62. Hindrance

Short Meditations in John 6:  62. Hindrance

Jn 6:62   Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 

There is no doubt about it but that belief comes in different levels. Some people say, “Well, I can believe this but I’m not so sure about that”, whatever this or that may mean. Belief is a strange thing and yet it is at the heart of Christianity, and its close brother, faith, is equally challenging. I have watched people who are full of faith for hospitality or for giving but not for prayer, people who are full of faith in prayer and reading God’s word, but not for practical works of blessing. Perhaps we should pray for the Lord to ‘even out’ our faith to cover all areas so we are fully developed Christians.

Again and again belief came into Jesus’ ministry (see Mt 8:13, 9:28, 18:6, 21:22,25,32) There was that famous occasion when a man brought his possessed son to Jesus and Jesus challenged his faith and he replied, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  (Mk 9:24) That seems to epitomise what so many of us struggle with. We have basic belief in Jesus, but it seems so often to be limited and unbelief hangs over us like a dark cloud and helps our belief being total. We can go so far but ask us to step out and do the works of Jesus (Jn 14:12) and we flounder. I have seen it happen.

So here we are in the midst of this section where Jesus is presenting the crowd – including his disciples, some of whom are also now struggling – with this graphic teaching about taking him into your life, and although they had coped with him thus far, this graphic teaching, taken literally comes as a road block to their ongoing faith, a hindrance that stops them going on with them.

So, says Jesus, if you find this difficult, this basic picture language teaching, how will you cope if you see me ascend back to heaven? (which of course was exactly what did happen later – Acts 1) If you struggle over teaching ideas, how will you cope with the living reality taking place in front of you, of seeing me disappear in the clouds? Even more as you realise I am ascending back to my Father in heaven, where will that leave you? You will have even more questions.

And that takes us to the heart of the problem that we have been touching on when we spoke about grumbling. Did Jesus say, “When you understand everything about me, then you can follow me.” No, he didn’t. He just said to his disciples, “Follow me,” and that was it, with no further explanations beyond, “and I will make you fishers of men,” (Mt 4:19) but that said little about him. The challenge is to trust Jesus with limited knowledge and when we trust and walk with him with open hearts, then we will indeed see greater things.

61. Face it

Short Meditations in John 6:  61. Face it

Jn 6:61   Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 

The good – or possibly bad – news is that God loves us so much He doesn’t leave us in a state of grumbling, He challenges us to get out of that state. Some of Jesus’ disciples have joined the general crowd in grumbling and so he faces them up with this – you too? Really? Are you actually offended by the things I’ve been saying? Are you upset at what you see is the outworking or meaning of what I have been saying, or are you upset that you don’t understand what I’ve been saying, and you want to blame me for that?

It’s that same old challenge that we’ve had before: when you don’t understand, will you grumble and blame the speaker – or maybe even the writer in the Bible who you think should have made it clearer – which is ultimately down to God, so are you grumbling against Him, are you blaming Him? Or will you go to God in humility and say, “Lord, I need more of your help. Please teach me.”

Do you see this, this repetition that occurs in this amazing chapter? One way or another Jesus does two things. First, he presents us with this incredibly challenging teaching about taking him into our lives, but he does it in a particularly graphic and memorable way (talking about eating his flesh) so that it will stay with us, this challenge to take him wholly into our lives like we take food in that we digest and becomes part of us, giving us fresh energy, fresh life. That is the first thing, the actual teaching, but then comes the almost subliminal teaching because of the way and the words he has been using; this second thing is the challenge to our hearts that we pondered on yesterday but find we have to keep on thinking about, the challenge of commitment, what it means to be a disciple. It is the challenge to believe Jesus even when we don’t understand everything about him, or everything about our lives with him, everything that is going on in our lives with him.

It’s fine when we understand everything, it’s fine when everything is going well, when the sun is shining, when I’m feeling on top of the world, and my daily readings make sense, but what about the other times? What about the grey cloudy days, the days when things are happening that I don’t understand, days when I expect God to turn up and help me and He doesn’t, days when my grace level feels low and I am struggling and wondering, days when it just seem to get worse, am I still a committed disciple of Jesus on this day as well? Can I handle this day without grumbling, can I handle this day without being offended by God, by my lack of understanding, by His apparent absence? This is equally important as the main teaching.

60. A Road Block?

Short Meditations in John 6:  60. A Road Block?

Jn 6:60  On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

What always surprises me about this verse is that it doesn’t say, “On hearing this many of the crowd….” Clearly a number of the people in the synagogue listening to his teaching had been his followers as well as the general crowd that had followed him back across the lake after the feeding of the five thousand, and now it is some of these people, his followers, who were struggling. This did not include ‘The Twelve’ who were also there.

So it seems we have three groups of people there with Jesus. First, the general crowd who had come looking to make him king so he could continue to feed them, second, a number who could up until that point be considered his followers or disciples, but who were now having second thoughts and, third, the committed hard-core of believers who would stick with Jesus whatever (crucifixions aside!).

So what was it that distinguished and separated these three groups? First, ‘the crowd’ were people who were there for their own interests and they were people who had never committed themselves to following Jesus. Second, the disciples now about to draw back were those who had initially caught a sense of who they thought Jesus was and had become ‘followers’. But what distinguished the third group? the committed followers who stuck with Jesus? Well that was it, they were committed and that means committed whatever.

We have noted previously in this chapter, in the crowd there were the grumblers, the ones who struggled to understand Jesus’ teaching and who, instead of humbly asking to have it shared more simply, just grumbled. That is not committed.

According to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Mt 13), the crowd were “anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” (13:19) The disciples who fell away were like either the seed falling on shallow soil or the seed falling among thorns (13:20-22). It is only the committed disciples who form the good seed that bears fruit (13:23). People fall away because the way seems too hard, the teaching is too difficult or some other reason that reveals a shallow heart that has never been fully committed to Christ.

This verse comes as a warning and an alert for us to check our hearts and ask ourselves, “Am I a shallow believer, easily put off by the enemy, or will I be all out for Jesus, committed to him so it doesn’t matter if it’s hard or I don’t understand it all?”

59. Location Significance

Short Meditations in John 6:  59. Location Significance

Jn 6:59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum

Now this verse comes as a surprise. So far in this particular story, we were with Jesus on the other side of the lake, then back across the lake at Capernaum, and there a long discussion ensues with no mention of location. Back in verse 25 we read, When they found him on the other side of the lake….”  but at that point there had been no mention of where it was they found Jesus and started off this conversation with him. It is only now, at the end of the conversation that we are told where this happened and what Jesus had been doing.

So, it happens in the local synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus had been teaching before they arrived. We might say his teaching changed (because we don’t know what he had been teaching before they arrived) to accommodate the things that had been uppermost in their minds – more food!  Bread! Which is why he has been teaching throughout the middle part of this chapter about the distinction between bread that leaves you hungry a few hours later, and the bread (himself) that will truly satisfy and bring you eternal life.

The crowd who have poured into the synagogue, having heard he was there, pursing their own agenda, to make him their king, to get the benefit of his provision, have had a bit of a problem changing from thinking about natural bread baked by a local baker, to spiritual bread that will do more than satisfy only temporarily. The even bigger leap that they were struggling with was that that ‘spiritual bread’ was he, Jesus himself, and somehow they needed to ‘eat’ or take him into their lives.

But it is appropriate that this teaching had been carried on in the synagogue because that was the place that was the traditional place of teaching. It may not have been the Saturday main meeting because it is said they also met there on a Tuesday and a Thursday. It is always possible that if the local rabbi was friendly, he could have opened the building for Jesus to use, but it is more probable that Jesus, as a good Jew, naturally attended synagogue and clearly was often given the opportunity to speak, which is what he had been doing before the crowd arrived, still full of the things that had happened on the other side of the lake, a day before.

It shows us that there is indeed an overlap between traditional Judaism and the new teacher, the fact that he was allowed to speak in the synagogue, on what seems fairly regular occasions. In Jerusalem he was opposed by the hierarchy in the Temple but here, in the north in Galilee, there was no such hostility, or of there was, it tended to come from those who had come up from the south to see what was going on.

58. Present different from Past

(We recontinue our series in John chapter 6)

Short Meditations in John 6:  58. Present different from Past

Jn 6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 

There is something that I have noted over the years that pertains to the way we either live in anticipation – or don’t. We often tend to let the past lock us in to the present. We allow things that happened in the past – in our minds at least – to be what we expect will happen in the present, and sometimes that can mean nothing happening in the present. It is probable that it was some experience and it can either have been a good one or a bad one. Because it happened ‘back there’ we assume it will happen again (and of course sometimes it does). If we failed on some point in the past, we allow the enemy to make us think it will happen again now if I try. Or we did something one way several years ago and it worked, and so we assume it will still work, but maybe not. Holding on to the past can really hinder the present.

That was what Jesus was now having to confront with these people in the crowd now. A good thing about the people of Israel was that they had a history with God. The bad thing was that it wasn’t always a good history! The tendency was to romanticise some of the past and this is what thy were doing with the subject of the manna they had received in their wilderness wanderings of the Exodus; God had blessed us and provided for us back then, why shouldn’t the Messiah when he comes do the same again?

That was a reasonable expectation perhaps, except for three things. First, the manna had been a stop-gap, something God did just while they were living in the desert before they got to the wonderful provision of the Promised Land. They didn’t need it any longer. Second, that didn’t help them in the long-run because they still died in the wilderness because of their disobedience  – despite the manna! Third, God has a better provision for us today which means receiving eternal life so that death is not the end of the story any longer.

For each of these reasons, harping on about the past was acting as a hindrance to receiving God’s blessing in the present. The modern application of this today comes when you hear the words, “But we’ve always done it like this.” Those words lock our behaviour and make our focus on deeds, actions, things we do becoming all-important while perhaps God is wanting us to grow and mature and learn to step out in creative faith to be doing things in a different way, a way that comes from waiting on Him, listening to Him, hearing His voice and then obeying the directions He gives today.  So often we do things because others did it and it was a success in the past, not because God has said it to us in the present. Death guaranteed. Let’s avoid that!

57. The Flow of Life

Short Meditations in John 6:  57. The Flow of Life

Jn 6:57 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

Notice the flow that runs through this verse: the Father lives so the Son lives so we can live.  There are fundamental, absolutely basic truths here that perhaps we don’t often think about. The starting point is that life exists because God exists. He is life, He is ‘alive’ and because he made all of this material world we also live.

This is something so basic that we take it for granted and so really need to define it. ‘Life’ = “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.” There we are, life involves growth, reproduction, activity, and change. A rock may change with the effect of weather upon it but left to itself it will not change. We have life and without it, life ceases, activity ceases, growth ceases, change ceases. That is how important all this is.

So life is in the Father and, as the creeds declare, Jesus was begotten of the Father, meaning he came out of the Father and is one in essence with the Father. In him is life as well. But then they created us and so we live but that ‘living’ is purely at a material level and yet they have also made us with a spirit which is capable of coming alive and that happens when we receive Jesus and we receive his Holy Spirit, who is life.

Thus when we are ‘born again’ it is an act of the Holy Spirit who then indwells us, and His life then energizes us so that spiritually there is growth, reproduction, activity and change. The purpose of the Father was for Jesus to come to the earth so that His life would be manifest on the earth, spiritually as well as physically. Hence we see impartation of revelation from heaven, a flow of power that brought life to dead bodies, sight to blind eyes, hearing to deaf ears, and brought about what otherwise we call miracles. Where there is ‘life’ there is change, movement, activity.

Now when we see this in relation to our own lives, this takes on a new significance. His life flowing in us as Christians brings change, brings movement, brings activity, brings revelation. We change, we grow we are activated by His presence and His life movement in us. But there is something else about ‘life’, it needs feeding to be constantly energized. God doesn’t need feeding because He is unlimited, but we do and the feeding is spiritual, it is that which we have been considering a number of times already, taking in the presence of Jesus, living with him, going with him and so on. This ‘feeding’ energizes and releases life.

(Today we have added two studies to come to a place where we can pause up in order to start a brief series tomorrow to reflect on Christmas. We will  continue with John 6 later.)

56. Unity with Jesus

Short Meditations in John 6:  56. Unity with Jesus

Jn 6:56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 

If I am really honest, there are people I would not want to be particularly close to. They are different from me and, even though they might be a Christian it is clear that our values and outlooks on life are different, but if they needed me I hope I would be there for them (as I am commanded to love them) and yet the honest truth is that I would happier not in their company. Which makes the desire of the Godhead all the more amazing because here and elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus speaks about a unity which is about as close as you can get: “remains in me, and I in them.”

It doesn’t matter what we are like, as long as we follow Jesus in the way we have considered several times just recently, the end product is a unity where Jesus, by his Spirit, indwells us. But I’m not always nice! You still want to have that level of unity with me??? Yes.

Stop and think about this a bit more. You may be married and have a partner in life. You share everything. What is the basis for that? Love. You quite likely have people you enjoy being with, enjoy spending time with, enjoy sharing things with. What is the basis for that? Friendship. Now suppose somebody completely different from you, with different looks, different clothes, different attitudes, different outlook, different ways of doing things, different political persuasion, different hobbies, came to you and said, “Will you be my really close friend?”  Aaaah!

Now that could work both ways. That is what Jesus did with his disciples. He couldn’t have been more different from them, yet he called them to come and live with him and join in his life. That is love. But then, from our perspective, perhaps when we were a little child, we asked him to be ‘my friend’ or, perhaps when we were grown up, to ‘be my saviour’. The same thing applies. We who are so very different from the holy and perfect Son of God are called to join his life, and we ask to join his life – and he says yes.

It’s the same sort of wording in this verse as we find when later he said, “I am the true vine,” (Jn 15:1) “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (v.4) and even later, “I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (Jn 17:23) This is the goal of the Godhead that we are united completely with them. How often, I suspect, we take for granted that phrase that comes so often, “in Christ” (e.g. Rom 9:1, 12:5, 16:7) or even more commonly, “In Christ Jesus” (e.g. 1 Cor 1:2,4). All of these refer to a unity that comes from this life of ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ Christ as we’ve been seeing in these recent studies.

55. Cannibalism?

Short Meditations in John 6:  55. Cannibalism?

Jn 6:55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 

It is little wonder really that, to quote Christianity Today magazine, “Frequently critics had little, if any, first-hand experience with Christians, their worship, or their beliefs. So for the first two centuries, at least, attacks tended to restate stereotypes, stock objections, and misconceptions circulating throughout the pagan world.” Those attacks and accusations included, so history tells us, the charge of cannibalism that emanates from Jesus’ teaching here and that in respect of the Last Supper. Eating human flesh? What are these Christians about?

‘Stereotypes, stock objections, and misconceptions.’ Yes, those words describe well what so often comes out of the mouths of those who oppose the Christian faith. They are actually intellectual insults, the charge that Christians are unthinking bigots who practice the vilest of habits. Can anyone truly believe such things?

The charge flies in the face of all of the evidence. Starting with Jesus, here is a man (if you reject his divinity) who “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.” (Acts 10:38) Would such a man be encouraging cannibalism? Clearly not! But then look at the Christians who have lived through the last two thousand years – going about doing good, establishing schools and hospitals and missions to the poor. Are these people likely to be eating human flesh? How stupid was the accusation and, as the quote above suggests, such things can only be said by those who have little or no first-hand experience of Christians.

But the Son of God knew such folly would be spoken but it did not stop him using this picture language in his teaching because it is so vital to his message. And what was that? It was that religion and religious practices, following rules or rituals, was not the way to either please God or open a door to encounter Him. The only way was to encounter Jesus, the Son of God who came to reveal the Father and, by his death, open a door whereby we can be restored to the Father. Again, be quite clear, it is not merely to know about the Son, but to actually and actively know him, and to make the point I will repeat yet again, “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.”

And when we do that? We are fed and given drink and our hunger and thirst for reality is satisfied and quenched. This encounter, this experience, is real food and real drink, it really does do what Jesus said it would do and it is the only way for that inner hunger and thirst to be satisfied and quenched.

54. The Formula Repeated

Short Meditations in John 6:  54. The Formula Repeated

Jn 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 

When God says the same thing more than once you can be sure He really wants you to take in what He is saying. It is a sad thing that we are so often so slow to listen, so slow to hear and then so slow to remember. Is that why Jesus actually instituted Communion, the Last Supper, call it what you will, as something to be done again and again? “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ (Lk 22:19)

In the same way in the Old Testament, Joshua instructed, “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” (Josh 4:5-7) The twelve stones would act as a reminder of what God had done miraculously for them as they entered the Promised Land.

So here yet again we find 6 times reference to ‘flesh’, (v.51-56) and 3 times linked with the word ‘eats’. There are 3 references to “drinks my blood” (v.53,54,56). As I said before, I don’t know of any other passage with such repetition in it as we find here. So we’d better note yet again (just in case we have not yet taken it in fully) the three key essential parts of this verse:

Eating and drinking: the requirement of us, that we are to take Jesus fully into our lives.

Eternal Life: the effect of this ‘eating and drinking’, taking Jesus into our lives – we will live for ever with him in eternity.

Last Day Resurrection: whether we see this as the last day of our physical life or at the Final Judgment, there is the promise that passing through death is just that, a process through which we must pass to reach the life on the other side. Death and resurrection go together and the end product of that resurrection for the believer is that eternal life.

So a resource – Jesus; a process – death and resurrection; an end product – eternal life. Now if we really and truly do believe this then I would suggest there are two outworkings of this. First, the things that we consider so important today – working for achievement, success and fame, are all transitory and not so important as we think they are. Second, we need to live with the recognition that this life is transitory and it not all there is, so when a threat of death comes, it comes simply as a reminder of these truths. May that be so.

53. Obscure Challenge

Short Meditations in John 6:  53. Obscure Challenge

Jn 6:53 Jesus said to them, “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. 

It gets worse! In verse 51 we read, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh” and in verse 50 we had to think about what it meant by the talk of ‘eating’ him. But now it’s like he really puts it in our face with direct talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

There is a certain part of the Church that has decided that when Jesus said about Communion, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant,” (Mt 26:27,28) it means when we take the cup as we drink it becomes the literal blood of Jesus. I have to say I believe that is the equivalent of magic, almost a superstitious mysticism reminiscent of the Gnostics of the first century, because as we have seen in this chapter, Jesus is using graphic picture language to convey a deeply significant truth.  This is not mysticism but simple metaphor or allegory, a picture from human experience to convey a deep spiritual truth that is not open to just a few, but to all.

So what is that truth? It is, very simply, that you have to take Jesus fully into your life, his life entering your life. This is not about the Holy Spirit coming to indwell us but more about taking the very nature or character of Jesus into our lives so that our lives are changed by it. This idea of being changed to be like Jesus, we know from Paul’s teaching: “we all…. are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor 3:18) That is one of primary objectives of our salvation, to be changed to become like Jesus, to become like him in character and in service, related to the Father and seeking to do His will. It is not to be religious, not super-spiritual, not super-devout or super-pious, it is to become like Jesus and he was none of those things.

Perhaps we should just repeat again what we said in Study 50, that Jesus might have explained it as follows: “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.” That, I suggested, is ‘eating Jesus’, taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him.

And the blood? In the Law it said, “the life of a creature is in the blood,” (Lev 17:11) When the heart stops, we stop. So, if you didn’t see it with the bread, see it here with the life force that flows in each of us. Take Jesus’ life force into your life because if you don’t, you don’t really have real life. That is the teaching here.