Jesus The Bread Of Life
John 6 : 25 - 40
After feeding the 5000, Jesus returned to Capernaum. People were waiting for Him, looking for Him. People did not work 9 00 am - 5 00 pm in those days. Have you noticed too, on TV, that in so many middle east countries, people are always out on the streets, demonstrating, protesting, marching in their thousands and tens of thousands. They don’t seem to have any work to go to. Maybe many of them don’t have any work. In Jesus’ time, lots of people had no formal work arrangements and so they had time to be out looking for Jesus. He told these people that they only wanted another free lunch and that they should 'work for the food that endures to eternal life”' - which He, Jesus, could give them. But they did not understand what He was talking about and asked what He meant.
In those days as a Jew good works were central. Good people did good things. Bad people did not and some in between did a few good things and some bad things and could be improved if they got a better balance for good. Jesus contradicted that understanding by saying, 'All that is required is that you believe in me'. This was tantamount to openly claiming to be the Messiah. But that answer did not satisfy and so the people asked Him 'What miraculous sign will you give that we may see it and believe you?' In other words, 'Show us a miracle so that we may believe that you are our Messiah'. Remember Herod’s words from Jesus Christ Superstar 'Prove to me that you're divine; change my water into wine…Prove to me that you’re no fool - walk across my swimming pool'. Some even baited Jesus by reminding Him that Moses provided daily amounts of manna for the people in the desert on their long trek. These people were thinking about their stomachs, not their souls. So it for many today. They spend their lives and time and strength and energy on things that are of lesser importance. And yet, when people become wealthy, they remain unsatisfied. It is only when they put their wealth to good use that they find peace and satisfaction. Of course they are happy to be wealthy enough to do that but keeping their money to themselves is not an option. It does not bring life fulfilment. We should remember that when we wish or pray for wealth. None of the great contributors to human welfare were rich. Jesus wasn’t, Mohammad was. Mozart and Van Gogh were not rich. John Knox and John Wesley were not rich. Mother Teresa was not and Desmond Tutu is not rich. Quality of life is not primarily about money although no-one denies that to live in comfort is a good thing if honestly achieved.
Jesus explains that it is God, His father, who gives the true bread from heaven. He Himself is this true bread come down from heaven to give life to the world. The people ask for this bread but they probably don’t know what it means. So Jesus offers a further explanation and His words are some of the greatest in the whole new testament, the entire Bible. 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty'. What did He mean? Bread was, of course, a basic food staple without which people would die. It was like potatoes in 19th century Ireland, like rice in China and like maize corn in Africa. Jesus is not the caviar of life, He is not the T-bone steak of life, He is not the ice cream of life, He is not the chocolate cake of life. He is the bread of life. He is the basic necessity of life.
What is this life? It is a personal spiritual relationship with God made possible by and through Jesus Himself. This is meant to be a relationship of love, obedience and trust. A reciprocal relationship - not an internet relationship built on a false avatar - but one of honesty and transparency through prayer and worship, life and witness. Jesus fulfils the basic longing of the human spirit for eternal life, for higher purpose, answering our perplexing life questions. That is why Jesus could call Himself 'the bread of life' that means we will never go hungry again.
This is the story of Christianity, of men and women and children finding God and God’s love, forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ and never looking back. Jesus can fill and satisfy the empty spaces in our being resulting from our leaving God out of our lives, by going after lesser things, by our selfishness and self-centredness. By trying out false spiritual ideas. It works. It has worked these past 2000 years.
'O Christ, in Thee my soul hath found, And found in Thee alone,
The peace, the joy I sought so long, The bliss till now unknown.
I sighed for rest and happiness, I yearned for them, not Thee;
But, while I passed my Saviour by, His love laid hold on me.
I tried the broken cisterns, Lord, But, ah, the waters failed!
E'en as I stooped to drink they fled, And mocked me as I wailed.
The pleasures lost I sadly mourned, But never wept for Thee,
Till grace the sightless eyes received, Thy loveliness to see.
Now none but Christ can satisfy, None other name for me;
There's love and life and lasting joy, Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
But Jesus discerns that the people do not actually recognise Him as their Messiah or perhaps not even want Him as their Messiah. And He suggests that it is God Himself who gives Him followers and believers. He offers and open invitation that anyone who comes to Him will never be turned away. That means you and me today - this evening - here - in this Holy Communion. You are counted in - included - welcomed - recognised and loved. That is the Gospel. Jesus says that this was not His own idea nor His own initiative. His life is to do His Father’s prior will. That is to shepherd the followers and disciples given to Him and bring them through to eternal life. The passage concludes with gracious and saving words: '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'.
Here is the story of a man who had everything and at the same time had nothing. You may have heard of Jonathan Aitken and seen him on TV. He was a successful an author, broadcaster, and journalist. He went into politics. He was successful there too. His political career included 23 years as a Member of Parliament. He became Minister of State for Defence and Chief Secretary to the Treasury. On 10 April 1995, 'The Guardian' carried a front-page report on Aitken's dealings with leading Saudis. The story was the result of a long investigation carried out by journalists from the newspaper and from Granada TV's 'World In Action' programme. Aitken had called a press conference at the Conservative Party offices in Smith Square, London, at 5 o'clock denouncing the claims and demanding that the World In Action documentary, which was due to be screened three hours later, withdraw them. He notoriously said: 'If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it. My fight begins today. Thank you and good afternoon'.
He sued for libel. He committed perjury in order to win. He told lies in court. He was found out. Subsequently he pleaded guilty to charges of perjury and served a seven-month prison sentence in 1999. His political career ended. He gave an account of his prison experience, journey towards closeness with God and now his Christian ministry. He admitted pride was his downfall, along with defeat, disgrace, divorce, bankruptcy and jail. 'I was puffed up with pride', he said, sadly. At HMP Belmarsh, he was analysed for suicidal tendencies by a psychiatrist who did not recognise him and who questioned whether anyone knew he had been jailed. Instead, the therapist believed the former minister had delusions of grandeur when he claimed that in fact about 10 million people knew of his demise.
It was odd hearing a public school boy use slang. He delighted in translating prison speak, including 'Hampstead Heath' for teeth. Mr Aitken revealed that he turned to God in a prayer on his first night in jail as inmates started a derogatory quiz about him. Nothing had prepared him for the venom and intensity of the anger, he said. The former MP described himself as a 'summary Christian'. 'I went to church once a week, did all the right things ... ' But, he said: 'I had been in the wrong relationship with God. I treated God rather like I used to treat my bank manager. He existed, was someone to be respected, had premises he visited and would even be helpful with a big overdraft. I rather condescended to God ... I was a very important politician'.
Jonathan Aitken said far from being aggressive towards him, the inmates apologised for their outbursts and offered him a 'cup of rosy lee'. Most of his fellow prisoners were young. 'I felt like Methuselah at 57,' said Mr Aitken, who found that while appearing tough and macho, many of the landing mates were vulnerable and not literate. Jonathan Aitken quickly became 'the geezer with wonderful joined up writing', who wrote letters for his fellow cons, impressing 'the girls in Brixton' with his turn of phrase. Jonathan Aitken said the queues of inmates demanding his services were longer than those he had faced at his constituency surgery. The ex-MP told how he befriended an Irish inmate called Paddy, who later became part of his Christian cell groups - prisoners who gathered to pray together. He said from then he noticed a different attitude in the prison. 'I saw people really changing. It was really the most wonderful thing to see,' he said. 'I want to tell people about the things that I saw because, to me, it is the Gospel in action'. One symptom of this was Paddy having his baby baptised in the prison chapel and his being made the godfather. He said he had never contemplated suicide in jail. He accepted the 'earthly punishment for what I had done', and wanted 'to turn it into a positive experience'. 'I am going to give my life over to ministry in the broad sense of the word'. He said he does 'a lot of prison visiting' and is currently writing a book on Charles Colson, US President Nixon's hatchet man. Jonathan Aitken had everything and nothing. He lost everything and gained everything. The Bread of Life - the basics - what matters - your relationship with God - your salvation. Take and eat take and drink, taste and see that the Lord is good.