The Words of Eternal Life
Often they say that image is everything. Sadly, in religion sometimes image is the only thing. It is what causes people to go to a church somewhere…the symbols. The symbols become an end to themselves. They attend the mass. They partake of the Lord's Supper. They submit themselves to baptism because just in the picture itself they seem to think is the answer...is the purpose...the end of their journey.
Yet Jesus confronts image for image sake all through the gospel of John that we have seen. Time and again, Jesus will use symbols to teach a deeper truth that is otherwise hard to discern, but so often the people He is speaking to stop at the symbol. They don't see the deeper truth. That was true all the way back in John, chapter 2, when Jesus told the Pharisees, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I'll build it again." He was speaking of His body, but they thought He was speaking of that glorious temple that stood there on Mount Moriah.
Then in chapter 3, He speaks to a member of the Sanhedrin, a man named Nicodemus. He said, "You must be born again," and Nicodemus can't get beyond the impossibility of being physically born a second time. The image Jesus used was something he couldn't understand. Then in John, chapter 4, the woman at the well…Jesus says, "I can show you where you can have living water and never thirst again." She didn't realize He wasn't talking about plumbing, but He was talking about the inner spiritual life.
So too when we come to John, chapter 6, and Jesus gives His great discourse on the Bread of Life there in the synagogue at Capernaum. He begins to speak of the necessity of eating His flesh and His blood. There will be those on that day as well as even those today who get stopped at that image, and don't seem to get beyond the image itself.
I want to speak to you today about what Jesus is really talking about in this last portion of John, chapter 6, and that is the words of eternal life. Christ is pointing the disciples, the larger group of the audience as well as His inner core of disciples to the words that He speaks, not to the particular image that so often they get stuck on, but to the deeper truth.
You see baptism, which we observe and we're named because of it, in and of itself is nothing. But it symbolizes something. It symbolizes a deeper truth that takes place on the inside of the person being baptized that is demonstrated in that baptism. The Lord's Supper we observe in and of itself is nothing, but it symbolizes the Body and the blood of Jesus Christ. What Jesus is talking about today, if we just leave it at the image then we miss the truth. We miss the words Jesus is trying to share with all those in the audience.
I'm going to pick up in verse 56 of John, chapter 6, this morning. I invite you to join with me. Jesus says, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." This word to abide, to remain, is a common theme in John's gospel. He uses it throughout talking about sometimes that Jesus abides in the Father. The Holy Spirit abides in us. It is this relationship, this intimate relationship that we are to have with God that is coined in the term abiding.
He says, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has that intimate relationship with Me, and I in him." Then in verse 57, "'As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.' These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?'"
Jesus, there in that synagogue, back in a time when it wasn't as formal as a church service would be today, a layperson could speak, and dialogue with the others gathered. Jesus is teaching on this day, and He's teaching that whole discourse that begins way back in the early part of John, chapter 6, and that He is concluding here in this section, and He comes to this portion where…"he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me."
Now the interesting thing is up to this point, Jesus has been talking metaphorically. He says, "I am the Bread of Life." He's been speaking in metaphors about Himself, but for some reason here, they think He's speaking literally. They somehow think He's talking about some form of cannibalism, of `some form of a pagan practice here, when of course that's not at all what Jesus is saying. He's trying to explain to them.
He says in verse 58, this is, in other words, "I am the Bread which came down from heaven." He's already spoken about that in the previous verses, and He's saying this is the true bread, not the manna, which came down. That physical bread which came down from heaven, your forefathers ate that and they died. Well, not even that manna that came from heaven was Jesus referring to physically. He's talking metaphorically entirely, and that manna He's speaking of in verse 58 is the law that came down from heaven…that which Moses gave.
Remember He says, "Moses didn't give you that manna, God gave you that manna." Well metaphorically, if Jesus is the Bread, then the manna is not physical either and really He's talking about that law. When the forefathers depended on that, they died. When they depended on that for their salvation, they died. Now He's saying the real bread the Father sent down from heaven was to observe all the words that I told you, to obey them, and to follow Me. I am that true Bread.
Well the disciples…they heard it and they said, "This is too hard." That word for hard in the Greek is a word that means harsh. In other words, it wasn't too difficult to understand intellectually, it was offensive to them. They were thinking of physically eating somebody's flesh, physically drinking someone's blood. They were listening to Him saying that their fathers made a mistake when they depended on that manna that came down. They didn't see the real manna. In other words, they were looking to the physical and not following what the law was trying to show them. They were depending on the immediate satisfaction and not depending on God. They weren't trusting in Him.
He said they died in the desert. What is it referring to? When they came to the borders of Kadesh-Barnea, and they sent those spies in to spy out the land, and the spies came back and 10 out of the 12 said, "It's too dangerous to go in." The entire congregation of Israel, these forefathers, they decided not to go forward. They were afraid. Why? Because they depended on themselves more than they trusted in God…the God who had provided the manna to them, that was not sufficient to them. They weren't willing to trust them. They were only willing to trust what was right in front of them. They were only willing to trust what they could see.
Seeing was believing for them, and hearing the stories of the giants in the land was enough for them. They weren't willing to go forward in faith. They didn't understand the God who could bring down bread from heaven was a God they could trust. That was the deeper truth God was trying to teach them. It was that, "Listen folks, I can bring bread out of nothing. You can trust Me and go into a Promised Land that is full of the enemy and I'll give it to you, just as I gave you the manna." But instead, they trusted in themselves.
Now here are the Galilean Jews. They've been raised to believe that the law itself provides salvation. They trusted in their own observance of the law. They didn't trust in the God who gave the law. So they would be upset, for instance, when earlier we saw in John, Jesus healed on the Sabbath because for them the Sabbath was an end of itself. They didn't understand God gave the Sabbath for man to rest and man wasn't subject to just bow before the Sabbath. There was a deeper truth to all of that.
So now they understand they are to have this intimate relationship with Christ, and it's offensive to them. They've been raised with a certain kind of religion and they want that to continue. They were willing to follow Jesus when they thought He was going to free them from Roman oppression. But the idea of following a Savior, a Messiah just out of pure faith… No, that wasn't anything they were interested in, and so it says that many of them turned away. They trusted in themselves more than God. Jesus knew this.
Verse 64 tells us, "'But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, 'Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.'" Verse 66, "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." I want you to notice the marks of those who dropped out of this cause of Christ because they are the marks of those who drop out from Christian causes today…those who drop out from truth and from church today.
Notice first of all, it's clear they take offense at difficult truth...things that didn't fall into their little box of understanding. They were not going to pay any attention to it. They did not want to be troubled with difficult teaching. Now, I've discovered this is frequently true of those who drop out of church. They drop out because they're bothered when difficult doctrines are taught.
For instance, the doctrine of sovereignty…the idea that God does not have to answer to any set of rules is difficult and harsh and offensive to people. They can't understand a God who doesn't play by the rules, a God who can do whatever He wants to do. They have trouble with the doctrine of God's providence that God can providentially send difficulties into your life. He can providentially choose to send a harsh time, to send trouble, to send financial difficulties, to send health problems, to take away loved ones from you. They do not like and it is harsh for them to believe God is that kind of God.
So you hear statements like, "Why would God do something like this? What kind of a loving God would take away this person I love? I don't think I have anything to do with a God who's going to act like that," because they have problems with the ultimate sovereignty and providential capacity of a Holy God. So they walk away.
They come for the image. They come for their image. They come for the celebrations. They come for the ceremony. They come because maybe it's Christmas, or maybe the celebration of Easter, but to listen to the difficult teachings, to follow that, to understand the depth and gravity of just who God is, is too harsh to understand and often they turn away.
Many struggle over the letters of Paul, the difficult doctrines of the New Testament, and they'll think to themselves and say, "Oh, I don't want to be bothered by them. I want to just love God. I want to just worship God in my own way. And the difficult things of Scripture they decide, "Well, God didn't make me to understand that," so they soon turn away. They soon go their own way. Many struggle over that, and they drop out of the Christian cause.
You see, Jesus is showing us there is a deeper level to the Christian life than many people are willing to understand. I want you to understand this morning. When I talk about the words of eternal life, I'm not just talking about an easy salvation or a free ticket into heaven. I'm telling you that in this Bible right here, in these words the Holy Spirit has chosen to preserve for us, are the very ingredients for you to have a full and understanding life, a full and rich life that follows God and that understand what His purposes and plans are for you. In them is life itself.
That's what Jesus said. He said that, "In My words are life, and the very eternal life I'm offering you…are in the words I'm trying to teach you." But the Galileans, when they saw there was something deeper, there was something spiritual, there was something more than a free meal at the end of every day, there was something more than manna just lying on the ground every morning, there was something more than just freedom from the politics of Rome that were so oppressing them, when they saw there was a deeper life, they decided to turn away. And many do today as well.
But not everyone does. There is another group that is mentioned here. It's shown to us later on in the section here and that is those who cannot leave, those who have to stay. Listen to words, beginning again in verse 66. It says, "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?'" We see here the word disciple is not just referring to the 12 apostles here, but it's referring to a larger group of people who were learners, who had been following Jesus, but many of them turn away.
So Jesus turns to His core group, to these 12 disciples and He says, "If you want to, you can go too." Jesus is giving them the freedom. He is giving them the option, the choice, to turn away. He gives you that choice this morning, by the way. He always give us the freedom to follow Him or not, the freedom to go back to our old lifestyle, the freedom to turn away and to go back to things that aren't as harsh for us to understand, things that might be easier for us to follow.
Listen to the words of Peter in verse 68, "But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" See there are two groups that are mentioned to us here. There is the group that will turn away when times get difficult. There is a group that will turn away when the teachings of God don't give them an easy answer in life. There are those who turn away when God doesn't fulfill their desires and their every need of them moment in the flesh.
But then there is a second group. That's the group that cannot quit…that cannot quit. They're made of people who are equally sinners and are failures in life, but who do not turn from Christ because they cannot turn from Christ. Why? Where else would they go? Where else would we go because we know above everything else that in Christ are the very truths of life. In Christ are the very words of life. We don't turn from Him because we know that only in Him is the real satisfaction and the real joy that is to be found in life.
Now there are those who Jesus spoke to, that first group back in verse 61. It says, "When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained…" That's the larger group. They were complaining about some of His teachings. They didn't see that those fit into their scope of what they thought their religion ought to do. It says He said to them, "Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life."
Now we have just a slight, often translation problem in 62. You'll probably have it in your Bible. You'll see the word what is italicized, and the reason for that is because it's not in the original. Some translator supplied that. I want to take that out because I think the strength of it is to begin with the word then because in the Greek what it actually says to these who are complaining about His teachings, He said, "Then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? Then it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing."
You see there's really not a break there between 62 and 63 in the language. What Jesus is saying is that you are getting focused on physical things, and not on the spiritual, but if you would stay with Me long enough and see the Son of Man ascend into heaven, then you would understand that I'm talking about spiritual things and not physical things. You would see then it is the Spirit who gives life and the flesh profits nothing.
Then He restates it. He says, "The words that I speak to you…they are Spirit." In other words, "I'm talking to you about spiritual things, not real bread, not real flesh, not real blood, but something more important, something deeper than that. See the words that I speak to you are life." I want you to understand that this morning because we all want life. We want to have a happy life. We want to have a joy-filled life. We want to have a successful life.
Jesus is trying to tell us in words that for some ears will be hard to understand this morning that the words He speaks are life. That is where life is to be found. To focus solely on the symbols of Christianity is what's going to cause you to invariably drop out sooner or later.
What Jesus is talking about here is that the disciples, the larger group…they were not allowing themselves to be drawn along by the Father into a deeper and deeper understanding of His truth. Jesus tells us this in Mark. Over in Mark, chapter 4, He says, "To him that has shall more be given." But listen, "To him that has not, even that which he has shall be taken away." That's Mark 4:25 for us.
My friends, this is the tragedy that befalls many in our walk today. They don't stick around for the greater truths. They come for the superficial things of Christianity, but when the hard times come, when harsh truths come, when difficult doctrines are taught, they just drop off. They decide, "That's not for me. That's not the kind of person I am."
Listen to the warning of Jesus, "To him who has, more will be given." If you will understand that truth, you'll also understand greater, deeper abiding, joyful truths, but if you don't take those initial truths, if you don't bite into that milk of the Word, the meat of the Word will choke you, and you will not follow it. You will not go after it.
Listen, Hebrews 11:6 says, "He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Diligently seek Him. Jesus isn't interested in hillside disciples who are chasing after the next free meal. He wants disciples who see in the blessing of the free meal a God who will always take care of them.
If we are only interested in the blessing of God as it applies to us physically to our health, our money, our relationships…if that's all God is for us, we'll soon depart from Him. It's when we say, "Whether I have health, whether I have money, whether I have a marriage, whether I have a family or not, God, I cannot leave You," then God will teach you the deeper truths, and He'll show you an abiding and lasting joy.
Transcribed by Digital Sermon Transcription