27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Our heavenly father,
We thank you for this day and the opportunity to come together to praise your glorious name. Lord, may we be ever mindful of the wonders of your goodness. May we love you with all of our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. And we thank you for your son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has come into the world to bring your kingdom, to shine as light, and to reconcile sinful humanity. It is Jesus alone who is the author and perfecter of our faith.
Lord, we pray for this season that we’re in. For many of us, these are stressful times. Uncertain times. We see what’s going on in our nation and around the world, and it can be easy to be discouraged. Lord, we pray for your nearness. May we not be people who are stressed by the concerns and worries of the world but let us be people who walk in faith everyday.
We again pray for our time in your word. I thank you for every person here and I pray that we can again be encouraged, edified, exhorted, and enlightened through your Word. And most importantly, I pray that we can be pointed to your gospel.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
In World War II, thousands of children throughout Europe were left as orphaned. Some of them ended up in refugee camps. With the trauma of war, losing their homes, and losing family, it should be no surprise that many of them struggled to sleep. Efforts to reassure the kids or comfort them did not help. Until someone came up with the ingenious idea to give the kids a piece of bread to take with them to bed in the evening. It was a reminder to the kids that they had eaten the day before and also had food for the next day. It was a reminder that they were cared for. It was a sense of security.
Among our most basic needs we have as people is our need to eat. And this morning, as we continue in the Gospel of John, Jesus will make a profound statement to a crowd which has been following him when he says “I am the bread of life.” And so we’re going to look at our passage this morning in three parts and with that we’ll jump right in.
Part 1 – A question answered
We’re in a section in John 6 which covers Jesus feeding a multitude of 5,000 men – not to mention wives and children – with five loaves of bread and two fish. It’s the next day and Jesus is speaking to people from that crowd who have followed him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
Beginning in 27 and Jesus says to the crowd: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.
So there are two kinds of food: the food that perishes. That was the food which Jesus has provided for the crowd. And a second type of food is the food which endures to eternal life. That is the food which Jesus ultimately came into the world to bring. The crowd is focused on the first kind, the food that perishes. Jesus is focused on the second kind.
They’re preoccupied with what’s natural and physical. If you remember from last week’s passage, Jesus had rebuked the crowd when he said: you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
They miss the true point of the sign. They’re focused on what Jesus is doing for them. They’re focused on the world around them and not the world above. Verse 28, the crowd asks: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
Not an unreasonable question.
But the work of God is not about a level of moral achievement which we can attain. Jesus tells them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
What a wonderful summary of the gospel. The world labors to earn salvation, to be good enough for God, to have a leg to stand on before the Almighty. Do you want to be right with God? Do you want to be forgiven? Do you want to know forgiveness and grace?
Believe in the one he has sent, believe in Jesus. Where is your belief? If you ever question if you’re good enough, you’re not. But the good news is that Jesus is.
If you ever struggle with doubts, struggle with despair, remember that salvation is not about how good we are. If it were, none of us would have any hope. Real salvation is in believing in the one whom God has sent. Jesus has already said similar things in this gospel.
John 3:16: God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 5:24: whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Paul says in Romans 10:13: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The work of God is faith, genuine belief in who Jesus is. That is the basis for our forgiveness and right-standing before God. It is entirely the work of Christ. To quote the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards: “you contribute nothing to your own salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”
Where is your faith?
If it is in anything except for the saving work of Christ, then you are resting your hope in another gospel, which is no gospel at all.
There is one way to do the work of God in the world and be made right with him. It is believing in the Lord Jesus.
Point 2 – A sign demanded
We come to our second point. They want to see greater signs from Jesus. Jesus is saying that they need to believe in him. Jesus has literally just done a sign when he fed them, but they want to be even more dazzled.
So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’
Basically what the crowd is saying is that they want an even greater sign than the manna from heaven that had been provided during the Israelite wanderings. Just to get us all up to speed, while the Israelites were in the desert, they didn’t have a lot of options for food. It was a nation of people traveling. The desert is not the best ecosystem for foraging or hunting. It’s not like they could just stop at the grocery store every few days and get supplies.
But it was God who had led them there. And if God leads, he will always provide to achieve his purposes. And so God had miraculously fed the Israelites with this bread from heaven called manna. Six days a week, and they were supposed to collect two days worth on the sixth day so they could rest on the seventh.
But God did this week after week and year after year for the Israelites.
The crowd demands a sing. But what’s their motivation?
Illustration – Messianc expectations
I’ve talked about this before, but in the first century, you had all sorts of expectations about what the Messiah would do, what he would be like. And Jesus doesn’t really fit into any of their expectations. A lot of people thought that the Messiah would be an earthly king. And that’s actually their response after Jesus originally fed them.
John 6:15: Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Jesus is the king of kings, but he did not come to primarily be the earthly king that many in the first century expected. And as we mentioned a few moments ago, Jesus has also rebuked the crowd for following him not because of who he was but because he had fed them when he said: you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
So the crowd asks for another sign. Is it really because they want to follow him?
Richard Phillips talks about this in his commentary of John. But he suggests that it’s because the crowd actually wants to justify themselves and continue doing what they’re doing and believing what they’re believing and so they instead undermine and challenge his authority? I think that’s the most reasonable interpretation.
They’re not asking for a sign because they want to believe. They’re challenging Jesus because they don’t want to believe. As we’ve already seen numerous times in John, there’s a lot of irony.
They ask for a sign when he’s already done a sign when he fed them. In fact, Jesus did another sign when he walked on water but they hadn’t seen it.
They ask for bread when Jesus has already given them bread! The bread was the sign that was indicative of Jesus coming to provide the greater manna! The bread which Jesus gave was greater than the manna because unlike manna which needed to be collected everyday, the eternal life which Jesus provides is something that he gives once and forever.
There’s irony in that they’re challenging him by comparing him to Moses when Jesus actually does do things greater than Moses ever did. But Jesus is not a magician. He’s not an entertainer. He doesn’t exist primarily to impress people. And he’s not going to bend to their whims.
Back in our passage. Verse 32, Jesus is responding to the crowd who wants to see further signs.
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
Jesus brings up Moses because that is what he’s being compared to. But Jesus is greater than Moses. And the bread that was provided during the time of Moses had come from God, not Moses.
He continues: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Jesus is referring to himself. He is the bread of God who comes down from heaven. While the manna sustained life, Jesus is the one who gives life, true life, eternal life to the world. Jesus is once again using a metaphor to communicate a profound truth about the world. He is the bread from heaven that sustains the human soul.
Validation – missing the metaphor
In chapter 3, when Jesus talks to Nocodemus, he tells him that he must be born again. Nicodemus misses the point. He takes Jesus literally. Chapter 4, Jesus talks to the woman at the well and tells her of the living water that he provides. She misses the point and thinks he’s simply talking about water. And here again, Jesus talks of the bread from heaven. And the people miss the point. Verse 34, they think he’s just talking about bread.
They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
And we come to the key verse in the passage.
Point 3 – a sign explained
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Before we get into this verse, I want to give a brief aside on two words.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes seven statements which are known as the “I am statements.” Verse 35 is the first of the seven when Jesus says “I am the bread of life.”
In other sections, Jesus will also go on to say:
“I am the light of the world”
“I am the gate.”
“I am the good shepherd.”
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
“I am the true vine.”
There are a few reasons why these statements are significant.
First, Jesus is making revelations about himself, his ministry, and his mission in the world through these statements.
Second. Each of these statements is unique to John’s Gospel. In the other gospels, Jesus certainly makes many statements which inform us to who he is. But the formula of him saying “I am” and following that a metaphorical statement about his identity is only in John.
Third, the statements matter because they have resonance to the Old Testament. For instance, the bread of life alludes to the manna from heaven.
But the I am statements also allude to Old Testament passages such as Exodus 3 when God has called upon Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Moses asks God for his divine name.
Exodus 3:13-14: 13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”
God simply refers to himself as “I am.” He is being itself. We often like to anthropomorphize God. We give him human characteristics. Dennis Phillips points out language that the Bible sometimes uses about God in his book “Before Abraham was, I am.”
“His hand offers protections. His arm indicates strength. The heavens are the work of his fingers. We are under his watchful eye. He is our King and at the same time, our Heavenly Father.”
All of those ideas are Biblical. And all of them are helpful in our understanding of God.
But God is also grand and mysterious. And it is his being that he communicates to Moses and that is the same language which Jesus picks up in his “I am” statements.
Pure existence and being. None of us can say that. Because there was a time when we were not. And our lives depend on God’s provision and sustenance.
But God can simply say “I am.” And so can Jesus. So while the “I am” statements do make claims about the ministry of Christ, they also inherently make claims of his own divinity.
Jesus is the I am. Something else that’s interesting if you know a little bit about Greek. There’s basically two ways to say “I am” in Greek. The typical way is the Greek word “eimi.” That means “I am.” You’d use that in any regular setting if you had lived in first century Greece. “I am Josh.” “I am a pastor.” “I am going to the grocery store,” etc.
But for the “I am” statements, and other times when Jesus says “I am,” they actually add the Greek personal pronoun. So you have the word “I” followed by “I am,” which seems to be done for extra emphasis. It’s the same language you find in the Greek translation of Exodus where God tells Moses “I am.” Because of that, I take the form of language in which Jesus’ “I am” statements are recorded to be an obvious claim of deity. Returning to our passage. Jesus says “I am the bread of life.”
Let’s think about bread for a moment. What the perfect food to pick. Something so universal, something that’s such a staple of life. Most foods, you can find someone who doesn’t like them. Cheese is amazing. There are people who don’t like cheese.
There are people who don’t like fish, or beef. There are even weirdos who don’t like chocolate. But everyone likes bread. It’s a universal staple. Let’s talk about bread for a minute. A lot of restaurants you go to, they just give you a bowl of bread. You go to an Italian restaurant, maybe it’ll be breadsticks, maybe it’ll be bread with some olive oil. You go to a Mexican restaurant, they bring you chips and salsa. The tortilla chip is just bread that they then fried.
They don’t even charge you for it. Just “here, have some bread.” Go to a Mediterranean restaurant, the meal will come with a pita. An Indian restaurant, it’ll be naan. And that only works with bread. Can you imagine going to a restaurant and they bring the table a bowl of broccoli? No! You can’t even imagine that. Really, a lot of popular chain restaurants are known more for their bread than their actual entrees. We love bread. It plays a major role in so many of our favorite foods. Pizza. Cheeseburgers. Fried chicken.
Meatballs. Already a brilliant idea unto itself. A ball of meat, but we say “needs bread crumbs.” We add bread to things that have nothing to do with bread. A salad. Mostly vegetables, let’s add bread crumbs. Soup. Mostly liquid, let’s add crackers and put it in a bread bowl. A bowl of ice cream. We look and say “the soup people were onto something. Let’s get rid of the bowl and replace that with a piece of bread.”
Most of our favorite desserts are just sweeter versions of bread. Cake. Donuts. All the best breakfast foods. Bread. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, bagels.
We LOVE bread. Rich people love bread, poor people love bread. Old people love bread, young people love bread. Have you ever seen someone on the Atkins diet? They look the spark of light in their eyes. Bread even impacts our language and sayings.
We judge the greatness of achievements and innovation by how it stacks up with sliced bread. We have indoor plumbing, we have cures to horrible disease, we’ve been to the moon, we have the internet. But no, when something great comes along, we compare that to the invention of sliced bread.
When we eat together, we call that breaking bread. In many cultures, bread is a symbol of peace. We call money dough and the person who makes more money in a relationship is called the “bread winner.” If someone wants too much out of a situation, we say “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
And then we consider it in the Bible. We’ve talked at great length about the manna. Jesus references that in the Lord’s Prayer when he teaches us to pray “Give us each day our daily bread.” It is bread to which Jesus refers when the devil tempts him. He’s quoting from Deuteronomy but he says “Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Even the place where Jesus was born. Bethlehem in Hebrew means “house of bread.” And it is bread at the Last Supper when Jesus institutes communion which he takes and breaks and says “this is my body, which is broken for you.” Bread matters in our lives and the Bible.
The crowd wanted to be dazzled with greater signs and wonders but Jesus instead explains the significance of the sign when he felt the multitudes. The manna from heaven was the bread which God gave to the Isrealites to sustain them on their desert wanderings. Jesus is the bread of life which God has given to sustain the human soul. The people had followed Jesus because he filled their stomachs, but Jesus came to save our souls.
The people wanted to see a physical display of glory and power but Jesus came to fulfill the longings of the human soul. And it’s for that reason that Jesus is the greater bread.
The manna had to be collected everyday. Jesus is the bread which gives eternal life at the moment you believe in him. But as the manna was collected daily, there is still a daily element to the bread which Jesus provides as he himself is the bread we need everyday for our spiritual sustenance. Without the bread which Jesus provides, we grow spiritually hungry and malnourished. We need to feed upon him everyday.
We need to commune with Christ everyday. Anytime you’re struggling spiritually, you feel like you’re just going through the motions, the first thing you should ask yourself is what your daily time with Jesus is looking like. Going to him, praying, meditating on his word, serving his people, loving his people, orienting our lives around him.
Jesus is the eternal nourishment and the daily bread without which we will Spiritually starve. The world wants to just satisfy your body. If you can just have enough money, you’ll be secure and have what you need.
Some people are drawn to intimacy and feel like that will sustain their soul. It’s looking to a physical desire.
Some look to prestige and power. Those are still ultimately fleeting accolades that you can’t take with you. Dying people in a dying world honoring one another.
Some people look to politics. The right party being in office. Men who are fallen and sinful, flesh and bones are our hope.
The world makes idols of what is fleeting and feeds the body. Jesus feeds the soul. Jesus is the bread of life. Where is your hope though?
Is it in the material? Is it in today? Is it in what you have or who you are? Is it in what’s in front of you? Or is it in the eternal Lord of creation?
The crowd had said to Jesus: What must we do, to be doing the works of God?
Jesus says: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
We’re called to come to him. Coming to him in humility, coming to him realizing our needs, realizing our hunger. And we are to believe in him. To trust in his gospel and his grace. We must recognize that we’re sinners in need of a savior. That is what we do to receive the bread of life. We believe in Jesus. And he invites us to never hunger or thirst because he fulfills the longings of the human soul.
Praise the Lord.