Friday, November 30, 2007

John 6:41-51

41At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 42They 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 him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me. 46No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

At this point, the unbelieving Jews grumble or murmur, becoming increasingly offended at Jesus’ teachings. First, they cannot accept Jesus, who has made Himself God’s equal and claimed Himself the Christ by calling Himself the bread that came down from heaven, because they think they know His two human parents, Joseph and Mary. They see nothing heavenly or divine in Jesus; they see Him now as a mere man making ludicrous claims. But the fact that He was fully man, which the Jews maligned, is a great picture of His love for us. Second, it seems that they are offended because Jesus’ teachings speak too lowly of themselves; Jesus has certainly accused them of ignorance and unbelief and has clearly explained that they are unable to understand and believe God’s Word apart from His drawing or granting. They are irritated at Jesus’ attack on their maturity and too proud to recognize His teaching as truth.

Jesus interrupts in v43-44 with, “Stop grumbling.” But if they are offended already, they will become more so, because Jesus will speak all the more clearly to the Jews inability to believe. V44 is also one of my favorites. Look at it closely. “No one is able to come to Jesus (remember, by “coming” He means “believing,”) unless the Father who sent Jesus draws him, and Jesus will raise the drawn one up on the last day.” Since Jesus had just said that all whom the Father gives Him will come, it now becomes clear that all of humanity can be spoken of under one of these two categories: those whom the Father eternally chose will all believe in Jesus, without a single exception; and those whom the Father has not chosen to give to Him, who are not able to believe – not even a single one. Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are required; and, therefore, faith does not depend on the will of men, but on God who gives it. We ought not wonder that many refuse to embrace the Gospel, because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ. God must first approach him by His Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom He has elected. The drawing is not violent, so as to compel men by external force or be “against their will;” rather the Holy Spirit changes man’s nature – making the elect alive and both willing and able, whereas before they were dead in trespasses and sin and both unwilling and unable. It is a false assertion that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts. The willingness with which men follow God is what they have been granted from God, who has formed their hearts to obey Him (Ezekiel 36:24-32). Finally, the word “draw” is elsewhere translated as “drag,” and it should make us think of drawing water from a well. Some suggest that draw means “to woo,” but that’s not good grammar. Nobody woos water from a well, and God doesn’t woo us to His Son. He draws us like water from a well. And we come.

Although this offensive teaching may have seemed strange and unprecedented to the Jews, Jesus makes clear beginning in v45 by quoting from Isaiah 54:13 (see also Jeremiah 31:31-34) that it is not a new idea – the Scriptures taught that “they all” – everyone who is made a true partaker of the New Covenant – “will be taught by God.” This “teaching” is the inward illumination of the heart, the quickening by the Holy Spirit – regeneration. Jesus is speaking to both believers and unbelievers. He’s saying to the crowd, “The greatest thing that you need is to be humbled. The greatest thing that you need is to be brought down in the estimation of yourselves and your own ability. Because you have to understand this: There is absolutely nothing that you can do to save yourselves, apart from the sovereign grace of almighty God. You cannot by your own unaided strength come to Me, and you can’t even enjoy the bread that endures to eternal life apart from the drawing of My Father.” The Jews of Jesus’ time could eat the physical bread He provided, just as the Jews of Moses’ time ate the manna. But even as those eventually died, so all who ate merely of Christ’s physical bread would likewise die.

When Jesus effectively says, “Unless the Father sovereignly draws you, like water from a well, you are dead in sins,” He is deliberately crushing their pride. They’re grumbling, because salvation is absolutely all of grace or it is nothing at all. There is within each one of us a gravitational pull toward self-justification. And Jesus is saying to these spectators of His miracles, “Unless My Father draws you, you can have nothing with Me.” He’s humbling them. This is hard teaching. Jesus isn’t wooing anyone with this teaching. He’s driving those who aren’t His away, and He’s drawing those who belong to Him closer to Him.

Through v45, Jesus has magnified God’s glory; and now in v46, He turns the audience to Himself. He alone, having seen the Father, reveals Him; He alone serves as Mediator between mankind and God the Father; He alone deserves the glory that we must give to the Father. And v47 reveals that if one learns anything true about the Father, he will know to look to Christ – “He who believes has everlasting life.” V48 repeats, “I am the bread of life” from v35. And v49-50 repeat the teaching about the manna from heaven from v32. Repetition is a good method of teaching. Finally, v51 is still more repetition – the only thing worth knowing is that Christ is the bread of life for the soul. Jesus is the bread of life, the living bread, the life-giving and life-sustaining bread. And He tells us here that He gives Himself, His flesh, His body, for the life of all who believe in Him.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

John 6:35-40

35Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen Me and still you do not believe. 37All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away. 38For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent Me. 39And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day."

Jesus responds to the Jews’ arrogant and/or blindly materialistic interpretation of His teaching with unmistakable clarity, saying, “I am the Bread of Life.” (This is the first of seven “I am” sayings – John 6:35,48; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7,9,11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5.) The bread they claim to want in v34 is standing before them. Jesus directs them to Himself, explaining clearly that whoever comes to Him in genuine saving faith will never go hungry or be thirsty. Bread alleviates hunger, but it does not quench thirst, so in adding the part about thirst, Jesus is making the audience see that He’s not talking about literal bread, but rather nourishment in general – in fact, He is speaking of Himself, as we have seen, as the fountain of all life, both in the sense of creating and sustaining it. Think of John’s prologue.

Of course, by coming to Jesus and receiving Him as He is – as we will later see, by “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” – Jesus just means believing on Him. “He who comes to Me” is synonymous with “He who believes in Me,” “He who receives Me,” or “He who accepts Me.” This refers to genuine saving faith. Jesus is instructing the audience how to take the food He offers – through faith. A person must have faith in order to believe in Christ, that is, in who He is, and what He has done on the cross (or for these people, in what He would do for them – they are looking forward to the cross through Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 glasses, while we are looking back through Romans-type or Gospel glasses), in order to partake of the eternal life that Jesus gives.

In v36, Jesus rebukes the Jews for willingly rejecting this gift of God in Him. They have more than enough evidence. When Jesus speaks of them as having seen Him, He doesn’t mean physically viewing His body with their eyes; He means they have born witness to His Person as the Christ. They have seen the truth, yet they are suppressing the truth by their wickedness and unable to receive Him (Romans 1:18-19; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8,12-14). At this point, it seems as if Jesus’ message, His offer of eternal life, is in vain – clearly it is falling on deaf ears. However, it is not a problem because Jesus does not rest His hope of bringing a people from death into life on the basis of their ability to believe. His hope rests in something more fundamental, that the Father has promised to give a certain people to the Son, and that He will unfailingly bring this people to true faith in Him by His Spirit. Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” This is what Jesus begins to reveal in v37.

V37 is one of my favorites. Look at it closely. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away (or I will certainly not cast out).” It’s beautiful. There is a giving on the part of the Father, there is a coming on the part of men and women, there is a receiving on the part of Jesus Christ. We come to Christ, as the Father gives us to Him, and He receives us. There’s nothing about us accepting Him, as if we are in control. Shorten it to read like this: All the Father gives will come. (Faith is not dependent on the will of man – John 1:12-13; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; etc.) And all who come will be received. (This second half of the verse is for the comfort of the elect – we do indeed come freely and will certainly be taken in.) Shorten it even more: All the Father gives will be received. This issue of our coming to Christ is in the hands of the Father and the Son – by their Spirit. If the Father has given you to the Son, you will voluntarily come to the Son; and if the Father has given you to the Son, the Son will never drive you away. He will receive you. The doctrine of election here is unmistakable and here for our comfort. But make sure you are among the elect (2 Peter 1:10) and continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because you know that God works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).

Furthermore, taken in the context of Jesus’ explanation, He’s categorizing this group of Jews as reprobate (not elect), as goats and not sheep, as outsiders and not insiders, and it’s offensive to them, as we’ll see in v41. But Christ has come only to do the Father’s will. It is in this sense that the gospel is more than a mere offer of salvation; it’s a certainty worked out in the covenant of redemption prior to creation. And since it is the Father’s will that an exact number of definite, chosen persons believe on the Son, and that of those, none should perish, but the Son should give them all eternal life, it is therefore absolutely certain that this people whom the Father has chosen to give the Son will believe and indeed be eternally saved (Ephesians 1:3-14). Lastly, notice that when Jesus says, “Whoever looks to the Son and believes in Him,” He’s deliberately bringing up seeing and believing, because He had early said that the Jews saw and did not believe. Faith knows Christ. To believe in Christ, we must know who He is and what He has done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

John 6:25-34

25When they found Him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, "Rabbi, when didYou get here?" 26Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval." 28Then they asked Him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" 29Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent." 30So they asked Him, "What miraculous sign then will You give that we may see it and believe You? What will You do? 31Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."

After Jesus fed them, this crowd of people spent the night on the sea waiting for more miracles and provision. They were looking for Him the next day and found Him “on the other side of the lake.” Rather than 180 degrees from where they were, this phrase means across the bay of the sea between Bethsaida and Capernaum – explaining their mode of transportation from v24. (From Tiberias, it made sense to stop at Bethsaida on the way to Capernaum.) They found Him in the synagogue in Capernaum (v59). Jesus, rather than answer their question regarding His arrival time, begins v26 with a harkening – “I tell you the truth.” He’s saying, “Listen!” He immediately brings to light the root of their problem, saying that their following Him involved a merely natural desire for material benefits – namely physical nourishment to aid them in their temporal life. They had failed to see the reality to which the sign-miracles pointed about who Jesus is.

Then in v27, He exhorts them not to seek first the bread that spoils; instead, they are to labor for the food that truly matters – spiritual nourishment that leads to eternal life, which He gives just as miraculously as the physical bread they had enjoyed the day before. Jesus could have simply commanded the crowd to seek incorruptible food; but He told them what not to seek as well – food that spoils – because He knew that we are grossly prone to earthly or worldly things in our sinful nature. Jesus presents His address in a metaphor and gives the name “food” to everything that belongs to newness of life. The gospel feeds our souls; all that nourishes and promotes faith, the life of the soul, is compared to food. Also of interest here, Jesus commands us to work for that which the Son of Man will give. Calvin says, “There is undoubtedly some appearance of contradiction in these words; but we may easily reconcile these two statements, that the spiritual food of the soul is the free gift of Christ, and that we must strive with all the affections of our heart to become partakers of so great a blessing.” Notice also in v27 the Father has placed His seal of approval on the Son of Man. The question for us might be this: Are we passionately and primarily seeking things that really matter? Are we seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)? These people were not, and Jesus told them so.

In v28, we can look at the crowd’s next question from two perspectives. Favorably for them, perhaps they genuinely want to know how they can partake in this food that leads to eternal life; they are trying to follow Christ’s leading. But negatively, it may appear that they are asking how they can earn this bread, what they can do to work for it; thus they have no grasp of God’s grace. They should have learned both from the previous day’s miracle and from Jesus’ explanation that “the Son of Man will give” it that Christ gives bread freely, not in payment for any work! Either way, Jesus answers straightforwardly in v29 by declaring that faith in Christ is all one needs to gain a right relationship with God the Father. But for now, we can say that there is nothing one can DO to gain eternal life; it is DONE. Faith is not a meritorious work, though believing is something we do. Why we do it, why we believe, how we come to faith, will be addressed shortly. In the meantime, consider faith to be the channel through which we receive the gracious gift of God.

After Jesus explains what should have been known already, that eternal life is given to believers in Christ, the crowd is arrogant enough to ask of Him a sign (Matthew 12:39). We see that as soon as Jesus does not grant their every request, He is no longer their king. The sign they demand to prove that He truly does have the ability to give life is on the basis – they claim – that Moses, who, sent to the people by God, provided bread in the wilderness for 2 million people for 40 years. It is very revealing to consider that the Jews knew the Messiah would be known by His miracles of greater proportion that those of Moses, but they overlooked them when they occurred. They reveal their desire for a Messiah who fills their bellies, yet they do it cleverly, recalling Jesus’ mention of bread that leads to eternal life and referring to manna, the heavenly bread (Exodus 16:4; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalm 78:24-25; 1 Corinthians 10:3). We might tend to struggle with discerning their true state here; on one hand it appears that they are genuinely trying to follow along and apply Jesus’ words – even to the point of recognizing His words from the Scriptures. But on the other hand, they can appear to be trying to provoke Him out of sinful truth suppression, denying the clear reality to which His metaphorical statements point.

It is staggering that this demand takes place on the day after this same crowd had tried to make Him king by force, the day after Jesus had miraculously provided bread in a more powerful way than Moses. It seems as if they are just proving Jesus’ point that they are seeking a way to get more physical bread, and do not have any care for the meaning of the miraculous sign. The reality is that, as we saw with Nicodemus, they are spiritually dead. They cannot discern spiritual things until God makes them alive (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13). Jesus therefore rebukes their ongoing hardness with the observation that it was not Moses who gave bread, but God. God Himself sent it down from heaven. Furthermore, the manna was bread from heaven as in physical nourishment from the sky; but the true “bread of heaven,” which Jesus rephrases as the “bread of God” is not manna. The same God who gave manna is the One who sends the true (everlasting) Bread down from heaven, and this Bread is the One who descended from heaven to give eternal life to the world. He is near (Deuteronomy 30:12; Romans 10:6-8).

Whether or not they get what Jesus is saying is made clear from their response in v34 by asking for this bread from now on. They’re still seeking physical bread – and Calvin says, “There is no doubt that they speak ironically, to accuse Christ of vain boasting, when He said that He was able to give the bread of life.” Picture them saying, “Well Jesus, if You’re so privileged and powerful, then You ought to be giving us this bread from now on. After all, You’re boasting of being capable. Let’s see it!” And for us, we need to be on guard. We must strive to seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to us. Every decision must be made by first asking, “How will this or that affect my relationship with God?” And if the answer is not positive, that’s a clue that I’m not seeking first His Kingdom. When the things of my world come crashing down, I must not be devastated. My peace should remain, because my joy is not circumstance-based (Philippians 4:11-12). God never changes.

Monday, November 26, 2007

John 6:16-24

16When evening came, His disciples went down to the lake, 17where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. 20But He said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid." 21Then they were willing to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. 22The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with His disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

The Church from the very beginning has understood this story to teach that in the midst of trouble, Jesus may draw near and grant His blessing. At this stage in the history of redemption, it is difficult to distinguish the disciples from the Church. There wasn’t much more to the Church than the disciples. So we might say that the Church is in trouble. They are in the midst of a storm – and this, only because they are doing what Jesus told them to do! Consider Moses after his first visit to pharaoh (Exodus 5). John doesn’t tell us this, but both Matthew and Mark relate to us that Jesus was the One who had made them get into a boat to cross the sea to go to the region of Capernaum from Bethsaida (Not straight across, but across a portion of the sea). John’s emphasis in this chapter is the miraculous provision of bread and Jesus’ following teaching, but this miracle of walking on the water also possesses some theological significance closely connected to the imagery of the table of the Bread of Presence. Just as the former miracle demonstrated the provision for life, which Christ would accomplish, and even looked ahead to the Sabbath feast in the presence of God, this miracle seems to emphasize the fact of God’s presence and guidance in the midst of our Christian lives.

The disciples were rowing laboriously, and unable to make any significant progress due to the storm – certainly the case in our spiritual journey, in which, the greatest efforts of our own strength and will avail us nothing. Regarding the storm, it wasn’t unusual in the Sea of Galilee. It is well below sea level, and the sudden temperature changes that accompany the evening – John informs us that it got dark – cause winds that frequently brought storms on the water. Many of the disciples, at least four, were experienced fishermen, and had made their living on the water; they had seen this before, but you have to wonder if they were concerned for their lives. We don’t read that they were worried or tired or anything at this point, but they had been rowing for at least six hours and were only halfway across. They had to be tired.

And then, in the midst of their struggle, God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, having been watching them from the shore according to Mark’s gospel, miraculously arrives to strengthen them, and indeed to perform the work for them – just as He does today. But prior to His speaking to them, they were terrified. Mark explains that Jesus intended to pass by them (as in God the Father passing by Moses, thereby revealing His glory). Jesus had been refreshed from His time of solitary prayer; but they saw Him and thought He was a ghost. Perhaps He was aglow – spiritual refreshment can do that to a person. So they were terrified, but then Jesus spoke. “It is I.” In the Greek, it’s “I AM” (eimi ego). And His voice combined with these words has great power – either to overwhelm or to comfort. The unbelieving men in John 18:6 were overwhelmed. “When Jesus said, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” These men, His sheep, were comforted. Christ’s presence is alone enough to give us confidence and peace. That’s what this chapter is about, and this miracle shows us that, though nobody understand the full truth after the feeding of the 5000, Jesus made Himself known by walking on the water.

And also, just as He miraculously brought them at once, with no more expenditure of labor, to their destination, so when Jesus comes to aid us, He not only guides us to His eternal kingdom, but He does all the necessary work to bring us there. And so, this miracle, when coupled with the former, displays every element of life-giving and life-sustaining grace that the table of the Bread of Presence signified as fully accomplished in Christ.

So perhaps the lesson for us here is this: Don’t be surprised if you make a commitment to follow the Lord with all your heart and find yourself in difficulty. Don’t be surprised when you say, “I want to follow you Lord more closely than ever before,” and in the wake of a prayer like that, you find yourself in trouble, in a place of difficulty or struggle, under pressures and trials that you’ve never faced before. Instead, remember that God always has a purpose in trials. Philippians 1:6,29 Mark gives us in his account of the story at least one of the possible reasons for this trial – the disciples’ hearts were hardened. Thus, this trial was to encourage faith and to draw out the lesson that had not been fully drawn out in the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. What this miracle story is telling us – just as it told the disciples – is that this Jesus, whom we worship and with whom we are united by faith, is a Jesus who is prepared to walk into the storm to rescue His sheep. You can actually be brought to the point where the trial that you are now experiencing can be something that you’ll regard as one of the greatest privileges that you’ve been given, as perhaps these men did.

Put quite simply, the crowd panics when they realize that their source of physical nourishment has disappeared. They put two-and-two together, that there was only one boat and Jesus hadn’t boarded it and their blockade of the shoreline over night prohibited Him from passing unnoticed. He must have miraculously crossed the water! Another sign of physical super-humanity! They’ve got to find Jesus, and some boats arrived there at Bethsaida from Tiberias on the way to Capernaum, and so they decide to go. It sounds as if they have this noble search for the Messiah going on, but as we’ll see next time, when they track down Jesus, He’ll explain that their search was based solely on the physical bread that He provided. (Notice that John reminds us again here that Jesus prayed before eating (v23)!) Jesus calls His followers to seek true bread, living bread, indeed Jesus Himself as the Bread of Life. And this clearly fits with what John has been doing in this Gospel account. He’s displaying true saving faith in light of false faith – faith in the physical signs alone – and mere intellectual assent.