There are lots of things that we treat like bread, hoping they’ll sustain and nourish us. But most of these things aren’t meant to do so. The more we eat, the hungrier we get. They’re bad bread. But Jesus is Good Bread and the fulfillment of all that we hunger for.
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Introduction and Recap
Good morning, brothers and sisters! It’s great to be with you this morning here already at the end of January as we continue our walk through the Gospel of John. We’re going to be looking at John 6:22-71 and there’s kind of a lot that happens here, and if we had more time, I’d say that we should all just stand, listen to the reading of it and stick around for lunch to discuss it, but we’re not really set up for that, so here’s what we’re going to do. First, I’m going to summarize this section for you, then make some notes, and then walk through some application. So let’s dive in.
The Text and Initial Notes
First, you have to remember, particularly if you haven’t been here for a week or two, that this section of the Ministry of Jesus occurs after three things:
• First, this passage is on the back side of The Feeding of the 5,000 literally a day earlier in verses 1 – 15, which makes it sound even crazier that the crowd asks Jesus for another sign, right? It’s only been since lunch yesterday and you already want another sign?
• And it’s also on the back side of the crowd that He fed trying to force Him to be their King in verse 15, which seems kind of noble at first, but isn’t what Jesus had in mind and so He escapes the crowd and withdraws into the mountains.
• All of this was also on the back side of Jesus Walking on the Water in verses 16 – 21, which you have to know probably still had the disciples freaking out because… well… on top of the fact that that just wasn’t normal behavior for anyone they’d ever met before, it was also kind of a huge topper for what had already been a banner day.
• And finally, this was the first of what are called Jesus’ “I AM…” statements, which are found throughout the Gospel of John, and this one is like a spiritual atom bomb when Jesus drops it because, as we’ll see, many people who were following Him to this point stop doing so after His statement.
That sets an interesting tone for the fact that the crowd following Jesus around by this point is developing some energy about this Rabbi from Nazareth. I mean, the guy can work miracles, He’s wise, He’s powerful. This could be the King they were looking for to free them from the Romans and finally bring Israel back to its rightful place in the world. And He gives out free Filet O’Fishes, too! Global Hunger… eradicated! But that’s not actually what happens in this passage. Instead, Jesus dampens their hopes by cryptic messages about things that they don’t understand, and ultimately, instead of blowing up His Twitter Feed, they just bail and cancel Him. Here’s what happens:
• First, the crowd can’t find Jesus the next morning, so they truck around the Sea of Galilee until they find Him in Capernaum.
• Then, when they’re like, “Hey, Jesus, when did you get here?” He doesn’t answer the question, but instead chides them for the fact that they are just seeking another Filet O’Fish, and should be seeking to do the works of God rather than just looking for a handout.
• When they ask Him what the works of God that they should be doing are, He tells them that God only asks that they Believe in Him. Now, as we’ve been talking about for some time, this isn’t just cognitive belief. Jesus is telling them that they need a belief that fully consumes them. It’s all of them from their mind, will, emotions, spirit and body.
• To this, they ask Him to prove that He’s from God, and they site the fact that lunch the day before was a good start because they’ve seen that one before. They tell Jesus that Moses gave them bread when the Hebrews left slavery in Egypt in the Book of Exodus, and so if Jesus is as important as Moses, the lunch miracle the day before would be a clue. But Moses wasn’t God, so if Jesus is greater than Moses, they’re going to need to see some additional proof.
• Jesus corrects them, interestingly, by telling them that Moses didn’t give them bread, but God did. Moses was just the Messenger. God is the One who gave them the bread and then, He makes this crazy statement that He echoes in two other places in this passage. He says in v.35, ““I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
• At this, the crowd freaks out a bit because they know where Jesus is from. They’re like, “Um, we know this guy. We know His parents. How can He tell us that He’s the Bread of Life and is sent from Heaven?”
• But humorously, Jesus doesn’t back down. He says it again in v.48 and then again in v. 51. I’m going to read you just an excerpt from the latter part of that dialogue because you have understand how insane this would have sounded to the crowd. Check this out:
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.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 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. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 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.
• From there, as you can imagine, a lot of people following Jesus just bailed. The Text says that many of His disciples turned away at that point and no longer followed Him, and you can kind of see why. They wanted a sandwich and Jesus seems to be telling them that they’re going to have to eat Him instead.
• So Jesus turns to His 12 core disciples and asks if they’d like to leave, too, and that’s when Peter drops this nugget… you have to love him for it, as much trouble as Peter gets in, this is one of my favorite things that he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
So. As I said, there’s a lot there, isn’t there? And if we pull away any one particular thing at the outset of just looking through the passage, it’s simply that whatever Jesus was selling, the crowd didn’t get it an certainly didn’t want it. And Jesus doesn’t try to dissuade them, correct their misconceptions or beg them to stay. At each point, and every time they make an ask, a comparison or a demand, He simply dodges it, replaces it or ups the ante. See what I mean, and listen specifically to the difference between what the crowd wants and what Jesus gives them.
• The crowd wants physical bread and Jesus offers them spiritual bread instead.
• The crowd wants a physical and political king, Jesus offers them a spiritual King and Kingdom instead.
• The crowd wanted a laundry list of demands and works for them to do. Jesus invites them to Believe instead.
• The crowd wants a Prophet. Jesus offers them God instead.
• The crowd wants a greater miracle. Jesus offers them a sermon instead.
• They wanted more Bread FROM Heaven. He offers them the very Bread OF Heaven.
Through all of this, we essentially see that the crowd just honestly didn’t get it. They wanted bread, which was a symbol of Provision and Wealth. They wanted a King which was a symbol of Power. And they wanted a Prophet, which to them would have been a symbol of God’s Power and validation of them as a people. And that’s as far as their hopes and dreams could reach. I like what theologian D.A. Carson says when he says, “They have seen only bread and power, not what they signify. This crowd has witnessed the divine revealer at work, but only their curiosity, appetites and political ambitions have been aroused, not their faith.” And that’s a problem, isn’t it? The Living Word of God is standing in their midst, but they can’t see past their own appetites and their own desires to recognize it. And I think we do the same thing all the time; it just looks a bit different for us.
The Big Questions and Implications of This Passage
Specifically, I think that there are two big questions to consider in this passage, and we’re going to take them on one by one. These two big questions are as follows:
• Question 1: Are you Seeking God’s Hand or God’s Face?
• Question 2: What Bread Are You Eating, and Is It Good Bread or Bad Bread?
The way that we answer both of these questions puts us squarely in the world of the same crowd who heard Jesus in this passage, and the questions are still relevant for us today. So let’s tackle them. Here we go.
Question 1: Are You Seeking God’s Hand or God’s Face?
The first question is whether or not we’re seeking God’s Hand or God’s Face. And honestly, it’s a common question for all of us. Let me tell you the difference:
• God’s Hand – To seek God’s Hand is to seek what He can do FOR you. It seeks to leverage God’s Power on your behalf. And we know who He is, so we seek His Hand when we need mountains moved, demons cast, sickness healed, relationships restored and doors opened. And honestly, that’s not all bad. The truth is that we need those things, and many others. Philippians 4:7-8 says that we should “present our requests to God and the peace of God will transcend our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Again, that’s not bad, but it turns sour really quickly when the only way that we approach God is for His Hand, or when we approach Him with our agenda or the things going on in our lives and we seek to offer Him what we think He wants in order to get the things that we know that we want in exchange. At that point, the relationship becomes more contractual than familial, and ultimately, more religious than relational.
• God’s Face – But to seek God’s Face is to seek what He is doing WITH you. It is to pursue Him first for Who He Is, and then to seek Him and what He is doing in our lives. It asks the question, “Father, what are you doing here that I can join you in? How are YOU speaking, moving and acting in this situation? ” That’s why David says in Psalm 27, “Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek My Face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your Face, LORD, do I seek.’” That’s not a trite-ism, friends, we are actually meant to live that way. And when we do, we are drawn into a deeper relationship with Him where we see His Face, are changed by it, and then we bring Him and the best versions of ourselves into the world around us.
Seeking God’s Hand is often about our agenda. Seeking God’s Face is about His. When we seek His Face, we find that His desires become our desires. It’s what the Psalmist meant when he said, “Delight yourself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4). When we seek His Face, His desires become our desires and then He delights to answer and respond. But when we only seek His Hand, we often miss His Face altogether and then don’t understand why God doesn’t seem to be doing what we want.
I think that this is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6:33 when He says that we are to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Earlier in that section, He says that His Heavenly Father knows that we need His Hand. He knows that we need food and clothes and, in our case, probably gas and insurance as well. But those things aren’t the “point.” We are to seek His Face first. Out of that relationship, His Hand then is free to move. For those of us who are parents, I think we get this in a special way. I tell my kids now that they’re older that the greatest gift that they give to me is when they choose to involve me in their worlds, in short, when they seek my face. And when they invite me and honor me with their challenges and their triumphs, then I delight to bring all that I can to bear on their behalf in their lives.
But that’s not what the crowd was doing here with Jesus. They wanted bread, a king and a Prophet. They were prepared to offer God whatever He wanted in exchange. But Jesus didn’t bite. He offered them Himself instead and a relationship with the Living God, and many of them walked away. I wonder, in the deep places of our hearts and minds, if we are approaching God for His Hand or for His Face? Are we approaching Him as beloved children seeking the Heart and Engagement of their Father, or do we just want Him to give us the stuff that we want and need and then go on about our business? And when He doesn’t play ball, like Jesus refused to do with the crowd here, do we walk away? This is a tough question for us just like it was for them.
Question 2: “What Bread Are You Eating? And Is It Good Bread or Bad Bread?”
The second question we have to wrestle with is the question of “What Bread Are You Eating? And is it Good Bread or Bad Bread?” Bread is a symbol of Sustenance, of Provision, of Food, of Life. In some cultures, Bread is actually called “the Staff of Life.” Here’s what I mean by Good Bread or Bad Bread:
• Good Bread is made from whole grains, without additives, bleach or preservatives that will linger in your system. It satisfies you, nourishes you, and can be acquired easily and without extended cost.
• Bad Bread, however, is basically the opposite. These are breads which look like bread and often taste like bread, but most of their nutritional value has been baked out, bleached out or substituted. As much as I love me some white Wonder bread, it’s not very good for me, and is only just a step above eating plastic in terms of its digestibility, nourishment or long-term sustainability. It’s often cheap and mass produced, but it’s not very good for you.
• When you came in this morning, you were given an individually wrapped piece of bread – wait, don’t eat it yet. Just hang on. My friend Katie who owns the Mitten Raised Bakery near MSU’s campus made these for us. And they’re Good Bread. They were made by hand, they were made with good ingredients, and they were made with love, because Katie is awesome. This is going to be our symbol of Good Bread this morning. So hang on to it.
When Jesus says that He is the Bread of Life here in this passage, He’s saying a lot of the same things. He’s saying that He can satisfy you. That He can carry you through the days. That through the simple act of Belief and response, you can acquire Him without elaborate cost, and that He will nourish you toward growing into all that you were built to be. And friends, I am here to tell you that whatever you are Hungry for, He can satisfy you. Are you Hungry for Love? For Community? For Healing? For Hope? For Belonging? For Value? For Worth? For Meaning? There are lots of things that will tell you that they can and will satisfy those longings, but they cannot. There is only One Bread of Life, and He offers Himself freely to you. As I have grown in my Faith, friends, I will tell you that there is nothing that I have hungered for, ever, that He has been unable to satisfy. And the deeper I dive with Him, the more closely I draw, the more amazed I am that He is quite simply the fulfilment of all that I long for. Ephesians 3:2 says, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,” and I believe it. I have come to Him for healing from Loneliness, Poverty, Lust, Despair, Rage and host of other things over the years, and I am not lying when I say that He has Healed, Restored, Exchanged and Provided in such a way that those things don’t gnaw at my ribs and the bars of my heart and mind like they used to. Sure, I still get Hungry, but the more that I flee to Him, the more He satisfies. And that’s possible. Actually, that’s intended. That’s what He means when He says that He is the Bread of Life and that we are to “eat” Him. He means that just like when we eat actual bread by ingesting it, when we consume Jesus through Belief and response, He becomes part of us. He strengthens us. He takes over more and more of what we were and makes us more and more of what we will be. And it’s not hard. Just like Bread, He offers Himself simply, freely and without restriction to whomever would come to Him. He is Good Bread.
But, by contrast, we’re all very familiar with Bad Bread, too. And we could talk for months about the various types, but I think that often leads to legalism when we get too specific, so I’m going to focus on three broad concepts that typically hang us up as Bad Bread. And you need to hear at the outset that while some of these things contain elements that are not bad in and of themselves, they become bad when we expect to get from them what can rightfully only come from Good Bread. When these things become Bad Bread, they no longer have any potential to nourish us or satisfy us, and instead, they make us hungrier and hungrier for more while ever wasting away, no matter how much we eat of them. Again, not a complete list, but let’s talk about Power, Wealth and Lust. In his book Insurgence, which I highly recommend that you read if you haven’t already – we have copies in the Resource Center — author and theologian Frank Viola notes that in the first century, those things were directly connected to the worship of three Greco-Roman gods:
• Cratos – the god of Power and Strength
• Plutus – the god of Wealth
• Venus – the goddess of Lust
We mock those ancient cultures for their naivete and think, “They worshipped statues and bowed down to idols. I’m so very glad that we’re more enlightened now.” But are we? Honestly, brothers and sisters, those gods are still very much alive and well. And all of them will leave you hollow, no matter how much of them you consume. They’re all Bad Bread. Let me tell you what I mean.
Let’s talk Politics for a second. Don’t freak out. I’m not going to outline one party over another or even one country, system of governance or military over another. And I’m not against politics or having a military. I vote my convictions. You should too. We are blessed to live in a country where we can do that kind of thing, and I do not take it for granted, or the people who have fought to secure and protect those rights that we enjoy. But I am going to tell you why trust in any of those things, or any world system, is actually “Bad Bread.” Let me ask you a seminary level question. Ready? Okay. Under whose authority are all governments, all world systems and all kingdoms? “Well, God’s, of course, Jack. Dumb question.” And at a very high level, that’s true, but for whatever reason, God has actually allowed all of those things to be under the dominion and authority of Satan for a time, and the Gospel and New Testament writers confirm that. Don’t believe me? When Jesus was tempted in the Wilderness in Luke 4:5-7, what did Satan say to Him? The Text says this, “And the devil took Him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, ‘To You I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be Yours.” Did you catch that? ALL Kingdoms of this world. Are we to submit to them? Yes. Romans 13 and I Peter 2 actually says that we are and that God intended such. And ultimately, Scripture also says in Daniel 2:21 that God orders those authorities to ultimately serve Him. I don’t get how all of that works, but the important thing to note here is under whose authority and influence worldly kingdoms and governments operate: Satan’s. However they were founded and however they have been run, the simple entropy and track record of Human History is that sooner or later, governments and kingdoms spoil. Why? Because they are under the authority and influence of the Enemy of the Living God. Well, sure, Jack, but not the United States, right? I mean, you know, “one nation under God” and all that. Look, guys, I’m pretty sure that when Scripture says that all kingdoms of this world are under the authority of Satan, there wasn’t a special provision given for us here in the US, and regardless of our founder’s intent or our desperate desires to keep things aligned with the Will of the God we serve, the government system we operate within, like all other governments in all other countries throughout time, falls under the authority of the Enemy. As a result, while we do need godly men and women in politics and government who will work to honor values consistent with the Kingdom of God, at the end of the day, I’m telling you right now that trusting in Politics as Good Bread is going to leave you hollow and hurting because it just doesn’t possess the power to sustain, fulfill or give you what you want or need. All that you hope for cannot and will not be answered by any human-made government, kingdom, military or system. And yes, that includes ours.
Or maybe let’s talk about Wealth. It’s the second of the gods that seem to run rampant in our Culture and Society. It usually sounds something like this, “If I could just have ‘that,’ then I’d be happy.” If I could just have enough money in my 401k, enough saved up for a vacation, enough to buy that car, enough to pay off my student loans, enough to go to that school or have that thing, then I’d be satisfied. I’d be happy. Right? You know what the problem with that kind of Bread is? The more you get, the more you need. Author Suzanne Stabile said that she and her husband recently went on a spiritual retreat to engage what she called, “The Ministry of Subtraction.” It was a desire to pair down the things that they had in an attempt to live more simply so that they could be more free to follow and serve God. And in the process, she tells a funny story of her desire for a Wide-Mouth Toaster. I don’t even know what that is, but she says that they’re amazing. Apparently, you can put a whole bagel in them. But she laughs as she tells the story because she realized in her pursuit of the perfect wide-mouth toaster that she’d also need some custom jams and preserves to be able to use, and specialty cream cheeses, and maybe a special rack to hold them all, and special plates to serve them, and, and, and… that’s just how it works, friends. The more you get, the more you need. Why? Because we’re just built that way. And we live in a culture that celebrates that. We are definitively the most consumeristic generation in the history of Mankind, and studies will tell you that we are also the singularly most self-reportingly miserable. We have more stuff than anyone else has ever had, and all we can think about is getting even more. What does that tell you? That getting more stuff doesn’t actually satisfy anything. It’s hollow. It’s Bad Bread.
Or let’s talk about Lust. Usually, when I say the word “Lust,” people assume that I am talking about sexual lust, and that’s accurate, but it’s not complete. Lust could be for sex, but could also be for food, for experiences, for anything, actually, in the continual and burning desire to have and to consume and keep consuming without any satisfaction along the way. If you’re familiar with Enneagram archetypes, I’m an 8, which means that I’m a Challenger and tend to struggle with Lust as a dark side to my personality that I am continually having to surrender to God to help me keep in check. And when people ask me what that looks like, I usually say this, “I can literally be eating my favorite meal, and at the same time, the only thing I’m thinking about is what I’m going to have for the next meal. As soon as something is acquired or achieved, it turns to ash in my mouth or hands and all I care about is the next thing, the next opportunity to consume.” In The Divine Comedy, that famous fictional work by Dante Allighieri, the second circle of Hell is reserved for the Lustful, where they live in a giant whirlwind, continually chasing one another and all else around them, ever chasing but never able to be catch, to hold, or to be satisfied. That’s pretty descriptive, isn’t it? And yet that is very much the culture we live in today. As a species, we have given ourselves over to just one more look, just one more scroll or swipe, just one more dopamine hit from someone liking our post on Instagram. We linger over just one more website, knowing that we’ll never have that person, but we create fantasies in our heads about if we did or could and how they’d be better than whatever we currently have. Our materialism, our sensuality, our immorality and our gluttony are all connected to the same sources, friends. Whenever we get, we can’t and don’t even pause long enough to truly engage, invest and express gratitude to God for it before we’re moving on to the next thing, the next relationship, the next meal, the next experience, the next anesthetic, the next fix, the next entertaining escapade, whatever it might be. Our entire Culture of addiction will tell you that Lust isn’t just about sex, but it certainly includes that. It tells you that people, ideas, things and experiences that God intended for good as symbols of connection with Him and with one another are corrupted to become objects that we simply consume and then discard when we think no one else is looking. But here’s the thing, friends, when we are drawn away by our Lusts, we know deep down that while they may temporarily make us feel less of the pain, the loneliness or the hunger, they NEVER satisfy. They NEVER last. And they NEVER truly make us any better. And after we consume them, whatever they may be, the Hunger comes back, and it’s even worse than it was before. It’s Bad Bread, friends.
So What Do You Do About This?
So what do we do about all of this? I know that it’s kind of a lot, but thankfully, we address this issue the same way that we address any other issue when we discover idolatry in our lives, which is ultimately what Bad Bread really is. We Confess it, Repent of it, ask God to Cleanse us of it, and then Restore back to us what rightfully belongs to us. This is a process that we just call CRCR – “Confess, Repent, Cleanse, Restore,” and it’s built on the Scriptural principle of 1 John 1:9, where we read, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You see, when we Confess, we’re just agreeing with God that we have put something else in His spot. We’ve sought His Hand, perhaps, and not His Face. We’ve served other gods, like Power, Wealth or Lust, or anything else we’ve eaten as Bad Bread in the hope that we’ll be able to satisfy ourselves with things other than Him. We agree. We admit. We Confess. And then we Repent. Repentance is just the act of turning away. It is our part of the process where we not only Confess that we are short of God’s design, but we turn away from the things we’ve been pursuing and commit to walking in the other direction. But here’s the thing, if you’re like me, the stuff I’ve eaten, trusted in and hoped in is so much a part of the way that I think and act that I also need God to Cleanse me of it. I need Him to wash me and break off of me all that I’ve trusted in other than Him, so after we Confess and Repent, we ask God to Cleanse us. And He says that He will. And then, finally, God not only takes things away, but He gives things back. He not only removes from us our Sin and our shortcoming, but He gives back what rightfully belongs to us as Children of the Living God. So we get to ask Him, “Father, what are you giving back in exchange for this thing that I’ve Confessed and Repented of?” And then we get to receive it together, to ask Him to seal it in us and to cause it to grow and produce the Fruit of His Spirit – things like Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control for His Glory but also for our Joy. So we’re going to do that now together and I’ll lead us.
And you know what else we’re going to do this morning, brothers and sisters? We thought it fitting to take Communion together. You see, you’ve been holding on to a piece of bread the entire time that you’ve been here, and I’m betting that you’ve had a harder and harder time not wanting to eat it, right? Your mouth has been watering. You’re hungry and this is certainly better than just a wafer. And what your body is doing right now is what your spirit, soul and entire being should be doing with and for Jesus. Your stomach wants this bread, and it’s built to have it. But all of you is built for Jesus and is built to have Him. And He offers Himself freely for those who would come to His Table and eat. I wonder, do you want Him? Or are you still chasing after Bad Bread? After we take the elements, I want you to listen as well to a special song that our Worship Team wrote for just this occasion. It focuses on Jesus as the Bread of Life, and as we finish Communion by taking the bread and the juice together, we’ll finish in a spirit of continued prayer as our team leads us with that song.
“…on the night when the Lord Jesus was betrayed, He took bread, 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for[a] you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”[b] [Let’s take the bread together] 25 In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” [Let’s take the cup together] 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. – I Corinthians 11:23-26