Throughout history, in cultures and communities throughout the world, bread has been the most basic source of nourishment. The Hebrew slaves ate “matzo,” or unleavened bread before they packed up their bags and began their journey to the Promised Land. From the time of the construction of the Temple there were always 12 loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, sitting on the Table of Showbread, just outside of the Holy Place. Each sabbath day the loaves were replaced with 12 freshly baked loaves. In biblical times, the Roman government gave free grain to the poor so they could make bread and sustain their families. Bread has been the staff of life for people around the world for thousands of years.
Today, people like Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, who within the past week received the 2014 World Food Prize, known as the “Noble Prize for Food and Agriculture,” work to develop new ways to produce more bread for the world’s population. Dr. Rajaram has developed over 480 varieties of “bread wheat” which are higher yielding and more drought and disease resistant. They may call it baguettes in France, tortillas in Mexico, bing in China, focaccia in Italy, hallulla in Chile, himbasha in Ethiopia, kulcha in India, pandesal in the Philippines, roti in Pakistan, or good ol’ Mrs. Baird’s right here in Oklahoma, but bread is the most basic source of sustenance known to humanity.
In John 6, we’ve already seen Jesus feed the hungry crowd with five loaves and two fish in a miracle that defies explanation. The crowd followed Him wanting more. In our Scripture for today, found in John 6:29-36, we will learn about a different kind of bread that will satisfy the deepest hunger of your life and mine. Let’s read our Scripture for today.
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. (John 6:29-36 NIV)
The people had asked, “What work must we do to do the work of God?” Jesus said, “Believe in the one he has sent.” The people were wanting to know what they must do, what work they needed to perform, how many times a month they needed to go to church, how many doors they had to knock on, on a Saturday morning, how many verses they had to memorize a week, or how long their quiet time had to be to win God’s approval? Jesus said, “Believe in Me. Trust in Me. Listen to Me. Follow Me. Cling to Me. When you’re ideas, assumptions, and desires come into conflict with what I desire…Trust Me.”
The people, after hearing Jesus urge them to believe in Him, say, “Why don’t you give us a sign so we can believe in you? What will you do for us? What will you do?” Don’t you find it rather ironic that these same folks who were asking Jesus to show them a “sign” were the same people who just the day before witnessed one of the most amazing miracles ever in the feeding of the 5,000? The miracle wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough that Jesus had met their needs yesterday, He needed to show them that He could meet their needs today, and each and everyday for that matter. Before we are too quick to condemn the people who were demanding a new sign from Jesus, we need to stop and think about ourselves. Isn’t one of our biggest questions for Jesus, “What will you do for me?” We would never verbalize it, we’d never let anyone know what we’re thinking, but deep inside we want to know how following Jesus will benefit us? Don’t believe that’s accurate? Then answer the following questions, “How do you respond to God when you don’t get what you want?” Do you question and fuss or pray and trust?
I don’t want to get bogged down on periphery lessons and miss the opportunity to share the heart of this Scripture this morning so let’s move on. Let’s focus on John 6:30-31 for a few minutes. Read along with me.
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” (John 6:30-31 NIV)
Some Bible teachers say that there is background information that we need to know about the people’s response to Jesus. They say the people were echoing things they had heard their rabbis teach. The rabbis were teaching that when Messiah comes he will replicate the miracle of Moses in the Wilderness. You remember how the Lord fed His people through the 40 years of wandering around in the Wilderness don’t you? He fed them manna and quail, 6 days a week, for 40 years! The food assistance program started because the people were complaining about being hungry. They said, “If only we had died in Egypt! At least we had something to eat there.” In response to their complaining, God spoke to Moses and said, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you…” (Exodus 16:4 NIV) In several Midrash, or Jewish commentaries, the rabbis speak about the manna to come. In Midrash Rabbah Eccl. 1:9 we read, “As the first redeemer caused manna to descend…so will the latter redeemer cause manna to descend.” There may be some truth to this hypothesis about the people echoing what their rabbis were teaching, but I seriously doubt that Jesus was surrounded by a bunch of 1st century theologians. I think something much more basic, more fundamental to the human condition, was going on amongst the crowd. Something like this, “We want what we want.” That has been the very fabric and fiber of people since the Fall took place in Genesis 3. The people wanted Jesus to do something for them, they wanted Him to feed them, to show them a sign, to convince them that He was the Messiah. They said, “What will you do?”
Jesus didn’t answer their question, but He did set the record straight, it wasn’t Moses who had given their ancestors bread during those 40 years. Take a look at John 6:32-34 with me.
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” (John 6:32-34 NIV)
Jesus made two statements: The first statement is very clear—it wasn’t Moses who had supplied the bread, it was God. The second statement is a hint of what is to come. The manna in the Wilderness was not the true bread of God. The manna that came down from heaven while the Hebrews were wandering in the Wilderness only sustained for a little while. Each day they had to gather up more manna to make it through the day. A little later in John 6, Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.” (John 6:49 NIV) And then, just nine verses later, Jesus said,
58 …Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58b NIV)
The people ate the manna provided by God, but it only provided momentary satisfaction. The manna was a gift from God, the provision of God, and yet everyone who ate the manna in the Wilderness eventually died.
Jesus was a Master teacher. He used the everyday stuff of life to teach really important, eternally significant, lessons to those who had “ears to hear.” Let me give you an illustration about what I’m talking about by going back to John 4 and the woman at the well. You remember the story. There was a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water. She was thirsty . Each and every person who has ever lived can relate because we have all experienced what it feels like to be thirsty. Her thirst went much deeper than her need for water. She had been married five times and the man she was currently with wasn’t her husband. Jesus told her that He would give her “living water” and she would never thirst again. The woman was “all in.” Jesus said,
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” (John 4:13-14 NIV)
The woman was looking to Jesus for utilitarian purposes. If Jesus knew how she could get an endless supply of water and never have to walk to the well again, she was his new best friend! John tells us,
15 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.” (John 4:15 NIV)
The woman said, “Give me water!” The people said, “Give us bread!” Jesus used these most basic human needs to teach people about their deepest need in life. Have you ever considered that your desires, wants, and needs might possibly be an indicator, a reminder to you and me about our deepest need in life? When we get hungry we find something to eat. When we are thirsty we search for something to drink. Could God possibly have something deeper in mind for you and me when we experience these physical needs? Let me use Jesus as an example to illustrate the point I’m trying to make.
In Matthew 4, Jesus had been out in the wilderness, fasting for 40 days and nights, when Satan came to tempt Him. What do you think Jesus’ most dire need was after having fasted for 40 days and nights? Look at Matthew 4:3-4 with me.
3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:3-4 NIV)
Satan hit Jesus where He was most vulnerable—He was hungry. When Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stones into bread. Jesus remembered a Sunday school lesson He had learned as a boy, but was now putting into practice. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 where God told His people that there was a purpose why He fed them when they were hungry all of those years in the Wilderness. Listen to this, it will blow your mind.
3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3 NIV)
You may wonder, “Why did God feed the people back in Exodus? Was it because they complained and He got tired of hearing them gripe?” Not at all, He used their natural hunger to teach them a greater lesson, “You need My Word even more than you need the manna I’m giving you.”
Oh, we desperately need to learn this lesson my friends. When we feel our souls growling and we think that we need whatever it is that we’ve set our sights on, we need to remind ourselves that our craving, our hunger, the growling of our souls is only symptomatic of a deeper hunger—a hunger for God.
I watched an episode of Extreme Weight Loss this past week. I’m going to make a confession this morning—I’ve got a “man crush” on Chris Powell. I love his passion, his heart to help people, and the way that he doesn’t pull any punches with those he’s working with to help them lose weight. This past week Chris was working with a songwriter from Nashville named Jayce. Jayce had been going through a nasty divorce and custody battle for seven long years. During that time he put on 100 lbs. During those seven years, every time Jayce got stressed about the mess that his life had become he ran to food and cigarettes. They became his “strong tower” of peace to help him relieve his stress. They didn’t work. They were killing him.
Just as “bread” can’t sustain us, neither can anything else in all of creation. We feel stressed, we feel lonely, we feel empty, we feel depressed and we run to people, experiences, substances, or some form of escape to try and bring us peace and relief, but they only mask the mess momentarily. When we take our pain, stress, emptiness, loneliness, depression, and whatever else it is that causes our souls to growl to God then we can experience a fullness that nothing else can provide. We can feast upon the fullness of our Savior and find lasting satisfaction.
I want to share something with you that is vitally important. God intends for us to turn to Him each and every moment of each and every day, not just when we are going through trials. He desires for us to experience His abundance at all times. Let me give you an example.
I shared with you the encounter Jesus had with the woman at the well. Jesus wasn’t depressed, He wasn’t anxiety ridden like He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was ministering to a woman in need. The disciples came onto the scene and they knew it had been a long time since Jesus had eaten anything. In John 4:31-34 we read about what happened next.
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:31-34 NIV)
Jesus, though He hadn’t eaten physical food, was full. Why? Because He knew a fullness and satisfaction in doing His Father’s will that no Vegas buffet line or “5 star” restaurant can ever deliver! “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
Let’s close out our time together this morning by taking a look at John 6:34-35 where Jesus makes the first of seven “I am” statements found in the Gospel of John. Read along with me.
33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:34-35 NIV)
The people, like the woman at the well, say, “Sir always give us this bread.” Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus didn’t come to give them bread, He is the bread of life. I want to show you something that is so powerful that it should fill our hearts with awe. Look at verse 35 with me. Find the phrase where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” The sentence, in Greek, begins “??? ????” (ego eimi). Translated into English it literally reads, “I am, I am the bread of life.” That probably doesn’t sound too earth shattering to you, but give me a minute and it will. What is really interesting about this Greek phrase is that it is found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, called the Septuagint, in Exodus 3:14 where God revealed Himself to Moses. Let’s read that verse together.
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14 NIV)
Jesus, in saying, “I am the bread of life” is also saying I am God, I’m the true Bread, I’m the One who gives life to all who will receive the true Bread. Like the manna that came down from heaven, Jesus came down to give life to all who will feast upon Him.
I want you to think about something as we prepare to leave here this morning. There are seven places in the 6th chapter of John where Jesus says He came down from heaven. Let me just read you a couple. Turn to verse 51 with me.
51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:51 NAS)
58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.” (John 6:58 NAS)
Jesus came down from heaven. Why did He come? He came for you that’s why He came. He came for me. We are as lost as lost can be apart from Jesus. We will continue on our endless search for meaning and satisfaction for the rest of our lives and come up disappointed time and time again. The people you think will complete you, satisfy you, will leave you hungry. The accumulation of stuff will excite you for a moment, but in the end you will hunger again. The experiences you long for will thrill you for awhile, but you’ll be left singing the blues like B.B. King who testified, “The thrill is gone!” Religion promises to bring peace and tranquility, but religion is nothing more than man’s attempt to catch God’s attention. You will wear yourself out trying to be good, but in the end you will still be hungry.
In the midst of our mess Jesus has come down to us. Ravi Zacharias, in his book Jesus Among Other Gods, gives so clearly shows the difference between Jesus and all of the other religious leaders. He writes,
At the heart of every major religion is a leading exponent. As the exposition is studied, something very significant emerges. There comes a bifurcation, or a distinction, between the person and the teaching—Mohammed, to the Koran. Buddha, to the Noble Path. Krishna, to his philosophizing. Zoroaster, to his ethics. Whatever we may make of their claims, one reality is inescapable. They are teachers who point to their teaching or show some particular way. In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living…it is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It isnot Mohammed who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message …He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, “I am the truth.” He did not just show a way. He said, “I am the way.” He did not just open up vistas. He said, “I am the door.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the I AM'” In Him is not just the offer of life’s bread. He is the bread. (Zacharias, Ravi. Jesus Among Other Gods. p. 89-90).
I have to ask you this morning, “Are you hungry?” Is there a growling in your soul that just can’t seem to be satisfied? I want to invite you this morning to receive the Bread of Life. He will fill your deepest longing, He will satisfy your insatiable appetite for meaning and satisfaction, and He will never leave you, not for a minute, for the rest of your life. Won’t you believe what He says and surrender your life to Him this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 22, 2014