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26 April 2020

Eat bread and live!

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written here, and I hope and trust that you’ve been blessed as I’ve shared a few articles from other people.  This week I’d like for us to return to our series of meditations on the Lord’s Prayer.

Yes, we are in remarkable and difficult circumstances, we are all missing regular worship and fellowship together aren’t we?  And that feeling only grows as the weeks go by.  But, in a sense, we are also moving into a new “normal.”  That’s not to say that things will stay the way they are, the isolation approach must change at some point.  But it’s hard to imagine things returning fully to the way they were before this pandemic.  Right now, at least, we’re in a season that’s gone on for some weeks, and will likely continue for some weeks more.  Nevertheless, there are certain baseline things that do not change in our lives, so let me talk to you about bread.

Over the last few weeks, Liberty has been perfecting the art of bread-making.  Fresh, sour-dough bread, straight from the oven!  Warm, thick, and moist on the inside (but not so thick as to be “heavy”), thick and crusty on the outside!  With a bit of butter melting on a slice of freshly baked bread… well, as my father-in-law would say, “That’s hard to beat!”  It’s certainly been a hit with Andrew, Zachary, and Edmund.  Bread is something of a symbol of daily subsistence; it’s a staple in the diet, a kind of universal picture of life itself.  Certainly there is a rich thread of biblical imagery when it comes to bread.

In Genesis 3:19, when God cursed Adam, the image of bread was there: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…”  To live, we must work hard, and bread is a picture here of that life.  Unleavened bread became one of the symbols in Passover (Ex 12), and of course the Manna that God provided in the wilderness was a kind of bread, indeed it was “bread from heaven” (Ex 16:4).  The image of bread surfaces and resurfaces elsewhere in Scripture as well, too many to recount here, but one in particular that we might highlight is in the words of our Saviour in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

In this verse Jesus takes the imagery of bread, and applies it to Himself!  In that sense, He is bread.  He does it again in John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh… Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”  The analogy here is that, just as we must eat bread to live physically, so too we must “eat” Christ spiritually to live. Perhaps this is why Christ was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”  Indeed, we have this imagery and reality of Christ as our bread presented very tangibly before us every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus picks up on this thread of imagery again in the wonderful and simple efficiency of the fourth petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In a purely physical sense, as we saw in Genesis 3:19, we must work hard for our bread – which is a principle that applies to all men (Prov 12:11; 2 Thess 3:10). Spiritually speaking, however, we are not to work for our bread, but to beg everyday.  In the first beatitude, Jesus expressed this reality in these words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The first and most basic characteristic of a true Christian, a characteristic that is not occasional but constant, is a sense of our spiritual poverty.  The true Christian senses his spiritual poverty as an emaciated homeless man senses his hunger and begs for bread.  If you know nothing of your spiritual poverty, then you do not know Christ.  If this is you, then you must cry out to God, that He would strip you of pride and self-sufficiency, and reveal your poverty to you!  The Church in Laodicea was in just such a wretched position when Jesus said to them: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

In summary, the position in which this leaves us is a position of utter spiritual poverty.  Each day, like Mephibosheth, we must come to King David’s table, wretched and undeserving though we be.  We must come begging and asking: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  And this is not primarily in reference to our physical needs, though it is that as the Lord provides for our physical needs as well.  No the primary issue in the Lord’s Prayer has to do with spiritual needs.  Each day we must come for bread at the King’s table, feeding on Christ himself.  If we do not, we will become spiritually emaciated, without strength or power to resist and fight the fight of sin – we simply must partake of Christ each day, as we partake of bread itself.  And so, in this petition, we are casting ourselves upon God to sustain and feed us spiritually on Christ, the bread of life!  That is the fullest and greatest sense in which we must pray this prayer, and in which God will answer it.

Now we find one final thing in the relationship between Christ, bread, and the Word of God.  Bread imagery in the Bible, as with all things in the Bible, tells us something about Christ.  And yet Christ, who is our bread, communes with us through His Word.  The very way in which we partake in Christ, eat His flesh, so to speak, is by spiritually “ingesting” the Word of God.  This is why in Matthew 4:4 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, which says: “And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”  Perhaps one of the reasons that the Lord has allowed us to “hunger” for public worship and fellowship at this time is to humble us, that we too may come increasingly to see that we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  The Word of God, then, is the principle of life for us!  Not because it is a mystical book, but because it is Christ’s appointed means of meditating Himself to us.  In closing, then, let me leave you with the exhortation of the puritan Joseph Alleine:

“O ye saints, how you should love the Word, for by this you have been converted!  You that have felt its renewing power, make much of it while you live; be ever thankful for it.  Tie it about your neck, write it upon your hand, lay it in your bosom.  When you go let it lead you, when you sleep let it keep you, when you wake let it talk with you (Prov 6:21-22).  Say with the Psalmist, “I will never forget Thy precepts, for by them Thou hast quickened me” (Ps 119:93).  You that are unconverted, read the Word with diligence; flock to where it is powerfully preached.  Pray for the coming of the Spirit in the Word.  Come from your knees to the sermon, and come from the sermon to your knees.  The sermon does not prosper because it is not watered by prayers and tears, nor covered by meditation”

(Joseph Alleine, “A Sure Guide to Heaven,” Banner of Truth 1995 reprint, Puritan Paperbacks, p.29).

Brothers and sisters, let us cry out for and feed upon the Bread of Life!

Soli Deo Gloria!