The Bread of Life
Series: The Gospel of John
We’re all prone to give our time and energy to things that won’t last. Jesus warns us against such a mistake, and holds Himself out as the bread of life that truly lasts.
Every so often I imagine most of us here get the idea to clean out our refrigerator, pantry, and anywhere else you store food. And no matter how well you stay on top of those things, it seems like whenever you clean out your refrigerator you find some cheese with green spots in the back, a jar of salsa that somehow became carbonated, and some vegetables that are softer and slimier than when you bought them. In the pantry you maybe find some moldy bread. These foods are what we call “perishable” foods as opposed to “non-perishable” foods. But according to the Bible, in an ultimate sense, there aren’t any non-perishable foods. Everything on this earth is perishable, so Jesus tells us in this passage not to work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life. We’re all prone to give our time, energy, and resources to things that won’t last, things that demand more and more work from us, only to give us less and less in return. What we need is a truly imperishable food that gives eternal life, and in this passage we learn that Jesus is that food. Jesus is the bread of life. He provides above and beyond our hunger, He challenges our hunger, and whoever comes to Him will never go hungry.
He provides above and beyond our hunger
Our passage begins with two stories really, with one interlude between them. The first is the story of Jesus multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5000 men. Jesus cared that the crowd was hungry. John also tells us that this took place as the Jewish Passover was approaching. We’ll talk more about the Passover next week, but for now suffice it to say that it was instituted by God at the time of Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt and eating a meal together was a big part of it. Not only that, but after their release, God led Israel through the wilderness for 40 years, and along the way, when they woke in the morning, there was a fine, flake-like bread on the ground that God provided each day, which they called manna. During that time, Moses, who was their leader, said that one day God would raise up a prophet from Israel to proclaim God’s word to His people and lead them once again. Now they see Jesus miraculously providing bread for them in the wilderness, and so they conclude in verse 14: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” He provided for their hunger, and not only did He provide for their hunger; He provided above and beyond it. We read in verse 13 that there were twelve baskets of leftover food after all 5000 were fed. Do you think there are hungers of your heart, things you really need, that Jesus simply can’t satisfy? This story shows us He is both willing and able not only to satisfy our hunger, but to provide above and beyond it. There is more life in Him than there is need in us.
It turns out the people weren’t just hungry for food, however. In verse 15 we read that Jesus sensed they were about to come and make Him king. He had been revealed as a new Moses figure, and so just as Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery to the Egyptians, the people of Israel in Jesus’ day wanted to make Him king so He’d lead them out of Roman occupation. You might expect Jesus to welcome this; the people are finally recognizing Him for who He really is! But He resists it. Though He is the true king, His kingdom is not of this world. It’s something greater than freedom for the Jews from Roman occupation. How good would that be, after all? The Jews had already been freed from slavery to Egypt, only to sin against God again, and go into exile under Assyrian and Babylonian captivity. Release from Rome would still leave other enemies around and still leave them susceptible to future judgment if and when they sin against God again. Jesus’ kingdom is bigger and better. It’s nothing less than the reestablishment of God’s rule over not just Israel, but the whole world, so that people from nations that used to be at war are now reconciled to one another, eventually ending all wars, and the reign is not just an external reign, but a reestablishment of God’s rule in the hearts of His people, so that they no longer persist in sinning against Him, but serve Him willingly. Jesus knows the only path to that kingdom is through the cross, and so He will not let them come and take Him by force to make Him king. How often do we still try to do this to Him today, though? Instead of letting Him tell us in His Word what the aim of His kingdom is and how we are to live as citizens of it, we take Jesus and try to make Him king of our aspirations, the head of our political party, the mascot of our social justice movement, or our vision of a “Christian America.” He will have nothing of it. The kingdom over which He reigns is above and beyond those earthly hungers.
Then after that interlude we come to the story of Jesus walking on water. He had gone up on a mountain to avoid being taken by force and made king, while His disciples got into a boat and began to cross the sea to Capernaum. While they were in the sea, the waters become tumultuous because of strong winds. So there they are, disciples of Jesus, left without Him, and subject to tumultuous waters. But then they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near them, and their first response was fear, ostensibly because they did not recognize Him, and if someone who can walk on these kinds of waters is approaching you, and you don’t know who He is, it’s reasonable to be afraid at first. But Jesus reassures them in verse 20: “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat arrived safely at its shore. Again, there is Exodus imagery here: Moses led Israel out of Egypt by parting the Red Sea, bringing them safely to the other side. Here Jesus leads His disciples through tumultuous waters safely to the other side, only He shows He is greater than Moses: Through Moses God parted the Red Sea so that the people could walk through on dry ground. That’s all people can do. But Jesus didn’t need dry ground; He walked on the tumultuous waters Himself, because He reigns over the wind and the waves as true God. We often hunger for a life free from trials, free from the proverbial storms, what older theologians called “carnal security,” a sense that nothing bad or uncomfortable will happen to our flesh on this earth. But Jesus provides something above and beyond that. He didn’t spare His disciples from being left out to sea in the middle of a storm, and He doesn’t promise to spare you or me from trials either. But He so reigns over them that He determines the extent of our trials, and in the end, He will overcome every one of them to bring us safely into His heavenly kingdom.
Food that exceeds our appetite, a universal and eternal kingdom in which righteousness dwells, power that will overcome our scariest trials: That’s what’s there in Jesus, the bread of life. He’s not limited by our resources; five loaves of bread and two fish were sufficient in His hands to feed 5000 hungry people. He’s not swayed by our smaller, weaker kingdom aspirations. And even the wind and waves are under His power. Where we are hungry for a meal, a better life on this earth, and freedom from trials, Jesus provides above and beyond our hunger. And in so doing, He also challenges our hunger, a challenge that becomes explicit in the verses that follow.
He challenges our hunger
So the crowd realizes Jesus isn’t around anymore, and they get into their boats to go over to Capernaum, seeking Him. When they get there they ask Jesus when he arrived, and Jesus replies in verse 26: Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Jesus provided bread for their hunger, but He’s also willing to challenge their hunger. He says basically, “I’m happy to provide you with bread, but that’s not really what you need most, and right now, you’re seeking it as though it is.” So He says in verse 27: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”
Jesus is pointing out something important about the food that they are seeking, the food they ate and had their fill of: It perishes. And yet, how much of our work in life is devoted to things like that, things that will ultimately perish? We work to get people to like us who will perish, we work for a title that won’t last, we work for money and possessions we can’t take with us when we perish, or we even work for future generations that will perish as well. Instead, Jesus says, work for the food that endures to eternal life, which He gives. The natural question that raises is the one they then ask: How do we work for such food? What must we do? All these other foods that perish come with a to-do list. If it’s literally bread you want, you first have to make enough money to be able to buy it, then go to the grocery store, buy it, and get it home. If it’s money you want, the self-help books will tell you to adopt an abundance mindset vs. a scarcity mindset, define your goals clearly, make a budget, view yourself and your skills as worth more, replace your negative thoughts about money with positive ones. One self-help book I consulted even suggested reading a book that is positive about money for 30 minutes per day, kinda like how Christians often advocate 30 minutes of Bible reading and prayer each day. The idea is basically to cultivate a love of money so you’ll have more. If it’s sex or a love interest you’re hungry for, you have to eat healthy and exercise, buy the right clothes, get the right hairstyle, figure out what people like, develop a really compelling online dating profile, and so forth. To get perfect kids you have to discipline them just enough but not too much, feed them healthy foods but also give them the occasional treat, get them into the best school, expose them to kids who are different from them, read to them but also give them play time, and so forth. But what’s the work you must do to get the food that endures to eternal life? Jesus says in verse 29: This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.
How about that? Jesus’ basic answer is: The work of God is not a work. God has done the work: He has sent one in whom there is life, an infinite supply of life. Embrace Him by faith, and you will have eternal life. So not only is the food Jesus offers food that endures to eternal life; it’s food you don’t have to constantly work to get! It’s freely offered; come and take! And, on the flipside, it means you cannot skip believing in Him to get busy working for Him. There are good works that will follow from any who sincerely believe in Jesus; those who believe in Him will then obey His commands. But they will do so not to attain Christ or to attain eternal life; they will do so because they already have Christ and therefore already have eternal life in Him. It will do you no good to say, “I’m going to give up drinking” or “I’m going to stop having sex with my girlfriend” or “I’m going to start making donations and volunteering,” good as those things may be, if you have not first believed in the one who God has sent. In a sense that’s harder, right? Like if I want to know I have eternal life, here’s what most suits my unbelieving flesh: God, just tell me what 3 or 4 things I need to do, then I’ll do them, have someone record it, and any time I doubt whether I have eternal life, I’ll watch the video. It comes natural to us to rely on our works, and to always be asking, “what must I be doing?” And there are a host of false religions there to offer an answer. But Jesus flips it on its head. Yes, to get the food that perishes, you must work, but for the food that endures to eternal life, I do the work, and your part to receive it is to believe.
Nonetheless, the dullness of Jesus’ hearers shows itself again: They ask for a sign, as if the people he’d been healing and the 5 loaves and 2 fish that he turned into enough food to feed 5000 wasn’t enough. They wanted a sign like the sign Moses gave of bread from heaven, and Jesus clarifies: That wasn’t Moses giving you bread from heaven, it was God, and now God has sent bread from heaven again: He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. So they say, “Sir, give us this bread always.” And Jesus replies in verse 35: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Whoever comes to Him will never go hungry.
Whoever comes to Him will never go hungry
So the bread of life is not just something Jesus gives; it’s who Jesus is. He gives Himself to us, and it’s Him who we receive by faith, and thus receive eternal life in Him. But here’s the crazy part: They say they want this bread, but here the bread is, right in front of them. They’ve seen Jesus, and yet He points out in verse 36 that they do not believe. Once again we see He comes to His own, and His own do not receive Him. Once again we see that those who claim to believe Moses don’t believe Him, even though Moses wrote of Him. So how can He claim to be the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, when so many are in fact rejecting Him and therefore not receiving life in Him?
Verse 37: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. Jesus says that despite the unbelief of the people right in front of Him on that day, there are some who will come to Him, who He describes as “All that the Father gives me.” A few things to notice here: First, notice that the Father’s giving of these people to the Son is prior to their coming to the Son. When they come to the Son, they are already those the Father has given to the Son. There is an action of God the Father prior to their coming to Christ, which elsewhere in the Bible is called “election,” and in the history of the church, there have been two basic ways of thinking about this election: It is either a conditional election, meaning God elects some because of some condition they meet, usually that God foresees that they will believe in Him if He puts them in certain conditions, or an unconditional election, meaning that God chooses them based solely on His good pleasure, unconditional of anything in them. Conditional election is commonly associated with what’s called Arminianism, and unconditional election with what’s called Calvinism or “Reformed” theology. At Citylight, we require elders to subscribe to Reformed theology because we believe it’s true, and this passage is one reason why we believe it’s true. We see here that God’s election is unconditional on any foreseen faith in the elect. When they come to Christ, they are already those the Father has given to the Son. There is no version of history for God to foresee where people choose Him before He’s chosen them. The people in this passage who Jesus says will come to Him have already been given to Him by the Father. They aren’t elect because they come to Christ; they come to Christ because they are elect. And if the Father has given them to the Son, there is no question as to whether they will come to Him. Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me,” a doctrine known in Reformed theology as “irresistible grace,” that if God graciously chooses to give someone to the Son, He also enables them to believe so that they do willingly come to Him. And then He promises: Whoever comes to me, I will never cast out.
So why will whoever comes to Him never go hungry? Because Jesus will never cast them out. There is no one who will come to Christ to whom Jesus will say, “You aren’t welcome here.” There is no one who will come to Christ to whom Jesus will say, “You aren’t good enough.” Here we have another of his whoever promises: Whoever comes to me, not only will I receive, not only will I not cast them out in that moment, but I will never cast them out. Why? Because, He goes on to say, He has not come to do His own will, but the will of him who sent Him, and the will of the one who sent Him is not just that some should come to Him, but that they should receive eternal life from Him, that is, that they should never be cast out, but raised up on the last day. So here’s the situation Jesus is facing: He’s saying if someone comes to me, if someone believes in me, that reveals that they have been given to me by my Father. And the reason He gives people to me is so that I might give them eternal life. I’ve not come to do my will, but His. Therefore, whoever comes to me I will never cast out. I will keep them so much so that on the last day I will most surely raise them up. That’s what He means by saying they will never go hungry.
And yet, the only way He could ultimately raise them up on the last day was by first laying His life down for them. The thing that distinguishes those whom the Father has given to Christ from His hearers who have seen Him and not believed is not any inherent goodness in those who come to Him; it is only the Father’s choice. The whole world has rebelled against Him, and so for God to save any, God the Father sent God the Son to first bear their sins on the cross and satisfy the demand of His judgment against them. That’s why Jesus couldn’t be taken and made king now. His path to the crown was the cross, and only after He made a full atonement for the sins of those the Father had given to Him would He raise from the dead to eternal life, and everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him receives that eternal life. Whoever comes to Him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Him shall never thirst.
Believe in Him, and you have new spiritual life in you that will never end, and though you die, He will raise you up on the last day to live with Him forever. We have here what’s known as the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.” The doctrine of perseverance teaches that all those God saves by bringing them to faith, God also keeps through faith, so that on the last day they are raised to live with Christ forever, never to be condemned. It’s a doctrine denied by Roman Catholics and Arminians; it’s another one of the doctrines we affirm at Citylight when we say we are Reformed. The way the question is sometimes phrased is, “Can you lose your salvation?” In other words, can you sincerely believe in Jesus, receive eternal life, but then reject Jesus, and lose eternal life? The text before us answers the question, but it also reframes it. The question according to John 6 is not so much, “Can you lose your salvation?” but “Can Jesus lose you?” If you could lose your salvation, you would. But will Jesus lose you? Will He let you deny Him? He has been given a commission by His Father, to lose none of all that the Father gives Him. Will He fail? Will the bread of life leave some who come to Him hungry in the end? The answer is an emphatic no. You should believe in the perseverance of the saints, not because it’s “Reformed,” but because it’s biblical, and therefore true.
And since it is, do you see on what a secure foundation the salvation of all who believe rests? Before you existed, before you had done anything good or bad, the Father chose you and gave you to the Son. That’s why you came to Him. And He gave you to the Son with this purpose: That the Son would raise you up on the last day. He will not fail to do so. He will keep you believing and lead you in a life of ongoing confession, repentance, and renewed obedience until the last day when He raises you up to live with Him forever. And do you see what hope this should give us as we proclaim the good news of Christ? Amid all the unbelief, there is a people the Father has given to the Son, and all of them will come to Him. You might as well tell people about Jesus; eventually some will come to Him.
And furthermore, Jesus will keep them. Do you see what hope this should give you for one another? If someone is a member of this church, it means as best as we can tell, the Father has given them to the Son, and so we should expect that Jesus is going to keep them and raise them up on the last day. It’s been an interesting year or 2 for our church. We had a couple seasons where we didn’t gather at all, we had gatherings outdoors in Newtown Sq and then at St. Nicholas Eastern Orthodox, then back to Boys Choir, then here, and now we’re facing the possibility that sometime in 2022 we won’t be meeting here anymore, and we don’t know where we will be meeting yet. We’ve been looking to hire an Associate Pastor for months now, and we still don’t know who it will be. We are planning to particularize, that is, become a separate local church from Citylight Manayunk and Delco, in July of this year. We’ve never done that before. But do you know what can give us great hope for that? Jesus’ promise: All the Father gives me will come to me, and I will raise them up on the last day. From beginning to end, from people coming in, staying, and rising on the last day, Jesus is owning this thing. And haven’t we seen Him make good on this? Just look around the room. Seriously, take a moment to do it. Can’t you see people the Father has given to the Son, who have indeed come to Him? And can’t you see people that Jesus is keeping, right now, today, and has kept over these past couple years? That’s what He says He is going to keep doing until He raises them up on the last day.
Consider even those you look around the room and don’t see, those you haven’t seen for some time, those of our members who may be wandering from the flock. If you’ve been around for over a year, you’ve no doubt had the experience of thinking, “Hm, it feels like I haven’t seen so and so at church in a while.” What do you do with that? Do you assume, “Well, guess they’re gone.” Why assume that? Do you further assume that if you were to reach out to them to just let them know you noticed they aren’t around and ask them how they’re doing, that they’d receive that poorly? Most people like knowing that people notice when they aren’t around, but Jesus’ promise here gives us an even better source of confidence: If the Father truly has given this person to the Son, then Jesus has committed to raise them up on the last day, and your reach out to this person may be the very means He intends to use to keep them from leaving Him, even if that means you have to speak some words of correction to them. Why assume that would never work? All the Father gives to Jesus will come, and He will raise them up on the last day.
And if you’re here today and don’t yet believe, do you see the offer held out to you? Jesus’ promise stands: Whoever comes me I will never cast out. This is the will of the Father: Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life. This is the work of God: Believe in the one He sent. Stop giving your life to the food that perishes. It will keep taking more from you only to give you less in return. The next thing will come, and you’ll be hungry again for the next thing. Jesus is the bread of life; come to Him, believe in Him, and you will never go hungry.