In John 6, our Lord Jesus spoke these stunning words to us: “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…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.” These words are full of remarkable promises, and yet not easy words at all to grasp. What does our Lord intend with these glorious promises?
This eating and drinking refers to an inward and spiritual act of our souls, where by faith we receive for our benefit all that Christ is in His person, and all He has done for us in His atoning work. Believing, we are said to eat, and believing, we are said to drink. Eating and drinking have the meaning of humbly receiving by faith, for ourselves, all that Christ has accomplished in His perfect life, atoning death, and mighty resurrection to rule in glory.
Each time we come to the communion table, out Triune God invites us into the deepest union and most intimate nourishment. In the sacrament, Christ promises to our true faith, that as surely as we take bread to our mouths and eat, just as surely our souls take the nourishment of the gift of His divine union with us! The regularity of the communion meals reminds us of our constant need to feast upon Christ for life and godliness.
But let’s make sure we understand the importance of our Lord’s own use of the word picture of bread to describe himself and his benefits to us. Why exactly do we use bread in the Christian sacrament and not a fig, or an olive, or a piece of goat’s milk cheese? Most importantly we are following the example and instruction of our Lord in using bread as he instituted the supper. But there are many other good reasons why our Lord in fact chose to do so.
First, the use of bread as a redemptive symbol is significant in the history of God saving his people. Let’s see three simple examples. The showbread which the priests regularly put on the table in the presence of the LORD in the tabernacle and the temple (twelve loaves, one for each of the tribes) pointed to the fact that God would always have a covenant people of his own before his face, and that he would provide for them. The manna which God miraculously gave the people to sustain them daily in the wilderness was his Fatherly provision and was their daily bread from him (does this remind you of our prayers to the father in the Lord’s prayer?). A third example is the unleavened bread which the Israelites were commanded to eat in the commemorative Passover meal where the people celebrated God’s loving deliverance from Egypt. Jesus’ use of bread, in reference to himself shows us that he, along with the Father and the Spirit together, are our very life and nourishment!
Second, bread has always been the staple of life in every human culture. The world over, bread is a universal symbol of life’s sustenance, and lack of bread points to poverty and death. And so our Lord uses bread because it was a universally recognized metaphor of life. One scholar writes insightfully, “Our Lord calls himself the Bread of Life so that all may know that the soul of every man is naturally starving and famishing through sin. Christ is given by the Father, to be the Satisfier, the Reliever, the Physician to man’s spiritual hunger. In him empty souls find their wants supplied.”
Third, bread is coveted by every class of people. J. C. Ryle writes: “Bread is food that suits all. Some cannot have meat, some cannot get vegetables. But nearly all eat bread. It is food for the Queen and the pauper alike. So it is with Christ. He is the only Savior that meets the need of every kind of person.” As bread is taken up gladly in every culture and at all tables – Christ is given by the Father for the wants of the souls of children, women and men everywhere! Whatever a person’s spiritual hunger may be, however starving, however bruised, however broken and desperate they may be – there is bread enough for that soul in Christ!
Fourth, bread truly satisfies the body when plentiful. And so as the bread of our soul, Christ presents himself as satisfying the justice of God and our guilt by offering himself for us in his body! As bread fills the body, so Christ satiates the soul’s every need.
And a fifth and final reason: The grain of wheat, must fall into the ground and die, in order to give life to a new stalk of wheat with multiplied heads of grain. Just so – our Lord falls to the ground in death and rises in the new life of resurrection as the first fruits of many. In Christ’s instituting of His supper – we are told he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Christ uses the broken loaf of bread to speak of his crucifixion and death in our place – which produces life and resurrection and nourishment for us.
As a King – who appears at a great feast in His Banquet hall brings great joy to those present – so Christ the Lord of our feast – throws a banquet for our joy because we find that He Himself is our meat and drink, our bread and our joy! The next time you eat bread, in fact every time you eat bread – let it remind you of the hour by hour necessity of our ongoing need to feast upon Christ, the Bread of your soul! Our King would feast you, at his own table, with Himself!