Scripture - John 6:41-51
Let us pray: Dear God, Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life, come down from heaven to our fallen world. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts & minds to his teaching, that we might be filled with his eternal presence, freed from our sins by his grace, & nourished with the food that forever satisfies. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
I submit to you that the Father’s will is that every single person believe in Jesus & his saving work & thereby receive eternal life – salvation as we like to put it today. God’s will is that everyone believe. But God, & therefore Jesus, is a realist & knows that not everyone will believe. And today’s text gives us answers as to why at least some people cannot come to faith in Christ.
First, the Jewish opposition – Judeans in many biblical translations, that is, the usual opposition to Jesus – judged things by human values & by external appearances. Their reaction in the face of the claim of Jesus being the bread that came down from heaven was to refer to the fact that he was a carpenter’s son & that they had seen him grow up in Nazareth. They were unable to understand how one who was a tradesman & who came from a poor home could possibly be a special messenger from God.
The writer TE Lawrence was a close friend of the poet Thomas Hardy. In the days when Lawrence was serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force he would often visit Hardy & his wife in his military uniform. On one occasion he happened to visit at the same time as the wife of the Mayor of Dorchester. She was offended that she had to submit to meeting a common pilot, because she had no idea who he was. In French she said to Mrs. Hardy that never in all her days had she had to sit down to tea with a common soldier. No one said anything; then Lawrence said in perfect French: “I beg your pardon, Madame, but can I be of any use as an interpreter? Mrs. Hardy knows no French.” The snobbish & discourteous woman had made a huge mistake because she judged by appearances.
This is what the opposition did with Jesus. This is what happens every day in our world. We must be careful that we do not neglect a message from God because we dismiss or do not care for the messenger. One would hardly refuse a check for $1,000 because it happened to be enclosed in an envelope that did not seem to be of the highest quality. God has many messengers. His greatest message came through a Galilean carpenter, & for that very reason the opposition disregarded it.
Our reliance on appearances works the other way too. Nowadays, do you feel like you are being watched by the world to see if you won’t slip up on your Christian walk? As soon as a Christian has a moral lapse or a slip of the tongue, the world jumps at the opportunity & says, “Ah ha! See, you’re no better than anybody else! This Jesus must not be everything you claim him to be.” What a lot of nonbelievers seem to miss is that Jesus doesn’t make us perfect, but forgiven. Followers of Christ are still human; but thanks be to God we are not walking this life alone. Those who accept Christ walk in grace.
Second, the opposition argued with each other. They were so taken with their private arguments that it never occurred to them to refer the decision to God. They were exceedingly eager to let everyone know what they thought about the matter; but not in the least curious to know what God thought. It may be that sometimes in a court or a committee, when everyone is eager to push his/her opinion down everyone else’s throat, we would be better off to be quiet & ask God what God thinks & what God wants us to do. After all it does not matter so very much what we think; but what God thinks matters intensely; & yet we seldom take steps to find it out.
Isn’t this the way of the world today? Especially in this age of internet communication, everyone has an opinion to share; yet seldom – if ever – is one willing to listen to a contrasting opinion or change their opinion. And it seems as if the last person the world wants to hear from is God. Many in our world are too busy denying God’s existence rather than to look for signs of his presence.
Third, the opposition listened, but they did not learn. There are different kinds of listening. There is the listening of criticism; there is the listening of resentment; there is the listening of superiority; there is the listening of indifference; & there is the listening of the person who listens only because - for the moment - they cannot get a chance to speak. But the only listening that is worthwhile is that which hears & learns; & that is the only way to listen to God.
Everyone who has listened to the Father & learned from him comes to me, Jesus says in verse 45. What does that say about our listening? Jesus doesn’t say, “May come to me,” or “when desperate comes to me.” No, Jesus says everyone who listens & learns comes to him. The conference I attended this past week offered a workshop entitled, “Active Listening.” I didn’t attend; I chose another workshop – probably because I didn’t listen for God!
Finally, the opposition resisted the drawing of God. Only those God draws to him accept Jesus. The word John uses for draw is “helkuein.” The same word used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew in Jeremiah 31:3: And so with unfailing love, I have drawn you to myself. The truly interesting thing about the word is that it almost always implies some kind of resistance. In John 21, it is the word used for drawing a net overflowing with fish to the shore. It is used in Acts 16 to tell of Paul & Silas being dragged before the court in Philippi. And in John 18 it describes drawing a sword from its scabbard. There is always this idea of resistance. God can draw people, but our resistance can defeat God’s pull.
Jesus is the bread of life. This means that he is the essential for life. Therefore to refuse the invitation & command of Jesus is to miss life & to die. The Rabbis had a saying: “The generation in the wilderness have no part in the life to come.” You may recall the story in Numbers when the people cowardly refused to brave the dangers of the Promised Land after the Hebrew scouts came back, & were condemned to wander in the wilderness until they died. Because they would not accept the guidance of God they were forever denied dwelling in the Promised Land.
How many people do you know, or see on TV, or read about on Facebook or Instagram or wherever, that are missing out on the joy & peace, the comfort & forgiveness that only Jesus can provide? Who in your life is resisting the pull of God? What might you say? What will you say that can lessen that resistance & allow them to taste & see the goodness of God?
The Rabbis believed that the Hebrews who died in the wilderness not only missed the Promised Land, but also missed the life to come. To refuse the offer of Jesus is to miss abundant life in this world & in the world to come. But if we accept his offer, we find real life in this world & glory in the world to come.
It is the Father’s will that all be saved & receive eternal life. And we have a part to play: It is our privilege to introduce everyone around us to the drawing power of God. We are to tell others of what the presence of Christ has meant in our lives. Then we let God, through the Holy Spirit, do his work.