The Claims of the Christ: I Am The Bread Of Life
Beginning today and continuing for some weeks, I want us to look at the words Jesus spoke about Himself. For I believe that through the claims Christ made for Himself we can “see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly,” not just day by day, but week by week and year by year. For example, in John 6, Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.” We shall look at that claim in a moment, after we have prayed…
Wars, in the modern era, have produced among many things both good and ill, some classic magazine covers. There was, for example, the cover of Life magazine showing a young soldier joyously embracing his girl, at the end of World War II.
There was the grim cover of Time magazine carrying the picture of a South Vietnamese officer cold-bloodedly executing a Viet Cong prisoner. There was the recent cover of Time portraying that handsome young Marine who was one of our first casualties in the Persian Gulf War. But perhaps the most critically acclaimed cover appeared on Life magazine during the Korean War. There was this picture of an American Marine photographed near the front lines of battle. The weather was unbearably cold. The situation was indescribably terrible. Marguerite Higgins, the Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent, told of the circumstances under which that picture was taken. It was morning. The temperature was 42 degrees below zero. Weary soldiers, half frozen, stood by dirty trucks eating rations from tin cans. This particular Marine was eating cold beans with a trench knife. His combat uniform was frozen stiff as a board. His face, covered with a heavy beard, was crusted with mud and ice. His eyes betrayed the utter exhaustion of battling day after day against hostile weather and a violent enemy. The picture was snapped just as the young Marine answered a pointed question. Marguerite Higgins had asked him: “If I were God and could grant you anything you wished, what would you want most of all?” That young battle-weary U. S. Marine stood motionless for a moment, then raised his head and answered: “Give me tomorrow!”
Somehow, we understand just what he meant “Give me tomorrow.” I don’t know what happened to that young soldier. I don’t know whether or not he got the tomorrow he asked for on this earth. But I know this. You and I have a tomorrow given to us by Jesus Christ—a tomorrow which will be ours even if tomorrow on this earth does not come. Jesus said: “I am the bread of life…if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.” Now to grasp the full truth of that claim, we must note two things about it.
First, Jesus is claiming to be our strength in life.
I heard the story about a preacher who died and went to heaven, and he noticed that a New York cab driver had been given a higher place than he had. He complained to St. Peter about this insult to his pride. St. Peter responded: “Preacher, it is our policy in heaven to reward results. So tell me, what happened when you gave a sermon?” The minister admitted that some people fell asleep. “Precisely,” said St. Peter, “but when people rode in this man’s taxi, they not only stayed awake, they prayed!”
Well, whenever Jesus preached, no one slept. The passage before us today is a case in point. In John’s Gospel, it follows the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, a miracle which is one of the few recorded in all four Gospels with few variations in detail. With five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, Jesus provided a meal that satisfied the physical hunger of several thousand people. At first the people were impressed by what Jesus did, but the more they thought about it, the less impressed they became. After all, they remembered that Moses, in the Sinai desert had called down manna from heaven which satisfied the hunger not of 5000 but of 500,000 people! So in essence they said to Jesus: “What You did was not such a big deal after all.”
Jesus used their negative reaction as the springboard to a sermon. He reminded them that the provision of physical food is not the highest of all goods. To be sure God gave the Israelites manna to eat but it didn’t last forever, and they didn’t last forever. “Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness,” He said, “and they died.” That’s the hard truth of life. We need bread to live, but we cannot live by bread alone. We need food to stay alive, but all the food in the world will not prevent us from dying eventually. At that point, Jesus declared: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Well, that sermon kicked up a terrible fuss. The people listening angrily disputed His right and ability to make such a claim. But Jesus simply repeated the claim: “I am the bread of life…if you eat of this bread you will live forever.” In other words, our deepest need in life is a hunger which no physical food, no amount of affluence, and no worldly benefits provided by a welfare state can satisfy.
Please don’t get me wrong, at this point, and don’t get Jesus wrong either! He was, and is, profoundly concerned about people’s physical needs. After all, he had just provided 5000 people with the food they needed. When Marie Antoinette, the airheaded and finally beheaded queen of France, heard that masses of people were starving from lack of bread, her silly reply was: “Let them eat cake!” Well, when Jesus heard that pathetically insensitive remark, He must have exploded in anger. My friends, we had better be engaged in feeding the hungry of our world or we shall have to face the withering wrath of our Lord.
But we also had better be engaged in bringing the people of this world to partake of the One who said “I am the bread of life.” He, and He alone, offers us the spiritual food which strengthens us and keeps us alive through illness and old age and even though the inevitable process of physical death. Jesus offers us a life that never ends. That’s what He meant when He said: “I am the bread of life.”
Secondly, Jesus is claiming to be our satisfaction in life.
You could fill a book with the crazy things said by Yogi Berra. He messes up the words and the grammar, but the point gets across. For example, one day Yogi Berra walked into a pizza parlor and ordered a pizza. “Do you want it cut into four slices or eight?” the waitress asked. “Better make it four,” Yogi replied, “I don’t think I can eat eight!” Well, my friends, no matter how you cut it, Jesus Christ will fill you up spiritually. He will satisfy the deepest longings of your heart.
Of course, if some ordinary person had described himself as living bread and then said: “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever”, we would have written him off as insane. But Jesus was no ordinary person. He claimed to stand in a unique relationship with God and everything about His life supported that claim. In fact, if Jesus had not made His offer of eternal life in words, His life would still have proclaimed it. After the death of his good friend, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis wrote: “No event has so confirmed my faith in the next world as Williams did by dying. He lived so splendidly that when the idea of death and the idea of Williams thus met in my mind, it was the idea of death that was changed.” Sometimes a human personality seems too vitally alive to die. That’s what attracted people to Jesus. He not only spoke of eternal life, he possessed eternal life in this life. He seemed so vibrantly alive that other people felt dead by contrast and they pleaded with Jesus to share His secret.
The answer came in this sermon He preached. He said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” The people to whom He was preaching were shocked by His words. They need not have been. He was using figurative language to make His point. Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, we symbolically eat the flesh and drink the blood which Christ gave for the life of this world. And as we do that, the Spirit of Jesus Christ comes to dwell within us; and that Spirit empowers us to live with the same splendor Christ possessed.
I wish you knew the writings of Brian Hession. He was an Anglican clergyman who in 1954 was diagnosed as having terminal cancer and given three days to live. However, by his stubborn faith that God had a purpose for his life, he cheated this untimely death long enough to enable him to carry out an unusual ministry through his writings and his example. There would be no way to count the number of people who are alive today because his books gave them the will to live. One of his books, called Bridge To God, ends with these words:
“Jesus is such an extraordinary person, such a miraculous person, speaking with such authority, that I bow down before his Majesty and am prepared to believe what He said and trust my whole soul and being to Him. In so doing I have the confidence that I shall cross the bridge, which is Jesus Christ, to God in my final hour.”
Do you see that Jesus Christ became the bridge not only over his pain, but over his mortality. He could lose his health, his career, and even ultimately his life, yet he lived a life of such serenity and hope because he found in Christ Himself the secret to satisfaction in life. We can do the same if we believe Christ’s claim, “I am the bread of life; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.”
Do not hold back from this Table. We need the Bread of Life. We need Jesus Christ. We cannot live without Him. And we dare not die without Him.