There is a good bit of repetition in the gospels, stories that are told more than once. This is especially true in the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). There are a few things covered in all four gospels, such as the cleansing of the Temple, the feeding of the 5,000, and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Often these stories, though repeated, bring to light new details or perspectives, giving each individual gospel its own sort of personality. Out of the four different gospels the book of John has the most distinct attributes. For nearly two thousand years it has had a profound impact on billions of people. Upon reading the gospel of John, Napoleon said this:
Either this man (Jesus) is the Son of God or the one who wrote this gospel is; I know man, and no man could have written a book like this.
When reading the first several chapters of John, Jesus explodes onto the scene. He seems to come out of nowhere because, as we are told, He came out of eternity. The response that he receives from others is one of awe, wonder and amazement. This meteoric rise of Jesus culminates in the sixth chapter of John, when Jesus miraculously feeds more than five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish (a story told in all four gospels).
At this point we appear to be witnessing what would still be considered one of the most astonishing church growth events in all of history. However, Jesus is about to change the game with the following statement:
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 6:48-51
The multitudes of people flocking to Jesus loved His miracles. They loved to hear Him teach with authority. But this was offensive to them. Now He had gone too far. He sounded presumptuous and blasphemous and a little bit sadistic. So, they grumbled to each other, “This a hard teaching. Who can accept it” (6:60)? And at that John makes the sad observation, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (v. 66). This is a hard teaching. A difficult teaching. It offends our minds. And if we look closely at the teaching it still offends us today.
Jesus tells us that His body is the bread of life. Scripture also tells us that we as believers are now collectively the body of Christ (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 12:12-27, Eph 3:6, 5:23, Col 1:18, 1:24). God uses the bread to feed the multitudes, the spiritually hungry. This sounds pretty nice. It sounds affirming. And it is. However, it should be noted how Jesus goes about preparing us, the bread, in order that we might be consumed by the hungry.
Henri Nouwen once observed the pattern that one finds when reading the stories of the miraculous multiplication of bread. They are the same words used on each account of the Last Supper and the encounter on the road to Emmaus. It is a four step process. Each time He took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread and gave the bread.
So it is with us, the body of Christ–the bread with which God feeds the hungry. First, He takes us. We like that part. It feels good to be chosen. Then He blesses us. Of course, we like that aspect very much. But then He breaks us. Hmmm. Not so sure about this one. This is a hard teaching. It is at this point that many of His disciples turn back and no longer follow Him. We like to be chosen. We like to be blessed. But who likes to be broken?
Perhaps you are in a hard place, a difficult place. Perhaps you are struggling to reconcile your circumstances with your sense of God’s work in your life. Perhaps you have even considered giving up. If so, consider the work of the Lord. The breaking and the crushing comes for a purpose. It is not that God has abandoned you. Rather, it is that He is preparing you, that He might offer you to others as spiritual food, nourishment for malnourished souls. This crushing will not last forever.
Grain must be crushed to make bread. God does not crush it forever. He stops before the wheels of his cart and the feet of his horses damage it. This comes from the Lord of hosts, who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great. Isaiah 28:28-29
Surrender yourself to God’s threshing floor today. The crushing has purpose. And He will use it to bring about life–to feed the hungry.