… 58 "This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” We’ve heard Jesus say those exact words for two weeks in a row now. Jesus is the Living Bread—but what kind of bread is He? Is He the kind of bread that is so sweet that it melts in your mouth? Are Jesus’ teachings easy to understand and take hold of? Or is He more like a hard roll, that you have to bite down on and chew for a while before you can swallow it?
That’s the question we face on this Sunday when we’re encouraged to seek not the wisdom of men, but of God. Is the truth of Christ easy or hard? This crowd of Galileans listening to Jesus—it seems the more Jesus goes on talking to them, the more confused they get. To a certain degree it was understandable; Jesus was sharing some hard truths with them about Himself and why He had come into the world—hard truths about the Living Bread. And yet was their confusion really Jesus’ fault? As we examine these hard truths of Jesus, these are the kinds of questions I’d like you to think about.
- Hard truths about His work for you.
Jesus begins with this central truth: “I am the living bread which comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (v. 51). This statement is the key, isn’t it? The Jews wanted bread for today; Jesus wants to give them the Bread of life everlasting. And He explains what this bread is which He wants them to eat: “the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (v. 51).
But they just don’t understand—and it bothers them! Before they were just grumbling, but now they’re out and out arguing with each other, asking, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (v. 52). What they don’t realize is that the bread He has for them is not literal flesh or meat, or even the meat off Jesus’ own bones; it’s the hard truths about His work for them.
Hard truth #1: Jesus came to this earth in order to give His flesh—His life—on behalf of the whole world (v. 51). Jesus is talking about Calvary—about the cross, about the sacrifice He would make there. A sacrifice that was necessary because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is no one who is righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10; Psalm 143:2). And seeing as all people are sinners, therefore all people live with the consequence of sin, namely death (Rom. 5:12).
Jesus willingly carried out that sacrifice as the Son of God who takes our place. The book of Hebrews states, “He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself… Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (He 9:26-28). At the cross Jesus traded His life for the life of the world. Our sin was credited to Him and He suffered the penalty for it; and His righteous, holy life was credited to us sinners. Which leads to our second hard truth.
Hard truth #2: As the result of His sacrifice, there is now eternal life for all who put their faith in Jesus. Jesus says, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (v. 54). But notice that it’s not faith in and of itself that somehow earns eternal life for someone; it’s the fact that Jesus Himself promises to raise that person to life at the last day. Jesus died and rose again! And He promises that because He is alive, you and I are going to be alive too!
What is it that makes these truths so hard? Why do people have a hard time believing them? Because it’s not just the hard truth about what Jesus did for the world, it’s the hard truth about what Jesus did for you. The Jews listening to Jesus are still hung up on finding earthly food. Why? Because they don’t think they need the heavenly food that Jesus is offering. The whole idea that Jesus’ bread is His flesh given for the life of the world—it goes right over their heads! In their minds, they don’t need someone to “pay for their sins”; they’re already in good with God. They go to church and keep the law, at least most of the time. And even if some parts of their lives are a little sketchy, they’re still in good with God because their parents belonged to the church: they’re the children of Abraham, after all.
To truly accept what Jesus says, to truly eat His bread, means swallowing the whole thing. It means accepting that I am not a good person, but a poor, miserable sinner who disobeys God’s law every day. That I have no leg to stand on before God. That I am in total and complete need of being saved! It means accepting that Jesus Christ was born for me, lived a perfect life for me, died for me, and rose again for me—and that because He has done all those things for me, He is the only reason at all that I have a place with God in everlasting life.
And the reason it’s so hard to accept these things is not because Jesus isn’t making sense, but because on my own I can’t accept them. And you can’t either.
Which leads us to the other set of hard truths about the Living Bread. Up to this point we’ve talked about the hard truths of our justification—of what Jesus Christ has accomplished for you by His saving work. Now we’re going to talk about sanctification, or:
- Hard truths about His work in you.
Hard truth #3: You and I cannot accept the truths of God because we are not only sinners; by nature we’re spiritually dead, dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). Jesus said as much: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53). Why were the Jews rejecting? Because they had no life in them! Jesus’ words made no sense to them, not because Jesus was confusing, but because sin-addled human reason couldn’t handle the truth of what Jesus was saying. Sinful pride places the self as lord and master over what’s reasonable and what’s not and if something doesn’t make sense or fit my own narrowly limited definition of evidence, well, then I don’t have to believe it—never mind that the one telling it to me is God. As the apostle Paul says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:6).
So where do we find the power to believe and live spiritually? Hard truth #4: The flesh and blood of Jesus have the power to give and sustain life. This is what Jesus means when He says, “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (v. 55). And by His flesh and blood, again, Jesus is talking about the good news of His saving work, the Gospel, the means of grace! Later on in John 8, Jesus says, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). His flesh and blood are true food and drink: they give true nourishment—not for the body, but for the soul! And that takes us to the next truth.
Hard truth #5: The means of grace give life by uniting us to Christ: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (v. 56). When we receive the Gospel, we are brought into the body of Christ. But there’s more: Christ not only makes us part of Himself, but He comes down to us, and He makes His home in our hearts through faith. And that’s how He gives us life—the life of faith that accepts His Word and trusts in all of His promises: “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (v. 57). And this life—the life of faith that Christ Himself gives to us—is the beginning of the life that lasts forever: “This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever” (58).
As you continue to feed on Jesus through His Word and Sacraments, you’re going to continually encounter things that are hard to understand. So what attitude are you going to have? Is it going to be one that skips over the hard stuff, or that gives up, saying, “Jesus loves me, this I know, and this is all I want to know”? Or is it going to be the attitude that takes the tougher bread among Christ’s teachings and continues to chew on it, meditating on it, thinking it over—not spitting it out, but eventually swallowing it in faith?
After all, if we’re honest, what can we say we truly understand about the Christian faith? Starting with Jesus’ words right here: That Jesus now abides in you—and not just in you, but in everyone who believes? That His words have the power to give life? Not to mention the virgin birth, the six-day creation, that God is not just one but three-in-one? We can’t understand any of these things, really—at least not in all their fullness and wonder.
Yet when it comes to hard truths in Scripture, we make a sacrifice of the intellect. We sacrifice our pride in our own smarts and believe in all these things—things that, at least on the surface, don’t make sense. Not that we’re unreasonable people! But when our fallen human reason conflicts with God’s truth—God’s wisdom, we kick reason over the side of the boat. Not by our own power, but by the grace of God in Christ, who by the Holy Spirit has given us the faith to believe—through the very promises He wants us to believe in! Because it’s the hardest things to believe that turn out to be the sweetest. How do you raise the dead? You don’t know; I don’t know—and yet, by the power of the gospel you and I both firmly believe that one day—at the last day—Jesus is going to come to our cold lifeless bodies and say, “Get up!” And we’re going to get up!
The truth of Christ our living Bread from heaven is hard—and that’s our fault, not His. But thanks be to God, we have a Savior who has not only done all things for us to earn our salvation, He also does all things in us, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to keep us in the true faith—unto life everlasting. Amen.