(Taken from The Jesus They Knew, by William Barclay)
When I teach, I like to use little "gimmicks" to get the attention of my audience. One of these is to ask various rhetorical questions that require the listeners to think a bit before they answer. Another "gimmick" I use is to make an apparently outlandish statement that also requires one to think. People like to correct you when you say something wrong, so often I will say something that is wrong or sounds like it may be wrong. Someone will usually respond, even to ask "Did you really mean to say that?" At least, that lets me know someone was listening!
This evening, I'd like to start by asking this question -- Why did God not allow Moses to enter the land of Canaan -- the Promised land?
I won't give you an answer yet, but I'll get to it shortly.
First, let me tell you something you may find hard to believe -- The Bible is NOT the Word of God!
Some of you may have a problem with that statement, and I understand why that is. After all, isn't that what we have been taught most of our lives? What I need you to understand is that God has been revealing Himself throughout eternity. He has done this in many ways. One way is through what He has created. You remember that Paul teaches in Romans 1:20 that "His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen ... through what has been made," so no one is without excuse for knowing that God exists.
Another way that God reveals Himself is through what I call "mental telepathy." God is able to impress upon the minds of people what He wants them to know. Those people who are particularly sensitive to this communication we call prophets. Most of us tend to just tune out God's attempts to communicate with us. We selectively tune in to those communications from God and other people that make us most comfortable, that fit in best with what we have determined is in our own best interest.
Many individuals with whom God has communicated in the distant past were inspired by God to write down the revelation they received. Some felt instructed to do so. The book that we know as the Bible is the result of some of those revelations. If you read parts of this book carefully, you will find that parts of the revelation were "too marvelous for words." Other parts of God's revelation were so profound that simple words were not adequate, so the writers often tried to use various symbols or figurative language to express the revelation they received.
So you see that God's revelation has not been completely captured in this book that we call the Bible. Only part of that revelation is here, an it is somewhat limited by words and their meaning, and by our ability to interpret what is here. The Bible is a miraculous book, and it is also important to realize that anything else that God might reveal to us must be consistent with what is written in the Bible.
So make no mistake – this book is an essential part of God's revelation, and what has been captured in this book points one clearly, unmistakably, to the Truth that God wants each of us to know. It tells us, for example, that ultimately God sent His only begotten Son to portray for us in the flesh what God wanted us to know about Himself. Jesus Himself is the ultimate Word of God, as John tells us in the first few verses of his gospel.
Symbolism in Scripture is something that has always fascinated me, particularly when Jesus uses it. Jesus was particularly adept at using figurative language to get His messages across. For example, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd, the Door, the Way, the Son of Man. One must dig deeply into the meaning of these terms to grasp what is to be understood when Jesus uses them.
The passage I wish to focus on this evening is in John chapter 6. This chapter starts with the story of the feeding of the 5000. After that miraculous event, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, returning to the side near Capernaum, and many followed Him there. I begin reading at verse 30......
John 6:30-35 (NASB)
30 So they said to Him, "What then do You do for a sign, so 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 OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'"
32 Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.
33 "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world."
34 Then they said to Him, "Lord, always give us this bread."
35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
Here, Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life."
In one sense the Bread of Life is one of the simplest titles of Jesus; its meaning is almost intuitively obvious. But at the same time it has roots which are very deep and implications which are very wide.
Jesus had fed the five thousand on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. He had then returned to Capernaum, and there he met the Jewish leaders. (John 6.1-14,24). The feeding of the five thousand had almost inevitably brought memories of the manna in the wilderness (6.31). It was Jesus' insistence that it was not Moses, but God, Who had given the people the manna (6.32). He then goes on to say that the true bread, the bread which gives life and defeats death, must come from God (6.32). Then there comes his great claim: 'I am the bread of life ... I am the living bread which came down from heaven' (6.35,48,51). Here was a saying which the Jews bitterly resented; they thought that they knew who Jesus was, and they could not see how anyone whom they regarded as a familiar person had the right to talk like that (6.42). Then Jesus went even further when he identified this bread of life with his own body and blood, which, he said, men must eat in order to enter into the real life which in this world, and which death cannot touch (6.52-58).
(i) It is important to understand that this story has roots which go back very far in time. Any mention of bread from heaven would immediately turn the thoughts of a Jew to the manna which God gave them in their wilderness journeyings (Ex. 16.1-36). That story was deeply imprinted on the Jewish memory. In Nehemiah 9.15 the manna is called bread from heaven.
It is called by the same name in Psalm 105:40. In the Psalms it is also called grain of heaven and the bread of angels (Ps. 78.24,25). To the Jew there was something mysteriously divine about the manna, and for Jesus to claim to be the bread from heaven was in itself a claim to be divine.
ii) The manna had other connections in Jewish thought.
It was part of Jewish Messianic belief that, when the Messiah came, he would once again feed his people with the heavenly manna. It was the belief that in Solomon's temple there had been placed the ark, with the tables of the ten commandments, the rod that budded, and a golden pot of the manna. It was said that, when the temple was destroyed, Jeremiah had hidden away the pot of manna, and that, when the Messiah came, he would produce it again, and the faithful would eat of it.
This belief appears in the New Testament itself, when in Rev. 2.17 it is promised to the faithful that they will be given the hidden manna to eat. It was rabbinic belief that whatever Moses had done, the Messiah would repeat. Therefore, the Messiah will be a second Moses who will bring down the manna from heaven. 'You will not find manna in this age,' ran the rabbinic teaching, 'but you will find it in the age that is to come.' It is prepared for the righteous in the coming age, and those who are worthy will eat of it. Moses the first redeemer brought down the manna from heaven, and the Messiah the second redeemer will do so again.
Another belief belongs to the same circle of ideas. It was believed that in the Messianic age God would make a great banquet for the faithful, at which leviathan and behemoth would provide the fish and the meat. In the New Testament this belief in the Messianic banquet is echoed in the saying (Luke 14.15): 'Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.'
From all this it becomes clear that for Jesus to say that he was the bread from heaven was to say that he was the Messiah, and that with him the Messianic age had begun. To the Jews that claim was clear, and it was precisely that claim that roused their anger.
(iii) But there is a still greater claim here. There is in the passage the stressing of the fact that the giver of the manna was not Moses but God (John 6.32). It was a standard part of Jewish belief that the manna was given because of the transcendent merits of Moses, and that, therefore, with his death it ceased.
As an aside, I want to suggest that the reason that Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land was because, when he struck the rock to bring forth water, he gave the impression that he and Aaron had personally performed this miracle. God wanted the people to know that it was God, not Moses, who was giving them the Promised Land, so Moses was not allowed to go there with them.
So Jesus denied that Moses gave the manna, and insisted that the giver of the manna was no human person, but God. Then Jesus went on to insist that it is he who gives, and is, the living bread, then this is a claim to be nothing less than divine. He is claiming in some sense to be God, or at least to be doing what only God can do.
(iv) The qualities of the manna were even more wonderful. The manna was said to be angels' food, distilled from the upper light, 'the dew from above'. It was said to answer to every taste and to every age. It varied in itself according to the need and wish and condition of the eater. Whatever the eater needed, that the manna was. Here then is the claim of Jesus that, whatever be the need of any man, he can satisfy it. The feeding of the 5000 parabolicly demonstrated this fact.
(v) The Jews made still another identification. In Proverbs 9.5 it is Wisdom's invitation: 'Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed.' Here again is a reference to bread from heaven; and so in Jewish exegesis the bread from heaven was identified with the heavenly Wisdom which is from above. If then Jesus claimed to be the bread from heaven, he was claiming to be the perfect Wisdom, which alone could teach men how to live.
(vi) Bread is the staff of life, that which enables life to go on. The bread of life is the bread which gives life, and Jesus claims that THAT life is a life which can defeat even death. It is Jesus' claim that he is able to give life in this world and life in the world to come.
(vii) There follow the startling words of Jesus about eating his flesh (6.51-58). Without doubt this is a reference to the words of the sacrament - This is my body, given for you. The teaching of John is that this new life, which is sufficient for this life and for the life to come, enters into a man with the elements of the bread and wine at the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It is John's belief that at the Lord's Table the Christian receives what Ignatius called 'the medicines of salvation', the heavenly food which is sufficient for victorious living and victorious dying. Catholics believe in "trans-substantiation," that the elements of their sacrament actually become the body of Our Lord. Protestants generally do not hold to this view.
However you view the sacraments, the meaning of this is that the Christian must take Jesus Christ into his/her innermost being, that he must enter into us as does the food we eat and drink. There may well be something here which is as old as the most primitive religion, and yet as full of mystery as God himself. The most ancient of all religious ceremonies is a meal in a sacred place at which part of the meat which has been sacrificed is eaten by the circle of the worshipers. At such a feast the god himself was believed to be a guest. More, the god was thought of as entering into the worshiper in all his divine-life and strength with the meat of the sacrifice.
During the Eucharistic meal, the Last Supper, Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of Me." (Luke 22:19) Paul also used the same words in 1 Cor. 11:24, 25. The Greek word used in the New Testament for "in remembrance," is anamnesis, which means a re-living of the event, not just a simple mental recollection. A true believer actually experiences the presence of Christ. Paul cautions unbelievers NOT to partake of this meal. (1 Cor. 11:27) One thing is certain', in Chapter 6, John is sure that we can never know what life is until Jesus Christ enters into us.
I Am The Bread of Life. Here at the same time is one of the greatest claims and one of the greatest offers of Jesus Christ. I hope that after this brief discourse, you will never again look upon a piece of bread without remembering that Jesus said, "I Am the Bread of Life. He who eats of this bread will have eternal life."