Jesus The Bread of Life audio (4MB)
You may have noticed that there’s been a significant revival of Atheism over the past few years. More and more people have begun to question the validity of the claims of religions, particularly Christianity, of a supernatural power being at work in the world. It’s like carbon in the atmosphere. If you can’t see it, it can’t be there. Or so they say. Certainly the claims of Christianity that Jesus was God’s own son, born in human flesh; that Jesus died then came back to life; that he could walk through locked doors; they must surely be the inventions of his followers after the fact.
Yet we Christians firmly believe that what we read in God’s word is true. We have a deep inner conviction that the Christian message is the truth. So why is that? Are we so simple that we’ll believe anything? Well no, most Christians are reasonably intelligent, rational, thinking people.
So why is it that some people believe and some don’?
I think that’s a question that Jesus addresses here in John chapter 6.
A Why do unbelievers not believe?
1. It’s a Spiritual Message.
"Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."" (John 6:26-27 NRSV)
Last week we read about the feeding of the 5000 and we saw the significance of that sign in terms of Jesus role as the new Moses, that is, the new saviour of the people. Some of the people recognised what Jesus did for what it was, but their conclusion wasn’t quite right.
They saw the miracle of bread appearing from nowhere and thought they were on to a good thing. If he could do that then he could feed an army that could drive out the Romans. But Jesus says, you’ve got it all wrong. There are two sorts of food. There’s the bread that nourishes our physical existence, but that’s doomed to perish in the end, but there’s also bread that nourishes our spiritual existence which will last forever. He says: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
These people were materialists. They’d eaten the loaves and had their fill, but they’d completely missed the spiritual significance of what had happened. They’d seen the miracle but they hadn’t seen the sign. Jesus had looked at the crowd and seen not just hungry people, but also people searching in vain for something to fill a spiritual vacuum within them. These people weren’t much different from people today – like sheep without a shepherd is how Mark describes them in his account. Jesus feeds them as a sign, or a pointer to the deeper spiritual truth that he has food for us that will satisfy our spiritual hunger, a food, he says, that will endure for eternal life. The difficulty so many people have today is that they’re materialists just like these Galileans and all they can see is their material needs. They’re working so hard that they don’t have time to sit down and think about their spiritual needs; about the fact that they need food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man can give them.
So that’s the first obstacle; and the second is:
2. Jesus Claims are Essentially Supernatural
"Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42They 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'?"" (John 6:41-42 NRSV)
This is the sort of thing you expect to hear in a mental hospital: from people who have lost touch with reality. In the previous chapter we find a long argument between Jesus and the Pharisees in which Jesus claims over and over to have come from God, indeed to be the Son of God. In the space of a mere 10 verses, from 31 to 40, Jesus uses the words ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘my’ 17 times. And here it’s the same. He’s come down from heaven. Yet his claims aren’t those of a megalomaniac. There’s an inherent modesty in what he claims. “38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”
Yet he claims a divine origin: ‘I have come down from heaven’; a divine mission: ‘I have come to do the will of him who sent me’; and, a few verses earlier, a divine ministry: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
Jesus has come to satisfy the most important need of human beings: the need to fill the spiritual void caused by sin. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that God has put eternity into our hearts; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. There’s a profound spiritual hunger in most people that only God can satisfy. Yet so many people try to substitute material things to fill that need: the latest gadget, the newest toys, holidays to exotic places. Yet it’s a hunger that Jesus came to fill: "I am the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
But all these people could see was the Jesus they’d always known. They’d seen him grow up. They’d bought furniture from his father. He seemed so ordinary that they couldn’t grasp the idea that there was more to him than what they saw.
The third reason some find it hard to believe is because of
3. The Scandal of the Cross.
Jesus takes the idea of the bread that comes down from heaven and extends it to describe what he’s soon to do on the cross. That is, he’s about to give up his life in order to bring life to others.
"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." (John 6:51). Notice by the way that he isn’t speaking literally. Nor is he saying that by eating the bread and drinking the wine at communion you’ll gain eternal life. No, all through this passage Jesus tells them there’s only one way to receive eternal life. He repeats himself over and over again. In v29 he says: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” v35: “Come to me, and you will never go hungry. Believe in me and you will never thirst.” v40: “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” And then in v47 "Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life." So it’s fairly clear that eating his flesh is a metaphor for believing in what he’s done with his flesh: that is, his death on the cross; his flesh given for the life of the world.
Still, his hearers take offence at that image. How can they eat his flesh? And Jesus makes it even harder when he says that his flesh and blood are real food and drink. But what he means is that they’re such that if you partake of them by faith you’ll partake of Christ himself (v.56). To believe in Jesus Christ means to have the life that the Father gives to the Son, to become part of the Godhead in fact.
Well, if there are these 3 reasons why people fail to believe in Jesus: 1. The spiritual nature of his message. 2. The supernaturalism of his claims. And 3. The scandal of the cross
B Why do some people believe?
Here I think we find 2 reasons given:
1. A Gift from God.
Three times in this section we’re told the same thing:
In 6:37, 44 & 64-65 we find the same idea: “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.” (Jn 6:44)
You may not like the idea that our coming to Christ is the work of God rather than your own wise choice. Yet that’s the message of the gospel. Everything to do with our salvation comes from God. As we think more about it this becomes a thing of comfort. If you think about how hard it is for you to remain faithful to God as a Christian you’ll realise how blessed we are that God takes the first step in bring us to himself.
2. What alternative is there?
As the disciples talk to Jesus about how hard they find this image of eating his flesh, Jesus asks them: "Do you also wish to go away?" Peter answers him, 68"Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life." It’s a clear cut, rational decision isn’t it? What alternative is there? Atheism doesn’t provide the answers to life’s hard questions. It certainly doesn’t offer any hope for the future. Survival of the fittest is fine if you’re one of the fittest, but not for the rest of us. Only Jesus can give us that which will lead to eternal life, forgiveness of our sins and peace with God.
The choice is the same today as it was 2000 years ago. Do you believe in Jesus or not? Will you come to him or will you reject him? If you’re one who’s still deciding, then ask God to open your eyes so you can see the truth about Jesus and come to believe in him. Ask him to feed you with living bread that endures to eternal life. If you already believe in Jesus then make sure you’re spending time with God’s word so God can continue to feed your faith in Jesus, so you too will live with him forever.