The Bread of Life – March 22, 2020, the Fourth Sunday in Lent
Exodus 16:13-30, John 6:35-59
March 22, 2020
Today we read from Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. And I believe Chapter 6 is a turning point for John. In fact, I think it’s a major focus of the whole book! And I think it tells us some very important things about Jesus!
We started our reading at verse 13. But the chapter starts out with the story of “The Feeding of the Five Thousand.” The problem with reading this, is that Chapter 6 is over 70 verses long, so we couldn’t read all of it! But that’s the first story, “The Feeding of the Five Thousand.” And that was seen as a very important miracle! And I’m pretty sure the story from Exodus, the story about the Manna from Heaven, would have been much on the minds of those good Jewish people who were there that day!
That’s the first story. Then the next day, Jesus met the people on the other side of the sea – having walked on the water to get there. (A significant little detail John gives us!) And there, the lesson that began with the loaves and fishes, continued. And, just before the part we read this morning, Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you. For on him has God the Father set his seal.”
At that point, this becomes a dialogue. Because the people then asked him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” And Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So, they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?” And before Jesus had a chance to answer, they gave him an example of a sign. And it was this sign from the great story of the Exodus. “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
There’s no doubt that story was much on their minds, with this miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. But Jesus then “ups the ante!” At the start of our reading for today, he says to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
Now, that sounds nice to us. We’ve even made songs out of it! But try to imagine what it was like for those people, hearing this for the first time. Try to imagine what it was like for them, not knowing who Jesus really was, but hearing him putting himself into their stories, and making himself the center of those stories!
Listen again to what happened in our reading. “The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’” They knew what he was getting at. They knew he was referring to the Exodus story! And they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, “I have come down from heaven?” In other words, “Who does this guy think he is?!”
Well, it gets more intense! Jesus says to them, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any one eats of this bread, he will live forever, And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
That doesn’t make things much better. Because now the people are even more angry! John tells us, “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So, Jesus takes this to the next level. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Can we imagine their reaction?
John then adds, “This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.” So, this was apparently an ongoing dialogue that started by the sea, and ended up in the synagogue in Capernaum. If you remember, Capernaum was his “adopted home town,” his “base of operations” during his public ministry. And there that day, he spoke some of his most controversial words.
To give us an idea of how controversial it was, John tells us this in the next part, the part I didn’t read. “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying! Who can listen to it?” And remember we’re talking disciples here. We’re talking about the larger crowd of those who followed Jesus. Because in a moment, John would tell us that Jesus turned and addressed “The Twelve.” That’s how John differentiated between all the many disciples and those twelve who were called – those who would become the Apostles.
Then the final word on this story comes in verse 60. “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” And that’s when he turned to “The Twelve,” and he asked, “What about you? Will you go away, too?” And Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I tell you all this today because, as I said, I think this story tells us some very important things about Jesus! Because some there are who have said over the years that Jesus was a “good ethical teacher.” Some have said he was a great speaker – a great preacher. Some have said he taught the way of love and acceptance. Some have even said he was a prophet! But, they don’t want to go so far as to say that he was God himself. And when I hear that, this is where I want to send them! When people say that Jesus was “just a good ethical teacher,” or “just a good preacher,” I want to direct them to John Chapter 6! Because “good ethical teachers” don’t say, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life!”
That’s the very thing that divided people when he was here on earth. His accusers said he was making himself “equal with God!” That was the difference! You can say all you want about Jesus being a “nice guy,” who did “nice things,” and who taught “nice lessons.” But the most important thing about him is that he was and is God incarnate! And if he isn’t, the atonement, the work he did in his death and resurrection, means nothing!
Jesus is God incarnate! That was the thing that separated those who believed in him and those who didn’t. And it enraged those who didn’t! As he moved farther along in his ministry, he began to equate himself with God. He even began to use these stories from their sacred history to refer to himself. In his trial, when asked if he was greater than their father Abraham, he said, “Before Abraham was, I am!” And this in Chapter 6!
That’s what makes all the difference in the belief in Jesus! That’s what makes him Lord and Savior! That’s the big controversy over him that still rages even today. Is he God or is he not? That’s the big thing behind those who want to show the more “human” side of Jesus. There is a great fascination with that these days – the human part of Jesus. And you know what? That’s ok! Because we believe he was fully human. But we also believe he’s fully divine! That’s what people want to downplay by talking about his human side!
Why is that? I suspect a lot of it is because of the demands such a God – such a Savior – would place on their lives. And they don’t want that. Humans have always wanted to be masters of their own destiny. They don’t want a God telling them what to do, or even worse, what “Thou shalt not do!” That’s the big rebellion. That’s the heart of this thing called “sin.” It is rebellion against God. Sin is not jumping on the couch! Sin is jumping on the couch after Daddy told you not to! And I think all of that brings us back around to the question of the deity of Jesus Christ. Is he God, or is he not?
While you’re considering that, ask yourself this question. If Jesus is not God, can his sacrifice truly atone for the sins of the world? And what about your sins? That’s one of the big arguments the church has had about this over the centuries. And the historic conclusion of the Church is our conclusion today. If Jesus were just a man, even if he did die and rise from the dead, could we trust that sacrifice, the sacrifice of only one human being, to be sufficient for our redemption? The answer is a resounding, “No!”
That’s what’s truly at stake here in the story of Jesus! That’s what the words of John in Chapter 6 of his Gospel lays to rest. Jesus is God incarnate! The only remaining question is, what do we believe? Do we hear these hard sayings of Jesus and draw back? Or do we conclude as Peter concluded. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
Eternal God, we trust the sacrifice you made in the form of your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us, this Lenten season, to trust him more, to love him more, and to follow him more closely. For we pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, Amen.