Bread of Life
I want to tell you about a friend of mine; we'll call him James! He was homeless. He'd been homeless a long time! He slept in places like behind the CVS down the street, in the park or under the Wilson viaduct. It didn't matter if it was the dead of winter or in the height of the summer heat; James could be found sleeping outside, normally somewhere around here in Uptown.
After years of being "out there", the streets and the weather started to hit him hard. He looked terrible! He was very confused. A few of his buddies stayed at the shelter, they were worried about him and tried talking him into coming inside, but for some reason, he'd always resist. Outreach workers also tried to engage him, but he'd always say "no" to us as well!
After years of suffering, he got "tired of being tired", he knew he needed help and an answer, so finally he came into CCO.
Coming inside had an instant impact, he started looking healthier! Immediately! It's amazing what sleep, healthy food, clean socks, warm clothes and knowing you're loved will do. These things may not seem like much, but for a sick fella like James, they were life-changing and essential!
James, in his desperation, reminds me of what happens in John 6. People were struggling and desperate for an answer. They were "tired of being tired" and waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue them! As they were waiting, they saw and heard about Jesus performing many miraculous wonders, healing people, so they started flocking to Him! They wanted to be blessed by Him! They wanted to see more healing. They wanted to be amazed and wowed by Him!
John 6 describes a scene; Jesus hops in a boat to go to the other side, a large crowd of over 5000 people are so anxious to get what He's got, that they pursued Him or chased Him all the way around a fairly large lake. When they catch up with Jesus, He miraculously feeds this hungry mob! We know the story; He turns 5 barley loaves and 2 fish into an enormous feast, where every single one of those 5000 people is left satisfied, and then afterwards, they gather up 12 baskets, full of leftovers!
This large crowd were amazed, they were wowed, they felt blessed, they just ate a yummy meal and saw Jesus do a crazy miracle. Because of this, they loved Him! So much so, they wanted to force him to be their king. Jesus knew their concept of King was very different from His own, so He escapes up a hill for a time of quietness, meanwhile His disciples jump in their boat to return back to the other side.
Throughout the night, more miracles happen; Jesus walks on water in a horrific storm, gets in the disciples boat and makes it go instantly to shore. The crowds didn't see or know all that; all they did know is, another miracle happened! They did the math and realized, Jesus had somehow, miraculously, got across the lake without jumping into a boat the night before.
Knowing this, the crowd wants more of Jesus, they want what He's got, they want His blessings, they want Him to rescue them, so they chase Him again. They chase Him all the way back to the other side of the lake, and at this point, they start having a long discussion!
Jesus tells them; "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal."
Jesus is telling this overly anxious and very excited crowd; "chasing Me is good. It was great you got your tummies full, but that feast you just ate perishes. What you just witnessed wasn't just a miracle, it's bigger than a miracle, it's pointing to something far bigger and far greater, something eternal, it's a sign, and you must take hold of this sign!"
The word "sign" is very important in the book of John; it tells us that the temporary blessings they just received, signify, or look to, a far greater, more eternal blessing. There's a big difference between a "miracle" and a "sign". Miracles satisfy or amaze us right here and now, while Signs point to the Kingdom, to the Eternal. Jesus is telling the crowd; "If you want to really live, don't stop there, go beyond what's temporary! Fully understand and embrace the Sign for all it's worth, and it's worth is eternal!"
When my friend James came out of the cold and into our shelter, it was amazing. We were excited, it was important for him, but he needed to understand there was greater, more permanent blessings he could receive from us at CCO. Getting socks, a bed and food are vitally important, but James needed to know, his ultimate plan was not to stay with us at in the shelter! His ultimate goal was to move into safe permanent housing.
When James came in, we did our part. We placed him on housing databases and filled out important forms for him. We may have done our part, but for him to move forward, he needed to believe that we could help him get housed and then he had to do what we asked him to do!
For quite a while, James struggled to do just that. His name came up from that database on about 3-4 different occasions, and somehow, he jacked it up each and every time. He'd show up drunk, he wouldn't make appointments or he'd lose the money he needed for places. The excuses drove us crazy, housing was right there, it was touchable, but he wouldn't reach out and grasp it.
I tell you about James, because Jesus had the same issue with the large crowd He was speaking too. They Had to Believe Him. They had to Believe in Him! They wanted just to be wowed. They wanted entertainment! They enjoyed seeing miracles and eating magical food, but they didn't want to take it any further. They wanted Jesus to perform more miracles, ones that satisfied their tummies, their greed and their lust for power. They wanted Jesus to be their King. They wanted to sit back and watch a show. They wanted to watch Jesus conquer their oppressors.
Jesus knows where they're at, and does what He does best, turns their worlds upside down. He tells them of His Kingdom. He tells them if they want to receive Eternal Life, they need to do more than just chase him around and marvel at His magic tricks, they had to believe Him. The food they just ate perishes, but He makes it clear that He is offering them some special food, "which endures to eternal life". He tells them eat this special bread and you'll never be hungry again.
Jesus even goes beyond that and tells them that He is the special bread from heaven, He tells them He's the Bread of Life, and if they come to Him they will not hunger, and if they believe in Him, they will never thirst! He tells them, "if you want Eternal Life, you need to eat My flesh and drink My blood."
This teaching floored them, it shocked the crowd! He's telling them to go beyond just chasing or following Him, He's telling them to believe in Him and fully embrace Him. He's telling them, "if you want to be part of My Eternal Kingdom, I need you to take the risk, take a leap of faith, and embrace Me fully and completely!"
My friend James was scared, he didn't want to take a risk. One day, he finally decided to embrace what we said and do what he needed to do! He responded to the call, listened, went to the appointment, signed what he needed to sign and got his keys and finally moved into his own apartment!
Today, if you see James walking down Wilson Avenue, he looks like a new man. He's healthier, less confused and struts around Uptown with a smile on his face! Getting housed transformed him.
There's a far greater transformation available to us! That special bread Jesus offered the crowd, is also available to us today! We need to take the risk and grab the Bread of Life and eat it! James was healthier when he took the risk, that is minor compared to what Jesus is offering us! He's saying "fully embrace Me, and you will receive Eternal Life!"
When Jesus is talking about Eternal Life, He's referring to a new life that starts now! He's talking about becoming a new creation. He talking about entering into His Kingdom and reaping all the benefits and blessings He has to offer, and that doesn't start when you die; it starts immediately.
Unfortunately, many, if not most, of this crowd didn't take His offer and they scattered. They couldn't handle the words Jesus said. They ran away because they knew His words didn't mean just verbal allegiance, it means becoming a new creation. They knew this, and they weren't willing to let God transform their life, and gift them His Kingdom and Eternal Life. They embraced the easy option, they embraced what's temporary, but they wouldn't embrace the Eternal Life Jesus was offering.
A few stayed! Simon Peter was one of them! Jesus asked him if he was going to run away like the rest of them, and Peter replied with one of the most beautiful declarations of faith you'll ever read; "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Peter was probably scared, but he was willing to take a leap of faith! Like Peter; we must leap too! We need to make sure we're not just chasing after Jesus and enjoying temporary miracles! We need to embrace the sign and take everything Jesus is offering us!
Peter knew Jesus was telling them, "if you embrace Me, you will be changed eternally!" Peter knew by taking the "Bread of Life" and eating it, he would become a new person. He knew, no one else has that power, so Peter took a leap of faith and ate it! He wasn't perfect, he still made some terrible mistakes, he struggled mightily, but he grew in his faith, lived for God's Kingdom and never turned back. Peter was changed forever.
Eating the "Bread of Life" means following Jesus, embracing Him, imitating Him and doing what He calls us to do! When Peter said "you have words of eternal life", he wasn't just talking to a man who spoke empty words like a politician, but rather, he was talking to the "Word who became Flesh and dwelt among us!"
Eating the words of eternal life means not just believing Jesus, but living a Kingdom lifestyle. Eating the words of eternal life means doing what Jesus did and it also means doing what He wants us to do!
Eating the Bread of Life means taking a risk, when we'd rather settle! It means being courageous, when we're full of fear! It means showing compassion, when we want to walk on by! It means forgiving, when violence and revenge seems to be the answer! It means giving, when we want to take! It means loving the least of these, when the world is trampling on them! It means visiting people in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons. It means lifting up those who are quietly suffering in the seats next to you.
Eating the Bread of Life will turn our worlds upside down and bring change in the name of Jesus! Eating the Bread of Life will change us forever.
As we go out, as we reflect, we need to ask ourselves; how is Jesus calling us to move beyond the miracles and embrace the signs? What does eating the "Bread of Life" mean in our lives? Have we embraced the "words of eternal life"?