Series: Christmas Season
Bread of Heaven (Christmas Eve Sermon)
December 24, 2021 | Andy Davis
The Birth of Christ
Jesus came down from heaven for the purpose of being bread, to give life to the world.
- Sermon Transcript -
I'd like to ask if you have a copy of the scriptures tonight to turn to John chapter 6, and I'm going to focus our brief time, just a little meditation tonight on John 6:25-35. We're jumping right in the middle of the chapter. Jesus has fed the 5,000 and this is the reading that comes after that miracle.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, 'Rabbi, when did you get here?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, you're looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you. On him, God the Father has placed his seal of approval.' Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?'.
Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this; to believe in the one he has sent.' So they asked him, 'What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert as it is written, he gave them bread from heaven to eat.' Jesus said to them, 'I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world?' 'Sir', they 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.'
Well, all over the world where Christ birth is celebrated, Christmas time, sumptuous feasting is a big part of the heritage of Christmas celebrations. A table laden with specialties and delicacies and aromatic dishes that fill the senses. The sight of fine dishes and cutlery and a nice tablecloth and the aromas that waft up from each dish and mingle in the air and mysteriously float toward your nose and entice your mouth to salivate, that's all part of the delight, but nothing compares with the actual feasting that follows, feasting on those foods with great eagerness. Hopefully you've saved enough room in your stomach for the wonderful dishes that have been so marvelously prepared by the cook or cooks in your home.
In his novel A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens taps into those sensory expectations in 19th Century Victorian England. The Ghost of Christmas present is a luxurious figure. He's sitting up on a kind of throne made up of food, a throne of food with all the foods that the people would be gorging themselves in their Christmas feasts that day. The turkeys and geese and game and poultry and pork and sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. Everything the whole nation of England would need to make merry by feasting at Christmas time. Then the ghost takes Scrooge on a visionary journey to the home of Bob Cratchit, his overworked and underpaid clerk as they prepare their own version of the Christmas feast. That family is having a dinner of roast goose with sage and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes, and applesauce, and this is followed by a Christmas plum pudding with a brandy sauce.
Now this was a substantial meal that the Cratchit family had had to save up for the entire year in order to afford to put on their table, but it's still too small for what their needs really were. And then as you remember, when Scrooge experiences his form of a conversion at the end of the night, one of the first things he does is to buy the massive prized turkey still hanging in the window of the poulterer's shop, the one that was said to be bigger than Tiny Tim and sent it off by cab to the Cratchit residence to improve their Christmas feast. So I honestly don't know what each of your families are going to do when it comes to eating tomorrow. You have your own traditions, I'm sure, but tonight we get to partake in a different kind of feast than all of that. We get to partake in a spiritual one in which the bread of heaven is the food that is provided. The bread of heaven. That's what I want to focus on with you. The concept of feasting on the bread of heaven.
The term bread of heaven first appears in the Bible in Exodus 16:4. It is during that astonishing exodus of the Jewish nation from their slavery in Egypt. Just before this, God had miraculously split open the Red Sea and made a dry avenue for the whole nation to cross while the water was walling up on the right and on the left, perhaps the most visually spectacular miracle God ever did. Really remarkable. And then God had drowned the pursuing Egyptian army in the same water, thus delivering Israel forever from that threat. But now a new threat came as they're in the desert without anything to drink, without anything to eat. God miraculously turned the bitter waters of Marah sweet for them to drink and then he addressed himself to the task of feeding the nation. We don't know exactly how many people there were, but there were 650,000 men plus women and children so maybe we're talking 2 million plus people to feed out in the desert. And Exodus 16:4 tells us, "The Lord said to Moses, 'I will rain down bread from heaven for you.'"
Now, this bread from heaven was called manna which just is the Hebrew for what is it? They didn't know what it was and so they called it, “What is it?” But it was bread from heaven and it miraculously just appeared on the ground every morning feeding the 2 million plus people. They were to go out and collect this bread from heaven up off the ground in baskets and in this way, God fed the whole nation for 40 years in the desert, bread from heaven. This manna, this bread from heaven was mentioned or celebrated. That phrase appears a few other times in the Old Testament in Nehemiah 9 and Psalm 105, but it's just referring to that same 40-year daily miracle.
The next new reference to bread of heaven is in the text we're studying briefly tonight, John chapter 6. Now the context here in John 6 is powerful. As I've mentioned, Jesus had just fed the 5,000, 5,000 men plus women and children, so again, maybe 20,000 or more people, with five small barley loaves and two fish. Some of the people return the next day for another feeding and so this conversation emerges from that. The next day they're there for more and Jesus immediately made it plain what their priorities should be. Verses 26-27, Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you're looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you." So it is always with us. Though we don't want to act like pagans, there's a strong physical drive in all of us to meet those physical needs. Pagans, of them it said in another place, their God is their stomach and this is always our tendency.
Ecclesiastes 6:7 says, "All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied." So we tend to be creatures of the moment, creatures of the physical, creatures of our physical appetites. And we need to hear again and again, don't we, from Jesus, "Do not work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.” When Jesus said this, the people pressed in on him, “They asked him, 'What must we do to work the works of God or to do the works that God requires?' And Jesus answered very powerfully, 'The work of God is this. Believe in the one he has sent.'” So many of us all over the world want to know that one thing. What must I do to get eternal life? What good work or set of good works could I do that would be pleasing enough to God that he would welcome me? How could I pay for my sins and live happily ever after in heaven? We want somehow to earn heaven by our good works. Jesus made it plain. There is one thing and one thing only necessary. This is the work of God, to believe in the one that God has sent. This is an amazing requirement. Believe only. No great works are required of us for the forgiveness of our sins, full forgiveness of our sins. No works required. No achievements, no pilgrimages, no valiant quests, no heroic bloody victories over dragons or over knights in black armor. No secret knowledge gained through mystical meditations, none of any of that. Just think of the thief on the cross. What did he do? He just believed in Jesus. He looked over and saw in Jesus a coming king and he said, "Remember me when you come in your kingdom." And Jesus said, "Today you'll be with me in paradise." Just that. Believe in the one that he has sent.
"So many of us all over the world want to know that one thing. What must I do to get eternal life? … Jesus made it plain. There is one thing and one thing only necessary. This is the work of God, to believe in the one that God has sent."
That's the focus of our celebration this time of year, the sent one. God sent someone. This is the reason for the season, as we say. The sending, the fact that God sent his son, he sent from where? Well sent from the throne of glory, sent from his own side, sent to earth through the virgin's womb to Bethlehem, sent to the stable, sent to the manger, the one that God sent to save sinners like you and me. Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. This is the one that God has sent.
And what does it mean to believe in him, to believe in the one that he has sent? Well, it means to know and be assured in your heart that this one is actually God in the flesh and that he by his death and by his resurrection alone, can save you from all your sins. That's what it means to believe in the one that he has sent. Well, the Jews that were standing around Jesus at that moment were in a mood and a frame of mind to challenge him, challenge him because Jesus was not doing what they had come for him to do. He knew why they were there. They wanted to eat again. I mean, that would be a pretty good gig, didn't you think? Just stay near Jesus and look what happens. I mean, you could quit your job at that point. You don't have to work out in the field or be a fisherman anymore. Just stay near Jesus and he's going to give you bread from heaven.
So they ask him in verse 30-31, "What miraculous sign will you do that we may see it and believe you?" This is a day after the feeding of the 5,000. What will you do? "Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert as it is written. 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" So there's that phrase again, that phrase, bread from heaven. And these increasingly hostile people are demanding effectively a daily miracle, a daily miracle, day after day, just like Moses did. Moses won their loyalty by doing a miracle day after day for 40 years, giving a nation of two million people enough to eat every single day. So that's the way they're thinking. Moses did that every day, remember? Forty years, day after day, what are you going to do? So Jesus has to recalibrate their minds and their souls to understand what really happened back then. Verse 32, he says, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven." Moses was just simply a servant in God's house. He did nothing great except that God chose to use him in a great way. The real source of the manna was almighty God, not Moses.
And now the same one who fed the nation back then Jesus is saying, that same God wants to feed you now, wants to feed you now. That's what he's saying. But with a more perfect bread, the true bread, he says from heaven. Now when he says the true bread from heaven, he's not denying the miracle that happened so many centuries before that. There was actual physical manna that happened at that time. They actually fed their stomachs with it. It was real. Jesus isn't denying that. But when he says the true bread, he means the better bread, the more perfect bread, the more lasting bread, the bread that feeds you better than that bread. That's what he's saying by true bread.
So that manna was indeed physical, but it was also an acted out prophecy of Jesus as many of the significant moments in the Old Testament were acted-out prophecies of Jesus, the Savior of the world. And so he says in verse 33, "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." The true bread from heaven is a person. It's a he, who came down from heaven. Not flakes of sweet wafers that you picked up off the ground and put in a basket that tasted like coriander seed and honey. No, not that. The true bread from heaven, the perfect, the final feast from heaven is a person. He, who came down from heaven, that person is the one who gives, Jesus said, life to the world.
"The true bread from heaven, the perfect, the final feast from heaven is a person."
Now, this is the mystical and the perfect and the final truth of Christmas. This is what we're celebrating. It's what we're gathered tonight to celebrate. We're going to celebrate tomorrow and we celebrate every day throughout the year, not just at Christmas time. Jesus came down from heaven for the purpose of being bread to give life to the world, to the world. But just as physical bread gives physical life, so Jesus gives life. But the life that the physical bread gives is temporal or temporary. It will end in death. The life that Jesus gives is eternal and death cannot touch it. Jesus wants them focusing on that life, the eternal life. The people not understanding Jesus words said they wanted that bread. Verse 34, "Sir, they said, from now on, give us this bread."
You get it. It's just the same thing again and again. They are persistent, aren't they? They're consistent. You're not hearing us. So from now on, give us that bread. But they don't understand, they don't understand and so he makes it clear in verse 35 focuses our mind on what's needed. 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." So in this he uses this idea of coming to Jesus. You hear that expression, come to Christ, coming to Jesus. But in that beautiful Hebrew parallelism, the way that they would speak, he says the same thing in different words and so you get a clear understanding of what he means. "He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." It's the same thing. So to come to Jesus is to believe in him. And if you do, you'll never be hungry and you'll never be thirsty.
Now, later in this passage, he's going to explain how he is the bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world, verses 47-51 says, "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
So tonight we celebrate the true Christmas feast. Whatever delicacies you're going to feast on tomorrow, and I'm sure they'll be wonderful. But this is the true feast that we're talking about here. Now, the Lord's Supper that we're about to partake in is a picture of this feasting but itself just a symbol. We don't believe that it's the actual body and blood of Jesus, just a symbol. But it's a symbol of the feasting that we are to do in Christ. And beyond that reality, just like the bread we're going to take in our hands, we can touch it and we will chew it and swallow it. Just as we have that physicality of the Lord's Supper, so Jesus' physical body which was crafted by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin, grew up and was broken for us on the cross. He died on the cross, physically died. His blood was shed. And by that physical death, by the shedding of his blood, he has atoned for our sins.
He has paid the death penalty we deserve for our sins and to eat therefore his flesh, as he says in John 6, and to drink his blood, is a spiritual eating and drinking which is the same as believing. It's to immerse yourself in the concept of Jesus' atoning sacrifice for you. I needed a savior. My sins are real and powerful and many and I deserve the wrath of God. But Jesus came and gave his physical life, his body in my place on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. I believe that's what it means to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. Now, they didn't understand at all what he meant. I don't know that there was anybody that heard it that first time that understood what he meant.
Imagine being one of the apostles kind of laying down that night. I don't know if they used sleeping bags back then or what they did where he said he had no place to lay his head, but they're there and Peter's saying to Andrew, "Did you get that? Did you understand what that ...?" "No, I have no idea." I don't think any of them understood. But we have much clearer conception now. We can look back and we know exactly what he means. His body was given by his death on the cross and the eating is by faith and immersion in that death for our forgiveness. But beyond that, we also have the benefit of feasting on God's word. And so we come to the scriptures like we're doing tonight in John 6. We come to the scriptures and we read it and by feasting on the scriptures, we are strengthening our souls. Our souls are renewed as Psalm 23 says, "He restores my soul." And so you feast on Christ in the word of God.
I'm so excited. On Sunday, I begin a sermon series on the gospel of Mark and we're going to be feasting on the words of the gospel. God has given us the gospel of Mark so that we can understand the greatness of the person of Christ. And when we read those stories and those accounts, our soul is strengthened. Just like when we eat physical food, we are renewed and strengthened physically. And so that's the feasting that we can do. And then we're about to partake in the Lord's Supper. And I've already said we don't believe in any transformation of the elements to the actual body and blood of Christ. Not at all. It's just bread and just juice. But when you partake by faith in these elements, you understand the things I've been talking about tonight. You understand the death of Christ for sinners like you and me. You have trusted in him as your Lord and Savior. You are partaking and feasting by faith.
You are also in a similar way to reading scripture, strengthened in your inner man. You're strengthened and renewed in your spirit and your soul. So that's what we're about to do. I'm going to close this time of meditation and scripture in prayer and then I'm going to come down there and Andy and Kevin are going to join at the table. This is a little bit different even than we usually do on Christmas Eve. Just seemed best to us to use the ordinary, the same elements we usually use, but we're going to do it differently than having you sitting in the pews. We're going to invite people to come up and stand around the table in groups of eight or 10, something like that around each table. And we're going to pass around the elements and partake and then the next group will come, et cetera.
We would ask that the only ones that actually partake in the elements be genuine believers in Christ who have testified to that by water baptism, so that's what we're asking. But I'm going to close this time in scripture in prayer and then we'll go to the Lord Supper.
Father, we thank you for the feast of the Word of God. Lord, we know that you feed us well here. We are, are amply supplied. But Lord, we are needy and so we pray that we would heed the strong word that Jesus gave, that we would not labor for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which you will give us. So thank you that you have saved us through faith, and now we pray that you'd renew our faith through the ministry of the Word as we've just heard. And now as we turn to the Lord's Supper. In Jesus name. Amen.