Take time to introduce yourselves to one another (over drinks or snacks if possible). Then discuss the following question:
Over this term, we’re exploring eight of Jesus’ claims, each starting with the words ‘I am.’ Not only will this help us understand Jesus better, but we’ll come to understand ourselves better too.
This weeks passage is quite long. Ask for a couple of volunteers to read John 6:22-51 between them. Pray a short prayer asking that, however much group members have previously come to know God, they’d know him better as a result of your time together.
The crowds respond to Jesus’ claims by referring to an episode that had occurred 1500 years earlier (verses 30-31). After being in slavery, the
Israelites were freed by God from the Egyptian rule. However, in the wilderness, they were unable to collect new grain. This led them to complain.
Read Exodus 16:1-5, which describes how God provides.
It’s often said that when Jesus uses the phrase ‘I am’, he is making a direct reference to the name of God in the Old Testament.
Exodus 3:14 certainly uses the phrase ‘I am’ to refer to God. The Hebrew phrase ‘I am’ is linguistically related to God’s name, Yahweh, often translated in English Bibles as ‘the LORD’ (with capital letters). But the phrase ‘I am’ had a wider use too. Like today, many characters in the Bible use the phrase ‘I am’ simply to refer to themselves.
What makes ‘I am’ distinctive in Exodus 3:14 is that God doesn’t refer to a noun or pronoun. It sounds like the phrase is unfinished. For example, he doesn’t say, “I am the Good Shepherd” but simply “I am.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses “I am” in the same way three times – and in each occasion, he seems to be claiming to be God (see John 6:19-20, 8:58, 18:6-8). We’ll look at the ‘I am’ of John 8:58 in the last session in this series.
In his other ‘I am’ sayings, Jesus seems not to be emphasising his deity as much as other aspects of his identity. It’s certainly true that his deity is what allows Jesus to make such outrageous claims. But, as we go through the series, it’s important that we don’t focus so much on the ‘I am’ clause that the rest of his claims become overlooked!
We want our members not only to see that Jesus is God – but also to see what this means for them.
Jesus’ imagery – that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood (verse 51) – seems confusing and even gory. What is Jesus seeking to communicate through such an odd choice of words?
Throughout the chapter, Jesus has moved the crowd’s focus from their physical hunger onto their deeper hunger for spiritual life. This is because it’s not ultimately physical but spiritual bread we need most. Jesus claims that he himself is that God-given spiritual bread (see verses 35, 48 and 51). Unlike the physical bread that God provided for his people in the wilderness, Jesus nourishes us for eternity (see verse 58).
Jesus emphasises that we receive his spiritual food through faith (see verses 40 and 47). ‘Eating’ him pictures the kind of faith response required.
Most Protestant Christians understand Jesus to be speaking metaphorically: we are to look to Jesus for eternal life in the same way a starving person looks to food to keep them physically alive. Some Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe Jesus is speaking more literally: that the bread and wine of communion are transformed into Jesus’ actual body and blood, or that Jesus infuses the bread and wine with his real presence. This seems unlikely, given Jesus’ words in verse 63: ‘the flesh counts for nothing.’ It’s probably better to think of eating bread and drinking wine at communion as symbolising the bond we have with Jesus our life-source.
If possible, we encourage you to avoid being drawn down this rabbit warren in the first session of the year!
It’s normal to feel a bit unsettled at the start of term. Some in your group may feel empty or dissatisfied by Freshers’ Week. Others may ache from being full on the wrong things, as if they’ve been snacking on junk food.
Jesus’ promise to us is that he will fill us so that we are never hungry, now and forever. This is a reliable truth, even if we don’t always feel it.
Share other prayer requests, and encourage those who want to pray out loud to lead the group. Focus your prayers around asking Jesus to be what he promises: the complete satisfaction of your life.
If you’re able to sing in your group time, there are plenty of songs that will help you reflect on how Jesus satisfies, including: King of My Heart; Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me and Your Grace Is Enough.
Two thousand years after Jesus made his claim to be the bread of life, we’re still starving. There’s a hunger within every student at our university they’re seeking to satisfy. As with all hunger, what’s quickest and easiest may not be what’s best.
C. S. Lewis once wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.”
Give the necessary notices (see below) and ask for a volunteer to close your time together in prayer.
Finishing your time together well is important, especially in the early weeks of term. We’re provided the acronym TACOS to prompt you to share details that will be important to your members.
Don’t feel like you need to follow the acronym formulaically, but do ensure you give clear instructions to those in your group.
Thank You – Thank everyone for coming, and ask someone to thank God for your time together in prayer.
Ask – Ask those who are new to reading the Bible if they’d like to explore Uncover, a set of sessions in Mark’s Gospel, allowing them to investigate one of the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life alongside one of you.
Church and CU – What does the CU have planned ahead? And what help would group members value in finding a local church?
Others – Who else could you invite to join your CU Impact Group next week? These friends don’t need to be followers of Jesus and may really appreciate being invited.
See You Soon – Tell the group where and when you’ll meet next week, and arrange who will bring snacks. (You might like to alternate healthy and less healthy weeks!). See if anyone would be up for sharing a meal or just hanging out in the meantime!
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