Eat this life-giving bread (John 6.41-59)

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‘How can this Jesus say that he is the bread that has come down from Heaven? We know his parents, Joseph and Mary; we know where he comes from and it’s not heaven!’. Knowing his ordinary human origins, it is understandable that the Jewish leaders found it hard to accept that he came down from the glory of his heavenly Father. They didn’t have the benefit of later theological debate which finally formulated our Christian faith that Jesus is 100% human and at the same time 100% divine.
In objecting to Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven, the Jewish leaders also failed to note his emphasis on life. He had said that he is “the bread of life” (6.48) – and again in this passage of Jesus’ teaching he underlines life. In previous blogs we have noted several times the centrality of Jesus’ gift of life, even eternal life. In this week’s passage we learn that this life comes from “the living Father” (6.57), the source of all life. Even Jesus confesses that he lives “through the Father”. So now Jesus is the bread of life, gives eternal life to all who come to him and will raise us up “at the last day”.
Who is this gift of life for?

a) Drawn by the Father (6.44)
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As with everything in the Christian faith, we can only come to Jesus through the working of the Father. By his Spirit he so works in us that we are drawn to Jesus. This may happen through our circumstances or through our inner thoughts and desires. With each person the Father works in particular ways which he adapts to our particular character and personality.
My father died just before I was born, so I never knew him. As a result for many years after my conversion I tended to concentrate on my relationship with Jesus as Lord and on the Holy Spirit. Only much later did I begin to appreciate the wonder of God as our loving, strong, true Father. He cares for us and protects us. He provides for us through his Son and Spirit. It has been very special in my Christian life to enjoy and worship God as our Father.
b) Come to Jesus (6.44)
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In previous blogs we have observed John’s use of the two Greek prepositions para/towards and eis/into, prepositions of movement rather than of position. Here too in 6.44 John quotes Jesus as saying that we need to come para/towards him. Our lives need to be redirected so that we begin to walk in a new direction. We are drawn by the Father in such a way that we begin to follow Jesus, to walk in his way as his disciples. It is as we listen to the Father and learn that we come to Jesus (6.45).
c) Believe (6.47)
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Although we cannot see the Father, Jesus has come to represent the Father and through his life as a human being we can see the Father in him and believe. Again and again in John’s Gospel we are exhorted to put our faith in Jesus as the one who has been sent from heaven by the Father. We put our trust in him because he is utterly trustworthy, the true Son of God. As the mirror-image of the Father in heaven we can put our confidence in him.
d) Eat his body and drink his blood (6.48-58)
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Some sacramentally-minded commentators see this teaching as Jesus’ institution of the Communion Service. It is true that John does not record the Last Supper, although he does recount the washing of the feet. So it could be that this is John’s equivalent of the Last Supper. Other commentaries deny this. In either case it is clear that these verses are speaking of our  total oneness with Jesus. We take him in all his fullness into ourselves and we become wonderfully one with him. What an intimate relationship we have with Jesus! As we partake of him, his flesh and blood, he comes to live in us and we abide in him (6.56).
What next?
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In Moses’ time the people of Israel ate God-given manna in the desert, but they all died (6.58). But as we share in the life of Jesus, he gives us the glory of eternal life. He will raise us up with him at the last day (6.44)and we have the joy of eternal life. Physical death becomes merely the door to the glory of the fullness of life. Jesus therefore declares that those who feed on him “will live for ever” (6.58). Let us rejoice!
Parallels with John 1
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This passage clearly reflects various elements which we saw some weeks ago when we looked at John 1, the Gospel-in-a-nutshell introduction to the message of Jesus through John.
In John 1.14 the living Word “came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. Now in John 6 Jesus comes as the true bread and the true blood from the Father above. Both in John 1 and again here in John 6 Jesus is not only truth personified, but also he was with the Father and came down from heaven. No-one has seen the Father or can see him except the one who was eternally with the Father (John 1.18 and 6.46). We have also already observed John’s use of para/towards; we remember that in John 1.1 the Word was para/towards God – commonly translated in John 1.1 as being with God.
In John 6 the Greek word used for Jesus’ body is sarx/flesh. In John 1 too the Word became sarx/flesh, a general word which connotes all nations and peoples as distinct from just Israel and the Jewish people. The universality of Jesus’ work of grace is further underlined by the fact that Jesus gives his sarx/flesh “for the life of the world” (6.51) which reminds us of John 1.9/10) with its four-times repeated “world”. The all-embracing “whoever” in John 6 parallels the “all” of John 1.
So we can only be impressed how in John 6 many of the key themes of John 1 and of the whole Gospel are highlighted. Their repetition shows that it must be God’s will that we should all take them to heart.
Editor’s note – please pray for Elizabeth Goldsmith who is “having to rest very quietly at home” at the moment – and for Martin who is shouldering extra domestic duties! They appreciate very much your prayers, but please, no direct calls.
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