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Monday, March 2, 2020

I AM the Bread of Life

If you don’t count the Sundays, there are 40 days between Ash Wednesday (last Wednesday) and Easter Sunday.  Christians call this 40-day period the season of Lent.  For centuries, Lent has been a season when Christians devote themselves to prayer, fasting, reading Scripture, and spiritual growth.  It is inspired by the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.  Today is the first Sunday in Lent. By the way, we don’t count Sundays among the 40 days of Lent because Sundays are always considering a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  We celebrate on Sundays.  So even if you are fasting, Sundays become a holiday, a break from the fast, as we celebrate that Jesus amazingly rose from the grave!

The Seven I AM Statements of Jesus
For this 40-day season of Lent, we begin a new message series that studies who Jesus said he was.  Jesus made seven famous statements about his identity in the Gospel of John.  These statements are famous because he began each statement with the phrase I AM.  He said:
I AM the bread of life
I AM the light of the world
I AM the door
I AM the true vine
I AM the good shepherd
I AM the resurrection and the life
I AM the way, the truth, and the life
I'm going to write about each of these statements one by one over the next several weeks.  However, there’s something very important about the phrase I AM that you could easily miss if you’re not paying close attention—something that would have been immediately obvious to Jesus' Jewish audience in the first century.  A Jewish audience knew that the phrase I AM is the proper name of God in the Old Testament.  Way back in Exodus 3:14 God told Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free.  Understandably, Moses was very overwhelmed by this prospect.  Pharaoh was the leader of the most powerful people on the planet.  So Moses asked God who he should say was sending him with such a bold command.  God said to tell them “I AM has sent me to you.”  It’s a strange name that is impossible to translate into English.  It means something like, “I am who I am.”  It calls to mind the total self-confidence, eternal nature, and unchanging character of God.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He existed before time and will exist forever and always.  He is the great I AM.

The name of God was so revered by the Jews of Jesus day, that they would not even say or write God’s name.  Instead, they referred to Him as “the Lord.”  Anyone who said God's proper name could be stoned to death--especially if you used it the wrong way.

So, when Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.  I AM the light of the world.  I AM the good shepherd...",  He is intentionally saying God’s name and claiming it for himself—a dangerous act of tremendous importance.  Who is Jesus?  He claimed he was God and then he used seven images to illustrate his character.  We will look at one each week. 

John 6:35
Today, we consider John 6:35, where Jesus said: 
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The Context
It's important to know the context of when Jesus made this statement.  You may have heard about the miracle Jesus performed when he fed 5,000 people.  It was actually only 5,000 men; we can assume there were also women and children among the crowd who were counted.  So it could have been as many as 10,000 or 15,000.  We don't know, but it was a lot.  And the disciples only had five loaves of bread and two fish a boy in the crowd donated.  But somehow, miraculously, Jesus multiplied the bread and fish until it fed the entire crowd!  Everyone had their fill and there were actually twelve baskets full of leftovers.

So a few days later, Jesus is in the same area and the crowd sees him and they say to themselves, "Hey, there's that guy who fed us a few days ago.  Wasn't that amazing?  Maybe he'll feed us again!"  By now, the bread Jesus fed them a few days earlier has worn off and they're hungry again so they come crowding around Jesus.  And Jesus isn't stupid.  He knows what they want.  He knows they aren't interested in a learning about God through his preaching.  They just want some more food.  So Jesus says, "I am the bread of life.  Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again.  Anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty."

Physical food satisfies you for a time, but then it fades and you are hungry again.  It doesn't matter how good the food is or how much you eat.  Have you ever noticed at Thanksgiving you can eat until you are so full you're almost sick, but a few hours later you are hungry again?
It’s not only food. Nothing physical ever satisfies you for long. When I was 15 years old, I couldn't wait to get a car and start driving.  So I went out looking for a job.  Winn-Dixie finally hired me to bag groceries and I saved enough money to buy an old truck so I could go out with my friends.  But the thing was old and it broke down a lot.  I spent a lot of time trying to fix it.  And I would get so frustrated as my hands were covered in grease and I was busting my knuckles trying to turn a wrench on it.  I used to say, "I can't wait till I can buy a new car that is reliable and I don't have to fix a brokedown car anymore."  And a few years later, I was able to do that; I got a brand new Toyota pickup and it was always reliable.  Funny thing is, a couple of years ago, I started thinking, "Man I wish I had an old truck again so I could go outside and tinker with it."  

We're never satisfied with the things we have.  We always want a newer car, a bigger house, or finer clothes.  Even relationships don’t fully satisfy you. You think, “If I could just find a friend that is faithful or a girlfriend or a boyfriend…"  And then you do, but it doesn't really satisfy.  Or you think, "If I could just get married… If I could just have kids…” And these things satisfy for a time, but never fully down deep in your bones.

Or we might seek fulfillment in a powerful spiritual/emotional experience.  We think, "If I could just feel God's presence and love for real.  If God would just speak to me in an audible voice."  Or, "If God would just heal my loved one from cancer..."  And many of us have had these deeply profound religious experiences.  And you would think it's enough, but these feelings too also fade.

We need something eternal, something that lasts.  And Jesus says, “That’s me. I am the one who will truly satisfy you, forever.  I am the bread of life.”

The other day, I was meeting some men from my church for lunch at a local restaurant.  I decided I was going to share Holy Communion with them right there in the restaurant during our meal.  SO I brought some bread and grape juice and a communion chalice.  The waitresses were fascinated and afterward started asking all kinds of questions about our ceremony.  And we ried to explain it to them saying the bread represents Jesus body and the wine is Jesus' blood.  And one of the waitresses, who wasn't that familiar with the Christian church seemed really concerned as she said, “So you eat his flesh and drink his blood?”  And we tried to explain to her how it was symbolic and why, but it was difficult.

Many people in the crowds who followed Jesus misunderstood Jesus in the same way.  For Jesus said in John 6:51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”  And people were appalled—this man claims to be God and says we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  He’s crazy!  And many people stopped following Jesus that day because they thought Jesus was a lunatic.

The flesh and the blood symbolizes Jesus' crucifixion.  Jesus gave his body and his blood on the cross.  And the only way to find true fulfillment is if you partake of the sacrifice he made.  We don’t literally eat his flesh and drink his blood.  The bread symbolically represents his body being broken on the cross.  The wine (which is actually Welches grape juice at my church) symbolically represents his blood being shed on the cross.  Jesus gave his body and his blood to pay the price for our sin so that we can be forgiven and have a restored relationship with the Great I AM—the One, True God who created us for a relationship with Him.  That relationship is the reason we exist and it is the only thing that will satisfy the deepest hunger of our soul.

It is a relationship with God that we need. It is the only thing that truly satisfies, forever.   For some, Holy Communion is a powerful, sacred ceremony that helps them feel God’s presence. But even Holy Communion isn't enough, because it only symbolizes the restored relationship that we really need. It’s the relationship Communion represents that satisfies, not the ceremony.

Two Closing Points
Let me close by briefly making two final points.  First, those who eat the Bread of Life and are satisfied are the ones who are hungry. Are you hungry? You know how it works with food.  Even if you are given the finest meal to eat, it won't be that great if you're already full because you just ate an hour before dinner.  However, if you haven't eaten in 24 hours, even a hotdog will be wonderful.  The same is true in your spiritual life.  If you already feel like your fine on your own and pretty much have what you need, you won't be that hungry for Jesus.  Maybe you can take him or leave him, but your won't be desperate for him.  On the other hand, when you realize how desperately you need Jesus to save you and fill you and satisfy you, he will.  So part of what we need in life is simply to realize our deep spiritual hunger.  All of us are hungry for God, but we often don't realize it because we've been busy stuffing ourselves with a lot of other things that don't really satisfy.

The second point is this.  Eating is something you can only do for yourself.  You can ask someone to come over and cook a meal for you, but you can't ask them to eat for you.  You are the only one who can eat for yourself (and enjoy the taste, nourishment, and fulfillment food offers).  The same is true of your relationship with God through Jesus.  You can't rely on your parent's relationship with God or your spouses' faith.  You are responsible for your own relationship with God.  Now one else can do it for you.  They can help and encourage, but in the end, it's up to you to open yourself to a relationship with God that's made possible through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

The Good News is, Jesus is right there beside you now.  All you have to do is talk to Him.  Ask and you will receive the bread of life.

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