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Friday, September 23, 2016

I AM the Bread of Life


We continue our series on the I AM statements of Jesus. You can read the Introduction here and I AM the Messiah here.

I have chosen as my text what are for me the saddest words on Jesus' lips in the Gospels John 6:66-67

 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
 ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?Jesus asked the Twelve.

Sad, sad words. They bring to my mind the picture of a child all excited about her birthday party until one by one her friends phone up and say: "We're not coming after all" until eventually she turns to the few who are still there and says You do not want to leave too, do you?’ 
And it all flows from this teaching,
What is it about this teaching that ends up in many of his disciples turning back and no longer following him? In John 6 Jesus has had a good day in ministry: it starts with him healing the sick; then He feeds a crowd of 5000 men (many more women and children of course, but they don't always get a mention in the Scriptures if the male writers can possibly help it); then He walks on water and calms a storm; the crowd, desperate to be with Him, follow Him around the lake and sit down once again and this time they don't get a miracle, they get a teaching ... in fact they get more, they get a preaching. And what a teaching and preaching it is.

Bread ... can you imagine a world without bread?












 Bread ... can you imagine a world without bread?
Now, Jesus taught that we need bread to live: Jesus answered,It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.Matt 4:1-11
This is based on an OT teaching in Deut 8:3  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Neither of these say we don't need bread, rather they say we need Bread AND something else. In John 6 Jesus gives a detailed teaching of the something else.

We see here that Jesus only wanted people on His own terms and did not want them any other way. It hurt Him that people sought him for what they could get out of Him --- loaves and fish.
Today as well, people are interested in the by products of Christianity; but not Christianity itself. He can give us loaves and fishes, bigger wages, better houses; gadgets to make our lives easier and add to our leisure; He'll even give us eternal life: these are all real things and worth having and we will follow Him for them. But who wants His Spiritual gifts? What would we do with them? What difference will they make? And then Christ's supreme offer to us --- the power to conquer selfishness, temptation and sin; the power to be masters in our own lives, putting our lives to high and worthy ends --- but these are pushed aside. Who needs that? Who needs to be holy?

Then He says: Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

He's saying there are bigger and more satisfying things within our reach ... better than the things we spend so much time working for and reaching for in this life, things that rot and decay. What are you pursuing? What are you working for in this life?

I am the bread of Life, says Christ ... and then He seems to start speaking about cannibalism, eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But that is in English, in Hebrew they would have known, if they bothered to listen, that He was now speaking metaphorically. To eat the flesh of the Son of Man is to absorb his entire way of being and living. The Greek word sarx (flesh) is also used to refer to human nature in general, to the physical, emotional, mental, aspects of human existence. Jesus wants us to live, feel, think and act like Him; by the power of the Holy Spirit He enables us to do so. Likewise to drink His blood is to absorb His self-sacrificing life-motivation and indeed His very life because the Biblical understanding is that the life of a creature is in the blood (Lev 17:11).

Now by this point you might well be getting a glazed look over your eyes
It is perhaps rather complicated, but only if we don't really want to listen to Jesus and be taught by Him. We might be tempted to say: "This must have gone over their heads" ... except it's Jesus who is talking and He knew his audience, He would never talk beyond what He knew was peoples' ability to understand ... that would be cruel. He knows this crowd is ready for this teaching, if they were willing to receive it ... but they weren't, and so from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. You see, Jesus was moving on to the solid stuff of discipleship. Paul will one day write to the Corinthians and speaking of his first visit there will say: I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready for anything stronger. And you still aren't ready, (1 Cor 3:2) ... what an indictment on a church. The writer of Hebrews says:  We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature (Heb 5:11-14).

Jesus was either not a very good judge of people  ... or these people just didn't want to move on to the solid stuff that He (like a mother who moves her child onto solids) ... that He knew they were ready for. And so, From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.


And they don't want to leave Him ... why? ... because they have begun to discover what I hope you, with me, have begun to discover: 

"He is as necessary to us as our food. In fact He is our food, enabling us to meet life’s calls upon us and to keep happy and healthy. Sometimes, you are tired; and because you are tired you are also irritable and impossible. But have a meal and more than likely, throwing aside your gloom and bad mood, you will become your usual likable self again, kind and unselfish and companionable. And why? Because the strength that was in the food has passed into you and become your strength, has made a stronger and better person of you. So in Christ there is that which feeds, which sustains, which restores spent vigour and exhausted energies, a strength we can appropriate and make our strength, doing and being what apart from him we could not do or be" (Interpreters Bible, Vol 8, page 567).

Do you need that bread this morning? Well, you do need that bread this morning, whether you know that or not ... so the question is: "Do you want that bread this morning?"

As we come to communion this morning, know that in receiving these elements by faith, you come to Jesus acknowledging that you are hungry with a hunger that only He can satisfy. By faith, perhaps even for the first time, receive the Bread of Life as you receive the bread from this table. Answer Jesus as He asks of you: You do not want to leave too, do you?’ 


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