What food is more basic, more essential, and more universal than bread? There is flatbread, fried bread, tortillas, corn bread, bean bread, unleavened bread, crackers, glutton free bread, sweet bread, crackers, the list could go on.
Bread is woven into nearly every culture because it represents the basic sustenance of life. To have your bread is to have all your basic needs met – to be satisfied, to be full, to be fulfilled, to be content.
It is the dietary glue around which we laugh, cry, and forge our relationships. In many cultures, it is so closely tied to religious expression that it has an almost spiritual value. Certainly, in Christianity.
In other words, bread is life.
The “I AM” statement we’re looking at today cuts to the very heart of this life. Jesus is having a conversation with a crowd of people who are looking for life; looking to define their lives and they believe that have found that life in Jesus.
But by the end of this conversation, the thousands of followers are reduced to dozens.
What happened? Jesus offered them a definition for life that they just can’t accept. They’re coming to Jesus, struggling for life, and Jesus exposes the emptiness of the life they’re after.
Let’s listen to our text: John 6:25-35
There was no one that could draw a crowd like Jesus. Everywhere he went, thousands of people followed him. Some are hurt, some are tired, and some have few have demons that need to be cast out. They want to ask him questions. They want him to pray for them. They want him to plant a church, teach a bible study, or meet their “urgent” needs in some way.
And this has been going on for a lengthy season . . . so as you can imagine . . . Jesus is exhausted.
So, he tells the disciples to pull up the boat and to take him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, knowing that the crowds would meet him there eventually . . . but by going this route, he might get actually get a day off because they’re in a row boat so it’s gonna take a while.
When they finally get to the other side, sure enough . . . here they come. It says that there were 5,000 but that was only counting the men. It doesn’t include the women and children so it could have easily been a crowd of 20,000 people.
When Jesus saw them coming, he has compassion and so he says to his disciples, “These people are hungry, we need to feed them.” So, the disciples go out and collect as much food as they can, but they only come up with 5 slices of bread and a couple of fish sticks from some kid they found in the crowd.
Surely that can’t be enough.
But Jesus takes the slices of bread and fish sticks, blesses them, and starts passing it out to the crowd telling them to take as much as they want and when everyone was full, he tells the disciples to go around and collect what was left over; and can you believe it, there are 12 baskets full of bread left over, enough for each of the disciples to have one of their own.
The crowds are so amazed that they decide they want to crown him as king, and make protest signs, and go down the mountain and overthrow the Roman government.
But Jesus is like, “You guys just aren’t getting it. You have no idea who I am”, so he slips away. The next day, the people found him again. This time in Capernaum and this is where we’ll pick up our story.
When they found him, they asked, “When did you get here?” but he doesn’t answer their question. Instead, he changes the subject and says, “You’re only here because you want more free food”.
In this dialogue, there is an event that is referenced; the exodus and it’s important to be familiar with this event in order to understand what’s going on here.
God’s people are in slavery and there is this tyrant named Pharaoh who is enslaving God’s people. So, God sends his servant Moses, along with some really-nasty plagues and a death angel, in order to deliver his people from slavery. He brings them out through the waters of the Red Sea and into the Wilderness.
In Exodus chapter 15, they sing a song called the song of Moses, essentially saying, “Our God is an awesome God.” But then you turn the page to chapter 16 and they’re complaining about how God has left them because they didn’t have any food. They associate the presence of God with their stomachs.
They say, “Sure, we were slaves but at least we had something to eat”
So, God provides. He sends them bread from heaven called manna, enough for people to eat every day, but just enough for that day. On the sixth day, he sends a double portion so the people could rest on the seventh day, which was the sabbath.
For 40 years, God provided bread from heaven.
Fast forward a couple thousand years, there are people prophesying about the Christ who is to come to be their savior, their deliverer, their Messiah. And they’re saying that when the Messiah comes, he will come with Bread from heaven.
Fast forward another four hundred years, Jesus shows up on the scene and what does he do? He multiplies the loaves of bread. They see that, and they’re like, “Ok, this must be the guy”.
So, now they’re having this conversation. What’s interesting is that they don’t say, “You provided bread, you must be the Messiah”. Instead, they say, “You got any more of that bread?”
This is where the struggle begins. This is where Jesus starts to expose certain things about their expectation, and about their heart.
They’re coming thinking that there’s more manna on the way. How great would it be if this guy would feed us for another 40 years? Just imagine how much better life would be if we didn’t have to make bread every day.
But Jesus says, “Your perceived need is not your actual need”.
In Greek, there are a couple ways to talk about life. One of the words for life is bios, which means a physical, material life. The other word is zoe. It’s something that transcends the physical, material life.
Here we have a bunch of people who are coming to Jesus looking for bread, looking for something to meet their physical need so you would expect Jesus to see the word bios. But what Jesus says is, “Don’t look to food that perishes, but look for the food of zoe, that transcends the physical, material life.
In other words, you have a hunger that transcends your physical hunger. You have a zoe need that you’re trying to fill with a bios solution, and it will fail you. You’re concerned with your stomach, but I am concerned about your heart.
But they just don’t get it. Now, as we sit here listening to this story, it’s easy to get judgmental but the reality is that Jesus is pointing out something that we all struggle with.
When you and I look in the mirror and honestly reflect on life, we realize that something is wrong. The question is, “Do we agree with Jesus about what that thing is?”
I think that the human tendency is to minimize our problem and then try to find a solution to our problem that we can control and manage.
This manifest itself in a lot of different ways. “Life is difficult, my circumstances are little overwhelming so I will find my life in a bottle or a drug.” Or “I just don’t feel satisfied with this life, so I will find life in the pleasures of life.” Or “What I really need is more affirmation, so I will make my life all about the opinions and affirmations of others”. So, we make social media posts that will get us more likes.
What Jesus is saying is that whatever you’re looking to for life, that’s what you’re feasting on. If you find your life in things that perish, you will never be filled. The high is going to wear off. That pleasure is very fleeting. The compliments will fade. The bread will run out.
Ultimately, none of those things will fill you because you need a zoe solution for your zoe need.
So, they respond to Jesus, “Obviously you’re talking about some sort of higher end version of manna; manna 2.0 that’s going to fall from the sky. Tell us what we need to do to get that.”
Jesus says to them, “Come on guys, you’re only following me because of the benefits you get from me, but I’m offering to you a relationship that will transcend what you’re looking for.”
You see, when you remove the relationship, the only thing you have left is work . . . for them, it was bartering with God. They wanted Jesus to be a mediator between them and God giving them stuff to make them happy. They didn’t want a Messiah that offered zoe, they just wanted a mediator so they could have their “best life now”.
And the only thing that will happen in your life when you are following Jesus for the benefits is that your schedule might change; you’ll show up to church more, put a little money in the offering basket, get involved in mission projects, do religious work. And maybe out of guilt or emotion or self-righteousness you’ll stop doing those “bad things” you’ve been doing.
It may change your schedule, but it won’t change your heart. Relationship is what brings lasting change in your life. Relationship with Jesus will change you. You will become holy as he is holy. This is the life Jesus is talking about.
Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life”. I am the one who transcends the life you’re looking for.
This is the turning point for the crowd. This is the definition of life that they just can’t accept.
Jesus comes and says, “I have not come to bring your bread. I have come to be the bread. I have not come to improve your life. I have come to be your life.” I am the true zoe.
But he didn’t stop there. He goes on to be even more polarizing than that. He says, “whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus looks at them and says, “I am all you need. I’m what you are looking for. To have me and nothing else is to have everything. So, turn from whatever it is you’re currently looking to for life.”
To that, the crowd says, “Nope. Not going to do that”. For them, they were fine if they got Jesus and the bread. The loved that guy. They wanted to make that guy king.
But as soon as Jesus demands an ounce of allegiance from them, as soon as Jesus draws a line in the sand, the crowds, wave after wave, walk away saying, “This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?”
The thing that struck me the most this week, as I was preparing for this sermon, is that this is a crowd of people who have been following Jesus for a very long time.
They were drawn to him; they loved his teachings, and his miracles; he gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, the ability to walk to those who had not been able to do so for a very long time. He turned water into wine and turned five loaves of bread into an abundance, enough for everyone to eat.
He reached out to those on the fringes of society and those who had thrown out of the church for not being religious enough and told them that about the radical love of God who desperately wanted to be in relationship with them, and his prayers, dude, they were off the charts.
And yet, they missed him.
They wanted Jesus to be a meal ticket. They wanted Jesus to be a politician. They wanted Jesus to be an entertainer. They wanted Jesus to be a healer.
They wanted Jesus to conform to their own image and their own expectations. They experienced him, were impassioned and impressed with him and yet, they missed him. As a result, they missed life.
I don’t want that to happen to us.
Jesus is the only one who breaks for you. All the other breads that are out there will break you. They will leave you wanting. They will leave you broken.
Jesus comes along and says to us, “I am the bread of life”. He finds us starving to death with a stomach full of savior substitutes, eating to become hungry again, drinking to become thirsty again, looking for life and never finding it.
Jesus comes and says, “I am what you’re looking for. I am all you need.”
Then he goes to the cross, and the bread of life is broken for us. He dies in our place, bears the penalty that was ours to bear, raises again in victory over this life so hungry sinners might feast on grace, that thirsty sinners might drink cups of forgiveness and love.
In as much as manna from heaven came down and fed our fathers in the wilderness, Jesus is the bread of life come from heaven, and he is enough for you and me every day!