to be.

A night passes. An extraordinary night. Jesus shows further his mastery over nature by walking on the water. He and his disciples escape to the other side of the lake. But again there is no escape. Many of the crowd have got in boats the following morning to find him and they do.

­­­­­­­­­­­­______________________________

DAY TWO

We’ve seen the works. Now it’s time for the words.

The people quiz Jesus as to how he got to the other side of the lake. But he wants to talk about other things.

He can see right through these people. They are only following him because of the loaves and fishes. It’s all about filling their stomachs, but Jesus challenges not to live for food that fills their stomachs but food that lasts eternally. “I can give you that bread too”.

The people then ask what they must do to please God. What are God’s works for them to do? Jesus is again direct in his answer. “Believe in the one who God has sent.”

Now that doesn’t seem hard.

Yesterday he fed a football crowd with next to nothing.

Yesterday they said “This is the Prophet”.

Yesterday they wanted make him king.

Today they ask him for another miracle to prove himself.

Maybe it was coming up to lunch time. Feed us again. Moses gave us manna in the wilderness. What can you do? How fickle these people are! Yesterday they seemed to understand. Not today. Jesus talks about miraculous signs. They remember the miracle but they miss the sign that points to something higher.

Jesus reminds his listeners that of course it wasn’t Moses who miraculously fed the Israelites with manna in the wilderness. This was God’s provision. But Jesus goes beyond the manna. The bread of God comes down from heaven and gives life. Now.

Perhaps they are hungry “Give us this bread then”. It reminds us of the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman where he offered her living water. “Sir give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty”.

“I AM the bread of life”. Bang! 2 words made up of 3 letters. It means nothing to us today to say “I am”. But when Jesus used those words of himself they were full of meaning and challenge. No Jew would use those words. For I Am was the name of God given to Moses.

Jesus dares to take them on his lips. For he is God. This is not blasphemy. This is truth.

“I am the bread of life. You don’t need food. You need me. Get your priorities right. You need never be hungry you need never be thirsty”.

Again we are faced with the crowd, the neighbour, the work colleague, the overwhelming task. We talk to people about Jesus and there seems to be no connection with our listener. There seems to be no sense of a need of God. They need lots of things. Money, success, relationships, material things.

Do we hesitate? Do we find ourselves thinking the people around us don’t need Jesus? Because they surely do! We can be confident that Jesus is the answer. He said so. And he proved it.

But Jesus is clear about the tragedy here. “You have seen the miracles and you still don’t believe in me. You have failed to read the signs.

But there are those who do believe and those are the ones Jesus has come for. In his opening chapter John tells us that Jesus/the Word came to his own creation, “but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”.

Jesus has come to rescue not to condemn. And he assures his listeners of a welcome for those who come to him, the bread of life. He will not drive us away when we come to him, he will not let us go as we walk with him, even when we fail him. The life that is found in Jesus is eternal. We too will know his resurrection.

As believers we can have confidence in that. His work is perfect. He will not let us slip from his hands. In times of failure and doubt. In the darkest times that this life will bring us, we can trust him completely. Sometimes in the dark we will lose sight of him, but he assures us of our ultimate safety.

From the high point of yesterday to low of today. The crowd think they have seen through him. “How can this man come from God. We know him. He’s the son of Joseph. He is just one of us”. The miracles are forgotten. There is nothing special about Jesus.

Jesus rebukes them and repeats. “No one has seen God except for the one he has sent. Eternal life is at stake here. I AM the bread of life. Manna didn’t give eternal life. They all died in the desert. You need to eat the bread of life”.

The words that follow are the final straw for some “You need to eat my flesh”.

The Jews are furious at what they see as nonsense.

But for Jesus our life can only be found in eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The talking has taken a strange turn. But life, eternal life, can only be found in Jesus. His listeners want to concentrate on the absurdity of Jesus’ words taken literally and miss the meaning.

We need as followers of Jesus, to feed on him. We need to give time to prayer and reading of his word. We need to allow his word to shape us. In the breaking of bread we symbolically take of his flesh and blood and remind ourselves time and again of his sacrifice, his rescue mission bought at the cost of his broken body and spilt blood.

That is the price of our salvation. That is the source of his victory. Like Paul we can boast in nothing else but the cross of Jesus.

If we were to read on we would find that after this conversation even many of Jesus’ followers deserted him. We should never fool ourselves that it is easy to follow Jesus. Even we believers will struggle with Jesus’ words. Will not always see clearly how we can live out his teaching in the cut and thrust of daily life.

But Jesus tells us that he is enough. He is trustworthy. He is the only source of our life and our hope.

His amazing miracle reminds us that he will not be frustrated in his plans. No situation is beyond his control.

And not one of us can say we have nothing to offer. Our resources individually and as a church, however meagre they may seem, in his hands, can achieve amazing things to the glory of God.

Let’s commit ourselves to him, for he never fails. The Bread of life.

 

 

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