They say that questions are powerful. Questions can establish friendship: “How are you? What’s your name?” Questions can build trust: “Have you done this before?” Questions can unlock important information: “Do you know the way?” Some people ask questions for a living, like lawyers, doctors, and journalists. And sometimes their questions can be uncomfortable. The current affairs programs like to say that they ask the tough questions, and the ABC has a program where the audience get to ask the questions.
Now you’ve been spending the last couple of weeks looking at one of the famous episodes in the life of Jesus from John chapter 6, and today we come to the last act. It began with a question in verse 5: Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?” As usual, Jesus is in charge of the whole thing. John says with all the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that Jesus only asked this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
Jesus knows what he’s going to do, and he knows why he’s doing it. So he feeds more than 5000 people in the desert from just a few loaves of bread and two fish. Where we pick up the story, it’s the next day, and Jesus has been teaching the meaning of what he has done: don’t work for bread that goes moldy; instead, search for the food that lasts to eternal life. I haven’t come to feed your tummy; I’ve come to feed your soul. I’m not the bread guy; I’m the bread.
And at the end of the chapter we get to the question that the Bible wants to ask us. The Bible is a dangerous book to read, because we think we are reading it, but it is reading us. And this long chapter ends with the question that Jesus asks the twelve disciples. He’s fed thousands of people from a few bits of bread and fish, he’s walked on the water, he has been teaching the crowds by the sea, and the scholars in the synagogue. And now he says to his closest friends, his inner circle of followers in verse 67: “Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’”
We listen in on this conversation and we hear this question. But God has kept this part of the Bible for us for two thousand years so that on the 28th anniversary of MBM, you and I would be here and we would hear Jesus ask this question in our presence today: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” You’ve read the story, you’ve heard the teaching, what are you going to do with Jesus?
And as this long chapter comes to an end, there’s division. In verse 60, many of the disciples said, “Who can accept this teaching?” In verse 61, the disciples were grumbling about this. In verse 64, Jesus says to his disciples, “There are some of you who do not believe.” In verse 66, John tells us, “From this time many of his disciples tuned back and no longer followed him.” There’s division!
I have not always followed Jesus. I did not grow up with Christian parents. My parents were Sri Lankan and my mother brought up me and my two sisters as Buddhists. But I read John’s Gospel for the first time in my life in 1986. I was 21 years old, and God was so kind to me. God opened my eyes to see that Jesus was a person who divided people. Some people agreed with him, some people disagreed with him. Some people were amazed at what he said, some people were angry about what he said. Some people believed, and some people went away. When I read John’s gospel, I noticed that people were divided about Jesus. It was very kind of God to let me see that. Sometimes you can read the Bible and not see what is right in front of you—but God let me see it. When I saw that Jesus divides people, it made me ask, “Am I for Jesus or against him?” I was a Buddhist, so I knew I was against Jesus. But I didn’t know why. And when I saw that Jesus divided people, I began to ask myself this question: “Why am I against Jesus?”
And that’s the question that Jesus asks his twelve disciples, and all of us, at the end of this chapter. “Are you for me or against me? Are you going on with me or are you going away without me?” Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
John tells us why it would be foolish, and tragic, to leave Jesus. Maybe you have been following Jesus for many years. Maybe you are still deciding whether to follow Jesus or not. Today is a great to be in church, because in John 6, we find out why it so good to be with Jesus, and how we do that.
First, why stick with Jesus? The answer is, who he is and what he’s done. He’s the bread of life, who gives life and is real food, verse 49:
Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. (NIV)
Jesus compares the ancient times of the ancestors in the past, and his own day. In the past, Moses led his people through the wilderness, and God fed the people with bread from heaven, called ‘manna’, every morning and every evening for forty years. But Jesus says, “Guess what? Everyone who ate the manna that came down from heaven died.” They all died.
Now it’s the day after Jesus fed five thousand men, and perhaps another ten thousand women and children, from just five loaves of bread and two fish. And in a display of overcatering that would have made my mother proud, there were twelve baskets of leftovers—plenty to give everyone a take away container to take home.
But the point of the miracle is not that Jesus is a new Moses who can give them bread. The point of the miracle is that Jesus is new bread: bread that gives eternal life. Jesus says, in verse 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. (NIV)
Now what does Jesus mean when he says that he will give his flesh for the life of the world? He is speaking about his death. He will give his flesh ‘for’ the life of the world. Such a little word, you hardly notice it, but such a wonderful word! Jesus gives his life on the cross for the world, on behalf of the world, for anyone.
At the very beginning of chapter 6, we’re told that everything that happens—the feeding of the thousands of people, and all the teaching that Jesus gives the next day—is happening during the feast of the passover. At the feast of the passover, lambs were sacrificed to remind the people that in ancient times, God rescued them from his judgement by giving them a sign that would save them: the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and window frames. So when God sent his judgement, death ‘passed over’ the houses that were painted with the blood of a lamb. The lamb was sacrificed instead of the firstborn in every household. The lamb took the place of the firstborn. The feast of passover reminded them each year, that they were rescued from God’s judgement by the sacrifice of a lamb.
Now at the passover, Jesus says, that he will give his flesh for the life of the world. His death on the cross will be a new passover. God’s judgement on the sin of the world, fell on Jesus when he died on the cross. Jesus is our passover lamb, just as John the Baptist said when he saw his cousin: behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When Jesus gives his life for the world, when he dies for us, for anyone and whoever eats, when he dies in our place and on our behalf, he dies so that we may live. Notice what Jesus says about the life that he brings. In verse 53, without Jesus, we don’t have life at all:
Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (NIV)
Now Jesus has just fed thousands of people. They were all living people, and the next day they are alive enough and hungry enough to come after him for more bread. So he doesn’t mean that they are literally dead, but he does mean that they are spiritually dead. Without Jesus, there is no life with God.
It’s the passover, Jesus is speaking in the synagogue, he is talking to his own people, but he’s saying to them, “Without me, you have no spiritual life, you have no connection with God, you are spiritually dead.” Having made his point negatively, Jesus then states the same thing positively in the next verse, verse 54:
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV)
Whoever eats and drinks has eternal life. Whoever does not, has no life. Jesus leaves no room for many pathways, no room for the old religion of his own people, no room either for any other spirituality, because only Jesus dies for the life of the world. The world has many teachers but it has only one saviour. The world has many wise men but it has only one lamb of God who sacrificed his flesh for the life of the world. The world has many prophets but only one risen Lord who can raise others at the last day because he is victor over death.
Some people like to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious”, but Jesus says, “No, you’re not. You’re not spiritual. Without me, you’re spiritually dead, there’s no life in you!” The life that Jesus gives is rescue from the judgement we deserve, forgiveness from God, life that goes on into eternity, and most of all it is life with the Father and the Son, verse 55:
For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. (NIV)
Jesus says that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. And then he explains what that means: I in them, them in me; as I am with the Father, so they are with me.
Can you see how Jesus is talking about relationship with God? It is a relationship based on the forgiveness that reconciles us to God, relationship that will not be interrupted by death but will continue into eternity, relationship that is personal and close and privileged. It involves the same closeness that there is between the Father and the Son, between Jesus and his followers. It’s so good, it’s so amazing, it’s so wonderful, knowing God the Father, knowing God the Son, in the freedom and fullness of forgiveness and reconciliation, in this life and the next. It is real food and real drink.
Jesus mentions the Father here, but later in the Gospel of John, when he speaks of living in his followers, he will speak of the Spirit. Jesus lives in us by his Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus lives in those who belong to Jesus. No wonder Jesus uses the language of eating and drinking, because his Spirit lives in us. The Spirit enables us to pray to our Father, to receive and understand and obey his word, the Spirit assures us of the Father’s Iove. The Spirit of Jesus lives in us. And we are in Christ so that we know the Father’s love the way the Son knows the Father’s love. The indwelling Spirit unites us to Christ. This is real food and real drink.
It’s like Jesus knows how quickly we turn to fake food, to satisfy our deepest needs. Scott Bedbury is the advertising guru behind brands like ‘Nike’ and ‘Starbucks’. He says that advertisers try to tap into our deep psychological needs, like our desire to belong, the need to feel connected, to experience joy and fulfillment. Bedbury says that successful companies tap into our search for meaning. So ‘Apple’ don’t flog computers, they’re offering cool. And ‘Nike’ don’t sell joggers, they promise health and youth and long life.
And we fall into the advertisers trap of seeking to satisfy the deep hunger and thirst of our souls with food that cannot satisfy. This is why there are probably more people shopping right now, than in churches around Sydney. So we devote ever increasing amounts of time and energy and money into satisfying our appetites: food, drink, music, sex, relationships, travel, sport, experiences, sensations. And we never stop because we’re never satisfied. We’re always hungry for more fake food. But Jesus says he is that food that is real, which gives forgiveness, peace with God, and life with God now and forever.
We’ve thought about why we should stick with Jesus—because he gives life to the world and is real food (forgiveness and fellowship), so second, let’s think about how to stick with Jesus.
All the way through John chapter 6, Jesus is speaking symbolically. He uses the image of bread to speak of the life that he gives. He uses the image of flesh and blood to speak of the death that he dies. He gives life, he is essential for life, he satisfies our deep hunger, and he does it all by his death on the cross.
Then, throughout the chapter, Jesus teaches his listeners how to respond to him. So the chapter uses several different words to say the same thing: believe, come, listen, learn, eat, drink. Each word tells us something about what is involved in coming to trust and follow Jesus. ‘Believe’ tells us that we need to know Jesus, who he is and what he does. He is the living bread who comes down from heaven and gives his life for the life of the world. But we need not only to believe, but to act on what we know. We must ‘come’. We must hear Jesus’ invitation and respond to it. We are commanded to come. But Jesus says in verse 65 that no one can come to me unless the Father draws them. He says the same in verse 44.
John 6:44 was a key verse in my coming to trust in Jesus as my saviour. A friend had given me John’s Gospel to read. About the third time I was reading my way through John’s Gospel. I got to 6:44 where Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me and I will raise them up on the last day.”
I got to that verse and it challenged me. It puzzled me. It even irritated me. As a Buddhist I didn’t believe in a last day. I believed that there was no last day, there was just day after day after day into eternity, the definition of suffering that went on and on until you escaped to the non-existence of nirvana. It took the Buddha five hundred lives to achieve that.
But even more than that, I looked at the words and wondered what it meant when Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me.” I thought to myself, “How does God draw people to Jesus?” And then I thought, “Perhaps he is doing it now, as I read the Gospel. And that is just what Jesus says, in verse 45:
It is written in the prophets: “They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” (NIV)
The Father draws his people to come to Jesus by his word. so we must listen and learn from the Father. And Jesus says in today’s passage, the Father draws his people by his word and Spirit, verse 63:
The words I have spoken to you are full of the Spirit and life (NIV)
The words of Jesus the Son of God are full of the Spirit of God and full of the offer of life. I am the bread of life, so eat. I am the water of eternal life, so drink. I am the gate, so enter. I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. God draws people to Jesus by the words of Jesus in the Gospel, which are breathed out by his Spirit.
Who does the Father draw by the words of Jesus? Jesus says, “Anyone may eat of the bread that comes down from heaven” (v. 50), and Jesus says, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (v. 51). The invitation is open to all. How wonderful to be here with you at MBM in your 28th year and to look out across this room and see people from every tribe and language and nation. Of course! Because ‘anyone’ may eat and ‘whoever’ eats of this bread will live forever. The Father is drawing people from every tribe and language and race to know him and to follow his Son. He drew this Buddhist by the gospel and he draws Jews and Hindus and Atheists and Communists and Muslims and Secularists and Catholics and Orthodox and Anglicans by the words of Jesus in the gospel of Jesus breathed out by the Spirit of Jesus. Believe, come, look, listen, and eat. Seven times in nine verses, Jesus says those who believe in him must eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Now the disciples are confused. They say that it is a hard saying. Of course, if they were thinking that Jesus meant they had to actually eat his body and drink his blood, then that was a hard saying! It was forbidden for Jews to eat meat that had the blood in it. The idea of eating human flesh was impossible. The disciples would not have thought that Jesus was talking about the Lord’s Supper or communion, and we shouldn’t think of that either, for at least two reasons.
Here are two reasons why Jesus isn’t talking about the Lord’s Supper. First because he says in verse 61, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?” Jesus is going to ascend to heaven via the cross. His body is going to heaven. If Jesus’ body is in heaven at the right hand of the Father then it is not on the communion table. Jesus is in heaven so his flesh and blood is not in the Lord’s Supper.
And the second reason Jesus cannot mean that eating his flesh and blood means taking communion is in verse 63: “The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you, they are full of the Spirit and life.”
In other words, it’s not Jesus’ flesh that they need to eat, it’s his words, especially his words about his death on the cross. His Spirit-breathed words give life. we need to hear the gospel word and take it in. Faith comes by hearing, the apostle Paul says in another place. We feed on Jesus by hearing his gospel and believing it, listening, learning, and coming to the Father. And when we have the Lord’s Supper, that is what we do: we feed on Jesus in our hearts with thanksgiving as we hear his words, “this is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.”
We’ve thought about why we should stick with Jesus. He is the bread of life who gives his life for the life of the world: forgiveness, life with God, life eternal, no accusation, no isolation, no condemnation, rescued from judgement, relationship with God, rejoicing forever. Here’s how we stick with Jesus: believe, come, listen, learn, eat. Hear the Spirit-filled, life-giving gospel words of Jesus about himself, about his death and resurrection, his offer of forgiveness, his victory over death, his coming kingdom, his perfect reign—hear and take it in. Welcome the words of Jesus, let them be your food and drink, your health and hope, your light and life, your goal and glory, your journey and your joy.
John says, “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Did they want food for their bellies more than their souls? Did they fear men more than God? Were they anxious about tomorrow, distracted by worry, or seduced by gold? Were they bored that there were no more miracles? Was it too simple to ‘believe’ or too hard to take up their cross? Was it too narrow for Jesus to be the only path to life or too broad that anyone should come? Were they just looking for an excuse or did they think they would come back to it later?
Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, in verses 68-69: “Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (NIV)
It is Jesus who does the work that God requires. He is bread, that we may feed on him. He gives his life for the world, that we may have life in his name. He gives his flesh that death may be put to death. He comes from heaven that we might know God. He has the Father’s seal of approval that God’s favour may rest on us. He is the Son who is sent, that we may be adopted as children. He does the will of his Father that none of those who the Father gives will be lost.
To whom shall we go? There is only one who has the words of eternal life.There is no one like him. There is only one, Jesus.