John 6:35, 41-51 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” 43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[a] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
John is asking us that question again: “Who is Jesus for me?”
We have been hearing that in John’s view. ‘Jesus is more’- more than just a miracle worker or problem fixer with whom we do not personal interest or deeper understanding and experience. He is grace personified, hope revealed, love on show, deep peace for the wayward human heart.
This pivotal account continues. The same questions are given to prod us into deeper thought and prayer: Do I want what he can give me but not actually want him and his Word shaping and leading me in life?
The crowd have had their heart revealed. After Jesus has answered questions with more questions to probe the heart of the crowd pursuing him to eat their fill again, we now hear about a particular group within the crowd for the first time. John just calls them “the Jews”.
Other gospel writers name them members of the Jewish religious establishment – two religious/political parties, Pharisees and Sadducees. Of course, just like has often been the case in our own Lutheran Church story, we might be generally of the same story but that doesn’t mean everyone agrees!
They did not agree on many things. Their biggest bone of contention was about resurrection from the dead.
The Pharisees were more of the people’s political and religious party. They maintained that an after-life existed and that God punished the wicked and rewarded the righteous in the world to come. They also believed in a Messiah who would herald an era of world peace.
The Sadducees wanted to maintain the priestly family – the Levites of the Old Testament and their priesthood. But they were also more open to the surrounding Greek culture and practices around them, even incorporating aspects of Greek art, gods, language in their synagogues, writing and daily living. This was “selling out” as far as the Pharisees were concerned.
The Sadducees rejected the notion that the Word of God is understood and passed on by word of mouth by interpreting it and speaking it. Instead, they insisted on a very literal interpretation of the written word. As a result, they did not believe in resurrection to an after-life, since it is not literally mentioned in the Old Testament Law. Their focus was firmly set on the here and now. Their main focus was on the worship and ritual associated with the Jerusalem Temple. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/sadducees_pharisees_essenes.html
So, as Jesus engages with these influential people he raised the issue of being raised from the dead!
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
Jesus knows the pressure points! Jesus sets the cat among the pigeons among this group within the group as he presses these religious leaders to respond to that gospel question, “Who is Jesus to you?”
On the one hand Jesus has identified the problem that the people have: They are not searching for Jesus because they can see who he is but because they can see that he can give them what they want. They want what the Saviour can give not the Saviour himself. They want miracles so they can live their life their own way and “be free” (as they understand it).
On the other, he now names the problem that the religious people have. In their concern for being squeaky clean before God by being good and always right they can’t allow that God would bring in his long promised age of new life under his promised Messiah by means of this very ordinary human looking so called “teacher” from the north – especially because this would mean that God is on the move outside their understanding, their prayer, their worship life, their diligent law keeping!
So, we have two groups of people here. We have those who just want Jesus to fix all their problems and make life easy so they can go on living in whatever way they want making their own choices as they see fit, ignoring his call and his Word and his community. They miss Jesus real heart and intent.
And we have those who also do not want a living relationship with Jesus. They are not looking for miracles but they are wanting to maintain and improve their power, place and possessions. They are maintaining these by their own substantial law keeping effort! They are convinced that salvation from all the world’s troubles lies in people keeping the rules and being very good so that God’s blessing and favour is earned by hard work and moral living. Both the freedom fixers and the law keepers miss Jesus.
Whoever Jesus is he is not a magic man sent to make us happy and filled with everything we want. He is also not here to judge and condemn people for getting out of line. He is neither a Jeannie in the bottle to make our life easy, or some leader or a teacher with and big stick intent on keeping us in line. So who is he?
He is what sustains life in God’s holy presence. He is the difference between selfish pride and self -seeking pleasure that leads to the destruction of relationships and even life itself. Both endless pleasure seeking and rigorous rule keeping end in destruction – spiritually, ecologically and relationally. Endless pleasure costs everything and rigid moralism does too as it reduces everything to winning and losing, good and bad, right and wrong without grace and without forgiveness.
Jesus is the only one through whom any of us can truly experience Grace. He is the only one through whom any of us can experience the grace and love of our Creator God and be forgiven, healed, set free, made aware and filled with the fire of God’s self-sacrificing love for others.
Tim Keller, in his book, “Prayer: Experiencing awe and intimacy with God”, sums it up well. To know God for who he is and not just think he is only some moral policemen or magistrate out to punish us or some impersonal being whose main goal is fulfill our every whim and need to make us happy, is to know Jesus for who he is.
“In our natural (human) state we pray to God to get things…… We therefore pray mainly when our career or finances are in trouble, or when some relationship or social status is in jeopardy. When life is going smoothly, and our truest heart-treasures seem safe, it does not occur to us to pray. Also ordinarily, our prayers are not varied – they consist usually of petitions, occasionally some confession (of sin) (if we have done something wrong). … Why? We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things to make us happy”. (p 77)
But when we discover by hearing the good news of Jesus as Saviour, Friend and Lord who is for us and with us; who did not come to us to condemn us but to save us, love us, this makes us new.
His word penetrates our soul everything changes. Now we don’t just want what he can give us or even believe life is about being safe and happy and clean and being good. Now we experience what grace really is – underserved love and favour from the One who has my life and death in his hands. The one with authority to condemn does not and instead makes me new.
Keller goes on…
“When we grasp his astonishing, costly sacrifice for us, transfer our trust and hope” from needing a magic man to fix our problems or a law man to make everyone else good like us and simple turn to Jesus the Christ as my Saviour, My Friend, My Lord, My King, My Life – THE Bread of my life and the life for the whole world, then we begin to simply want to know him better and be with him more often and more fully.
“When we seek him and not just what he can do for us, we will count the cost easily”. We will gladly strive to refrain from things that lead us into going against his Word. Then we will pray for more than just things when we are desperate. We will linger a while and converse with him about everything the whole day long.
Then we, as John Calvin says in his Institutes of the Christian Life,
“Even if there were no hell, it [a ‘gospelised’ heart] would still shudder at offending him”. (Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing awe and intimacy with God, p 78)
Friend, are you living your life to gain reward or avoid punishment? In Jesus Christ you already have the reward of new life in joy and hope every day, and punishment for all the sin you could ever muster from that idol making and chasing heart you have has already been exacted on Jesus in his suffering and crucifixion in your place. What does that mean?
You don’t need a Jeannie in a bottle to fix all your problems and make you happy.
You do need the healing peace and forgiveness and love of the Bread of Life.
You don’t need to be squeaky clean and to try and control everyone else to make them the same.
You do need his perfect forgiveness given his holy Word and gifts – a lot.
You don’t need to try and pray more or harder or be more spiritual or be more holy or upright or prayerful.
You do need to invest time and space with him and see where he leads and what he says.
Crowd or Pharisee/Sadducee, freedom fixer or rule maker, Jesus is more. Amen.
Share a high and a low for the day or week…..
Pray: Lord Jesus, Bread of Life, open the eyes of our heart, that we may know you better.
Connect: What is your favourite kind of bread and why?
Study and Share: Read John 6 from its beginning (v1) and get the flow of the whole story up to this point. Read until verse 51. See if you can jot down or share the basic plot f this whole chapter up until our text. Share your findings. In our text we now switch from Jesus’ challenge to the crowd to his conversation and challenge to a group within the crowd – “The Jews”.
Brush up on your understanding of the Pharisees and Sadducees from study bible notes, existing understanding in the group (or yourself) and from what I offered in the sermon.
I said that Jesus challenges both the crowd and the religious leaders. How would you sum up what he is saying to the crowd about how they have missed the mark on knowing who he really is?
How would you say he is challenging the religious leaders and their lack of understanding what he is all about? Share what you glean from this text….
Which group do identify with the most at the moment – the crowd who want Jesus to fix all their problems and keep them safe and happy, but not really want a him in their life or the religious leaders who want everyone else to keep the rules so we all get along and make a better world – but not by God’s grace – but by rules and being morally clean?
Can you grasp what Jesus is saying to both groups? He is not a magic man to fix all problem and keep us all safe and sound so we can enjoy life and live it the way want. He is not a law keeper who is ready to punish us the very minute we go off course.
He is more – more grace, more truth, more kindness, more loving and he wants us to receive him in trust so we can be made new in his grace and power every day.
Share your response to this or even your experience of God’s grace in Jesus in your life. Encourage each other to trust in Jesus’ grace as you share.
What did you make of the comments I spoke from Tim Keller on prayer? Read them again (toward the end of the sermon). Is he right on this? If so or if not, why? Share your experiences…..
“Even if there were no hell, it (a ‘gospelised’ heart) would still shudder at offending him”. (John Calvin). Share your thoughts on this simple statement of what grace does to you!
Pray for the Holy Soirit’s gift of grace. Pray for a person you know need to know God’s grace anew.