By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 8, 2021
John 6:35, 41–51 (ESV)
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Today I want to invite you on an adventure, because that is what real bible study is. When we study anything, when we deepen our knowledge on any subject, we are exploring, and exploration is an adventure. It opens our eyes and our minds to mysteries yet to be known. When we explore those mysteries, we learn something. We learn that there is always more to know.
If you have ever spent any time with a toddler, you will quickly find that they tend to be information sponges. They seek out knowledge and they are processing the information so quickly that adults will force them to take a nap. We have some toddlers in our Meeting, and I am sure the parents have answered thousands of questions over the course of this week, they may have had close to a thousand just this morning. If there was a motto for a toddler in pretty much every cultural context, that motto would be a single word, “Why?”
Have we ever wondered why that question is so important? Why do children constantly ask that question? Why?
It deals with their development. They are attempting to find who they are in relation to everything else around them. When we as parents, as grandparents, as friends of the family take the time to explore with these children, we are given the privilege to watch their personalities grow.
We were born with this curiosity. We were born with this desire to know, be known, and to find where we fit in the world around us. Every child asks why? And our answer to that question can have deep and lasting impacts on who they will become.
The most interesting thing is as we grow, we still ask those questions. We still seek answers. We are still searching for our place in the world around us. This never really stops, but at times we silence that desire. At times we tell ourselves to shut up and know our place. We develop this over the course of time as well. We have asked too many questions and annoyed our parents, so we stop asking because we do not want to get into trouble. Our teachers have become annoyed with the questions, so we stop asking. Maybe our peers who have been silence in their own homes as children, are threatened by your continued pursuit of knowledge so they bully and seek to silence the curiosity within you. We are silenced because those around us have stopped, they have had their curiosity quelched. But that desire is still deep in our souls. We still want to know. We still wonder. We get little glimpses of this when an unexpected package comes in the mail.
Imagine a large yellow envelope with the special bubble cushioning inside. We look at the address and we see the name. We place it on the table and we look at it. What is the first thing that comes to your mind? What is inside? What did I order? What did my spouse order? We have these questions going through our mind as we look at the package? This is that sense of curiosity in our nature. What do we want to do? Open it!
And once you open it, well we probably are not as excited because we quickly remember what we ordered. But occasionally the anticipation is met with even more excitement. On May 4th, I received one of these mysterious yellow envelopes and it had my name on it. I did not order anything. I did not know why the return address was from my insurance agent. What could I possibly be receiving from this guy that would require this type of envelope? I looked at that envelope wondering what could possibly be inside, so I opened it. Every year my insurance agent sends a cookie to his clients, I did not know this at the time, so when I opened that package, I was excited when my curiosity was greeted with a cookie.
That is a tasty example of the rewards of curiosity. I must admit that the path of curiosity does not always end so well. When we explore the mysteries around us, we do gain something, knowledge, and wisdom. God told Solomon that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I have always found that statement curious. And have decided that when we pursue wisdom and knowledge, while staying focused on God it will deepen our faith as well as our understanding of the world God created.
Today I want us to go on an adventure. I want us to be curious about scripture. I want us to ask questions and seek answers. I want us to become like a toddler trying to understand the world around us, because that is what we are when it comes to our understand in relation to the wisdom of God. I have degrees, pieces of paper, that basically tell me all I am a child with a lot of questions.
Today we begin with the verse we ended with last week. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus said these words to a group of people that had recently experienced one of the most remarkable things recorded in scripture. Jesus had taught a multitude of individuals late into the day. It was recorded that there were five thousand men. They did not even count the number of women and children included in the group but it is estimated that there could have been over ten thousand people present. And Jesus told the disciples to feed them. We have heard the story many times, the disciples did not even know where to begin, but they found a young boy with a basket of five loaves and two fish. Jesus took the loaves and thanked God for the food and had the disciples distribute the pieces that he broke off. We are told that everyone ate their fill, meaning their hunger was completely satisfied, and the disciples gathered twelve baskets of left-over food.
This crowd of people were amazed and rightfully so. Jesus had satisfied their hunger. They had eaten their fill and they did not have to labor for it. This raised questions in their mind, because it reminded them of the stories they had heard since their childhood. Their ancestors while wondering in the wilderness were given manna from heaven to satisfy their hunger. I love the word manna, it literally means “What is it?”. How many of us have asked that question when we have come to the table? It is a question I often asked when I ate at my grandma’s house because she had this habit of putting things like zucchini in everything. The tribes of Israel wondered through the desert eating “What is it”. And somehow whatever it was kept them going.
What is it? The people of Israel took whatever it was and they made it into bread. We still do not know exactly what it is, but its properties resemble the properties of grain flour. Whatever it was, they knew how to prepare it because bread has been a staple of human diets from the dawn of civilization. Bread is the word used for the most basic form of solid food in several ancient languages. Even words like meat, fish and cow in some ancient languages are derived from the word for bread. Bread is that substance that allows for and maintains life.
The importance of bread to ancient middle eastern cultures is deep. Wages were often paid in bread instead of currency so having an abundance of bread, or not having to worry about what you would eat became sign of wealth. If someone had an abundance of bread, they could then trade bread for other goods or services, which means bread became the foundation of economics. This economy of bread then became a symbol of life and blessing, and the lack of bread became a symbol of divine displeasure. The connection of life, blessing and the attention of the deities lead to many religious practices to develop around bread. This is even present in the practices of ancient Israel.
Jesus said to those people that followed him across the sea, that they sought after him because they ate the bread, not because they had faith. All this cultic devotion to bread and Jesus said they are only there because they ate, not because they believed. They followed what gave them temporary satisfaction, with the hope that more could follow. They were not seeking God but easing the pangs of hunger. Once hunger was no longer part of the equation, they then turn their attention to other things. Just as the children of Israel did in the wilderness.
They grumbled. They grumbled because they perceived an injustice. Every day God provided the nation with manna from heaven, yet they grumbled. They would not starve, but they perceived that God was not good enough because they only had manna and not meat. This grumbling grew and became so intense that they threatened the life of Moses and began to yearn for a life of bondage again in Egypt, where they had meat on occasion. Their basic needs were given to them, but they grumbled because of the perception of having more elsewhere. This discontent is deeply rooting in our human condition. Our perceptions can be skewed and we begin to become envious of others. They saw that Egypt had more so in the minds of the grumbling Israelites the Egyptian gods were more powerful. They were being led away from God by the desires of their hearts, or in this case their stomachs. The Hebrew people grumbled when talking to Jesus as well. If he can feed us, he should, Moses did.
The people of Israel continued to follow Moses, after God saved his life. But there was a cost to this grumbling. The generation that grumbled, the generation that was distracted with the envy of other were not allowed into the land of promise. The only ones that entered that land were the ones that knew only the goodness of God. That generation began looking at the food that they had received as being something more than just bread. The bread they were given was life. It was the symbolic representation of God’s word and wisdom. Manna moved from what is it, to logos or the word. Bread to the children of the promise became something that connected them with God and to eat it became an act of worship. This line of thinking moved on into the land and remained with bread even after the manna was no longer falling from the skies.
What is bread? It is that substance that sustains life, but it is more. Bread is the conduit of God’s wisdom and blessing. It is God that provides the necessities of life and the Hebrew people acknowledged this by beginning the meal by thanking God for the bread. Even Jesus participated in this practice by thanking God while he broke the bread that would eventually feed a multitude. This thanksgiving and blessing move the purpose of bread away from just sustaining life, to a conversation. That which sustains life should also enrich life and be shared with others.
It is this conduit of God’s wisdom that we should focus on today. This is what the people were grumbling about when Jesus said that he is the Bread come down for Heaven. He is telling him that he is the manna, he is the embodiment or incarnation of God’s holy wisdom. He is God. He is calling us to himself. He is offering to us that substance that sustains life and provides the means to move forward, wisdom. Like Nicodemus and the concept of being born from above, or again, the people do not understand and wonder how can this be? We know Jesus’s father and mother, how can he come down from heaven? How can he offer this wisdom? How can he?
The mysteries of God are great. We will never know them fully. But that limitation should not cause us to stop exploring. I have spent hours studying something I thought I knew. I grew up on a farm. I was raised understanding where the food we eat comes from. I participated in that first step of the process. I planted the seeds, that became the grain, that became the flour, that ultimately became the bread that is shared. But even a dirt farmer can learn more about bread.
I read about different cultures and processes. I learned about the economics of bread and why certain breads were common in certain areas and not others. I learned about bread. Then I looked at the offerings at the temple. There was bread offered on the altar and bread that was place on a table that stood before the veil. Bread is involved in worship. Then I continued to look deeper. I began to read about the various sacrifices and offerings that took place at the temple, and came to a sacrifice called the peace offering, in Leviticus 7:11-18. This is a special offering because in this type of offering the one bringing the offering participates in it. Most offering are either burnt on the altar, or consumed by the priests, but the peace offering is shared with God and the worshiper. This offering begins with loaves of bread, one of which is offered to God. Then a perfect animal from the herd is ritualistically slaughtered. The blood and fat of this animal is thrown on the altar with the bread. And then the remaining bread and meat is to be consumed. The remaining meat and bread are given back to the worshiper to be eaten in whatever manner they wish to eat it. This offering of peace is to be shared, eaten not wasted. And if you cannot finish the meat that day, you can continue to eat it on the second day, but on the third day what remains is to be burned.
Jesus says, “I am the bread that has come down from heaven.” I am the substance that sustains life as well as the wisdom to move life forward. But he is more, he is the flesh offered as a sacrifice, he shares life with us even unto death and on the third day raises to life from the grave. He is the peace offering, the conduit through which God and mankind is again joined. And that is an offering that should, no must be shared. It is a joyous communion restoring that relationship that was once lost and giving us a glimpse of what will be. God with us.
The problem is we have reduced bread. We no longer regard it in the right context. Bread is just bread. It is merely the vehicle we use to eat a hamburger without getting our fingers messy. And in our low carb and gluten free culture, bread is not even considered the staple of life. But bread is so much more. It is the peace offering that God offers to us. It is God calling us back to him. It is a meal to be shared to deepen and to make friendships. Every meal we eat is an opportunity to celebrate life together, and a to testify to the power of Christ who overcame death to restore life. Every meal we eat should be eaten with others so that through the shared bread of peace, the kingdom of God can be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.
I want us to go on a journey today. I want us to discover and rediscover the things that bring meaning to our lives. I want us to see that of God in ourselves, so that we can encourage that in others. I want us to experience the fullness and wonders of God’s mercy and grace that has been given to us through Christ. Which is available to us if we entrust all we have and believe that he truly is the giver and preserver of life.
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