John 6:41-59 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
Good morning. We are picking up right where Pastor Dave left off last week in chapter 6 with some hard sayings of Jesus. As he preached last week, there is thinning out process happening in this chapter. At the start of the chapter, there are likely 20,000 people who are fed from the five loaves and a few fish. Everyone is satisfied and amazed, but as things progress, Jesus will turn the screws tighter and tighter. And more people peel off from seeking Jesus. The requirements to follow Jesus are getting tighter. And they work to sort out who is truly willing to come to Jesus on the terms that Jesus lays out.
As we continue our story around Jesus claiming I Am the Bread of Life, we find Israel in the wilderness grumbling. The Jews continue asking Jesus questions about his identity, and his abilities. Each question gets a reply from Jesus along with conditions for coming to Jesus. Jesus offers eternal life, but it must be on his terms. Will we humbly come to Christ in faith? Are we willing to do it no matter the cost?
The outline of our passage is based on the Jews asking questions and then Jesus responding. Notice he doesn’t necessarily answer their direct questions, but he further explains what he means when he says, ‘I am the Bread of Life’. As he invites people to come to him, he gives two conditions for them to come, which are both marked by the word ‘unless’. The first one is in verse 44, no one comes to Jesus, unless, the Father draws him.
The second is in verse 53, ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’ In other words, unless you do these things you will not receive life. The promise is life eternal, but it must be on the terms that Jesus gives, not our own.
As we work through the terms that Jesus lays down, ask yourself, ‘where do I get hung up on what Jesus demands?’ Is it doctrine? Is it something that our culture thinks is weird? Are there places where I’m just more comfortable with less than what Jesus calls me to?
Father in heaven, we thank you for this day. We thank you for sunshine and the sound of birds. I thank you for the sparkling jewel-like snow you have given us. Thank you for the glimpses of spring and resurrection. Thank you that we can gather around your Holy Word. We thank you that your word is perfect. It accomplishes exactly what you purpose it to do. Thank you for salvation. Thank you that you have revealed specific things about how salvation works and that we see pieces of that in our passage. Please help me to preach your Word clearly and faithfully. May anything that is not true fall to the ground. But in everything that is true and profitable apply to our hearts through your Spirit. May Christ, the true bread of life, the Great I AM be magnified this morning. Amen.
Before we get to our passage, I want to go back to Exodus 16. This will give us a few themes that John pulls forward into his gospel. Listen and see if you notice how John uses them in his account. If you aren’t’ familiar with the story or don’t remember, exodus 16 takes place shortly after God has rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. They make their way into the wilderness and begin traveling. But they people begin to second-guess themselves and wonder if being back in Egypt would be better. ‘At least there was food there, right? We’re gonna die out here’. Kids, I want you to listen for a repeated word in this passage:
So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.”
Ex. 16:9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 And the LORD said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”
Now let’s return to John chapter 6. Kids, what word did you hear repeated? This is our starting point for today’s passage:
So the Jews grumbled about him,
We have the Jews, God’s chosen people, grumbling. And why did they grumble? Because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Did you notice the parallel with exodus?
We have a bunch of Israelites fed in the wilderness, questioning what is going on. Just as the Israelites didn’t fully understand the Manna in the wilderness, the Jews in our story don’t understand. The word Manna means ‘what is it?’. When they encounter the Bread of Life, their response is basically, what is it? As we saw last week, the Jews think they know who Jesus is. They are familiar with their fathers receiving bread in the wilderness. They know that Joseph is Jesus’ father. But Jesus is going to show them that they actually don’t understand. Again we have an I Am statement. This man is claiming he came down from heaven. Who does he think he is?
I. Question 1. Who is Jesus?
In John’s gospel the Jews miss the significance of Jesus many times. But it’s not always from sheer ignorance. They know the Old Testament. Look at verse 59, you can see where this discourse takes place. It’s in the synagogue at Capernaum. The Jews understood the Law of Moses. Anyone taking the Lord’s name, I AM, in vain, should be stoned. Is this guy really saying, ‘I AM’? Did we hear that right? This is the same guy who is Joseph’s son. He’s just a normal man like us.
Jesus replies, but he doesn’t directly answer their questions either. He begins, just as the LORD did in Exodus 16 by commanding the people not to grumble. And then he puts out the terms for coming to Jesus:
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
No one can come to Jesus. The first part of the condition is that it is an exclusive condition. No one can come to Jesus. A better, more accurate way to say it is, no one is able to come. No one comes, because no one is able to come. This is the result of the curse of Adam. Even if we tried, we cannot come. And worse, we don’t want to come anyway. The Fall has cursed all of our faculties, including our desires.
Romans 8 makes this clear: 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Our sinful flesh has no desire to please God. We have no desire to seek God. And we don’t naturally want what God wants. While the problem is obvious that no one is able to come to Jesus on their own, our God is gracious. Despite man’s inability, God provides a way for us to come: The Father must draw us.
This might be a hard saying for some of you. You might hear the idea of the Father drawing people and that sounds hard. And while we do have a responsibility to come, we must begin with what the Bible says. And in our sinfulness, we require God to act first. And in his mercy, he draws us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The great pastor and theologian, John Calvin describes it this way:
‘we ought not wonder if many refuse to embrace the gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected’ (John Calvin. Commentary on John. CCEL)
God is not forcing people who would not want to come. Nor is He overlooking people who would have otherwise come. Listen to the rest of the quote from Calvin:
‘it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant.’ (Calvin’s commentary on John. CCEL)
Here’s another way to say it: The bad news is that no one is able to come. But the good news is that the Triune God has made a way for people to come. Your family history doesn’t matter. You can’t claim the goodness of your parents and you aren’t denied because of a bad family situation. Your knowledge of facts doesn’t matter. Your amount of good deeds won’t gain approval from Jesus, nor will your load of bad deeds disqualify you from coming to Jesus. What matters is that you are willing to come to Jesus in full humility and faith.
Jesus begins with a very exclusive statement that excludes all of us and all of humanity. No one is able to come, apart from the grace of God. That is true. But within this is another, expansive idea. Verse 45 promises that all people will be taught. And that everyone who hears and learns from the Father will come to Jesus. This is a quote from Isaiah 54:13. It’s part of a passage promising the New covenant. It is similar to Jeremiah 31 where the Spirit will write the law on people’s hearts.
The point is that while no one came on their own, the people the Father draws is an inclusive and expansive group. He will draw from all nations. And everyone he draws will come. This is jarring to the Jews and this will continue to develop in John’s gospel.
Then Jesus adds this statement in verse 46 about his credentials. The Jews think they know his background as the son of Joseph. But Jesus is now claiming that he is from the Father. Jesus came to bring life to all who the Father draws. And to reveal the Father to the world.
Now Jesus returns to the original question about bread from heaven.
47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
Jesus again claims he is the I AM and then compares two kinds of bread. The Jews are appealing to the wrong kind of bread. The manna brought temporary nourishment. But they had to eat it daily. And it still couldn’t provide eternal life. Everyone in the wilderness died. That bread wasn’t meant to give eternal life. Jesus is offering something greater than manna. He’s offering himself.
In verse 31 they appealed to the wrong father. Now they are staring the true, living bread come from the Father in the face, and they don’t understand. Jesus is not excluding the Jews from salvation. They just don’t want to come to salvation on the terms of Christ. Ask yourself again, am I willing ot come on Jesus’ terms? Do I want life in Christ or am I content with less?
Jesus turns the screws again when he says the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
You can almost hear the air go out of the synagogue. It’s like the party scene in a movie when suddenly the record skips and everyone pauses. Did Jesus just say what I think he said? This leads to the next question.
II. How can this man give us his flesh?
Any doubt about what Jesus said is now removed. He doubles down on what he just said in v 52.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
If Jesus had a chance to back pedal or soften his words, he doesn’t take it. He says different versions of the same thing six times. The main idea is: Feed on my flesh or you have no life.
When we hear eating flesh and drinking blood, that sounds strange. But to a Jew who knew his Old Testament, this is incredibly troubling. Eating flesh was not to be done. In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, the covenantal curses mention eating of children. And in one of the most horrific episodes in Israel’s history, these curses are realized in 2 Kings 6 and Jeremiah 19. This is hard to deal with, but it’s what scripture says.
It is the same with the blood. After Noah got out of the ark in Genesis 9, God made a covenant with Noah and his family which permitted eating meat, but forbade eating the blood. This is because the life of the creature is in the blood. This idea is repeated in Leviticus 17.
“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Lev 17:10-11
Again, what Jesus says is hard, especially when it appears to contradict God’s Law. But Jesus has something different in mind. Something more glorious than a weird meal that violates God’s law. But the Jews again miss who Jesus is. Jesus is not merely a man with some cryptic sayings.
So what does this mean? How do we understand Jesus telling the people to feed on his flesh and drink his blood?
Historically some have interpreted Jesus’ words to mean that unless you take the Lord’s Supper you have no life in you. This is a passage that the Roman catholic church bases their view of the Lord’s supper or Communion. Their understanding of the bread and the blood are informed by Jesus’ words here. They believe that the bread and the wine are transformed into Jesus’ body and blood during Communion. This is wrong and it would mean that Jesus is sacrificed continually at Communion. The Bible is clear that it was a one time sacrifice for sins and replaced the need for perpetual sacrifices. But you can see how taking Jesus’ words literally would get someone there.
Now, all of the symbols of the Lord’s Supper are here. Jesus is talking about his body and blood, eating and drinking. The connections are obvious.
In the timeline of John’s Gospel, Jesus has not yet instituted the Lord’s supper. At the same time, John’s original audience would already have Matthew, Mark and Luke. They would have already participated in the Lord’s Supper in a local gathering. So it’s too much to say that John is specifically talking about the Lord’s Supper here, but we miss the rich connection if we ignore it completely too.
So what is the right meaning of Jesus’ words? By feed, Jesus means to believe. Believe all that Jesus is and all that His Word says. Israel was instructed to leave no manna until the morning. Now Jesus is calling for that same kind of eating. We are to believe all that Jesus is, does, and says. These are Jesus’ terms and we either take them and get life, or reject them and perish.
Jesus is also pointing past the Lord’s Supper to the cross. The place where he would take on the covenant curses. The place where his body was destroyed. The place where His blood would be poured out on the altar, just as Leviticus 17 says. Jesus flips everything around at the cross. His blood brings life. And through his death and offering his body and blood, we are nourished. We receive life. We are brought into covenant with God through the Son.
Hebrews 10 connects the flesh and blood to the cross for us: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,
We get access into the holy places through Christ’s blood and flesh. Come to Jesus. Come on his terms. Feed on the true flesh and the true blood.
These sayings are hard. Jesus tells us that if we do not come on his terms, we will have no life. But Jesus also gives promises in these passages too: He promises life, the resurrection and that he will abide in us.
Jesus says unless we feed on his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us. But the opposite is also true. When we come to the Son on his terms, we get life. If we trust Christ and all that he says and commands, we do have life. New life is not merely eternal life someday far in the distance. We have life now, meaning we are alive to the things of God. We view everything in this world with new eyes. Have you experienced this? WE get new priorities. The things you cared about prior to faith in Christ are less appealing. We get new relationships to live life together. Our existing relationships like our spouses or children suddenly carry greater importance. New life brings new angles to see Creation. We can see it as a gift from God instead of some impersonal force.
We also have the promise of eternal life. In the larger passage Jesus promises multiple times that he will raise up his people on the last day. He says so again in verse 54. If we have something even better ahead, what can death do to us? We can work hard now, knowing that it is not wasted in a meaningless life with nothing afterwards. We can look ahead to new glorified bodies dwelling in the presence of Christ the King.
Jesus also promises that he will abide in us and us in him. Abide is one of John’s favorite words. Abide means to remain. Jesus is promising that if we feed on him, he will remain with us and we will remain in him. Jesus will not leave the people whom the Father draws. Remember this truth. Remember that Jesus promises to be with us always. This matters as we turn to look at how to respond to these hard sayings.
III. The Hard Saying of Jesus. How will we respond?
Jesus is claiming that he is God come from heaven. He says that no one is able to come unless the Father draws them. Then Jesus claims that the only way to true life is by feeding on his flesh and drinking his blood.
This passage doesn’t tell us exactly how the Jews responded. They were grumbling and quarreling with Jesus, but it doesn’t say how things ended. But this passage, along with the major sweep of John’s gospel shows that many Jews refused to accept the hard sayings of Jesus. They refused to accept the claims that he was making. Even some of his disciples will leave after hearing these things. How will you respond to the terms Jesus gives to receive eternal life?
What will you do when you come across a hard teaching of Jesus that you don’t naturally like? What will you do when Christ’s word calls us to do hard things in his name? What will we do when others hear these hard things and think bad of us? Here’s four ways to respond to these hard sayings:
First, we need the Word of God. We need more than a 5 minute quiet time. We need to be known and shaped by the Word. We need to thoroughly know the entire story of scripture. We need to know God’s law and how to apply it well. As we do, our lives and doctrine becomes more aligned with God’s. We will see more and more who Jesus truly is and his terms will be our terms too.
Second, recognize that following Jesus will cost you. Prepare yourself. It might begin with something simple. Maybe you are following Jesus, but giving your testimony and getting baptized seems too uncomfortable. Coming to Christ means coming on his terms. This is a simple first step out of your comfort zone by obeying Jesus.
It might mean sharing the gospel with someone that might lead to awkwardness or even rejection. There are worse things imaginable.
Third, and related, we need to brace ourselves for hardship. Let’s be honest. We live in a culture that hates God and the things of God. There is almost nowhere in our world that is not stained, let alone dominated, with our secular humanist culture. You can’t watch a children’s show or a football game without seeing the wickedness of our culture on full display. It’s everywhere. Conflict with a Christian worldview is almost unavoidable. It doesn’t mean we go looking for clashes or stirring up controversy. It will find us easily enough. What will you do when a hard saying of Jesus conflicts with what your company wants you to do? Or your family member wants to celebrate things that Jesus condemns?
What if people hear that we love Jesus? What if they hear that we feed on his flesh and eat his blood so to speak? We will be called strange. We will be seen as intolerant, hateful or even cultish. Are you willing to identify more with Jesus than approval from others around you?
Yesterday in masculine mandate we were discussing the cultural and moral pressures in the workplace. We all see the direction things are heading. There will likely come a day where your job will come into conflict with something that Jesus says. Where is your line? Is it pronouns? Is it refusing diversity and inclusion trainings? Work it out before you are forced to discover where your line is. Are you prepared to take a stand for the glory of Christ?
When Jesus had the chance to nuance and soften the blow, he instead doubled down. We should do similar. Maybe there are times when we don’t soften the blow, but lean in. When someone asks ‘Do you believe God made everything in 6 days?’ Yes. I also believe in floods and giants and great man-swallowing fish. And guess what else? I believe a man rose from the grave.
While these scenarios are new for our culture, things are not new for the people of God. The first century church was believed to be cannibals because they ate the body and drank the blood of Jesus. Even the saints in Hebrews 11 faced hard things.
36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
They weren’t all conquerors. They didn’t always make the right decisions. But by God’s grace many of them found courage at the right times.
Finally, pray for courage and faith in the hard sayings. When you come across a hard doctrine, ask God for knowledge and wisdom. When you see hard things in your family, neighborhood, or workplace, come to Jesus in prayer. Ask our Great High Priest for courage. Joshua was commanded to be strong and courageous, but that isn’t something we can work up in our own power.
These things are hard, and we are living in hard times. Jesus told his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. These hard sayings in John 6 are just the same. Will we come to Jesus, fully and only on his terms?
If you will not come to Jesus on his terms-all of his terms-you will not live. But if you do, you will live. You will experience new life now, and eternally. And Jesus will abide with us forever.
But remember one more time that coming to Christ means new life. And Jesus will abide with us now and forever.
Father, we thank you for drawing people to your Son. Thank you for giving us your Spirit. We confess we are unworthy of salvation. We are unable and unwilling to come to Jesus apart from your intervention. May we treasure the grace you have given us. I pray that you would nourish us with true bread and strengthen us for whatever awaits us this week, this year and beyond. Make us a resilient people who are prepared to endure hardship. Grant us courage to speak the name of Jesus in all areas of life. May we be willing to be seen as weird, strange or worse without compromising in our faith. May we see beyond our temporary circumstances to the glories of eternal life. May we not waste our temporary circumstances. I ask that you would bless us as a church. I pray that our strangeness to the world would be a pleasing aroma to you and a beautiful picture to the dying world.