"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sunday Sermon: "I Am the bread of life." John 6.35 and 41-51

Jesus said 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.

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”


“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus’ promise to his followers then and now is a challenge: what truly brings meaning and wholeness in our lives? Do we shape our lives around what perishes or what endures? Do we will build our house on the sand or on the rock?  Do we build it on Jesus and if so, what is our understanding of who Jesus is? (Because today’s passage is a call to understand Jesus.) Not Jesus as prophet, teacher, healer or miracle worker, although he is undoubtedly all those things, but Jesus as God.

So let’s have a look at this “I Am” saying of John’s Jesus: “I am the bread of life.” John uses his phrases and theological ideas very carefully and deliberately and without a little understanding of that background, modern readers like us are likely to miss really important meanings.

Yes, of course we can understand this statement at its literal face value – Jesus provides everything we need and provides it generously and in abundance and we in the wealthy west tend to find that to be largely true. Those who live elsewhere in the world might have more cause to question that assumption. Who’d be a Syrian or Iraqi Christian right now? That interpretation of Jesus’ words doesn’t really ring true for them – and for many others, so there must be more to it. Not to have a deeper awareness of what John is doing here would be to miss a very important point indeed.

Firstly let’s have a look at a single word – not one that is in this passage: Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’ birth. Bethlehem means "House of Bread." (In Hebrew, beth = house, lehem = bread

Let me take you back further, to the Exodus. The God of the Old Testament, the God of the universe calls Himself I AM. "And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM . Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you."

Do we really think John’s use of the same phrase on Jesus’ lips is a coincidence?

Just to underline the point, John’s Jesus uses this phrase not just here in “I am the Bread of Life” but seven times in total.

Does anyone know what the other “I Am” phrases are?

• "I am the bread of life" (6.35)

• "I am the light of the world" (8.12)

• "I am the door for the sheep" (10.7; cf. v. 9)

• "I am the good shepherd" (10.11, 14)

• "I am the resurrection and the life" (11.25)

• "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (14.6)

• "I am the true vine" (15.1; cf. v. 5)

So the original Jewish reader of John’s Gospel would have had to have worked very hard to miss the point here. “I Am” the very words the God of the Hebrews used to name himself. These “I Am” statements must be the way we see and understand Jesus.

The Jesus who explains himself by way of “I Am”  is saying nothing less than that he speaks not just authoritative language, and specifically prophetic language but that he is to be seen as the representative and mouthpiece of God himself.

Let’s just think about that for a moment.

When Jesus speaks he is speaking as God’s representative.

That should make us stop and consider very carefully all the statements of Jesus recorded in the pages of the Gospels and act upon them accordingly.

If we simply did that what agents of change we could be in God’s world.

This is, in effect, the summary of Jesus ministry and it is deeply personal, referring as it does to human yearning which Jesus will fill – and it will be universal because it “gives life to the world” (v33).

So, in prophetic fashion he acts as spokesman of the One who sent him, and as dispenser of the divine Spirit. Those who hear his words are invited to believe not only the speaker, but the One who sent him. As Jesus has already told us in chapter 5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life”.

We need to recognise that this is as true today as it was then.

The first of the "I AM" sayings, in John’s Gospel, then, is "I AM the bread of life" (6:35). This statement is found in the passage which follows the feeding of the multitude. Jesus says to the crowd, "Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you" (6:27). Here Jesus is building up to the key statement and is leading the crowd to the point where they might recognise his divinity and come to faith.

The two go together: recognising Jesus’ divinity is the start of faith.

For those of you interested in how the very words and grammar of the Bible work, the definite article before the word bread indicates the fact that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the one who is the bread of life. I am THE bread. Not SOME bread. Not SOME OF THE bread. Not Any bread. THE bread.

The bread of life also points to the satisfying nature of Jesus as we can see in the phrase, "never be hungry … and never be thirsty." Jesus alone supplies the spiritual needs of his hearers: this is not about mere physical hunger, where bread leaves people dissatisfied and wanting more. In fact this idea can be applied in a wider spiritual sense where other approaches to God leave the seeker ultimately empty: a direct challenge to those who are already seeking. Jesus is making a plain statement about his Heavenly origins here: in the following verses Jesus refers to a descent from Heaven and explicitly states that “.. all who see the son and believe in him, may have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day”.

This is not about food: let’s be absolutely clear.

This is literally about life and death, “ I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” he goes on to tell them.

In these sermons, I often talk about the challenge to each of us about what we do with Jesus’ words. Well they don’t come much more challenging than this do they? Here is a man who is telling us that he IS God and he has already used one of those special signs of his to show us that: he has fed the multitude out of next to nothing.

That’s the sort of challenge that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands a response, and that response can’t be “whatever”.

What are we going to do with this Jesus? Or perhaps we should personalise it more: what are you going to do with this Jesus, as I have to ask myself what I am going to do with him? This is the very question that John was asking his readers: those Jews who had not yet come to understand who Jesus was. That is the function of this Gospel and its challenge remains the same, to convince its readers of the divinity of Jesus.

But being convinced is not the full response: mere assent to the divinity of Jesus is not enough. I have to do something with that assent. I have to make it personal. I have to make it mine. I have to enter into it.

And so do you.

Otherwise we run the risk of being one of the nay-sayers and chunterers Jesus encountered in this passage: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary who we know?” Who does he think he is? Always cynical; never quite ready; demanding more proof; more information; buying time; putting off making a decision until all the doubts are met - which, of course, they never are.

We follow where the Holy Spirit, who enables faith, leads. “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father” Jesus tells us. Well, we’re here. The Father HAS been drawing us. We are here and the time is now.

Look again at Jesus’ words. Does he say, “When you’ve got it all worked out in your head?” No. Does he say, “When you’re good enough?” No. Does he say, “When you’ve proved yourself worthy by doing this or that?” No. What does he say? “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

We are here and the time is now.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, I am coming to know and understand you more deeply. Help me to see that you are more than mere prophet, teacher, healer or miracle worker. Help me to recognise that you are God and in recognising you as God, help me to follow you as a true disciple. Give me this bread always.




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