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August 24, 2003
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to John 6 and follow along as I read verses 56-69. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"
61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you?
62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
64 But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.
65 And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
67 So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"
68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Mike Ferretti says: “We don’t give samples, we give ‘amples.’” Mike Ferretti is the CEO of the Great Harvest Bread Company, and he is talking about the thick slices of freshly baked bread, topped with rich honey, his customers get when they walk into his stores. When you walk into one of his stores, the aroma is what hits you first. Follow your nose and look behind the counter and the chalkboard menu and you will see the racks of hand-kneaded, new-this-morning loaves of honey wheat, cinnamon walnut, spelt and country French breads, among others.
But what you’ll really notice is the eclectic mix of people crowded into the little shop: business people in suits, multipierced high-school students on lunch break, a mom with a toddler in hand, a bike messenger, a homeless man—all lined up, patiently waiting. Some are there waiting to take home a loaf of handmade bread for the family table, but all of them are there to get that free slice—for which no purchase is necessary.
Free bread, no wonder customers keep coming back. But it is not just the “free” bread that keeps them coming. People are following their noses in search of good bread, bread with character; not the mass-produced, square-bodied, chemically preserved, white, and doughy generic kind, but the handcrafted, whole grain, crusty, exotically flavored, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth kind. This homemade-tasting bread is known as “artisan” bread.
According to Modern Baking magazine, artisan breadmaking became prevalent in the 1980s in places like San Francisco, where bakeries combined Old World flavor, handmade craftsmanship and the finest ingredients to create memorable breads. By the mid-’90s, artisan breads were appearing everywhere, from small bakeries to supermarkets, and from street corner cafes to upscale restaurants.
Artisan bread takes on a unique character reminiscent of days gone by. The Great Harvest Bread Company boasts, “Our breads taste so good our customers ask if we hired their grandma.” What bakeries like Great Harvest have done is to bring back the homemade taste and feel of the old days when grandma would bake in her kitchen a weekly cache of loaves made with love. For grandma, the only “real” bread was made with her own hands. No store-bought bread was good enough to grace that turkey sandwich or get covered with apple butter. Grandma’s recipes were unique, reflecting her own character and artisan skill, and always brought a crowd when the oven door opened.
Jesus knew what grandma, Great Harvest Bread Company, and every artisan baker knows—nothing substitutes for the character, nutrition, taste, and the experience of fresh, filling, and fulfilling “real” bread.
Jesus is the bread. The whole of John 6 is a lesson in artisan baking. At the beginning of the chapter, we read about the amazing feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and a couple of fish—which we might call and example of basic nutrition plus mass production. Having received this gift, the crowd pursues Jesus around to the other side of the lake, looking for more. By the way, Jesus himself walked across the lake.
The crowd thinks that Jesus is the new Moses, for he has fed them with manna—with bread and fish—in the wilderness, and following that he has walked on water, which reminded them that Moses parted the waters at the Red Sea. But when the crowd specifically cites Moses by name and calls for a repetition of the manna-miracle, Jesus corrects the people on two points. First, he reminds them that it was God who sent the manna to the Israelites in the wilderness, not Moses. Second, Jesus points out that the true gift God’s bread provided them, and provides us, is not a full stomach but a rejoicing soul.
Having instructed the people, Jesus is prepared to give them manna, but it is not what they are expecting. Their nourishment takes the form of the first “I am” statement in John’s gospel. There are a number of statements in John where Jesus declares “I am.” For example, “I am the good shepherd,” or “I am the way the truth and the life.” This is the first. The Greek word for bread is artos which actually signifies a loaf of bread. In Greek, Jesus says in v35, egw eimi o artos ths zwhs, “I am the bread of life.” And there is a little emphasis here that does not come through in translation. The emphasis in Greek is on “I.” “I am the bread of life.” The “bread that came down from heaven” (v. 41) is not made of flour and water, but of flesh and blood. Jesus is the “true bread from heaven … which … gives life to the world” (vv. 32-33). He is bread conceived in the mind of a master Artisan. In his own sacrifice on the cross, with his own flesh and blood, Jesus, the Bread of Life, is uniquely crafted to satisfy the recommended nutritional allowance for eternal life for all who feed on him and his words. His own flesh and blood, freely offered for the salvation of the world, are “true bread” and “true drink” (v. 55).
The “true bread” that Jesus offers is the kind that brings people into a deep relationship with God. Breaking bread with someone was a sign of true intimacy and friendship in the ancient world. It was a sign that those who participated in the meal were bonded for life.
In a shocking reinterpretation of this tradition, Jesus offers himself to the world as “bread,” as the means through which God and humankind become bonded for eternal and abundant life, saying, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me ... he who feeds on me will live forever” (v. 57-58 NIV). “Feeding” on Jesus is a means of taking in all that he offers. It is a means of receiving the satisfying fullness of salvation and the daily nutrients of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Now I know that the thought of feeding on Jesus may seem like a weird concept. It seemed strange to the disciples. When Jesus says, egw eimi o artos ths zwhs. The disciples’ response in v60 is that this is a “hard teaching,” and John tells us in v66 that, “From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
Jesus lost a lot of followers. Maybe we ought to ask why. Why did they stop following Jesus? Perhaps they thought he was advocating some sort of cannibalism. They thought he was saying that they should actually chop him up and eat his physical flesh. This was a charge that was often made against the church in early centuries of its existence, that Christians were cannibals who literally ate human flesh. I can see how someone reading John 6, or hearing it, with a material frame of mind, could come to that conclusion. But obviously that is the wrong conclusion. Obviously, Jesus means this spiritually not materially.
But another factor may have also caused him to lose followers. I do not want to be unkind, nor do I want to appear intolerant, but I have to say what the Scripture says. Notice the exclusive nature of the offer of the artos, the bread. In v53, Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Now he is talking about spiritual life. Obviously many people do not accept Christ and have physical life—that is not what Jesus is talking about. What he is saying is that if we do not accept the Son of man—which was a name for Jesus—if we do not accept the Son of Man, then our soul is dead; we have no spiritual life.
Thus, spiritually speaking, Christ is the only real bread. Islam is not an acceptable alternative to Christ; Judaism is not an acceptable alternative; Buddhism is not an acceptable alternative; Hinduism is not an acceptable alternative. I am not saying that those religions have no good things in them. I am sure that they do. What I am saying is that Christ is the only real artos ths zwhs, the only real bread of life, and that it is only in Christ that we find life for our souls.
World religion today is like a spiritual Wal-Mart. Every imaginable cult, craze, and fad is out there. And in the name of tolerance some folks say that we should just accept all this. Everyone is trying to get to God, they say, and they all good intentions, and one person’s ideas are just as good as another’s, and all religions are pretty much equal. That is not what Jesus says. To put it figuratively Jesus says we should bypass the overflowing shelves of the religious Wal Mart and go a little out of the way to the corner bakery for a free slice of the Bread of Life. The bread Jesus offers us is not mass-produced. It is bread with a unique and life-giving character crafted by the Artisan’s loving hands especially for us.
Now we are not having the Lord’s Supper today, and maybe that is good because we can reflect a little more, we can have a longer sermon—maybe you would just as soon not have that—but we can reflect somewhat more deeply on the meaning of this bread. When we receive the bread offered during Holy Communion, it is the spiritual equivalent of receiving free bread. It is the free gift of God given to us, and this “real” bread connects us deeply and spiritually with God through Christ. The bread and wine are not the actual body and blood of Christ. We are not cannibals. But when we partake of the bread and wine in the way that Christ said we should partake of it, that is with prayer and thanksgiving, then we do actually receive Christ, and we receive life for our souls.
And as we have already indicated, there is not substitute for this Christ. There is no substitute for the love and life we experience when we break the Bread of Life. Like Peter we cry out, “Lord, to whom [else] shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68 NIV).
Jesus is the bread, the only bread. The New Testament keeps saying this in so many ways. Jesus is the way, the only way. Jesus is the redeemer, the only redeemer. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes Christ as “the mediator between God and man” [8,1]. This is a phrase that is intended to include the whole work of Jesus, all that he did. Actually though, the term “mediator” is not well chosen, at least not for modern folks. Maybe back in the sixteen hundreds, when the confession was written, the meaning of “mediator” was a little different, but today we think of a mediator as one who settles a dispute between equals. For example, you have the labor union on one side and the owner of the industry on the other, and the mediator brings them together, and they hash it out, and one side gives a little, and the other side gives a little, and eventually, guided by the mediator, they arrive at a some sort of workable compromise. That is not what Christ did. It is true that there was a dispute. God had a dispute with us about sin. God could not abide us because of our sin. But it was not a dispute between equals—because we are not the equals of God. We cannot bargain with God. We cannot say to Almighty God, “I will try to be a little better Lord if you will give me a little slack.” God does not need to work out some sort of compromise with us. So not only is there a dispute with God, there is nothing that we can do to resolve the dispute. No compromise, no work, nothing, that we can offer God is acceptable to God. Any resolution of the problem then must come from God.
So we do not need a mediator. We need a reconciler. We need someone who will reconcile us to God, who will bring us back to God. Than is what Christ does. That is what only Christ can do. Christ is God, come from God, to bring us back to God. No one else can do that.
Again the Westminster Confession of Faith describes Christ as “prophet, priest, and king” [8,1] These are Old Testament terms. Prophet, priest, and king were the officers of the Old Testament covenant that God made with Israel. The prophet was one who spoke the word of God. Jesus was the word of God. The priest administered the sacrifice. Jesus was the sacrifice. The Old Testament king ruled the land. Jesus rules in the hearts of his people. All of the hopes of the Old Testament then are realized in Jesus Christ, in whom the offices of prophet, priest, and king are uniquely combined and perfectly fulfilled.
Finally, the Confession describes Jesus as “the head and savior of his church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity, give a people to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified” [8,1]. This describes what it means to be the bread of life. Jesus is the head of the church, that is he is king of the church. He is the savior of the church. Notice how that is put. Jesus is not the savior of everyone. If he was everyone would be saved—because Jesus is God. Now it is true that Jesus is the savior of the world in the sense that the only way that anyone in the world can be saved is through Jesus Christ. But in another sense, Jesus is not the savior of the world. If he was, everyone in the world would be saved—because Jesus is God. So, of whom is Jesus the savior? He is the savior of the church.
Now I know that we call a congregation a church, but in the New Testament the church is simply all those people who have truly and sincerely believed on Jesus as savior and lord. Everyone in the past, present, and future who has faith in Christ is the church. We are the church. Jesus is our savior and lord. Jesus is a slice of real bread given to us by the great artisan whereby we are incorporated into his church, become his people, and are “redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.”
That is a wonderful list of what Christ does for his people. He calls us to be his people. He redeems us; that is, he delivers and saves us. He justifies us; that is he excuses us, or absolves us, of our sins. He sanctifies us; he declares us to be sacred. He glorifies us; that is, he exalts us.
How could Jesus then not be the most important thing in your live? How can a single day pass in which you do not praise God for the salvation Christ has wrought in you? How could you not love Jesus with all your heart mind and soul? He is the bread of life, the only bread. Receive him then and love him and cherish him now and forever. Amen.
“Competition heats for artisan bread sales.” Excerpt from Modern Baking, September 1, 2002. Horizonmilling.com.
Gitomer, Jeffrey. “Turning dough into bread and vice-versa.” Charleston Business Journal, April 8, 2002. Crbj.com.
“Welcome to Great Harvest Bread Co.,” Greatharvest.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/22/04