The Power of Biblical Images
The manger in Bethlehem, the yoke of an oxen, the cross on Golgotha, the broken bread in the Lord’s Supper are all biblical images which convey important truths about the person and work of Jesus Christ. They also convey important truths about the nature of Christian discipleship in today’s world. They are humble images but they communicate powerful spiritual truths.
For example in Luke 2:12 we read of this angelic announcement to the shepherds regarding Christ’s birth: “This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”. In this divinely-appointed object lesson, the manger becomes a profound illustration of the humility of God. Douglas Webster writes: “The manger is a radical picture of God’s self-emptying. God Himself, in the man Christ Jesus, condescends to join our helpless state in order to redeem us and restore us to right relationship with Himself.”
The biblical image of the manger not only tells us something significant regarding God’s character, but it also seeks to shape what Christian discipleship should look like in our lives. In our media-saturated culture in which the cult of celebrity reigns, it’s easy for Christians to think that God seeks to advance the gospel through our prominence and worldly success. The message of the “manger” strongly implies otherwise.
The Biblical Imagery of Bread
Another prominent biblical image is bread. The only miracle of Jesus which appears in all 4 Gospels is His feeding of the 5,000, with 5 small loaves of bread and 2 fish. In the Lord’s Prayer, we humbly ask our heavenly Father to provide for our daily bread (Mathew 6:11). In the Jewish 40-year wilderness journey, after the Exodus from Egyptian slavery, the Israelites were daily fed manna (or sweet bread) from heaven.
In Jesus’ Last Supper, He instituted the ritual of the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist, which will be celebrated by His disciples until He comes back again. Jesus instructed His disciples to use bread to symbolize His body broken for us and the wine to symbolize His blood poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins.
Why did Jesus use the broken bread to convey the meaning of His life and death for us? I would like to share 3 reasons why He used it. First of all, all cultures take local grain and fashion it into some kind of bread, which then becomes a large part of the people’s basic diet.
Meat may not always be available, but bread is more likely to be present with the common people of every culture. Even in Jesus’ time, most Jewish families didn’t usually eat meat with their meals. It was considered something special. Bread is much more accessible to every person of every culture. It is a very effective symbol to convey the spiritual truth that Christ’s broken body makes access to God open to anyone who humbles themselves and calls on the name of the Lord.
Bread is a humble kind of food. You only need the basic materials of flour, salt, water and yeast. The simplest things in the Bible often offer the deepest spiritual truths. Any person who humbles themselves can understand and receive God’s Gospel of grace.
Jesus’ Broken Body For Us
I think Jesus used bread in such a special way not only because it is embedded in every culture, but also because the breaking of the bread powerfully illustrates how Christ’s whole life was a giving of Himself to us. Born in the manger was just the beginning of His humility and servanthood. His whole life was characterized by humble service (see Philippians 2:6-8). From beginning to end, Jesus shared His life with us. Even now He intercedes in prayer for us at the right-hand of the Father for us (Rom. 8:34).
Our covenant Lord nourishes us physically and spiritually because He was willing to sacrifice Himself for others. He didn’t insist on His personal rights. He didn’t stay enclosed within Himself through pride and fear.
The broken bread not only illustrates Christ’s life broken for others, but it also illustrates how Jesus’ followers are to give of themselves to the Lord and to others. If you have ever walked into a home where someone was baking bread, you know it was impossible to miss that something good was happening there. The warm, yeasty aroma can escape the oven and spread through the entire house in no time.
In the same way, Christ’s body, the Church, you and I, are to exude the aroma of baked bread. This can only happen when we allow our egotism and commitment to self-comfort to be broken open. Just like a lump of dough must be kneaded over and over again for it to become a loaf of bread, we must be shaped repeatedly throughout our lives. This happens through the experience of grace and community, repentance and forgiveness, love and sacrifice. It is only then, will we be able to go out into the world with the fragrance and aroma of freshly-baked bread and offer everyone a taste of Jesus.
QOTD: Is my Christian discipleship in the world pointing people to the broken and living Bread of Jesus?