Bread of Life
Many years ago, so the story goes, a well known missionary was travelling on board a train in Central India. giving out gospels free, to anyone who would accept one. All seemed to be going well until he offered a copy of St John’s gospel to a non-Christian, who was so angry that he tore it into pieces, and threw all the scraps out of the train window.
That seemed to be the end of the story, but it so happened that another man was walking along by the side of the railway track, and he picked up one of these pieces of paper. It had words written on it in his own language, and it said:- ‘ The Bread of Life’.
He didn’t know what it meant, so he made some enquiries, and one of his friends told him it that it was a piece of writing from the Christian book, but he must not read it or he would be defiled.
The man thought for a moment and then said,
“No I want to read the book that contains that beautiful phrase, so he bought a copy of the New Testament, and was shown the part where the sentence occurred, and he found Jesus’s own words, “I am the Bread of Life.” He studied that gospel, and he said that his heart just filled up with light.
Later this man became a preacher of the gospel in Central India. That little piece of paper was indeed the ‘bread of life’ to him.
When I read this story, I thought how amazing it was that four short words could alter the whole course of a person’s life. These words opened a doorway into St John’s gospel, then another into the New Testament, and yet another into the person of Christ himself.
He would have found other ‘I am’ statements, some of which we will be looking at over the next few weeks, ..... I am the Door: the Good Shepherd: the Way, the Truth, the Life: the Resurrection.
But what was it that he discovered about the man who was ‘The Bread of Life’ when he read St John’s gospel, chapter 6, the one before us today?
Firstly he would have discovered a man called Jesus, recognised by his followers as the Prophet. He was a teacher at the height of his popularity, and he was a leader of men who possessed miraculous powers. It was he who had just fed a crowd of 5000 people with only two loaves of bread and five fishes. So great a leader and teacher was he that his followers were trying to force him to be their king. But becoming a king, an earthly ruler, was not what Jesus desired. He escaped from them and withdrew to the hills alone, to be away from them. Perhaps this is what first impressed the Indian traveller about Jesus, the fact that he had not sought after power, wealth, fame and all the other benefits that come along with royal positions of authority.
Secondly he would have found in John’s gospel, a man who spoke truth, for the words that he said were not necessarily what the people were wanting to hear.
We only have to listen to politicians running for office, or councillors wishing to be elected, or presidents standing for office to discover that leaders’ promises are rich, tempting and palatable.....but quite often empty ones once they win the vote and are put in power over others.
Not so Jesus, in fact what he says to the people in ‘his bread of life’ speech actually turns many of his followers against him. It is at this point in the gospel that those who had been attracted to Jesus up until that point, now walked away from him , his words offended their ears. They couldn’t stomach what he was saying. From this point in other gospels too, the Jesus movement went into decline. He was clearly not courting popularity.
What else would this Indian traveller have found in John 6?
He would have been able to read for himself some of the things Jesus claimed about himself.
He would have found not only his precious four words, the bread of life, but also the words,
“I am the Bread of Life, He who comes to me will never be hungry, He who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Bread meant life in those days of scarcity and often famines. It was the primary source of food in New Testament times. It had special significance in the Bible because it represented the sustenance of life in the world, essential food, without which man would die!
Jesus also likened himself to the manna which God provided the Israelites with on their journey from slavery to freedom, food which they were given to help them on their journey into the promised land. God’s own provision for them!
He told the people that if they believed in him, they would have life eternal, life forever.
He said “ This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world, and unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink of his blood you will have no life in you!”
He told them that his flesh was real food, and his blood was real drink.
No wonder some of them thought he was mad.
Yet here we are today claiming his promises that the one who feeds on this bread will live forever. He prophesied this would happen.
Yet the Indian who searched chapter 6, to discover more about the Bread of Life, would also have found a leader who did not manipulate his followers or brainwash them. He allowed them perfect freedom to accept or reject his teaching, unlike many leaders of cults throughout the ages who have trapped and ensnared their followers.
“You do not want to leave too?” he asks them.
Their reply is one which we would probably want to echo in our hearts too.
“Where else would we go, for you have the words of eternal life!
Along with this statement we might as well add:-
Which other leader of faith could hold a candle to this one?
Which other leader of faith ever made claims for himself as bold as these?
Which other leader of faith made such accurate prophecies as the ones he made?
Who else has performed miracles, healed the sick, cared for the poor and underprivileged , fought for the outcast or love the sinner the way he did?
Which other leader of faith has ever made the supreme sacrifice of surrendering his own life to wipe away our sins, the way he did?
These four words, ‘The Bread of Life’ are indeed a door into a far greater truth than we can ever realise, just like that fragment of paper found upon a railway track, opening up a whole library of many other words brim full of life.
So too the piece of bread we consume today, and the words we hear, “This is my body”
a fragment yes, but part of a love too deep for words to express, part of a body of people too many to count, part of an eternity too difficult for our small minds to imagine.
As we receive this bread of life this morning,
let us not ask how Jesus feeds us, let us not dissect his words, tear them into shreds, or quarrel over them, and separate ourselves into factions as men and women have done over the centuries, let us simply admit:-
“Lord, I don’t have the ability to comprehend how you feed us through this bread, but I know you do, and I give you thanks that you have provided this for me, help me also be food that brings life to others!”