The Bread of Life
‘Tis the season. As I write this, we are well into (dare I say, neck-deep?) the Christmas season. And, in our family, it is also birthday season, with several members of our family celebrating birthdays in December. Even our dog Gracie, for whom RaeBelle just had to have a party, complete with guests, gifts, homemade doggie treats, and cake – which was supposed to be for the humans, but the birthday girl managed to get her nose under the foil and eat half of it as it sat on the kitchen counter and no one was watching.
For our dear Hunny B, this season has been the time of year-end projects at work, finals for her classes in graduate school, shopping for presents, and the seemingly never ending quest to decorate the house for the current season. Oh, not to mention school events, parties, and Christmas plays for the kids. RaeBelle is playing Cindy Lou Who in her school’s production of The Grinch. We, like you I am sure, are rather busy this holiday.
For me, it seems there are dozens of times this season that call for a loaf of my sourdough bread. This dinner, that party, a gathering of friends, a celebration at work, a thank you gift, or just because we need some for home, I have been making a lot of bread lately. I do not really mind, but, sometimes what I choose to do as a hobby can begin to seem like work.
Making bread seems to fit Christmas time. It is my way of giving a little of myself. I am not a gifted artist or craftsman, as are some, but I can do some things with barbeque and sourdough that please people, and that is rewarding. It seems to go deeper than that during this time of year. As I have my hands in the sourdough this season, I keep hearing two phrases, both spoken by our Lord Jesus, whose birth we celebrate. One, when hungry and tempted by Satan to change stones into bread, Jesus replied, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4, and quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3) The other, the day after feeding 5,000 men (and the women and children that were also gathered but unnumbered) with only five loaves of bread and two small fish, Jesus taught those who came seeking more of the miraculous food, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6:35) Note, this is the first of seven instances recorded in John where Jesus says, “I AM”.
What was bread to the Jews of Jesus’ time? The two accounts mentioned above, as well as in the Lord’s model prayer when He petitions His Father to “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), tell me bread was key to their very survival. Middle Eastern bread in the time of Jesus was probably much like we think of Middle Eastern bread today – small, flat or flat-ish leavened bread with no fats. Grains are the basis of the Middle Eastern diet, and bread has always been a staple of every meal. Given the composition of the bread and the generally arid climate of the region, the bread would become stale and hard after only one day. The baker would save a small portion of dough from the previous day to place in the dough of today to supply the leavening necessary to make the bread lighter and tastier. The naturally occurring yeasts present in that dough could not live much more than a day in that environment. Consequently, baking bread, and seeking that bread, was a daily necessity.
The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. After He filled their stomachs for the day, Jesus chose to withdraw from the multitudes, perceiving they wanted to take Him and make Him king (John 6:15). Not only did they truly see Jesus as “the Prophet who is to come into the world”, they liked that He could feed them. Leaving there, Jesus retired to the mountains to be alone. His disciples went down to the Sea of Galilee to take a boat across to Capernaum. The winds came up and rowing became difficult. At that time, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and received Him into their little boat, which then immediately arrived at its destination. The next morning, the crowds sought Jesus. Not finding Him at His previous location, they followed Him to Capernaum.
Once there, Jesus rightly perceived the crowd followed not for His teaching, but for the bread He could provide. The Lord explained they should not seek the bread which perishes, “but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”. (John 6:27) Looking for a sign that they might believe, the people reminded Jesus that their fathers ate manna from heaven (hint, hint). It was then Jesus hit them with the “I AM the bread of life” statement. Saying He was the I AM come from heaven caused the people to grumble, for they knew His earthly family, and could neither understand nor accept His teaching that He was of His heavenly Father. By demonstrating His ability to attract and excite a multitude, then rejecting the crowd’s desires for bread, and for claiming the title of I AM, Jesus put into motion the attitude among the Jews that would one day lead to His crucifixion.
As you enjoy your Christmas celebrations, including, I hope, filling up on some good bread, remember that we are celebrating the birth of the I AM who is the bread of life.
Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People