On the Holy Communion – 3 – John 6:24-35

Number 3 in the series. This is my 100th post! Excitement.


Good to be back in the pulpit with you this morning. Were going to take a small excursus from our series looking at the Communion Service in order to look at the text which was our gospel reading today. I say excursus because this text is actually a key passage for us to understand as we continue to think about the Communion service as a whole. The reason its so important for us to understand is that intriguing verse right at the end, verse 35.

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

But not only that verse. Just a little further on in the chapter Jesus says something even more outrageous

54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

Those statements, and others like them, have been the centre of raging controversy for centuries. But more than that, they are picked up deliberately in our own Communion service. So, for example, in the prayer of humble access we will say these words:

Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of they dear Son Jesus Christ, And to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clear by his body and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us.

Now, while the actual language of eating flesh doesnt appear in our passage this morning, it isexplained by it and, consequently, if we want to work harder to understand what it is that we do in the Communion service then we need to understand this passage.

So lets have a look at it.

John opens up with a change of scene there is a great crowd here and they go to Capernaum, a town on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Theyre going there to look for Jesus because of what has just occurred in the previous few days. We can read about those events from the start of the chapter up to our present text. Theyre a famous story the feeding of the 5,000. A great crowd flocks to Jesus and, out of compassion, he multiplies a few loaves and fishes into sufficient food to feed them all, with plenty left over.

The way that the story is framed is meant to make us think of the feeding of the people of Israel in the desert as they left Egypt in the Exodus; John tells us that its Passover, which was (of course) the event which led to the Exodus, you then get this scene of people in the wilderness. Next you get 12 baskets of food left over and 12 is the number of the tribes of Israel. And then, finally, Jesus is called the Prophet who is to come which is another little phrase from the time of the Exodus.

By the time weve read all that were quite overwhelmed. Jesus is presented as someone even greater than Moses, who led the people of Israel way back then. But Moses only led the people – it was God himself who sent bread from heaven to feed the people and here is Jesus leading and feeding another great multitude.

Well, the people want to make Jesus king so he moves away from them and even from the 12 disciples. They cross the sea in a boat and Jesus, famously, walks out on the water to meet them and together they sail to other side.

And now the people are still following him. We pick the story up at v24.

John 6:24 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. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

At first sight, they appear to be very keen, dont they? Theyve traveled all the way around a large lake to find him. They show an incredible devotion to him.

But Jesus is not fooled for a moment just look at what he says in v 26.

26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

Thats quite a biting comment, if youll pardon the pun. Theyre not actually looking for Jesus, they just want a free lunch. His use of the word signhere is telling for the whole gospel is built around a series of signs that Jesus does that prove that he is the Christ, Gods eternal king. But the people dont want Gods eternal king, they want someone who will give them what they want, in this case food.

Which means that we must ask ourselves the same question. Why do we seek Christ? For the warning here is clear we must make sure that we do not seek out Jesus for our own personal desires, however good and proper they may appear to be. We are, instead, to come to Jesus because he is Gods Christ. Quite what that means he is about to explain so perhaps the best thing now is to spend a moment thinking what it is that you really want from Jesus.

And, having thought, we will now hear from Jesus what it is that he has come to bring.

27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

Dont labour for food thats perishing. And isnt that what we all do? Ive just spent a few weeks working on an essay looking at the wisdom literature in the bible and the book Ive spent most time in is Ecclesiastes. Just listen to what the teacher says there:

Ecclesiastes 1:3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 2:11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Its a devastating critique of life, for it exposes to us the ultimate futility of all that we do. And Jesus here uses the same words. Dont toil for food that is perishing.

But he provides an alternative work for food that endures to eternal life. The people just want to fill their stomachs. But there is something else on the menu eternal life and they should work hard for that. How does that compare to your previous thoughts about what you have come to Jesus for?

Well, they want to know more so they ask the obvious question:

28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

It is the great question of the Bible. What must we do to be doing the works of God? Elsewhere the rich young man asks what must I do to gain eternal life? and the Ethiopian asks what must I do to be saved?

It is the great question. What must I do to earn this food that gives eternal life?

Let me ask you what you think the answer to that question is. What do you think is required of you? What work must you do?

The answer is suprising.

29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

What do you need to do? Simply believe in him who God sent. Simply trust Jesus. No more, no less. And, had we been paying attention we would have realized how redundant the question actually was for Jesus has already referred to this food as something that the Son of Man – thats just another way of speaking about Jesus gives.

Now that is a huge claim. Jesus says, come to me and trust me and you will have eternal life and these Jews that have followed him there are not convinced so they challenge him to put some money where his mouth is.

30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Now, think about that just for a moment. These are the same people who were among the 5,000 who were fed and, on the basis of that miracle, have come to Jesus but here they are saying prove yourself to us. Youve got to be at least better than Moses he gave our forefathers bread in the wilderness!

Now, if I were Jesus at this point I think Id be saying you idiots! Cant you even remember back 2 or 3 days? Dont you remember 5,000 people being fed bread and 12 baskets of food and all of this at Passover? What do you think that was all about? Moses couldnt have done that on his best day!!!

More than that, they ask him for a sign. But what theyve had is one of the signs in Johns gospel. But this is more than simple ignorance or the failureto put 2 and 2 together and get 4. This is not so much ignorance as unbelief. The signs are enough to convince people that Jesus is the Christ but these people just wont believe it. Nevertheless, Jesus explains one more time.

32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

They want to have someone greater than Moses, as though all the miracles of the Exodus were Moses doing. But thats not true. Moses did nothing God did everything. God sent the bread but these people dont want God, they want an impressive man, dont they.

And Jesus goes on.

33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

This is about as obvious as he can get without stating it plainly. The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. It is a person it is Jesus. He is the bread, he is the means to eternal life. If only they would simply come to him and trust him. But they still dont get it.

34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

I wonder if you remember the Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus meets in John 4. She does much the same thing. Jesus makes it quite clear who he is,that time using the language of water, and she asks him to show her where the water comes from. That misguided question is meant to resonate here as we meet another group of people who just dont quite get it. Its not a question stemming from belief, on the contrary it comes out of a refusal to take Jesus seriously enough. And yet, he answers them.

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Its one of the most famous sayings of the gospels. I am the bread of life. Books have been written on it. We need to notice a few things. First, that statement I am. We dont see it in the English translations but the greek here for I am, egw eimi is the greek way of saying the name of God, Yahweh. It is, simply put, a direct claim to divinity. Jesus is not just like Moses in that he is the man through whom God acts, he is also the God who acted through Moses. It is an incredible claim.
Secondly, he draws together the 2 threads that have been running through this chapter trusting in Jesus and eating the bread of life. They are, in fact, one and the same thing. To eat the bread of life is to trust Jesus or, more accurately, to trust Jesus is to eat the bread of life.

Third, he deliberately and specifically moves us away from any misunderstand that he is talking about a physical eating by introducing the terminology of drinking. This brings to mind the thirsty Samaritan woman at the well and ensure that we understand that any eating or drinking is merely figurative.

Simply put, Man has a spiritual need, spoken of here symbolically as hunger and thirst. Jesus will meet that need completely and eternally for all those that come to him, for all those that trust in Him.

Now, this is where we are prone to some confusion, for some use these words in John 6 to claim that Jesus is speaking about the Communion table. That was, however, a view solidly rejected by the Anglican Reformers in whose heritage we stand today. Let me give you the reasons why we are not to understand Jesus words in that way.

First, the movement in the passage itself is away from the physical. The unbelieving Jews here want to understand that Jesus is speaking about a real physical food but he constantly shifts their thinking to simple trust in Him. The food itself is not Jesus but is meant to point them towards Jesus. To insist that the bread is the centre of attention is to make the same mistake as those unbelieving Jews.

Second, if the intention was to establish the communion bread as the actual body of Jesus then this is not the place to do so. The place to do that would be on the mountain where Jesus fed the 5000. That is the event that John marks as happening on the Passover and that is the place where Jesus actually breaks the bread and distributes it. If you wanted to make that sort of an argument then that would be the place to do it.

But, you may ask, why was this such a concern? Well, because in the Roman Mass it was necessary to view the elements as the actual body and blood of Christ because they considered the Mass as a repetition of the crucifixion. But the Reformers rejected such a view for reasons that we will explore in later sermons. Suffice it to say here that our prayer book uses the language of thanks and praise about the Communion. The Communion is thanks and praise for the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus upon the Cross and so, like the bread that fed the 5,000, it is meant to point us to Jesus.

That is not to say, of course, that Jesus is not present in the Communion but that is a subject we shall tantalisingly leave for another week.

Let me conclude.

In our last sermon we saw that the confession of sin and the absolution is the central part of the whole communion service for that is where business is done with God. Everything up to that point in the service leads up to it and explains it. Everything afterwards points back and reminds us of it.

And the prayer of humble access, where we speak of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus falls is one of those things that points us back towards the confession and absolution for, as it lifts the words John 6 into the communion service, it draws us not so much to communion table but beyond it, to the thing that the communion table itself points us to, to the death of Jesus Christ. It calls us to come to him, to trust in Him and, in so doing, to find not what we thought that we wanted but our deepest need eternal life.

Lets pray

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

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