Thinking back to the previous post of the confusion over the identity of Jesus today, what to make of Jesus was the dilemma that the chosen people of Israel had when Jesus lived with them 2000 years ago. Both Matthew and Luke make it clear that Jesus was born of a Virgin through the Holy Spirit. Luke said he was to be called, “Christ the Lord”. Matthew said he would be called “Emmanuel – God with us”. And in Matthew chapter 1:21 we are told his mission is, that “he will save his people from their sins.”
If Jesus had been of ordinary birth, the son of two human parents, he would have been the same as anyone else, born, fallen, sinful humanity. But in Luke 1:35 we are told that the angel told Mary that Jesus was to be a unique child, a miracle child. The angel told Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” That is the understanding the Gospel writers have of Jesus.
But what about Jesus’ own understanding of himself? And what was his understanding of his mission? For me, the one Gospel that stands out among the four Gospels for Jesus’ declaration of who he thought himself to be, is in the Gospel of John.
There are several places we could turn to but as we are approaching Easter I have chosen the “I am the Bread of Life” theme from John 6:35. John doesn’t repeat the story of the Passover found in the other Gospels or give us the introduction of the Lord’s Supper. But it is difficult to escape the idea of the Eucharist in the words of Jesus in John chapter 6:35: “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
Previously in the chapter Jesus had just performed the miracle of feeding the 5000 from five small barley loaves and two small fish. The crowds were wonder struck. Verse 2 tells us that the great crowd of people that followed him followed him because they had witnessed the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Now he had fed this great crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children, with one boy’s lunch! So what were they to think of Jesus? Surely, he had to be the expected Messiah.
Verse 15 tells us they intended to take him by force to make him their king! But their understanding of the Messiah was all wrong. He had not come to be the new political leader who would rid Israel of its Roman overlords. He had come to show them, and us, what God was like, and to give his own life for ours. Then he tried to tell them that just as he had fed them miraculously with the physical bread so he could give them eternal life if they fed on him as the spiritual bread who had come down from heaven.
And it is here in this chapter that we see Jesus’ understanding of himself, of who he was and where he came from. In John 6 we see Jesus’ claiming to be “The Bread of Life”, and the implication in these statements. In John 6:33 he says, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” There he claims he existed before he came to this world. In John 6:38 he says, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” In John 6:41 we find the Jews are quite aware of what Jesus is claiming: “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” In verse 52 John recalls that, “the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Keep in mind this would be in a packed synagogue with plenty of his followers on the outside wanting to get in! (John 6:59).
But again in John 6:50 Jesus declares, “But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” Despite the miracles he had done, the healing of the sick and the feeding of the 5000, in John 6:30 his followers asked Jesus for a greater sign than that provided by Moses in their ancestors’ wilderness wanderings. “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Then Jesus replies in John 6:32 and 33: “I tell you the truth, it was not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Cf., Exodus 16:4; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalm 78:24-25).
Further on in John 6:58 Jesus presses home the point he is making, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live for ever.”
And again a few verses on in John 6:62 Jesus asks, “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?” Which Luke records Jesus’ followers witnessing in Acts 1:9-11.
In verse 63 we see Jesus letting up on the metaphor and explaining what his words meant. Said Jesus, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
At the beginning of the chapter in verse 4 it tells us it was coming up to Passover. The Passover carried the message of what God was doing and would do for his people. The blood of lambs and goats never saved anyone. They were merely symbols that pointed to the one who would die for the sins of the world. It would be Jesus who would save those who put their trust in him.
A year later from the events recorded in chapter 6 of John the Passover Lamb would be Jesus himself; the sinless one would become sin for us that all who believe in him would have eternal life (John 3:16). 700 years before Jesus was born it had been predicted in Isaiah 53
“Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus knew from Scripture and from communion with his Father in heaven who he was and what his mission was. And as much as he gave of himself completely to his people, they rejected him. It’s a sad comment that is made towards the end of the chapter. In verse 66 it says, “And from this time many of his disciples turned back and walked no more with him.” We see it summarised in the prologue in John 1: 10-11; “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”
But not everyone rejected him. And not everyone rejects Jesus today. That text is followed with an encouraging comment. In John 1: 12-13 we read, “Yet all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
What happened back then 2000 years ago we see being repeated today. 71% of the population claimed to be Christian in the 2001 Census, but how many fail to see who Jesus really is and what his mission is. Before I became a Christian I gave God a wide berth – he wasn’t Someone I wanted anything to do with. If he existed then I saw him as a spoilsport who had rules and regulations for me to follow – which didn’t fit into my natural inclinations and lifestyle. If there was a God then he was there to restrict my freedoms!
It took me a while with honest enquiry to get to know that Jesus came here to this world to put us right with God and to give every generation eternal life, and he can do that because of who he is. Through the power of the Holy Spirit I am now part of the wider Christian community that has acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is both Lord and Saviour for all who accept him as such. And that claim he made for himself as the giver of eternal life is well put in John’s Gospel. This life is not all that is to be. If we just take look at verse 35 through to 40 we see what it is Jesus promises.
“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
We know life in this world is only temporary. If we manage to live long enough to join the ‘centenarian club’, it is still a short time against the history of this world. And it’s no time at all when placed against the promise of eternal life.
We can join those who say we don’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth, that we don’t have to believe in the miracle of the incarnation, of God becoming a man so he could die for the sins of the world (John 3:16). We can join those who want to deny the resurrection. But as Jesus says in verse 40, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
There is to be a last day. There is to be the resurrection to eternal life for those who put their trust in Jesus. It was gained at great cost for us. A year on from chapter 6 the next Passover would see Jesus lifted up on the cross. He would take our sin and guilt upon himself that we might enjoy eternity in a world made new with all that God has prepared for our enjoyment with him. It’s what people are challenged to think about coming up to Easter.
All that Jesus has promised is all ours if we accept him for what he claimed to be, ‘The Bread of Life who came down from heaven to give life to the world.’