Today my son found months-old Saltines at the bottom of a wicker basket. I pried his mouth open and begged him to spit them out, but he slipped away, swallowing his prize with a grin.
In the next room, strewn across the floor and his high chair, sat his half-eaten lunch. I’ll never understand what makes my toddler desire stale crackers instead of a freshly made sandwich, but he always eats the crumbs off the floor, the bread that seems lesser to me.
Often, I’d argue, when we’re reading the Gospels, we also eat the lesser bread.
At times I open a Gospel to wrestle over Jesus’ teaching, a parable or a specific teaching point, and I forget to see the One who’s teaching. I forget that, by reading the Gospels, we don’t just learn about Jesus, but we can know him.
The Gospel writer John emphasized repeatedly his desire for everyone to know Jesus—through teaching, pointed questions, and important events in Jesus’ life—and in the middle of the Gospel of John, he further emphasized why he wrote: “These [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name” (John 20:31). In other words, John didn’t write just because, or to provide loosely connected observations on Jesus’ life, but he had evangelism in mind. This is the heart of John’s Gospel: that we might believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that we might believe him.
John spent several years following Jesus, hearing him speak, watching his miracles, listening in on conversations. He witnessed Jesus weep, experience hunger and thirst, resurrect a dead man, die, and come back to life. John knew Jesus, and he wanted his reader to know Jesus too; he wanted his reader to really know Jesus—to experience a lasting relationship with Christ that only comes through belief in him.
He wanted his readers to know the greater bread.
At one point in his ministry, Jesus drew a crowd of 5000 hungry people. Enamored by stories of Jesus healing the sick, they followed him. Desiring to feed the crowd, Jesus multiplied a little boy’s fish and bread, the disciples passed out lunch, and the crowd ate until satisfied. Enamored by yet another sign, they tried to “make him king by force” (John 6:15). When Jesus escaped, the crowds followed him to the other side of the sea, and he quickly determined what they were after: they wanted the food, the physical bread (John 6:26–27). Once again, they were more interested in what this man had to offer them instead of the man himself.
Jesus patiently responded with a well-known declaration of his identity: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Yes, Jesus provided the crowds with good teaching, food, and the signs they sought, but he also provided them with something so much greater: he provided the crowds with himself.
Jesus was the greater bread.
Too often, as I read about the life of Jesus, I am just like these crowds—my belief is in a lesser bread. I understand that he feeds the 5000 to show the crowds the face of God, but like them, I come to him for what he provides—I come to him for the lesser bread (John 6:26–27). Too easily, the good things Christ has to offer me—his teachings, his miracles, a renewed attitude, a verse to prove an argument—obscures Christ himself.
As we read about Jesus in the Gospels, we read about a man who lives. We read about a man who pursued us, lived in perfect obedience, gave his life, and was resurrected, so that we might believe in and know him, through the Holy Spirit. This same man sits in heaven even now, with the same resurrected body with which he walked this earth, and thinks of us, sees us, knows us.
And when we read John’s Gospel, we submit ourselves to the Christ who has made himself known, who longs for us to know him as the true bread, the greater bread—who longs for us to believe him (John 6:35, 40).
The next time we open the Gospel of John, we could treat Jesus simply as a good teacher, scrounging for the final crumbs tossed to the floor. Or, we can know Christ as he has made himself known, the Son of God—the One who calls us to believe.
I’ll choose the greater bread.