I ran a young adults conference for the Presbyterian Church when I lived in Rotorua, and one of the speakers we invited was Timo Tanagloa. Timo was an international rugby player and is now an evangelist with athletes in action. As he shared his testimony with us he pulled out various jerseys out of the bag he had with him to illustrate his life story… An Auckland NPC jersey… a new Zealand sevens jersey… a new Zealand xv jersey… a Samoan national jersey… and of course the international xv jersey, you know the ugly one with the different colours on it that was used by the team that played the all blacks to mark their centenary. The audience was suitably impressed… but the whole atmosphere changed when he pulled out a black jersey… it was an all-black jersey that a friend had given him. It wasn’t any jersey it wasn’t a replica it was a genuine All Black test jersey… it wasn’t just any friend it was a special friend and this was a special gift…an almost religious hush fell over the auditorium as Timo turned the shirt around and there was the number seven on the back… This was Micheal Jones first test jersey… that he had given to his best school friend. Now if you’re too young to remember who Micheal Jones is just think Richie Macaw but even better. But I’ve never been part of such an awestruck crowd… it was strange… there was a weighty reality associated with it…there was a sense of glory associated with the object…
The word glory has that sort of meaning of… the weighty reality of who someone or something is …Maybe you’ve meet someone important like the Queen or Nelson Mandella and you are aware of the weighty reality of who they are. In the prelude to John’s gospel John says that in Jesus, the word of God came and dwelt in our world, pitched his tent in our neighbourhood and we beheld the glory of the one and only son, sent from the father. No one has seen God but Jesus has made him known. In Jesus we see the glory of God, the weighty reality of all that God is, is revealed to us in Jesus.
For the next eight weeks we are going to be looking at the “I am statements in John’s gospel, statements that Jesus makes about himself. I’ve called the series Refracted Glory because it is my hope that just like light is refracted through a prism and shows us the different hues and wavelengths that make up white light, a metaphor that John also uses of Jesus in his prologue, that in these seven saying we might capture a fresh vision of the glory of the one and only son sent from the Father. That we might capture a renewed vision of the glory of God in our midst; The glory of God who is with us and that our passion and love for Jesus might grow and deepen and over flow from us to the world around us.
Today we are going to look at the first of these sayings from John chapter 6… ‘I am the bread of life’ Jesus says that he is the one who is able to meet our deepest need, our deepest hunger and thirst , in such a way as it can only be described as eternal life. Not our physical hunger but our deepest spiritual need at the core of our very being. Remember from the beatitudes that amazing revolution of grace at the beginning of the sermon on the mount… blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled’… they will be filled because the one who makes that invitation is the bread of life able to meet such a hunger and quench such a thirst.
The passage we had read out to us this morning follows on from Jesus feeding of the five thousand. He had taken a small amount of bread and fish and gave thanks for it and feed the gathered crowd with enough for the disciples to gather a basket of left overs each. The crowd see this miracle and it fills them with messianic expectations and they want to make Jesus their king. They want someone who like Moses will lead them from oppression to liberty and political freedom. Jesus does not want this so he goes over the lake to the other side. The next day some of the crowd come looking for him and in the dialogue that ensues Jesus explains the significance of what he had done and makes the statement I am the bread of life.
Jesus is aware that the people who have come to find him are after the bread. They and seen what Jesus and done and were hoping for a repeat. They saw something special in Jesus but only on a material level. Jesus says that they have missed the sign of what the feeding miracle meant. In John’s gospel Jesus miracles are called signs they point to a deeper reality of who Jesus is. Jesus echoes Isaiah 55 to say that they should work not for physical bread but for the food that bring eternal life; The sustenance for the soul that only the son of man could bring because of his unique relationship with God.
That want to know how they can do this work that will put them right with God, that will give them eternal life and Jesus reply is that for this they need to believe in the one who God has sent., That faith in him that gives us abundant and eternal life. The word believe speaks not of just a one of response to Jesus but an on-going way of living trusting whole heatedly in Jesus as the one God has sent.
Those that had followed him still don’t get it… they are still looking for the manna from heaven, and ask for a further sign… their ancestors lived for forty years on manna in the wilderness. Jesus response is to again point them to the father. It was God the father not Moses who provided the manna in the wilderness and the people who ate that still died, but know God was providing the true bread from heaven that gives life. When they ask for that bread Jesus says I am the bread of life. It is Jesus himself who is able to provide the food to meet our deepest spiritual need for reconciliation with God and new life. He is the bread that has come down from heaven. People will not stumble on their own says Jesus only those who the father draws will come to that realisation.
Then the Jews that were there begin to grumble… because the setting for this narrative is Jesus neighbourhood the people here know him, they would have seen him grow up they knew who his family was, how can he say he has come down from heaven… and Jesus responds to them by saying once again that it is only by the fathers drawing and teaching people that they will come to the realisation who Jesus is. But that to receive life they need to eat of his flesh.
The Jews again begin to argue about what he is saying… and I don’t know about you but I would be wondering what Jesus was on about as well. Is Jesus talking about cannibalism. Jesus response is to point to his death as a means by which his body would be available to us. It was only when the bread had been broken and the blood poured out that people would be able to receive this food.
It’s language we are used to because we associate it with the Lord’s supper with the sacrament, but in John’s gospel there is no account of the last supper, it points back to Jesus sign of feeding the five thousand. It is only as Christ died on the cross for us that this living bread is available to all of us. In a symbolic way it is as we believe in who Jesus is and put our trust in his death that we receive this bread of life.
How does this help us to see Jesus and see the glory of God in Jesus.Firstly, in this passage there is a focus on the sovereignty of God. That God is for us, That God’s love is strong, that God wants his people to have life in Christ. God has sent his son into the world to provide for us. At its heart God chooses us, God opens our eyes and draws us towards Jesus and enables us to see who Jesus is, God enables us to persevere in the faith. The glory of God is shown in God saving grace shown to us. Salvation from beginning to end is the work of God, we are called to respond by believing and trusting in Jesus and we will receive life giving food. in the one who is sent from heaven.
Secondly, ultimately the glory of God is shown in the cross, the weighty of reality of who God is and what God is like is shown in the sending of his son, of the son being broken for you and for me. That we may have life. That the deepest thirst and hunger within us; the need for forgiveness and reconnection with our creator with one another and with creation may happen in Christ. In Christ we are welcomed into fellowship with God, we are welcomed into a new fellowship with each other, we are welcomed into a renewing of the brokenness of the world around us. It is in Christ and Christ crucified.
Thirdly, in Jesus we have sustenance which will nourish us and keep us going through this life and on into eternity. It does not mean it will all be plain sailing, the picture of manna from the Old Testament is manna in the wilderness is travelling through a desert land, Christians and people of faith talk of long dark nights of the soul and desert times when they feel hunger and thirst, but Jesus promise is that there is only one source in which we will find that filled and it is in knowing and being known by Jesus. We use the words of Jesus from this chapter when we celebrate communion and the sacrament of bread and wine is symbolic of that deeper spiritual food of trusting in Christ crucified. It is an outside sign of an inward reality.
Fourthly, having this bread gives us the strength to both share what we have with the world around us trusting that we have the bread of life and also gives us something that we have to offer to the hungry and thirsty world around us. Again looking at the sign of feeding the five thousand the disciples gave Jesus the little they had and he gave it to the people and there was enough left over for them to collect a basket of left overs each. God provides.
Not only that but we have something of value to offer the world, and we can share about Jesus the bread of Life with the assurance that God is the one who takes that and enables people to receive and believe in the one sent from heaven, the bread of life.
The chapter finishes after our reading this morning with two responses. John tells us that because Jesus teaching was hard, many turned away. They wanted the bread, the political and material messiah not Christ crucified. Many stopped believing. The other response was from the disciples where Jesus said I suppose you will leave me as well and they respond where can we Go Lord you are the one who has the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy one of God. The response to this discovery of who Jesus is and that he is the bread of life for the disciples was choosing to, choosing to believe and choosing to follow. God had called them and chosen them and they had responded. And this is the choice before us…