If you saw somebody feed thousands of people from a little boy’s lunchbox, it would amaze you.
If you were there in the crowd when it happened, it would leave a mark on you.
If you ate the bread and tasted the fish and had your belly filled and even put a piece of bread in the leftover basket as they were collecting and your wife had pulled a couple of stray crumbs out of your beard later… it would change you.
The people that were on the hillside one day when Jesus did such a thing were indeed enamored. Some were seeing the possibilities of never having to go back out to the fields and work because they could just follow this guy who can feed everybody around him. Others were probably thrilled at the possibility of a guy who could heal you when you were sick, feed you when you were hungry, and who knows what else?
But I dare say there were some in the crowd that day that had a longing stirred in them for something deeper, something more, something greater.
[Read John 6.22-59]
The crowd realized that Jesus had crossed over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As they caught up to him, there unfolds a conversation in which Jesus teaches them several important truths. But they all center around this profound statement Jesus made several times, but first in verse 35:
“I am the bread of life.”
Now, in the process, he shared many other significant things. He taught that everyone that the Father draws to faith in Jesus would never be re moved from him. (37, 39) He taught that one can only come to faith if the Father draws him. (44) But it all centered on this idea that Jesus himself was “the bread of life.”
He began by pointing out that they were coming because of the food he had given them, not because of the signs they had seen. (26) He calls them to something more, to pursue “the food that endures to eternal life.” (27)
He explained, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (29) Believe. That’s the essence of his teaching. Believe in him.
Since he was talking about bread, the people pointed back to the bread provided to the people under Moses’ leadership in the wilderness so long ago. Jesus affirmed that provision, but reminded them that it was God, not Moses, that provided the bread—the same Father that had sent his Son, “the true bread from heaven.” (32) Jesus tells them that he is that life-giving bread sent from the Father. (33)
The people are still stuck on the actual bread and ask Jesus to give them the bread always. (34) But Jesus works to make it very, very clear. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,” he said.(35) Jesus is explaining that he is the ultimate provision—that in knowing him they will never really need for anything else.
The conversation then goes into some other things that are related to the way we can come to him and the absolute assurance that, once we are his, we can never be otherwise. But he said again in verse 48, “I am the bread of life.” He contrasts the heaven-sent manna that was sustained physical life for a time, but the recipients of it still died (49) with the heaven-sent “bread of life” (Jesus himself) that came down from heaven so that any who would eat of it (to believe in him) “will live forever.”(50-51)
The hardest part of the conversation is when Jesus says that “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” and then, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (51b, 54) This is a hard thing to swallow—so to speak—because at the surface it goes against everything we have ever understood about the value of life. But Jesus is not actually telling them to physically eat his flesh and drink his blood. Really.
Jesus is pointing to the sacrifice that he would make of his own life on the bloody, cruel cross. He did that for you and for me. When he said we must feed on his flesh and drink his blood, he was saying we can only find life in and through his death. When we trust his death as the payment for our sin, we, in a strange and real way, feed on his flesh. When we believe that his blood was shed for us, we, in a strange and real way, drink his blood. We embrace the one and only hope of everlasting life—the death of the Son of God for us.
So Jesus, who just a day earlier had fed most of these people on the hillside with one little boy’s lunch, takes the very tangible, very real memory of the feel and taste of the bread they had eaten and points them to something greater. The people had come to see if this sort of magic baker would produce for them more bread.
Jesus taught them something far greater.
He told them he was not just the Baker.
He was the bread.