John 6:22-40 – Heavenly Bread
Who enjoyed the banana bread last week? Who would like another piece now? I promise it hasn’t been sitting here since last week, it’s freshly baked. How just like the crowds in John 6 you are! You’ve had your fill of bread and now you want more!
Last week, in the start of John 6 we saw Jesus feed a crowd of five thousand or more people with just five loaves and two fish by the Sea of Galilee. Today’s passage picks up the action the next day. Presumably some of the crowd went home, or found somewhere to stay but it seems many of them just camped out beside the sea. When they wake up in the morning, they’re surprised to see that Jesus has disappeared. There had only been one boat there the day before and they’d watched Jesus pack his disciples on it, before he went up the mountain to pray. Now he’s gone! Eventually they find him in Capernaum hanging with his disciples. Understandably their initial question is, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ and probably just as importantly how? John’s helpfully told us how. In the passage we’ve skipped over, between last week and this week we discover Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee, as you do if you’re the Son of God.
Jesus knows the real reason the crowds have tracked him down though. They call him Rabbi, but they haven’t come to hear his teaching, in fact they’re about to dispute his teaching. They’re not there to learn more about God’s kingdom and his plans for his people. The day before they were ready to crown Jesus as king, but they haven’t come to follow his lead. Jesus says they haven’t come because of the signs that they’ve seen. No, they’ve come searching for their next meal. They’d like another helping of the great feast they enjoyed the day before.
Isn’t Jesus being a little unfair here? John said at the start of the chapter that the crowds kept following him because ‘they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.’ They’ve seen another great sign in the miraculous meal of the bread and fish. That’s why they’re there. How can Jesus say, they haven’t seen the signs? The truth is they’ve seen the signs, but they’ve failed to see the significance of the signs. At a superficial level they point to the fact that Jesus has supernatural powers. But as we said last week, the sign points to much more than that. The feeding of the five thousand was a sign of the gospel itself. The sad reality is the crowds have had their bellies filled and they loved it, but the just want more of the same without realising what’s truly on offer.
Which is why Jesus tells them they should hunger for food that does not perish. We shouldn’t just be looking to fill our bellies today, but to feast upon food that endures for eternal life. You can’t get this food at the local supermarket. None of the bakeries in town stock bread that doesn’t perish. Although I have seen reports of people who’ve kept McDonald’s burgers for over a decade and who claim they still look the same as they day they were made! Real food that doesn’t perish is only available from the Son of Man, the one upon whom God has set his seal. Jesus is the sole distributor of the bread of heaven. God has certified the Son as his own agent, authorising him as the one who alone can bestow heavenly food. Unfortunately, we can’t always trust labels in the supermarket. Things that are labelled Australian made aren’t always wholly made in Australia. As we saw earlier this year, bread that is ‘Baked Today, Fresh in Store’ isn’t always! But Jesus says, God has set his seal upon the Son of Man. There can be no disputing his authenticity, though plenty will try to!
The crowds hear all this and they want to know what they must do to get this bread? Jesus said they should work for it, well what work is required? What does Jesus say? Verse 29, Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It’s about as easy as what they had to do to get their meal yesterday. We believe. We say we believe every week in the Creeds. Where’s our loaf of bread that never runs out?
Did you notice though that the crowds are a bit hesitant? They don’t just say ‘We believe, now where’s our bread?’ Instead they throw the brakes on. They want Jesus to prove his credentials first. Why the hesitation?
I think they’ve understood that what Jesus is talking about is more than just saying, ‘we believe.’ It’s more than merely mouthing mere words. If someone was to run in here shouting, ‘the building’s on fire’ and we said ‘we believe you’ but just kept sitting here, that belief wouldn’t do us much good would it? If we really believe we have to act on that belief. That’s not to say that Jesus is teaching salvation by works, that it’s what we do that earns us salvation. When Jesus said we should work for the food that endures for eternal life, the word he used for work has more of a sense of pouring out all our energy in pursuing. What Jesus calls us to is faith that’s put into action. As James writes in his epistle, we need faith that’s expressed in works. What we need is a working faith, a faith that we put to work everyday, in every way in our lives.
Which is probably why the crowds hesitate. They realise Jesus is talking about a total commitment to following him. Before they jump in, they want proof. It’s a claim we still hear today isn’t it? People say that if God is real he should prove himself beyond a shadow of a doubt before they’ll follow him. But even those who saw all the signs firsthand weren’t satisfied. Even at the foot of the cross people cried out;
32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” – Mark 15:32
You’d think that the crowds had already seen a good enough sign in the meal they’d eaten the day before. But that was yesterday. Today they want a new sign. And surprise, surprise the sign that they want is more bread! They try to justify it with a bit of theology. We know from the start of the chapter that the Passover was near, so the people refer back to Moses. He’s the one who led God’s people out of Egypt in the Exodus, he’s the one who gave them God’s law and told them how to live, and he backed all that up by giving them bread from heaven to eat. The people say to Jesus, you’re claiming to have come from heaven, to carry a new law with you, well prove it by giving us some bread.
What they’re really trying to do is to control Jesus. It’s not just that they want proof. They want to set the terms of the agreement. Jesus has called them to believe in him, to follow him, but they want to be in charge. As long as he does what they want, they’ll follow. As long as he keeps providing them with bread they’ll believe. After the miraculous meal the crowd had wanted to take Jesus by force to make him the kind of king they wanted. They’re trying to do the same thing here. They’re trying to domesticate Jesus, to make him captive to their demands. We’d never do that would we? We’d never try to put Jesus in a box, or just let him have control over just bits of our lives instead of over all of our life. Or would we?
Jesus points out a few errors in their argument. First of all, Moses didn’t give them bread, God did.
4Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. – Ex. 16:4
Interesting enough, did you notice how the provision of manna was linked with the need to obey, the need to follow God’s instruction and his will?
What’s more they’ve forgotten that manna itself was bread that perished. It was heavenly bread, but it only lasted for a day. Even it wasn’t enough. They’ve forgotten what Moses said in Deuteronomy 8:3,
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna… in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. – Deut. 8:3
What they need is true heavenly bread. Jesus says that God now ‘gives’ that bread, present tense. What’s more, Jesus doesn’t just provide the bread of heaven, he is the bread of heaven! He is the one who has come down from heaven and reveals God to us (1:18). He is the one alone who can tell us heavenly things (3:12-3). He is the one whose words are nothing less than the words of God (5:19).
The crowds respond ‘ Sir, give us this bread always.’ They still haven’t got it, they’re still thinking on a mundane level. Jesus goes on to explain in more detail how he is the bread of God has come down from heaven, that he is the bread of life. But more on that next week!
If we want to eat the bread of heaven, we need to believe in Jesus. If we’re going to believe in him, we need to know him. And we know him through God’s word, through the Bible. Back at the end of chapter 5 Jesus said:
39“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. – John 5:39
We need to know what he’s like and what he calls us to do.
How much do we hunger and thirst for God? How much do we long for his word? As a church we want to grow in our relationship with God, through reading his word and through prayer. That’s something we do together, as a church on Sundays, but it’s also something we must each do every day. So how are you going with this? I confess I sometimes look back and realize I’ve gone for a day or a week without reading the Bible for myself. Yes, I’ve read to prepare a sermon or a talk. But I haven’t sat down and read the Bible for myself. I too easily go without solid meal of sitting down and reading it for myself. How about you?
Around the country this weekend people have been doing the 40 Hour Famine. I’ve done it once, and felt it, felt the gnawing pain of hunger, the desire for even a scrap of bread. If we skip a meal or two, our tummies let us know about it. But sadly, we can too easily skip out on eating this heavenly bread and not even feel it. Just as we seek daily bread, we need to seek heavenly bread every day. We feed, and feast on Jesus, when we read the Bible. And it’s not just reading it, but through reading, loving, following and obeying God’s word. We can’t just say we believe in Jesus, we need to put our faith into action. As the old hymn goes, there’s no better way than to trust and obey.
Why not feast on God’s word with me this week? Have a go at reading it every day. If you don’t have a bible at home, grab one off the lending library.