THE BREAD OF LIFE – John 6:48-50

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INTRODUCTION:

There are many foods in this world of ours that are available only to a few people because of their cost or because of their scarcity or seasonal nature.  But bread is the universal food of mankind.  It is found on every table – rich or poor, king or peasant.  Whether it is made of wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice, or some other grain, it is bread, the cheapest and most nourishing food.  Bread represents all the elements needed to sustain life.  Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, gives the following description.  “Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water, usually by baking.  Throughout recorded history it has been popular around the world and is one of the oldest artificial foods, having been of importance since the dawn of agriculture.”

Here in John’s gospel, Jesus has been described in terms of the basics of physical life.  He is called “light” in chapter 1, and describes Himself to Nicodemus, in chapter 3, as the “light that has come into the world.”  Jesus also describes the work of the Spirit of God by using the wind, the movement of air, as an illustration of spiritual birth.  When speaking to the woman at the well, in chapter 4, Jesus identifies Himself to her as the Source of “living water”, and now He is referring to Himself as the “bread of life”.   Putting those descriptions together, we have the basics for sustaining physical life in human beings:  light, air, water, and bread.  His purpose for all these illustrations is to transition from “physical basics” to “spiritual basics”, and so far He has been very successful in doing so.  There is more to be said about bread.  In this passage of Scripture we’re going to see how this information about Himself is received by this small crowd of people who crossed the Sea of Galilee in boats that morning, and found Jesus and His disciples in Capernaum.

I.  JESUS RESTATES HIS CLAIM (verse 48)

Verse 48 contains these words of Jesus:  “I am the bread of life”.  He just said those very same words to them several minutes earlier in verse 35.  I think there is more to His words than just repetition for the sake of remembrance.  In Matthew’s gospel we find that Jesus spent quite a bit of time in the synagogues of the Jews.  It was His practice to visit the synagogues in Galilee when He was in that region.  Matthew 4:23 says, “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues . . . “.  Since a small portion of the 5000 crossed the Sea of Galilee in the early morning and found Jesus and His disciples, I personally think that Jesus was on His way to the synagogue in Capernaum when they joined Him, and Jesus spoke to them about the bread of life while they were walking into town.  As they approached the synagogue, bystanders along the way may have joined the crowd, and they followed Jesus into the synagogue.  Inside there were more people, gathered for the time of instruction.  I think Jesus may be repeating His earlier statements for the sake of the people in the synagogue, who were watching them enter the building and were, no doubt, curious about what they were discussing.  This may not be the first time that Jesus taught in their synagogue.  John 6:59 confirms this.  It reads, “These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.”

I’m sure they all wondered what Jesus meant when he walked into the synagogue, waited for everyone to sit down and listen to Him speak, and then said those words, “I am the bread of life.”  Jesus was saying that in Him are all the elements for a healthy, growing spiritual life.  The famous missionary, Jonathan Goforth, had preached a series of messages in a chapel in southern China in the early 1900’s.  Afterward, a man asked to talk to him.  The man said, “I have heard you speak three times, and you always have the same theme.  You always speak of Jesus Christ.  Why?”  The missionary replied, “Sir, before answering your question, let me ask, ‘What did you have for dinner today?’ ”  “Rice”, replied the man.  “What did you have yesterday?”
“The same thing.”  “And what do you expect to eat tomorrow?”  “Rice, of course.  It gives me strength.  I could not do without it.  Sir, it is . . .”  (the man hesitated, as if looking for a strong word).  Then he added, “Sir, it is my life!”  The missionary responded quickly, “What you have said of rice, Jesus is to your soul.  He is the “rice” or “bread of life”.

There may yet be another reason why Jesus keeps repeating that He is the bread of life.  The Jews in Judea had grumbled saying that Jesus and His family were from Nazareth, and no prophet was supposed to come from Nazareth.  They didn’t ask Jesus where He was born and they didn’t do any research for themselves, or they would have learned that He was born in Bethlehem.  Did you know that the name “Bethlehem”  literally means “House of Bread”.  Jesus was speaking to them in Hebrew, and the word He was saying was “lehem”, the second half of the word “Bethlehem”.  He’s saying, “I am lehem” over and over again.  Wouldn’t you think that the town of Bethlehem might come to the minds of some of His listeners?  “I am ‘lehem’ from ‘Bethlehem’.”  “I am bread” from the “house of bread”.  I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility, and that’s a new insight for me.

II.  COMPARISON TO THE MANNA RESTATED (verses 49-50)

Once again, Jesus also compares Himself to the manna for the sake of all the people who are present, many of whom did not hear the first statement in verses 28-32.  But this time Jesus changes the wording slightly to emphasize a different perspective.  Earlier, in verses 28-31 the crowd asked Jesus to show them a sign as proof that He came from God.  Then they describe the kind of a sign they want Him to perform.  To paraphrase, they said,  “Give us a sign like the one Moses gave the people of Israel.  Send us manna from heaven to eat.”  The crowd wanted another free meal; only this time they wanted it catered from heaven!

The Lord Jesus responds to them by telling them about the long-lasting effects of the bread He has to offer them.  In verse 35, He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Jesus is speaking spiritually, but they are taking it literally.  They want this bread, just as the woman at the well, in John 4:15, wanted that “living water”!  He also states, in verse 33, that the bread He offers is not exclusive to the Jews, but inclusive of the whole world.  He “gives life to the world”.  So the bread Jesus offers in Himself is long-lasting and inclusive of all peoples without distinction.

A.  THE MANNA WAS PHYSICAL FOOD  (verse 49)

In verse 49, Jesus once again begins to compare Himself to the manna, but this time He emphasizes that He is the bread which will prevent death.  He says, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”  The manna sustained physical life but it didn’t prevent death.  All who ate the manna eventually died.  There would be no argument among the people listening to Him concerning that statement.  They were probably nodding their heads silently in agreement.  The Scriptures were clear that the manna was given to sustain the lives of their ancestors until they died, or until the next generation entered the promised land and could eat the fruit of that land.  However, the next sentence from the mouth of Jesus is going to raise some eyebrows and start the grumbling again!  This is especially so because He is now inside the synagogue where there are probably priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees among those who are listening to Him speak.  The crowd isn’t friendly anymore!

This is not the Sabbath day.  They apostle John is very diligent about letting his readers know when it is a Sabbath or a feast day of the Jews.  The previous Sabbath was just a couple of days earlier, when Jesus healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-17).  If it’s not the Sabbath, why would Jesus be going to the synagogue on a weekday?  This synagogue was a busy place during the week also.  It served as a community center, school, court, and place of study.  There was never a dull moment in the synagogues of that day.

B.  THE BREAD OF PERPETUAL LIFE (verse 50)

In verse 50, the Lord Jesus once again makes a comparison between the manna and the bread He has to offer them.  He says, “But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.”  So far, the crowd has been thinking that Jesus is talking about physical bread, so they are naturally going to deduce that He is talking about physical death.  Two people from the Scriptures must have immediately come to their minds.  Their names were Enoch and Elijah, and they are the only two people in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings who did not die.  (Genesis 5:22-24; II Kings 2:1-15).  It’s also obvious from the Scriptures that it wasn’t bread that kept these two men from dying.  What is Jesus talking about?  Why is He making such a claim?

To begin with, I think the Lord Jesus wants to bring the subject of death to their minds.  The children of Israel were given the manna in answer to their fear of starving.  Jesus is going to give them an answer to their fear of death.  It’s a subject about which there was a considerable difference of opinion among first-century Jews.  Each of those present in that synagogue had ideas they were taught as children, along with their own personal ideas about death and the after-life, referred to in Hebrew as the Olam Ha-Ba (the World To Come).

A cemetery in Indiana has a tombstone that is over a hundred years old, and it bears this epitaph:

Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passerby had read those words and scratched this reply below them:

To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.

The passerby was right.  The important thing about death is what follows.  Where are you going?

One sizable group of Hebrew people during the first century were the Sadducees.  They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.  One of my professors in Bible college said something that I’ve never forgotten.  We were studying the Gospels and he said, “The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead;  that’s why they’re ‘sad,you see’.”  If I didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead, I’d be sad too; wouldn’t you?

From what I’ve read about first-century Judaism, the greater focus of attention appears to be on the here and now, rather than on the there and then.  If you have a computer, you probably get notifications of updates that need to be installed.  Some of those updates take quite a bit of time to install.  Usually you are given the option of three buttons to choose from.  You can click “install now”, “set a time”, or “remind me later”.  If you’re like me, you don’t want to be bothered by the interruption and so you click the “remind me later” button.  I’ve been clicking that button several times over the past weeks, putting it off again and again.  I need to stop and let the developers of my operating system get the job done!  First-century Judaism probably wasn’t much different from our society today when it comes to the issue of death.  It wasn’t a subject that they liked to discuss, so they often ignored it or kept putting it off until later.  Evangelist Billy Graham made the following comment:  Much of the world pretends that death does not exist.  We like to speak of the dead as “departed”, or persons who have died as having “passed on” or “expired”.  We do not like the word “death”.  It seems so final, so irreversible, so hopeless.

Do the Old Testament scriptures talk about the death and the afterlife?  Yes, in many places.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others are spoken of as being “gathered to their people” after they died.  By contrast, the wicked were described as being “cut off from their people.”  Daniel 12:2 speaks of a conscious life after death in one of two places, and both are everlasting.  It never ends.  Many passages of Scripture use the word Sheol to refer to the place of the dead (in the Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Jonah, Isaiah, I Samuel, and others).  Add to that the teachings of the Rabbis that were collected as part of the Mishnah and Talmud.  In these writings it seems that each of the rabbis had a different teaching about the afterlife.  This added confusion to the minds of the people, and increased their fear of what’s in store for them beyond the grave.

With that background in mind concerning death and the afterlife, the people’s ears must have been tingling and their attention focused on the Lord Jesus after He said those words in verse 50:  “This is the bread which comes out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”  Everyone there was wondering, “What is He going to say next?”  “How can this be possible.”  I think Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us as well, a principle for sharing the Gospel message:  Sometimes, in order to awaken in people a desire for eternal life, you’ve got to put the fear of death into them!  By putting the fear of death into people, we may also be putting the fear of God into them:  “If there is a God, what’s He going to do to me when this life is over?”  “I’ve tried to be good, but so far I haven’t been very successful!”

CONCLUSION:

Is death a subject that you don’t like to think about or talk about?  Do you sometimes worry about your own death and what might await you on the other side?  Would you like to put an end to those worries and have a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life?  If so, please go to my sermon on John 1:12, entitled “What Does It Mean To Receive Christ”, and consider what God wants you to do, and what He gives you in exchange for your act of obedience and faith.  May you allow the Bread of Life to be the One who satisfies the deepest hunger of your soul, both now and for eternity.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Let’s feast on the Word of God, which describes for us the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life.

 

 

 

THE PRAGMATIST AND THE SKEPTIC – John 1:43-51

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The apostle John continues to give us a day-to-day description of the events that occurred during the early public ministry of Jesus Christ.  John 1:43 begins with the words “the next day”.  This is the third “next day” after John the Baptist’s interview with the priests and Levites.  Verses 29 to 51 could be called “John’s Daily News Updates”, and he reports details that aren’t recorded in the other Gospels.

I.  PHILIP THE PRAGMATIST (verses 43-45)

Here in verse 43 we read that Jesus “prepared to go forth into Galilee”.  He was headed for Galilee and He had a specific purpose in mind for making this trip.  When Jesus arrived in Galilee, He ‘found Philip”.  Jesus looked for Philip until He found him.  Philip’s name is Greek.  It means “lover of horses”.  That may have had something to do with his upbringing and with his previous occupation.  We don’t know.  We also don’t know how much previous knowledge he had of Jesus, nor how much preparation by God preceded this pivotal day in his life.  But when Jesus said to Philip, “follow Me”, he not obeyed the call, but he also told a friend and introduced him to Jesus.

There isn’t a lot written about Philip in the Scriptures, and most of that information is found here in John’s Gospel.  My personal impression of Philip is that he tends to be a pragmatist, that is, one who has a logical and practical approach to problems.  In the feeding of the 5000, Philip assesses the situation, does the math, and gives his logical conclusion:  “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little” (John 6:7).  When he finds Nathaniel, Philip’s description of Jesus is very clear, precise  and thorough:  “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”.  In verse 46, his reply to his friend Nathaniel’s question is “Come and see”, the same reply that Jesus gave to Simon Peter and John.  He sure sounds like, and acts like a pragmatist to me, and I commend him for his thoroughness and objectivity!

II.  NATHANIEL THE SKEPTIC (verse 46)

Philip and Nathaniel must have been close friends because Philip immediately searched for him and told him about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s reply, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” may have been said in jest. but he meant the words.  Nazareth must have been a very small town hidden away on the hillside in a low-income district.  He couldn’t fathom how the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth, could come from a place like that.  He was skeptical alright!  He had probably been there before, and the town left a bad impression on him.  There may have been some prejudice against “those kinds of people”  It’s a possibility.

Philip isn’t interested in an argument so he says, “Come and see” – “let me introduce you to Him, and then come to your own conclusion”.  Philip used the same words that Jesus used in verse 39.  I think Philip was convinced that meeting Jesus would change Nathaniel’s attitude.

Before we look at Nathaniel’s meeting with Jesus, there are some things about Nathaniel that should be addressed.  He is somewhat of a mystery!  Let’s see if we can come to some kind of an explanation.  Nathaniel is mentioned only here in chapter 1 and in chapter 21, verse 2 of John’s Gospel.  He is not mentioned at all in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  So who is this person?  Why is his name absent from all three of the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; and Luke 6:13-16)?  Was he a friend of the disciples but not a disciple?  Was he a figment of John’s imagination?

There is a theory about this mystery that makes a lot of sense to me for at least three good reasons. The theory is that Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person.  Reason #1:  As I mentioned earlier, Nathaniel is never mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or Luke’s Gospel but Bartholomew is mentioned.  On the other hand, Bartholomew is not mentioned in John’s Gospel but Nathaniel is. This leads me to believe that they are one person being called by two different names.  Reason #2:  Nathaniel is closely associated with Philip in John’s Gospel, whereas Bartholomew is closely associated with Philip in the synoptic Gospels.  The words “Philip and Bartholomew” are connected with each other using the same wording in both Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels.  The same connection is made between the brothers “Peter and Andrew“, and the brothers “James and John”.  Reason #3:  The name “Bartholomew” is composed of two words.  “Bar” means “son” or “son of”.  Bartholomew was the “son of Tholomew” (or Ptolemy).  After His resurrection, Jesus addressed Peter as “Simon, son of John” or “Simon Bar Jonah”.  Giving the father’s name helped distinguish people with the same first names.  Another way of distinguishing people was to add where they were from.    Some people may have referred to Jesus as “Jesus Bar Joseph”, others as “Jesus of Nazareth”.  There are other people in the New Testament who are referred to by their “last names” so to speak.  For example, there is the blind man, Bartimaeus, Barnabas the missionary, and the insurrectionist Barabbas.  Nathaniel may have been Nathaniel Bartholomew and was accustomed to being called by both his names.  We don’t know for sure, but this explanation makes sense to me.

III.  JESUS AND NATHANIEL MEET (verse 47-51)

When Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward Him, He says out-loud for everyone to hear, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  He is paying Nathaniel a compliment, saying that he is a person who is honest and straightforward, without deceit.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Behold, this man is not a phony.  He’s being honest about his doubts.”  Jesus’ words take Nathaniel by surprise.  How could Jesus know anything about his character when they have never met before.  He asks Jesus, “How do you know me?”  He’s really saying, “Who told you about me?”  “How did you obtain that personal information?”  Nathaniel was shocked, but not as shocked as he is going to be!  Jesus answered Nathaniel by saying, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Something really significant must have been going on under that fig tree because Nathaniel exclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

In those days fig trees were planted along the roads, and they had large, thick leaves and overhanging branches that would conceal a person who was sitting under one of them.  The Talmud, a Jewish book of religious laws and traditions, encouraged people to pray and meditate on God’s Word under a fig tree. It is very probable that Nathaniel was praying and meditating on Psalm 2 under the fig tree when Jesus saw him because the terms “Son of God” and “King (Anointed One) are both found in that psalm.   Nathaniel may well have been praying for a manifestation of the Messiah.  God’s Word and his own personal desires prepared him to recognize and proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah.  The content of Jesus’ words, and the timing with which He spoke them, had a miraculous effect on Nathaniel.  This Man who knows my thoughts, my prayers, and my secret desires must be the Messiah that I’m longing for.

Some might call it a “deja vu moment”.  The French words mean “already seen”.  Have you ever had a “deja vu moment” where you’ve seen something or experienced something that causes you to remember something that has happened to you before or earlier.  It’s a time of recollection and amazement, isn’t it?  Nathaniel’s response to Jesus was one of amazement and adoration.

In verse 51, Jesus’ makes a promise, not only to Nathaniel, but to all the disciples who are present with Him.  The pronoun (“you”), and the verb (“shall see”) are both plural in the Greek text.  They will all see something even more amazing that will confirm Nathaniel’s words to Him.  Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you (plural), you (all of you) shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  That’s quite a promise!  When was that promise fulfilled?  Are Jesus’ words to be taken literally or figuratively?  Has this event already happened, or is it yet to happen?

When the disciples heard that promise from Jesus’ lips, Genesis 28:10-12 must have immediately come to their minds.  Verse 12 says, “And he (Jacob) had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”  The disciples must have tried to envision that dream in their minds every time they thought of that passage of Scripture, or heard it read in the Synagogue.

Let’s compare the two passages of Scripture.  Genesis 28:12 is quoted in the above paragraph, and John 1:51 is quoted in the paragraph before it.  Notice that there is a ladder mentioned in Genesis 28 but no ladder mentioned in John 1:51.  That’s because Jesus, the “Son of Man” is now the way to God, the only connection between God and man.  He came to earth to pave the way to heaven and open its gates at the cost of His life.  This is the first of many times that Jesus uses the words “Son of Man” to refer to Himself in John’s Gospel.  I believe the angels ascending and descending represent God’s power, His communication, and His protection of His people.

In Jacob’s dream, God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob’s response was one of worship and commitment to God.  In John 1:51 Jesus’ purpose was to prepare the disciples He is addressing to begin to realize that He is truly the Messiah who will do miraculous things through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and High-Priestly ministry.   They are going to be amazed, just as Jacob was amazed by his dream!

The Lord Jesus’ example in His relationship with Nathaniel provides an application for us today.  Jesus praised Nathaniel for being an “honest skeptic” because Nathaniel was being transparent about his feelings and was open to the truth.  Jesus was teaching His disciples to be patient and kind to skeptics, and He was showing  Nathaniel that He appreciated his honest skepticism.  How do you respond when someone questions your beliefs?  Do you make that person feel welcome or do you express anger and turn that person away?

When I was in college, my roommate and I had a weekly Bible study in our dorm- room.  A student across the hall from us had some bad “religious experiences” in his past.  He shared some of his experiences and expressed his feelings about God and “religious people”.  When he found that we were willing to listen and cared about him, he would drop by to chat.  One night, after the Bible study, we were praying for one another when the door to our room opened.  It stayed open for about a minute while we were taking turns praying, and then closed quietly.  After everyone had left, this student from across the hall came over and said that he listened to us praying.  He said “Now I know it’s real” . . . I want what you’ve got!”   He became a child of God that night.  Afterward my roommate and I prayed and thanked God for enabling us to be patient and kind toward him.  How do you treat skeptics?  Do you let them know that you appreciate their honesty?

Are you a skeptic?  Are there things about God, His Word, and His Son that you find hard to accept and believe?  The fact that you’re at this site may indicate that you are seeking some answers to your questions.  I encourage you to study God’s Word for yourself. Look for genuine Christians whose lives have been dramatically changed as they have believed and chosen to follow Christ.  If you do, God will bring you to the place where you will also say, “Now I know it’s real”.  ” I want what they’ve got” – a personal, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  The Lord keeps His word, and He will remove all doubts, just as He did for Nathaniel.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

As Solomon says about wisdom in Proverbs 2:4-5, “If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God.”  Keep digging deeper, my friends!  There are great riches in God’s Word, and your lives will be enriched as a result.  It’s time to move on to the next construction site.  I hope this study has been as enriching an experience for you as it has been for me.