To Sustain Life or to Give Life

Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the Bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living Bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever; and the Bread that I shall give is My Flesh, which I shall give for the Life of the world.  John 6:49-51

Max Lucado had the following story in his book The Grip of Grace:

Twenty years ago, the Brazilian government turned a prison over to two Christians.  The institution was renamed Humaita, and the plan was to run it on Christian principles. With the exception of two full-time staff, all the work is done by inmates.  Families outside the prison adopt an inmate to work with during and after his term.
Chuck Colson visited the prison and made this report; “When I visited Humaita I found the inmates smiling – particularly the murderer who held the keys, opened the gates and let me in.  Wherever I walked I saw men at peace. I saw clean living areas, people working industriously.  The walls were decorated with Biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs.”
My guide escorted me to the notorious prison cell once used for torture.
Today, he told me, that block houses only a single inmate.  As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key in the lock, he paused and asked, “Are you sure you want to go in?”
“Of course,” I replied impatiently, “I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.”  Slowly he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates – the prisoner Jesus, hanging on the cross.
‘He’s doing time for the rest of us,’ my guide said softly.”

The lessons today are filled with contrasts.  In the Old Testament Lesson [I Kings 19:4-8] it is the hopelessness of Elijah contrasted against the Lord’s command that he prepare for a great journey, a journey of discovery.  The Epistle [Ephesians 4:30-5:2] contrasts the attitudes people usually default to, as opposed to a brand new set that comes from being adopted as God’s very own children.  The Gospel [John 6:45-51] contrasts a bread that merely sustained life as opposed to a Bread that gives Life.  In the excerpt from Max Lucado’s book, there is a startling contrast from what we naturally assume a prison is like as opposed to a radically different approach to the humanity of the inmates.

The one thing that is the key element in all of these contrasts is the presence of God Himself in the midst of the circumstances of life. With Elijah, who had looked around and saw the majority of Israel as being at best apathetic if not antagonist toward God, God’s emphasis in the story still to come was that He would never let the situation become hopeless.  There would always be a remnant, there would always be a center of hope, there would always be a place where God would begin His call to revival.  Ultimately Elijah would be sent back to work with a new appreciation of the real power of God — not in bang-whiz fireworks, but in quiet strength that will relentlessly accomplish its purpose.

In the Epistle, how easy it is to react to someone else in terms of being offended, how quick the human desires to retaliate in revenge, how inclined we can be to cut others down in order to make ourselves feel more important, more powerful, more the one in control.  On the other hand, Paul presents us with a most disconcerting irony: Real importance is to be found in that God Himself has adopted us as His dearly beloved children.  Real power is to be found in destroying the sins of others through forgiveness, kindness, thoughtfulness – an extension of how God Himself has treated us through Jesus, backed up by the presence in our lives of the power that God has used to make our lives different.  And real control is to be found in submitting to the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in you, and empowers you to be God’s child.

However the most profound contrast is presented by Jesus Himself, because He is not discussing merely a change of attitude or a change in action.  His contrast is to identify the Source of the differences.  Jesus is identifying something that often we get confused with.  On the one hand you had the bread from heaven called manna.  By no means was Jesus despising this unique food.  The People of Israel’s lives were sustained by this bread.  They could go about their daily tasks and accomplish the goals set before them.  Their bodies were strengthened, their families were nourished, their lives were unhindered.

But, Jesus also pointed out, they died.  Yes, manna was something that helped for daily life.  But it was still not enough to provide a permanent solution – an eternal solution.  Yes, the manna made them strong for the day, for the year, even for the lifetime; yes, it made them capable of doing great things, important things, helpful things, kind and considerate things.  They could even win battles!  But they still died.  It just wasn’t enough, even though it was indeed something God Himself had given them directly out of heaven, it just wasn’t enough.

That is the very issue that we often struggle with.  There is much wisdom in the world around us as to how we ought to live and how we ought to act.  There is advice in regard to what we should eat in order to benefit our bodies in the best way.  There are studies that determine that if we can gain control of this or that in our lives, not only would others be able to live more comfortably with us, not only would we be able to live more comfortably with ourselves, but also we could have a long and productive life.

Therefore it is very essential for the physician to avail your discount levitra prescription before getting involved in sexual activity. In some victims the cause of this loss has been discovered to have consistency in producing the positive outputs and suitable remedial impacts even in case of the patients those who bear a reactivity and sensitivity towards the active ingredient of the drug and need to ingest on daily basis. It makes the man not to face proper erections when he is making love with their partner. Minimizes Dry Mouth In 2009, the medical journal Urology, ED sufferers can get a sigh of relief with the fast and free shipping in the UK Men suffering from erectile dysfunction now can easily treat themselves. Just like with the manna, all of these are indeed useful, helpful, meaningful.  Each one makes valid and useful points.  But we still die.  The person who spends his whole life maintaining a proper diet dies from a new and deadly virus; a person who was kind, generous and thoughtful is killed by a drunk driver; a person who spent her life helping others grow and achieve their potential falls victim to Altzheimers.  As Jesus put it most simply: they “ate the manna…, and they died.”

All of us are struck by the seeming unfairness of some deaths, particularly in young people, but the point Jesus makes, is that young or old, they all died; whether rich or poor, they all died; whether a great humanitarian or evil tyrant, they died; whether they lived off the bread even from heaven, or just ate what was around them, they died.  As good as their information, material, wisdom was, or as poor as it was, they died.  Something important was missing.

Jesus is identifying that the key element cannot come from within the person.  It is something that is not merely wisdom, or good food, or proper lifestyle, or whatever else, although these are all very important and useful.  Still, there has to be an element that is much greater, a “bread from heaven” that does even more than everything else that is floating around us . It has to have the one unique element that transforms the bread from one that sustains life into one that gives Life.

That element is Jesus Himself.  This isn’t advice He’s giving, this isn’t a model He’s giving, this is Himself that He is giving.  He is tying His very real presence into the what gives Life.  He isn’t describing a formula for life, rather He is describing the one element that makes all the difference – not just in the world, but also in eternity.

We humans often get stuck on thinking that if we hold a larger quantity of something, then salvation, or even life in general will automatically become different.  There are people who have a great deal of knowledge about the Bible.  I have experienced atheists who have a great deal of information on the Bible.  I’ve also experienced far more people who think that they know the Bible when in reality they haven’t a clue about what is there.  I have also seen many Christians who can have a very large background in what is found in the Scriptures.  I have also seen many Christians who are frightened in that they lack knowledge and are made to feel ignorant and foolish in their faith.

I have heard many proclaim their involvement in religion and churchy things, others who identify how humanitarian they are, and some who proudly attest to their virtuous life.  I have seen others made to feel small and inadequate because they cannot trot out a list of accomplishments, some who have even made a mess of their lives and stand with totally empty hands as they begin a journey in a closer walk with the Lord.

Jesus once remarked, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me, yet you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” [John 5:39-40].  I often ponder the slaves in the US south before the Civil War: when you listen to, for example, their spirituals, sometimes they didn’t get the Biblical stories or the theology just right.  Not all were as taught in the Bible as their slaveowners supposedly were.

Yet as I listen to those spirituals, I have the deep impression that these people who may not have known the Bible beyond a basic level still had a good handle on the Author of the Bible.  Even though they could not “search the Scriptures” very well, they still met a Jesus Who was by their sides, a Savior Who reached out even to those who had no place in the grand affairs of humanity.  For some, all they had was Jesus to cling to, despite the unfairness of the system, despite the cruelty of their masters, despite the seeming emptiness of their lives.  They had met Jesus, a Jesus Who understood their condition, a Jesus Who lived a truly human life, not in the security of a rich man’s palace, but on the street, even to where He “had no place to lay His head” [Matthew 8:20].

It wasn’t merely knowledge which transformed those inmates in that Brazilian prison; it was that Inmate Who was “doing time for the rest of us” – they had realized just how much He could walk even among them, Who would walk among the results of their crimes and sins, Who would lift their hearts with a forgiveness that seemed impossible and yet was amazingly true.  Even though they could not see Him, they, like the slaves of the south US, still knew they could depend on this One and in repentance turn to Him with expectation in their hearts – expectation of a full forgiveness, expectation of a new Life, expectation of the closest possible relationship anyone could have with the God of their lives.

No, don’t come today to merely increase your knowledge, or your Bible handiness, or your quantity of good deeds.  Come and meet Him Who walks among us, Who is One of us and Who is “doing time” in our place.  Discover the Jesus Who is here already, already waiting to reveal a little more of Himself to you, already prepared to actually be involved in your life.  Come to this Jesus Who has made it possible to live in the security of a God Who watches your back, pays your crimes, walks beside you and goes before you.  Come and see Him pour Himself into your heart as He gives you everything that He is and has, as He gives you even His own Flesh and Blood for your sake, for your Life.

Come, now, and not just know about, but experience the true Manna from heaven Who gives you the ability to live Life here and then into eternity.

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