In her book on the Ten Commandments, Joy Davidman—friend, and later wife, of C. S. Lewis—noted that the first commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me”—can justifiably be flipped to a positive command: “You shall have me.” The prohibition against prizing other gods above Yahweh carries with it a wonderful promise: We can have him. And if we have him, what more do we need?
This is the lesson that we learn in the first of Jesus’ “I am” statements: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). A day earlier, he had fed five thousand men on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Following that event, he and his disciples had crossed the sea to the other side, but the crowds had followed him in their own boat, desperately wanting to witness more miracles. He called out their true motives and they got defensive. He challenged them not to labour for perishable food but to earnestly desire the unperishable bread. The people immediately asked what work they could do to get this unperishable bread. He answered that there was nothing they could do; they must simply believe in him.
The fickle crowd was growing restless. If Jesus claimed to be from God, he must prove it to them by a miracle. Recalling the miracle of the wilderness manna, they demanded that he perform an equally impressive miracle. He then replied that the bread he offered was even greater than the manna in the wilderness. It is in this context that he said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Since the backdrop of this statement was the manna that God gave in the wilderness, it is helpful to consider in what ways Jesus is like—and better than—the wilderness manna. Consider, briefly, five parallels.
First, the wilderness manna was necessary bread. Since the Israelites, having been delivered from Egypt, were facing a nomadic existence in the wilderness, growing crops was not a real option for them. But bread was a staple. They needed to eat and God graciously gave them what they needed. The bread of life, is in the same way necessary. He is necessary to receive eternal life. He is necessary to sustain eternal life. We do well to remember that, apart from the bread of life, we would face certain death in the wilderness of this world.
Second, the wilderness manna was accessible bread. It was freely available every day for the people to take. To be sure, they had to do the work of going out and collecting, but it was always there for the taking. As the bread of life, Jesus is likewise accessible. We must believe, but we need do no more. God has freely given the gift of Christ and we need simply take what he has provided. We receive him once for eternal life and daily for our daily sustenance as believers.
Third, the wilderness manna was sufficient bread. Despite the later complaints of the people, the manna was sufficient to meet their needs. They needed no more than what God provided. Similarly, Christ is sufficient to meet our needs. He is sufficient in life and death, in weakness and strength, in sickness and health, in poverty and wealth. No matter our circumstances, Christ is all we need for the eternal life that we so prize.
Fourth, the wilderness manna was indispensable bread. This is the other side of the coin. The people would never have survived without the manna. They could not continue to plant and harvest as they had in Egypt. Their former ways of providing their own sustenance were worthless in the wilderness. They needed what God gave in order to survive. Similarly, as Christians, we cannot make our way through this life as we did before we met Christ. We need him every day. We need his in our joys and our trials, in our happiness and our sorrows, in our defeats and our victories.
Fifth, the wilderness manna was free bread. God did not ask the people to pay him. He did not ask them to work for the bread. He promised and freely supplied what they needed. They needed do nothing more than go out every day and collect what they required. The bread of life is, similarly, freely given by God to all who will believe and receive.
Do you recognise this morning your desperate need for this eternal bread? Will you receive him for eternal life? Will you daily receive him to provide all you need for life and godliness? Look to Christ, the bread of life, and receive him afresh this morning.