I am the bread of life
“I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
There is a story about a Scotsman who was coming to America. He had purchased passage on one of the great ocean liners. He did not have much money, so he decided to save on food by stocking up on crackers, cheese, and fruit before his departure. The ship sailed, and he began to eat his Spartan meals. This went fairly well for the first four or five days. But as the ship drew closer to New York the crackers became increasingly stale, the cheese became moldy, and the fruit spoiled. Finally, there was nothing left that was fit to eat. The Scotsman decided that he would go to the dining room and have one last, good meal before the liner docked in Manhattan and he went ashore. Imagine his surprise to discover that nothing in the dining room cost anything and that all that he could ever have eaten had already been included in the price of his ticket before he left the British Isles!
Unfortunately, this is the way in which thousands of men and women act toward the true bread of life that is offered to us without price in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is there for all. But the sad fact is that many would rather feed upon the dry crackers of human philosophy or the spoiled fruit of good works than come to him.
We will enter into the full meaning of these verses when we recognize that in them Jesus Christ voices a great claim, makes a requirement, and offers a wonderful promise.
The claim that the Lord Jesus makes in these verses is, quite simply, to be the “bread of life.” It is the second time in this chapter that he has described himself by this image, and the image itself constitutes the first of the great “I am” sayings that are a characteristic of this Gospel. Here Jesus is portrayed as the bread of life, Later he will say: “I am the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5), “I am the gate” (10:7, 9), “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14), “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6), “I am the true vine”(15:1,5). By these images, he shows that he is all that men and women need and that he is the sole way to come to God the Father.
What does it mean when Jesus claims to be the bread of life? It means that he is able to satisfy the deepest needs and longings of the human soul. He is able to satisfy your needs, your longings, whatever they may be.
This does not mean that Jesus is going to satisfy every want or desire you may have or think you have. It means that he will satisfy that which you most deeply need. You say, “But aren’t those two the same thing?” No, I do not think so. Let me give an example. Take a child who is beginning to grow up with a highly sharpened sense of what he “needs,” as most children do. He thinks he needs candy-about every hour or so throughout the day. He thinks he needs to stay up to watch the late, late show on television. He thinks he needs to be able to set his own schedule-get up when he wants to, go in and out with his friends when he wants to, come to dinner when he wants to. He thinks he needs leisure time, particularly when he is asked to straighten up his room or help his mother with the dishes. All these items are “needs” from the child’s point of view. But if the parent indulges the child in these, all he will produce is an unruly and obnoxious brat. What is more, when he grows up the child will attempt to inflict his unrestrained desires on everyone else and may well in jail.
What is it that the child needs? It is not what the child thinks he needs. Actually, the child needs discipline. He needs a standard of right and wrong conduct and someone to insist on that standard. He needs to be loved, to have goals, guidance, and encouragement.
In the same way, our real needs often differ from our imagined needs, and it is our real needs for which Jesus Christ is the answer. We find salvation in him. In him, we have eternal life. We also are loved, receive goals and guidelines, and are encouraged in life. “I am the bread of life,” said Jesus. The implication is that we should feed upon him and grow. In this chapter, Jesus gives what would be called in theology a “progressive revelation” of himself as the bread. It is as though he held the mystery of himself as the bread in his hand and then slowly opened his hand one finger at a time so that those who were listening to him would see the truth gradually. First, he spoke of a bread from heaven that the Father gives to men (v. 32). This was the opening of the first finger. After the curiosity of the crowd had been aroused Jesus opened another finger by pointing out that he was the bread about which he was speaking (vv. 35, 48). Finally, in the verses that we are considering, he opens his hand the whole way and shows that the bread is his body that will be given up in death for men and women. He says, “And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (v. 51).
Christ without the cross is of no use to us. We can look to his example, to the way he led his life. We can admire it. But the life alone does not help. We can admire the life, but we cannot live it. Besides, we are condemned by that life, for it is the standard of what God would require of us as his creatures. A Christ without the cross is of no use to us. He condemns us. Fortunately, there is more. For Jesus went on to speak of the cross and eventually to die upon it and rise again. Now there is hope. He died for our sins. The chastisement of our peace is upon him, and with his stripes, we are healed. In his resurrection life, we now have life. In his righteousness, through His death, we are now reckoned righteous in the sight of a holy and loving God.
To understand these things is to understand not only why Christ is truly the bread that came down from heaven but also why he is necessary for spiritual life.
These verses not only contain Christ’s claim, which is a great claim; they also make a requirement. The requirement is that we feed upon him. This means to believe in Jesus, commit your life to him, take him into yourself so that he becomes a part of you and you of him. It is precisely the same act that is spoken of in verse 37, where we are encouraged to “come” to Christ, knowing that those who come to him will never be cast out. Have you come? I do not mean, do you know about Christ? Many people know about Christ but have never come to him. The devil knows about him but hates him. I mean, have you committed your life to him so that now your life, properly speaking, belongs to Jesus? If not, you need to say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I want you to know that I accept all the things said in Scripture about my sin and my need of you. I know that I am not holy. I recognize that I cannot please you by my own efforts. At the same time, I recognize that you died for me on the cross two thousand years ago, and I want that death to stand for my death. I want to be yours. Receive me now as one of your followers, as your child.”
It is the experience of letting go of anything that you might present, in order that your hands might be empty to receive that righteousness that Jesus Christ gives. There is no substitute for that. If you have not done that, you are not a Christian, no matter how much you may know about the Christian faith. On the other hand, if you have done that, then you are already a Christian and know that God has placed his eternal life within you and will keep you until the last day.
What I have been saying is born out in a forceful way by this imagery of eating. Think of what eating involves. First, it is necessary. Other things are necessary too, but not to the same degree. A person might argue that exercise is necessary. Yes, it is good for you. But if you do not eat, before long you are not going to be able to do your exercises. Someone else might argue that the life of the mind is necessary. I agree. But if you fail to eat, pretty soon you will not even be able to sit up and read or think clearly. You must eat to live. So, spiritually, you must eat of the Lord Jesus Christ if you are to come to life spiritually and grow strong.
How do you feed upon Christ? It is through studying the Bible. These are tools by which you and I can feed upon Jesus. There is no substitute for them.
If we use the Word, God will bring us into contact with Jesus. He will use it to bring to our minds what we most need to know; he will reveal sin in us and correct it, and he will most certainly lead us in the way that we should go.
Then, too, eating is always a response to a need that is felt. In physical terms, the need is for nourishment and the feeling of the need for nourishment is hunger, It is the same spiritually. When does a person come to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior or for daily feeding after he has believed in him initially? It is when he has recognized his need. If you consider yourself all-sufficient spiritually-sufficient for this life and for the next-then it is not likely that you will come to the Lord Jesus Christ. However, if you have tried the allurements of this world and have found them to be empty, as many have, then there will be within you that sense of inner need and hunger that will drive you toward Jesus. If you have been reading the Bible, God will show you that need for holiness that will turn you to him.
Third, eating involves appropriation. Knowledge is not enough. It is possible to sit down at a banquet and identify all the dishes and even be able to address them by their French names But if you do not or will not eat of them, they do you no good whatsoever. In the same way, it is possible to understand Christian doctrine so well that you can tell where everyone else is wrong-where Barth is wrong, where Brunner is wrong, where Boice is wrong-but you are still lost unless you appropriate Jesus Christ personally.
That, of course, leads to the last significant point about eating. It must be personal. You must eat. No one else can do it for you. It also is true with regard to your relationship to the Lord Jesus. You cannot get along by saying, “Well, my husband believes…my wife believes… my children or my parents believe. “The question is: Do you believe? Are you feeding on Jesus? I hope that you will never cheat your wife or husband or children or parents by asking them to do something that you refuse to do personally, but rather will give them the best of yourself by allowing God to make you into the kind of person he has always planned for you to be.
The last point is involved in all that has been said previously. It has to do with believing or not believing in Jesus. What are the issues? They are “life” and “death.” It is not just a matter of a little bit of happiness versus more happiness or partial satisfaction versus greater satisfaction. It is life versus death. To know Jesus is to live now and eternally. To refuse him is suicide.
There is no greater issue to be faced by anyone in the course of normal human existence. Will you have life? God is the source of life; he gives it abundantly. Or will you choose that eternal death that comes from making yourself, rather than your Creator and Redeemer, the center of your spiritual horizons?
Do not do what the prodigal son did. He thought that he was going to find life when he left his father to enjoy himself in the city. We would say in today’s jargon that he was determined to live it up.” So he took his inheritance and squandered it on riotous living. Did he find life? No, he found a life that to a Jew was a symbol of death. He was feeding unclean animals. When did life begin for the prodigal? Only when he saw his need, left his willful past behind him, and returned to his father. I covet that for you if you are one who has never really surrendered your will to Jesus and returned to him. Will you have not come to him? Jesus is wonderful. He really is. He wants the best for you.