The Israelites had been miraculously freed from their captivity in Egypt, but their food ran out in the desert, and they were feeling a little grumpy. “If we were still in Egypt, we would have food to eat! Did you bring us out here to die?” they demanded from Moses. Moses, in turn, complained to God, “What am I going to do with these people you gave me?”
God agreed to send the Israelites bread (a.k.a., “manna”) from heaven each day, and He made good on His promise for 40 years while the they wandered through the desert. (Lesson #1: Be careful what you ask for. There’s only so much you can make from one ingredient breakfast, lunch and dinner. When manna got old, they learned to make manna-cotti, manna-lla wafers, and salad with manna-goes, but it was a few years before the first MannacDonalds.)
But when the Israelites first saw the bread, they had no idea what it was. They asked each other, “Man-na?” (Hence, the name.) Translated, the question is, “What is it?” Even though God had told them that He was sending them bread… Even though He had told them when it was coming, they still were surprised by its arrival.
Fast forward almost fifteen hundred years. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 and walked on water. The Jews met him on the other side of the lake, and their appetite for miracles had been whetted. “Show us a miracle!” they demanded. “Moses gave our forefathers manna in the desert.”
Jesus replied, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever.” Of course, he was speaking spiritually, not physically, but they didn’t get it. They thought Jesus was a prophet, maybe Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist returned from the dead. They were offended that He would say that they should eat His flesh, and many of them turned away.
In a very real sense, they were still saying, “Man-na?” “What is this?” Even though God had told them that He was sending them a Savior… Even though He had told them whose family line He would come from… Even though He had told them when and where and how, they still were surprised by His arrival.
“Man-na?” It’s the single, most important question any of us will ever answer in regard to Jesus. What do we make of Him? Is He prophet, philosopher, teacher, nice-guy? Or is He God? Will we be satisfied with His miracles, or will we not be satisfied until we have a relationship with the Miracle-Maker? We can’t just choose not to deal with the question. Not dealing with it is an answer in itself. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Nothing else can satisfy our spiritual hunger.