Bread of Life
By Pastor Noel Ilagan
In Jesus we have eternal life for He is the Bread of Life
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is not “normal” or “usual” that we describe ourselves or our job in terms of a metaphor or a symbol. For example if you are the secretary in an office and someone asks what you do, you don’t say, “I am the oil that lubricates the office so that things run smoothly.” You just say, “I am an office secretary.” Or if you are a psychiatrist, you don’t say, “I am the light that gives enlightenment to the minds of confused, depressed persons.” Or if you are a school teacher you don’t say, “I am the doorway to knowledge of children.” You just say, “I am a school teacher.”
Yet the Lord Jesus used metaphors to describe Himself and His work. We have the “I AM” statements that He said about Himself such as this one we have with us today, “I AM the Bread of Life.” We will go back to the significance of this “I AM” statements later but first let us look at the story in the Gospel.
After Jesus fed more the than 5,000 people from five (5) mini-loaves of bread and two (2) fish the people did not waste time looking for Him. Using boats they pursued Him to the other side of the lake. A free lunch is always a good incentive to get people moving.
Jesus knew their motivation for searching for Him. He also knew that they were missing the point of what He was doing. He therefore uses the situation to teach them.
First, Jesus tells them their real motivation in looking for Him – that they were after bread. Then He tells them that they should work for the Bread that does not spoil. They should work for the Bread that God gives them because this Bread endures for eternal life.
And so the people ask Jesus, “What are the “works” God wants us to do to get this bread?”
By “works” the Jews had in mind the Torah – the law of Moses. They believed that following the Law that had been expanded into 600+ detailed “do’s” and “don’ts” is the approved way of pleasing God. But the rules were too complicated for them; it had become a burden. The Jews wanted Jesus to give them the “essence” of these complicated rules that covers these 600+ regulations. They wanted a listing of the “critical things” that they should perform.
But in answering them Jesus uses the word “work” in its singular form to refer to the work of God – “work” without the ‘s’. Jesus says to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom God has sent.” He was referring to Himself as the One sent by God. Jesus says that is the essential thing they have to do – for them to receive eternal life.
But the people doubt Jesus and not readily accept what He says. They ask him, “What sign can you show us, so that we may believe You? What proof can You give us to authenticate what You are saying?”
In fairness, there had been many false prophets before Christ that the Jews had seen. The people wanted to be sure that Jesus was not a false prophet. Since Old Testament times God has authenticated the word of prophets by giving signs. God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow to show God’s promise that He would not use floods to destroy the earth again. God answered Elijah’s prayer and sent fire from heaven to burn the sacrifice he offered on Mt Carmel. Jonah was swallowed then released from the belly of the great fish. God had used these signs to validate the true prophets – and so that the Jews would believe.
The people reminds Jesus of the manna from heaven that their forefathers ate while they were being led by Moses in the wilderness. The gift of manna from heaven authenticated Moses as a prophet from God. They were probably doing a mental comparison of Moses and Jesus: Moses had provided food for the Israelites for 40 years; Jesus provided bread for the people on one occasion. Moses provided manna that came from heaven; Jesus gave the people ordinary bread.
But Jesus corrects them: “It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it was My Father. It is also God who gives you the true Bread from heaven – the Bread that gives life to the world.”
Hearing this they tell Jesus, “Sir, give us this Bread always. Make it available to us every day.” This reminds us of the Samaritan woman at the well who asked Jesus for the water that Jesus gives so that she would never be thirsty again. They missed the message of what Jesus was saying and doing. Their ears did not “hear” or they refused to hear what Jesus was talking about. Their concern was the earthly bread that will satisfy their immediate needs.
But Jesus wanted to give them the Bread that leads the to eternal life. This is not to say that physical bread is not important. But Jesus wanted them to think beyond earthly things and think of God’s plan of eternal life for them.
So Jesus finally declares to them: “I AM the Bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.”
This is the first of the “I AM” statements that Jesus makes. The significance of Jesus’ using the words “I AM ” becomes crystal clear when we recall that when Moses asked God for God’s Name, God said, “I AM who I AM. Tell the Israelites that I AM has sent you.” Before anything came into existence, God was there. God is and God will be. God is beyond time.
And God is beyond human language. There is no “name” adequate enough for God. God simply “IS”. Therefore God said, “I am Who I AM.”
Jesus identifies Himself as “I AM” in several other instances: “I AM the bread of life; I AM the light of the world; I AM the true vine; I AM the good shepherd. I AM the resurrection and the life; I AM the way the truth and the life. Before Abraham existed, I AM!”
The Jews understood the implication of Jesus calling Himself “I AM”. They knew that in effect Jesus was saying not only that He is from God. He is God!
In the succeeding verses in John they actually grumble and say among themselves, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” Later the Jews would accuse Him of blasphemy and they would conspire to eliminate Him.
Today the response to Jesus of people is not conspiracy to eliminate Him but indifference to Him – because they don’t take the time to really know Him and think seriously about His words and His deeds. If they would only seriously think about His words and deeds of love and compassion they would have to reconsider their position.
Because if we really think about it, what Jesus claimed about Himself and what He did while on earth would lead us into only three (3) options: That Jesus was insane and did not know what He was saying in claiming He was God; or that He was a great liar, an evil man who was able to deceive millions over the centuries; or we have the third option – that He was what He claimed He was; He was and is the Son of God.
C.S. Lewis, atheist turned theologian whose ideas helped me in my own faith journey put it this way: A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a simply a great religious leader. He’d either be a mad man who should be in a mental institution; or He would be the greatest liar who ever lived – the Devil himself. Or else this man was, and is, the Son of God!
We thank the Holy Spirit for creating faith in our hearts – and in our intellect to believe and to know Jesus Christ. He is indeed the Bread of Life. He is the one Who loves us so much He gave Himself for us on the cross and offers Himself to us in Holy Communion. Jesus is the great “I AM” who is with us always. Thanks be to God! Amen.