THE STAFF OF LIFE – REV. PAUL DAKIN

THE STAFF OF LIFE
A sermon on John 6:24-35
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
August 1, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.


Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever
believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35


I imagine that most everyone here probably recognizes the name of Jonathan Swift. He was an
18th Century Irish clergyman who gained famed as a writer of a number of stories and essays that
critiqued English society with a heavy dose of satire. Today, he is primarily known as the author of the
book Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver’s Travels is nowadays regarded as a children’s story. But the truth of the
matter is that it is much more than that. Swift wrote it as a biting critique of human nature and of
aspects of English society. Nowadays it is regarded as one of the great classics of English literature…
More important for our purposes today, Swift is the person who coined a phrase that is
common in the English language. It is the basis of today’s sermon title. That phrase is “Bread is the staff
of life.” The phrase occurs in an early work of Swift’s called A Tale of a Tub. Interestingly enough, it is an
idea that apparently only to be found in the English language. The passage from which it comes is a
rather intriguing statement about the importance of bread in the diet. The whole quote goes like this:
Bread is the staff of life; in which is contained, inclusive, the quintessence of beef, mutton, veal,
venison, partridge, plum-pudding and custard: and to render all complete, there is intermingled a due
quantity of water, whose crudities are also corrected by yeast or barm, through which means it becomes
a wholesome fermented liquor, diffused throughout the mass of bread.1
O my goodness…it sounds like Swift equates eating bread with enjoying a full three-course
dinner, doesn’t it? To my mind, that seems to be a little bit of an exaggeration. But…there is no denying
that bread has been at the very heart of food in the Western world since yeast bread was invented by
the Egyptians some 4500 years ago.
Food writer Sam Dean observes that “Bread is a sign of civilization, a sign of God, a sign of good
governance, and for most of history, the literal ‘staff of life,’ without which people would starve. In
Russian, you can say hello by shouting ‘bread and salt!,’ and it’s embedded in the most bread-and-butter
English idioms, from ‘our daily bread’ to breadwinners and breadlines.”2

1
Quoted in www.FoodReference.com/staff-of-life (Accessed July 26, 2021)
2 www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/ingredients/article/the-etymology-of-the-word-bread (Accessed July 26,
2021)
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As you may remember from last week’s sermon, we discussed an earlier portion of John 6.
There we encountered the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of 5000 with five barley loaves and two fish.
In today’s passage, Jesus seizes upon that miracle and uses the opportunity to teach the people more
fully about who he is, declaring that he is “the bread of life”…
In last week’s passage, Jesus escaped the grasp of those who desired to seize him and make him
king. He went across the lake to be alone on the mountainside. At the beginning of today’s passage, the
crowd has caught up with Jesus and discovered him teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.3
Most of today’s passage is in the form of a conversation between Jesus and the crowd. Jesus
addresses their questions about who he is, telling them not to worry so much about physical food, but
they should instead labor for those things that bring eternal life. But the crowd doesn’t get it. And then
rather incredibly, the crowd asks Jesus in verse 30, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we
may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?”
Let that sink in for a moment. Just the day before, they had all been on the Galilean hillside.
Jesus had spent the day teaching until the hour had become late. But instead of sending the people
away to go home to eat, Jesus took a boy’s dinner of five barley loaves and two fish, and with it, he fed
the entire crowd of 5000 people. The scriptures tell us that everyone ate their fill—and, not only that,
there were plenty of leftovers to boot. It begs the question: was the memory of the people in the crowd
really that short? Did they not see the meal that Jesus served them the day before as a spectacular
proof that he was indeed the One whom God had sent? How many more “proofs” did they need? What
kind of miracles would Jesus have to perform in front of the crowd before they would believe him to be
the Messiah? I do not know…but my guess is that Jesus realized that no amount of miraculous works
would ever be able to satisfy them…Regardless of how many proofs that he offered, they would always
be looking for still more…
In Matthew 12, we are told of a similar encounter between a group of Pharisees and Jesus. It
was a different occasion, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law had a request that was similar to
that of the crowd in Capernaum. The Pharisees asked, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from
you.” Jesus’ response was telling. In verse 39 of that chapter, Jesus replies, “A wicked and adulterous
generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah
was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and
three nights in the heart of the earth.” Of course, in talking about the three days and three nights, Jesus
was referring to his own death, burial, and resurrection. That would be the ultimate sign of who he was
and why they should believe in him. That was the only miracle that they really needed. Although John 6
does not tell us, it would not surprise me to learn that some of those same thoughts were going through
our Lord’s mind when he addressed the crowd in Capernaum as well…

3
See verse 59.
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Picking up on the theme of bread once more in verse 31, the crowd reminded Jesus that their
Hebrew ancestors had been fed with manna—a bread-like substance—that God had miraculously
provided for them out in the wilderness as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. In verse 32,
Jesus refers to the manna as “the bread from Heaven,” and emphasized that the manna in the
wilderness came from God—not from the prophet Moses. Then Jesus tells them that the bread that
comes down from heaven gives life to the world.
But the crowd still did not get it. They asked Jesus to give them some of this heavenly bread. So
then it is at this point that Jesus tells them that HE is the bread of life, and that whoever comes to him
will never be hungry…
So what is it about bread that causes it to be known as “the staff of life?”
The image is pretty clear. Particularly when discussing Western cuisine, we eat bread every day.
Hardly a meal goes by in meals derived from European and American traditions where bread is not
served. Bread is that which sustains us. It is that which supports us. It is something that our diet leans
on. From the most humble McDonald’s hamburger to the astonishing variety of artisan breads available
from good bakeries, bread is an important component of what we eat. In some instances—like a
continental breakfast, for example—bread is not just the star of the meal. It pretty much IS the meal…
So the question might be asked, “Okay—so bread is known as ‘the staff of life.’ What does that
have to do with Jesus?”…
In verse 35, Jesus declares to the crowd, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will
never be hungry…” In the same way that bread has come to be known as “the staff of life” in a physical
sense, Jesus is the staff of life in the spiritual sense. Jesus is the spiritual bread upon which our life in the
Spirit depends. He is the staff that we can lean upon. He is the one who sustains us and gives us strength
when the storms of life break upon us. He is the one who gives us life. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I come
that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” It is Jesus, who is the true bread from heaven,
who is the true staff of life in the realm of the Spirit.
But here is something important about bread. It will do you no good if it just sits upon the table
in a basket uneaten. It may be attractive to the eye or it may be pleasant enough to look at. And let’s
just tell the truth—is there any smell in the whole wide world better than that of freshly baked bread
coming out from the kitchen? I doubt it. The aroma of freshly baked bread has to be near the top of
practically everyone’s list of favorite smells. I know that it is one of mine.
But if that is all your experience of bread is—that of only seeing or smelling it—then you will
gain very little benefit from it. In order for bread to do you any good, you must ingest it. You’ve got to
eat the bread in order to be nourished by it. And you must eat it on a continuing basis. Eating bread only
once in a while or only on special occasions will not be of much help to you. Failure to eat bread
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regularly will leave one famished…and in poor health…maybe even sickly…and certainly unable to grow
and develop and be at one’s best…
It is also that way with Jesus being the staff of life in the realm of the Spirit. It is one thing to
admire Jesus and his teachings. I think that you would have a hard time finding anyone who does not
think that Jesus was a wonderful teacher. Even people who are of different religious faiths—or NO
religious faith at all—are usually impressed with the ethical teachings of Jesus. Most people would think
that the world would be a better place if we were all to take the kindly teachings and the self-giving
example of Jesus to heart.
The problem arises when we do not feed off the bread of heaven often and thoroughly enough.
It is one thing to admire Jesus’ teachings and examples. It is quite another to let him into our hearts and
let ourselves be transformed into more into his image. The old saying is “You are what you eat.” And
when we feed on Jesus—the bread of life—then we become more like him. We become more of who
God wants us to be. We become conformed to his likeness. We go further down the road in our own
spiritual journey. Conversely, when we become casual with Jesus—when we adopt an easy-going
attitude toward the things of the Spirit—then we are spiritually starving ourselves. We are not availing
ourselves of the spiritual nourishment that our Lord Jesus offers to all who will follow him. We are not
feeding off of the bread of life…
How do we do this? How is it that we “feed” on Jesus? By spending time in prayer. By actively
seeking his face. By being attuned to the gentle promptings of his Spirit within us. By regularly reading
his word on a daily basis. By spending time in worship with other believers. By doing acts of love and
mercy in his name—to those both inside and outside of the household of faith. That is what it means to
feed on the living bread. That is what it means for Jesus to be the bread of life within us.
In a few moments, we will participate in the Lord’s Supper for the first time in many months. I
am glad that we have been able to observe the Lord’s Supper after such a long absence. As we partake
of the supper, I invite you to ponder the words of our Lord in today’s passage: “It is my Father who gives
you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives
life to the world…I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever
believes in me will never be thirsty…” And may we echo the crowd’s response as recorded in verse 34:
“Sir, give us this bread always…”
To God alone be the glory! Amen.