Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Bread of Life"

John 6: 35-37, 48-60,66

Isaiah 55: 1-5

In the Gospel according to John, we find what are commonly called the seven “I am” sayings;

in the Greek language, “ego emi.”  According to John’s witness, Jesus often used metaphors to

clarify His identity and the nature of His mission.  For example, Jesus once made this claim about

Himself:  “Ego emi (I am) ha poimen ha kalos (the good shepherd).”  Metaphorically, we are like

lost sheep.  One element of Jesus’ mission – as He understood it – was to find us and lead us back

into God’s fold.  Centuries earlier, a king named David recognized – and perhaps even had some

divine foresight -- that “The Lord is my shepherd….. he leads me in right paths for his name’s

sake.” Jesus said, “I am.” 

      On another occasion, Jesus said “I am the light of the world.”  Again metaphorically, we are

stumbling in the darkness, unable to find our own way to God.  Jesus understood a vital part of

His mission was to guide and illumine our path to the Kingdom of God.  John makes the observation

regarding Jesus early in his gospel: “The true light that enlightens everyone, was coming into

the world…. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” 

      This morning, we encounter the first ego emi saying which appears in John’s Gospel.  Listen

for Jesus’ words as recorded in chapter 6.

          (Read John 6:35, 48-60, 66)

      Consider for just a moment what an important staple bread is in most of our diets.  For an

Italian like me, it is unthinkable to eat pasta and red gravy without having bread on the side to

sop up the sauce left in the dish.  Have you noticed how eggs and bacon don’t seem quite as

appealing without toast on the side?  Most folks won’t eat a ground beef patty, or a hot dog, or

baloney unless there is bread on the top and bottom.  What is an Arby’s roast beef sandwich

without the bun but……plain old roast beef?  Imagine French Toast without bread.  All you’d have

would be a dish of scrambled egg, butter, syrup, and maybe a little cinnamon.  For centuries, and

still in some parts of the world today, life in prison was sustained by water and what?

      In Jesus’ time, there wasn’t the variety of foods we have today.  Bread, in fact, comprised an

estimated 80% of a person’s daily diet in the ancient Middle East.  There was no question that

hungry people needed bread.  Out of the Hebraic oral tradition, we have recorded in Genesis God

saying to Adam right at the get go“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return

to the ground.”  When the young Hebrew tribe was wandering around the Sinai Peninsula,

they were sustained with bread from heaven called “manna.”  Then until now, people have

needed bread.  It’s a staple of life, and nothing else can take its place.  Experts in the field of nutrition

have long recognized the importance of whole grain in our diets.  And there is probably no more devastating

news to someone going on a carb-free program, or to someone diagnosed with gluten intolerance, that they

must cut bread out of their diets.  In the nutritional pyramid, we find that grains and the bread they provide

are positioned as a basic and foundational food element for the human body.

      I would suggest that there is the same basic and foundational necessity for the soul.  I believe

all people are created with an innate spiritual appetite; a built-in hunger and need for nourishment of the

spiritual part of us.  And if that part is not fed, there is slow and progressive

deterioration of life; spiritual starvation if you will. 

      Scholars of history note that three things have been possessed by virtually every civilization to

 

inhabit the earth: jails, because people sin; cemeteries, because people die; temples, because

people worship.  The fact that every civilization has had its temples of worship – whatever the

object of that worship may have been – is evidence of a basic need of people for spiritual feeding;

for spiritual bread.

      When Jesus made the metaphorical claim of Himself, “I am the bread of life,” He understood

this appetite; this need for spiritual bread shared by every member of our human family.  Jesus

was aware that there is a loaf-shaped vacancy in the heart of every man and woman, young and

old, which only He could fill through His revealing the way of God; the truth of God; the life of

God.  As we partake of this bread this very morning, we remember the bread of life – the spiritual

bread; both who Jesus is, and what Jesus brings.

      In this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus reveals Himself to be the “bread of life,” and John

attributes to Jesus five qualities, the understanding of which are necessary to understand His

mission. 

       First, Jesus has a unique origin.  “This bread which comes down from heaven.”  Jesus came

from no earthly oven, but from a blessed womb; not baked up in the imaginations of people,

but as real in life as you and me.  Jesus was a man. Yes.  But no ordinary man.   His origin was

mysteriously, inexplicably, purely earthly in delivery, and purely divine in origin.

      Second, Jesus is the living bread.  Jesus is no packaged loaf, lying lifeless on the kitchen counter. 

Jesus moves, speaks, heals, teaches, through the mouths, hands and hearts of those who follow Him. 

In this way, He lives forever, and never becomes moldy or stale; the preservative being His living, and

remembering, and serving body; the church.

      Third, Jesus is available bread.  “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”  Any person

can afford Jesus.  In Isaiah’s language, “Come buy wine and milk without money, and without

price.”  He makes Himself available at the cost of commitment.  That’s within anyone’s budget. 

Conversely, no one can afford to be without the bread of life, for it is the very base and foundation of our spiritual food pyramid.

       Fourth, Jesus is not only preserved, but preserving bread.  Earthly bread has its limits.  We

eat a piece of Roman Meal at noon, and we’re hungry by two.  The Hebrews ate the manna –

its origin divine – but even they perished.  The real bread – the preserving bread – has a future;

moreover, an eternity.  Because Jesus is the bread of life everlasting, we who partake of Jesus’

offer – who take Jesus into ourselves – have life everlasting with Him.

      Fifth, and what we’ll be taking up later this month as we begin the journey of Lent, Jesus is

the bread that is rejected.  As we read earlier, “After this [that is, after Jesus had revealed Himself

as the bread of life] many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

Many could neither understand nor accept what Jesus was offering when He said, “Those who

eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  Such a statement, spoken in a

time when and place where human sacrifice and cannibalism were not uncommon practices

among pagan religions, could be easily misinterpreted.  Jesus was speaking in purely spiritual

terms, to those with “ears to hear.”  For the spiritually hard-of-hearing, it was more than they

could bear.  So they ran.  And so they run; those who reject the bread of life; the words of whom

can be offensive to those denying their inner hunger.  Only those whose ears were attuned to

spiritual stuff could - and can - construe Jesus’ meaning, and consume the nutrition of spirit He is

offering.  But as the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water…..”  You can lead spiritually-

 hungering people to the bread of heaven, but you can’t make them eat.  As the refusal of food

means physical starvation, so refusal of Jesus means spiritual starvation.

      As we come to this table this morning to again take into ourselves the bread of life and the

cup of salvation, we bear witness that unlike anything or anyone else, Jesus feeds…..nourishes……

satisfies….. The Psalmist once wrote: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”  For we who have

tasted and seen that Jesus is good, we are obliged to share His story with those around us who

hunger for bread that is unique; bread that is living; bread that is readily available; bread that is

preserving; even bread that is rejected by those who fail to appreciate its nutritional value.  As

we will be fed, let us in turn feed others with that which is “true food.” 

 

Heavenly Father, You send the bread of life in the person of Your Son Jesus Christ.  As we

receive the symbols of His body and blood - the signs of sacrificial and outpouring love - may

we be filled with awe and overcome with gratitude.  Feed us that we may feed others

with the good news of Jesus, the bread of life for all people.  Amen.