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New and improved! Better than all the competition! You have heard the advertising claims. Sometimes you might find that they are true, but often they are just a lot of hype and whatever is being advertised doesn’t live up to the claims made about it. We are often skeptical of such claims.
What about Jesus? He claims that he is better than manna. How does his claim hold up when tested?
Like most of us the people of Capernaum were skeptical of better than claims. Jesus was claiming that he had come down from heaven, that he was the true bread from heaven, better than manna. But this was Galilee. Capernaum was not far from Nazareth where Jesus grew up. They thought about what Jesus was saying and it didn’t make sense to them. “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” “He was born on earth just like everyone else. He didn’t come down from heaven any more than we did.” They had the same reaction the people of Nazareth had when Jesus stood up, read from Isaiah, and proclaimed, today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. In other words, “I am the promised Messiah.” They refused to even consider his claim because they knew his family, and “how could anyone from Nazareth be the promised Messiah?”
The problem was that they were drawing a conclusion without considering all the facts. They made an assumption that Joseph was Jesus’ father, but if they had listened carefully to Jesus, they would have realized that he did not claim Joseph as his father. He clearly stated that his father was the Father in heaven, the one and only true God.
They had asked for a sign that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the one who came down from heaven, the one whose father is God. Jesus had provided ample visual evidence for them, the most recent of which was the feeding of the 5000. In fact, in another place Jesus said, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. Jesus had provided them with plenty of signs that indicated that he was more than just a normal human, the son of Mary and Joseph.
He told them that his father was not Joseph. It was the Heavenly Father who sent him. In fact, he says, I am not saying that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God. He is the one who has seen the Father. Remember, not even Moses was able to see God in all his glory, but Jesus has seen the Father. He is one with the Father from eternity.
By God’s grace, we know and confess regularly, how this was accomplished. The Bible tells us that Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary, not by Joseph, or any other human, but by God the Holy Spirit. This is the way God chose to come down from heaven. He chose to clothe himself in human flesh and blood. This causes us to murmur along with the people of Capernaum because Jesus doesn’t look like he came down from heaven, he looks just like us. Our minds can’t get past what we see with our eyes. But it also gives us reason to rejoice because, in Jesus, we get to see God without being destroyed by his glory. He hides his glory in flesh and blood so that we don’t run from him in fear, but are assured of his love, his willingness to sacrifice everything in order to save us.
If the people of Capernaum have trouble seeing past his humanity, if the miracles were not enough, if his claims seemed like foolishness to them, Jesus points them to another witness of who he is. He points them to Scripture. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God.” “I am the fulfillment of this Scripture. Since I am God come down from heaven, when I teach you, you are being taught by God. And, if you listen to what God has said in his word you will also listen to me. The Holy Spirit will open your eyes and enable you to see past my flesh and blood, past what you assume to be my ancestry, to the truth.”
Jesus is better than manna because he is more than just flesh and blood, more than something that decays. He is the eternal Son of the Father. He is the living bread from heaven. He is better than manna because he came to do something for us that is much better than manna or anything earthly can do for us.
Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. 49Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat it and not die. 51I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.
“You keep talking about the manna in the wilderness that your forefathers ate for 40 years. That manna was great! It was a wonderful gift from God. It provided what the people needed to satisfy their physical hunger. But are any of the people who ate that wonderful food still here today?” Manna was food for their bodies, not for their souls. And even though it satisfied their hunger, it wasn’t the fountain of youth. It didn’t keep them from aging, or getting sick, or dying. It had its limitations.
Jesus, on the other hand, is more than a mixture of flour and water. He is more than just flesh and blood. He is God come down from heaven. He is the Bread of Life. He is living bread. And because he is, he can make the wonderful promise that if anyone eats this bread, he will not die, he will live forever because he will raise that person up on the last day.
Jesus is saying the same thing here that he said to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
How is Jesus able to say this? Jesus says, The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
He is able to promise all who believe in him, eat the bread of life, have eternal life because he would give his life, his flesh, for the life of the world. He had come to make an exchange. He came down from heaven and took on flesh and blood so that he could be one of us and take our place under God’s judgment. He gave his flesh for the life of the world when he allowed himself to be nailed to the cross, but more importantly, when he allowed himself to be forsaken by the Father, to experience the punishment we deserve for our sins.
One of my favorite ways to picture Jesus giving his flesh for the life of the world is to think of the phrase that people sometimes use about God’s judgment. When someone does or says something they consider deserving of God’s judgment, they might say, “I’m moving away from you in case God decides to strike you with lightning.”
So, we get the picture. We have all done things deserving of being struck with God’s lightning bolt of eternal judgment. Whether it’s grumbling about Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, or a lustful thought, or an unkind word, we all deserve to be struck with God’s lightning bolt of eternal judgment that knocks us straight to the fires of Hell.
Ask yourself the question. Whose lightning bolt of judgment is it? Who is aiming that lightning bolt? Do you think he ever misses his target? God indicates that even though people will call upon the hills and rocks to bury them, they will not escape his judgment. There is no way we can escape God’s lightning bolt of eternal judgment. We can’t outrun it. We can hide from it. There is nothing we can do.
Here it comes. You see it coming right at you, like a slow-motion bullet in a cartoon. You know you are done for. But, at the last second, Jesus steps between you and the lightning bolt of God’s eternal judgment. It strikes him. He absorbs all its energy, and you are unharmed.
That’s what it means that Jesus gives his flesh for the life of the world. On the cross he absorbed every ounce of God’s wrath and punishment aimed at you, that you deserved. He died that you might live. Then he rose so that you can trust his promise that he will raise you up on the last day.
Jesus is better than manna. Don’t be skeptical about that claim. He is better than manna because of who he is – the eternal Son of God who has seen the father and has come to reveal him to us. He is true God and man, not the son of Joseph, but the Son of God who came to take your place under God’s judgment. He is better than manna because those who ate manna still died. But those who eat him, the bread of life, have eternal life and he will raise them up on the last day.