(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

This is a highly disturbing passage. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the well being of the human race is wholly dependent upon him self. He emphasises over and over again that if any individual wishes to live forever he or she must commit themselves totally and without reservation to him. No sane man has ever spoken like Jesus does in this portion of Scripture. That is what makes it so disturbing. It is highly significant that the Jews were not able to ignore or dismiss Jesus as a lunatic. They would not have bothered to crucify a mad man.

(B) Jesus does not give us everything we want.

In one of my old commentaries I read that Jesus satisfies our every want. Now this is manifestly untrue.

(1) Jesus does not satisfy our bodily needs. This is hinted at in v27: Do not work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life... A man whose body is crying out for food needs a good meal - a plateful of baked potatoes , green vegetables and roast beef. I am reading a novel about a Jew in Nazi occupied Prague during the Second World War. The man had no job, no money and eventually no possessions. Hunger drove him to loiter at the butcher's shop where he stared with unrequited longing at the joints of red meat on display. Jesus does not meet a person's desire for sex or affection. I know that Jesus loves me but I also need a hug, cuddle or kiss from time to time from someone with skin on! Jesus does not meet a woman's craving for children or the invalid's quest for good health.

(2) Jesus does not produce a list of things for us to do in order to please God. That is what the Jews wanted when they asked: "What must we do to do the works God requires?" There is no heavenly tick list and no magic formulae for spiritual enlightenment. Yet this is what many folk desire.

During my visit to Japan I stopped with a very charming couple - Mr and Mrs S. Mr S. had spent many years searching for peace of mind and inner tranquillity. He longed for someone to deliver him from his demons. He turned to my friend Tommy Bamber for advice. Tommy became his guru. Now I think this was the gist of Tommy's counsel: "When you get up spend an hour or so reading the morning paper. Take a nice light lunch. Go for a stroll every afternoon with your wife. Drop in somewhere for coffee. Sit and watch the world go by. Give yourself treats in the evening - a meal out, a concert, a decent film."

In its way this is not such bad advice but what does Jesus say? "Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life ..." v40.

(3) Jesus will not give us a sign - a supernatural gift - to foster belief. That is what the Jews required: "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.'" v30and31.

There remain many who ask for sign. I recently had an e-mail from a woman, Anne, about loneliness. She found it difficult to believe that God loved her because she was so lonely. Anne had prayed and prayed for a husband or a friend but her prayers were unanswered. It is tempting to ask Jesus to prove his love by providing us with a devoted companion. There are others who would pray in the same way for a sick child or a wayward son or daughter. So many say to God, "If you really care for me you will make my little one better; you will break my daughter of her drug habit."

God the Father has given us a sign that he loves us. He has made his supreme gift. Jesus said: "But it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven." v32. "You have seen me and still you do not believe." v36. Jesus is the tangible expression of God's commitment to us. Yet so many still do not see it.

(C) Why does Jesus call himself the bread from heaven.

There are at least three inter-related reasons:

(1) Jesus satisfies men's spiritual desires. He said: "He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." v35.

It might help us to grasp this great truth if we think of some of the names of Jesus. He is the Light of the World and as such satisfies our desire to know ourselves and to know God. Jesus is the Way - the only way into the very presence of God. He is the Good Shepherd who protects us from evil and delivers us from temptation. Jesus asserts: "I shall lose none of all that he has given me but raise them up at the last day." v39 Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life satisfying our longing for life beyond the grave and giving us lasting significance. He is the Vine If we abide in him we shall bear fruit. So Jesus satisfies our desire to be useful and to please God. Above all else Jesus is the Son. He can say with assurance: "He who loves me will be loved by my Father." John14v21.

(2) Jesus gives life. He repeats this over and over again as he answers the questions and objections of the Jews. See vs: 27, 33, 35, 40, 45, 51, 54, and 58. Jesus imparts life in three ways:

    (a) He effects a reconciliation. Jesus tells the Jews: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." v29. If we are estranged from those who love us life does not improve until we are reconciled. The prodigal's wretched existence did not change for the better until he returned home to his father. Paul tells us: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. 2Cor5v18and19. The way to be reconciled to God is by believing in Jesus - the one he sent.

    (b) He breaths new life into a failed relationship. Jesus does this by the Spirit he imparts to all who believe in him. Paul writes some very wonderful words in Romans8v15: For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God's children.

    (c) He provides sustenance during our earthly pilgrimage. The manna kept the children of Israel going in the wilderness and in the same way Jesus keeps the Christians going through life. He is our heavenly manna. "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." v33.

    We need to feast upon the words of Jesus. Peter realised that. He said to the Master: "You have the words of eternal life." John6v68. Christians are also able to meditate upon the glorious example Jesus set, his saving work upon the cross and triumphant resurrection from the dead.

            We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
            And long to feast upon Thee still;
            We drink of Thee, the Fountain-head
            And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

    (d) He ensures that believers live eternally - experience ultimate, timeless bliss following his return to earth. Jesus stresses this repeatedly. It is his greatest promise and he is supremely confident of keeping it. "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever." v51. "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." v40.

            My every need He richly will supply;
            Nor will his mercy ever let me die;
            In Him there dwells a treasure all divine,
            And matchless grace has made that treasure mine.

(3) Jesus is God's provision. Christ said: "It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven." "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me." v57. Jesus is the real thing. He is bread from heaven because he carries the royal stamp of approval. "On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." v27. Why look for poor substitutes when we can have the premier brand? Jesus is God's supreme gift. None can satisfy spiritual hunger like him.

(D) What puts so many folk off the food that sustains.

It will help us here to draw parallels with our physical appetite.

(1) Some people's appetite for a healthy meal is dulled by a diet of junk food - sweets, chocolate bars, crisps and canned drink. There are a lot of people who take the edge of their spiritual appetite with what amounts to junk - music, soaps, horoscopes, walks in the countryside, revering the dead, supporting a football team and so on.

(2) There are finicky feeders looking for something special to stimulate their jaded palates. They have no appetite for ordinary fare like bread. When Jesus described himself as the bread of heaven the Jews grumbled: "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he say, 'I came down from heaven?'" v42. Lots are like that. They know all about Jesus. They don't want to hear about him. There's nothing new to learn about old Jesus. You can see this in the faces of children in Sunday school. They listen to stories and anecdotes and even the gruesome tales in the Old Testament but once Jesus is mentioned children switch off. It is the same with a young people's address - the boys and girls love the entertaining bits - the jokes and the visual aids - but come the application and their little eyes glaze over.

(3) Those with conservative tastes will only eat what they are used to. I used to teach with a PE teacher called Chris. When the school cooks offered him pasta or curry he would say, "I don't want any of that foreign muck." His favourite dish was bread and butter pudding! If I had only eaten what I was used to on my recent visit to Japan I would have gone very hungry indeed!

Jesus offers the Jews very strange food. "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day." v34. The Jews argued sharply among themselves and the consensus was: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" v52. I have some sympathy with the religious leaders. What Jesus said was unappealing if not downright shocking. It was hard for them to understand what he meant.

Jesus was probably referring to his death when he talked about his flesh and blood. We do need to accept that on the cross Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on our behalf and rely totally upon it for the forgiveness of sin and salvation.

Lots of people are put off Christianity because central to it is a broken body and outpoured blood - the ultimate sacrifice by which we make our peace with God. We are reconciled to God by believing unreservedly in the saving work Jesus did at Calvary.

(E) Where does a spiritual appetite come from?

The great mystery to me is why one thief on the cross believed in Jesus and the other did not. Why are my brother Paul and I Christians whereas my brothers Philip and Peter are not? Why was only some of the soil in the field in which the sower sowed the good seed fertile and productive? Why do some folk have a spiritual appetite and others do not? I am unable to properly answer this question but at least two things play a part:

(1) The importance of preparation.
It is possible to work up a keen appetite in preparation for a good meal. Many of us go without breakfast on Christmas day and take a brisk morning walk to ensure that we do justice to the festive meal.

So it is that God has worked through the years to prepare some for salvation. Jesus hints at this in the passage: "No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.... It is written in the Propets, 'They will be taught of God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me." v44and45.

God teaches and influences men and women through a great variety of means: creation, circumstances, living contacts, Biblical revelation, the Holy Spirit, biographical details, the human decisions of others, great books, art and music. My brother Philip told of an occasion when a man being held in a cell in Newmarket police station picked up a Bible provided by the Gideons, read from John's Gospel and was converted. Think of the complex chain of events that led to that conversion. We would have to deal with the origin of the Gideons' movement, why the man was in prison and what led him to pick up the Bible and read.

There is something else to consider. No doubt the farmer in the parable Jesus told prepared his field for sowing. However, he did so under various constraints. A public right of way ran across his field. It was uneconomical to improve the rocky patches. It was difficult to weed some of the inaccessible corners.

Now I am aware that there are Christians who refuse to accept that God is under any constraint. Well that is wrong. He is under the constraints imposed by his own nature. So although God could manipulate men's minds and make everyone believe in him and behave well he does not. God could make it impossible for us to sin. He could condition men and woman to love his Son. God does not act like this because of the way he is. He leaves men free. This is an enormous constraint for God to work under. It has led to untold misery amongst men and must have caused God himself much anguish. It also means that not all are drawn to Christ, not all have an appetite for Jesus, not all believe. But God has always known that some will. Through the ages men and women have offered themselves unconditionally to Jesus.

God made a crucial decision before the foundation of the world. What was it? "That everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life. v40. In making this decision and working under the constraint of leaving man's will free God effectively predestined some to life and some to destruction.

(2) The importance of presentation.
Our appetite for a meal does depend a lot on its presentation.

One Christmas day, not long after he was married, my brother Philip and his first wife, Janet, invited my parents and I to dinner. I shall never forget the mountain of food Philip piled on my plate. My heart sank and my appetite plummeted. I ate so many bean and brussel sprouts that I was full of wind for a week.

It doesn't pay to force feed young people religion - it puts them off Christianity. Those who force feed tend to specialise in the most indigestable aspects of the Faith - the bean and brussel sprouts of religious practice. I was brought up on Lord's Day observance. I resent to this day not being allowed to play football in the garden on a Sunday afternoon.

I can still remember the worst meal of my life. It was "prepared" by an old friend. I will call him S. The potatoes were lumpy and flanked by thick slices of blood flecked, cold lamb. This unappetising combination was surrounded by a sea of something lukewarm, pale and oily - a mixture or fat and water - an insult to the very concept of gravy. I actually gagged on this spectacularly bad Sunday lunch.

It is a tragedy when Jesus is presented in an unappealing way. Jesus is not insipid, colourless, negative or joyless. My friend had the raw materials for a good meal - if he had possessed the necessary skill to use them properly. We need to use all our ability to preach Christ in such a way that he is attractive to needy sinners.

I am a reasonably good cook but I never serve a meal as tastefully as our church treasurer, Pat Cawston. I throw the meat, roast potatoes and vegetables onto a plate and put it before my guest. It is a pity to spoil our presentation of Jesus through not quite taking enough trouble over our witness.

(F) The appropriate response to the food from heaven.

(1) If you wish to show appreciation of a meal there is no substitute for eating it. If I asked you to lunch and put on the table a big bowl of my extra special chilliconcarni there are a variety of responses I would find disappointing. I wouldn't want to hear: "It looks lovely - but really I couldn't." "My word that's tasty - but I've had a huge breakfast." "The smell is wonderful but I have to watch my figure." "You've gone to such a lot of trouble but I have to be careful what I eat." No! No! No! What I want you to do is eat it; get it down, polish it off, lick your plate, ask for more.

The only way to show appreciation of God's gift, the living bread, is to appropriate it. Take Jesus as your Saviour now.

(2) Eating and drinking are experimental. When I was in Japan the only way to discover if raw fish was as tasty as my gracious hosts promised was to eat some. The only way for my friends to find out if my chilli is as good as I claim is to scoff a plate full.

When I was a boy my brothers and I were allowed one glass of Corona fizzy drink a day. My brother Peter would come home from school and pour himself a glassful. He would hold it up to the light, stare at it and say: "It looks good." Then he would sip it and say: "It tastes good." Finally, Pete would take a great swig of his drink and proclaim: "Shaaaagaah ...... By golly it is good!"

The only way to find out if Jesus does you good is to show the same level of commitment to him as Peter did to his glass of pop.

(3) Eating is the ultimate commitment. How do you find out about a lamb chop? You could ask the butcher his opinion, read what it says on the packet, look hard at the chop, smell it, prod it..... The lamb chop requires you to make the ultimate commitment and eat it.

Jesus said: "I am the living bread ..... if anyone eats of this bread he will live for ever." Jesus demands we make the ultimate commitment to him if we are to receive the benefits he can give.

(4) We are all aware of the consequences of not eating - death. If we refuse to eat the living bread we shall die to live no more. "Whoever believes the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. John3v36.