Jason Helopoulos / May 29, 2016 / John 6:25-51
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we are thankful for your word. We pray that you would open our eyes to see it, our ears to hear it, and (most importantly) our hearts to receive it. Would you implant the truth of your word deep within us? May it cause encouragement, comfort, rebuke, and greater love and holiness where there is need. For your glory and for your praise, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 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’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 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—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.” John 6:22-51
Though the grass withers and the flower fades, the word of God is forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.
I’ll be preaching a number of times over the summer. Kevin and I decided it would be a good exercise to take a look at Jesus’ “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John over these weeks. There are seven of these statements in John. “I am the bread of life” (John 6). “I am the light of the world” (John 8 and 9). “I am the door” (John 10). “I am the good shepherd” (John 10). “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11). “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. (John 14) Finally, “I am the true vine” (John 15). These are self-disclosures of Jesus. He is telling us who he is. When anyone tells us who they are—especially the Lord Jesus—we should probably listen.
I don’t know if you have seen pictures on the internet of the incredible libraries that people have created in their homes. I confess that when I look at them, drool begins to go down onto my chin and cheeks. I love books. I love learning and knowledge. In college, I loved studying in the stacks of books that were in the library basement. I’d go down there and study, because that way, when I needed a break, I could get up and walk through the stacks and thumb through a bunch of different books before I headed back to studying.
Imagine for a second that this room is a library, and that from the floor to the ceiling of this room are books upon books upon books. Now imagine a room three times this size, with piles of books—books upon books upon books. Rows of them. Or imagine a room ten times or a hundred times the size of this one. You’d have all the knowledge and truth contained in those pages—and yet, it pales in comparison to, and would not rival, the single most important piece of knowledge that any man can know: who Jesus claims to be and who he is.
You often see articles in Time, Newsweek, or these different magazines that are at the checkout stand that say, “We aren’t sure who Jesus was. He was surely a good teacher, but we just don’t know more than that.” I can remember my professor saying in college, “Much of what has been attributed to him, beyond being a teacher, was attributed to him by his disciples, because Jesus himself didn’t really claim anything.” Let’s look at these “I am” statements and see what Jesus claims about himself.
First is the self-designation: “I am the bread of life.” This morning, I want to look at who Jesus claims to be; the barrier to our responding rightly to this claim; and finally, four reasons why we must believe that Jesus is who he claims to be in this passage.
Jesus, the Bread of Life
Who does Jesus claim to be? In our passage, he says, “I am the bread of life.” To understand that, we have to understand a little bit of the background to this passage. John 6 begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand. He takes a few loaves of bread and fish, and he multiplies them (in a miracle) to feed five thousand people. Then, after he has fed them, he sends the disciples across the Sea of Galilee—but he doesn’t cross with them. They go over in a boat, and then he chooses to do what only he could choose to do: to walk across the sea in the middle of the night.
The next day, the crowd of five thousand people, who had just been fed the previous day and had gone to bed that night with full bellies, wake to find that the disciples and Jesus are gone. Then they figure out that he must have gone to the other side, so they begin to cross themselves and track him down. John 6:24 tells us, that they were “seeking Jesus”. That sounds awfully good, but when they find him, Jesus’ response is not what we would expect. He doesn’t commend them for traveling across the Sea to find him. Rather, he chides them for seeking him, because they are not (in reality) seeking him. Rather, they are excited about the bread that he gave them, and are foolishly seeking more things like that—things that are perishable.
But Jesus is concerned that they seek that that is eternal. As the good and loving pastor he is, not wanting them to die in their folly, he says (verse 27), “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” “What you seek is too small,” Jesus is saying. “It disappears. How good it was to have full bellies when you went to bed last night, but you should labor for the food that sustains you forever.” He gave them a little nourishment and sustenance, but it was temporal. They’re hungry again.
I cook at my house. It was a pretty easy gig when it was just Leah and I, but now I have two other mouths to feed. Those mouths don’t just want to be fed—they also talk! Often, when I come home in the evening, the greeting I get when I come in the door is, “Daddy, what are we going to have for dinner?” I think, “Didn’t you already get fed twice today?” It seems like they need to be fed every three hours, especially the boys. They’re always hungry. If I could cook something that would last—that would fill them for even one day—it would be wonderful. I would be happy. They eat, though it is temporal and not long-lasting. The problem is that if I don’t feed them, they die.
This conversation leads these Jews to bring up the bread that God supplied from Heaven to the Israelites in the wilderness. They say, “God provided this manna. Moses provided this manna. It would fall from the sky and land on the ground six out of seven days, and we would eat it.” It was another amazing, miraculous provision, but that bread was also only temporal. They would go out and collect it, and eat what they could, but eventually it would be filled with worms, and mold and decay. Jesus is saying: “There is bread you can eat that surpasses what I fed the five thousand. There is food you can eat that surpasses even the manna that fell from the sky.”
That is worth seeking. What is that food that endures?
For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. John 6:33
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. John 6:47-51a
This is the bread that came down from heaven… John 6:58a
You can almost see Jesus thumping his chest: “This is the bread that came down from Heaven!” He not only gives this bread—he is the bread. Whoever feeds on him can live forever. How clear his point is. How foolish it is for people to say that Jesus made no grand claims about himself. It’s not only his followers attributing things to him. Have they considered even one of these “I am” statements? “I am the bread of life!” He’s saying that as our bodies need food, so our souls need him.
He’s making a bold declaration about himself. Verse 27: “For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Christ has been appointed, commissioned, and given all authority by the Father. He’s been sealed with the privilege of being the Savior of mankind. He’s pointing to himself and saying, “I am the bread you must eat. If you eat of me, you’ll live forever.” C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus must either be Lord, lunatic, or liar, because this is a bold assertion.
Bread is the most basic of human needs. It’s a fundamental part of daily life. It provides nourishment, sustenance, and vitality. “Give us this day our daily bread”, we are taught to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Why? Because we need it. For goodness’ sake, there wouldn’t be pizza without bread! So our souls need him. He is the very food our souls crave. They remain famished and dying apart from him. Anything else is just empty calories—junk food. He alone is the answer to end all of our spiritual cravings.
One thinks back to the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve in that Garden. God gave them a command: “You shall not eat of fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you do, you shall surely die.” As we know, Adam chose to eat the fruit of the tree, and he died. Jesus was saying, “As the curse came in through eating, so the remedy is only found in eating the bread which God provides in the person of his Son. Whereas death was a result in the garden, life is the result of feeding upon me.”
What does feeding upon him mean? Christ isn’t talking about us grinding him with our teeth and chewing upon him. Cannibalism is a bad thing! Rather, he is telling us that we must digest him by faith.
We often see the imagery in the Scriptures of eating representing faith. For example, when the Passover was celebrated by the Jews each year, it was a ritual of faith. They were to sit down to eat a lamb that had been sacrificed and was sitting on their table. But they weren’t just to eat the lamb—they were to consume all of the lamb. As they consumed this provision that had been made for them, it was an act of faith that there had been a sacrifice made for them to atone for their sins, pointing forward to Christ Jesus to come—that they had a God who was their deliverer. And so they would consume this entire lamb. It was an act of faith.
We believe in this God who delivers us, and we do the same thing when we come to the Lord’s table. We break the bread and pour the cup, and then we eat the bread and drink the cup in faith. It’s a sign of our faith in and belief on him. Jesus makes it very clear that he’s not talking about physically eating, but consuming him with our souls. He says in verse 29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Verse 35: “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” We eat him by believing on him.
The Barrier to Feasting on Christ
Who wouldn’t want to eat this bread? Who wouldn’t want to come to such a table and feast? Many, because there is a barrier that prevents us from doing this very thing. We see it in this passage. It’s a barrier which is wide, high, and deep; which we self-erect; and which is hard to pull down: a barrier of pride. The Jews in this passage are eaten up with pride. They say (verse 28), “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” Jesus tells them about this bread—that this food which endures is a gift from the Son of Man. You can’t earn a gift. But their response to it is, “What must we do? We don’t want the gift.”
How hard and difficult it is to set aside our pride and come to the Lord in humility and brokenness. “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.” It’s a hard word for us; yet, it’s the only way to partake of this bread. You can’t come to this table any other way. You have to come naked, bedraggled, limping, careworn, hungry, and with no money. What does Isaiah say?
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price. Isaiah 55:1
When a person knows that they are a sinner, and they have nothing to give; and they know that Christ is a Savior, and he has all to give; they are the most blessed of people on the earth, because their foot is set upon the pathway of salvation. No proud man will ever set his foot on that path.
Pride wells up again in this passage. It isn’t enough for them to just believe in Jesus. They want more proof before they do so. Verse 30: “So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?’” It’s incredibly ironic. They are seeking him because they just saw him feed the five thousand—a great miracle. And yet they say, “We don’t know whether to believe in you. Show us something else.”
It’s just like in the Exodus, as we saw. The Israelites coming out of Egypt had seen the ten plagues. They’d seen the Lord divide the Red Sea. They’d seen Pharaoh’s army drown underneath the waters of the sea. Yet it was not enough. They wanted more.
It is never a lack of evidence that keeps someone from believing in Christ. It is always a lack of heart. They didn’t want to believe. Their pride was in the way. They wanted to offer something. They wanted to know what work they could do, or what work Christ could show them.
I’ve told you this before, but when I went to college, I was an atheist. My constant mantra was: “I will believe in God when he answers all of my questions.” It was not a lack of evidence that I had, but a lack of humility. As J. C. Ryle said, “Nothing so thoroughly reveals the hearts of men as a summons to believe in Christ—to hear that call, and to have to abandon everything and feed upon him.”
Look at world religions. They all promise life eternal in Heaven, or something like it. Their requirement tends to be the same, just in different forms: “You must do.” They could all answer the question that the Jews are asking: “What must we do?” It’s as if by doing, we can ascend the stairs to God. But where is the good news in that?
Christ’s message is completely different. Over and over in this passage, he says, “I came down.” “…my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” Verse 33: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven.” Verse 41: “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Verse 50: “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven.” Verse 51: “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven.” Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven.” He came down from Heaven, because otherwise we could not ascend there. God so loves us that he came down from Heaven so that we might feast upon him and live forever. It’s grace. It’s a gift. We need but receive, and we do so by faith.
Why We Must Believe on Christ
I want to give you four reasons why we must believe on, or have faith in, Christ Jesus—this glorious bread of life. The first is that He is necessary. Apart from believing on him, we are lost. Do you believe in him? That’s a question that none of us in this room can escape. It’s a question that this passage demands you to answer. Have you believed in him?
“Well, I’m at church, aren’t I? Lord, it’s good.” Like these Jews who were crossing the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee, you could be crossing it for other purposes. You could be here because you need a clean conscience because of what you did last night, last week, or thirty years ago. It’s not too much to put in an hour or two on Sunday morning so that you can live the rest of the week like you want to. It’s not seeking Christ.
Maybe you’ve been coming to church for decades. You love coming because you love the songs and the people. This is a happy place. It encourages you. Frankly, you find more delight in the music than you do in Christ. You’re seeking, but you’re not seeking him. There are all kinds of things that our adversary will tantalize us with and tempt us to seek after instead of Christ. What you and I need is singular. Until we have it, we are dead and hungry, and we always will be. Do you know that the moment that you feast upon him, you have life abundant?! You are full, never to have these hunger pangs again. You are nourished for all eternity.
I just started reading the letters of John Newton, the famous writer of Amazing Grace, and pastor in the eighteenth century. If you have not read them, you need to. They are chock full of wonderful, Christ-giving truth, love, and passion. I often find my eyes welling up with tears when reading his letters to people who lived three hundred years ago. He was once the captain of a slave ship who profited on selling human beings—a man who needed grace, and needed God to come down.
He wrote his own epitaph. Again, what people say about themselves is important. This is what he said: “John Newton. Clerk. Once an infidel in liberty. A servant of slaves in Africa was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned.” He knew who he had been, and he knew who he would now be forever: preserved, restored, and pardoned because his Lord and Savior was Jesus Christ. He came to this bread of life.
Some of you have believed on Christ, and yet are going through what we all go through at times: a time of dryness. You don’t feel close to God. You have his peace, but you don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t feel real. You know his love, but you don’t feel caught up in it. It’s a season that we all go through multiple times in the Christian life. We’re just languishing. It isn’t dead, but it’s dull. What’s the answer in times like that? It’s the same answer as when you first came to saving faith. You feed upon Christ, because he is the one thing that is necessary.
So how do you do that? I was with one of you this week, talking about this very thing. We sat down and something that I do myself when my soul is languishing and these dark nights come: to remind myself to feed upon Christ. You can do this with any Scripture. This day we flipped to Colossians 1. You begin to read about the person of Christ, but you don’t just read. You meditate upon it. You take a truth that is there and turn it around like a diamond that you’re trying to see every facet of, or like a good piece of chocolate in your mouth. You just want to suck all the goodness out of it. You keep turning it around and feasting upon it until your soul is moved, your affections are stirred, and you are enlivened for Christ again—until you can find yourself delighting in it.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16
You could take any of those things. He created all things in heaven and on earth. You begin to turn around in your mind that he created all things in heaven. That means that he created every one the galaxies that are out there—up to the galaxies that we can’t even see that are filled with tens of thousands of stars. And he created everything on earth, down to that little ant that I walked by today, that blade of grass, and that little piece of soil.
But it’s not just everything in heaven and on earth. He created everything, visible and invisible. Not everything is visible. There has to be more that is invisible than is visible. He created all that. And you begin to turn that around in your mind, and you say, “Why? Who is this that could create all these things all of their perfection and all of their differences? What creativity is this? What love is in him that he could create a flower that looks like this? What beauty must be in him that he could create a rainbow that is that gorgeous? How powerful he must be that he could create a myriad army of angels? You just keep turning it around and around until you are stirred. You feed upon him until you are nourished. It’s the one thing that is necessary.
We know what we have tasted, and everything else is dull in comparison once we have tasted him. Everything else is without spice, sweetness, and flavor in comparison to Christ. He satiates our appetites, and yet we want to be even more satiated with him. He fills us, and yet we want to be more filled with him, because he is so good! He is the one necessary thing.
That leads to our second reason for believing in him: he is sufficient. Verse 35: “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” As D.A. Carson said, “This does not mean that there is no need for continued dependence upon him, or continued feeding on him. It does mean that there is no longer that core emptiness that the initial encounter with Jesus has met.” Whatever our spiritual need—in whatever way we are impoverished, no matter how great, weak, or wayward our condition—Christ is enough and more. He’s sufficient, no matter our spiritual failings. His blood is sufficient to cover all of our sin.
It’s like the manna that covered the wilderness ground, or like the feeding of the five thousand. There was bread left over in the feeding of the five thousand. There was bread left over at the feeding of the four thousand. So it is with Christ. There is more than enough to meet our every spiritual need.
Have you ever watched young teenage boys sit down at a table to eat? You have to keep your fingers back for fear of them being eaten. They’re like ravenous wolves. You throw that pizza box on the table, or you put that plate of wings out there, and it’s game on. They are going to eat as fast as they can, because they want to get their fill. If they don’t eat fast enough, they may not get that next piece of pizza before the next guy, and they may not be full. With Jesus, we can feed and feed and feed upon him, and never worry about having met the end of what he can provide. He is sufficient.
That leads to the third point: he’s offered freely to all of us before we must believe. Verse 47: “Truly, truly…” This is the strongest way he could introduce this. It’s as if he’s screaming, “Listen to me! You must listen to this. This is true.” “Truly, truly, I saw to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” He is freely offered to all of us.
“Well, didn’t we just read this passage where Christ clearly says that the Father must draw us?” Yes, we did. “Doesn’t he say that the Father must give these people to him?” Yes, he does. “Isn’t this that doctrine of election that bothers me?” Yes, it is. “I can’t come unless I’m elected, and I don’t know if I’m elected.” True. You cannot come to Christ unless God has elected you, because we are all dead in our sins.
But notice this does not stop Christ from issuing the call to all. He says, “Believe in me.” It does not stop him from promising, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” No, Christ is willing to receive and save all. He willingly saves all who believe in him. Human responsibility is not negated by election. We get so caught up in speculation about the doctrine of election. “I don’t know if I’m elected.” Well, I can tell you a sure way to know if you are elected or not: do you believe? If you believe, you are elected. All those who believe are elected.
It’s not yours and my domain to try and search out the hidden things of God. It’s not our charge to try to figure out if we are elected or not. No, our charge is simply to believe in the one whom he has sent. Once we do, it is evidence that we are his. “Believe!” Jesus cries out to every single one of us. “Believe!” All of those who believe have life. It is freely offered.
That leads to our final point. It’s not just life that we receive, but eternal life. You must believe to have eternal life.
The first passage I ever memorized was verses 38 and 39:
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. John 6:38-39
I memorized this passage because, in my early years as a Christian, I struggled with incredible doubt. I struggled with assurance of salvation. This passage often comforted me and took all the anxiety away. The Father and the Son have willed to save us. All those who come to Christ in faith are willed by the sovereign God of the universe to be saved. Therefore, those who Christ has saved are never in jeopardy. They are his forever. They are safely in the palm of his hands, because they are safely in the palm of the Father’s hands, and no one can snatch them out of the hands of the Father. There is safety.
There are few things that I have an overly strong irritation toward in life. For example, I don’t mind if there is hair on someone’s head, but I can’t stand loose hair laying around. This is one of the great ironies of my life—God’s joke on me.
One of the others is the game of Tag. I hate it with a passion. I won’t say who, but someone who lives in my house, whom I have lived with for 18 years, knows this about me. So, when she’s feeling a little ornery, she’ll come by and give me a little harder than a love pat. The game is on. And my skin crawls. I just can’t stop thinking about it. I am obsessed. I have to touch that person so I am no longer It. Even now, my skin is crawling talking about it. I remember playing this game in grade school, and there was that wonderful thing called base. I loved it. I would stand there and camp out the whole game on base, because it takes away all the anxiety. There is no longer the obsession or fear.
“Whoever comes to me, I will never cast out.” When we come to Christ in faith, we are forever saved. All anxiety about the future should disappear. Paul says,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 37-39
He will lose none. That manna in the wilderness was temporal. The bread left over after feeding the five thousand was perishable. But if you eat this bread, it’s eternal.
We see this in Revelation 7. The same apostle (John) sees a vision of the saints gathered in Heaven, and he says this:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10
Can you see it? This multitude, dressed in white, gathered before his throne, singing praise to him for the salvation he has given. These saints “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Think on that for a little bit.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore… Revelation 7:15-17
Forever satisfied in the shelter of his presence. No longer hungry, thirsty, or wandering. The psalmist says in Psalm 34: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Come and eat of this bread of life! Know life forever.
Let’s pray. Lord our God, we praise you and thank that you are a God of salvation. We praise you, Lord Jesus, that you came to this world from heaven that we might have life. We thank you that you feed us, that you take away hunger, and that you are our food for all of eternity. We find you to be more delectable than all the things in this world. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.