Jesus Came Not to Give Bread, But to Be Bread

Angola Prison

Angola, Louisiana

He Came to be Precious

Here is the main point: Jesus did not come into the world mainly to give bread, but to be bread. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger. He who believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35; he repeats himself in verses 48 and 51). He came into the world not to give bread, but to be bread.

Now he is going to give bread and you can miss it by thinking that is the main thing he came to do. But that is not the main reason he came. You have already had a lot of bread taken out of your hands. And I hope it lands on you with massive good news that he came to be bread, not mainly give bread. He has got to take bread out of a lot of people’s hands so that they will trust him as the bread.

Secondly, he did not come to be useful, but to be precious. Oh how many Christians receive him as useful. Or another way to put it is: Jesus Christ did not come into the world to assist you in meeting desires you already had before you were born again. He came into the world to change your desires so that he is the main one. That is the reason he came. And so many preachers, maybe some have stood in this pulpit, and they have taken you right where you are with your desires, natural desires that you share with every fallen human being in the world and just say: “Jesus came to meet that.” Well, he didn’t. He came to change those desires profoundly. It is called the new birth so that he is the central desire. He is the bread. He is the precious one. That is the point of his sermon.

He Came to Change our Desires

Now he does care about bread, I mean natural bread. He cares about your body. He just doesn't care about your body and your natural bread mainly. That is coming. That is coming just on the other side of the grave. There is going to be a resurrection some day. No more mourning. No more crying. No more tears. No more depression. No more sin. Only joy on the new earth, under the new heavens forever. That is coming. He cares about the body. He is going to raise the body from the dead, make you young forever, handsome forever, healthy forever, so that you can enjoy him in the fullness of your humanity. That is coming. But that is not the main point of this world.

I got a phone call yesterday from Jobie the administrator at our church and she said that there is a family in our church named the Jedlows and their sister, not a believer, just committed suicide. There are no believers in this family at all and on the Friday after Thanksgiving could you do her funeral? That is the hardest funeral in the world. I have done suicides before. I am okay with doing suicide funerals of people who were believers. I really believe you can be a believer and be that depressed. But here is a woman who is confessedly not a believer and she killed herself. What am I going to say? But I want very much to say the best news in all the world for Christians is on the other side there is life.

So there is another young lady in our church, young late 40s, four kids, two in college, two smaller. And the doctors have told her maybe two weeks before her leukemia takes her out. We are still praying: Oh, God, make this last ditch unusual creative never tried before kind of chemo do the thing that might do it, but they are preparing themselves. I am more than willing to do that funeral if it comes, because I have got such good news for that elder in my church and that family and those kid. God cares about the body. He will never ever throw it away. He will make it new.

But he didn’t come mainly to do that here. He didn’t come mainly to cause all of our physical desires to be satisfied, but to change those desires at their core so that he becomes our treasure over everything and that can happen in this prison way better sometimes than it can in the free, prosperous, hell-bent world. So I hope you men get this, that Jesus Christ came into the world to do mainly what can be done here, treasuring him, loving him, following him, living for him, rejoicing in him, being satisfied in him, making much of him in everything you do — morning to night — can be done anywhere on the planet. That is the main reason we exist.

A Story About Bread

Verses 1-15 is the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and the rest of the chapter is all about bread. It is all about Jesus as the bread. So Jesus has come to give a sign in the multiplying of these loaves that he himself is the bread of heaven, not mainly that he can make enough bread to feed everybody. He calls this a “sign.”

What is a sign? A sign is glory coming into the world. John 1:14, “We beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And shining down from that glory is like a beam, a beam of glory shining from Christ the glorious, eternal, divine, Son of God, a beam shining down and it lands. And when it lands it produces out of five loaves and a few fish enough food to feed 5,000. He creates out of nothing food to feed 5,000 people. And the sign is meant to do this. Your eyes behold the landing of the beam and your eyes should run up the beam to the glory.

Seeking the Miracle or the Person

Instead, what did they do? They saw this miracle and they fixated on the product of the miracle, not the person of the miracle.

Jesus answered them the next day, “Truly, truly I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves” (verse 26). He is angry. Can you imagine Jesus being angry that somebody is seeking him? Why would he get upset if you sought him? It is because they were seeking him as useful, useful for the bread, the money, the health, the prosperity. He is useful to my stuff. And they didn’t let their eyes run up the beam and say, “He is my treasure.”

Or picture it as the sun 93 million miles away. The sun sends out rays, lands on the earth, 93 million miles away and it does amazing things. It causes plants to grow and it makes us warm and it produces vitamin D in our skin and it enables us to see beautiful things. And most people simply — get the analogy — sun, Christ, beam, glory, landing, miracle. Most people just say: Whoa, I love what I see. I love my skin. I love my plants that grow. They don’t let their eyes run up the beam to the Son of glory Jesus Christ.

Verse 15 says, “Perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” They didn’t see him as precious. They saw his gifts as precious. Oh, what a useful king he will be! Let’s have Jesus be our king! He will keep our bellies full! Jesus doesn’t want that kind of disciple.

Those types of preachers are all over the world. The main export from America to Africa is this kind of theology that says he wants your stuff to multiply. Get the car. Get the gold watch. Wear the suit, the shoes. Get all that. That is what Jesus is for. I think that is demonic theology. Jesus came into the world to bless us in some measure now. And I will get to that in a minute from this very parable. But mainly he is trying to forgive our sins, clothe us with righteousness, make himself our treasure, seal our eternity forever and then put us to work in the world whether we are in prison or on the outside. And the same realities here as out here.

The main thing is here. The other stuff feels really important. But that is why I said it may be that your very presence here will enable you to see better than the people in my church can see. They got the stuff. They just take it for granted that is what life is about and it is not what it is about. It is about him.

So far he has done this miracle, the miracle of multiplying the loaves. The point of the loaves being: Let your eyes run up the beam of glory to see the one who, with a simple word and a prayer, can feed 5,000 people with a little basket full of food. See him, love him, know him, make him your treasure. That is what I hope is happening in your heart now.

Walking on the Water

Continuing, verses 16-21: When the evening came his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat and started across the sea to Capernaum. So they are leaving Jesus behind. Now it was dark and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When the had rowed three or four miles they saw Jesus walking on the sea. When they had rowed about three or four miles they saw Jesus walking on the sea. And coming near the boat they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him in the boat and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

Now let me first make a comment on what Warden Kane mentioned to me earlier. He said that there was a preacher here a couple of months ago that said what happened in the feeding of the 5,000 was that when Jesus took the little boys lunch and gave it out, everybody was inspired to share their lunch and that is how everybody got fed. That is classic liberal unbelief. The reason we know that is not what it means is not only because of the words that say that he distributed the loaves, but what is he going to do with the walking on water? Who cooperated and gave their lunch to make that happen? The molecules cooperated.

Now there are several amazing, remarkable, surprising almost inexplicable things about this and I don’t mean the walking on the water merely. I will affirm it: I believe Jesus walks on water. He made water. He speaks water into being every moment of the day. He upholds the universe by the word of his power. This is no problem for Jesus to walk on water. That is our God, Jesus Christ.

But here is a couple of puzzling things. The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 is unpacked in 71 verses in chapter six. This miracle has no unpacking. It is never mentioned again in this chapter or in this gospel. It happens and the crowds never hear about it. Only the disciples see it and it is over. It is never mentioned again. What is the purpose of this miracle here in this bread story? That is one question.

Here is a second one. When they see him the wind is blowing. The boat is about to be sunk. They are three miles out from land. Nobody is swimming to shore in this kind of water. It is dangerous. They can lose their lives. Jesus comes walking on that tortured sea and they see him and he says, “It is I.” And they gladly welcome him into the boat. The next thing you know they are at the shore. That story is over.

There is not a word said about the storm stopping like in the other gospels. There is not a word said about the waves going flat and a great calm and the wind ceasing, not a word about this storm being conquered by Jesus. That is not the point. The point is he got in the boat. He got in the boat in the storm, no comment about the storm. And as soon as he is in the boat the story is over.

The Twelve Baskets

I left out an important part of the bread story. I left out the 12 baskets. How many apostles were collecting left over pieces? Twelve. How many baskets did they take up? Twelve. Picture yourself now as one of the distributors of the bread. And you use this little boy’s five loaves and two fishes. Jesus prays, gives you a basket and you say, Whoa. Where did that come from?

And you start giving out and feel that you can’t feed 5,000 people. He has assigned you to feed 5,000 people. You are going to run out of food. Maybe you think that you can’t do this prison thing. That you are going to run out of emotional gas. That the boat is going to sink with you in it.

I think the reason for following the basket lesson with the boat lesson is to underline the basket lesson. The basket lesson is: You join Jesus in his ministry and there will always be just enough for you. You are not going to get rich here. We don’t get rich on the planet. We get one basket, just enough, a personal attention to you from Jesus Christ. You join him in his cause, he looks on you as an individual. I got a basket for you. I know what your need is tonight in the cell. I know what your need is in the dormitory. I know what your need is tonight. There will be a basket for you tonight and tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. But not everything you may think is a need. He knows what you need. You don’t know what you need. He knows what you need and it will be there. God never runs my life the way I think he ought to ever. I try to do stuff and he has always got a different plan for my day, a different plan for my marriage, a different plan for my kids. And if I didn’t trust him as a good shepherd and a good father and a good guide and a good provider, I would get very, very discouraged.

He Will Supply Enough

So the point of the baskets is he individually provides for his own when they join him in his cause and trust him. And then you get on the boat, all right? Three miles out. Where is Jesus? He is three miles away up in the mountains and they are about to drown in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. They think, Well, I guess the basket lesson doesn’t come true. It doesn’t work on the water. And just when they think that they are history, he comes walking on the water.

Now what is the point of that? I will walk on water to do what I said I would do. I will walk on Angola water to get to you. I will go through bars to get to you. I will climb fences and cut my hands to get to you till I bleed to death. I will get to you.

So I think the function of these stories for the followers of Jesus is that you get a basket when you need it, just one, for you, tailor made. And in the moment when you think that there can’t be any basket for me here, because the waves are slopping over the side of my boat and Jesus is three miles away, he comes walking on the water and gets in the boat and the story is over. This is not a story about getting people out of storms. This is a story about getting Jesus in the boat. This is the boat. I got my boat. I got my issues. They are not yours. And I got to trust him for my family issues and my church issues and my health issues. You got your issues. You got your boat. You got your storms. You got your hungers. And you can trust him.

There is one more unit, verses 22-29. “On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone” (verse 22). It is morning. This crowd had hung out all night or, at least, found some temporary lodging and they are looking for Jesus. The knew they went away without Jesus. He is up in the mountains. Where is he? He is not here. They are gone. He seems to be gone. Where are we going to find him? Well, let’s get some boats and we will go over and see if he is over in Capernaum. So that is what they do.

“Other boats from Tiberius came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum seeking Jesus” (verse 23). So now they are seeking Jesus again. That is good, isn’t it? Well, maybe or maybe not.

“When they found him on the other side of the sea they said to him: ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’” (verse 25) See? They are wondering how did this happen? You were over there in the mountain. They got in the boat without you. They crossed the sea. We just crossed the sea and you are here already. How did that happen? And how easily he could have said, “I walked across the sea.” But he won’t go there with them.

If he says that, what are they going to say? Yeah, just like we thought. What a king. Man, he can keep our stomachs full and he can always keep our boats afloat and never let us sink and we could defeat the Romans and we could make a great kingdom on the earth with this power. Oh, yes, make him king. How useful is this Jesus to us? And he will have nothing to do with it. He won’t go there with them.

Instead Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I say to you, ‘You are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves’” (verse 26).

So do not labor for the bread, for the food that perishes. That is just ordinary food. Don’t labor for ordinary food that perishes. Don’t make it your aim to get rich. Don’t think mainly about that paycheck. Don’t think mainly about upward mobility. Don’t think mainly about the praise of men. Don’t do your work for these kinds of reasons. Don’t want to be satisfied with what this world can give. That is why I am saying it may be, may be that many of you have a head start on this verse than the people outside. Maybe.

Let me say it again. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you who are seeking that you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves.” Do not labor for the food that perishes. You have been cut off from so much. But for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him the Father has set his seal.

So let me say a word about this verse, 27. It is so important. “The Father has set his seal on Jesus.” I think that means God sent Jesus into the world. He ordained for Jesus to live a spotless life, no sin. He sent his Son to the cross to die for our sins. He raised him from the dead and vindicated that perfect work of substitution and redemption. He raised him to the right hand. He is going to send him again and in that great redemptive work by which our sins are covered and we are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, God sealed his Son as the Son of Man and the only qualified mediator between God and man who can give eternal life. So the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, gives eternal life because the Father said that that is who he is. That this his Son. He sent him for that. He accomplished it perfectly.

Working for the Bread?

Secondly, it continues to say, “Labor for the food that endures to eternal life.” That sounds terrible. Why does that sound terrible? You can’t labor for eternal life. It is a gift. Well, what does Jesus mean? I mean, when you read the gospel of John you bump into things like this all the time. Jesus seems to say the opposite of what he means, but he doesn’t leave you in doubt very long. Just keep reading verses 28 and 29.

Then they said to him [after he told them to labor for the food that endures to eternal life], You want eternal life? Labor for the bread that endures to eternal life. And then they asked him what must they be doing to do the works of God? He told them to labor, they ask what works to do. This is classic salvation by works. False.

Jesus answered them, “this is the work of God that you believe in him” (verse 29). So he turned the table upside down. They were working and working and working to seek him, have him, because he was useful to them. And to make a point he tells them not to seek him that way. You want to seek me and labor for bread? Labor for the bread that endures to eternal life. And he hooks them with that.

The labor is faith. The labor is stop laboring. The labor is stop working and trust him. He is standing there as the bread of life, freely offering himself to you. He is going to lay down his flesh for the world it says later (verse 51). He is standing there as the bread of life. He is standing there as gold and silver and treasure, everything you have ever needed he is for you and he is free. And they are there saying, “What do we have to do? What do we have to do? What is the deed we have to do to have you?” And he would say, “If I don’t look to you as a treasure, if you don’t see me as a treasure, no amount of work is going to make me precious to you.”

Working for Jesus doesn’t make him precious to you. Seeing Jesus makes him precious to you. You have to be born again. Nobody can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Our eyes are blind, shut hard, dead unless God almighty opens our heart so we say, “My Lord and my God.”

So the answer to how do you labor for the bread that endures to eternal life is: Eat it. Value it, cherish it, scoop it up and put it in your pocket. It is free. Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. Fall in love with it. That is the way you have the treasure. Eat. “Ho, everyone who thirsts. Come to the waters. You who have no money come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your labor for that which is not bread?” (see Isaiah 55). It is free. Don’t stand outside like the elder brother on the porch and say, “I worked for you all these years and you have never threw me a party.”

The father goes out and says, “Everything I have is yours. If you stop acting like a slave and start acting like a son, come on in, son, the party is for you. Your younger brother is home. He is alive, won’t you dance with us?”

Jesus says, “No amount of work for me makes me precious to you. Seeing me as gold, seeing me as silver, seeing me as bread, seeing me as treasure, seeing me as everything makes me precious to you.” Paul said, “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, that I may know him and the power of his resurrection that I may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death if by any means I might attain the resurrection of the dead.” Next stop after Angola, heaven if he is precious, if he is precious beyond anything in this world that you have already had to lose.

Eat. Trust. Love. Delight.

The last phrase, we will end with in the beginning of verse 27 is: “Do not labor for the food that perishes.” What I have been talking about is labor for the food that endures to eternal life. And I have said that means believe in him. Eat. Trust. Love. Delight. Enjoy. It is free. And now he says, the beginning part of the verse: Do not labor for the food that perishes.

When you eat of the bread of life two things change. You get eternal life, that is, a new chapter is added to your life. Angola is not the last chapter. It is the next to the last chapter. Eternity is the last chapter. And it lasts forever and it is infinitely happy.

So many Americans work their fingers to the bone to have 20 years of so called retirement thinking retirement is the last chapter. It isn’t. It is the next to the last chapter.

This life is very short, brothers, very short. It may seem long, it is short. And eternity, it is really long. It is really long and it is really long and it is really good, 10,000 times will you be rewarded for every kind deed you ever do, every act of faith that ever comes forth from you.

My closing admonition, brothers, is: It is free. Christ died in our place. He rose again from the dead. He lived a life of perfect righteousness. He stands freely available to everyone who will have him and stop working for him and start eating the bread of heaven and finding him to be more precious.

Fall in love with him. Fall in love with him now. You need to love him now, know him now, Trust him now. My task on this planet is to eat the bread of heaven and be satisfied and overflow for others.

Thumb john piper

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

© 2015 Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines

Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2015 Desiring God Foundation. Website: