Bread. Any time we need it, a quick trip to the grocery store puts a large number of ready-to-eat options at our fingertips. Would you like white, rye, or whole wheat? Bagels, tortillas, or French baguettes? Cornbread, biscuits, or poppy seed muffins? In developed nations it can often be taken for granted because of its ubiquity, but bread has not always been so easy to enjoy.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, the Lord cursed the ground and declared that man's endeavors at farming would be filled with difficulties. Something as simple as bread would require toil and sweat to get it from field to table. Obtaining even the most basic sustenance would be a challenge. And as important as bread may have been for sustaining life, man would still have to face the mortality that resulted from sin. Death would be inevitable.
Many hundreds of years later, after the Lord redeemed Israel from bondage in Egypt, He would hear the Israelites grumble about the difficulty of their journey through the desert and their longing for the meat and bread of Egypt (Ex. 16:3).
And the Lord said to Moses, "I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.'"
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: 'Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat.'" Exodus 16:11-16
Although the Lord purposed to test the Israelites' obedience (Ex. 16:4), his response was filled with grace. The Lord provided His people with bread for which they did not labor. Six mornings out of every seven, every Israelite collected his daily bread, and "the people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land." (Ex. 16:35) Rather than judgment, they experienced the Lord's love and compassion with every sunrise (Lam. 3:22-23). For the rest of the world, obtaining bread involved a struggle against the curse of Genesis 3, but for His chosen people, bread was readily available and free from the curse placed upon the ground.
Again, many hundreds of years would pass, but throughout that time Israel remembered the Lord's miraculous provision of bread in the desert (Ps. 78:24; Neh. 9:20). When Jesus came teaching the people, He brought another reminder of the bread Israel received during the time of Moses.
Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat." John 6:31
However, even with bread from heaven, the curse lingered. Everyone who ate this bread still died in the desert and returned to the ground as dust. As gracious as the Lord's daily provision of bread had been, it offered no way to avoid death. Death always loomed over man with no way of escape - that is, until Jesus came.
Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst." John 6:32-35
Jesus offered a better bread than Moses - a bread that gives life not just for a day, but forever. Jesus said,
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.” John 6:47-51
The people under Moses glimpsed a time when the curse of sin would be no more, a time when their toil and labor would cease. For forty years they experienced a shadow of what was to come, but that shadow became a reality in Jesus. As the bread that came down from heaven, Jesus offered his life for ours. He gave his flesh upon the cross to bear the curse of sin and suffer the judgment we deserve. Those who believe in Jesus, trusting that in him God was reconciling sinful man to Himself, God claims as his children and grants them eternal life. (Jn. 1:12)
We enjoy bread in a variety of forms. We make sandwiches; we make pizzas; we toast it, chop it, and put it in our salads. But as tasty as it may be, none of it will ever provide eternal life. Only Jesus can do that, as he says of himself:
This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. John 6:58
If all you've ever tasted is "dead bread" that can only satisfy for today, you have an opportunity to look to Jesus and find bread that satisfies forever. We see the compassionate manner in which God dealt with Israel, and His character has not changed. He sent Jesus to relieve man of all the burdens that resulted from sin, even defeating death by rising from the dead. Today the Lord receives everyone who turns to him in faith, seeking the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that he alone can offer. Ask him to forgive your sin and give you new life, and he will gladly do so (1 Jn. 1:9).