As friends and family gathered in the kitchen, we took inventory to make sure all the big kids had made their way in from various places outside and that the little ones had been fetched from the rug where their pile of toys remained. The smells of grilled food and fresh bread did their job of beckoning one and all to come. My husband led out in his strong voice, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . . ” and everyone, even the littles, joined their voices to his in loud singing. Next, plates were piled high with a colorful feast—salmon, chicken, various salads, watermelon, and large slices of sourdough, as everyone found their place at prepared tables.
As a child I had very little conception of what heaven would be like. I mainly thought of it as directional—that is, up. Whatever it was, it was up there. And there is some biblical merit to that thought. The Bible speaks of “the heavenlies” as a place that is “above,” where Christ is seated at God’s right hand (Col. 3:1–4). But as I’ve grown older and read my Bible over and over and again and again, I’ve noticed that even though heaven is “above,” God uses the tangible stuff of earth to tell us not only what heaven will be like, but what he is like. So, it seems we’ve gotten a little off course if we aren’t understanding that the everyday things in creation—like bread and water and trees and suppers around a table and honey and weddings and buildings and bodies and gardens—all have something to teach us about God and the unseen spiritual realities that will last forever.
Now, it’s important to remember that God teaches us in Scripture about how the creational metaphors connect to the spiritual world. We don’t make up the lessons out of our own head, just willy-nilly making everything an analogy for God. No, we carefully listen to how he describes himself and the metaphors he wants us to pay attention to so that we can better understand who he is and what his kingdom is like.
The Savior Who Is Bread
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’—John 6:35
When our Lord declares this strange statement to his disciples and crowds of people, he does so just a day after he had multiplied physical bread from five loaves to feed five thousand hungry people. These people, like us, knew what it was to be hungry. And they knew what it was to have that hunger miraculously satisfied by physical bread from Jesus. Just like the Israelites in the wilderness were satisfied by manna from heaven, so these disciples and crowds had been fed physical bread from God’s hand. All this they could receive with gladness.
Yet, when Jesus uses this context to present himself to them as the True Bread, the manna that comes down from heaven, many could not receive it. Instead, Jesus sees through their motives for seeking him out and tells them:
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’—John 6:26–27
The hunger and thirst we experience every day for physical food and water is telling us of our daily need for him.
In other words, their hunger and desire for physical bread caused them to seek Jesus—they knew they had a physical need for food and they found an amazing answer to that need in the signs Jesus performed by turning five loaves into bread for five thousand. But they missed their deeper spiritual need and the deeper spiritual food that Jesus was offering them.
The analogy of physical hunger to spiritual hunger and physical bread to spiritual bread was lost on many of them—not mainly because they couldn’t grasp it, but because they didn’t like what they were being told. How could Jesus be like manna from heaven if he was only a man like them? They even disputed saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) But Jesus didn't make it easier for them, but rather doubled down and insisted that only those who feed on him have eternal life.
The Hunger That Is Ours
When all our family and friends gather with us around our table, with hungry tummies and eyes popping at the feast laid out before them, we are living out a parable of what we are like in relation to God. We are hungry, eager, full of anticipation, with gnawing appetites that must be satiated. We are needy, often desperate, and thirsty. The hunger and thirst we experience every day for physical food and water is telling us of our daily need for him.
He has prepared food for us. The food he has prepared is himself. He serves us himself through his holy word—the Bible. The feast he’s invited us to is not a potluck. We do not bring a side dish to share, rather the Son of Man came to serve, not be served. We bring nothing but our hunger, our deep need for him. And the Lord says to us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps. 34:8) What a Savior! Won’t you eat of the eternal food he’s offering you in his precious word today?
Abigail Dodds is the author Bread of Life: Savoring the All-Satisfying Goodness of Jesus through the Art of Bread Making.
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