Our heavenly Father,
You are the mighty God from whose presence earth and sky flee. Your awesomeness and immensity is that great. We praise your great and glorious name.
Lord God, we come to you as fallen people in a fallen world, but may we be reminded of your gospel that though we are sinful and fallen, though you are holy and hate sin, you loved us enough to send your son.
Let us rejoice that there is eternal life through what Christ has done.
Lord, we pray for our missionaries today. We pray for the work to which you have called them in various parts of our nation and throughout the world. As parts of the world become increasingly hostile to the gospel, as parts of the world and parts of our nation become less receptive to the truth of the gospel, Lord God, we pray for their work, we pray for their safety, we pray for their families and the balance of family and ministry. Lord, we thank you for people we’ve partnered with who are committed to doing your work and serving your kingdom.
But may we also be a church that has a burden for our own community and the surrounding communities to serve, to share the Good News, to connect with new people, to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
Lord, we ask that you bless our time in your word. May we be pointed to truth and life that is only found in Jesus Christ Our Lord.
In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
We’re resuming our series in the Gospel of John this morning.
I’ve loved studying this book with you all and I hope that it’s been a blessing to you.
As we go verse by verse, it does take time and I know that’s time well spent but I also think it’s good to sometimes break away, which is why we did our Forensics of Faith series. But happy to be back in John chapter 6 this morning.
Certainly, that was a long passage that we just read. Part of this passage we’ve already preached.
Today we’re going to be looking at a long section of John 6. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a 90 minute sermon or anything.
But I think it’s helpful sometimes to get the 30,000 foot view of a passage and look at how a section works together.
And so we’re going to be looking at the passage this morning in three scenes.
Certainly part of this passage we’ve talked about before, but I think it’ll be helpful considering the whole section as we build up to Jesus profound statement in verses 53-54: 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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
So we’re going to look at three scenes and each of the scenes, we will see bread as a focal point in the story, we will see allusions to the Old Testament, we will see people misunderstanding who Jesus is, and we will see Jesus progressively revealing his nature to the crowds.
First scene – Jesus feeding the multitude
Jesus feeding the multitudes is the catalyst for everything else which follows in this chapter.
To remind us of the passage, Jesus has been teaching and he’s near the sea of Galilee and a large crowd comes to him to hear his teaching.
The passage tells us that the group included 5,000 men, not including wives and children so it could easily have been 15,000-20,000 people.
They’re in a remote area, and as Jesus is teaching, they run into a logistical problem.
How are these people going to eat?
They find a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish.
And then John records the miracle in verses 11-13: Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
Illustration – 70-80% increase
The Lord Jesus does this miraculous sign when he feeds this large multitude of people. He takes a little bit of bread but then feeds thousands. Verse 13 even tells us that there were leftovers. Now, certainly that would be astonishing to see in person.
But I still think it’s hard for a lot of us to truly appreciate that miracle. I think we only get part of why this is amazing. We get the part that’s amazing in the sense that Jesus has made a lot of bread when he had relatively little bread. But I don’t think that we see this as a lot of people throughout history would.
D.A. Carson talks about this and I found it helpful. Imagine if I told you that I could increase your income by 80%.
You’d be probably be interested in that. Well…in first century Galilee, about 70-80% of a person’s working labor went to either growing food or some other form of work in order to be able to acquire food.
And for much of human history, 70-80% of your income simply went to buying food so you could live.
By comparison, the average American today spends about 9.5% of their income on food today, according to the USDA. And that includes going out to restaurants and that includes the fact that we buy a lto fo luxuries that we could easily live without, simply because we like them. 9.5% when a lot of people aren’t just sticking to a staple diet of bread, rice, beans, pasta, potatoes, and eggs.
And so the point that D.A. Carson makes about this passage is that we’re reading a story that was written in the first century. And they had views of food that were very different than our views of food. And while we might think that it’s neat that Jesus could feed this large group of people, if you had been in the crowd, it wasn’t simply that Jesus had given you a meal, it’s that you saw someone crete the thing for which you toiled and labored and he did it basically out of thin air.
How interested would you be if you could increase your income 70-80 percent? I think that the multitudes Jesus fed had thoughts that were much more along those lines than simply being impressed that he gave them a meal.
This passage alludes to the Old Testament in a few different ways. First, the beginning of the story mentions that it was the time of Passover. The time when God had used Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. As God had provided bread called manna during the Israelite wanderings, we see Jesus providing bread.
And we see their response at the end of that section.
Verses 14-15: When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 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.
Verse 14 calls this miracle a sign. And as with the other signs that Jesus has done in this gospel, they always point beyond themselves. And as we’ll see as the passage unfolds, the sign is not simply about the bread.
We also see in the passage that after Jesus has fed this multitude, they want to make him their king. It’s easy for hungry people to be drawn to the one who can feed them. After Jesus withdraws from the crowd. After he performs the miracle of walking on water, we see him and the crowd together again on the following day in verse 22. And that brings us to our second scene. In the first scene, we saw Jesus providing bread. In the second scene, Jesus will reveal that he himself is the true bread.
Second scene – the bread of life
In verse 26, Jesus rebukes the crowd who had wanted to make him king. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
Jesus says they’re drawn to them because he fed them. And while that’s significant, it’s not the ultimate need which Jesus came to address. He came to a world that is dead in sin to bring eternal life. They wanted Jesus to be a king, and while Jesus was – and is – a king, he did not come to become king on their terms.
As he continues speaking to the crowd, Jesus elaborates on his previous statement in verse 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.
And so the crowd asks Jesus what they must do. And the answer is that it’s not about our goodness, our actions, our behaviors.
Verse 29, Jesus explains to the crowd whom he’s just fed: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
But the crowd asks for a sign. Forgetting that Jesus had fed them the day before.
But they reference the Old Testament. Verse 31: Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’
Again, we see the Old Testament as they specifically mention Moses and the manna in the wilderness. The Exodus story was well known in the Jewish world. They were familiar with the manna in heaven. The miracle which Jesus has done reminds them of that.
In Exodus, the Lord had promised an abundance of bread.
Quoting part of Exodus 16:4:Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you
Yes,they had seen Jesus provide bread once but God did it everyday for decades. Perhaps that was part of the thought process. If Jesus is supposedly greater than Moses, shouldn’t we see greater things? But Jesus will explain why he’s greater.
In verse 33, Jesus says: the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
And the people ask for this bread. But they still don’t grasp what he’s saying. Just as we saw when Jesus told Nicodmeus that you must be “born again” and he was referring to regeneration not to entering your mother’s womb a second time. Just like when he told the woman at the well of the living water he provided and she thought that he was talking about liquid when he was talking of the cleansing and renewal that comes from the Spirit and faith, here again the crowd thinks that the bread Jesus provides is simply physical nourishment.
In verse 34, the crowd pleads “sir, give us this bread always.”
In his commentary on John, Colin Kruse notes that they want a continual supply of bread as had been given to the Israelites so they would not have to toil and labor for their sustenance.
And that’s when Jesus explains to the crowd: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Jesus is the eternal nourishment and the daily bread without which we will Spiritually starve.
The world wants to just satisfy your body. The world makes idols of what is fleeting and feeds the body. Jesus feeds the soul. And it is because he is the bread of life that he is greater than the bread. Jesus continues speaking to the crowd.
He again rebukes the crowd in verse 36: But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
The crowd is following Jesus but not for the right reasons and not out of faith. They’re drawn to the spectacle and the hope that he can meet their physical needs. As Jesus continues to elaborate, he will make several references to his mission and purpose in connection to the will and plan of God.
The crowd might have an incorrect theology but the truth of the divine plan does not depend on man. Jesus has come to do the will of God. Those whom God has given him, he will not cast out. Jesus will tell the crowd in verse 38 that he has been sent from heaven. And with that, we come to our third scene which is the culmination of Jesus giving bread to the multitudes and explaining that he is the bread of life.
He explains the bread in its relationship to eternal life.
Third scene –
In verse 40, Jesus says: For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
As we’ve seen many times throughout this gospel, Jesus is not seeker sensitive with his statement. He speaks in absolutes and does not leave any gray area. And the crowd is taken aback. He’s telling the crowd of the necessity of faith in him.
There’s irony that the crowd thinks they know Jesus. They’re taking in the claims he’s making that he is the bread of life, that eternal life is found in believing in him.
Verses 41-42: So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
They question Jesus’ credentials. But Jesus responds to the group. And he largely picks up his train of thought from a few verses ago. Verse 43, he rebukes the crowd for their grumbling. The Israelites would grumble during their wanderings in the desert. They would question God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Jesus is the Lord on earth who they question.
The Israelites would eventually complain about the manna, grumble, and complain about that as their daily food source. Jesus is the true bread who they are not looking to for their Spiritual sustenance. He has already established that nothing thwarts the divine plan of the gospel. Jesus has already said that he cannot lose any who come to him in true faith.
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Jesus is saying that one cannot come to Him, the source of true life, unless the father draws them.
In the New Testament, we see this idea in action in Acts 16 when Paul is ministering to Lydia. The passage says: One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:4)
In verses 47-48, Jesus again says that it is belief in him that is the basis for eternal life and that he is the bread of life.
There is a lot of repetition in this passage. Keep in mind that the original audience to whom Jesus was speaking were only listening and if you’re speaking versus writing, you sometimes will say things more times for emphasis and to get the point across. Jesus keeps reiterating that he is the bread of life, he keeps reiterating in this passage that he is the one sent from heaven.
With all of the discussion in this passage about Israelites and the manna, Jesus reminds them of an important fact.
49-50: Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
Yes, the Israelites had manna, but they still died. Jesus promises eternal life. In verse 46, Jesus talks of him as one who has seen God. Moses never saw God. Earlier in this passage, the audience incorrectly attributes provision of the bread to Moses instead of to God.
What Jesus is saying is that he is greater. He is greater than Moses. He gives greater bread. He brings something that will be greater than the Old Covenant. He gives a greater revelation of God.
And here we come to the fruition of Jesus’ teaching point. In the first scene, Jesus provided the bread. In the second scene, Jesus said he was the bread. And here he says that it is the consumption of this bread which causes eternal life.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The one who eats the bread Jesus provides has eternal life and also the bread he gives is his flesh. Obviously, he was not speaking literally. Certainly, for observant Jewish people, the idea of cannibalism would have been just as grotesque as it is for us today. The audience tries to understand.
Verse 52: The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
He’s raised the stakes. It’s not just eating his flesh, he says, but also drinking his blood.
How do we do this?
So Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Some take his language of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to be a reference to communion. That’s certainly the Catholic understanding of this passage.
I can see how it appears that way but the setting and language do not fit the other gospels. It’s not in the context of a meal where he’s breaking bread and giving wine. Communion is instituted just before Jesus dies, and this is a Passover which is at least a year before Jesus died. Communion is instituted as a sign of the New Covenant, this is not yet the time of the New Covenant.
When we take communion, while the bread is a symbol for the body of Christ, in this passage Jesus refers to the bread as his “flesh,” and so even the terms are different. Furthermore, when Jesus talks of the necessity of consuming his flesh and blood, to associate that with partaking in communion, that does not fit the context of this entire passage.
Consider again verse 35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Coming to him and believing in him are the reasons why a person will not hunger or thirst.
Consider verse 40: everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life
And then consider again verse 53: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
Everything in this passage and this gospel has ultimately hinged on belief in Jesus. And so it’s the wrong interpretation to take verse 53 as Jesus saying that a person must participate in communion or the Lord’s Supper in order to be saved.
Communion is important. But it’s not salvific.
So while he’s not talking about communion, I think it’s important to consider that communion and this passage are both referring to the same thing which is Jesus’ sacrificial death. So this passage doesn’t refer to communion, but communion and this passage refer to the same thing. Hopefully that makes sense? Both things point to the gospel.
In the Spiritual sense, the flesh of Christ is eaten, and the blood of Christ is drunk by the means of having faith in Jesus. And it is that which is the culminating point of this section. Jesus is the bread of life that we must consume and that is done through having faith in him.
As he’s done elsewhere in this gospel, he uses an example from the physical world to communicate a Spiritual reality. And so when Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood here, it is a metaphor for believing in him.
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
There, Jesus points us to salvation and the promise of future resurrection.
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
Jesus points to our union with him as those who believe in him.
As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Just as the manna needed to be collected everyday. Just as the bread Jesus gave to the multitudes only sustained them for a meal, Jesus provides the bread from which we will never hunger.
And so in this passage, we see that Jesus provides something greater than Moses because Jesus is greater than Moses. And we see that Jesus is the bread of life and he’s the one whose flesh was given so that we could be forgiven. He’s the one whose blood was shed so that we could have life. And the belief that his life was given so that we could have eternal life is the ultimate consumption of the bread which Jesus provides.
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