The True Bread (John 6:1-24)

I love food.  My mother encouraged me to start eating at a very early age.  One of the saddest aspects of returning to Maryland was the absence of Texan food options.  Tex-mex.  Barbecue.  And these were only the regional favorites.

Can a meal ever be more than just a meal?  We often associate particular meals with different events or even family traditions.  Though not a meal per se, one of the most common traditions for Western culture is serving cake at weddings and birthdays.

So in a way, a meal can tell a story.  Think about it: consider the following two “stories” below.  What does each one tell you?

  • Last night I ate cake.
  • Last night I ate cake with candles on it.

The first “story” tells you very little.  But the second one surely conjured up a whole host of potential images: party hats, brightly wrapped gifts—if you have kids, maybe even a few rounds of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.   The point is clear: add a few minor details, and you’ve done more than simply serve a meal.  You’ve told a story.  That’s what Jesus does in John 6:

John 6:1-24  After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.  2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.  3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

Here is our first clue: the Passover was approaching.  John’s mentioned the Passover before.  The Jews regarded the Passover as one of their most significant Holy days.  What did it mean?  The Passover celebrated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.  They had been enslaved for 450 years before God sent Moses to free them.  On the night of their escape, God killed the firstborn sons in all of Egypt.  The sons of Israel would be spared only by marking their homes with the blood of a lamb—God would literally “pass over” their home.  God delivered Israel by parting the waters of the Red Sea, and sustained His people by providing them bread in the wilderness.  A lamb.  A crossing of the sea.  A provision of bread.  These elements (and others) became as much a part of Israel’s story as the candles on a birthday cake.  These elements reminded Israel that she was God’s chosen people, and He would relentlessly fight for her no matter the cost.

5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.  7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,  9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

The problem is clearly identified.  Jesus had attracted followers, but what could He do to sustain them?  Bread was a staple for the first century world, but barley loaves were consumed only by the lower class.  What could five loaves possibly do?  The disciples remained committed to earthly, human solutions.  God had other plans:

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.  11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.  12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”  13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.  14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

The people were amazed.  Jesus had offered a miraculous provision of bread.  The basketfuls of leftovers reveal just how extraordinary the whole scene is.  But Jesus is cautious.  He’s not interested in having people follow Him just for the thrill of seeing miracles in action.  So He retreats with His disciples.

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.  16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,  17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.  18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.  19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.  20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.  23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.  24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

Do you see some familiar elements to this story?  A provision of bread.  A crossing of the water.  The sequence may not perfectly match, but Jesus seems to be retelling the story of the Passover.  He is introducing a new exodus—not merely from political captivity but from the entrapment of sin itself.  Jesus is therefore the true bread—God’s true sustenance in our spiritual journey.

Do you feel trapped in the story you’re in now?  Maybe you feel trapped by your circumstances, your pains, your doubts, your struggles.  Trapped financially, trapped relationally, maybe even trapped by some physical affliction.  Jesus wants to rewrite your story.  Jesus wants to offer you a taste of life in His kingdom.

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