God's Christmas Bread (Exodus 16:1-4)
Topic: Christmas Passage: Exodus 16:1–4
I. Christmas Breads
See if you recognize any of these names: stollen, bunuelos, krendel, bobalki, panettone, Rosca de Reyes, Christopsomo, Cozonac cu Nuca, Vanocka. These are the names of traditional Christmas breads from all around the world (from places like Germany and Russia and Bolivia and Italy). Now maybe you've tasted one or more of these breads. Whether you have or haven't, God is pointing us this morning to a far better Christmas bread. Let's consider how he's doing that very thing by looking together at Exodus 16.
II. The Passage: “Bread from Heaven” (16:1-4)
This morning, we'll be looking together at verses 1-4. As you most of you know, this passage is from Our Bible Reading Plan last week, and it takes place post-Exodus; that is, the Hebrews, who had been slaves to the Egyptians, were now liberated as a result of the ten plagues that God had poured out on Egypt. At this point in the story, Moses is leading them across the desert as they travel to Mount Sinai. You may recall what God told Moses back in chapter 3, when he spoke to him from a burning bush: “...and this shall be a sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
But as this huge company of emancipated Israelites (hundreds of thousands, apparently) moves through the desert, listen to the challenges they face. Starting in 16:1...
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness [i.e., the desert] of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.  And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness,  and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.
So after weeks traveling through the desert, this massive group is faced with dwindling supplies and the reality of desert scarcity. But in spite of their grumbling, look at how God miraculously meets their desperate need. In fact, this morning, I'd like us to think carefully about what this passage reveals, not just about the need, or the provision, but about the Provider; about this God; a God who has, and does, and will miraculously meet the needs of his redeemed people.
So let's do this by thinking first about what we might call 'God's desert bread'. And then, after that, let's move to the New Testament and talk about 'God's Christmas bread'. So as we look back at this passage, consider what we learn here about...
1. God's Desert Bread (16:1-4)
Notice how in verse 3 the people's hunger drives their thoughts back to Egypt and the “meat” and “bread” they ate on a regular basis. What is God's response? Verse 4: “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you...”. “Bread from heaven”? What in the world does that mean? Well, the answer is found in verses 13-14. We read there that “in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.” This was the bread that God had promised them; bread that miraculously appeared (according to verse 35) every morning for forty years until the people were ready to cross into Canaan (the land promised to their ancestors). Verse 31 tell us what they called this bread: “manna” (which seems to mean “What is it?”... the same question the people ask in verse 15). This seems to be the Hebrew equivalent to the Watchamacallit candy bar created by Hershey in 1978 (“What do you call it?” “Whatchamacallit!” Manna? Manna!)
In Psalm 78 (a psalm we looked at last week in regard to telling the next generation about God's deeds... in this psalm) Asaph tells us this about God's provision of desert bread:
Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate of the bread of the angels, he sent them food in abundance. (Psalm 78:23-25)
Wow! Talk about miraculous provision. The same God who allowed them to plunder the Egyptians as they left that nation, was now providing food for them out of nothing. Enough food for every person every day... in the middle of the desert! This heavenly bread just appeared every morning... on the ground. But there's more: in light of their memories of food in Egypt, God would also provide meat for them in the form of quail that (according to verse 13) “came up and covered the camp” in the evening.
All of this was an amazing testimony that the God who freed them would also feed them. He didn't powerfully deliver them in order to simply desert them. No, this 'bread from heaven” was another miraculous example that God was with them. He was still with them, even in the middle of nowhere. With that in mind, this morning, I also want us to consider...
2. God's Christmas Bread (John 6:31-33)
This miraculous provision of bread should lead us to another, similar instance that took place well over a thousand years later. Turn over to chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. In verses 1-14 of John 6, Jesus takes a little boy's lunch box and uses it to feed 5000 men and unknown number of women and children. This miraculous provision was so stunning that the crowd declares (in verse 14), “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” What prophet are they referring to there? The prophet that Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy 18. And it's clear this crowd has Moses on their mind. In seeking another sign from Jesus, this is what the crowd tells Jesus in verses 31-33...
“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Do you see what Jesus did there in his response? He first shifts their focus from Moses to God, and then from the past to the present (i.e., the God who “gave” is the God who now “gives”). He then points them to the fact that the miraculous manna we heard about in Exodus 16, that “grain of heaven”, that “bread of angels” wasn't even “the true bread from heaven”. What? How can Jesus say that? Because “the true bread of heaven”, the “bread of God” is not a 'what' (as in “what is it”), but a “who”. You see, the One who is “the true bread” will not only provide sustenance for a group of Hebrews in the desert. He will, amazingly, wonderfully, provide life... to the whole world!
Who is this bread? Jesus is explicit in verse 35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” But Jesus was a man, not a loaf of bread. So what does he mean? He explains this in verse 51: “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”. Jesus isn't bread. But he's like bread. How? Because he provides nourishment; not for our physical sustenance, but for our spiritual hunger. And he provided that nourishment by giving his flesh over to suffering and death on a criminal's cross.
As miraculous as manna was, what Jesus give is far, far, far better. Christ himself explains this in John 6:49–51...
“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
Brothers and sisters, friends, please don't miss that repeated phrase. It's actually a phrase repeated seven times in this chapter. Who is Jesus? He is the One that “comes down from heaven”. Isn't that the very thing we celebrate today, with Christians all over the world? God's desert bread was an amazing example of his miraculous provision. But Jesus, God's Christmas bread, is the ultimate meaning of manna and far more wondrous, just as Jesus is far greater than Moses. In fact, John expressed this very point in the opening chapter of his gospel:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
III. Acknowledging Our Hunger
Now in light of both these passages, consider what our heavenly Provider also reveals here about our desperate need. Far greater than the Hebrews' physical hunger was their spiritual lack. That's evident from this passage, and many others passages in Exodus, as well as in the book of Numbers. Here are two glaring examples from Exodus 16:
First, though they had heard God's good intentions through Moses and had seen God's power at work in amazing ways to accomplish their deliverance, they completely doubted both his power and intentions when things got hard. And so (v. 2) they grumbled. They complained.
Second, even though they had suffered so horribly under the Egyptians, they want to revise the story of their slavery in verse 3 and only focus on the little they had... rather than everything that was taken from them. Again, when things got hard, they minimized their bondage.
And we could add to this. Remember what God told Moses in v. 4. Part of what God was doing with manna was so “that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”
Guess what. Verses 20 and 28 tell us ways they failed this test. They struggle to obey even the simplest commands. And as the narrative continues, the grumbling gets worst. And the revisionist history worsens. And the failures to obey God multiply.
And think about the crowd who pursued Jesus after eating a miraculous meal in John 6. Jesus chastised them this way in John 6:26...
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
Like their ancestors, they were so earthly minded that they minimized the heavenly treasure God had revealed to them. They wanted full stomachs. But God wanted to give them full hearts. They only wanted food in order to see another day. But God wanted to give them nourishment for eternal life.
Brothers and sisters, friends, this Christmas, please know this: you cannot appreciate the goodness and greatness of God's gift unless you truly understand the ugliness and pervasiveness of your desperate need. Yes, Jesus speaks in John 6 about provision in light of your physical death. But he's also talking there in light of the spiritual death that blinds all of us and binds all of us (that's a slavery far worse than what the Hebrews experienced under the Egyptians). When you read Exodus 16, I believe God wants you to be pleasantly stunned by the miracle of the manna. But I also think he wants you to be painfully shocked by just how much these ancient people act like us today. Doubt. Distortion. Disobedience. Even those who have been redeemed can struggle in these ways.
But the radically encouraging promise of Christmas is that the Bread of Life really did “come down from heaven”. What does that means for you and me? For those who regularly struggle with doubt, distortion, and disobedience? It means miraculous provision for even our deepest needs. And that provision flows from the cross of Christ. On that cross, the One who had been tested by God and passed every time, the One who never grumbled or complained, the One who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, died for your doubt, distortion, and disobedience.
That means, when we trust that He is miraculous provision for even our deepest needs, we can walk everyday by faith in light of that provision. This Christmas, though you might appreciate how a present from a friend or family members meets a pressing need, please remember there is no true need that God does not know and that God will not meet for those he has redeemed. Even in the hardest times, when we might be tempted to complain, when we might be tempted to look back longingly to our days in the flesh, when we might tempted to choose worldly solutions, even in the hardest times the promise of Christmas is miraculous provision for even our deepest needs. Will you take a minute even now to talk with him about your need, and trust him to meet that need? Consider the invitation of Psalm 34:8 in light of God's Christmas bread...
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)
September 24, 2023Speak the Word with Boldness (Acts 4:23-31)
August 27, 2023Praying for God's People (Daniel 9:17-19)
August 20, 2023Daniel's 'Not of This World' Example (Daniel 1:8-17)