A Hard Saying or Sweet Bread to Eat
“I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard [this], said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:48-60)
In the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, after feeding five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two small fish, our Lord Jesus amassed a huge following. The multitude that followed him did not trust him. They were not converted. They just wanted more religious excitement. They wanted to see more miracles. And they wanted more free bread (v. 26).
In verses 27-36 the Lord Jesus taught these men and women the necessity of faith, the necessity of trusting him. Then he proclaimed to them, and proclaims to us the blessed freeness and certainty of everlasting salvation to all who trust him (vv. 37-40).
In verses 44-47 the Master declares the utter inability of man and the blessed, sovereign efficacy of God’s free, saving grace. Then, beginning in verse 48 the Lord Jesus declares himself to be the Bread of Life and explains that faith in him, trusting him, is like eating bread and living by the bread eaten.
After all that, after seeing the miracle, after eating the loaves and fish, after hearing the Savior’s discourse about the necessity of faith, the freeness and certainty of God’s salvation, the inability of man and the efficacy of God’s saving grace, after the Lord Jesus uses the simple eating of bread to illustrate what faith is, we read in verse 60 — “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”
Here are five statements that will summarize our Lord’s doctrine in our text. These five things to the unbelieving are hard, offensive things. To the believer, they are sweet, delightful things.
1. Jesus Christ our Savior is God.
We see this very clearly stated in verse 48, where the Lord Jesus says, “I AM the Bread of Life.” With those two words, “I AM,” He points us back to Exodus 3:13-14, where Moses asked the Lord God, who spoke to him out of the bush, “What is thy name?” The answer was, “I AM.” When our Savior said, “I am that Bread of Life,” he used the title “I AM” to identify himself as the great Jehovah, who appeared to Moses in the bush, plainly asserting his eternal Deity.
Remember, the purpose of John’s Gospel is to show us the glorious divinity of our blessed Savior (John 1:1-3; 14:9). It should not be surprising to us that John was inspired to record our Lord’s use of “I AM” throughout this Gospel narrative to identify himself as God (John 6:35, 48-58; 8:12; 10:9, 11, 14-16, 36, 33; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6-9; 15:1-10; 18:37, 49; 19:19-22).
Jesus Christ is God our Savior, Jehovah incarnate, over all God, blessed forever!
2. Christ is the Bread by which we live.
“Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead” (v. 49). — The manna in the wilderness was typical of and portrayed Christ, just as the Rock which gave forth water was a type of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Neither the manna nor the water that flowed from that Rock had any saving benefit or efficacy, even to give or maintain physical life, let alone spiritual, eternal life. Those who ate the manna and drank the water died physically; and, evidently, many perished eternally, though they ate that bread and drank water out of the Rock, for they entered not into Canaan (Hebrews 3:17-19).
Christ is the Bread of God. — The Bread that comes from God and the Bread that satisfies God (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). He is the Bread given by God, the gift of God (1 Corinthians 9:15). He is the living Bread and the Bread of Life. He is Life; and he gives life; and we live by him. He is sweet Bread and satisfying Bread. (John 6:32-35).
3. Before we could live, Christ had to die.
“This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die” (v. 50). — If a man eats of the Bread of Life, he has life eternal. He shall never die. Eating Christ, the Bread of Life, is believing on him, receiving him by faith. Believing on Christ is expressed by eating, because eating is the reception of food into our bodies for the sustenance of physical life; so receiving Christ by faith is drawing life from him.
We do not get life by eating bread; but we draw from the bread we eat that by which life is sustained, by which we grow, by which we are nourished, and by which we are strengthened. So it is with spiritual, eternal life. We do not get life by faith in Christ. Faith is the result of life. But we draw life from Christ by faith. Faith is believing on the Son of God, trusting the Lord Jesus, entering in by Christ the Door, coming to Christ the Lamb, bowing to Christ the King, laying hold on Christ our Hope, eating Christ the Bread of Life, drinking from Christ the Fountain, building on Christ the Foundation, looking to Christ the Savior. But we could never draw life from Christ had he not first died as our Substitute. He became to us living Bread by dying in our stead — “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (v. 51).
Bread is made from the flour of corn, rye, barley, wheat, or some other grain. The grain has to be thrashed and sifted, ground and sifted, sifted and kneaded, and baked before it is suitable food for the table. — Thus, “It behooved Christ to suffer” (Luke 24:46).
He who is our Savior, the Life-giving Bread of God, is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, by whom we live. The “flesh and blood of the Son of man” refer to the sacrifice of his own body upon the cursed tree, when he died for his elect. Those words speak of the atonement made by his obedience unto death, the satisfaction made by his sufferings as our Substitute, the redemption accomplished by his enduring the penalty of the law and justice of God for our sins in his own body on the tree. It is only by the crucified Lamb of God that we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Hebrews 10:18-22).
4. Faith in Christ is an intensely personal thing, a spiritual act of the heart.
It is written, “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:9-13). But these Jews, like Nicodemus, were trying to interpret spiritual things in a carnal sense (John 3:4). — “The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52)
Multitudes there are today who, like those Jews at Capernaum, vainly seek to make faith in Christ and the worship of God carnal things. Multitudes ignorantly imagine that eternal life can be obtained by carnal means. Papists teach that our Lord is here talking about eating the bread and wine of what they call “the eucharist,” or “holy communion,” which by some religious mumbo jumbo is transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Many Protestants, who vigorously denounce the heresies of Rome, teach essentially the same heresy, telling men that they spiritually eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in what they call the “sacrament” of the Lord’s Supper. Religious fundamentalists make salvation to be nothing more than a logical decision, repeating a scripted prayer, walking a church aisle, or saying, “I believe in Jesus.”
Man tries hard to make religion a matter of forms and ceremonies, of doing and performing, of sacraments and ordinances, of sight and of sense. Fallen man despises that which is truly spiritual, that which makes the heart the principal thing. Man labors to keep everything on his own level, carnal, fleshly, material, earthly. Ever beware of the influence of Rome. It is always evil. It is never good. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of God, prescribed and instituted by our Savior. They are blessed, blessed means of worship; but they are not “sacraments.” — They are not means of grace.
The “eating and drinking,” without which there is no life in us, is the believing reception of Christ and his sacrifice, which takes place when a sinner trusts Christ crucified as his Savior. It is an inward and spiritual act of the heart and has nothing to do with the body. Whenever a sinner, feeling his own guilt and sin, lays hold on Christ, trusting his righteousness and his sin-atoning blood, he “eats the flesh of the Son of man, and drinks his blood.” His soul feeds on Christ’s sacrifice by faith, just as his body would feed on bread. Believing, we “eat.” Believing, we “drink.” And that which we eat and drink, and from which we benefit, is the atonement made for our sins by Christ’s death in our room and stead on Calvary. We eat his flesh, the righteousness of the incarnate God our Savior. We drink his blood, his justice satisfying, sin-atoning blood. Just as believer’s baptism portrays the fulfillment of all righteousness by the obedience of Christ, the Lord’s Supper portrays our faith in the obedience of Christ as our Mediator unto death.
“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:53-54)
The decree of God in predestination does not make the work of God in time meaningless, but only guarantees that it shall be done. And that which God did in eternity does not make his work in time unnecessary. What God did in eternity simply made certain that it would come to pass in time. Though our Lord Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, still he had to come to earth and die. The decrees of God do not make the accomplishments of Christ in time unnecessary. Even so, while Christ has been given a people and has redeemed them by his life and death, a people saved by him from eternity (Romans 8:29), they must hear the gospel and believe (John 6:37-44; Romans 10:13-15). Christ must be received and believed or you will have no life!
You must trust the Son of God. Just as no one can eat and drink for you, no one can believe for you. You must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. — “Just as there was no safety for the Israelite in Egypt who did not eat the passover-lamb, in the night when the first-born were slain, so there is no life for the sinner who does not eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood.” (J. C. Ryle)
Trusting Christ, I have eternal life now; and I shall have it forever in resurrection glory. — “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). It is not how much faith I have, but whom I believe that matters. That is exactly what our Savior tells us in verse 55. — “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
Paul said, “I know whom I have believed.” It is not just eating that nourishes a man. You get nourishment only if you eat the right food. If you eat poison, you will die. The same thing is true spiritually. Christ’s flesh (obedience) is true life-giving meat; and his blood (death) is saving, cleansing blood. It is not what I think of myself that matters, or even what you think of me. It is, “What think ye of Christ?” That’s the only thing that matters. It is not my standing before you that gives me peace, but my standing in Christ. He is able to present us faultless before the presence of his glory. It is not my ability to keep the law that determines my eternal destiny, but Christ’s fulfillment of the law for me. — “Christ is the END of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth!” It is not my being free from sin that gives me free access to God, but Christ’s being free from sin. — And in Him, I am free from sin (1 Peter 4:1-2). It is not my mourning, groaning, and suffering under the load of sin that appeases and satisfies a holy God, but the fact that Christ groaned and suffered under the weight of my guilt and sin. — “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). I am not accepted by my best effort. — I am “accepted in the Beloved!” And it is not my ability to keep myself that sustains me in faith, and grace, and hope, but his ability to keep me. — “We are kept by the power of God through faith!” — “He is able to keep you from falling!”
5. The life we live by faith in Christ is a life that is inseparable from Christ’s own life.
“He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.” (John 6:56-59)
Our blessed Savior here declares that the life we have in him is a living, vital union with him (John 15:1-5). Just as Christ the God-man, our Surety, our Mediator lives by the Father, beside the Father, and with the Father, we live by Christ, beside Christ, and with Christ. Just as Christ cannot be separated from the Father, we cannot be separated from the Savior. We dwell in him; and he dwells in us.
God’s elect enjoy the most intimate union, communion, and fellowship possible with Christ (Galatians 2:20). His existence, fulness, and completion as our Mediator is inseparable from ours (Colossians 2:10); and our existence is inseparable from his. He partook of our nature; and we are made partakers of his nature. — “Partakers of the divine nature!” He has his being with us from eternity; and we have our being with him from eternity. As the Father and Son are one, we are one in the Son. — “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). What he has done, we have done. What he has, we have. And where he is, we are!
“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (v. 60) — To some who hear it the very simplicity of the gospel is “a hard saying.” But to others the message preached, the Christ proclaimed is sweet Bread for the soul, sweet Bread to eat. May God the Holy Spirit make Christ our Savior the Bread of Life to you. O Holy Spirit, cause sinners here to hunger for Christ; and feed every hungry soul with the Bread of Life.
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