January 19, 2003

Spiritual Bread of Life - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John Scripture: John 6:16–40


Spiritual Bread of Life-Part One

John 6:16-40
Sunday, January 19, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith

John 5:26 says, "Jesus has life in Himself." John 14:6 says Jesus is "the life." John 10:10 says that Jesus came so that we "may have life, and have it abundantly." John 3:15 says that all who believe "will in Him have eternal life."

Today we celebrate sanctity of human life day. According to the brochure in your bulletin, approximately 4,000 babies are murdered in the U.S. each day through the gruesome act of abortion. As Christians, we oppose abortion because we stand for life.

Today we also celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King spoke of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a "sacred obligation" in his famous "I have a dream" speech. As Christians we stand behind Dr. King's cry for equality of life that is not based upon one's skin color.

But most importantly, today we celebrate Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who is the life and who gives eternal life to those who believe and feast on His promises. Today we will study the One who is called the Bread of Life.


Before we begin to dissect the Bread of Life discourse that begins in verse 26, we need to deal with the 10 verses that are sandwiched between the discourse and the feeding of the 5,000 that we studied last week.

Even though the feeding of the 5,000 is contained in the other 3 gospels, only John fully provides its theological significance. You'll remember that the sign identified Jesus as the One who is now superior to Moses, offering a bread that far surpasses manna.

But I found myself this week wondering why John, who writes with a distinctive theological perspective, placed verses 16-24 between the feeding (in verses 1-15) and the explanation of the feeding (in verses 26-59)? And after much meditation and study my profound answer is, "I don't know!"

As we read earlier this morning, the disciples once again crossed the Sea of Galilee after the feeding, however this time alone, without Jesus in the boat. Mark 6:46 records that Jesus retreated to the mountain to pray. While it was late in the evening, after rowing 3-4 miles (Jn. 6:19), the wind began to toss the sea and the disciples were extremely afraid. Suddenly, off in the distance they saw somebody walking on the water. Now added to their fear of the storm was the appearance of a man walking on the water. Matthew says the disciples cried out in fear and said, "It is a ghost" (Mt. 14:26)! Jesus immediately reassured the disciples in verse 20 and said, "It is I; do not be afraid." You will recall that Matthew records Peter meeting His Savior on (and then eventually in) the water (Mt. 14:28ff). Verse 21 says that once Jesus was received into the boat, "immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going" (possibly another miracle in itself). According to verse 24, the boat arrived at Capernaum, which is the eventual setting for the upcoming discourse (c.f. Jn. 6:59).

The event is reassuring for every Christian and yet another display of our Savior's supernatural abilities; but as I said before, I am unaware of its theological connections with the Bread of Life exchange. Maybe it was Jesus' way to privately show His disciples that He truly was a King, for even the winds and the sea cannot overwhelm Him, much less frail humanity. Maybe John wanted to show His readers that Jesus, as the Bread of Life, comes in a way that we least expect Him. Maybe John just wanted to explain how Jesus and His disciples returned to the western side of the sea to establish the setting for the Bread of Life discourse in Capernaum, but felt it impossible not to mention such a significant miracle. Maybe there is some link to the Exodus theme that I am unaware of such as Moses only being able to part the Sea, but Jesus being able to walk on the Sea.

Rather than speculate, we'll move ahead and find ourselves this morning with Jesus in a synagogue in Capernaum (Jn. 6:59) swarmed by a large crowd. The multitudes were absorbed in the excitement from His miracles. They followed Him everywhere. They knew there was something extraordinary about this man. They eagerly desired to make Him their king.

In the verses that follow, Jesus begins His discourse, primarily structured around questions and comments (as is the sermon outline today) from the people in the synagogue ("Freedom in the Synagogue"). This discourse is the definitive instruction that explains the sign Jesus performed in feeding the 5,000.

1. WHEN DID YOU GET HERE? (6:25-27)

Let's being with the first question. Verse 25, "When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, 'Rabbi, when did You get here?'" Naturally, the people were curious about Jesus' sudden appearance since they saw the disciples depart from the eastern side alone (Jn. 6:22).

In verse 26 Jesus said, "Jesus answered them and said, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

Without ever even answering the crowd's question, Jesus immediately exposes their true motives in seeking Him. The people didn't really care about Jesus nor did they rightly appropriate the meaning of His signs. Jesus said their interest in Him was solely motivated by personal gain, specifically in this case the free distribution of food. One author remarked, "Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread" (Lange). Another one said, "They were moved not by full hearts, but full bellies" (Ryle). Jesus was not about to accept selfish, half-hearted followers who misunderstood the nature of His ministry and the demands of true discipleship.

So in verse 27, Jesus specifies His rebuke with a specific exhortation. "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal." To point out the folly of their mindset, Jesus encourages the crowd to seek for that which is eternal.

My oldest daughter went to a birthday party yesterday and received what Julie and I deemed some inappropriate parting gifts. Even Hailey knew the proper thing to do was to discard them in the garbage can. Since she cooperated so well, I promised that I would allow her to pick out a new present after the two of us concluded our shopping excursion. After fighting the crowds and traffic for 4 hours, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend an hour in the Barbie display isle. I tried to weasel my way out of the deal on the way home. I said, "Honey, how about an ice cream sundae instead of the gift." Her response was, "Daddy, I want something that will last forever."

Jesus makes the same claim in verse 27. The people were working for food that perishes! Physical food is only temporary. We eat and then it's gone forever. Often we cannot even remember what we had for dinner the night before! Beyond food, everything we work for is temporary, our cars, our vacations and even Hailey's Barbie dolls! That's why Jesus said we are to avoid storing up for ourselves "treasures on earth" (Mt. 6:19). We are to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" realizing that He will provide the other things we need for this life (Mt. 6:33). We are to be "seeking the things above" (Col. 3:1). We are to seek Jesus because He has a food that endures to eternal life. Jesus is basically saying, "I have something that will last forever. Be wise, your food will perish. Seek My food which "endures to eternal life!"

2. WHAT SHALL WE DO? (6:28-29)

The ears perked up. They heard Jesus taking about eternal life. Point #2, verse 28, "Therefore they said to Him, 'What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?'"

The typical humanistic mindset in seeking favor with God and eternal life always has been and always will be the one echoed by the rich young ruler. "What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life" (Mt. 19:16)? Or as the Jews said in verse 28, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Carnal, unredeemed man has this fleshly notion that through a certain amount of good deeds (moral living, church attendance, Bible reading, prayer, etc.) he can somehow earn his way to heaven. "Give me a checklist. Tell me what I need to do. Point me to the right religion. I can accomplish it myself."

Unfortunately, carnal, unredeemed man fails to understand that salvation always has been and always will be solely on the basis of faith. There was never a time in salvation history when man was required by God to earn his way to heaven based on some works of righteousness- one because he can't and two because God wants all the glory. Going all the way back to the foundations of the Jewish nation, Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham "believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." Even though the Jews continually misunderstood the purpose of the Law and believed they should somehow contribute to their own salvation, salvation always has been solely on the basis of faith in the promises of God.

Jesus sets the record straight in verse 29, "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'"

First of all, the avenue to eternal life is through faith. John says that the work of God is to believe. Salvation is God's work, not man's. God does not require the "works of law" (Gal. 3:28), but rather faith to receive His eternal gift. Can you see Jesus' point coming through? It is senseless to work for something temporary when we can receive something eternal for free!

Second, the object of faith is Jesus Christ. In this verse, Jesus said, "(Eternal life is to) believe on Him (Jesus Christ) whom He (God the Father) has sent." Our faith is not to be abstract or existential nonsense whereby we can believe in anything. Rather, our faith is only valid when it looks to a specific coherent object that has been designated and sent by God the Father, that object being Jesus Christ. Elsewhere in this Gospel Jesus said, "For unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (Jn. 8:24).

Therefore, if we put all this together: Eternal life is received as a gift when we by faith continually believe in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. That is the gospel. That is the message of Christianity.

Now the question is: will the audience receive this free gift of eternal life that Jesus has to offer?

3. WHAT THEN DO YOU DO? (6:30-33)

Point #3, verse 30, "So they said to Him, 'What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?'"

Jesus Christ will never ask for illogical, irrational or blind faith. Christianity makes perfect sense and is verifiable from a number of resources such as the inerrancy of Scripture, the fulfillment of prophecy, the demonstration of miracles and the testimony of changed lives just to name a few. However, to believe in humanism or evolution or some other prominent religious figure is absolutely absurd based upon the evidence they provide. Therefore, it is not wrong to seek confirming evidence before we believe in Jesus. We should even consider the cost. Yet it is wrong to deny the revelation He has already provided thus calling it insufficient (c.f. Lk. 26:31). A very prideful individual says, "Jesus You will have to do better than this if You want to convince me!"

The Jews in verse 30 asked for a sign. However verse 26 says they had already seen a number of signs, including the feeding of the 5,000 just one day earlier. There must come a point when in seeing the claims of Jesus, the evidence is evaluated and a response in faith is made. Jesus had no patience for those who dared to impose on God for just one more sign before they would believe. There will always need to be a step of faith.

The people continued to put Jesus to the test in verse 31, "Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.'"

You will remember that a primary purpose of Christ's miracle in feeding the 5,000 was to show that He was superior to Moses. The crowd in verses 14-15 appeared to come to this conclusion. After all, they concluded that He was the coming Prophet that Moses spoke of (verse 14). They also desired to "take Him by force to make Him king" (verse 15).

Now, one day later, their fickle minds seem to be changing their tune. Jesus had not been catering to their political fancy. Jesus was not the puppet they thought they could control. Maybe Jesus was not the superior Prophet they had envisioned after all.

After thinking for a while they remembered that Jesus only gave them ordinary bread while Moses on the other hand provided bread from heaven. They even quoted Psalm 78:24 in verse 31 to prove their point from the Scriptures. Furthermore, Jesus provided bread only on 1 occasion while Moses gave them bread for 40 years. Jesus only fed 5,000, while Moses fed a whole nation. Couple these observations with the popular Jewish expectation at the time that the Messiah would once again provide the people with manna, and all of a sudden the cards are not stacking up in the favor of Jesus.

I can imagine the crowd saying, "Jesus, come to think about it, You are not superior to Moses, in fact, You are far inferior than the great leader of our nation. Moses has exceeded You! If You want us to believe You Jesus, we want to see something more dramatic, more spectacular, more impressive than what Moses accomplished for our forefathers in the wilderness. Maybe then we'll believe that You have this gift of eternal life to offer."

Yet Jesus, the Son of God, would not allow man to dictate His divine will. Giving into their whims would acknowledge the righteousness of their actions. You will remember that Jesus tested Philip (in vs. 6), but He was not about to condescend to the testing of those whom He created.

So without accommodating their demands, Jesus corrects their misunderstanding of the situation in the wilderness and their man-centered notions. Verse 32, "Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.'"

First of all Jesus makes it clear that the bread provided in the wilderness did not come from Moses, but from God (c.f. Ex. 16:4; Neh. 9:15; Psm. 78:23-24; 105:40). Man loves to exalt and esteem himself, but we know that God will not ascribe His glory to another (Isa. 48:11). Jesus here is attempting to dethrone Moses in the eyes of the people and exalt God as the true supplier of bread.

Second, Jesus begins to shift the dialogue's focus off the material and onto the spiritual, or more specifically, off of Moses and onto Himself. After revealing that God provided the manna in the wilderness in the latter half of verse 32, Jesus then reveals that manna is not the "true bread out of heaven." In other words, manna is inferior to a different bread that is also provided by the Father. Manna, even though it is "bread out of heaven" provided by God, is nevertheless material, subject to decay bringing only temporary satisfaction. Moreover, it is a symbol or a picture or a shadow of the true bread yet to come. Doubtless to the people's surprise, God the Father has a better and true bread to offer that far exceeds manna.

Now that He has their attention, Jesus further explains this true "bread of God" in verse 33, "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world."

The Father provides this true bread of God for one primary purpose, life! Jesus knew what He was up against. After all, manna sustained life in the wilderness for 40 years! That was some powerful bread provided by God. However, the supply of manna eventually ended. Additionally, manna did nothing for the salvation of one's soul. Manna did nothing to heal a broken heart. Jesus promised the Jews that the true bread from the Father was able to provide, sustain and satisfy life at its fullest! And this bread is even available to those beyond the borders of Israel, contradicting the nationalistic expectations of the Jews. This bread, according to verse 33, "gives life to the world."

4. GIVE US THIS BREAD! (6:34-40)

Unfortunately, the crowd that began with a focus on physical food had once again returned to that mindset. They couldn't get beyond the thought of physical manna. Verse 26 says they followed Him because they wanted a free meal. No doubt they thought that this new bread from heaven would surpass what they knew about manna. Possibly they would never again need to work by the sweat of their brow.

"If the inferior manna fed the whole nation of Israel, this new and true bread of God would feed everybody to their heart's content and probably taste a whole lot better! I heard that manna stuff tasted like corn flakes! Hmmm, I can picture it now, steak from heaven on Monday; I hope it's medium-rare. Maybe lobster on Tuesday. Jesus, would side dishes come with this meal? Could my children get dessert? Johnny sure does like ice cream! Does God prefer Pepsi over Coke? Would that come in bottles or cans?" Verse 34, "Then they said to Him, 'Lord (probably better translated 'Sir'), always give us this bread!'" (Reminiscent of the Samaritan woman in John 4:15.)

And Jesus says, "Stop!" Verse 35, "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life.'" Imagine silence. Imagine confusion. Imagine unbelief. Imagine faces dropping to open hands. "What, You are not the giver, but rather You are the bread of life itself?

Jesus continued, "He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst" (Jn. 6:35b). Jesus just put everything together. He is the Bread of Life given by the Father for eternal life.

No doubt the people were still on the material plane. They were consumed with things like stomachs and money and pride, whereas Jesus was consumed with spiritual things like salvation and God and sacrifice. Jesus' primary purpose for coming was to give of His life that those who believe in Him will never again be spiritually hungry and never again be spiritually thirsty. He came to bring eternal satisfaction! "Ho! Every one who thirsts, 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 do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance" (Isa. 55:1-2).

That's the purpose, now the rebuke. Verse 36, "But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe."

The people had seen a king that would conquer the Romans, but not a King that would die on a cross and rule in their hearts. The people had seen a savior in the political realm, but not a Savior in the spiritual realm that would forgive all their sins. The people had seen Jesus produce the bread, but they did not see what the miracle itself signified. They surely had seen Jesus physically, but they did not see Him or believe Him spiritually whereby they would submit and yield themselves to Him in all humility. They had seen, yet they did not believe. How contrary is that to the words of Christ when He reproved Thomas. "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (Jn. 20:29). After the multitudes beheld His glory (Jn. 1:14), they failed to exercise the necessary faith to receive the "Bread of Life."

At this point it would be very easy for the skeptic to say, "Let me get this right. Jesus Christ (God Himself) takes on human flesh, subjects Himself to a life of mockery and dies a violent death on the cross to offer salvation to the world who will believe in Him by faith. Right? Jesus Christ literally shows Himself to His own people, the Jews, those who are educated in the Scriptures, those who are highly awaiting the Messiah. Right? And when this is all said and done, it appears that most if not almost all of His own nation will reject Him. Right? What a waste! What a bad decision! What a poor investment! Based on the cost and the net results, the entire plan was foolish!"

And Jesus says, "Absolutely not! For you are looking at the situation through the eyes on man." God will not allow man in any way whatsoever foil His plans. God is in perfect control and is in no way governed by human decision-making. Jesus answered the critics this way in verse 37, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."

In other words, despite the apparent rejection by His own people (Jn. 1:11), the confidence of Jesus rests in His Father's plan. A certain number of people have been set aside from the foundation of the world. When these individuals hear the gospel they will believe and trust Christ for salvation. The Apostle Paul said it this way in his epistle to the Ephesians. "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will" (Eph. 1:5). Jesus Christ had the full assurance that those whom the Father elected, those whom the Father has given the Son will come to the Son. The salvation of some is guaranteed. The mission would not be a failure! His death would not be in vain!

We must realize that people do not come to Christ because it is a good idea. Man is perfectly content in his sins. The Bible says that He is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1)! God must provide the desire. He must regenerate the heart. God must draw the individual. That's why Jesus said in verse 44, "No one can (a word of ability, not permission) come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him."

So God the Father gives God the Son a certain number of individuals who will believe. And then, as verse 37 concludes, God the Son who never acts independently of the Father (verse 38) promises to keep those individuals whereby they can have the assurance and guarantee of eternal life. Verse 37 again, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." (The figure of speech is better translated, "…I will certainly keep in My presence.") Verse 39, "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day." Verse 40, "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

Could John have made this point any clearer? The surest sign of God's elect is perseverance to the end because Christ will never let go of those whom the Father has chosen. You see, when we rightly understand that God is the One who gives us salvation and calls us to Himself, we will rightly understand that He will keep us and never let us go, so that we may demonstrate our salvation by persevering to the end. Therefore our assurance is not based upon our feeble attempt to hold onto Christ, but rather it is based on His sure grip that holds onto us.

Many in today's church want to believe that they made the ultimate decision to follow Christ, but then still want to accept the comforting thought that they could never loose their salvation. As pleasant as this position may appear, it is a theological contradiction contrary to true Arminian belief (which says, if you choose, you can loose) and contrary to the words of Christ recorded in John chapter 6. Divine election and eternal security go hand in hand.

People are sometimes puzzled and ask, "How do I know if I have been chosen?" And my simple answer is, "Do you believe?" I guarantee that 99% of new believers have no concept of the doctrine of election when they first put their faith in Christ. And that's why it comes down to what Jesus said in verse 40, "Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life."

The words of Jesus simply separate humankind into 2 categories: those who believe and have eternal life and those who do not believe and have eternal damnation. The words of Jesus in John chapter 6 are as much alive today as they were when the Savior spoke them. Jesus is asking you as He did the Jews nearly 2,000 years ago, do you believe? Are you working for that which will perish or are you accepting the free gift for God, the true Bread out of heaven that delivers and satisfies the soul eternally?

other sermons in this series

May 9


The Priority of A Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:18–25 Series: John

May 2


From Fishermen To Shepherds

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:15–17 Series: John

Apr 25


Fishing For Men

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:1–14 Series: John