Bread of heaven John 6:51-65
Some people thirst after riches and some thirst after fame but there’s one thing the whole world thirsts after, and that’s salted peanuts.
We have in this passage and account of a whole multitude of people who had the wrong goals in life. For the most part they were probably poor people who would never appear on the show lifestyles of the rich and famous. They were the poor and unknown. And even though they lived a hand to mouth existence they got really exited about the person of Jesus.
After all, He was a fantastic teacher, a miracle worker and one who after a short prayer could feed five thousand men plus women and children with five little loaves and two fish. Now, a meal of sardines and tea biscuits isn’t exactly like the luncheon buffet at one of the larger hotels in Moncton but it was free and that probably made it taste a little bit better.
But, this was their problem. They had come to Jesus for all the wrong reasons. As I said last day, they had only come for the free food and all they wanted was more free food. They weren’t in the least bit interested in who He was or their need of salvation. They were simply there for all the wrong reasons. And in the conversation that follows Jesus tries to get their minds off their stomachs and unto their souls.
This is an unusual chapter in John’s book. It’s one of the longest in the N.T. and I think that’s because those who determined where the chapter divisions would be took into account that everything here is connected to one main point. It begins with the public miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000, then we have the private miracles of His walking on the water, calming the storm and bringing His disciples immediately to their destination. The miracles are then followed by His teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum where He declares Himself to be the bread of life. The rest of the chapter focuses on the reaction to who He claims to be by the three groups that make up the crowd who were gathered at the synagogue. The central message of the chapter is this, "Jesus Christ is God." He demonstrates this by His miracles, He declares it in His teaching and the crowd doesn’t argue with Him they either walk away because of their lack of commitment or they declare themselves to be His disciples.
We’ve been looking at the groups within the crowd. First, we saw how Jesus challenged those who were just there for the free food when He told them to look for something more out of life than just filling their stomachs. These people remind me of those who will join any organization no matter what it is as long as there’s food, fun and fellowship. As soon as there’s work to be done, bills to be paid or offices to fill they lose interest and quietly disappear.
Next, we saw how Jesus told the religious leaders that they needed something more than just religion if they were going to have eternal life. They needed a relationship with Him and that meant they would have to believe in Him and trust in His sacrificial death to pay for their sin. Religion may make a person appear good but it doesn’t do anything to actually change his heart.
There are people in this town who are religious and good living but for whatever reason they’ve never come to accept the Lord as their personal saviour. They might make great neighbours and good citizens but if they’ve never repented of sin and received Jesus as their personal saviour they’ll receive His word of rejection and condemnation. We see this in Matthew 7:21-27. "Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? And in your name cast out devils? And in your name done many wonderful works ? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."
Here are two stories here that are parallel in their message. The first one talks about those who claim the right to enter heaven based on their good works. We know that both believers and non-believers do good works and the works by themselves don’t tell us anything. Let me give you a Biblical example of this. At one time the disciples went out two by two preaching, healing and casting out demons. Judas was one of the disciples and we have no reason to doubt that he did the same good works as the rest of the disciples. In the end we find out that he was just along for the ride; he wasn’t really a believer. Could you tell it by his works? Of course not.
Jesus then drives home His message with the parable of the two men who built houses. Like the people doing the good works the homes were identical, looking from the outside you couldn’t tell the difference. The distinction was the foundation. When the storms came and storms come to all of us it’s the foundation, the part that no one sees that determines our survival. The foundation of the Christian life isn’t our works but it’s our relationship with the Lord, our works are the expression of that relationship.
Today we’ll see the conclusion of the chapter as Jesus challenges His disciples about their faithfulness in spite of the demands He makes on those who follow Him.
Jesus had spoken to them about eating His flesh and drinking His blood and as I said last day this was a reference to their personal identification with His death, burial, resurrection and their subsequent commitment to Him. He was calling them to a lifetime of surrender. He wasn’t looking for an offering, a public testimony or membership applicants. He wanted people who would willingly submit to Him in time and then reap the benefits in eternity. This brings us to where we are today. The crowd is murmuring about His hard sayings.
a First, we see the setting of the conversation. Jesus had just miraculously fed the five thousand and remember I said that they only counted men but with the woman and children there could have been anywhere from fifteen to twenty-thousand people present. After He had dispersed the crowd He sent His disciples away by boat to Capernaum. And then in the middle of the storm that arose He walked on the water and met them part way across the sea. And then I said Matthew records Peter’s attempt to walk on the water to Jesus and then you will remember how he was rescued and then rebuked by Jesus. The next morning the crowds or part of them came in boats and they questioned how Jesus had got there and He just brushed off the question rather than raising their excitement level by explaining the miracles that took place on the water.
Then Jesus told them point blank that they missed the purpose of the miracles. And the reason He did the things He did was to direct their attention to who He is but their only concern was for the benefits they derived from the miracles themselves.
B Their reaction to His comments proved that He was right in His assessment of their motives. In verse 30 they said, “What great miracle are you going to perform that will make us believe.” They said, our fathers ate manna in the wilderness for forty years. If you give us free food for forty years and we’ll believe in you.
C Their problem was clearly visible but also very common.
Here were people who were looking for some sense of security in a very insecure world. Their country was occupied by the Romans. They were taxed every time they turned around, whether it was the Roman government and the Jews that worked for them or the temple crowd that was always finding new ways to levy taxes on them. On top of that, for the most part these people lived day by day. I’m sure their was many in this crowd that didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. And they thought that Jesus could remedy the situation. Their attitude was, if you just give us this one thing we’ll be happy. Free food.
How often do we come to God and say the same thing. Lord, I’ll be content if I just have a house, a car or cottage, a diploma, degree or doctorate, have a job, my bills paid or $10,000 in the bank, have a wife, husband or baby or have the mortgage paid, kids leave home or if I get my pension.
We often feel that some accomplishment or milestone we reach will somehow bring us an acceptable level of accomplishment or contentment and that all of our other problems will simply face away. But, when you think about it, other people have the very things we want and they still face pressures and problems. Listen, there is no quick fix for life’s desires or irritations but at the same time we have to see the point Jesus is making. He’s trying to refocus their attention from their physical needs to the spiritual. Basically, He’s saying, what’s the sense in having plenty to eat if you’re eternally lost. He’s not ignoring the fact that people have to work and eat. He’s just saying that if that’s all you’re living for and if that’s all you want then life is meaningless.
It’s interesting to see that Jesus used the bread they wanted as a teaching tool. Many refer to His method of illustrating as going from the lesser to the greater. In other words He uses everyday things to help us understand spiritual truth. He says, you want bread to live, then I’m the bread you need to live forever.
We see Him using this means of illustrating several times in the New Testament. In the parable of the sower, the seed was the word of God and the ground stood for the hearts of man. And each of them were fruitful as they were free of weeds and rocks and rooted in the good soil. And then there was the parable of the fisherman who using his net caught two kinds of fish. They were hauled in and separated on judgement day. There was the jeweler who found the pearl of great price and he taught us the need to give all we have to get all He has to give us. There was the farmer with the mustard seed. And he taught that the size of the kingdom was overwhelming in relationship to it’s beginning. And then there was the baker with the yeast and this demonstrated the invisible influence of the kingdom. And then there was the thief in the night who demonstrates the quiet return of the Lord to steal away His jewels.
As we go on in this book we’ll see how Jesus uses the “I am’s” to describe Himself and His role. He is the light of the world to those who are in darkness. He is the door to those who are on the outside of the kingdom. He is the good shepherd seeking to find and care for His lost sheep. He is the way, the truth and the life for those who are lost and living in the shadow of death. He’s the true vine who can be the source of life and fruitfulness for the branches. He is the resurrection and the life to those who are either mourning or facing an impending death.
And here He is the bread of life to those whose hearts are hungry. But the problem with this crowd was their stomachs were hungry but they never sensed a need in their hearts. And so we see there was confusion in their minds but He does what He can to bring it down to their level. And so we see His clarification.
II He’s clarifying or simplifying His message.
We see this in verse 54, “He who eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath everlasting life.” The problem we have with this statement is that we don’t find it all that simple. If anything we find it confusing.
I touched on it last week but let me repeat that it’s not referring to the Lord’s table. And let me give you three reasons why I say this.
1. The Lord’s table had not been instituted yet. And so how could they do something they knew nothing about. For Jesus to say this and means the Lord’s table would be unfair and we know that He is more than fair.
2. Secondly, Jesus is addressing unbelievers while the Lord’s supper would be an ordinance given to believers so they could remember the source of their salvation and examine their selves for sin. A non-believer has no salvation and therefore no abiding presence of the Spirit of God to enlighten them about their sins so they can confess them and make them right.
3. And then third, the eating of His flesh and drinking His blood results in salvation where the Lord’s table results in fellowship and edification or spiritual growth in the Christian’s life. Many unsaved people partake of the Lord’s table on a weekly basis but they never come to the Lord so they don’t have eternal life.
And so, since He’s not referring to literally eating His flesh nor taking the Lord’s table then what does He mean by saying they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. He is using the terms eating and drinking to demonstrate the kind of intimacy and intensity of the kind of relationship He wants to have with us. We are as dependant on Him for salvation or eternal life as we are on the intake of food for physical life.
Just as the father’s ate manna in the wilderness and died so you too can be fed with the bread and fish for forty years and die too. But, if you realize your dependance on Me you can live forever.
The relationship He wants to have with us is so intimate that He says we will be in Him and He in us. Elsewhere we see the marriage relationship is used to illustrate the commitment He has to us and we have to Him. Now, before a couple is married he goes his way and she goes hers but after the marriage takes place he becomes hers and she becomes his. They are one.
In the New Testament Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is His bride. The church is the one He loves and cares for. It’s like He pronounced His vows in eternity passed. We can imagine He said something like, “I take this church to be my wedded wife. And I promise before the Father to be thy loving and faithful husband in both plenty and want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and health both for time and eternity.”
We in turn looked into His face and before we could say our vows He went to the cross where He was crucified for our sin, freeing us from sin, guilt and shame and then with His sacrifice in mind we said, “I acknowledge I’m a sinner and I promise before God to be loving and faithful, in plenty and want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and health both for this life and for all of eternity.”
This is the truth and saving faith where we make the same unreserved commitment to Him that He makes to us. And so He was telling the people there that if they pursued Him the way they did their daily bread they would have eternal life.
They were confused about what they really needed so Jesus clarified their priorities and then waited for a response of commitment. It was time for them to get off the fence. (There used to be a gospel song that said, “Come down, come down, come down from the fence. Preach te truth and suffer the consequence.” So we saw the people were confused about who He was. Then He clarified not only who He was but why He came. And then He calls for a commitment.
III He’s looking for a response to who He is.
A He was calling them to a lifetime of surrender. He wasn’t looking for an offering, a public testimony or membership applicants. These can be evidence of surrender but they can also be things people do in place of it. He wanted people who would surrender themselves to Him not just for time but who would also reap the rewards of eternal life.
B So, what did they do? How did they respond? They said, this is a hard saying. Who can hear it? I used to read this verse and I thought they were saying, this is too hard to understand. How are we supposed to do anything when we don’t understand what it is He wants?
A hard saying actually means, this is too demanding, it’s too difficult, what you’re asking is too much and your teaching leaves a bad taste in our mouths. They understood what He wanted they just had no intention of giving it to Him.
C What was so difficult about Jesus teaching?
i When He talked about Himself as the bread that came from heaven. We have a tendency to pick up on the bread part and ignore that He said He came from heaven. In saying this He was emphasizing His pre-existence and His special relationship with God. The crowd understood what He was saying because when He had said this before they accused Him of blasphemy.
In Luke 5:20 when a man with what was called palsy was lowered through the roof on a bed it says of Jesus, “And when He saw their faith, He said unto him, man thy sins are forgiven.” Verse 21, “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this who speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And that was a good question. Who could forgive sins but God? Then again they could probably say the same thing about the man’s condition. Who but God could do anything about him? And then the scripture says Jesus heal him and he got up and walked away. They accused Him of blasphemy which was claiming to be God and then He does what only God can do.
I think the people could accept Jesus as a teacher. After all, as one of those who were sent to arrest Him said, “He spoke like no one had ever done before.” And they were amazed not only by what He said but the authority with which He spoke. And I think they could even see Him as a prophet. Not only did He speak with authority but He challenged the religious rulers of His day and He even called Herod a fox when He was told he was out to kill Him. And Herod was a ruthless, despotic king. And they had no problem with calling Jesus a miracle worker. After all, He healed everyone that came to Him, no matter what the problem was. And then He fed the multitudes with a little boy’s lunch. And so they had no problem using the titles of teacher, prophet or miracle worker because even though this put Him a little above the people around Him, He was still one of them. There was only one who could come from heaven and that was God.
ii Not only did He say that He was the bread that came from heaven but He spoke of His impending death which paid the penalty of the sins of man kind in verse 51 when He says, “And the bread that I will give is my flesh which I give for the life of the world.” And it’s not too clear to these people then but we know He was speaking of His crucifixion which would result in His substitutionary death given on behalf of all who would receive it.
iii And the third part of His teaching that was so difficult that it disturbs not only the unbelievers but a lot of believers as well. It’s in verse 65 where He says, “Therefore said I unto you that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto Him of My Father.” This tells us that God is absolutely sovereign not only over creation but also in the area of salvation. Think of it this way, if salvation was simply your own choice then it’s quite possible that you would make a different choice tomorrow.
We know that man by himself is on the run from God and the scripture says that God is the good shepherd who is searching for His lost sheep. It’s a strange thing to be compared to sheep. Sheep are pleasant and affectionate but dumb as dirt. You can feed them with a bottle like a baby or hold them in your arms and they’ll be content. They’re very affectionate animals. You can also shave them completely bald and for the most part they’ll just stand there. Maybe they’ll give a bah or two but they won’t run away. And they won’t even run away when you want to kill them. They’re very warm but they’re dumb. And we can see why He likens us to sheep. And Jesus says, no man can come to Him unless the Father draw him. And how do we know the Father is drawing us? There is a hunger in our hearts for the bread of heaven.
What was so hard to take? He said, I’m God come in the flesh and I think the non-believers in the crowd had a hard time with that. After all, if this is God, then they were going to have to change more than just their attitude. They were going to have to repent of their sin. Jesus also said He was going to provide the means of salvation and yet He said not everyone was going to be saved. And like it or not we all have a problem with that. We all think, as long as me and mine are safe then that’s all right. But we all have someone in our families who are lost. If not our parents, our brothers or sisters and for some it’s our children. And none of us are happy with that.
D) "This is a hard saying, who can hear it?" I always thought they were saying, "this is too hard to understand, how can we do what He wants if we don’t know what He’s talking about?" You’ve got to be a Ph.d to listen to Him. They weren’t saying they couldn’t comprehend it but that His message was too hard to take, too demanding, too difficult, too narrow, His teaching left a bad taste in their mouths. It’s like Mark Twain when someone mentioned how hard it was to understand the Bible, he said, "It’s not the parts that I don’t understand that bother me but the parts I do understand." They were in the same boat, they understood all too well what He wanted.
b) What was He saying that was so difficult ?
i He was the bread that came down from heaven. He was emphasizing His pre-existence in heaven and His special relationship with God. The crowd understood this because when He spoke like this elsewhere they were ready to stone Him for blasphemy. They could accept Him as a king, a teacher, a miracle worker or a prophet but when He claimed to be God come in the flesh that was too much for them.
ii He also spoke about the need for His death. In verse 51, " And the bread that I will give is My flesh which I give for the life of the world." Of course we know and later the disciples would understand that He was referring to His crucifixion and substitutionary death.
iii The third hard saying was in verse 65, " No man can come unto Me unless the Father draw him." This is a saying that not only disturbs the unbelievers but the believers as well. Here Jesus points out that God is absolutely sovereign not only His creation but also over the matter of salvation.
Man by himself is on the run from God. The Bible tells us that it was God who came looking for Adam after he sinned. God is described in Luke 15 as the good shepherd who goes looking for His lost sheep; the one who finds the lost coin and the father who stands at the front door waiting for the prodigal son to return. We weren’t looking for God when we were saved He came looking for us. I was reading the kids when they were small, you might have heard it before. It says, “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep, and doesn’t know where to find them, leave them alone, and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them.
It’s too bad there’s no second verse to explain what happens next because I have a sneaking suspicion that someone gave our little Bo Peep some bad advice. These are sheep. They’re not dogs. Sheep don’t find their way home. They’re lost and if she doesn’t go looking for them she better find herself another nursery rhyme to hang around in.
The Bible says,"All we like sheep have gone astray." The Lord needs to come get us or we’ll never get home. So, Jesus is telling us that there are those who are drawn by the Father and those who are drawn by their own selfish and materialistic desires. Hearing this some might wonder how do we know if He’s drawing us? I think it’s simple enough to say as Isaiah 55:1 says, " Every one that is thirsty, come to the waters, and he that has no money; come, buy, and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." If there’s a hunger in your heart to know God then the relationship is yours for the asking.
What was so hard to take? He was saying, I’m God come in the flesh, I’ll provide your salvation at My expense but at the same time you need to know that not everyone is going to be saved.
E And so it says in verse 61 that they murmured. Those who study English call the word murmur an omnipedomiac word. And that means it says what it does. We have a few words like that. Like giggle or snort. The words say what you hear when it’s happening. And so all you would hear there was murmur, murmur, murmur. Nobodies saying anything out loud they’re just mumbling in a discontented way in a low voice. Murmuring is an expression of semi-quiet discontent. It’s what people do when things don’t go the way they want but they really have nothing to say against it. It’s not out-spoken disagreement but it’s the kind of mumbling that makes everyone they’re ticked off.
There are a couple of instances in the O.T. during the wilderness wanderings where God killed many of the jews for murmuring and as we come to the N.T. Paul says in Philippians 2:14, "Do all things without murmuring and disputing." God doesn’t like murmuring. We can honestly disagree with one another but if we murmur we’re just being disagreeable. The murmurer doesn’t care what’s right he’s just angry that he didn’t get his way.So this crowd murmured about His sayings.
F But look at verse 61 again. It says, “When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples murmured at it, He said unto them, doth this offend you? What if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?” I want you to get what He says here. When He says, what if you see me go back to where I came from He’s not referring to His ascension after His resurrection. This is more than that. I mean, why would they not want to see His ascension? So, what does He mean?
When I was in grade two or three we had a film one Friday afternoon about peanut farming. They went through the tilling and then the planting, the weeding and the watering. We watched the plants grow through time lapse photography and then they dug them up and picked the peanuts off the roots. Peanuts are like potatoes. They grow underground. The film was over and just for a laugh or to waste time because it was Friday the teacher turned off the sound and played the whole thing backwards. It showed the farmer taking the peanuts out of a bag and sticking them to the plants. Putting the plants in the ground and then watching the plants reduce all the way to seeds.
Now, keep that in mind and think about what Jesus said. He told them, you’re offended at my demands on your life but you haven’t considered the cost of your salvation from my perspective. I’m going to the cross for your benefit and not mine. So, what if I reversed time and took back my food, miracles, teaching, and virgin birth and then ascended back to where I was before? Would you be offended then? If there was no Savior and no plan of salvation at all?
G And then verse 66 says something very strange. It says, “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” Here are some of the saddest words of the N.T. "From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him." Where did they go? It just says they went back. Back to their homes and back to their empty religion. Did you notice who went back? Not the twelve but many of His disciples. And we wonder why they left? I think it was because they didn’t get what they came for. They wanted a leader who would give them everything and expect nothing in return. And I’m afraid we are seeing history repeat itself right before our very eyes. There are several books out now describing the baby boomer generation. Those are the people who were born between 1948 and 1965. This is the generation who has experienced nothing but prosperity in North America. Rather than having a sense of owing something for all they enjoy there’s a consumer mentality of wanting to help themselves to all that’s available.
We are starting to see the effects of this in the church and it’s expected to get worse. The problem is, people have developed a consumer mentality toward church. They have no sense of loyalty but they tend to shop for a church that has the programs that meet their needs. They are there to be ministered to and not to minister. It’s no longer what can I do to serve the Lord but what’s in it for me. That’s why people are drawn to the big churches with their music programs and entertainment styled services. But just because the world is heading in the wrong direction there is no reason for the Christians to go along for the ride.
These so-called disciples were people who listened to Jesus’ teaching and helped with His baptisms and no doubt identified with everything He said and did. But now they came to a point where they realized it wasn’t all fun and free food.
I remember when I was a Youth Pastor in Guelph. We had a young couple who had helped out with the young people for a while but after a couple of months they came to me and said, “We’ve decided we don’t want to be leaders anymore.” I thought something happened and asked what happened and they said, “It’s just not as much fun as we thought it would be.” And here I thought we were trying to reach these kids for Christ. I didn’t know it was supposed to be fun. And so it says that many went back but not all.
H Then Jesus said unto the twelve, will you also go away? And once again He’s asking a question but He already knows the answer and He’s giving Peter the opportunity to give a crystal clear testimony when he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go. Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus responds to Peter’s statement of loyalty by demonstrating His omniscience (the fact that He knows everything) as He basically says to him," Don’t be too quick to speak for everyone, I’ve chosen twelve but one of you is a devil." What a thought, Jesus told them a whole year before His betrayal that one of them wasn’t a believer and yet they never once suspected Judas. Right up to the moment he was going to betray Jesus they thought he was going out to buy something for the feast or give something to the poor. Judas fooled the disciples, he may even have fooled himself into thinking he was something he wasn’t but he never fooled the Lord. And this is one more piece of evidence to prove that Jesus is God come in the flesh.
There will always be those who join churches like they join any other social organization. They’re there for a good time but not for a long time. Then there are those who seem sincere but for whatever reason they fall away. But then there are the faithful. They may not be the most gifted, the most intelligent or even those who appear the godliest but they’re always here are if God spares them they’ll still be here until they die or Jesus returns. I believe that’s what God is looking for - the faithful. He’s looking for those who will live for Him and that means dying to self on a daily basis.