John 6:35-40 CEB
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I told you that you have seen me and still don’t believe. Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and I won’t send away anyone who comes to me. 38 I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of the one who sent me, that I won’t lose anything he has given me, but I will raise it up at the last day. This is my Father’s will: that all who see the Son and believe in him will have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
There is something about Jesus that feeds us in a way that nothing else has been able to do. Many throughout the ages like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Bach, and even our hymn today have been drawn to capture Christ’s image and compose music glorifying him. What is it that has drawn them to a man who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 NRSV)? Even in his own time, all Jesus had to do was call out to strangers, and everyone from fishermen to tax collectors dropped everything to come and follow him. It is true of us today, here we are a collection of people that come from many walks of life and even different places, and yet, Jesus continues to draw all of us, yes, our beautiful savior draws us here and invites us to follow. How else could he have drawn us other than because he is real? I don’t mean that he existed, but that he was a real person whose life, words, and actions feed us in a way that nothing else has been able to.
Jesus tells us he is bread, and back in the ancient world, bread was a big deal. Did you know that you could go to jail for bad bread? It was not just a food to folks, but the staple of almost everyone’s diet. Not having enough of it could lead to populaces overthrowing the most powerful of rulers. Bread is life, and we have Jesus in John’s Gospel calling himself the bread of life, telling the crowds that “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” Big words to give to people who may not know where their next meal might be coming from, who worry about having enough, to the point that Jesus instructs them to even pray for “[their] daily bread” (Matthew 6:11 NRSV). Bread sustains and Jesus tells the crowds to come to have this bread that will sustain them to everlasting life. A lot to ask of ordinary bread.
After all, at first glance, that is how Jesus appears, rather ordinary. Setting aside that we know he is the Son of God, take a look at his life. Born as a carpenter’s son, a Jew on the edges of the Roman Empire, and a guy without any claims to wealth or prestige back in his day and age. Many have looked at the words from Isaiah that I quoted earlier as a prophecy about Jesus, that not only did he have an ordinary life but also looked ordinary. As Isaiah points out, he has “no form or majesty that we should look at him” (Isaiah 53:2). I don’t think Isaiah is trying to say Jesus was ugly, but it certainly describes someone as plain looking as any ordinary loaf of bread.
At the same time, there is something about this bread, this person, that causes us to follow, to want to feast on his presence. Our hymn today, “Fairest Lord Jesus,” praises Jesus, saying that our Savior “surpasses the beauty of the woodlands in spring, [and] who shines brighter than the light of the sun, moon, and stars.” I find this idea of beauty fascinating, as it is not Jesus’ looks that make him beautiful. As certainly many have sought to capture Christ’s image precisely at its most humiliating and painful, the crucified Jesus. I think it all goes back to a very Jewish idea of beauty, that someone is beautiful when they are fully who God made them to be. Where then could you ever get someone or even something more beautiful than Jesus, fully “Son of God and Son of Man.” Who better to bridge the two from the cross? Who better to bridge humanity to God, to give himself to be our soul’s “glory, joy, and crown” ? Jesus meets our need.
Going back a few verses from where we start in John this morning, Jesus has an interesting interaction with the crowd, where he first tells them that they are following him “‘not because [they] saw miraculous signs but because [they] ate all the food [they] wanted’” (John 6:26 CEB). People don’t necessarily need miraculous signs but they do need to be fed, to get those basic hungers filled. Jesus invites them to look deeper, to see that they have an even more basic hunger that has yet to be met, as he says, “‘Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life’” (John 6:27 CEB). The crowd asks him what they should do, and Jesus tells them to believe in him. They then ask what sign he will perform to show them “‘that we can see and believe you’” (John 6:30 CEB). They recall the sign that Moses gave, of manna (of bread) coming down from the heavens. Jesus tells them, “‘I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’” (John 6:32-33 CEB). The crowd tells Jesus that they would love to have this bread all the time, and that is when we pick up the story this morning and Jesus tells them that he is the bread of life.
Jesus picked up that they had a need, and miracles alone didn’t fill that need. In fact, back in those days, there were tons of would-be messiahs and miracle workers wandering the world. Performing miracles signs was the basic price of admission for anyone to even bother listening to you. What folks were really hungry for was something ordinary, something simple, something like bread. It was what kept them alive after all, and it wasn’t always in supply! Jesus tells them that the sign he will give is to satisfy their deepest need, to be made full in their hearts and souls. You see, I truly believe that we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. We fill it with all kinds of things, not just us Christians, but everyone tries to fill it with whatever they can, however, nothing less than God will fill it completely. Jesus offers that fullness to us.
As I said before, you could get in trouble for bad bread, so how did you prove you had good bread? Simple, it was often stamped by authorities who verified that its quality. Their mark was visible on the outside of the loaf. Here we have a Savior who stamped his bread with his life, his words, and his actions. He stamped it with the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection. He verified for us time and time again that this bread of heaven, this bread of life, that he offers is good bread. In fact, it is not just good bread, it is the best bread that fills you permanently with good things! It is the kind of bread that once you get a taste, you will keep coming back for another bite. It turns out this simple bread is the most beautiful of all. Jesus invites us to come to eat, to follow him, to see his beauty because, in it, we taste the beauty of God. The stamp is there for all to see, as those many artists show us the stamp of our beautiful savior, even there upon the cross. Our Jesus, our Christ, feeds us well and is the fairest of all, so let us follow and praise him all of our days. Amen.
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Pastor Paul Grossman