READ : John 6:32-35
So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
John 6:30-35 rsv
The miracles of Jesus got people thinking, especially the one in which He fed the multitudes. It was a common belief among the Jews that the Messiah, when He came, would give manna from heaven once again just as God had done for their ancestors in the wilderness. Was the provision of all this food, with baskets full left over, a preview of something even grander? Would this generation once again eat what was called the “bread of angels”?
A SPECIAL FOOD
That wondering was in the background of this conversation Jesus had with some of His contemporaries. Listen. I’m reading from John, chapter 6, verse 30:
So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
The manna, you remember, was first given in the wilderness, in the second month after the Israelites had left Egypt. They had been murmuring about their lack of food. The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you” (Exod. 16:4). Here’s how it happened as described in the book of Exodus, “In the morning dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, `What is it?’ [That’s really how this food got its name. Manna means “what is it?”] For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat” (Exod. 16:13-15).
Here’s a further description of the manna in the Old Testament: “It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exod. 16:31). Sounds good, doesn’t it? In another place, it was said to taste like “cakes mixed with oil” (Lev. 17:12). These are vivid memories passed down through the generations of a food God provided for His people over a period of forty years.
It was natural for those in Jesus’ time to draw comparisons between this and what Jesus was doing. But there were significant differences. Jesus had fed the multitude on one or two occasions, but the manna had continued for four decades. Jesus served five thousand, but the manna sustained a whole nation. Jesus gave what tasted like ordinary bread, but the manna was a food from heaven, the like of which no one had tasted before.
Maybe it was this idea of a perpetual supply that had piqued the curiosity of the crowd. Could Jesus manage something like that? Could He match what Moses had done in the wilderness?
In response, Jesus had two things to say about the manna. First, He pointed out that Moses was not responsible for it. Great leader though he was, this man did not feed the nation. God did. The manna was manifestly a gift from heaven, not from a human leader.
Secondly, this manna, although it was an extraordinary provision, was not the true bread from heaven, according to Jesus. Manna was heaven-sent. It was a timely, miraculous provision. But it pointed beyond itself to something greater. It was an earthly, material sign, said Jesus, of the true, heavenly bread.
THE TRUE BREAD
Well, about this heavenly bread, we could ask the “manna” question, “What is it?” Jesus says, “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” They were listening intently now. What was Jesus saying? Wasn’t the manna also something that came down from heaven? Didn’t it give life to God’s people in the world? If they had been listening carefully, they would have understood that Jesus wasn’t speaking now of something coming down but someone. This wasn’t a substance but a person. The real bread, the true sustenance toward which the manna had pointed long ago, was a heaven-sent Savior come down to earth. And the life which the manna had sustained in the wilderness, physical vitality, was a pointer to the true life which this person would give. It would be not for Israel only but for the whole world.
The crowd didn’t understand fully what He was saying, but the plan sounded good to them: someone coming down from God to provide heaven’s life. Who wouldn’t want that? “Lord,” they said, “give us this bread always.”
They sounded here like that Samaritan woman by the well. Remember when Jesus talked to her about the living water and she said, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (John 4:15). In other words, if You have it to offer, please give it to me from now on. In both cases, the words of Jesus had awakened longing and hope.
Don’t we all crave the satisfaction toward which earthly goods seem to point us? The fullness they bring, the joy they offer is so transient, isn’t it? The hungers and thirsts keep coming back. Satisfying them becomes a continuing concern all through life.
When Lee De Young and I visited Albania last year, we met a young man named Bledi Hodobashi, who heard the first Christian broadcast Words of HOPE sent into Albania some five years ago. Bledi was a sixteen-year-old in what was then a fiercely communist land. When he heard the broadcast, he snorted, “Religion! I don’t need religion. My life is music!” But he kept listening. As the months went by, he realized, as he said, that music didn’t “fill him up.” That’s the problem, isn’t it, with all the satisfactions of this present world? They don’t fill us up. And when we hear about something that will, that may, everything in us cries out, “Lord, give me this bread, always.”
This was apparently the request Jesus had been waiting for. Everything He said and did was designed to awaken this kind of hunger in the hearts of people. Do we really want this heavenly nourishment? Then it can be ours. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
Jesus Himself, you see, is the One who has come down from heaven. He is the everlasting Word of God made flesh. He is the Son of the Father, tenting now among us. He’s the Lord of glory visiting His people. Jesus is the one prefigured in the manna, coming down from heaven to give life to the whole world.
I love that image, don’t you, the “bread of life”? Jesus is not merely an appetizer, preparing us for something more substantial. He’s not the dessert of life, either, topping off an otherwise full existence. No, He’s the bread, the staple, the steady diet. He’s what everyone most needs.
People have to realize what they’re asking for when they say, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus is willing to do that, longs to do that. It’s for that He came. But He cannot give the true bread by spreading it on the ground or storing it up in vessels. He is that bread. He cannot make it ours without giving Himself. What people need most is not refreshment but a relationship, not a meal but a Master.
HOW WE ARE SATISFIED
How can we have Him? How can we partake of heaven’s bread? Jesus says, “He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” The first image here is “coming,” moving in Jesus’ direction, responding to His call. As His first disciples did, we need to get up from where we are, leave what we’re doing, and start out toward Him. In other words, we need to seek for this satisfaction, this true life, in companionship with Jesus.
Coming, according to Jesus, means also “believing,” relying upon Jesus’ word, counting on Him to be faithful. It means entrusting ourselves to His lordship, believing that He will be to us all that He says He will.
The word for “believe” in Jesus’ language means literally “to establish oneself upon.” The image here is of a world in flux and change, nothing stable, nothing secure. In the midst of all that, God stands as the rock, the One who is always there, always dependable. Those who rest all their weight on Him are secure. They are established. They stand firm.
Jesus is calling us to that kind of trust. He wants us to rely on Him, to rest all our weight on Him, to make Him our source of security.
And what will happen to those who come to Him and believe in Him? Jesus says they “shall not hunger.” They shall “never thirst.” He promises to do for people what the manna or the loaves could never do. He offers a refreshment beyond what any well or fountain can provide. He gives lasting satisfaction.
Does that mean that once you come to Jesus, all desire and longing will be extinguished? No, those who taste of the true bread seem to want more and more of it. They long to drink ever more deeply at the fountain. They experience a kind of “unsatisfied satisfaction,” filled up, yet longing for more of the same. Jesus means that once you come to this Person, once you believe in this Savior, once you partake of this living bread, you won’t look for your satisfaction and happiness anywhere else.
That’s what Bledi Hodobashi discovered. Listening to those Albanian language radio broadcasts booming in from Trans World Radio facilities in France, he heard the name of Jesus for the first time. Imagine that! He became a believer. He discovered that what music could not do to “fill him up,” Jesus could. And, when Albania finally became a democratic state last year, Bledi began to use his musical talents in the service of the Lord. He’s one of the worship leaders for a congregation of believers in Albanian’s capital city, Tirana. He’s found the satisfaction that lasts.
Bledi still loves music, just as all of us have our favorite avocations, chief hobbies, special joys. But we all learn, sooner or later, as he did, that what they give is fleeting and limited. We keep looking for something else: another game, another thrill, another place, another relationship. Maybe that will fill us up, we think. But strangely, it doesn’t. Jesus does.
The Lord took something of a risk when He made a promise like this one. People could obviously test it to see if it was true. And, if they found themselves unsatisfied, if their hearts were still restless and unfulfilled, then they could say, “See, it didn’t work out. Jesus isn’t what He claimed to be.”
But, you know, I’ve lived a long time and met a host of people, but I’ve never discovered anyone who said that. I’ve certainly met people disillusioned with the church, lots of those. I’ve met others disappointed with Christians they knew and perhaps had been wronged by. I’ve known people who gave up on Christian morality at some point or seemed to jettison beliefs they once held. But I’ve not met anyone who had come to Jesus, believed in Him, surrendered to Him, been gripped by His love and then said, “Jesus didn’t measure up.”
I can remember the early days of Billy Graham’s remarkable evangelistic ministry. He was about to hold his first crusade in the U.K., and there was some talk that the Britishers might not think very highly of him. His wife Ruth “pooh poohed” all that. “I can’t imagine anyone,” she said, “being disappointed with Billy.”
Well, that was the word of a loyal, loving wife. In most instances, I believe it has proved true. Dr. Graham’s ministry has had for five decades the ring of truth. If people go to his crusades, hungry to hear the authentic word of the gospel, they aren’t disappointed.
But even if they had been (and all of us human messengers have our inconsistencies, our feet of clay), if we preachers can but lead others toward Jesus, to partake of the bread of life, we can be a thousand times more sure that they won’t be disappointed in Him. We can say, I can say, with the deepest, fullest confidence to you, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
Prayer: Lord, let everyone sharing this program come to You and believe in You and find You to be the bread of life. Amen.