John: The Bread of Life

Jane Ball’s Date Pecan Bread

John: Bread
A Message on John 6:22-35
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 14, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 6:22-35 (NRSV)

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

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I love bread. All kinds of bread. Rustic whole wheat bread, French bread (Oui!), baguettes, tortillas (both corn and flour), pita, naan, potato bread, rye, pumpernickel, Hawaiian bread (the official communion bread of United Methodists), sourdough (oh, I have a special fondness for sourdough!), banana bread, brioche, challah (a Jewish bread that is braided), ciabatta, cornbread, and even biscuits! And I’m sure there are others I am leaving out!

Here’s a photo of a bread (see above) that our friend up in Longview, Jane Ball, made. It’s a sourdough date pecan bread. Yum!

I like bread so much that, to paraphrase Will Rogers, I don’t think I’ve ever met a bread I didn’t like.

I don’t think I am alone, either. Raise your hand if you got hungry when I mentioned all those kinds of breads. See! I’m not alone.

Bread is an important part of our lives, isn’t it. And the smell of fresh bread cooking can bring back memories of times and loved ones past. A while back our daughter Emily made some from-scratch cinnamon rolls using my grandmother’s recipe. When they were baking the smell was so wonderful and took me back to my grandmother’s house when I was a kid. And they tasted just like my grandmother’s as well!

Bread is a very significant part of our lives today and it has been that way for thousands and thousands of years. Bread is an ancient food, and today we are going to explore its social and theological significance as we continue our summer sermon series on the Gospel of John.

We find bread mentioned a lot in the Old Testament. The first mention of it that I could find is in the third chapter of Genesis, where Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God tells Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

Unleavened bread, or bread that has no yeast in it, became very significant to the Hebrew people during the Exodus as they left slavery in Egypt and became a nation of their own. Because they left Egypt in such haste their bread didn’t have time to rise, so they grabbed what they had and made unleavened bread to eat. As it says in Exodus 12:34, “So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.”

Thereafter the Hebrew people were to eat unleavened bread during the Passover every year to remember their escape from Egypt.

In the desert, when Moses went to God on their behalf, God provided manna, the bread from heaven. Manna, which means “What is it?” would come down each night like dew, and the people would gather it and eat it.

After wandering in the desert for 40 years, the people entered the promised land and its crops of wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and other grains. There God stopped providing manna and the people once again made and ate bread.

We find bread being an important part of worship in the tabernacle for the Hebrew people. Leviticus lists the ways bread was to be used in offerings, and it was used a lot! People would bring bread, or sometimes flour, and give it to the priest for an offering, specifically grain offerings and sin offerings.

Bread was so important to the worship of God that in the tabernacle, on a gold table, the high priest placed 12 loaves of bread every sabbath day. Called “The Bread of Presence,” it was arranged in two rows of six loaves, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. At the end of the week new, fresh loaves replaced the existing loaves, and the priests ate the “old” bread.

In addition to its religious significance it was a significant food source for the people. It’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around just how important bread was on a daily basis for the Hebrew people. If we want bread we go to Walmart or the grocery store and buy it. Even during the recent COVID-19 shortages bread was pretty much available, with some exceptions. We just take it for granted.

But in the ancient world it was far from taken for granted. It was a significant source of carbohydrates for the people and because it kept for quite a while after it was cooked it was a portable source of food for those traveling or roaming with livestock.

Most towns and villages had a common oven that multiple families used to cook their bread, and they would do so on a daily basis. Some were leavened, or bread that had yeast in it and therefore rose, or unleavened, bread that did not have yeast in it which are sometimes called “flatbreads.”

Bread was super important in the Old Testament, not only for religious purposes, but also just in matters of survival.

As we move into the New Testament we find bread still used for religious purposes as well. The same sacrifices were being made, at the temple in Jerusalem now instead of the tabernacle, and the religious observances, such as the feast of the Passover, made use of bread.

In today’s reading in the Gospel of John we find bread taking on increased religious significance. If we back up to the beginning of the 6th chapter of John we find Jesus performing the miracle of feeding 5,000 people with just two fish and five barley loaves, taking up 12 baskets of leftovers. (Twelve baskets, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples? Hmmmm.)

So the crowd is pressing in on Jesus and he can tell they are wanting to “take him by force to make him king,” Jesus goes up to the mountain to try to find some solitude.

The disciples go down to the shore and then, when it is nighttime, they get in a boat to cross the sea to go to Capernaum. They start rowing across when the winds really start whipping up and the sea becomes rough. They struggle but aren’t making much headway, only about three or four miles, when they see a figure coming toward them walking on the top of the water.

This really freaks them out until Jesus speaks out and identifies himself, then they take him into the boat and unlike other narratives where the wind and waves die down, in John’s Gospel they miraculously find themselves on the shore at their destination.

That’s where we pick up the story in the scripture we read today. The people can’t find Jesus, see a boat missing, and so they get in boats and travel across the sea to Capernaum as well.

When they find Jesus they ask him, “When did you get here?” and he responds, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.” John 6:26, The Message

He goes on to tell them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Here Jesus uses a metaphor to describe himself and his teachings. He points out that most food perishes, or it eventually goes bad.

Pam and I kind of have an ongoing debate in our house as to the significance of the “Best By” dates that are put on food. One of us takes a hard and fast rule when it comes to those dates, and if the date has passed, the item goes in the trash. The other person views those dates as sorta flexible, that if you bought it by that specific date that it is probably still good if it still smells okay. (Can you guess which one is which?)

Jesus tells his listeners that food on the earth has expiration dates. It eventually goes bad. But that the food that he gives does not. It lasts forever. And the Son of Man, meaning himself, will give it to him.

But the people still aren’t convinced. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Now this to me is an interesting question because Jesus wasn’t talking about the works of God. So maybe this is just something they have on their mind.

So he answers them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Or as The Message paraphrases it, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

The people then ask for proof, that Jesus give them some sort of sign, some sort of miracle, so that they may know Jesus is telling the truth. They ask him what kind of works he is doing that proves what he is saying is true.

Now we need to remember that these are the same people that the day before witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. They have already seen Jesus perform a miracle, but yet are asking for another one.

I think that is kind of representative of human nature. We want to believe, and yet even when we God at work in our world we are still skeptical and want further proof. We want miracles and signs on our terms, don’t we. How stubborn we are to believe what God has already shown us isn’t enough.

The people addressing Jesus then pull some Old Testament on him, keeping with the bread metaphor by talking about the manna that God provided their ancestors as they wandered in the desert. I think they are challenging Jesus to do the same thing, right then and there. Sort of saying, “Okay, if you are really the Son of God, then make it rain manna!”

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:32-33

Here’s The Message paraphrase of that response: “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”

Their response is “Sir, give us this bread always.”

So Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Bread and drink. Sounds kinda like the Lord’s Supper, doesn’t it? I think it is Jesus foreshadowing what will happen at the Lord’s Supper although ironically in John’s gospel (13th chapter) John doesn’t describe Jesus’ last meal with the disciples the same way that Matthew, Mark, and Luke do. Instead John focuses on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

And we can’t forget that Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer, which includes the words, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” So much religious significance in that one sentence!

So how can we apply this to today’s world? Is it even relevant to today’s world with everything that is going on?

I believe that it is. I believe it is even more needed in the world today than ever.

The world needs the bread of life today. The world is hungry for the true bread of life.

You see our society has been eating a diet of junk food filled with all kinds of chemicals and artificial ingredients. We have consumed mass quantities of selfishness, greed, lust, racism, materialism, and hate, just to name a few. We eat it because it is convenient, ready-to-eat, and cheap. We engorge ourselves on it, falling to temptation. And eating all that “junk food” has given us indigestion, a pain in our gut that is eating away at our soul and making us spiritually sick.

What we need is to change our diet. We need to throw away all of the junk food of our lives and feast on the bread of life. We need to knead the dough of the bread of life by using our muscles of spiritual disciplines and staying focused on God. We need to limit the ingredients in our lives when it comes to social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and those things that stunt our spiritual growth. We need to live our lives so that they become an aroma pleasing to God. We need to resist the temptations of the world and instead look forward to the heavenly feast prepared for us by our Father in heaven.

You get the idea? Jesus is the bread of life, and it is through his death and resurrection that we no longer have to sacrifice flour or bread for the forgiveness of our sins. We no longer have to shed the blood of animals because Jesus shed his blood.

Whoever comes to Jesus–and he is available to everyone, by the way, even people you may not like–will never hunger or thirst. And this is not something that we should keep to ourselves, but share with others. We should tell them what the bread of life has done in our lives and what it can do in theirs.

There is a world of hungry people that need the bread of life. So my challenge to you this week is that whenever you eat bread this week, no matter what kind of bread it is, remember that Jesus is the bread of life. And remember to tell someone about the bread so that they, too, may no longer hunger or thirst.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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