I am the bread of life
Yesterday we saw Jesus in amongst a clamouring, needy mob. Though He was grieving, though He was hungry, though He wanted space to rest with His friends, yet He serves. When He sees the crowd – like sheep without a shepherd – He has compassion on them (Mark 6:34).
The disciples want to send them away, Jesus wants to host a meal. The 12 can’t imagine spending more than a few pennies, Jesus wants to lavish the equivalent of “thousands of pounds” on them. How is this possible?
Is this a testimony to the invulnerable power of Jesus? Is Jesus drawing on secret reserves of divine strength in order to out-serve us? No. As we’ll see today, this provision flows from the total exhaustion of Jesus. It’s not so much that Jesus has more “in the tank” (being the Son of God). Actually Jesus determines to empty Himself. We are the ones who keep things in reserve. In a deep sense, Jesus has less in the tank – much less. That’s the secret of His strength. Long after sinners say “Enough is enough” He continues to pour Himself out.
This is what He explains when, in John’s account, He identifies Himself with the bread. As He tears apart these loaves in His hands, He tells people:
“For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” (John 6:33)
As the disciples liberally give away loaf after loaf for free, Jesus declares:
“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
While hungry men and women devour this bread, Jesus proclaims:
“I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51)
It is incredible to think of what Jesus is identifying with in this scene. He does not call Himself the Baker of heaven. He could do that. In Exodus 16 you might say He presided over the meal as the Israelites received the Manna. But here He doesn’t describe Himself as the President. He’s the meal! He’s not the Baker. He’s the Bread!
And it’s explicitly the fact that He is devoured that brings life to the world. “The bread that I will give is my flesh.” Never has a man claimed to be so mighty and so meek – and in the same breath. He gives eternal life to the world! How? He gives His life for the world!
He is an abundant source of life because He is a self-emptying Giver.
He repeats the point in the following verses:
“Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:54)
Eating flesh and drinking blood? What does this mean?
The Psalmist spoke of his enemies eating up his flesh (Psalm 27:2). David said he refused to drink his mens’ blood when he refused to drink the water they brought him at the risk of their lives (2 Samuel 23:17). Therefore to eat flesh and drink blood is to take advantage of the death of another.
And Jesus says “Take advantage of me. My flesh is food, my blood is drink, devour me!” It is a shocking way to speak and it offends the disciples (John 6:60-61). But there is no way around it. Jesus is our spiritual food. Without Him we perish. But if we’re not to perish, then He must be consumed.
The night before He died Jesus tore a loaf apart in His hands and said “This is my body” (Matthew 26:26). He poured out wine and said “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:28). And the next day He was ripped open and emptied for us. It’s the weakest a Man has ever been. And it’s the power to save the world.
He is consumed, we are nourished. He is poured out, we are filled. Christ abundantly gives because He utterly self-empties. Jesus does not hold back. We hold back. We keep things in reserve. Jesus keeps no power in reserve, His power is His sacrifice. And He is given for us.
So let me say to you what I say to communicants as I press the bread into their hands:
“Feed on Him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.”