I am the Bread of Life

If the links don’t work for you, here is the Rimmer family’s video presentation I am the Bread of Life, Awesome God and an upbeat song.

Todays reading is John 6:25-40Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Today we’re beginning a series of sermons on ‘Who is Jesus?’ and the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. We start with the first one, ‘I AM the bread of life.’

These statements show us that Jesus is somehow making God present. Jesus is speaking as God.

In the Old Testament God identifies himself as, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14Open Link in New Window). In these sayings Jesus is therefore also saying, “I also am the God who is ‘I AM WHO I AM’.

So we are saying at the start, in answer to that question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ that Jesus reveals his divinity in these statements in no uncertain terms. He leaves us no space for equivocation. His listeners at the time would have heard the connection with OT scriptures they knew so well, and would have to have thought about this amazing statement. So do we.

The verses today follow on from the miracle of Jesus’ compassionate feeding of five thousand hungry people with bread and fish. This is at the beginning of chapter 6 (John 6Open Link in New Window). So food is in the narrative.

I encourage you to read it all.

In the conversation we focus on today, Jesus reflects back the crowd’s questions with answers designed to help them think about the deeper issue at stake here. This is not about how he can gratify their immediate desires, for example providing another great meal, or impressing them with another dramatic miracle. It is about so much more. It goes much deeper.

What do the best teachers do? They help you to think and work it out yourself, so you can then own and understand things—yourself—not just because someone told you.

My son Nat has just gone through the interesting journey of ‘A’ level results. It took me back to thinking about my own, many years ago. I was particularly encouraged by one result—my history A Level. I have always loved history, and I used to learn the details of the periods I was studying really well. But right up to my mock exams, I consistently received poor marks for my essays. I filled them with facts and detail. But back they came, marked usually with a D grade or lower. Time and time again, my history teachers fed back to me the same thing—lots of good facts, but you’re not answering the question that’s being asked? You’re not seeing the point.

I was chucking back what I thought people wanted to hear to get an instant result. But I wasn’t stopping to think about the real question—and therefore the real answer. Information is there to lead our hearts and minds somewhere—not just to be re-processed in a mechanical fashion without thinking. This is how we learn and grow in wisdom and understanding. This is how we can then own for ourselves, meaning and purpose in life. This is when, ‘the penny drops’.

Thankfully there was a good ending to my history ‘A’ level. The penny dropped for me just in time.

The whole conversation in these verses, between Jesus and the people, is to help them move on from the surface way they are responding to him, so they can discover—for themselves, the reality of who he is—and therefore what this means for them. There is a build up to the great I AM words of this passage.

Firstly, when the crowds ask how Jesus got to the other side of the lake, he responds with a statement about their motive for looking for him. Are they still looking for more dramatic signs?

The whole point behind the miracle of the loaves and fishes was that it is meant to point them to the true food of life. So the patient teacher leads them onwards, by saying, ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life’—the true food—‘which the Son of Man will give you.’ Stop looking for signs and wonders. Look beyond this. Look for food which will nourish you for more than just a few hours, food which will fill you for all eternity. Look deeper…

Then they ask him, ‘What must we do to do the works of God?’ Jesus simply responds, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’to believe in the Son of Man (another name for Jesus) who will give you this nourishment.

This is a key moment. Will the penny drop? Will they look deeper into the question, or will they still skate superficially around it, and lose out on the ‘Eureka’ moment of discovery?

It leads to another question from the people. What follows is a little disappointing—but so true to our human nature. They ask Jesus, ‘What miraculous sign can you give—so that we can believe you?’

And they have the nerve to quote OT scriptures back to Jesus, about Moses providing Manna from heaven to feed the people of Israel in the wilderness. Yet again, the reaction is superficial and one way.
What can you do—for me? What sign can you give—to me? What food can you provide—for me? What political benefit can you bring—for me? Then I might…do something in return.

What God requires is this, said Jesus, ‘to believe in (to have faith in) the one he has sent.’

We live so much of our lives, desperately trying to remain in control of everything and everyone. But we can’t. It’s such a struggle—and it’s exhausting!

So the patient, gentle, gracious teacher leads us on again, saying, ‘Don’t fixate on Moses. It’s not him who provided bread from heaven.

The bread of God is all about the one who comes from heaven and gives us LIFE—life free from worry; life free from needing to be in control; life free from seeking fleeting pleasures that leave us empty all over again; life free from endless guilt; life which gives you and me purpose and meaning; life which nourishes us every day; life which infects and affects and could, literally, feed the world if we shared this heavenly gift with those around us.

When the crowd finally get the point, when the penny drops, they ask, ‘From now on, give us this bread.’

And Jesus then fully reveals. ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

I have sometimes heard people use the phrase, ‘Let go—and let God.’ Let go of all your stuff, of trying to be in control—and let the God of grace and love into your life. Be nourished by him.

Is that you today? Whether you’ve been a church member for many years, or whether you are still working out the questions of life and faith, can I invite you today, now, to ‘let go, and let Jesus in, Jesus who will love you, nourish you and fill you.

And I end with a call and a challenge to our church of St Matthews Bristol. I am thankful for so much good and loving service which goes on day by day in our communities. But there are still too many men, women and children in the streets of our city who literally go without bread. Let’s open our lives freshly the one God has sent, Jesus Christ. Be moved by His Holy Spirit, to share his love and compassion for the world, and seek new ways which make a practical difference, and help nourish this city with the Jesus, the bread of life.

Rev Ian Tomkins.

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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