(SERMON BY BAT MANYIKA)
On the 7th January 2015 the world awoke to the harrowing news of an extremist attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris. News outlets across the globe covered this sad incident in intricate detail. Political figures of all stripes and sizes, marched the streets of Paris showing solidarity with the people of France and the right to freedom of speech. The hashtag #jesuischarlie trended as the message of freedom was broadcast from stadia and social media platforms worldwide.
Meanwhile, in the very same week that 17 people lost their lives across France, 2000 individuals were butchered in a separate extremist attack in Nigeria. The difference; no hashtag, no solidarity march. Only a counter solidarity hashtag of #jenesuispasCharlie. In a world of hashtag revolutions, extremism, and selective empathy, Jesus introduces himself to us, not as Charlie, but as one who comes from above (Jn 8:23) bringing about a different kind of solidarity and revolution to the social ills of our day. Jesus says “Je suis” but never uses Charlie as a suffix.
Today we will explore what Jesus calls himself in a sermon titled “Je Suis: the bread of Life”, but before we do allow me to set the scene by giving us a crash course on John’s Gospel, where most of this series will be drawn (excuse the pun) from.
Have you ever been in a situation where you moved town, started a new job, or moved into a new neighbourhood, only to discover that no matter how hard you tried to be sociable and polite, no matter how many times you waved to the neighbours, you just couldn’t fit in.
Friends, John’s gospel is exactly that, it does not fit into the “neighbourhood of gospel narratives,” nor does it want to come for dinner with Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is like Al Jazeera reporting news from a completely different angle than CNN and the BBC. John’s gospel does not fit into a Synoptic mould because the Jesus of John is completely different to anyone we have ever met, he is not from here, he is from out of town and we don’t introduce ourselves to him, rather he introduces himself to us. He does not perform miracles rather he uses “signs”. He does not cast out demons because he is powerful and sovereign over all. He does not speak in parables because he is the living parable of God. He does not ask “Who do people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20). Rather, he tells us on seven different occasions that “I am…” something the attentive Bible reader would have heard of before Exodus 3:14 reads:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.
Today’s sermon will be covered under the following headings:
Satisfied by the perishing?, sealed by the Father, sent from Heaven, satisfying Bread, Son of Joseph? serving blood and flesh
1. SATISFIED BY THE PERISHING?
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
The verses we have just read tell us that a crowd was chasing after Jesus, why you may ask. Well, prior to this incident, Jesus had fed five thousand plus people through a miraculous act, where he multiplied five barley loaves and two small fish. To feed this crowd conventionally, would have required 8 months wages. So the crowd thought, if Jesus can feed us in one sitting, satisfying our hunger and leaving extras behind then what more if we make him our king by force? Imagine the amount of bread we’d receive on demand? In fact we could receive anything we want, when we want because after all, we would have made him king.
The crowd were not interested in Jesus, they were interested in what Jesus provided. Friends this attitude and approach to Jesus is still prevalent today. It was not that Jesus fed the crowd that caused the crowd to search and run after him. It was the insatiable hunger for more stuff. This was not a pursuit of worship but one of greed, insatiable greed where the benefits are more important than the giver.
My question to us is this, “Do we worship the Lord for what we can get or for who he is?” Or let me put it this way;
Imagine you are on a road trip to Cape Town and you’ve been at it for a solid ten hours. You pass Baufort West in the Karoo and a road sign pops up informing you that you have 450km to go. Would you stop your car by the road side, pitch a tent next to the sign, get the braai going, take pictures of the sign that says Cape Town 450km (from all angles), post the pics on FB, check-in on FB and tag friends poked, followed and unfollowed? Or would you acknowledge the sign and shout 4hrs to go, and continue to where the sign is directing?
Friends we do ourselves a disfavor when we confuse a “sign” with the “substance” of what it points to. It is good to receive things from God, it encourages us in our faith, most definitely. However, the gifts we receive from God are but signs that point to the greatest gift that God has given to humanity, the gift is this friends, Jesus. Not what Jesus can do, no. Not how Jesus is useful to your plans, no. Jesus with no additives and dilutions he is the destination to which all “signs” of God’s blessing point. He is greater than the house you long to buy, he is greater than the child you’re trying to conceive, he is more valuable than the business deal you’re trying to land. He is not a means to an end, rather he is the beginning and the end! We run to him primarily not to get things but to enjoy him, and he promises that all other things are given as extras by the Father (Matt 6:33)
2. SEALED BY THE FATHER
In John 6:27 we read:
27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
Sometime ago a friend was audacious enough to point out that a Polo T, I was wearing was not the real deal. He went into great detail on how one can spot a fake Polo by simply gauging the distance between the horse’s legs. I was very thankful to my nerdy friend for sharing this with me; not. In fact I had an internal emotional volcanic eruption. I opened my argument as follows; this T was bought in LA, friend and went on to retort in equally nerdy fashion, citing all things Marco Polo. Simply put, I was livid because someone close had pointed out that my t-shirt was inauthentic.
Friends, we don’t need to worry about such when it comes to Jesus. The Father has sealed Jesus as the authentic giver of eternal life. There’re other versions of life that may pass as ok in the short-term but that’s not what Jesus offers. There are other forms of life that perish like bread gone bad, not so with Jesus. There are other forms of life that do not satisfy the hunger of the soul, not so with Jesus. Jesus is the authentic giver, of authentic eternal life and apart from him there is no other. This life that Jesus gives is not earned but given as a gift of grace. One doesn’t do, or work to secure this eternal life, one receives it through faith. We believe Jesus; who he says he is and what he has accomplished, and in turn receive the gift eternal life. Amazing grace.
3. SENT FROM HEAVEN
John 6:32-34 reads:
32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Tradition is not a bad thing. When respected for what it is, it gives us a heritage worthy of celebration. In the case of the crowd in John 6, tradition was now mixed with nationalistic ambition which led them to believe that another Moses had come, perhaps to lead them to a new promised land. They saw Jesus not as the Messiah long awaited but a figure that would prop up national pride. They saw Jesus as one who like Moses would give them a sign that would endorse him as one sent from God. Tradition was in the way. Subjective expectation was also in the way.
Firstly, Jesus is not Moses, he is greater than Moses. Secondly, Jesus gave them bread (John 6:1-15) but this would not compare with the bread that he is. Jesus feeds the five thousand plus, yes, but he is more he is the bread of heaven. Meaning he is greater than manna, and greater than the loaves he had multiplied earlier. Friends if we are not clear on the fact that Jesus is the terminus of all Old Testament tradition, we run the risk of expecting something beyond him. Manna points to Jesus. Moses points to Jesus. The bread in John 6 points to Jesus. Jesus is the only man sent from heaven to give life to the world.
Maybe we celebrate a tradition more than we do the person of Christ; if this is us we run the same risk of not enjoying the bread of heaven. You see this bread is greater than any tradition or past graces. This Bread gives life to the world, eternally.
4. SATISFYING BREAD
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
You may be asking yourself, but how does one eat this bread of life? Well, in the words of St Augustine: “Believe, and you have eaten”
But what kind of belief is this, one might ask? Well, John’s gospel does not limit belief to an activity of momentary trust, or isolated belief completely divorced from the life or conduct that ensues. Rather, belief in the Son of God is an activity that involves initial trust, continual trust, and continued obedience to the Son of God. It is this continuation of belief in the Son of God that Jesus elaborates on in John 14:15-24. From this we learn that believing and obeying are paired together in Jesus’ invitation to eat of this bread. So, we truly partake of the Bread of Life when we trust the Lord Jesus at conversion, when we trust Jesus in daily living, and when we obey him as Lord over all.
Unlike natural bread that satisfies momentarily, Jesus our Lord makes a truth claim worthy of note. Jesus declares that he satisfies hunger and quenches thirst, absolutely. This picture of Jesus satisfying one’s soul longings is only possible because Jesus is not the Bread that has come from the local patisserie, no, Jesus is the Bread that has come down from heaven.
Friends, our souls are hungry and there is a wide range of “foods” they can feast on. We can feast on foods that fill but do not nourish. We can also feast on foods that taste good but damage our health. Like a nutritionist sending out a message of a balanced diet, John tells us that only Jesus can satisfy the hunger of the soul so much so that the soul is eternally healthy.
5. SON OF JOSEPH?
42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—
“Honour” and “shame” are old fashioned words, in some quarters. But for us to get a hold of what’s going in the verses above, we need to have developed understanding of these seemingly archaic concepts. The ancient Jewish and the Greco-Roman worlds were heavily stratified to the point that one’s standing in society was determined by how much honour or shame they had against their name; a bit like credit in modern society. The interesting thing about the ancient Jewish society is that honour was a limited “commodity” and there were limited ways one could gain it. Honour could be gained by winning it from another by force or trade, by virtue of being born or married into it (think Downtown Abbey), or by achieving some heroic feat (think David or Hercules).
In these societies it was, however, regarded shameful to claim or pursue more honour than a person’s station afforded them. In fact one could only “win” honour from someone in the same honour bracket as oneself. So marrying into a family that had far greater “honour” was next to impossible and was labelled shameful by the public court of reputation.
So when we read: 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” the crowd is not being deliberately abrasive, rather they’re using an “honour and shame” frame of reference to respond to Jesus’ claim. Although the crowd is right to point out that Jesus is “born” in a family of little honour based on that society’s classification, they fail to read the sign (feeding of the 5000 plus) that tells them that Jesus has more honour than he makes out to have. Jesus is the Son of Joseph, yes. But blink and you’ll miss the sign, that he is the Son of God, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, with eternally greater honour than Moses and all the patriarchs and prophets combined.
Friends, we like the crowd at times behave in ways motivated by the natural or the fleeting, and in so doing fail to read the God’s “signs” to us. It is not our place to choose the means through which God would lead us towards his purposes. It is not up to us to prescribe how the Father should satisfy the hunger of our souls, he has already done so by providing the Bread of Life come down from Heaven. If we behave like the crowd we run the risk of letting natural conventions cloud us to matters of eternal significance. We may dismiss a preacher, a prophet, an evangelist, teacher or pastor (who may be sent by God to give us a timely word or instruction), based on what they sound like or what privilege they have. Friends, Jesus was the Son of Joseph and the Son of God at the same time, so it is with servants of God that are used by God to help us feast on the Bread of Life.
6. SERVING BLOOD AND FLESH
As we come to a close I would like us to take a few moments to reflect on Jesus, the Bread of Life. Maybe yours is a life where what has been nourishing you is everything bar Jesus. Friend if you are in this place, you know that although you have eaten your fill of that life has offered, you strangely are still hungry. It even is true that with your hunger and continual feasting from all the different types of bread your soul is still hungry. At times you feel like with all you have feasted on your soul is unhealthy. Friend if you are in this place may I point you to the fact no one, and nothing, can or will satisfy that hunger you carry because that hunger is not a natural hunger but a spiritual hunger that only Bread from Heaven can satisfy. What you need to do is this; repent, which means turning away from all the junk that you’ve been feasting on; believe, which means placing your trust in Jesus perfect life, substitutionary death on a cross for you where he took the punishment that God had lined up for you and I; and obey, which means continuing to trust that Jesus is Lord over your life and that he would hold you to account for all your deeds one day. Friend if you repent, believe and obey Jesus, you’ll enjoy the greatest nourishment God gives to those who trust him, you’ll receive the gift of eternal life which begins the moment you believe.
Why don’t you taste and see that the Lord is good?