THE BREAD OF LIFE

I am the bread of life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." ­- John 6:48-51

It was said long ago, “Bread is the staff of life.”  Indeed, even though many kinds of food have been developed since the humble loaf was first baked, it still has an important place on our tables and in our diets.  In the Bible, bread sometimes stands for food in general.  Jesus tells us to pray to our heavenly Father to “give us this day our daily bread”, (Mt. 6:11) meaning, our basic physical requirement:  food.  When Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone…” (Mt. 4:4; Lk. 4:4), He was referring to physical food in general, under the name of “bread”.  Yes, we need physical food, and bread is one of the basic forms of it.  God made us from the dust of the earth and we must take into our bodies nourishment or we will perish from the earth.

But our daily bread can also be extended to mean all the physical and even psychological requirements for a reasonably happy life in this world.  There are a number of worldly necessities or goods we share in common with the animals, especially the “higher” forms of animal life.  Years ago, scientists withheld from baby monkeys the normal touch and embrace of their mothers.  The monkeys displayed symptoms of extreme psychological distress, rocking themselves and engaging in other repetitious and meaningless movements.  Some died.  These same results were displayed in children who had the misfortune to be left in certain orphanages in Eastern Europe.  They were not picked up and held by the staff of the orphanages but left to languish in their cribs.  It was heart-breaking to see these poor little children rocking themselves incessantly, trying to make up for what they should have had from a mother or father, or even a stranger.

But let us consider the case of people who have plenty of “bread”, that is, the things that make for a decent life in this world.  They are well-fed, well-educated, psychologically sound, socially gregarious, usefully employed and adequately compensated.  Let us say they also form reasonably stable families and find much fun and enjoyment of life.  Let us go even further and consider those of this number who take great satisfaction in helping other humans less fortunate than themselves.  They may even deny themselves much of this world’s goods in order to bring some of those goods within the reach of those unjustly deprived of them. How we admire such people and are grateful for them!  But let us ask ourselves this question:  Is our “daily bread” all we need as humans?  It is evidently the case, that many aspire for nothing more than worldly goods and that many who have plenty of them seem to want no other.  So, if we are talking strictly about what many people feel they and other humans need, it would seem that humans need nothing more than good food, clothing, housing, education, employment, healthcare, recreation and human love.

Jesus says that we were created for something more, something much more important and valuable.  We were created for fellowship with God and for fellowship with others in God.  The full quote that Jesus spoke from Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Conversation is one thing that makes us different than any of the animals.  It is also the chief form that fellowship takes among humans.  Fellowship with God likewise takes the form of a conversation.  In prayer and the other acts of worship, we pour out our hearts to God and, as we listen to God, He pours His heart into ours.  His words, whether through the Holy Scriptures or through the direct operation of His Spirit in our hearts, are what constitute the spiritual “bread” upon which our spirits must feed if we are to be spiritually alive and healthy.

Jesus says that He is the bread of life.  That must be so since, as the Apostle John tells us, Jesus is “the Word” who was with God, was God and who became flesh and dwelt among us. (Jn. 1:1-3, 14)  It was by entering upon this fleshly life that Jesus made possible the re-union of humans with God, the resumption of that blessed fellowship our first parents had with God in the Garden, when He walked with them and talked with them in the cool of the day. (Gen. 3:8) The irony here is that by giving His flesh for the life of the world (Jn. 6:51), He provided what our fleshly nature could never provide us:  eternal life, that is, eternal fellowship with God.  That is what Jesus meant when He later said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.” He then went on to say, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (vs. 63) Yes, the giving of Jesus’ fleshly life on the cross is what alone can atone for our many and grievous sins.  By Jesus’ death, and upon our trustful repose in Him, the Spirit is given to us by whose gracious ministry our hearts begin to hear and feed upon the words of the Lord which are the very essence of fellowship with Him.

Jesus is the Bread of Life!  Man does not live by earthly goods alone but by the eternal good that comes to us through Jesus only.  By all means, let us vigorously seek to extend the blessings of food, shelter, peace, justice and human love to all our brothers and sisters on this planet but in doing this let us not leave out what they desperately need for time and eternity – a life-giving relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ!  And let us not neglect to deepen that relationship with Him for we will best testify to His goodness if we partake frequently of it ourselves.