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I Am the Bread of Life

August 1, 2021

Social commentator Gregg Easterbrook wrote a book a few years ago called The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better while People Feel Worse. In it he shows the many ways quality of life has improved dramatically over the last hundred or so years for the vast majority of people … everything from the comfort and size of our homes, Increased access to health care, ability to fight diseases and ease comfort. Improved work conditions, overall decrease in work hours, rise in leisure opportunities, more disposable income, etc.

He writes, that most Americans enjoy a quality of life that would have been unimaginable for even the wealthiest Americans two hundred years ago … yet despite this progress, happiness hasn’t risen in tandem. In fact Easterbrook shows that clinical depression “has been rising in eerie synchronization with rising prosperity”, rising at roughly 10 times the diagnosed cases from a half century ago.

And so the question becomes, why is it that no matter how much we have, no matter how good we have it, we struggle to feel truly satisfied? What’s that all about anyway?

Maybe some of it is tied to that old adage that “comparison is the thief of joy” and that we end up comparing what we have against what others have, and even more comparing what we have against the abundance of what everyone else has right here right now, rather than say fifty or a hundred years ago.

That might be one explanation. But yet, maybe it’s deeper than that too. Maybe we’re looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places, looking for satisfaction in things that could never really deliver in the first place.

I was reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote that Graham Smith shared during Susy McCall’s Memorial Service a couple weeks ago, where Lewis says,

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

It’s a provocative and beautiful statement. If in fact we long for more, maybe, just maybe, it’s because you and I were made for more.

And it’s with that backdrop in place, that I share with you Jesus’s words from long ago,

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Just as bread and food itself satisfies and strengthens our bodies, so too does Jesus satisfy and strengthen our hearts and souls. That just as bread gives us physical nourishment, so too does Jesus give us spiritual nourishment by satisfying the deepest longings of our souls.

A few weeks ago we started a sermon series on the “I am” statements of Jesus, as we study how Jesus described himself to his disciples and crowds so many years ago. So far we’ve reflected on Jesus saying, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Light of the World, and today we look at another of the famous I am statements, Jesus says, I am the bread of life.

Now, In order for us to understand the significance and power behind today’s I AM statement, we’ve got to remember the key event that immediately preceded it, the miraculous event that that was the focus of our children’s message today and that Jesus alludes to himself. Of course, I’m talking about the feeding of the 5,000.

Not long before our scripture today, Jesus was with the crowds in the middle of nowhere, teaching and preaching, and the disciples notice that their just about out of food, and they ask Jesus to send the crowd home so that they can eat and not starve. And instead, Jesus asks that they cobble together what they have, 5 loaves and 2 fish, and then multiplies it like crazy, so that there’s enough food for all 5,000 people and then some. And the crowds ate until they were satisfied, with bellies full of food. And what do you know, the crowds like this, they think this Jesus guy is pretty, pretty great. Yet, there’s just one slight problem. They are going to get hungry again and they are at some point going to need more food.

And this is where we pick up our story for today:

25 When they [the crowds] found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

Jesus essentially says, you are looking for me, you are following me not because of what this sign and miracle says about who I am, but instead because you ate your fill of the loaves and are hungry again and are looking for more from wherever that came from. In other words, they don’t so much want Jesus for Jesus himself, but rather what Jesus can give to them and do for them. They simply want more food.

After all, the idea of God miraculously providing food for his people wasn’t unheard of. They’ve heard of God providing food like this before, where many years before, the people’s ancestors, were given manna, this bread like substance each and every day that sustained them as they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, as they made their way to the Promised Land. The crowds even recall this moment in their people’s history where God provided for his people in miraculous ways and the crowds are beginning to wonder this is kind of like that. And so they’re probably wondering if what Jesus is offering here is simply Manna 2.0.

And yet Jesus wants the crowds to see that he can offer them a whole lot more than loaves of bread and food itself. He says to them,

33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

The crowds, still thinking that Jesus is talking about literal and edible bread and food, are thinking, this sounds great, sign me up. Jesus is offering them food that does not perish, but endures for eternal life, some kind of miracle food, some kind of wonder bread. 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

And this is where Jesus really turns the tables on them. This is where the penny drops for all those listening.

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I’m it. I’m what you’re truly looking for. I’m what you really need. I’m the one who truly satisfies and nourishes. That just as bread gives us physical nourishment, so too does Jesus give us spiritual nourishment by satisfying the deepest longings of our souls, by not only giving us hope and meaning and strength in this present life, but also through the assurance of eternal life as well.

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man [Jesus] will give you.

Through relationship and connection to Jesus himself, Jesus is offering us real and true and deep satisfaction.

As for how we get it, and find this kind of food and satisfaction and nourishment ourselves, well it’s a question the crowds asked of Jesus as well, when they said, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Jesus replied by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent.” That is, if we believe and trust in Jesus, this bread of life, sent by God the Father himself, we will experience this deeper satisfaction and fulfillment that only Jesus can bring.

So friends, with that in mind, I want to share with you a couple brief reflections and applications, a couple things I’ve been thinking about as it pertains to Jesus, the bread of life and how we can live out our belief and trust in him.

Here’s the first. I’ve been thinking recently about the value and importance of spiritual training in relationship to physical training. In other words, the priority that we give to growing and maintaining spiritual health through things like bible reading and prayer and Christian community in relationship to growing and maintaining our physical health and through things such as diet and exercise.

I know many of us devote a lot of time and attention and energy towards our physical health and wellbeing, and rightfully so, that’s a good and biblical thing to do as we steward and care for the bodies that the Lord has given us.

But yet, I wonder if sometimes if the time and energy we devote to our physical health rather than spiritual health actually reveal that our priorities are upside down or inside out. I know sometimes I’ll devote an hour or two to a run or a hike and yet it doesn’t occur to me that I could be devoting that same time towards bible reading and prayer.

And yes, Iet’s also acknowledge that the two aren’t mutually exclusive and that yes, you can pray while you run or walk, things like that.

Yet when the schedule gets tight, what’s more likely to get cut, time devoted to your physical health or spiritual health?

In Paul’s letter to his young protégé and disciple Timothy, he writes this …

Train yourself in godliness, 8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Physical training has value now, but yet spiritual training, growing in godliness has value both now and for eternity. Or as Jesus says, 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,

That’s one reflection, here’s a second. If Jesus is the bread of life, then it might be helpful to think of Sunday Worship as a meal, or maybe even, a family dinner. I say that in part because worship, when done well, when centered on Jesus and scripture and focused on the right things, should nourish and satisfy and feed our souls, just like food does for our body.

But I also make this connection to make an additional point. And that is to highlight that the meals we eat are often unremarkable, and forgettable, and that’s okay.

For example, if I were to ask you what you had for dinner three Thursdays ago, my guess is you’d have no clue. Shoot, if I were to ask you what you had for dinner last Thursday, you might not remember that either. But yet, just because you don’t remember it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t important or wasn’t worth eating. It still gave you strength and nourishment and got you to your next meal.

Worship, in many ways, is similar. It may sometimes be unremarkable. You may not remember the scripture that was preached two weeks ago or the hymns that we sang, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important or wasn’t worth it. Lord willing, God used it to guide and strength and encourage and nourish you until that next Sunday, until that next time of worship.

Sometimes I worry we over sensationalize worship, we think It needs to have that “wow” factor, that it’s really got to move us. And that’s not a bad thing to want. But sometimes, like food, it’s just got to sustain us until we eat or meet again, and in fact, the real power and value in worship comes not from it’s “wow” factor, but more so from our consistency, eat meal after meal, worshipping Sunday after Sunday.

So there you go, a couple brief reflections and applications. Physical training, spiritual training and worship as a meal.

I’ll finish with this, I was trying to rack my brain of an example of someone either in scripture or in our world today who truly lived and believed and understood what it meant for Jesus to be the bread of life. And then I remembered the Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4.

As Paul wrote that letter, he was in prison, all of his creature comforts had been stripped away, I’m sure he was hungry and thirsty and in plenty of need. And here’s what he writes:

12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

What’s his secret? Well, I think he gets it, that he knows that Jesus is the bread of life. Whoever comes to him will never be hungry, and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty.

Maybe you’re in a season where you know what it is to have plenty. Life is good, you have more than enough, all the things that were lost or disrupted in midst of the pandemic have returned. You’ve got plenty. And yet, maybe like the progress paradox, maybe you’re still not satisfied, you’re restless, looking and hoping for more.

Maybe you’re in a season where you know what it is to be in need. Maybe times are tough, the schedule is packed, finances are tight, maybe you’re in agriculture and confronted with difficult realities that have been forced upon you in midst of this drought and shortage of water. Maybe you could use some deeper satisfaction and strength, one that’s eternal, and not contingent upon material goods or items or your bank accounts.

Whether you’re in a season of plenty or a season of need, may we have and know what Paul calls “the secret.” Where Jesus, the bread of life, is all we need.

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