Monday, March 12, 2012

God Speaking: Like Bread

Preached on Sunday, March 11, 2012

Scripture readings: Isaiah 55:1-13; John 6:25-59

Just the day before, Jesus had fed a crowd of thousands on a remote shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd was hungry and Jesus wanted to show them something by feeding them there.

A boy in the crowd had brought his lunch; five small barley loaves and two small salted fish. He offered his lunch to Jesus. Would that help? It turned out to be more than enough. In Jesus’ hands, the boy’s lunch became a meal for thousands.

The crowd was excited by what Jesus did. They thought they knew what it meant. They thought it meant that Jesus was the prophet that Moses had predicted: the prophet who would be like Moses. (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Moses had seen to it that they were miraculously fed in the wilderness, and Moses had led them to freedom from slavery in Egypt. The crowd by the shore of Galilee had been miraculously fed by Jesus, and they thought Jesus might be the one to lead them to freedom from the occupation of the Romans.

They weren’t sure how to make this happen; what to do with Jesus in order to get this done. They thought it would be a good start if they made him their king. The Romans would hear about it and attack. If Jesus cared one bit for his people, he would have to use his power to protect them from the Roman attack. Jesus would have to lead, and fight, and win, and become the ruler of Israel; and perhaps the ruler of the world, when the Romans went down.

One of the titles of the Roman emperor was “the savior of the world”. That was the kind of savior God’s people wanted. Jesus knew this and so he snuck away. And that leads to a whole other story.

But the next day the crowds found Jesus on the other side of Galilee. They asked him a rather silly question: “Rabbi, when did you get here.” It is a silly question, after all the strange things that had happened the day before: Jesus feeding thousands of them; their attempt to make him king; his escape and hiding from them. It was awkward to say the least.

Their question was an awkward question. How could they get back to the feeding question, and the king-making question, and the war against the Romans question? They beat around the bush. They tried “small talk”. But Jesus never goes along with this.

They were interested in following Jesus; even if it was on their own terms. But Jesus would have nothing to do with this, either.

Jesus made no attempt to work with them. Jesus would not bargain or negotiate. Jesus didn’t even try to politely nudge them along into whatever was his way of thinking. Jesus scolded them, instead. “I tell you the truth; you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (6:26)

The rest of the conversation shows that the people who were looking for Jesus only got more and more confused by him. Jesus kept shoving them verbally until they were no longer the people who had been fed by him but the people who were fed up with him.

Was that any way to treat his fans? Why was he going around speaking and doing miracles, if not to attract people to himself? Didn’t he want people to follow him? They wanted to follow him; but Jesus was making it hard.

The issue of the signs confused them. Of course they were following him because of the signs. Jesus’ ability to feed them was a sign of the power of God at work.

The bread was the least thing on their mind; or so they thought. The power of God had worked through Moses to lead them to freedom, and the power of God could work through Jesus for the same purpose. Freedom, and a kingdom of their own, was on their mind. Of course they followed him because they saw the signs!

The people in the crowd were smart enough to realize that there was some miscommunication going on. They could not understand each other about the work of God, or about what Jesus wanted from them when he told them they needed to believe, or about the signs Jesus did.

So they asked about the signs. It sounded strange. “What miraculous sign then will you give us that we may see it and believe you?” (6:30)

Were they crazy? Hadn’t Jesus just fed them by the thousands? So they probably meant, “Give us a signal. Give us a clue. Use sign language. If the sign doesn’t mean that you are ready to lead us to freedom, then what, on earth, do you mean by it?”

And Jesus did not answer their question. He still pushed against them like one kid pushing another kid to start a fight. He just told them that they were asking the wrong question, and that they should know better. Moses never gave them the bread that fed them on their way to freedom. God gave them that bread.

And now God the Father was giving them a better kind of bread. It was the bread of God; and that bread was Jesus.

Remember how the very first few sentences of the Gospel of John set the stage for understanding what follows. Those opening lines go like this. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Jesus is the Word of God. He is God speaking himself and expressing himself. John tells us that no one can see God, but that Jesus has made him known. We see who God is by seeing who Jesus is. We can see what God’s glory truly consists of, because Jesus is the Word who was with God, and who was God.

Jesus tells us that we must eat and drink him because God is like bread. We don’t have to just use the word bread. We could use other things. God spoke to his people in Isaiah and used other examples besides bread. God said, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3)

God is like a street vendor who is hawking a product that cannot be bought. It can only be given away. God’s gift is himself. God’s gift of himself is life. “Hear me that your soul may live.”

Being born into this world is a gift from God. We do nothing to make it happen.

There is a life of the soul that we also cannot buy. It must be given. In Isaiah, God calls that life “joy and peace”. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst forth into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

The life of the soul will thrive when God’s work is complete. “Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.” (Isaiah 55:13) It will be a whole new way of life in a whole new world that will be given to us.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve reached out and took for themselves what was not theirs. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was something that was not there for the taking. If it was to be theirs, they needed to trust that it was God’s for the giving.

They grabbed something that belonged to God for the purpose of making themselves their own little gods. They wanted to expand their options and have a relationship with God that did not put them in a position of need. They wanted some elbow room, some independence.

But God is life. To be independent of God is to be independent of life. To go out from God is to go out from life into death, and death gets into you. That is what sin is and what sin does.

Sin is like making a desert of your world and your life. Competition for life in a desert is fierce. We were created for fellowship and peace with God, and with others, and with our own lives as God created us to be. In sin the competition becomes fierce. Peace and fellowship become rare commodities.

We compete with God. Will God get his way, or will we? It sounds silly, but it is a game everyone plays.

We compete with each other. They say that in marriage a husband and wife become one, but the problem comes when they try to work out which one. It is possible to make any relationship into a competition to see who will get what they want. Communities can become like a game for who can win the most points. Who will control the court?

Even within ourselves there is a competition going on. We are made in the image of God, and we are rebels against God. We can’t be happy unless we listen to God. We can’t be happy unless we assert ourselves in spite of God. We want love. We want control. We want peace. We want to be angry, resentful, and bitter. We want others to feel sorry for us, and we hate being the objects of anyone’s pity. Even within our selves the competition is fierce.

The people of the Bible didn’t live in the jungle, so they didn’t talk about sin as the law of the jungle. They lived on the edge of the desert or over the edge of the desert, and so sin was the law of the desert. The new creation, where God will make all things new, will be the end of the desert around us and within us.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:47-51)

The term “everlasting life” in the Bible is literally “the life of the age”. “Age” means the age to come, the age that will never end, the age when God will make all things new, and all things will stay new. It is the age when everything in heaven and earth will be heavenly.

It is the end of the desert of relationships. It is the end of the desert of the soul. It is the end of the desert of a fallen, broken world.

Jesus says, “He who believes has everlasting life.” Jesus does not say, “He who believes will have everlasting life at some point of time in the future.” Jesus means that everlasting life starts now. The way we will live in heaven, and in the age to come, begins now, if we come to him, and eat him, and drink him.

This is true because, when we come to Jesus, we come to God and, when we come to God, we come to life; life as it is in God. It was not God’s intention to create a life that comes to an end. The ending of lives came about as part of a world that has been separated from harmony with God. Lives that come to an end are only natural in a fallen world.

Jesus came to bring life to a fallen world. He is like bread because God is like bread. Jesus is like bread because God is life and bread has always been “the staff of life”. Everything depends on it.

Bread is the basic food. God is not the caviar of life. God is not the gourmet chef of life. God is not a luxury. He is what everyone needs. He is a necessity. God is very humble and simple about what he likes. And so he is glad to be our bread.

Jesus said, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus came to give life to the world, and to everyone in it, and to each one of us.

He says that he gives his flesh and blood as food and drink for us but, to do that, he first gave his flesh and blood on the cross, to defeat the sin of the world and the sin of our lives. He gave himself as a sacrifice. He gave himself as a gift. He wants us to know that he is still a gift to us, and that we can still come to him. We can eat him, and drink him, and live.

Coming, hearing, eating, and drinking are all pictures of believing. Belief is not a thing in our head. Belief is not about the world of ideas. It is about a relationship of simple trust.

Faith is like eating and drinking. There is no achievement, there is no virtue, and there is no credit involved in eating and drinking. You have to do it or die. And eating and drinking are not a once in a lifetime experience. You have to do it all the time. Eating and drinking are literally a way of life. To choose not to eat or drink is to choose death, and some people do.

When you eat and drink, you are at the mercy of what you take into your body. Once they get inside you, that food and drink will have their way. They might go to your thighs, or to your waist, or to your arteries, so it is important what you choose to eat and drink. Some food and drink may hurt you, and steal life from you.

Jesus scolded the people of the crowd who came to him because they wanted loaves of bread. That was the truth that they were not willing to face.

They could have told Jesus that he was wrong. They didn’t want bread. They wanted freedom. They wanted power. They wanted control. They wanted to restore their pride.

The truth is that anything you want beside the life of God is only as important as the bread that spoils. Whatever you hunger and thirst for, besides the God of Life, you will have to leave behind when you die. There is a life after death, but that life is either life at home with God who is our life, or else it will be life cut off from life itself.

When Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead there was a lot of joy. But Lazarus, in order to come home to his family and neighbors, had to leave his new home with God.

And Lazarus would have to die all over again. His family and neighbors would have to grieve all over again.

In our world, as it is, grief is as natural as love. But when the law of the desert of this world comes to an end, then love will no longer seem to come to an end, and grief will end forever.

I have to tell you that when the New Testament tells us about believing in Jesus it literally means believing “into” Jesus. Eating and drinking Jesus means that faith is about having Jesus in us and us getting inside Jesus.

The eating and drinking of Jesus is about interpenetration. When we eat and drink our food, it is changed into chemicals that penetrate our cells and energize them. We turn our food into ourselves.

When we eat and drink Jesus, we are at his mercy, because he gives himself to be eaten and drank by us in order to turn us into him. When we turn into the one who gives his flesh for the life of the world, then we will do the same. We will be servants of life. We will give ourselves for the life of the world, just as Jesus made himself a servant for life of the world.

If you don’t want to be a part of this, if you don’t want to take this all the way, then you can believe all you want, but it won’t be the kind of believing that eats and drinks Jesus. No life will ever come from such believing.

Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56)

At this point Jesus starts to use a different word for eat. It is a word that means chewing; like a cow chewing its cud. You chew, and chew, and chew, and chew, and chew.

Mothers like to see their children chew their food. If they like to cook, they like to know their children enjoy what they have given them.

I remember being told, as a child, to chew my food more. How many times were you supposed to chew your food? For me, it was always too many times. But now I am a slow eater who enjoys good food.

Jesus means us to savor him. Enjoying the process of being turned into Jesus is meant to be a way of life as well.

And then he gave us the meal of the Lord’s Supper, the meal of Holy Communion, the Holy Partaking or Participation of Jesus. Receiving the bread and blood of life are not completely spiritual. They are not purely symbols. They have to become real.

All that Jesus is and all that he has done must come into us; must come into our life. So he gave us this meal; a thing that we must eat and drink between lips, and teeth, and gums.

He promises to be there with us in our real eating and drinking of the bread and the cup. Jesus gives us his flesh to give us life. He ate bread, and shared it with his friends, and he loved doing this.

He is not too proud to come to us in such a strange and familiar way. The one who calls himself the bread of life is not too proud to come to us by eating and drinking him. Eat! Drink! Live!


  1. "When you start the day offer up your whole self to God. Offer your soul, your body, your thoughts and the day's work before you. Tell Him in simple words your trials and temptations, especially your temptations."

    I don't know where this is from, but I copied it down and is in one of my quote journals that I used to keep.