(56) I am the bread of life – John 6:35

All four gospels record the occasion when Jesus fed five thousand men plus women and children with five loaves and two fishes. Having thanked God for this small packed lunch he got his disciples to distribute it among the crowd until all were fed and there were twelve baskets left over. The people were reminded of the miraculous provision of food in the desert when the children of Israel left Egypt and they eagerly followed Jesus in the hope of another free lunch.

Jesus told them to focus on “food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27) meaning to believe in him and follow his teaching. To illustrate his point he said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). In the same way as we need to eat to nourish our physical bodies so we need to regularly feed on his words to build up our spiritual life. Whereas our physical bodies will die, our spiritual life is everlasting and so we are to focus on things with eternal significance.

This is the first of seven “I am” statements in John’s gospel where Jesus gives us pictures to illustrate who he is. “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11) reminds us of David’s words in Psalm 23 where he says “The Lord is my shepherd” and describes the care that a good shepherd gives to his flock. “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 and 9:5), sums up his mission to bring light to all who are in darkness. “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) and “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) indicate Jesus’ uniqueness in being the way to God and to giving us eternal life.

The use of the expression “I am” was very significant. When God revealed himself to Moses he said that his name was “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14), which was shortened to “I am”, so for Jesus to say “I am the light of the world” seemed breathtakingly arrogant to those who heard him as the use of ‘I am’ hinted at blasphemy – claiming to be God.

Jesus went further than this in an exchange with the Jewish leaders. They believed that they were fine because Abraham was their father, meaning that they were inheritors of the promise God gave to him. But Jesus told them that they were children of the devil because of their hostility towards him. The conversation became increasingly tetchy and Jesus said that, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day” (John 8:56). The Jews were baffled by this claim to have seen Abraham but when Jesus clarified what he meant by saying, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58) they became angry. This was a clear claim to be God and the Jews tried to stone him for blasphemy at this point.

CS Lewis famously summed up the options as to who Jesus was by saying that “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse” (CS Lewis in Mere Christianity).

The option that Jesus was merely a good man is not tenable from what we know of what he said. These passages in John’s gospel clearly show that Jesus himself claimed to be God, something that a truly good man would not do. Many of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time thought he was a lunatic or a liar, but others saw his goodness and accepted his claim to be the Lord, God himself.

As for us, CS Lewis laid out our options very clearly: “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

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