We are kicking off a new series called Jesus Redefined. Here’s the whole point behind this series. There are a ton of images of Jesus that are painted by our culture, and even by the church, but so many of those images are wrong. They don’t represent who Jesus was and who Jesus is. They don’t truthfully portray what Jesus did and what Jesus is doing.
So here’s the whole idea that gave birth to this series. We said, “What if we stopped asking, ‘Who do we think that Jesus is?’ and started asking, ‘Who did Jesus say that He is?’” What if, instead of us trying to define Him, we let Jesus define Himself?
So in this series, we’re going to explore five things that Jesus said about Himself in the gospel of John. These aren’t necessarily how our culture, or even the church, has historically viewed Jesus. But this is what Jesus said about Himself. And you know what? That’s better. If you’ve got to choose between listening to somebody else or listening to Jesus, pick Jesus. That’s always going to be better.
But now, I realize that you might not buy into the whole Jesus thing. Maybe you’re kind of skeptical about the whole deal. You might be surprised to hear this from a pastor in a church, but that’s fine. That’s totally fine. You are welcome here, and so are your doubts. So is your skepticism.
But here’s what you might figure out in this series. The Jesus that you’re skeptical of might just be the same Jesus that I’m skeptical of, because it’s not the real Jesus. Maybe the Jesus that you’re skeptical of is actually just a cultural picture of Jesus. Or maybe it’s even a churchy picture of Jesus. But it’s not the real Jesus. Knowing the real Jesus is what we’re after in this series. Not cultural Jesus, or even churchy Jesus. But the real Jesus.
For example, think about the pictures that we see of Jesus.
Like this one, for instance. I mean, I look at this and the first thing I think is, is he wearing makeup? Because it sure looks like he’s wearing lipstick. And he definitely went overboard on the rouge. Either that or he’s just really embarrassed about something.
And what’s with the weird halo thing around his head? And this pose?
I mean, can we all be honest about this picture? This is just weird. It is. That’s not sacrilegious to say that. It’s not blasphemy. It’s just the truth. This picture is supposed to be a picture of Jesus, but it’s really a picture of some weird dude wearing makeup and staring off into space. And yet, this is a very popular picture of Jesus, in the church and in culture. But the thing is, it has absolutely no basis in reality.
And then there’s this one. This is kind of the “Jesus is my homeboy” picture of. I mean, this dude is groovy, isn’t he? Walking around in white robe. Wearing a flower with a heart in the middle. He kind of looks like a hippie. And let’s be honest…he’s probably stoned. Again, it’s a picture of Jesus you see all the time, but it couldn’t be further away from reality.
Then there’s this one. You can’t show a bunch of Jesus pictures without showing the one with the little lamb. Jesus is so humble and gentle. He’s so meek and mild. He’s pretty much like Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo all rolled into one.
The only problem with that is that Jesus created so much tension and anger and outrage that the religious leaders had Him arrested and the Romans killed Him. And like Philip Yancey said, “How would telling people to be nice to one another get a man crucified? What government would execute Mister Rogers or Captain Kangaroo?”
So again, a very popular picture of Jesus. But wrong.
And by the way, what do all of these pictures of Jesus have in common? In all of them, Jesus is white.
This meme pretty well nails it.
Seriously, in all these cultural and churchy pictures of Jesus, we can’t even get His skin color right!
But I saw a story in Popular Mechanics earlier this year. This story talked about a new field of science called forensic anthropology. And some forensic anthropologists have attempted to recreate what Jesus might have actually looked like. Now, we don’t know for sure, and we’ll never know for sure. The Bible says a little about His appearance, but not much.
But from all the Biblical and cultural evidence that we have, here’s what some forensic anthropologists said that Jesus might have looked like.
I guarantee you that you’ve never seen a picture of Jesus that looked like that. How does that make you feel? Because I know for a fact that it changes your paradigm about what Jesus could have looked like.
The point is, culture gets it wrong all the time. And even the church has historically gotten it wrong.
But in this series, we’re bypassing all of that. And we’re going a whole lot deeper than simply Jesus’ skin color. Who did Jesus say He was? What did Jesus say that He came to do? We’re going to let Jesus define Jesus, and like we said earlier. That’s better. That’s always better.
So let me pray for us, and then we’ll dive into this series.
We’re going to be in John 6 today. And in John 6, Jesus made this claim about Himself. He said, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:48, NIV)
This is the first “I am” statement that Jesus makes in the gospel of John. And it tells us so much about who Jesus is and what Jesus does. When we understand this, our view of Jesus really does get redefined.
So let’s get into this. We’ve got to back up a little bit in John 6 to get the context of what’s happening here.
Let’s back up to verse 26. John writes, “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed 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. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:26-27, NIV)
A bunch of people had been looking for Jesus. And they finally found Him. But the reason they were looking for Him is because the day before, Jesus had fed them very well.
See, Jesus had just fed over 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. And in fact, His disciples ended up picking up 12 basketfuls of leftovers after the people had eaten their fill. It was unbelievable!
In this economy, people lived at a very basic, subsistence level. They worked very hard for the little bit of food that they had to eat. So when someone offered them an unlimited source of food FOR FREE, they were all about it. That’s who they thought Jesus was. That’s who they wanted Him to be.
And in a lot of ways, we’re no different. We have this certain picture of who we want Jesus to be and what we want Jesus to do. And it usually revolves around us. What we want from Him. What we want Him to do for us. And when you take look at the end game of that view, you see that Jesus just becomes a religious version of Santa Claus. He becomes some cosmic genie that is there whenever we rub the bottle.
And maybe that’s why so many people end up rejecting Jesus. Because He doesn’t conform, He will NEVER conform, to what we want Him to be. Jesus defines who He is. We don’t.
So in this series called Jesus Redefined, we’re doing exactly that. We’re forgetting all the definitions that culture, and even the church, has used to define who Jesus is. And instead, we’re letting Jesus define Himself. We’re listening as Jesus tells us who He is, and what He does.
And that’s exactly what happens as this story in John 6 continues to unfold.
Look at the next couple of verses. “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.” (John 6:28-29, NIV)
The people had a certain picture of God, and that picture was of a God who judged people based on the merit of their work. God’s approval was based on what you did and what you did not do.
And that belief system is alive and well today. Maybe you’ve run into it. Maybe you believe it right now. God will love me if I am good enough. God will accept me if I do enough good things. If I read my Bible enough, if I pray enough, if I listen only to Christian music, if I put a fish on my car and wear Christian t-shirts, then I will win God’s approval.
Do you see the problem here? It’s all based on what I do or what I don’t do. And the reason that’s a problem is because I am a royally jacked up sinner! And if it’s all about what I do or don’t do, then that’s a problem!
And the other reason this is a problem is because it elevates manmade rules to the same level as God’s commands. For example, “I only listen to Christian music.” What does that even mean? What is “Christian music?” How does a song get saved? Anybody know that?
Look, I’m all for music that glorifies God. For example, I love the set that our band is bringing today. It is music that lifts up the Name of Jesus, and I’m all about it. I love music that brings glory to Jesus.
But you know what? I like some country music, too. And I’m talking REAL country music. Old country music. Classic country music. My favorite band is Alabama. And if you don’t know who that is, we’ve got some people who would love to pray with you after the service today, because you need it.
But that’s what I listen to. Real country music. None of that bro country garbage. “You mean you don’t listen to Luke Bryan?” Nope, because I’m not into music sung by a frat boy.
You mean you don’t listen to Florida Georgia Line? Nope, because white boys rapping about a truck doesn’t qualify as country music. In fact, it doesn’t qualify as music period.
Some of you are never coming back to Connect, now!
But the point is that there are some religious legalists who would say that God will not approve of me because I don’t listen exclusively to Christian music. And my response to that is that I’m not sure God approves of some of what passes for Christian music today. I hear a lot of music in the “Christian” genre that is really about a god that just makes me feel better about myself. He is there to boost my self-esteem. He is there to bless me with every material blessing I could ever imagine.
Basically, they’re singing to some god who is there to be who they want him to be and to do what they want him to do. They’re looking for the same thing that the people of Jesus’ day were looking for. But Jesus turns that belief on its head.
And He also rejects the whole idea of works-based faith. That somehow, God’s love and approval of us is based on us. Here’s the good news: it’s not.
That’s why Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. [meaning Jesus]”
Here’s what that means. That means that God’s approval of me is not based on me. God’s approval of me is based on Jesus.
God’s approval of me is not based on what I have done. It is based on what Jesus has done for me.
God’s approval of me is not based on who I am. It is based on who Jesus is. That’s why it’s so critical that we know who Jesus is.
And that’s exactly what we see as we keep reading this story in John 6.
“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 sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, 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 the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” [You can see that they’re still trying to make Jesus into what they want Him to be…someone who always gives them what they want. They didn’t just say, “Give us this bread.” They said, “Always give us this bread.” They knew who they wanted Jesus to be and they knew what they wanted Jesus to do. But He wouldn’t conform to that. Instead…]
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:28-35, NIV)
They wanted Jesus to give them bread. Instead, Jesus said, “I am bread.”
They wanted Jesus to always give them bread, for the rest of their lives. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”
Jesus wouldn’t conform to what they wanted Him to be. Instead, He showed them that He is something far greater and far better than what they asked for. They asked for bread. He is the bread of life.
So let’s unpack that. What did Jesus mean when He said, “I am the bread of the life?”
Well, let’s start with the bread. What do we know about bread?
First of all, when bread is made right, it’s delicious. There is nothing like fresh baked bread.
In fact, one of the ways that I judge a restaurant is on the quality of the bread. If they bring out bread that tastes like it’s straight out of a bag they bought at Wal-Mart, I’ve already written them off. I don’t even need to taste anything else. If your bread stinks, you stink.
But then, there are some places where the bread is pretty dang awesome. Places like Cracker Barrel. When you get a Cracker Barrel biscuit, you know you’ve got something awesome. And then if you’ve got some gravy for that biscuit, dang!
Or how about the rolls at Texas Roadhouse? When it comes to those bad boys, I’ve got two words for you: cinnamon butter. You could spread that stuff on a rock and I’d eat it. But when you spread that on their freshly baked rolls, holy moly!
But some of the best bread I’ve ever had at a restaurant is at Red Lobster. Cheddar Bay biscuits! Seriously, when they bring out those biscuits, sometimes I forget what I ordered. I could just say, I’ll just have these, plus about 10 more baskets of these! Seriously, if you don’t like their biscuits, I don’t even know if I can be your friend anymore. Even pastors have their limits.
But a lot of us do that. We judge restaurants, at least partially, on the quality of their bread. Because when bread is done right, there is just nothing in the world like it.
And when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” that’s part of what He meant. He was saying, “There’s no one else like Me. There never has been, and there never will be, anybody else like Me. I can satisfy the hunger in your life that no one else ever can.”
It really mirrors what David wrote in the Old Testament book of Psalms. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8, NIV)
Some of you have never tasted the goodness of God. My prayer for this series is that you will. I’m praying that, even now, you’re starting to taste the Lord’s goodness.
Because some of the stuff that we’ve talked about tastes really bad. Religious legalism tastes bad. Feeling like I’ve got to work to earn God’s approval tastes bad. Thinking that I have to do enough good things to make God love me tastes bad.
But freedom in Christ tastes good. Knowing that I’ll never be good enough, but Jesus was good enough for me tastes good. Trusting that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see my sin but instead He sees Jesus perfection…man, that tastes so, so good.
And it’s all possible because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. And that’s what Jesus talks about next in our story.
Skip on down to verse 47. “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:47-51, NIV)
Jesus called Himself the bread of life, and here’s where the full meaning comes into view. Jesus said that He is bread, and that bread would be broken. And when that bread was broken, we find life.
That’s why Jesus said, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus, the bread of life, was broken on the cross. And that’s where we find life.
We all have a sin problem. You do. I do. We all do. And that sin separates us from God. But not only does our sin separate us from God, it also means that, because we are sinful, we can never make our own way back to God. We are forever cut off, because God is holy, and a holy God cannot allow anything sinful into His presence.
Now, like we talked about earlier, that doesn’t stop people from trying. There are all kinds of very religious people who are working very hard to get back into God’s good graces. They are working very hard to make God accept them, to make God love them.
But that doesn’t work. That will never work. Our sinfulness creates a divide between us and God that we can never cross.
But here’s the great news…there’s a better way. His Name is Jesus.
Jesus lived the perfect, sinless life that we could never live. And His perfect life enabled Him to become the perfect sacrifice for our sin. God punished Jesus for our sin when He died on the cross. That means that the price for our sin has been paid in full, and we are now fully welcomed into God’s presence, now and for all eternity. And it’s not because of anything we have done. It’s not because of any of the religious huffing and puffing to please God. It’s not because we did so many good things that we convinced God that we are worthy.
It’s all because the bread of life was broken for us.
I love the way Dr. Tim Keller said it. He said, “When Jesus says I am the bread of life, he says, ‘I am God made breakable for you.’”
Try to wrap your mind around that. Jesus was God in the flesh. He was the all-powerful, all-mighty, omnipotent God of heaven and earth. And yet, He loved you and me so much that He came to our world in the form of a helpless baby. And that baby would grow up, only to be sentenced to death by crucifixion.
But before He was crucified, He was beaten. The scourging was done with a whip known as a cat of nine tails. It was a stick with ribbons of leather attached to it. Tied to the leather ribbons were lead balls and sheep bones. So when someone was whipped with a cat of nine tails, it wasn’t just “SMACK!” It was “SMACK! TEAR!”
The scourging would rake away ribbons of flesh, from the neck all the way down the back of the victim until they had reached the bottom of his calves. This was done to Jesus.
And then, imagine the pain when your open flesh and even exposed vertebrae from this scourging came into contact with a crude, rough, splinter-filled wooden cross. Jesus felt that pain.
And then 12 inch spikes were driven through His wrists and His ankles, and He was hoisted in the air where He would hang for six hours until He finally died.
And He didn’t have to go through any of it. But He endured it all, because it was the only way that the price of our sin could be paid, and we could be forgiven and free. The only way was the bread of life had to be broken for us.
And His simple invitation is for us to come to Him. Go back to what Jesus said earlier in John 6. He said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29, NIV)
Some of you have never done that. You’ve never believed in Jesus, trusting Him as your Lord and Savior. You’ve never believed in Him as the full and final sacrifice for your sin. You’ve never believed in Him and repented of your sin, trusting that He can forgive and restore you. You’ve never believed in Him by submitting to Him in baptism.
And it’s time. You know it’s time. Maybe you’ve known it’s time for a while now, but you keep putting it off. But today is the day. No more running. No more stalling. No more putting it off. Today is the day.
Or maybe it’s time for you to come back to Him. You have believed in Jesus, but your belief has wavered. And today is the day where you surrender to Him again. You believe in Him, trusting that even though your walk with Him has been very imperfect, He’s never left you. He’s never given up on you.
So here’s what we’re going to do today. It’s different than normal, but that’s just because we can’t mess around with this. The stakes are too high. And the time is now.
There’s a small card under your chair that that simply says, “It’s time.” And it lists three different decisions that you can make.
The first is the decision to believe in Jesus for the very first time. To acknowledge that you are a sinner, and there’s no way you can ever make yourself right with God. But you trust that Jesus can do that for you. You can believe that today. And you can follow that belief with publicly acknowledging your faith in Jesus through baptism.
If it’s time for you to take this step, just check that box, fold up the card, and then drop it in the offering basket in a few minutes. And we’ll contact you very soon. We’ll pray with you. We’ll schedule your baptism. But if you know it’s time, don’t deny it. Don’t put it off. Take that step today.
Another decision is what I said earlier. Maybe you are a believer, but you’ve wandered away from your faith in Christ. And it’s time for you to come back. Today, you can believe that Jesus’ perfect grace is enough to overcome all of your imperfection.
And then lastly, if you are a believer in Jesus, you’ve repented of your sin and you’ve been baptized into Christ, you can partner with our church. As you can see, we don’t mess around here at Connect. We are serious about people meeting Jesus. In fact, the very first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus. If you want to partner with us in our vision and mission, check that box and we’ll contact you soon.
It’s time. The bread of life was broken for you. And He is simply inviting you to believe in Him. It’s time.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re all going to bow our heads and spend a minute in silent prayer. And if you have a decision to make, reach down and grab that card and fill it out. Heads will be bowed, eyes will be closed. No one is watching. While we pray, take that step. Grab that paper and fill it out, because it’s time.
And if you’ve already made the decisions listed on this card, take this time to silently pray for the person in this room who needs to take a step. Pray for them to have the courage to take the step they need to take. Pray for God to speak to them in the next few minutes.
So let’s all bow our heads and close our eyes. We’ll spend a minute in silent prayer. And if it’s time for you to make a move, grab that card and make that move now.
We find life in Jesus’ death. We find wholeness because the bread of life was broken for us. If you filled out a card, hang onto it until the offering baskets are passed in a few minutes. Right now, our band is going to lead us in a song that reminds us that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain for us. The bread of life was broken for us. And after the song, we’re going to remember that sacrifice by taking the Lord’s Supper.
So let’s stand, and let’s worship Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior. Let’s worship the bread of life, that was broken for us.