First preached Nov 2003
Last week we looked into the first half of this dialog between Jesus and the Jews. They had come in boats back to Capernaum and were astonished to find Jesus already there. Their question “How did you get here?” as someone has noted could be translated “Why did you leave us over there?” They were going to arrest Him and make Him king.
Jesus instead of answering the question, tells them of their wrong motive. They came only because of the earthly needs that were met. He told them to labor for the food which does not perish. He also told Him the only acceptable work was to believe on the One Whom the Father had sent. Jesus finally tells them that He is the Bread of Life. Those who wish to have eternal life need to come to Him for it. But He also told them that He knew that they did not believe in Him.
Exposition of the Text
This week’s passage begins with the reaction of the Jews to Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life. It says they murmured. This reminds us of the wanderings of the Jews in the wilderness in the time of Moses. They murmured bitterly about the manna and demanded meat. From what is described in Scripture, manna was pretty tasty, kind of a honey wafer. It wasn’t just bread, it was very good bread. Yet the Israelites under Moses had the choice of eating it or dying of hunger in the wilderness. It was the bread of life to them, take it or leave it, although it must be understood in the light of this passage that it only sustained their earthly existence. It did not give them eternal life. Those who ate of this bread all died, eventually. Now the Jews were murmuring against the true Bread of Heaven, Jesus, Who came down not just to sustain earthly existence but to offer eternal life
The Jews thought they knew where He came from. They reminded Jesus of His genealogy. The gist of what they said is this: “You’re just the Son of Joseph and Mary. We know/knew them both. They were nothing special. How is it that you then claim to come from God?” Not everyone knew the secret of the first Christmas. It was only revealed to a select few. This is another use of irony by John. The Jews think they know about Jesus and where they came from. This shows how little use that worldly wisdom has in understanding the things of God. No one can understand God unless God reveals it to them.
In verse 43, Jesus responds to the criticism by telling them to stop murmuring. This should have reminded them of the cost their fathers had paid in the wilderness when the murmured against the manna, Moses, and God. The New Testament Book of Hebrews reminds us that they failed to enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief and their carcasses rotted in the wilderness with a warning to Christians against falling into the same unbelief.
Jesus goes on to make a profound statement that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draw Him. The Greek word for “draw” implies the use of force or compulsion. This clearly shows how much the will of the earthly man opposes the will of God. The unregenerate person is totally incapable of coming to Christ. Were it not for the compelling grace of God, no one would come at all. This should serve as a check against those who think they are in control of when they are going to make things right with God. If God allowed this, then it would allow a sense of boasting on the part of the believer. The believer must be reminded that “we are saved by grace through faith, and this not of ourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
So when in last week’s passage in verse 29 that the work of God is to believe one the One Whom God has sent, it must be even understood that this work isn’t so much a work we do as is done in us. So when Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Word tugs at one’ heart, that person is well advised not to wait but to come right away. To not come would be to reject Him. And to reject Him has eternal consequences. This does not mean that God will not try again, but be warned. God is in control, not us.
There is a word of assurance given here by Jesus. The one who believes can be confident of eternal life. Jesus, Himself, will raise the believer on the last day. This strongly implies that the believer has real security. The only way it would be possible to miss eternal life would be to lose one’s faith in Jesus. If this faith were to be seen as God’s gift and not the works of men, then it could even be seen that to lose faith is not possible.
In verse 45, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah that all the people will be taught “of” or “by” God. The Greek prefers “of” although by is certainly appropriate here as Jesus is God. So both would be true here. The believer needs to know about God, and only the One Who comes from God can teach him/her. We are reminded of the promise of the prophets that in that day no one will need to be taught. No one will need to say “Know the Lord” for all shall know Him, from the least to the greatest.
“Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” Jesus shows that all true knowledge comes from the Father Himself. He does tell us that no one has seen Him or heard His voice directly, but nevertheless, He is the source of true teaching. This means that if we are to receive this teaching, then we are going to have to come to it by means other that the Father’s audible voice. The best source of this is from the lips of Jesus Himself. Jesus knows the Father because He came from the Father. He knows all about the Father. So what he teaches about the Father is true. Later in the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that He who has seen Him has seen the Father. In the same sense, He who has heard the words of Jesus has heard the words of the Father.
The Father is also revealed in the Holy Scriptures, but we must also be warned that the correct interpretation of Scripture does not come from human reason or judgment. The correct interpretation of Scripture comes from the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to come to a right understanding of Scripture. The Jews knew the Scripture as far as the words it contained. But if they correctly understood it, they would have believed on Jesus. Even the disciples did not understand it until after the resurrection when Jesus opened their eyes to it. The Holy Spirit also comes from God, so the Holy Spirit knows the Father and the Son. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the men of old to write Scripture also must inspire us to understand it.
There were many Rabbis in Jesus’ day who had their own schools and followers. There were many private interpretations of Scripture as well. The Rabbis were careful to cite sources in order to increase their own authority. But we must remember that Jesus did not cite a single one of them except to refute their teaching. Yet the people were astonished at His teaching because He taught as one having authority rather than like the scribes.
Jesus again restates that He is the Bread of Life. The “I Am” of the statement takes us back to Exodus 3:14 where Moses tries to get a handle on God by asking His name. God responded by asking why Moses asked for the name. But He responded: “I AM the One Who is—Tell them that ‘I AM’ has sent you.” This should remind us that it is more important for God to get a handle on us that for us to get a handle on God. Yet God is gracious enough to let us handle Him to a degree. We in this life are incapable of understanding all of God, but God gives us sufficient knowledge of Him through Jesus and the Scripture as correctly interpreted by the help of the Holy Spirit.
In the wilderness, the Israelites were hungry to the point of starvation. There were not sufficient resources in the wilderness to feed even a few of them. Were it not for the manna, they would have starved. In the same way, all unregenerate people are hungry even to the point of starvation. They are not hungry for earthly bread, at least for most in this country where obesity reigns. But the unbeliever is starving for true spiritual food even if they don’t realize it. These people might try to fill this void with all kinds of “food”. But only the food God provides can fill them. It is shown that starving people will eat anything to stave off the hunger, including things like their shoes and even each other. There of many cases recorded of people eating the dead for nourishment in these circumstances. The Bible even records a repugnant case of two women who killed and ate their own children. Such things are disgusting. Yet in a spiritual sense, starving people do equally vile things to fill their spiritual hunger. One only need to be reminded of the horrors of Baal worship which involved the sacrifice of babies by putting them in the red hot arms of Molech. We are also reminded of the worship of the golden calf in the worship with all of the sexual perversions the Israelites did before the idol. The spiritually desperate stoop to every abomination to fill their hunger. It’s a shame that people do these things when there is a banquet set before them in Jesus Christ. If they only had eyes to see Who was standing in front of them.
Jesus repeats that He is the Bread and this time adds the word “living” in verse 51. He is more than just bread which only prolongs this earthly existence for a while. The manna the children of Israel ate in the wilderness could not give life. But the bread Jesus offers, which is Himself is not only able to sustain life, it gives life to the dead. The dead here are the spiritual dead of which we all were and too many people in this world remain. And partaking of this bread promises the final resurrection from the dead.
Jesus goes on to say that this bread is His flesh, and the spiritual drink His blood which He gives not just to the Jews, but to the entire world. The word flesh reminds us of John 1:14 which says: “and the Word became flesh”. There is also a reminder to the wilderness here as well. The Israelites who were tired of eating manna demanded flesh. The Lord sent quail into the camp, and the children of Israel ate them until they were sick, and many died. Jesus in a way is saying: “The manna didn’t meet the real need you had, or you would not have demanded flesh. The flesh the Lord sent to you in His anger did not either. In fact, it killed. But I am the true manna and the true flesh. The thirst your fathers had in the wilderness was satisfied. But this was only the thirst of the body and not the soul. Drink of me, and you will find the true relief you are looking for.”
To the Jews, nothing could be more offensive than the thought of eating human flesh and drinking blood. The Law prohibited it. This shows that the Jews were in the dark about what Jesus meant by saying that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood if they wanted to live, just like the woman at the well was in the dark about what Jesus meant by the living water, or Nicodemus by the statement about being born again meaning to go back into his mother’s womb. But Jesus was thinking about the cross and not some literal form of cannibalism. Yet the Bible clearly states that the whole idea of dying on a cross was an offense too for the Jews. They quarreled among themselves saying “Surely he isn’t going to give us His flesh to eat!”
Paul says to we who are being saved, this offensive cross is the wisdom of God and the power of God. It is so foolish to the wisdom of the Greeks and such a scandal to the Jews, that unless the true meaning of the cross be revealed by God, no one could or would come to Jesus. God has pushed aside the cleverness of human ingenuity. The plan of salvation is entirely of God. No one can boast in God’s presence. All the believer can do is boast in God’s mercy. This applies to this passage here. Who would have thought it?
Starting in verse 53, Jesus again restates the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but this time is even more explicit and more offensive. He clearly states that the only way to eternal life is to feed on him. Than His flesh is the true food and his blood the true drink. Jesus is the only hope for the world. There is no other plan. There is no other savior, just like there was no other food in the wilderness except the manna which God sent. Like it or not, there is no other way. It is either eat or starve, live or die. Again, there is a word of assurance to those who believe, that they shall live if they eat this bread which God provides and be raised up by Jesus Himself at the last day.
Jesus adds the term “living” to the Father. The Father is the source of all life. The only way to live is to be in Him. For since the only way to the Father is through the Son, we must come to Jesus. The life of God is sent into the world, and they that want to live must feed on Christ.
Application of the Text
The buzzword of today is “tolerance”. The Western world, including the United States is increasingly of the opinion that there are many different paths to God, if there is any God at all. Their solution to the sin problem is to deny that anything is sin at all. The truth of the world is that there is no absolute truth at all. God has been for the most part rejected, and Jesus has become nothing more than some Jewish teacher who died long ago.
These actions are like those of a drowning man who tries to drown his rescuers. They are those who refuse the great bounty provided by God provided in the wilderness and would rather try to seek nourishment from spiders, snakes, and dry vegetation in the desert. But the real truth is that if we want to live, we must have Jesus for Thanksgiving. There just isn’t any other spiritual food out there in the wilderness that can give life.
We cannot hope to find God out there. God must find us. The good news is that is just what God is doing. What we need to do as Christians is to tell the others where the banquet is. If they turn up their noses at it, then it is their fault if they starve. God’s food is the very best and most costly nourishment that has ever been set before humankind. It cost Jesus his very life on a cross. We cannot despise it and live, no less have eternal life.
Jesus calls out for us to believe on Him. Those who believe on Him have eternal life. Those who reject him will not only die in this world, but eternally die as well in hell. Let no one believe in anyone or anything else. We cannot be saved by good works. We cannot be saved by ignorance. We cannot be saved by Buddha, or Mohammed, or anyone else but Jesus. Even belief in God isn’t good enough as the devils believe and tremble. And even our faith is God’s gift. Let no one say I found God. If you are in Christ, it is truly God who has found you, a lost sheep in the wilderness without a clue where home is.
We also learn from this passage that we must submit to God’s teaching, as those who have heard and learned of God are the ones who come to Jesus. Yet so many Christians no little or nothing about the Bible.
Next Thursday, American tables will be loaded with food. There will be turkeys and ham, dressing and sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, as well as many other things. Many Americans will go through the motions of giving thanks without much thought of why or to Whom we give thanks. Yet so many are at the point of starvation as they have rejected God and God’s chosen messenger, His Son Jesus Christ. This is because they have forgotten one vital food without which they cannot live, nor have eternal life. There will be lots of food but no satisfaction. The question is “Will you have Jesus for Thanksgiving?”