In the eighteenth century, a French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote a book on the pleasures of cuisine. He made this memorable argument: ‘Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.’ The food you eat is directly linked to your physical and mental state. Yes, tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you what you are: dead or alive. Listen to what Jesus tells you: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.’ (John 6:51, 53-54) This is a mouthful.
Jesus equates himself with ‘bread’. Then, He connects his being bread with His flesh and blood. Let consider: First, what does Jesus mean by comparing and contrasting himself to bread? Second, how do you eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood?
What does Jesus mean by saying He is the ‘bread of life’? He is comparing himself to ‘bread’. ‘Bread’ had special meaning for a Jew. Consider this background. Jesus has just fed the thousands with a few fish and five barley loaves. This reminded the Jews of how God fed their ancestors in the wilderness after the Exodus. God gave them bread-like substance ‘manna’. To the Jew, bread was a staple of life. Bread and drink were life’s two ‘must – haves’. Meat and vegetables were mere supplements.
In the wilderness God’s people experienced great hunger and need. They lacked the ‘must-haves’ (Exodus 16: 3). They learned God wanted them to trust Him to supply their need. ‘You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing’ says Psalm 145: 16. Likewise, as ‘the bread of life’, Jesus wants persons to see their great need. He also wants us to trust Him to supply our need.
Jesus shows up in the Galilean shoreline hills multiplying bread and fish. He says, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ On the one hand, He likens himself to ordinary bread. On the other hand, He also distinguishes Himself from ordinary bread. I prayed this morning, ‘Thank you for this bread that keeps us alive today; feed us also with the bread that will keep us alive forever.’
Ordinary ‘bread’ is necessary for natural life. Jesus is the bread necessary for eternal life. He is not just another loaf of bread. He is ‘wonder bread’. In 1931, the ‘Wonder bread’ Company did a ‘blind promotion’: they marketed their new bread with an ad campaign that simply said: ‘Wonder is coming May 21’. Wonder came to the shores of Galilee. Jesus is distinct from every other bread – even manna. He is bread from another world. He says, ‘Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died’ (John 6:48). In contrast, ‘This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die’. In fact, ‘Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.’ Do you want to live forever? Try this wonder bread. It is of a different origin, of a different essence, and of a different reality. He is the Bread of heaven!
After Jesus fed the thousands, the Jews searched for him. They saw in him a perpetual bread machine. Crank out bread like that and we won’t have to plow, or plant, or reap. We can have an unlimited supply of loaves of bread! Yippee! The woman at the well wanted similar: endless well water.
Jesus called them out. “You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves.’ They wanted endless materiality in this world. Jesus had something better in mind. Ordinary bread won’t keep you from dying. The Bread of life will. My sixty one year old first cousin Elizabeth Archer lay in ICU in Lewis Gayle Feb 23. Growing up she wouldn’t eat green beans or vegetables. On my first visit to her I said, ‘Archer, I brought you some string beans.’ She said, ‘No Brussel sprouts?!’ No food on earth could keep her alive. In fact, Dr. Haney said there is nothing we can give Archer to keep her alive. Jesus gives bread that whoever eats won’t die. Give me this Bread! You too?
Jesus said, ‘You can believe this. It is certain, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’ Jesus transposed ‘bread’ into His ‘flesh and blood’. His statement is startling. It’s downright repulsive: ‘those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life’. Here He doesn’t even try to soften our squeamishness. His statement is even more graphic than you imagine. Jesus uses the word for ‘eat’ that suggests the audible sounds of an animal munching and gnawing its food. Critics slam Christianity for this imagery. Contemporary atheist Sam Harris says if you take the Bible literally you’d be a cannibal. An ancient second century church critic already said this. He told Christians: ‘Nobody likes you…we hear that you are cannibals.’
Jesus tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. What is he telling us to do? He can’t mean we are to eat his arms and legs raw, baked or fried! There wasn’t enough of his flesh to go around to his 12 disciples, much more for the world. The word ‘eat’ is used figuratively. If you ‘swallow’ an insult, you submit to it. If you ‘eat up’ a novel, you can’t put it down. In the early American colonies they’d say ‘to eat earth’. ‘To eat earth’ meant to ‘possess oneself of the land’. ‘To eat’ can mean ‘to take something into you’, make it all yours.
To ‘eat’ Jesus flesh and drink His blood can mean ‘to take Jesus into you’; to possess Him; and to make all of Him all of yours. Having said this, Jesus’s command to eat and drink Him is more than just a figure. It may not be literal, but it is objectively real. To take into you and possess the flesh and blood Jesus shed physically on the Cross really procures God‘s forgiveness; it really releases you from the law of death; it really makes you friends with God; and it really invests you with eternal life.
To eat His flesh and drink His blood then equals to believe in Him (John 6: 29). Jesus says, ‘This is the work of God that you believe in Him’. To eat Him is to believe in him is to take Him into yourself is to own Jesus in all He is and does for you. It is to possess Him and His flesh and blood given for you on His atoning cross.
When you eat a Porterhouse steak, your body breaks down the steer’s DNA. Your body then rearranges the animal DNA into human DNA. The DNA is integrated into your body. The animal’s protein becomes your energy to power your bodily processes.
If you will eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood, you will believe in Him. You will take Him into you so He becomes identified with your body and you with His. You become united with His death so that His death is yours. You become united with Him in His resurrection so His resurrection is yours. His death releases you from the judgment of death for your sin. His resurrection invests you with eternal life.
What you eat determines what you are: dead or alive! Repent of your sin; believe in Jesus Christ and eat to live forever!