"Bread from Heaven"
John 6:26 - 58
(Delivered Sunday, September 10, 2000 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James version.)
It's appropriate that we have a picnic right after church this morning; because this morning's passage is made for hungry people. In fact, I don't think this passage will mean much to you unless you know what it's like to be very hungry.
I'm not talking about a hunger for physical food; however. You're probably already hungry enough for that; and there'll be plenty of physical food to satisfy that hunger in just a little while. Instead, I'm talking about a "spiritual" hunger. This morning's passage is a word from God to people who are hungry down deep in their souls -- people who have a sense of something missing within them that physical things would never be able to satisfy.
God loves people and wants them to experience genuine inner satisfaction. There are some people, though, who never know that sort of satisfaction. They know that they need something desperately, but they just can't find what it is that their soul is craving for. Sadly, they often go from one thing to another in an effort to find something that will end the gnawing hunger they feel in their souls. But no matter how hard they try, they never seem to find true satisfaction through anything that this world offers.
But God promises that inner satisfaction is possible and can be found. The Bible tells us that "He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:9). It tells us that those who look to Him can say, "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips" (Psalm 63:5). God offers spiritual food that satisfies the hungry soul.
Would you like to know what Jesus says about this "spiritual food"? He tells us about it in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.
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John 6 is filled, from beginning to end, with the subject of food -- both physical and spiritual. In fact, it begins by telling us about the greatest picnic in history -- the story of how Jesus fed a multitude of people (5,000 hungry men, not counting their wives and children), near the Sea of Galilee, with just five loaves of bread and a few small fish (John 6:1-14).
Many of the people who saw this miracle were ready -- right then and there -- to seize ahold of Jesus and make Him their earthly king. They wanted to make Him their king because they believed He could miraculously meet all their material needs, and satisfy all their earthly desires. But that's not what Jesus came to do; and so, He departed from them.
Later that night, Jesus sent His disciples out by boat to the opposite side of the lake, while He went up into the mountains alone to pray. And then, in the middle of the night, while His disciples were struggling to row across the lake, He came walking out across the lake to them and joined them in the boat (vv. 15-21).
The people whom Jesus fed knew that His disciples had left to cross the lake; but they had also noticed that Jesus Himself hadn't gotten into the boat with them. These folks assumed that He was still nearby -- perhaps still up the mountain in prayer. And so, they went out looking for Him. Since their search for Jesus had been unsuccessful so far, the crowd chose to cross the lake and look for Him on the other side. And, to their surprise, that's where they found Him!
They were mystified by this. How could Jesus have gotten there? They knew that He hadn't gotten into the boat with His disciples, and that it had left the shore without Him. They also knew that no other boats could have come to take Him away. And they knew He hadn't walked around the lake, because they surely would have seen Him if He had. (It never occurred to them, of course, that He walked across the lake in the middle of the night.)
They were searching hard for Jesus; but they were seeking Him for the wrong reasons. "Rabbi, when did You come here?" they asked. But Jesus didn't answer their question. Instead, he rebuked them by complaining that they only sought Him because they wanted food. They only wanted the sort of physical bread that would satisfy them for just a little while; when the real reason He came was to offer them "living bread" that would satisfy them forever.
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Perhaps you've come here this morning with a sense of hunger deep within your soul too. It may be that you've never given much thought to God, and have tried to fill the emptiness inside with the things of this world -- only to find yourself still feeling dissatisfied deep within. Or perhaps you've gone to church for many years, and thought you'd done everything you were supposed to do; and yet you still feel as if there's something missing. If that is what's going on in your heart this morning, then I believe this morning's passage has some very good news for you. It's a passage that was written to lead spiritually hungry people to ultimate satisfaction.
In this passage, Jesus tells us about the only bread of life that truly satisfies the hungry soul. What are the qualities of this bread?
1. IT'S SUPERNATURAL IN NATURE (vv. 26-29).
Now you might have thought that Jesus would have been pleased that people were searching for Him so earnestly. But that's not the case at all. Jesus was frustrated with the people who were looking for Him. He told them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him" (vv. 26-27).
What did Jesus mean that the Father had set His seal on Him? It meant that God had revealed Jesus' identity to the world -- plainly, so that those who were truly seeking spiritual fulfillment could find it in Him. The witness of John the Baptist regarding Jesus (John 1:29), the testimony of the Father from heaven at the time of Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), and the miraculous signs that Jesus had performed (John 5:36) -- including the way He fed the multitude -- all testified that God had placed His seal upon Jesus. God had identified Him to the world as the Son of Man -- the One whom God had sent into the world to save sinners and give them eternal life.
What wonderful news that should have been to the people! How they should have sought eternal life from Him upon whom God had clearly set His seal! And yet, this crowd didn't care much about that. They didn't believe in Him as they should. They only wanted to be satisfied by the things of this world; and they believed in Him only as the One who could provide them with those earthly things. They just wanted their bellies to be filled.
Just think! They were expending all this effort to obtain food that perishes, and the whole time ignoring Jesus' offer of "food which endures to everlasting life".
Many people think that the answer to the emptiness they feel inside is through something somehow obtainable from this world. And yet, our deepest need is for something that is outside of this world -- something spiritual. It's as if God has given us a "spiritual belly" that can only be filled with "spiritual food". The things of this world will never satisfy the hunger for the spiritual. Only the food that God gives can truly satisfy that hunger.
Jesus had told them not to labor for food that perishes; and so they asked, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" Again, they were thinking of something physical -- something they could bring about with their hands. But Jesus answer was to point them back to the fact that spiritual needs can only be filled by spiritual means. "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He sent."
This is the first thing that this passage teaches us about the food that truly satisfies. If you have that sense of something missing deep inside, then you need to know that nothing of this world will ever satisfy that need. You have a spiritual hunger that can only be filled by spiritual means. And Jesus said it plainly -- the answer lies in believing in Him as the One God had sent to fill that need.
By the way, what is it that you chase after in life? Is your time and energy occupied with seeking after things that perish? Or do you hunger after something eternal? ... something that is outside of this world?
2. IT HAS GOD THE FATHER AS ITS SOURCE (vv. 30-33).
Jesus had shown the crowd that their real need was a spiritual one; but they still didn't understand. They knew that Jesus had miraculously provided them with a meal; and that's all they knew.
They thought back to the story of Moses, and how God had miraculously provided food for the people of Israel as they wandered through the desert; and so they challenged Jesus. "What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe You? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written [here loosely quoting from Psalm 78:24], 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat'" (vv. 30-31). It was as if they were saying, "How about that, Jesus? You fed a multitude of people with a few loaves and a few small fish. Why don't You send manna down from heaven to us, just like Moses did for the people in the wilderness? Do that, and then we'll believe that You're the Son of Man."
Now; I believe Jesus could have done that. But look at how Jesus responded instead. He told them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (vv. 32-33).
Jesus did two things in saying this. First, He corrected them in their misconception. Moses, He explained, didn't give the bread to Israel; God His Father did. And second, He informed them that God had already provided bread for them from heaven -- "true bread". Jesus was speaking of Himself. He was the true bread that came down from God His Father, and Who gives life to the world.
This is the second lesson this passage is teaching us. The answer to the longing of our soul is something spiritual; but it's something spiritual that comes from a specific source. It can't be found in turning to the pseudo-spiritual methods of this world. It can't be found through any other spiritual source than the one true God. It can only be found through God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our spirits can only be satisfied through what He alone can give. All other substitutes will leave us dissatisfied. All other sources only give spiritual "junk food".
3. ITS IDENTITY IS JESUS HIMSELF (vv. 34-40).
Jesus had told the crowd that their real need was for something spiritual; and He told them that it was a need for something that only God His Father could give them. They were beginning to grow interested. "Lord," they said, "Give us this bread always." It was as if they thought of Jesus as the mere 'supplier' of this spiritual bread from God. They looked upon Him only as their spiritual "grocer". They told Him, "If we need spiritual bread, then stay here among us and always give us a continual supply of this bread."
Jesus narrowed the focus even further. He said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe" (vv. 35-36). It was as if Jesus were pointing to Himself and saying, "I'm it! I'm the bread you need! You're looking for the answer; and I'm telling you that I Myself am the answer to your need! I'm standing right in front of you, with the seal of the Father upon Me; and yet, you still won't believe in Me!"
This is a third thing that this passage is telling us about what we need to be truly satisfied deep within our souls. We need to come to Jesus. He Himself is the answer to our need. Ultimately, there is no other spiritual answer to our spiritual need than Him. And yet, so many people wont believe in Him.
Look at what Jesus goes on to say about Himself. He said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (vv. 37-40).
Jesus' words teach us that inner, spiritual satisfaction is the result of a great work of God that has its central focus on Jesus Himself. The Father draws those He saves to Jesus, and Jesus does the will of the Father in saving them. He welcomes all that the Father draws to Him, and casts no one out. And He Himself sees to it that none of them are lost, but are saved to the uttermost. It all centers on Jesus, and on no one else.
It's hard to avoid the exclusiveness of Jesus' claim; isn't it? He said elsewhere, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). In 1 John 5:11-12, it says, "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."
Ask yourself: have you been seeking to fill that emptiness inside through other things -- even "spiritual" things -- but not through turning to Jesus Christ Himself? God has so built you and so designed you that, apart from Jesus Christ, there's absolutely no other way for you to experience ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction deep in your soul. He Himself is "the bread of life"; and it's only through Him that we become 'satisfied' -- a satisfaction that not only stays with us to the point of death, but gives us the hope beyond death of being raised up on the last day.
4. GOD HIMSELF DRAWS PEOPLE TO IT (vv. 41-46).
Now; by this point, Jesus was really beginning to offend His listeners. They were willing to be His followers so long as they thought that He would be the source of their physical needs and desires. But now, He was beginning to talk about a bunch of things that were not only uninteresting to them, but were beginning to sound pretty strange. In fact, as far as they were concerned, He was starting to sound a little bit crazy.
Verse 41-42 tells us that they began to murmur among themselves about Him; "The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, 'I am the bread which came down from heaven.' And they said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How it is then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?" (They didn't understand, of course, that Joseph wasn't His physical father; but that He was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit. He truly was the "bread which came down from heaven".) It was as if they were saying, "If He's trying to convince us that He's some sort of 'bread that came dropping out of heaven', then He isn't doing a very good job. We even know who His father and mother are."
But the fact that He didn't present a compelling argument wasn't the real reason they didn't believe. They reason they didn't believe was because His Father hadn't drawn them to Him. Look at Jesus' response to them. He said, "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father" (vv. 43-46).
This is a fourth lesson that this passage is teaching us about the bread of life. The thing that we need at the deepest level in order to be satisfied is (1) spiritual in nature, (2) from God, (3) found only in the Person of Jesus Himself, and (4) can only be received as a result of God graciously drawing the hungry sinner to Jesus.
What a marvelous mystery of God's grace this is! If you are spiritually hungry deep within, then it's God's expressed will that you turn to Jesus. He's the bread of life; and no one who turns to Him will ever be turned away. But if you turn to Jesus, then know that -- ultimately -- you came to Him only because God the Father first acted in love toward you in your helpless state of need, and drew you to Him.
By the way; don't wait to come to eat of the bread of life until you've heard a "dinner bell". Jesus is already freely offered to everyone. Just come! And when you come, just know that you ultimately came because God loves you and worked behind the scenes to draw you to Him.
5. ITS PURPOSE IS TO GIVE ETERNAL LIFE (vv. 47-50).
Jesus went on to say, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die" (vv. 47-50).
Those who were seeking Jesus on this occasion were simply seeking to further their earthly life. They weren't concerned with anything eternal. They just wanted dinner.
Jesus admitted to them that their fathers truly ate "spiritual food" -- that is, in the sense of eating the manna that God gave through Moses in the wilderness. But even though it was bread God gave them, they ate that bread and still died. The bread their ancestors ate wasn't meant to give them eternal life. It couldn't be compared with the bread Jesus was offering. Jesus was offering spiritual bread that would make them live forever!
True spiritual hunger is an inward groaning for something beyond this life. Those who are truly spiritually hungry long for eternal life with their Creator. They aren't satisfied with something that will end with their life on this earth. Our greatest need is for eternal life; and without that hope, we really have no true satisfaction.
Jesus invites the truly hungry man or woman to turn to Him, believe on Him, and be satisfied -- not just temporarily, but forever. He says, "He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" (v. 35).
6. IT'S EATEN BY FAITH IN JESUS' SACRIFICE (vv. 51).
"Believing in Jesus" means more than simply believing that He existed. It even means more than simply believing that He was the true "bread" sent from God. It means putting your trust and your confidence in what Jesus did on the Cross. He said, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world" (v. 51).
By now, I'm sure you realize that "eating" of Jesus is a figure of speech. It means believing on Him in a personal, relational way. But what He calls us to believe about Him, specifically, is that He gave His "flesh" -- that is, He laid down His life in dying on the Cross -- for the life of the world. He speaks of this in the future tense -- "the bread that I shall give" -- because He hadn't yet gone to the Cross at the time He spoke these words.
"Eating" this spiritual bread means having personal faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. It means believing that Jesus took your own sins on Himself, and died in your place on the Cross. It means believing that He gave His body over to die for you -- you personally; and that He shed His blood to pay the price for your sins -- yours personally.
Do you want true satisfaction? Then you already now know that (1) your need is spiritual, (2) the thing you need can only come from God, (3) God's provision for that need is a Person, Jesus Christ, (4) that you come to Him for the meeting of this need because God loves you and draws you to Him, (5) that the purpose He was given to you was so that you could have eternal life. And now, you see that (6) you must receive God's provision for your need by placing a personal faith in the sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross for you.
Have you placed your faith in His sacrifice for your sins yet? Have you "eaten" of the "bread of life"? Have you told God so through prayer, and personally thanked Him for Jesus' sacrifice for you?
7. ITS RESULT IS ETERNAL UNION WITH JESUS (vv. 52-58).
Now; as you might expect, none of this was making any sense to the Jews that Jesus spoke to. They even began to quarrel among themselves; "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" (v. 52). As far as they were concerned, He was speaking in repulsive riddles. But again, that's because the Father had not drawn them.
Nevertheless, Jesus went on to say, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed" (vv. 53-55). Jesus didn't solve the riddle for them. He simply asserted the truth of it all to them even more.
Perhaps you've heard the expression, "You are what you eat." It's an expression that describes a dietary principle -- that what you eat becomes a part of you in an inseparable way. Similarly, when a man or woman places their personal faith in the sacrifice of Jesus -- when they "eat" of Jesus, the Bread of Life -- they become united with Him in an inseparable union. Jesus went on to say, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him" (v. 56).
And just as physical food has an effect on us because we become united with it through eating it, our union with Jesus also has an effect on us. He is righteous and sinless; and when we eat of Him, we become righteous and sinless in the eyes of His Father. He is the bread of eternal life; and when we eat of Him, we live forever with Him and in Him! That's why Jesus could go on to say, "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever" (vv. 57-58).
The Bible tells us, "These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?'" (vv. 59-60). And truthfully, no man or woman can understand it apart from God's grace.
Jesus knew that they were thinking these things; and so He said to them, "Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life: the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe" (vv. 61-64). And the apostle John adds this note: "For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him" (v. 64).
Jesus had offended them because He claimed to be the bread of life, come down from heaven for their salvation. And so, He says that if they were offended now, they were really going to be offended when He died on the Cross, was raised from the dead, and ascended back up to the Father who had sent Him.
But He knew all this in advance. He even knew who would betray Him. He even knows, at this very moment, who believes in Him and who doesn't. That's why He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father" (v. 65).
For them, that was the final straw. John tells us, "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (v. 66). Jesus' radical claim to be the bread of life put them on the crossroads -- either to believe in Him or reject Him. For them, the picnic was over.
But how about you? Are you hungry in your soul? In the end, the only way to have that hunger satisfied is by believing on Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus turned to the remaining twelve disciples and asked, "Do you also want to go away?" (v. 67). And you can be sure that Jesus asks the same thing of you that He asked of them. Do you also want to go away from Him; or do you believe?
When Jesus asked that question of the twelve, Peter spoke up for them all, and said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (vv. 68-69). Can you respond to Jesus as Peter and the others did?
God loves you, and wants you to experience full satisfaction in your soul. And the good news is that you can have that experience right now, by coming to Jesus and freely partaking of the Bread of Life. My sincere prayer is that God the Father would draw you to Jesus, His Son; and that He would enable you to place your whole faith in Him.
May you, as a result, find the full satisfaction in your soul that can only be enjoyed through Him; and may you enjoy it eternally.
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