Chapel - Ben Reynolds

Dr. Benjamin Reynolds

Over the past few weeks we’ve been hinting about a new series of Community Chapel messages based on the “I am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. This week Dr. Benjamin Reynolds kicks off the series with his reflections on Jesus’ declaration “I am the Bread of Life”.

Ben, Professor of New Testament (Undergraduate Studies), has been at Tyndale for over ten years and is an accomplished scholar, teacher, and mentor. He and his wife Lizzie and their three active boys live in Toronto and enjoy a number of activities in and around the Tyndale campus and the city.

The title of Ben’s message is “Jesus is the Bread of Life, and We are What We Eat”.

Speaker: Dr. Benjamin Reynolds
Chapel Date: Tuesday October 19, 2021
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Podcast Transcript

Think with me, if you will, about your favourite food. What is your favourite food, that food you can't get enough of? You know, maybe it's sushi. Maybe you like baked pork on rice. Maybe it's shawarma. Anything with noodles, jerk chicken. For me, my favourite food tends in the Mexican area, right? I like Mexican food. So baja fish tacos for me is my favourite food. That warm corn tortilla, with a crispy fried fish. With cabbage, the special sauce, little Pico de Gallo, freshly spritzed lemon, or lime juice on that fish taco. That's about as good as it gets for me. Now some of you may be saying, that are here and are on, are live watching. What are you doing, talking about our favourite foods before lunch? That's not fair. We have to sit here before lunch.

Well, today we're beginning our series getting into the "I am" statements and thinking about Jesus, Jesus' identity in the Gospel of John through these I Am statements. And my topic today is the first of these I Am statements with a predicate. And this is the one where Jesus says I am the bread of life. Jesus calls himself bread. And because of that, I think it requires us to rethink our eating habits. Jesus is the bread of life that comes down from heaven, and we are what we eat. Let me just read part of the passage that we're going to be talking about today. I'm going to be reading from John six, verses 45 through 51.

It is written in the prophets, they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God. Only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I'm the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Jesus is the bread of life. We are what we eat. And we need to rethink our eating habits. But there's a few things to talk about before we get here. This is part of a longer narrative that begins in 6:1 of John's gospel and goes all the way till 6:71. And there's a few things leading up to this conversation. Beginning in six one and two, we learned that this is near the Passover festival. Jesus is with his disciples in Galilee on a mountainside and crowd, a crowd comes to him, a large crowd. Jesus ends up feeding this large crowd of over 5000 people from five loaves and two fish, which one of the boys in the audience has. Jesus gives thanks, the bread is distributed, the fish is distributed and everyone has as much as they want to eat. There's so much that there are 12 baskets left over. The crowd is so amazed by this, that they want Jesus to be king. They declare him to be the Prophet. Referring to Moses declaration in Deuteronomy 18, which was made two weeks ago when Sawyer talked to us about identity. After this is over, Jesus doesn't want to be made King and so he disappears, and the disciples in the next scene go off in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus waits until it's dark, and then he walks across the water and meets them. Once he gets into the boat, then they make it to where they're going.

The people on the other hand, the next morning, they wake up, and they know Jesus didn't go with his disciples, where are they? Where is Jesus? Where did he go? So, they get in boats and they go looking for Jesus. Where has he gone? And when they finally find him, we get to 6:25, and this is where it begins this longer dialogue that Jesus begins to have with the crowd, with the Jewish leaders and even his disciples. This dialog relates very much so to the feeding of the 5000. We can't disconnect it from that. But what Jesus is doing, in this instance, is he is directing, He's directing his audience, both the crowds, the Jewish leaders and the disciples away from the sign of the feeding, and to what the sign is looking toward. Signs, of course, only are important in what they direct us to. And that's very much what is true of the signs in John's Gospel. This feeding is not that important except for what it tells us about Jesus. So when the crowd finally gets to him, when they finally find him here in 6:25, they asked him this question, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" I love these awkward conversation starters. in John's Gospel, this is one of the best ones.

Here's this group of people, they've just hopped in boats, they've been scouring the Sea of Galilee, which is about 33 kilometers around, finding Jesus, they finally find him. Hey, when did you get here, Jesus? I think in the back of my mind, Jesus doesn't refer to this. But I kind of think he's he's thinking, well, if you only knew how I got here, walking on water, right? All right. So so we're tracking. Jesus, though, sees through their interests, and he says, you, you've, you're not interested in my travel details. You don't want to know how I got here. I gave you food yesterday. That's why you're here. Eugene Peterson's translation, and the message is spot on. You've come looking for me, not because you saw God in my actions, but because I fed you, filled your stomachs and for free. Jesus continues, "Don't work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." The people get excited. Give us this food, Sir, give us this food. When Jesus, when Jesus says, well, actually, when he says this, he says, what is, what is this work? What is the work we need to do? That's what they asked him. The work of God is this to believe in the one he has sent? The work of God is to believe in the one he has sent. The people, however, they're thinking about their stomachs. They're thinking about their meal. They want more proof. Before they do this work and believe. They say what sign then will you give us, that we may see it, and believe you, what will you do? Our ancestors, they ate manna in the wilderness. As it is written, he gave them bread from heaven to eat. The people are not going to do the work of God and believe until Jesus does another sign for them. Forget that he fed 5000 people the day before. Forget that he did that from five loaves and two fish. Forget that there were 12 baskets left over. Forget that everyone had as much as they wanted to eat. Forget that they declared Jesus was a prophet and wanted to make him king. They want more and they quote scripture. What are you going to do for me today Jesus? Who can blame them? We want more too don't we? More money, more food, more sleep, or healing? More time on assignments, more peace, more comfort? More thingamabobs?

What have you done for me today Jesus? Then I'll believe. Why are we not satisfied for very long? Why do we want Jesus to do miraculous things in our life, today? I'll trust you more Jesus, if you answer this prayer. I'll believe in you more, if you do this for me. Well, what about what he did yesterday, last week, last year, that time in your life when God met you? Where is our belief focused? God's spoken to me directly in a handful of occasions in my life, but why does my belief waver in the moment of now? Why does my trust falter? Jesus says to work for the food that endures. I can eat my delicious fixed fish tacos today, but I'm going to want more tomorrow. That doesn't endure. Miraculous events in our lives. We can't live off of those. We need the sustaining food, food that does not spoil. Jesus is that food that endures, and we are what we eat. At this point in the dialogue, Jesus begins a two part response to the crowd's citation of Scripture. Remember, they've quoted scripture, our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness as it is written. He gave them bread from heaven to eat. They've made this connection to Moses in the wilderness, which is very apparent, giving the Passover context, Jesus provision of food in this wilderness sort of context away from civilization. And they made this connection with Jesus as a prophet. But Jesus takes this scripture quotation that they give him, and he reinterprets it. He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Jesus says, the he is not Moses. It's the Father. He gave. It's not gave in the past tense the Father gives. And it's not manna. Manna that burns up, when the sun comes up, that spoils and turns to worms the next day. No, the Father gives the bread of life coming down from heaven. The crowd, this is when they say, this is when they say, give us this food sir. This is almost word for word, the same comment the Samaritan woman makes in John four, when Jesus says the living water, I can give you the living water, Sir, give me this water. Jesus says, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me, will never go hungry. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you still do not believe.

The bread that the Father gives is Jesus. Again, in echoing the wilderness traditions, there are two complaints that are raised by the Jewish leaders following in six 4, 41 and 42. And in 6:52, and the first one begins with the Jewish leaders, hear this, about Jesus coming down from heaven, being the bread of life, and they grumble. In the exodus narratives, the wilderness narratives, the people are always grumbling against God and against Moses. And here, there's this grumbling that comes up. And their first complaint is, "Come down from heaven? We know his parents. He's not from heaven. He's from Nazareth. We know. From heaven?" Jesus responds to these questions about his heavenly origin by highlighting his close relationship with the Father. Jesus is the only one who has seen the Father. Whoever believes in this bread that comes from heaven has eternal life. Jesus repeats that he is the bread of life on these two occasions in the section 6:48 and 6:51. And it contrasts, the bread of life contrasts, with the manna that their ancestors ate. Your ancestors.. sure, Moses gave them manna in the wilderness, but they ate the manna and they died. This is the bread of life that endures forever. I am the living bread coming down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The second complaint that they raise, how can you be from heaven? The second complaint is, how can he give us his flesh to eat? There are obviously some cannibalistic concerns here. This pushes against the Old Testament law, not to eat blood and human flesh. That's not okay. On top of it, Jesus is still alive. What are we supposed to do though? Cut a chunk of him off and eat it like, what is this? This is gross. What are you talking about? Jesus doesn't back down from this response though. He says, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day. Jesus, the bread of life, must be eaten in order to have eternal life. There's so much we can talk about here. But the call that Jesus makes on the crowd, on The Jewish leaders, on his disciples, the call is to believe, to feed on the bread of life, to eat his flesh and to drink his blood. The Jewish leaders are clearly understanding this literally. And many of his disciples, we will soon see, also do. They're understanding this as a literal, cutting off hunk, chunks of his body and eating it. This is not unlike Nicodemus in John three, when Jesus says it's necessary to be born again, Nicodemus says, What do I have to climb back in my mother's womb and be born again? This is also like the Samaritan woman, you're going to give me living water? Where's your bucket? There's no way you can get water from this well. Both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman understand Jesus literally in those statements, and so does the Jewish leaders and his disciples in this instance. Eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood is not to be understood literally. Eating is believing. The call to eat Jesus flesh and drink his blood is a call to be sustained by Jesus. Physical food, whether manna or five loaves and two fish, does not sustain. Jesus is our sustenance. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the rice, the injera, the tortilla, the naan, the sadza, the ugali of life. And He must be eaten. What does it mean to eat Jesus? I really wish I could be more specific here. I've been studying John closely since my third year at university, as part of my doctoral studies, I've written I've written on it, I reached researched on it, I teach on it. But this passage, I still find extremely mysterious. Like the crowd, I want to ask, "What must I do to do the works of God?" The only answer, that Jesus gives us, and that I can give you is that to do the works of God is to believe in the one he has sent. Feeding on Jesus means that we receive all of our spiritual nourishment from him. Jesus is the only sustenance that lasts. This means we need to spend time with him. We need to dwell with him on the ins and outs and the ups and downs of life. Brother Lawrence talks about practicing the presence of God, being aware of God's presence with us at all times during the day, and speaking to him, talking to him, listening to him. No matter what is happening to us in the day, being aware of God's presence, of Jesus presence in our life, listening to his words, this is being sustained by Him. And this is sustenance that lasts. We can be provided with miraculous bread in the wilderness. But we're still gonna die. God can do miraculous things in our lives, but we're not going to be satisfied those, we're going to want more. We will want him to act again today and tomorrow. And he will. That's who he is. But those events can't sustain us. Only Jesus can sustain us. The only satisfaction that endures comes from eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood.

This is a call to belief that Jesus has come down from heaven, and that we need his sustaining food, which is himself. We are what we eat. And eating is believing. If you think this is a hard teaching, you're not alone. Because that's what happens in 6:60, the disciples, many of Jesus disciples, say, this is a hard teaching who can accept it? Who can accept this eating Jesus business? Jesus says, the Spirit gives life and the flesh counts for nothing. Find that interesting, the flesh counts for nothing. Didn't you just say we're supposed to eat your flesh. The Spirit gives life and the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you, they are full of spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe. The same comment he made to the crowd, you want another miracle, you want another sign, you still do not believe. Here also with many of his disciples, you still do not believe. Many of Jesus's disciples stopped following him from this time. Maybe you never caught that before. This indicates also a larger group of disciples, because of what happens next. But it raises a question for us. How are we going to respond to this? The crowds don't believe, the Jewish leaders are having difficulty, misunderstanding him. Many of his disciples leave him at this point. Which I think is why Jesus turns to the 12 disciples at this point and says, Well, what will you do? Peter says, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God. You have the words of eternal life, we have come to believe, and to know, that you are the Holy One of God.

We may just want daily bread. We may just want physical satisfaction or another miracle, our stomachs filled. We may have difficulty believing that Jesus came from heaven, and is the only one to have seen God. We may have difficulty wrestling or understanding what it means to eat Jesus flesh and drink his blood. And we may stop following him. It may be too hard of a teaching. But if we are going to know the Father, if we are going to remain in Him, to live in Him, we must feed on Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life who has come down from heaven and is true food, and true drink, or real food, and real drink as some of our translations say. If we are not feeding on Jesus, and on his words, we have no connection to the Father. Just as the living water Jesus gives, it provides life, just as branches receive nutrients from the vine, the true vine, which we'll talk about in a few weeks, so we must be connected to Jesus and receive all of our nutrients from him, being sustained by him, feeding on him. Dwelling and remaining with the Father depends upon it. He gave them bread from heaven to eat. My Father gives the bread of life that comes from heaven. And we are what we eat and eating is believing. Thank you.

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