“Chew on this! The average American eats five times a day – five times! And only brushes two times! Chewing Trident after eating can help you fight cavities five times a day! Yep, Trident helps you fight cavities. So every time you eat, chew on this: Trident!” Do you remember that commercial? It was from 1993, so 1) it lives in a special place of joy in my heart called “the teenage years” and 2) with its tagline – Chew on this – it was meant to say something controversial or unexpected – to bring up a unique and appealing aspect of this product you might otherwise have thought dismissable. The commercial proposes that you take in and inwardly digest, consider, contemplate that Trident gum fights cavities – they wanted you to chew on it.
We’re still in John ch.6 this morning. As we said, it’s Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse”. And like that Trident commercial does, this morning he says things that provoke us, that he wants us to consider, to take in and inwardly digest. Almost literally this morning, Jesus invites us to “Chew on This”…
The Living Bread
John ch.6 is all about Jesus making clear who he is and what that means for us. Last week we would have taken up vv.41-51 where Jesus continued to invite the crowd to understand who he truly is. He said that the only people who have a connection to God the Father are the ones who know Jesus, God’s Son. And that continues in our section when in vv.51 and following he promises that in him we “live forever.”
He can promise like that because Jesus is the bread from heaven. Which is what the crowd thought they wanted: heavenly stuff like that miraculous manna from Moses in the desert from long ago. They were looking for things to make the here and now better – a little wow for their workaday lives. Which we know too. Who hasn’t asked similarly? But Jesus said that what they truly needed was already before them – bread from heaven. He was the one who came – the Son of God born into history: the one coming – standing right in the midst of the people; the one who has come to do the Father’s will (vv.33, 38, 41).
Actually that’s what the truly wowing work of God in human experience is about. Jesus isn’t just from somewhere else like the new kid in school from Texas; the significance is he brings something else. He is the “living bread.” He multiplied all that miracle bread for the 5,000, but it was just bread – dead grain baked into a loaf for eating. Bread gives energy for bodies to use for daily living… But, as Jesus said, you can get your bread from the greatest French patisserie or even get manna from God’s heavenly store, but it’s still just bread. Each meal you eat, every bite of earthly bread (in point of fact: every experience, toy, reward, what-have-you from here), is just energy/stuff to keep on living until you die…
But Jesus is the bread that is alive: the bread that has life to give out. Just like he said in v.57, “the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” Because he is the Bread of Life from the Living Father, those who “eat of Jesus”, they get his life – God’s life. Or v.51, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” As opposed to everything else that we could want or strive to achieve, Jesus is nourishment that gives life that lasts to eternal life.
And he’s very clear with us how he accomplishes it. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” It’s the same kind of thing as the beginning of the gospel, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” (Jn. 1:14) That was when God became man at the same time. The human body of which Jesus would later take to “be lifted up” on the cross (Jn 3:14); his body once for all (Hb 10:10) offered, the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 4:10). As John the Baptist said, Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29)
This morning, Jesus calls us to consider this and take it in – that he is unlike and better than all the things we might find here. He is the living bread from heaven who gives eternal life, secured by the payment for sins that he made when he offered his own flesh into death at the cross. And he invites us to eat this up… Even more, to chew on this…
Or else you have no life
He said it more than a couple times in the gospel and in this section. V.51, “If anyone eats of this bread [Me/Jesus], he will live forever…” And the Jews got it – this is provocative language. They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Now, the problem wasn’t really that they thought Jesus was advocating Christ-cannibalism. No – in this chapter, whenever Jesus talks about eating him he’s not talking about cannibalism. Nor (for us distant Christians) is he talking about Holy Communion – which never uses the term “flesh”; and doesn’t guarantee eternal life; in fact, communion isn’t even presented in John’s gospel. No. I think you should understand, when the Jews challenge him, that Jesus doubles down on his challenging statement and says in v.53, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
There’s only one arena in which this way of speaking fits. It’s “eating of” as in “believing in” Jesus as Savior. You can tell from places like vv.32-36
Jesus said to them, “[T]he bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” [the people] said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.”
Or vv.47 & 51, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life…If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.” In John ch.6, “eating” is “believing”.
Actually, the real problem isn’t with understanding that Jesus means “believe in me” when he says “eat the bread of life”. The real problem is taking it in, loving and knowing it as exclusive it is: that if we don’t believe in him, we will not have life. It’s a problem because we like to fill up on all sorts of things to fill life out. And some of the things we imagine are pleasing to the eye and good for food – for life. And to hear that they’re just fuel to stretch the tank until the death destination… It’s a problem because there are a good many things, aren’t there, in which we’re tempted to say, “You know, I just don’t see it that way…” or “That’s really exclusive…” or “Well, whatever works for you…”? “My son is just ‘spiritual’ but not religious” – as in, he does religion like the kid at the KwikTrip soda fountain – little of this, little of that – 64 oz of sugar-death… “Creation in six days?” – that’s fairy tale stuff with all the “science” we know… “A doctrine of hell?” – that’s a little harsh, judgmental – who do you think you are? “That God’s roles for men and women should differ?” – woah! What? Oh, it’s 1592 calling, they’d like their chauvinism back… And we say, “Well, those aren’t for me…” or worse, “This all is not for me…” Because I define life differently…
No… Jesus says, “Chew on this” – contend with this – there is no other way to eternal life; there is no solution for life after this life; there is no relationship with God above – no escape from hell – no payment for sins – no worth in God’s sight…except by “eating” of him and receiving him in faith. It’s just as John said it in the simplest gospel passage ever, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) “Eat” / “believe” in Jesus = Live forever! “Don’t eat” = Perish!
“My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink,” he said. Meaning that, regardless of what you like or what someone else told you or what feels great – you need to eat this – really. And you do – eat of and believe in him – and have his life given in place of your own so that, as you turn back to his meal again and again there is forgiveness for your sins and satisfaction in what he says.
Just look at what he promises as you “eat him” in faith. Eternal life is yours to have so that you will be “raised up at the last day”. Whether you’re alive when he returns or dead for centuries, his forgiveness of sins and everlasting life promises that you’ll walk into everlasting life. Jesus calls us to eat of him – to take in the bold words he speaks and the things our reason discards and those things our world denies and own them / love them. And as you “eat him” in faith – dig into his Word, gather in worship, devote as a family – that will strengthen your faith and firm up your doubts and drive away your fears because he remains in you and you will “remain in” him. He doesn’t leave you, but is with you just as he promised, with encouragement in trouble, and satisfaction with his blessings, hope for the future, and confidence for salvation. Which all is a pretty good definition of truly living by any standard. Something worth taking in, considering, owning, and doing…
You know, chew on this wasn’t just a commercial. In v.54, Jesus changes his word for “eat” and uses the one for when animals eat. Perhaps like my dog does when my wife gives her her weekly bone or her nightly doggy ice-cream – she doesn’t sit down with fork and spoon and napkin. She takes that food, trots over into a corner and loudly smacks, licks, gnaws and chews away at it until it’s gone. It’s not a good translation for the verb, but it’s a decent illustration for what Jesus has in mind altogether this morning. Jesus wants us to take him in – not just a head knowledge, not just a membership association, but a stomach-faith with a voracious appetite. Jesus has prepared the table. He calls us to feast on him in his Word with intensity, to set down fork and spoon in hand at the table of his promises and tuck in. Chew on this – swallow it whole – take it in – savior every bite. Jesus is the bread of life. And he secures real and lasting life for you. Amen.