In 1826 the French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin coined a phrase we often use today. In a physiology book covering the subjects of Gout and Gastrointestinal health he said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Over time this phrase has shortened and become ‘you are what you eat.’ Of course no one intends this phrase to be taken literally. Rather it suggests what one eats has a large bearing on one’s health. It’s a fact that one cannot survive very long on a diet of Twinkies, Hot Pockets, and Dr. Pepper. No, we need a well-rounded diet complete with enough fruit and vegetables in order to be healthy. We know this is true physically, but have you ever thought this phrase rings true spiritually as well? You are, spiritually, what you consume. The company you keep, the programs or movies you watch, the books you read, and the music you listen, really everything you do has an impact on the state of your soul.
In our text today, you heard it read earlier, Jesus uses symbolic imagery that describes Him as the food our souls consume. And from following His spiritual diet we’re given eternal life. Let’s examine this text together to see these things first hand.
Throughout John 6 Jesus has been progressing toward one main point. He began in v27 calling us to labor for the food that endures to eternal life. He spoke about this heavenly food in v33 saying the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven. Then in blazing clarity Jesus says in v35, “I am the Bread of life.” Again in v41, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” Continuing on in v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. And in v51 we another moment of blazing clarity in when Jesus says, “The Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Upon coming to v52 we see another shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52 where John says, “The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” This word disputed could be translated from Greek to English as disputed, fighting, quarreled, or contending. Which means the shift from v41 to v52 is a shift to outwardly venting an inward anger and astonishment at His teaching. They simply couldn’t understand Jesus here and so they became angry. They simply couldn’t get past the physical and so, taking Jesus literally they misunderstood what Jesus was teaching metaphorically thinking He was putting forth a form of cannibalism. The result of such misunderstanding among this crowd is similar to a boiling teapot. It may appear calm on the surface but inside it is getting hotter and hotter, to the point where the heat cannot be contained within any longer, and it bursts out. So too this crowd has reached this point in v52 and their bursting out shows itself in an expression of confused anger, probably because they not only didn’t like His teaching, but couldn’t understand His teaching. Speaking of this crowd Herman Ridderbos says in his commentary on John, “It seemed to them increasingly clear that common ground for conversation with Jesus was lacking.”
What does Jesus do? Again He finds Himself standing before an unruly crowd of people. Does He back down? Does He retract some of His earlier statements thinking He went too far? Does He reduce the severity of His words to make them less offensive to His hearers? No, He does none of these things. Rather, He stands firm and responds to this crowd one more time in v53-58. “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. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me. 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.”
Many theologians and commentators throughout history disagree about what is exactly being said in this passage. One group believes Jesus to be giving a detailed explanation on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and saying that one can only have eternal life if they partake in the real flesh and real blood of Christ at the communion table. I disagree with this interpretation for many reasons. First, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are not and never become the real flesh and blood of Christ, they are only emblems of the real thing. Second, if Jesus were speaking of the Lord’s Supper this would have made no sense to this crowd or His disciples because He doesn’t institute His Supper until the Upper Room. Third, and perhaps most important of all, the way one receives eternal life is by receiving and resting on Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel, not by coming to the Lord’s table.
So since the Lord’s Supper isn’t in view, what is?
I want to persuade you today that Jesus is using symbolic and metaphorical language here to display how we come to Him with a whole-souled appetite and that when we come to Him in faith we find Him wonderfully filling. It’s very similar to how Jesus spoke to the woman at the well in John 4. Remember the scene? She was at Jacob’s well drawing water and He offered her living water that quenches thirst and satisfies the soul. He wasn’t literally offering her water, He was offering Her Himself. So too, here at the end of chapter 6 He speaks of the same soul quenching satisfaction but uses the imagery of bread.
A Divine Hunger (v53-55)
In v53 this truth is spoken negatively, unless you eat Christ’s flesh and drink Christ’s blood you have no life in you. In v54 it is spoken positively, the one who feeds on His flesh and drinks His blood is not only the one who has eternal life, but the one who will be raised up on the last day. Again, the language used here is that of a hungry and whole-souled faith grabbing hold of Christ, believing in Him, banking on Him, and clinging to Him. The result of such grabbing hold of, believing, banking, and clinging has consequences in this life and the life to come. In this life the result is life abundant. In the life to come the result is life eternal. And so Jesus gives us the language of eating and drinking here to show us that we must become those who ingest Him, who seek to take all of Him into us. Just as the physical hunger pains in our stomachs reveal the need for physical food, so too Church, do you see that the spiritual hunger pains in your soul are divinely designed by God to reveal your need for true and lasting spiritual food? And more so, what happens when you feel that empty hollowness cry out for food in your stomach and you eat? You feel the satisfaction of a full belly, and sit back and take a nap. Church, the language Jesus uses here teaches us that it’s very similar with our souls. What happens when you feel that empty hollowness cry out for satisfaction in your soul and you feed it? If you feed that hollow emptiness with any kind of sinful or worldly activities you’ll not only increase the hollowness inside you, you’ll add guilt and shame onto it as well. Jeremiah 2:11-13 speaks of this tragedy and tells us what happens to God when we feast on the world, “My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fount of living waters, and dug out wells for themselves, broken wells that can hold no water.” When we glory, boast, take joy, and drink deeply of sin what happens in the heavens? Did you hear it? All heaven is appalled. All heaven is utterly desolate. Why? Because arrogantly, we think we can find a whole-souled satisfaction apart from God. When we do this God says it is like digging and drinking from a well that has holes.
But if…if, when you feel that empty hollow ring out in your soul and you feast on Christ crucified for sinners, if you feast on Christ as He is offered to you in the gospel you’ll feel a deep and powerful fullness in your soul and perhaps for the first time understand what Psalm 34:8 means when it says “Taste and see that the LORD is good!” Perhaps for the first time you’ll understand what Jesus says here in v55, “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”
So Church, do not be content to let your deepest joy be found in something that can be lost. Christ is the only true sustenance for all our souls cry out for.
A Divine Union (v56-57)
Jesus continues on in v56-57 showing us more of what He means saying, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he will also live because of Me.” Remember Jesus isn’t being literal, He is speaking figuratively employing the images of eating and drinking to display what faith in Christ looks like when it grabs ahold of and possesses Christ. Here we see that the result of a hungry faith feeding on Christ is union with Christ. What is our union with Christ? It is the mystical intimacy between Christ and His people, in which all the benefits of the New Covenant are given to us. In this union only those purchased by Christ experience and enjoy Christ as the source and strength of all blessedness. Remember in v56-57 Jesus said all who feed on His flesh and drink His blood…abide in Him and because they abide in Him they experience…life in Him. Not just any life, but the very life of the Father and Son, that life, that bond, that intimate union is ours by faith in Christ. Just as we received all that comes with the fall in Adam, so too, those who believe in Christ receive all that comes with redemption in Christ.
When Holly and I moved into our home a few years ago we found there was a banana tree in the back yard. It was nice to look at. But as our boys grew and began playing in the backyard more and more it was that banana tree that often took the brunt of being stepped on, knocked over, and almost uprooted a few times. And on top of all this, because it was so sugary it always had a ton of ants on it. So because it was functioning as such an annoyance I decided to get rid of it. I got my small hatchet and with one stroke chopped the thing down. But low and behold a week after it began growing back, and instead of one tree two banana trees began coming up again. I let them grow a little bit and once it got large enough to grab onto I grabbed it and pulled the whole thing out of the ground. I thought surely it wouldn’t come back. But sure enough within a few weeks, it did. The same two tree roots were forming again and already coming up, along with a third smaller root next to them. There were three of them now! So I did what I imagine any man would do in this situation, I resolved to kill this thing for good! I went into our shed, got out our small gasoline tank and poured gasoline down the roots. And it never came up again.
I mention this because our union with Christ is similar to that stubborn banana tree. It never goes away. Once we grab hold of Christ by faith we are united to Him in an inseparable bond for the rest of eternity. In John 15 Jesus explains this union by saying “I am the Vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” So as the vine is the source of life for the plant, Jesus Himself is the source of life for all who believe in Him. Though Christ and His Church are looked on by the world as weak, unimpressive, a people with a religious crutch, fools, and doormats for the world we would respond – outwardly we may look like all those things, but we have been united to God Himself and now there is great power within! This is what He holds out to us in v56-57.
A Divine Contrast (v58-59)
Standing among the people in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus brings His teaching to a close once again restating what He has said many times before in chapter 6, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” A divine contrast is designed for us to see here. The manna that fed Israel in the wilderness was intended by God to only be enough for a single serving. Standing in the brightest contrast to that manna is Christ Himself, the bread of heaven, intended by God to be more than a mere meal for all who eat! Remember the disciples once thought they didn’t have enough to feed the multitude, but they picked up twelve full baskets after all had eaten their fill. So too, the one who comes to Christ in faith, even the one struggling to believe Jesus is enough, will be superbly surprised to find a whole-souled satisfaction springing up within.
I want to close with a simple question. “Is Christ as real to you spiritually as something you physically eat? Is He as much part of you as what you had for breakfast? Do not think it strange, but is Christ as real and useful to you as a hamburger and French fries? I say this because, although He is far more real and useful than these, the unfortunate thing is that for many people He is far less.” Do you keep Him in your life as a mere side dish, they’re for the taking if you desire but surely not the main dish of your soul? Or is He your meat and potatoes? Or as John Calvin said in his commentary on John 6:55, “As the body weakens from the want of physical food, so too the soul becomes impoverished from want of spiritual food.”
I tell you now what that French author said in his book long ago, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” It is simple really, eat junk and you’ll feel like junk. Eat healthy and you’ll grow strong. Church, may you feast on Christ by faith and may He become your whole-souled satisfaction.
 Johannes Brenz, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 238.
 See study notes in the Reformation Study Bible page 1866, the MacArthur Study Bible page 1592, and the ESV Study Bible page 2035.
 Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, page 239.
 R.C. Sproul, St. Andrews Expositional Commentary: John, page 124.
 Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth, page 81.
 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 447. See also John Fesko’s chapter Union With Christ in Matthew Barrett’s Reformation Theology, page 423-450.
 Martin Luther, Reformation Commentary on Scripture: John 1-12, page 243-244.
 Charles Erdman, The Gospel of John, page 65.
 James Boice, quoted in Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 212.
 Kent Hughes, Ibid., page 212.
 John Calvin, Commentary on John, online.