“The Bread of Life” (John 6:35-51)
Today is the second of three straight Sundays in which the Holy Gospel is a portion of Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse from John chapter 6. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus declares, several times in John 6, and that is the motif running through this chapter. Last week we heard Jesus say, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And then he said, in the verse that concluded last week’s reading and also begins today’s, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” And so our theme this morning, as we continue on in this discourse, is an obvious one, namely, “The Bread of Life.”
Now why does Jesus use this phrase, “the bread of life”? Well, keep in mind, Jesus had just miraculously fed a multitude of thousands of hungry people from just five loaves of bread and two fish. So bread was on everybody’s mind. And Jesus wants to direct those minds from not just the bread that fills the belly for a day, but more than that, to the bread that gives life to both body and soul for eternity. Because that is the gift Jesus comes to give. He comes here, to us, to give this bread of life to you today. We need it, and Jesus gives it, so let’s listen now.
“I am the bread of life,” says Jesus. Why bread? Because bread, across all cultures–bread is universally seen as the staple of life. It is that which gives life and sustains life. Without bread, which is kind of a shorthand for food in general–without bread, without food, without sustenance, we die. It’s true in the physical realm. And when Jesus applies this term to himself, it’s true in the spiritual realm as well. Without the bread of life, that is, without Jesus, we die. And it would be death forever, apart from Christ.
So we need the life that Jesus gives. We need this more than anything else in the world. Jesus is the only one who can give us this life. Jesus is the only one who can sustain this life. That is why he says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
This is why Jesus comes. He says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Note that, and mark it well. Jesus Christ came down from heaven to do the will of his heavenly Father. This tells us that Jesus is the very Son of God, the eternal Son of God from before the foundation of the world, who at a certain point in human history came down from heaven and became incarnate, became one of us, in the flesh, for us men and for our salvation. This is why he came.
The crowd back then didn’t get it. They could only think of this man Jesus as the person growing up in the home of Joseph and Mary. How can he say, “I have come down from heaven”? But that is the mystery of the incarnation. And only God can reveal Jesus to us as the divine Savior sent from heaven. Jesus says as much: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” This happens as God’s Word works repentance and faith in your heart, so that you know you need a Savior and you discover that Jesus is the very one who meets that need. God’s Word is at work in your heart, so that you know and feel your sins, you recognize your need for forgiveness, and you hear that Jesus gives you just that.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells the crowd. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” You know, you can eat the best and healthiest diet in the world. You can try the Paleo Diet, or whatever the latest fad is, and go all-natural. You can eat high-fiber, whole-grain, and heart-healthy. You can go gluten-free, it doesn’t matter. You’re still going to die one day. What then? Who will rescue you from this body of death?
Who will do this? Jesus. He’s the one. “I am the bread of life,” he says. That’s why he came. And how does he give us this life? How does he meet our greatest need? Jesus tells us: “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus gives life to the world by giving his life for the world. Let me repeat that: Jesus gives life to the world by giving his life for the world. This is the heart of the gospel. Jesus gives his life, so that you and I and the rest of the world might have life.
Jesus did this on the cross, of course. There he offered the perfect sacrifice that covers the sins of the whole world. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is God’s supreme solution to our deepest and most pressing problem: our sin, which results in death and eternal damnation, under God’s judgment. Jesus takes all that from us. He gives his flesh into death, taking our place under that judgment. He lifts that load off our shoulders and takes it on his own. In his flesh, in his body on the cross, he bore our sins. And by his blood, the holy precious blood he shed on our behalf, our sins are forgiven. Cleansed. No longer held against us. Jesus atones for them all. For you. You are free, at peace with God, for Christ’s sake. Believe it. It’s true. It’s the truest and most freeing thing you’ll ever hear.
And what is the result? Now you have life. New life. Eternal life. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” And again: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” And again: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
Everlasting life. How good does that sound? Well, if it were just an endless continuation of the heartaches and sorrows we suffer now in this vale of tears, that would not be so great. But the life that Jesus gives is much better than that. It will be life with no more tears, no more sorrow, no more sin or death. This is the eternal life that Jesus gives, and we have the sure hope of it even now.
We even get a tantalizing taste of it now, in the blessings Jesus showers upon us: That we know God now. That we have the joy of the Lord now. That now we have the peace that passes all understanding, standing guard over our hearts and minds. We have a new ability to love and forgive others now, to put off the old self and to put on the new self, and to walk in love, as we heard about in the Epistle reading from Ephesians. Sealed with the Holy Spirit. Beloved children of our heavenly Father. New persons in Christ. All this belongs to the new life we have now, the life Christ freely gives us.
And this is life that will overcome the grave. The body we lay in the grave will rise one day, on the day when Christ returns, that is, on the last day. Notice how Jesus repeats this promise in today’s reading. He says: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” And again Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
Did you catch that? Several times: “And I will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus here is talking about the bodily resurrection on the day when he returns. Our physical bodies will be raised up glorious, perfect, no longer subject to disease or death. When? On the last day. This is our great hope, the return of Christ and the resurrection of the body. We confess it in the Creed, don’t we? I believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
The Bible teaches, throughout, the physical, bodily resurrection of the dead on the last day. And these repeated promises of Jesus in our text today are the prime examples. Jesus will raise and give life to our dead bodies on the last day, which in turn will be the first day of our new life everlasting in a restored creation, a renewed heaven and earth where righteousness will be at home. And we will dwell with God, and see God, along with all the saints from ages past, all the believers of all time, in perfect fellowship and harmony and superabundant joy! What a hope! What a thing to look forward to! This is the life that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ won for us and gives to us, purely out of his grace and mercy. Trust in Jesus. The gift is yours.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Here is Jesus’ promise for you today. So come trusting his promise now and receive life-giving bread, yes, Christ’s own body and blood in his Sacrament. Here Jesus gives you the living bread from heaven. Here he gives you “The Bread of Life.”