People tend to be environmentalists. I don’t mean conservationists. I mean that people seem to take Rousseau’s view of the human condition: people are born free but everywhere they are in chains. In short, the idea is that “I’m a good person, but my circumstances inhibit that goodness from expressing itself”.
For example, the way politics works these days. The opposite sides tend to say that
- ‘people are ok, but their circumstances mess things up.’ So, political parties promise to fix the social and economic environment
- socialists say the need is to regulate the means of production and distribution and then people will be free and happy.
- economic liberals say that the need is to cut red tape to enable markets and jobs to grow and then people will be free and happy.
- both views are secular,
- both views ignore the problem of our sinful rebellion against our creator.
- neither have a solution for the real problems of life and death.
The church has not been free of this sort of environmentalism. A hundred years ago, there was the social gospel where improving the social and economic circumstances of the poor was the whole message and purpose of the church. The gospel of salvation from sin disappeared. Then, fifty years ago, there was liberation theology, where “resurrection” came to mean “insurrection”. The idea was for the church to encourage violent revolution to free the people from their chains. Again, the real message of Jesus was reinterpreted to remove the gospel.
In John chapter 6, the social gospel and liberation theology combine to try to wedge Jesus into the sinful mould of the crowd.
Jesus’ contemporaries thought they had two main problems — the Romans and getting their daily bread.
Earlier in John 6, there is the account of Jesus feeding 5000 people, in a deserted place, with a few small loaves and a couple of fish. After everyone had eaten their fill, there were 12 large baskets of crumbs left over. It was an extraordinary miracle.
Being fed miraculously in a desert had powerful associations in the minds of those who were there. Moses long ago had feed the people of Israel in a desert. In fact, God had saved Israel from a foreign nation that had enslaved them and had given Israel Moses as a leader. Moses himself had said that God would later send someone like him to lead and save them.
Maybe, these people thought, Jesus was the one. He might be the one to save them from the Romans. He might be the one to take away the burden of getting the food that they need to live. They were right about the link to Moses, but for the wrong reasons.
So they chased after Jesus with a good deal of enthusiasm. His response is not what they had expected.
v. 26 Truly, truly, I say to you that you seek me, not because you saw signs (e.g., the miraculous supply of food), but because you ate and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. This food the Son of man shall give you, for God the Father has set his seal on him.
Jesus told the people that they were chasing him for the wrong reasons. Their minds were fixed on temporary problems and were ignoring their eternal problem. They thought their big problems were the Romans and the scarcity of food. They had no thought as to how they might be made right with God. Either they did not see that they had a sin problem, or they had come to think that there was no solution and had given up, deciding to eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow they die.
Jesus offered them eternal life. He told them that he was the one commissioned by the Father to give it. God the Father had set his seal on Jesus.
The people’s response was to ask about conditions — what must we do to get this life from God?
v. 29 Jesus said, ‘This is the work of God, that you trust the one whom he has sent.’
This statement has a double edge:
- eternal life is gift received by faith in Jesus Christ, nothing else is required but faith.
- God is the one who works that faith in the heart of rebels.
How did the people respond to this offer of eternal life?
v. 30 What sign will you do that we might believe you?
It might seem a strange question coming from a crowd that had chased after Jesus because he had fed 5000 of them the previous day with only a few loaves and a couple of fish. Jesus had given signs that were more than sufficient to establish his credentials. But what sign did the people want now? More free food.
- they did not believe that God had commissioned Jesus to give eternal life to them.
- they only wanted their immediate needs met. They were like Esau who sold his birth right for a bowl of soup — they, like Esau, were profane.
The people asked for bread from heaven like the food that Moses gave.
Jesus told them that manna was not what they needed. Manna did not give everlasting life — v. 49 “Your fathers ate manna in the desert and are dead”. But, confusion prevailed on the part of the people. Jesus used their word ‘bread’, which they hoped would give them an easier life here and now, as a metaphor for himself as the giver of eternal life.
v. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
They continued to think of manna and their stomachs. So Jesus spoke in a way designed to shake the people out of their wrong ideas. He aimed to turn their stomachs if they only thought of lunch rather than redemption.
Jesus said: (v. 35) “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never hunger, the one who believes me will never thirst.”
Jesus goes to say that, unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood they had no life — they were dead. This is stomach-turning, but Jesus was not referring to some gruesome meal, but to his death as the only way for sinners to have eternal life.
The eating/drinking of his flesh and blood does not refer to the Mass, or the Lord’s supper, but it refers to his actual death in our place, and our need to recognise that he alone deals with our sin and sustains our lives.
If we are to have eternal life, we must to listen to Jesus and believe what he says, but here lies a big problem. We are not wired to listen to Jesus. All people, since Adam’s sin, are rebels from birth.
v. 36 I have told you (said Jesus) that you have seen me (do signs) and you have not believed.
Yet Jesus does not despair, because
v. 37 ‘All that the father has given me will come to me and whoever comes to me, I will in no way cast out.’
Our personal inability to believe Jesus is a great and persistent weakness in human beings. It is the indicator of our sinful attitudes. All the evidence in the world, all the best arguments, all the love that the church might show cannot of themselves produce saving faith in a sinner.
The statement by Paul, that we are ‘dead in our sins’ until the love of God is given to us by the Holy Spirit, is illustrated in this passage.
No one is saved without faith in Jesus Christ.
- No has the ability in themselves to trust Jesus.
- Yet people do trust and are saved from sin and death.
- And Jesus does give eternal life to those who come to him.
How do we reconcile these seemingly contrary statements
v. 37 All that the Father gives to me will come to me, says Jesus.
Salvation is by Grace — God rescues his enemies by Jesus Christ because he wants to, and the choice as to who will be saved is up to God.
God’s choice is not based upon our words, deeds or attitudes, nor is it based upon the things we might do after we become Christians. It is not because we happen to be born into a particular family. It is God’s free and kingly will, not our sinful wills, that brings people to faith in Jesus. This teaching of Jesus is not to cause despair for sinners, but to give hope and assurance to them. Without God’s loving decision to save some, none would be saved. In fact, because of God’s mercy, many will be saved.
v . 37 “Whoever comes to me, says Jesus, I will in no way cast out”
v. 39 “Of all that the Father has given me, says Jesus, I will not lose (destroy) any”
How can Jesus be so confident of this? Because he was going to die and rise again for his people.
The thing that our sin earns is death. But, Jesus never sinned, yet he died. The only way the sinless Son of Man could die was if he took responsibility for the sins of other people. After Jesus died for others, he rose from the dead. His resurrection indicates that the sins for which he died are judged and finished with. They are gone. If they were not finished with, then Jesus would have stayed in the grave, as he had taken responsibility for them. As Jesus has risen from the dead, the sins of his people are judged and gone. Because the sins of God’s people are gone, they may have life in Jesus Christ.
So then, Jesus has the authority to raise his people from the dead on the last day, just as he told these people in John chapter 6.