Gospel of John (9) — Eat My Flesh

This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John. In just a little bit, we’ll take a look at our text in John, chapter 6.

But first, I want to talk about something that I’m sure is on everyone’s mind this week – Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays of the year. And what’s not to like? There’s giving thanks to God, football, a parade with floats and balloons, and, of course, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if there wasn’t a huge meal.

If I were to go around the room this morning and ask you all to list your favorite food on Thanksgiving Day, I’m sure we could come up with quite a list – turkey (of course), stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie. The work that goes into putting this meal together can take days. But, when you’re gathered around that Thanksgiving table with family or friends, it’s all worth it.

Now, I mention all of this because our text this morning deals with another very special meal. If you had been there that day, you would have remembered it for the rest of your life. It wasn’t because there were a whole lot of different dishes that were served – there was only some fish and some bread. And seating everyone around the table would have been extremely difficult since there were over 5000 people eating this meal. But, the most amazing part was the way it was prepared.

There are actually two parts to our lesson this morning. In the first part, John tells us about the meal itself. Then, Jesus tells us the significance of that meal.

Let’s watch the first half of our video. If you have your Bibles and would like to follow along, we be in John chapter 6, starting with verse 1.

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I want to spend a little bit of time looking at the story of this miracle, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time because I want to move rather quickly to what Jesus had to say after the miracle.

One of the first things we notice is the size of the crowd. There were about 5000 men. Matthew tells us that that number didn’t even include the women and the children. This was a huge crowd, which tells us something of Jesus’ popularity at this time. Jesus had spent a lot of time teaching, performing miracles, casting out demons, raising the dead. And, because of this, people came from all over to see this man for himself.

On this particular occasion, Jesus was trying to get away into the desert with his disciples, but the crowd followed him. And, by the end of the day, there were suddenly 5000 people with nothing to eat.

Jesus gave his disciples a test and be asked Philip, basically, “What do you think we ought to do with all these people? They’re starting to get hungry.” And Philip said, in essence, “I have no idea. It would take 8 months’ wages to feed all these people. We don’t have that kind of money. And besides, even if we did have the money, there’s nowhere out here to buy anything.”

Philip was being practical. He was being a realist. He saw the number of people. He saw the amount of money they had available. He knew what could be bought for that much money and he came to the only reasonable conclusion – we can’t possibly feed all these people.

But, before we criticize Philip too much, we need to take a look at own lives. Do we ever react the same way? Do you ever measure what God can do by the size of your bank account? Do you ever calculate Jesus’ abilities in a situation such that they never exceed what you have available? And I think we all have a tendency to do that. I think there are many times that we don’t attempt great things for God because we don’t factor into our calculations how great God really is. We limit what we attempt to do by what we think we can do ourselves.

And then there was Andrew. I picture Andrew being kind of like Robert Barone on the sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Do you remember that show? Robert isn’t really known as “Robert.” He’s known as “Raymond’s brother” because everybody loves Raymond.

And I think it must have been something like that for Andrew because he is always introduced as “Peter’s brother.” And if you have a brother or sister who is more popular than you are, then you know how Andrew felt. People would say, “Here’s Andrew” and someone would say, “Andrew who?” “You know—Peter’s brother” “Oh—him!”

But Andrew is the guy who is always bringing someone to Jesus. He overhears Jesus ask Philip about how they can get enough food to feed all these people…and immediately he heads into the crowd looking for people who have food. But out of all those thousands of people, the only one Andrew can find with any food is a young boy whose mom wouldn’t let him leave home without his lunch box.

And unlike Philip, who basically said, “This situation is hopeless…”, Andrew said, “I’ll see what I can do and I’ll trust Jesus to take care the rest.” So, he found this little boy and brought him and his meager little lunch to Jesus.

Now, when we say five loaves and two fish, it makes it sound like two platters of salmon and five of those loaves of bread they bring you at Macaroni Grill! But that’s not what we’re talking about. These loaves were more like flat little biscuits and the fish were more like tiny sardines.

And John tells us the bread was barley bread. That was the cheapest of all bread in that day. In fact, it was bread that most people turned their noses up at.

But Jesus took that meager food and miraculously used it to feed over 5000 people. And not just a tiny little bite apiece. John tells us they ate until they were full. And then, after they ate, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers.

This miracle, or sign, shows us again just how amazing Jesus was. Only the Son of God could do something that incredible. He met the needs of that huge crowd, and went beyond their need to supply an over-abundance of blessings.

But, afterward, the crowd didn’t acknowledge him as the Son of God. Instead, they wanted to make him king. Jesus was the perfect person to lead them in a revolution against Rome. He could heal the sick, raise the dead, and multiply food. That pretty much took care of most of their military logistic and tactical problems. This was their guy. He was the one they had been waiting for, and they were going to make him king. By force.

But, of course, Jesus didn’t want anything to do with their plan. And the next time the crowd finds him, he has something to say to them about food. But they’re not going to like what he says.

Let’s watch now the second half of this video. We pick up John 6, verse 22.

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In this conversation, Jesus makes the transition from physical bread and physical nourishment, and now he’s saying, “I want you to consider a different kind of bread, a different kind of nourishment.”

And when Jesus starts talking about himself as the living bread – it’s a concept that warm and inviting. It sounds wonderful. But then, he starts talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and now the conversation goes to something that’s a bit disturbing.

You can tell that most of us were raised in church and we’ve heard this story hundreds of times, because we can read through this passage without even blinking an eye. But, folks, this is strange stuff! Jesus tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. And to someone who is not a Christian, this is really weird stuff.

In fact, in the early centuries, the Romans accused Christians of being cannibals – because when they got together to worship, they ate flesh and they drank blood. And that was very disturbing to the world of that day. But, of course, Jesus isn’t talking about cannibalism here.

You may think that Jesus is talking about the Lord’s Supper. Because every Lord’s Day we eat the bread that represents his body, his flesh, and we drink the fruit of the vine that represents his blood. And so, I’ve often heard worship leaders read this passage right before we take the Lord’s Supper.

And it’s easy to see why someone might connect the two because the language used here is very similar to the language Jesus used when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. But here in John 6, Jesus isn’t talking about the Lord’s Supper. One of the reasons I’m convinced of that is because Jesus told the people standing right in front of him that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and the Lord’s Supper wouldn’t be instituted for a couple of years. And Jesus is not saying, “If you take the Lord’s Supper, you’ll have eternal life.” But he does say, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life.”

So, if Jesus isn’t talking about the Lord’s Supper, then what is he talking about? Because if this isn’t the Lord’s Supper, then it really is disturbing. And, in fact, it was so disturbing to the people who were there, we read a few verses later that “From that time, many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.” (John 6:66)

To give you an idea of how they must have felt when they heard these words, let me approach it from a different angle. Suppose I were to talk with you this morning about the importance of actually eating human flesh. If you were in a situation where you had to do that to survive, could you bring yourself to do it? Some of you might be offended that I would even bring up a topic like that in the middle of a worship service. You’re absolutely disgusted by the idea.

But whatever your reaction, one thing is for sure – nobody could listen to me talk about that and be nonchalant about it. The idea of eating human flesh is troubling on several different levels.

And I think that’s exactly what happened when Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (John 6:54). Because, as was so often the case, the crowd of people around him could only understand what Jesus was saying in a literal way. And, if Jesus was literal, then that was disgusting.

But, of course, Jesus wasn’t speaking literally. He was using a figure of speech, one in fact that we still use today. We use eating and drinking as a figure of speech to talk about passion. If someone says, “My son eats and drinks video games.”, we understand what that means. It means, that’s what his passion is. Every spare minute, he gets on his Xbox. It’s the first thing he does when he gets up in the morning. It’s the first thing he does when he gets home from school. He is consumed with video games. It’s what he talks about, it’s what he thinks about, it’s what he dreams about.

And that’s what Jesus is saying here. He says, “I want you to eat and drink me. I want you to be consumed with me. I want to be the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning. I want to be what’s on your mind all throughout the day. I want you to eat and drink Jesus.” And, by the way, that’s the person who gets eternal life, not the person who nibbles on some bread and sips some grape juice. This is not a lesson about the Lord’s Supper. It is a lesson about having a passion for Jesus.

Let me share with you a few lessons that we learn from this text.

1. There’s a big difference between seeking Jesus for what he can provide and seeking Jesus.

Earlier in chapter 6, Jesus multiplies the loaves, he multiplies the fish, he feeds the crowd, and then he leaves. The people go looking for Jesus and when they find him, Jesus says, “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. 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.” (John 6:26-27)

I want you to notice what Jesus said. I want you to look at this verse up on the screen for just a moment. Jesus said they were not looking for him because they saw the miraculous signs. Now don’t get me wrong. They were looking for him because they saw the miracle he did. But they were not looking for him because they considered that miracle to be a sign. A sign points to something beyond itself. That’s what a sign does.

When Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish, yes, it was out of compassion for the people, but it was also supposed to be a sign to them, pointing them to something else, pointing them to who Jesus was. Because Jesus’ miracle was about him. It was to tell the people something about him and not just to do something for them.

And so, Jesus says, in essence, “You’re still focused on what I can do for you that’s temporary, but anything I do for you that’s temporary is going to perish. It’s not going to last.” And so Jesus says “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life.”

And when I read those words, they convict me. Because there are times in my life when I am tempted to pursue Jesus so that he will give me all of those things that will ultimately perish. I want Jesus to multiply my money. I want Jesus to multiply my comfort. I want Jesus to multiply my pleasure. I want Jesus to multiply the number of people who do things for me. I want Jesus to multiply. But I want him to multiply earthly, temporary things.

And so much of what many of us seek Jesus for is of the material nature. But material provision does not meet the needs of the soul. Physical bread may have satisfied the hunger in their stomachs, but Jesus knew it could never satisfy the hunger in their souls. They could take the bread he multiplied and their stomachs would be filled, but until they took Jesus, the bread of life, their lives would never be filled.

Now it’s not wrong to ask Jesus to intervene in your circumstances. All I’m saying is we shouldn’t stop there. Jesus is saying, “Don’t pursue me for all the earthly and material things I can provide. I want you to take me, not just what’s in my hands. Don’t just take my miracles – take me. Don’t just receive my blessings – receive me.”

That’s what Jesus is getting at when he tells them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. To consume his very life – to consume him, to digest him, to take him into our very being so that he gives life to every part of our body and Jesus becomes a part of us.

And this isn’t a one-time thing, it’s an ongoing thing. Eating and drinking is something you do every day. And, again, this isn’t about the ritual of communion in our worship service. It’s about a relationship of communion with Jesus. Communing with Jesus every day. Being passionate about taking Jesus into our lives.

And so there’s a big difference between seeking Jesus for what he can provide and seeking Jesus.

2. There are times when Jesus won’t be the Savior we want, so that he can be the Savior we need.

Those of you who are parents, has there ever been a time when you weren’t the parent your kids wanted you to be? But it was so that you could be the parent your kids needed. Sometimes God does the same thing with us. After Jesus fed the crowd, it says they “were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.” (John 6:15).

They did that because Jesus had just done a miracle for them that was similar to what Moses did for their ancestors when they were in the wilderness. And, of course, God was the source of those miracles, but God used Moses. And there was manna and quail in the wilderness. The Israelites were fed miraculously, and now here in John 6, people are being fed miraculously and they’re trying to connect the dots.

They’re thinking, “Maybe God is trying to send us a new Moses to deliver us from Roman bondage, the same way that God sent Moses to deliver our ancestors from Egyptian bondage.” And so, they wanted to make Jesus their king. They wanted to try and force Jesus to be their king.

And so, Jesus had something to say about Moses and the manna that he provided Israel in the wilderness. Jesus said, “Your forefathers ate manna in the desert, but they all died.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Even though I’ve just given you loaves and fish, if you don’t pay attention to what I’m saying, you’re still going to die. I’ve come to do something better for you than what Moses did for your ancestors. You can eat your physical bread; you’re still going to die. The bread I’m talking about is very different. Eat what I came to bring and you’ll live forever.”

And that’s why you don’t see Jesus doing another miracle in John 6. In fact, he refuses to give them any more miracles. Because to give them any more miracles would have been to further the illusion that he was going to be the Savior they wanted instead of the Savior they needed.

And the application for us is this — there are times in our lives when God says, “I’m not going to do anything else for you right now. Because I don’t want you to live under this illusion that all this material stuff is what you need. There are bigger problems that I want to address in your life.”

And so, there are times when Jesus won’t be the Savior that we want and he won’t do what we expect him to do, because he would rather be the Savior that we need. Which leads to our third point.

3. We need to be careful about being content with the menu instead of having the meal.

Let me ask you a question — what does a menu do? It tells you what your options are, it educates you about the meal, it can even arouse your appetite. Have you ever sat down at a restaurant, you don’t even know if you’re hungry, and then you get out the menu and all of a sudden, you say, “That sounds pretty good” and your appetite is stimulated.

And sometimes you’re reading the menu, but you don’t know what something is that’s on the menu because maybe it’s in another language, or maybe it’s just a dish you’ve never heard of before. And you have to ask the server, “Can you please explain this to me?”

But here’s the danger — reading the menu, studying the menu, memorizing the menu, even listening to my explanation of the menu won’t nourish you one little bit. To be nourished, you have to actually eat what the menu is describing to you.

And that’s basically what Jesus said back in John 5:39-40: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” In essence, Jesus was saying, “You guys are familiar with the menu, but you refuse to eat the meal the menu is telling you about.” Because the scriptures don’t give you eternal life. Jesus does.

This book is the menu. And I’m not putting the menu down. We need this, because it points us to Jesus. But a lot of times, those of us who grew up in church think that just because we’ve read the stories, we know the stories, we’ve memorized the stories, we’ve listened to a lot of explanations of the stories, and we have cabinets full of books with the menu. We think that because we have all of that, that we have eternal life. But if we don’t follow through and engage in a real, personal, living relationship with Jesus Christ, then we’re looking to the menu for our nourishment instead of the meal.

A lot of times people will walk away from a church service and they’ll say, “That was a good sermon. We were well-fed today.” And I understand what people mean by that and that’s one of my goals, to hopefully provide one form of nourishment. But the real meal is what you do with what I talk about. That’s the meal. The meal is when you actually set out to follow Jesus and take in his life and take in his death. When you have a passion for Jesus, and allow yourself to be consumed with him. That’s the meal.

And, folks, it’s possible for us to become experts in the menu and never pull ourselves up to the table and eat the meal. But Jesus says, “Come to me for the meal. Eat my flesh and drink my blood. Fill yourselves with me.”

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