The Bread of Life from the House of Bread
The choir has so wonderfully presented the meaning of Christmas with that marvelous cantata, Bethlehem Morning. The words of that theme song by Morris Chapman ring with the gospel message:
Is more than just a memory
For the Child that was born there
Has come to set us free
Bethlehem, house of bread (Micah 5:2, 4, 5a).
It was the prophet Micah in the Old Testament who foretold the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. In the middle of Micah’s prophecy of judgment on Israel and Judah for their sin, God makes a promise. 750 years before that first Christmas Micah wrote:
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, [Though] you are little among the thousands of Judah, [Yet] out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth [are] from of old, From everlasting.” … 4 And He shall stand and feed [His flock] In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace. (Micah 5:2, 4, 5a).
Out of the little town of Bethlehem would come One to be Ruler in Israel, whose origins are from eternity and who would shepherd God’s flock and would bring peace. Bethlehem has a remarkable history in the Old Testament. God set the stage throughout 1700 years of history … to prepare the world for this great event in history. We won’t have time to review all of that today, if you want to read more about Bethlehem you can read my sermon from 2013, Bethlehem Morning.
Today I just want to point out that the name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” This little town was just a few miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Judean hill country. It was nestled in a valley that was kind of the bread-basket of Judah where they grew a lot of wheat and barley. Nearby shepherds would graze their sheep on the grassy hills.
Jesus, the Bread of life (John 6:33, 35, 48, 51)
So how does all this tie into John 6 where we have been studying for the last few weeks? Remember that John 6 began with Jesus and His disciples crossing over to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Multitudes from Galilee met them there and Jesus fed over five thousand people with five little loaves of bread and two fish. It was a sign that sets the stage for Christ’s teaching about Himself in the rest of the chapter. The sign pointed to Jesus as the Bread of Life.
John 6:33 – “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
John 6:35 – And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. …
John 6:48 – “I am the bread of life. …
John 6:51 – “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
That is what the miraculous sign of the feeding of the 5000 was pointing to. So this Christmas we celebrate that out of Bethlehem, the house of bread, came the true Bread of Life, the Bread that came down from heaven and who gives life to the world. Bethlehem is more than just a memory for the child who was born there in the house of bread is the Bread of Life.
With that context clearly in mind, today I just want to focus on verses 22-27. Listen to those verses:
22 On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone—
23 however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks—
24 when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?”
26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.
27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Verses 22-24 give us the setting for the dialogue between Jesus and some would-be disciples which starts in verse 25 and continues all the way to verse 59. After Jesus had fed the 5000, He had sent His disciples away in a boat, dismissed the crowd and gone alone to a mountain to pray. Later that night Jesus came to His disciples walking on the water as they struggled to cross the lake against the wind. Jesus got in the boat immediately they arrived safely at Capernaum.
Seeking Jesus (John 6:22-25)
In our text, many of the people whom Jesus had fed with the loaves and fish “came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus,” (John 6:24). The morning after the miracle, they couldn’t find Jesus. They knew that He had not left in the boat with the disciples and that there had not been any other boats there the night before. But they couldn’t find Him. So when some small boats from Tiberias came there, these people got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
Although it is always a good thing to be “seeking Jesus,” what we find in this chapter is that many of these would-be followers of Jesus are seeking Him for the wrong reasons. They wanted Him to provide them with food for their bellies, not eternal life for their souls.
When they find Jesus they ask in verse 25, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Of course what they are really wondering is how Jesus got there. They couldn’t figure out how He got there because they didn’t know about His walking on the water to the disciples.
Jesus could have replied, “I got here early this morning after I walked on the water to the disciples and joined them in the boat.” I wonder what they would have thought if they knew what really happened that night? But Jesus didn’t answer their question. Instead, He confronted them because even though they had gone to a good bit of trouble to seek Him, they were seeking Him wrongly.
Seeking Jesus for the wrong reasons (John 6:26-27)
Jesus confronts the multitude (John 6:26): “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” He means that they had missed the true significance of the miracle that He had just performed.
As Jesus is going to point out in the rest of this chapter, the miracle of the loaves and fish should have pointed them to Christ as the Bread of Life, who could satisfy their spiritual hunger for time and eternity. But, as one commentator put it (Lange, cited by F. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John [Zondervan], 2:18), “Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, they had seen in the sign only the bread.” Their minds were on mortal and material things, rather than on the eternal and spiritual things. They wanted their stomachs filled, but they weren’t seeking Jesus for eternal life. They are not like the true disciples of Jesus who at the end of this chapter will say, “we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” (6:69). They had no sense of their sin or their need for the Living Bread who would give His flesh for the life of the world (6:51). They were not seeking Jesus because they saw the meaning of the sign. They sought Jesus only for bread to fill their bellies. They wanted Him only for what He could do for them materially.
They are not seekers of a savior, they are seekers of personal satisfaction. They want Jesus to provide stuff for them to live on. As John MacArthur points out, these people are candidates for the prosperity gospel. Jesus is still being offered by false teachers as the genie who gives you what you want. The false teachers who promote this damnable heresy are preying on people’s greed. This teaching is rampant in many poor countries, as well as in the United States. It deceives people into thinking that their real need is more money, when in fact their real need is the eternal life that Jesus offers.
Sadly, the modern, western, Christmas season promotes this kind of greed. If we are not careful to seek Jesus as our Savior from sin, we also can get caught up in the greed and materialism of the world during Christmas. Just as the feeding of the 5000 was not really about Jesus giving people loaves of bread to fill their bellies, Christmas is not about getting stuff to fill your lives with. It is about Jesus, the Bread of Life who gave His flesh for the life of the world, who died for our sins upon the cross, and who gives eternal life to all who believe in Him.
So Jesus exhorts (6:27), “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Jesus is pointing out that they were pursuing completely the wrong thing. They were seeking Jesus “for the food which perishes.”
Jesus doesn’t mean that you should quit your job and take a vow of poverty. He is showing us by way of contrast where to put our focus. As He said in Mark 8:36, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” We should not be so caught up with working to put food on the table that we neglect working for “the food which endures to eternal life.”
I’ll comment more on this when we look at 6:28-29, but did you notice that Jesus says that we are to labor for food that endures to eternal life, and yet at the same time, this food is the gift of God? It is food “which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus stresses this principle throughout this chapter. This bread of life is given by God and it must be received by men. He stresses divine provision and human appropriation of the bread. The Son of Man gives it. We must receive it by believing in Him.
Before I close today, let’s think about three,
Important truths here about Jesus:
- Jesus knows your motives. He saw right through this crowd that was seeking Him for the wrong reasons and He lovingly confronted and exhorted them in the way they needed to change. When Jesus confronts your wrong motives through His Word, pay attention and respond with repentance. He’s doing it because He loves you, not to hurt you.
- Jesus gives spiritual food to those who truly seek Him. He knows exactly what you need to grow in your relationship with God. He will give it to you when you believe in Him, when you seek Him for it.
- Jesus is God’s only authorized giver of spiritual bread. He says (6:27b), “because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” A seal authenticated a document and showed that the owner of the seal authorized it. D. A. Carson explains (The Gospel According to John[Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 284), “The idea is that God has certified the Son as his own agent, authorizing him as the one who alone can bestow this food.” So don’t fall prey to any false teaching that says there are many ways to God or teaching that diminishes the full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One whom God has sealed. Seek Jesus alone for the food that endures to eternal life.
So come to Bethlehem today, not just to remember a baby in a manger who is the Son of God, but to come to the house of bread and eat of the Bread of Life who gives His flesh for the life of the world. Jesus is the only one who can provide true soul satisfaction, both in this life and for eternity.
Have you been seeking Jesus? You’re only a heartbeat away from standing before God in judgment. Are you certain you have eternal life? Cry out to God to open your eyes to your desperate need for a Savior. Come to Jesus. Believe in Him as your Lord. To you He will give the gift of Himself, the Bread of Life that satisfies forever.
Have you been seeking Jesus for the wrong reasons? Repent. Turn away from seeking the food that perishes. Seek Jesus, the Bread of Life, today.