41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 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. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
The 1967 film, “Cool Hand Luke” is, hands down, one of the coolest movies ever made. It starred Paul Newman at his absolute…well…coolest!
Newman plays Luke, a petty criminal sentenced to do hard time in a dreary detention center in the deep South. Pretty soon, Luke earns the nickname “Cool Hand Luke” after prisoners observe what a “cool hand” he is.
Luke is smooth, charming, and determined to survive. The movie chronicles his fascinating journey of survival and his attempts to escape from the hard time and ruthless guards at the labor camp.
Because of his exploits, determination, and resolve, Luke soon wins the admiration and respect of the other prisoners. They begin to see him as a kind of leader, their leader in fact.
There is a particularly poignant scene in the movie in which Luke has been captured after escaping the prison camp yet again. After being brought back to the camp, Luke has two sets of chains placed on his feet. He is beaten, exhausted and defeated. His nearly lifeless body is drug back into the bunks where he is surrounded by his fellow prisoners. The prisoners idolize Luke and refuse to believe that he has been beaten, that his spirit has been broken. They begin to press him on the glories of his escape, on his exploits while he was away, and on the strength of his spirit. In other words, they want the old Cool Hand Luke back and refuse to believe that he has been beaten.
At this, Luke, weary, dirty, filthy, defeated, and drained of all energy, looks up at the men around him, the men who admire him, the men who refuse to believe that their hero has been defeated. As he looks at them, his face fills with exasperation and rage and he screams at the men surrounding him: “Stop feeding off me!”
It is a powerful moment. “Stop feeding off me!”
It is Luke’s plea for the men to stop living through him. It is Luke’s revelation to the men that he isn’t as strong as they think he is, that he cannot be for them all that they need for him to be. It is Luke’s heart-broken cry of his own limitations. In screaming at them, he is telling them that he cannot supply them with their needs, that he cannot be their source of hope.
“Stop feeding off me!” Luke screams. “Stop feeding off me!”
On the other hand, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Feed off of me.”
Jesus stands before the people and says the exact opposite of what Luke says. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus said that the people could draw their strength and hope and vitality and nourishment and courage and resolve from Him forever.
Cool Hand Luke said, “Stop!”
Jesus says, “Come!”
The people wanted Cool Hand Luke to be all of this for them, but he couldn’t.
The people did not want Jesus to be this for them, but He could.
Luke could not be the nourishment the prisoners needed to survive.
But Jesus can.
Jesus is the bread of life.
We’ve been looking at this reality for two weeks now. First, we saw Jesus’ miraculous provision of bread for the hungry people. Then we saw Jesus correct the mistaken assumptions of those who received this bread. Now Jesus sharpens the focus even more. Here, He draws the people into even deeper realities of His own person and presence. And what Jesus said about the bread of life – about Himself – was staggering indeed!
The Bread of Life is a Gift From God
Our text this morning reflects a growing tension between Jesus and “the Jews.” At the center of this tension and conflict is the inability and refusal of the Jews to see and hear and understand what Jesus is saying. So our text begins this morning with their displeasure at Jesus:
41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
This word “grumbled” is significant because it is the same word used to describe what the children of Israel were doing to Moses in the exodus. They “grumbled” against Moses. They “grumbled” against Jesus. The use of this word at this point further demonstrates the powerful link between John 6 and the events of the Passover and Exodus. Furthermore, we find their grumbling bolstered by their mistaken assumption that they themselves knew the true identity of Jesus:
42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Of course, there is irony here. The Jews reject Jesus because they claim to know Jesus’ earthly father, but in reality they are rejecting Him because they don’t know His Heavenly Father. They claim to know His father at the exact time that He’s trying to introduce them to His Father!
So Jesus moves to the very heart of their rejection of Him. Their minds are carnal.
43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Here we find one of the great, controversial texts of the New Testament. I would say that it is not inherently controversial. It is controversial only because our own minds do not natively love and relish the truths of God and because we demand systemization where the Bible defies it.
First of all, let us remember the context of this passage. Jesus is trying to reveal Himself and the people will not receive Him. The reason they will not receive Him is because their minds and carnal and they will not come to God.
In this context, Jesus speaks of the drawing power of God unto salvation. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
This verse is controversial because it sits squarely in the middle of modern debates surrounding predestination, election, the sovereignty of God, and the responsibility of man.
While I do not want to miss the main emphasis of this text (i.e., Jesus’ revelation of Himself as the Bread of Heaven) in this one verse, let us take a moment and consider its meaning.
To begin, let us all agree that we must take any passage for what it says and not for what we want it to say. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” So the verse means precisely that.
Some people say, “Yes, this is true, but then God is drawing the whole world to Jesus.” But this does not work at all, for those whom the Father “draws” to Jesus, Jesus definitely raises up on the last day. In other words, those who are “drawn” will be “raised.” This is a drawing unto salvation, not a general desire for people to know Christ. If, then, you claim that God is drawing every person, then you must believe that everybody will be saved since those who are drawn will be raised. You cannot say, in other words, that God draws all but Jesus only raises some (i.e., those who trust in Him). No, all who are drawn are raised, so if all are drawn all will be raised.
This is called “universalism,” the idea that all will be saved. But the New Testament clearly does not teach that all will be saved. If not all are raised then not all are drawn.
Furthermore, there is a simple biblical truth in these words: no heart and no mind can embrace Christ and His gospel unless and until God has opened that heart and mind to the things of God. We are lost, condemned people outside of Christ and we need our hearts softened and our eyes and ears opened so that we might see and hear and know and trust Christ. This is why Jesus goes on to say:
45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.
This is the plain meaning of the text and I would propose that we embrace this plain meaning. Jesus says that nobody can come to Him unless the Father draws Him and that all whom the Father draws to the Son will be raised.
The doctrine of election is quite clear in this regard. This Bible says this and we should not shrink from it.
The Bible exalts the sovereignty of God in salvation. But the Bible also teaches the responsibility of man to respond to the gospel, to repent and to believe. This is likewise very important. In fact, in verse 47 Jesus turns to the responsibility of man to believe: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
So here we have two biblical ideas: God’s drawing and man’s believing, divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
The problem comes when people try to push one truth to the exclusion and informing power of the other. There are those who speak of God’s drawing but never of man’s need to repent and genuinely believe. There are those who speak of man’s responsibility but never of God’s sovereign election in salvation.
Whole systems have been built up around these two realities and intense theological battle lines have been drawn around them. And this is understandable, for, on the surface of things, these two truths seem incompatible: God’s sovereign election and drawing in salvation and man’s responsibility in responding. If, after all, God is drawing, in what meaningful sense is man genuinely responsible? If, on the other hand, man is genuinely responsible to respond, in what sense is God drawing?
May I make a proposal that some of you will find unsatisfying but that others of you will likely find liberating? May I suggest that the New Testament teaches both realities in such a way that neither can be denied. May I further suggest that this tension between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is even necessary if God is God and we are fallen man? May I suggest that it is only our innate desire to master the mysteries of God that makes us unable to live with and relish the beauty and tension of these mysteries?
I am not trying to take a middle road because I find it easy. I am trying to take a middle road because I find both of these beautiful truths taught in scripture. God is sovereign to save and draws those He will. Man is responsible to respond and must embrace the cross of Christ.
For instance, have you ever noticed that the last phrase of verse 44 shows up again ten verses later?
54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Do you see the verbal connection between the two?
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Here again we see two sides of one beautiful truth. “No one can come to me unless…” and “Whoever feeds….and drinks…”
Let us keep the mystery and beauty of these truths without distorting one to the exclusion of the other, for, when we do so, we do violence to the Word of God.
I agree with New Testament scholar D.A. Carson when he writes:
“Yet despite the strong predestinarian strain, it must be insisted with no less vigor that John emphasizes the responsibility of people to come to Jesus, and can excoriate them for refusing to do so.”
I agree with Gerald Borchert when he writes:
“Salvation is never achieved apart from the drawing power of God, and it is never consummated apart from the willingness of humans to hear and learn from God. To choose one or the other will ultimately end in unbalanced, unbiblical theology. Such a solution will generally not please either doctrinaire Calvinists or Arminians, both of whom will seek to emphasize certain words or texts and exclude from consideration other texts and words. But my sense of the biblical materials is that in spite of all our arguments to the contrary, the tension cannot finally be resolved by our theological gymnastics. Rather than resolving the tension, the best resolution is learning to live with the tension and accepting and those whose theological commitments differ from ours.”
I agree with the Dutch Reformed New Testament scholar Herman Ridderbos when he writes:
“No attempt is made to explain faith’s involvement in the vivifying power of God. The Bible speaks in two ways about a reality that as a miracle from God is not transparent to the intellect but to which the gospel seeks to open the eyes and hearts of people.”
I agree with Andreas Kostenberger when he writes that “the reference to the Father ‘drawing’ is balanced by people ‘coming’ to Jesus.”
We need both of these truths. God is not passive in salvation and man is no mere puppet.
Both of these truths are taught in scripture and both are present in Jesus’ discourse with the Jews.
We reject because we want to reject. We come because God is gracious to draw.
Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both taught in the Bible and are both needed for a healthy theology. They form different sides to the prism of the whole counsel of God’s Word. One holds up the prism and turns it this way and that. At this angle, the one truth is emphasized: “Come unto Me!” At that angle, the other truth is emphasized: “Drawn by the Father!”
Spurgeon likened it to walking through a door. On the front of the door post are the words, “Whosoever will may come.” But when you pass through and look at the other side you find these words, “Chosen before the foundation of the world.”
What this means about Jesus, the Bread of Life, is that the Bread of Life is a gift from God. He is loving and compassionate to offer it to us and draw us to Him. The Bread cannot be seized by greedy hands, but it can be received in hands of repentance.
The point of the passage isn’t our silly controversies over Calvinism and Arminianism. The point of God’s drawing power is the glory and sovereignty of God in Christ and the wonderful gift of salvation.
The Bread of Life is Eternal and Unending
The Bread is a gift, but it is not merely a gift. The Bread of Life, Jesus, is an eternal, unending, all-satisfying gift.
47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life.
How do you embrace eternal life? You believe. “Whoever believes has eternal life.”
“Belief,” here, is not mere mental assent. Salvation is not a matter of, “Eh, ok, I believe that.” “Belief” in the New Testament is a matter of whole-hearted acceptance, a complete embrace of a complete truth with broken heart and conviction of mind.
Do you want this Bread, this eternal Bread of God? Then believe! Then call out to Jesus! Call out to Jesus and live!
This bread is different from the bread their fathers ate in the wilderness, the bread they are asking Jesus to provide:
49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
Yes, it is very different. The bread the people want, the bread for which they are clamoring will not save them. They will eat it, it will satisfy them for a moment, but it cannot overcome death.
But Jesus, the Bread of Life, can overcome death. He is a different kind of bread because of who He is and where He comes from:
50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
Ah! Jesus, the eternal, life-giving Bread of Heaven, takes root in those who partake of Him and gives eternal life. Normal bread is digested and expelled. The Bread of Life takes root in the human heart and transforms the life of the one who eats from the inside out. It is living bread.
I always love when Dale Prater shows up at the office with a cardboard box. Dale, of course, has a partnership with Panera Bread and he gets bread from them daily to give to those who need it. Every so often he will swing by the office and ask the staff if any of us would like a loaf of bread or a pastry.
Dale Prater is the Santa Claus of the office! We love it and we feel nothing but gratitude. But the bread in that box, as amazing as it is, doesn’t last forever. In fact, no sooner is Dale out the door that I’m thinking, “I do hope Dale comes back again!” Why? Because the bread he brings, while delicious, does not last forever.
The bread we want is bread that does not last.
But Christ lasts. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is living bread. He nourishes and He sustains. He truly lasts forever, as do all who partake of Him.
The Bread of Life is Broken for Us
The bread is a gift. The bread is eternal. But now Jesus move to the most shocking characteristic, one that stands at the very center of our faith and one which Jesus now begins to reveal to the already scandalized Jews: the Bread of Life is broken.
Again, we see the spotlight on Jesus increasingly narrowing in this 6th chapter. It began broad and wide in the miraculous provision of literal bread. Then it began to narrow as Jesus revealed that the bread was a symbol of His own self, that He, Jesus, was the bread of life. Now the spotlight narrows with increased rapidity, intensity, and clarity as Jesus reveals two more realities about the Bread of Life.
“And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Utterly astounding! Yes, Jesus Himself is the bread, but, in a special sense, His flesh is the bread. The blindness of his audience now mingles with outrage:
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Again, their over-literalized mindset cannot fathom the divine truth of what the Lord is saying here. They are blind, deaf, and dumb to the gospel. But Jesus does not tone down the blunt shock of his teachings:
53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
“What can this mean?” the Jews must have asked themselves. It means nothing less than that Jesus, the bread of Life, will be broken, torn asunder, killed, crucified, and murdered. The bread that is His flesh will not remain a whole loaf. No! The hands of men will take this Bread of Life and hate it. They will hate it because they prefer only the temporary bread of the earth. They will hate it because the bread of Jesus will threaten to undo, to change, and to redo all that they are.
So angry men will take the Bread of Life and rip it apart. But in doing so they will be furthering, not hindering, the plan of God. For bread must be broken to be given, and it is through this breaking of Christ on the cross that God has willed to give Him to the world.
When we come to Christ crucified, Christ offered to the World, Christ given, Christ broken, we live! To eat His flesh and drink His blood is to believe and trust and embrace Him in faith. And in believing and receiving, we live!
This is the will of the Father, that we would partake of Christ through faith and live.
54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Again, we see here divine sovereignty (“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.”) and human responsibility (“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…”). But note the beautiful end: the one who is drawn and the whoever that comes to the broken, offered Bread of Life will be raised by Christ on the last day.
If you will take this crucified Jesus, you….will…live! Why?
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. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
So it is through our consumption through faith of the Bread of Life, which is Jesus, that we are given life from the living God who gives us Jesus.
Jesus, then, is God’s offering to starving humanity so that all who come to Him might live and never die. He is a broken offering, a crucified offering. We eat of eternal bread when we trust in this crucified Jesus.
What a heart breaking thing it is when a man rejects this eternal bread.
Just a couple of days ago Roni and I were hiking in the Grand Canyon. We had never been there before. It is, in a word, astounding! It is also a bit intimidating hiking some of those trails. It’s intimidating not only because of the sheer drop off the edge of the path in certain sections of the trail, but maybe more so because ever in your peripheral vision, if not your direct vision, is the overwhelming grandeur of the Grand Canyon itself.
I don’t know if I can explain this, but it is a strange and somehow dizzying sensation walking that closely to such an amazing, jaw-dropping Canyon. It’s always right there. Even when you try to look only at the path in front of your own feet, you still see and sense and feel this indescribable, beautiful, and slightly frightening Canyon all around you. It can create a weird kind of attraction, or pull, or draw as you try to walk that can throw your equilibrium off.
In fact, when Roni and I were hiking back up the portion of the trail we hiked, as we neared the highest, steepest, and most dizzying aspects of the path, a group of three young people passed us. I noticed that the young man in the group was holding a baseball hat up to the left side of his face. The rock wall was on his right and the Grand Canyon stretched out to his left. I asked him if he was ok. He said he was fine but that he got dizzy when he saw the Grand Canyon below him. So he shielded his eyes so as not to be able to see. In this way, by blotting out the sight of the Canyon below, he could continue on his path unobstructed.
It was an interesting moment. This young man believed that so long as he didn’t look at the Canyon he would not feel its drawing, dizzying power.
We do the same with Christ, don’t we? Some of you may be doing this this very morning. You know that the grand Savior is beside you. You feel Him and sense Him and can even detect His drawing, dizzying power. You know that He is too awesome to be ignored, yet you are trying to blot out any vision of Him that might distract you from your path. So you hold before your eyes petty things that yet have the power to obscure His presence: jobs and hobbies and families and relationships and pleasures and wishes and wants.
But you still feel Him. You still know He is there.
Friends, do not shield your eyes from the grand Savior any more. Drop your shield and fall headlong into His grace. There are open arms there and a loving Savior. The enormity of Christ is terrifying to a lost soul but comforting to those who know Him. His presence is dizzying and disorienting to those who want to stay on their own little path. To those who embrace Him, however, His path becomes their path.
He is the Savior.
He is the Bread of Life.
Church! Visitors! Families! Friends! There is bread at the cross for you! Living bread, offered bread, broken bread, sacrificed bread, crucified bread, God-sent bread, incarnate bread, resurrected bread, alive-again bread, Kingdom bread, Hell-destroying, soul-redeeming, life-preserving, glory-securing, Satan-destroying, joy-producing, faith-confirming, eternal, immutable, beautiful, glorious, majestic Bread here, in this Jesus, for you, now….right now!
Come and taste and live.
 D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Gen. ed., D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p.293.
 Gerald L. Borchert, John 1-11. The New American Commentary, vol.25A. Gen. ed., E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), p.268-269.
 Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John.(Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p.234.
 Andreas J. Kostenberger, John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), p.213.