52. Still Struggling

Short Meditations in John 6:  52. Still struggling 

Jn 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

This is interesting. Jesus’ teaching provokes argument! More than that, sharp argument, which suggests different views. Were some believing, some on the verge of believing and others not believing? We aren’t told, merely that the focus of their argument was about his words in respect of eating his flesh.

Now, come on, think about this. If someone stood in front of you and said, “Eat my flesh,” you would not take a knife and cut off one of his fingers and eat it for that would be cannibalism and horrible. You would know that that could not possibly be what he meant. If you thought about it, you would have to concede that he must be using some form of allegory, or a metaphor, using the picture language to convey some other truth.

Now, go a stage further. If you really thought about this, the outcome of your thoughts would actually depend on your starting point of your thoughts, what you thought about this person. If you knew them to be a raving lunatic you would immediately write off their words as that of a nut-case. However, if you knew this person to be an intellectual and a pillar of society, you would have cause to pause and wonder what he is trying to do with you, and you would probably conclude they were trying to teach you something, at least to teach you how to think.

It really all depends on what you think of this person to start with. If you have a negative attitude about them to start with you might think they were just winding you up and you may even feel slightly affronted that they were playing with you.  It’s not so much the content of what they are saying – although, yes, it is difficult – but more what you think of them.

Now this crowd with Jesus, who have followed him across the lake after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, should think well of him. He has blessed them and fed them when they were hungry. He cared for them, so he’s not likely to be against them now. However difficult they find his words now, he deserves a good reception.

But what about us? Can we go back to a question we’ve asked before? If we hear teaching from the pulpit, or find when reading the Bible a passage we find difficult to understand, what is our response, what is our attitude towards God? Is it to turn our back on it, so to speak, or feel negative, or is it to seek the Lord in prayer and ask him by his Holy Spirit to teach us? Do we see the failure to understand on our side or his? Do we have teachable hearts to learn, however difficult the words sometimes appear to be? May it be so.

51. It’s here today

Short Meditations in John 6:  51. It’s here today

Jn 6:51   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.”

The clarity of Jesus’ teaching sometimes is breath-taking and it leaves no room for obfuscation (confusion); it is right in your face and you either receive it – or not. OK, says Jesus, I have been talking about bread that feeds more than ordinary bread, a bread that comes down from heaven that gives eternal life – and I am that bread. It is that simple! See it in this power-packed verse.

“I am the living bread.” Somehow Jesus is a means of bringing a sustenance to our lives that is beyond ordinary, it is ‘living’, it is alive, it is life-bringing.

“that came down from heaven.” This provision – me – is from God, from heaven, that was my home, that is where I have come from.

“Whoever eats this bread.” Yes, that needs thinking about and we did it in the previous study. It means taking Jesus fully into our lives and absorbing him into ours.

“will live forever.” This is the potential that overcomes our fear of death; there is the potential of a life with God that goes on for ever.

“This bread is my flesh”. Somehow or other this analogy of bread applies to Jesus life, his very body. As we observe and react to what this one single human (?) body did, that is what causes the dramatic change in life, that brings the consequences we’ve just spoken of.

“which I will give.” Somehow there is a hint here of Jesus relinquishing this life, of giving it up, a hint of the days to come.

“for the life of the world.” This is not just for a special few here in Israel, this is for the entire world and it is a thing of life and death, something that affects every single human being, past, present and future. What Jesus is talking about is how any person who has ever existed can have the opportunity of receiving this ‘eternal life’, this glorious and wonderful life for ever with God.

So here is the claim in stark definition. It is hard to see how it can be misunderstood and the key thing is, this ‘bread’ is here in front of them today; they are the most privileged people of history to have this ‘bread’ stand before them. Yet many if not most will misunderstand, grumble and turn away. So why does Jesus speak in these somewhat obscure yet staggeringly sharp ways? He uses the language of analogy as well as parables because pictures are graphic and memorable and even if they will struggle to understand at the moment, the word pictures will remain with them. Even their hostility will help create memories that will speak on.

50. Grab the Opportunity

Short Meditations in John 6:  50. Grab the Opportunity

Jn 6:50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die  

I don’t know if you have ever come across ‘painting by numbers’? It involves having a pre-printed picture with each part of the picture has a number in it so perhaps 1 may represent white, 2 may be blue, 3 may be red, 4 may be green and so on, and the idea is you paint in the areas so numbered with the appropriate colour. To start off it appears a number of shapes and numbers but as you add the colour, so the picture comes into focus. I feel this chapter is like that.

We’ve had the feeding of the five thousand. We’ve had the crowd finding Jesus. We’ve had talk of their wants – more bread. We’ve had talk of manna and now of bread from heaven that brings eternal life and then we’ve had Jesus declaring he is that bread. The ‘picture’ should now be clear and obvious. They have, standing before them, the one from heaven whose life can bring them eternal life, but here’s the tricky bit, how do you ‘eat’ Jesus? We’re going to see shortly that this is going to be the stumbling block for the Jews (v.52)

We will see later that these Jews grumble amongst themselves again revealing bad hearts. If they had been open to Jesus and wise, their response would have been, “Lord, teach us how to feed on you.” Instead they just grumble. Talking to Jesus when you don’t understand is the answer, the path to wisdom, not just grumbling.

I suspect if they had done that Jesus might have said something like, “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 suggest, is ‘eating Jesus’, taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him. At another time he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29) (see it beautifully in the Message version).

But there is another thing here. Years later, possibly as many as seven decades later, John was able to look back on those wonderful years when he and the others had walked with Jesus for three years, and their lives had been utterly changed in that most incredible and amazing time. He had that testimony – but probably most of these Jews hadn’t; they hadn’t taken the opportunity that God was offering them. Instead they grumbled. The early disciples are examples of those who simply heard, “Follow me…” and did without lots of caveats, lots of conditions and questions (although they had them and had opportunity in the days ahead to ask them), they just followed. That’s what disciples of Jesus do, and that is what distinguishes them (us?) from the rest of the world.

49. Learn from the Past

Short Meditations in John 6:  49. Learn from the Past

Jn 6:49  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.   

Again and again in life I find I am reminded of that old adage, “The one thing that history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing.” i.e. we simply don’t learn from the past. History reveals every sin and folly possible, every shortcoming, every limitation, every mistake possible, and yet most of us have to make the mistakes ourselves before we will learn. Such is the folly of sin.

But now we have a whole Bible full of history, full of examples, some to follow and some to avoid. The Jews of Jesus’ day had what we now call the Old Testament and if they followed the ways of their culture they would attend synagogue every Saturday and hear the Law read and expounded upon.

Yet, I wonder, did it remain just academic history, stories of the past that helped reinforce the culture of the day, or did it bring personal lessons to be learnt, lessons about God, lessons about us? What was true about them is true about us. The fact that you are reading these meditations suggests that you are someone who wants to know more, but the same applies to them as to the teaching we hear Sunday by Sunday; will I learn from what I read and hear and, even more, will what I learn change my life? “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:20)

The lessons of life in the wilderness as part of the Exodus are both glorious and terrible. They are glorious in that they show that God was willing to accompany them and provide for them miraculously. How wonderful! They are terrible in that they reveal the folly of mankind as those Israelites again and again, despite seeing the miracles of God being repeated again and again on their behalf, nevertheless constantly grumbled about God and found fault with Moses and, when they eventually refused to enter the Promised Land, they ended up wandering the wilderness for forty years until that older generation had all died. How tragic!

So, chose one illustration from that time to focus upon, the provision of manna, and what does it teach us? It came for forty years, an incredible provision from God. How amazing, how wonderful. The means of providing and ensuring the continuation of life until they were able to enter the land promised them. But then they died, after a long drawn out time, in the forty years wandering after their disobedient refusal to take the land. They had refused to learn from their recent history. In the long-term the Jews refused to learn from their history. So often we refuse to learn similarly. May it not be so.

48. Second Chance

Short Meditations in John 6:  48. Second Chance

Jn 6:48  I am the bread of life.   

Previously we read, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.” (v.35) and I am the bread that came down from heaven.” (v.41) and we’ll see it again in v.51 i.e. four times we have the ‘I Am’ formula here that Jesus so often used that John picked up on. Four times he declares he is the bread he has been talking about, bread that has come down from heaven (v.32,33,50,51,58 – five mentions!), bread that brings life (v.33,35,48,50,51,58 – six mentions!) and therefore thwarts death.

You have to admit this is one of the most repetitious passages of teaching in the New Testament. It is almost as if Jesus is saying, you may forget so much of my teaching but don’t forget this. What is remarkable is that the three previous so-called ‘Synoptic’ (i.e. the same) Gospels had no mention of this.

With all of the ‘I am’ sayings and so much more, John brings us the profundity of Jesus’ teaching which the others, seeking to simply anchor the basics of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection in history, neglected. It took the aging elder, John, who had had decades to reflect on the wonder of those three incredible years with Jesus, to bring these things to us that add such amazing depth to Jesus’ teaching, a depth that screams to the world, this is the unique Son of God. John wasn’t a great scholar but a simple fisherman whose heart had been won by the Carpenter of Nazareth who changes the world.

“I am the bread of life.” In recent days I have been watching the work of erosion of faith that the enemy of souls is working in many of the children of God; good Christians, believers who are for God, and yet I watch and see an erosion of the practices that have been referred to by some as the ‘spiritual disciplines’. Prayer ceases, the Bible is rarely opened, church gets dropped and, and here is the point, I have watched an impoverishing of spirit taking place that makes them vulnerable to knocks of the world, vulnerable to anxiety and worry and an inability to cope with those knocks. What has been happening? They have stopped eating the Bread, they have stopped receiving regular life nourishment and they grow weary, downcast, and weak.

When Jesus said, again and again, “I am the bread” he didn’t mean that he was to be put on some altar of remembrance, but that he was to be eaten, taken in, absorbed, become one with. Only in this way is he the source of spiritual life that we need every single day of our lives.  As we focus on him, wait on him, seek his face, pray, read, worship we are ‘eating’. This isn’t just about life after our body dies physically, this is about having ‘life’ every single day our heart beats and we breath.

47. Belief & Life

Short Meditations in John 6:  47. Belief and Life

Jn 6:47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life

Go into any good bookshop (and a few remain) and you will see shelves whose books can only be described as ‘self-help’. Thirty years ago those shelves would have been virtually empty. Those shelves today tell us there is a small industry catering for the need that people have to improve themselves, to take control of their lives, make something more of them than they are at present. In some ways it is a healthy sign, that people recognize their present inadequacies. In other ways it is very unhealthy, this belief that if only I can ‘do this’ I will improve and change my life and that is enough.

How short-sighted that thinking is. For some, to give up smoking is a major achievement. For others to control their temper is a great accomplishment. In business to find a new profitable purpose and direction sets goals and gives a sense of achievement. But all these are tiny in comparison to the big questions of life. How can I truly become ‘good’? What will happen when I die? What meaning or purpose is there in this life today?

If God’s plans had slid what happened back two thousand years so that Jesus came into the world today, what would he find? Some enthusiasts energetically following him, but many not. If he spoke today and said (as he still does), simply believe in me and I will give you a new quality of life that will have no ending, yes, that will continue on past death, many would reject him a) because their jaded cynicism of having lived in the twenty-first century and tried it all has left then believing there are no real ‘answers’ or b) because they would prefer to work at it themselves so that they can see clear goals, have clear things to work for and remains masters of their universe.

And so this present verse has two essential components to be understood – belief and eternal life. We have considered a little already recently what believing in Jesus meant, believing that his is the unique Son of God etc., but the big question is, how do you measure someone’s belief? Surely it must be by the effects it has on their life. Surely it must mean that of a person is truly a believer in Jesus Christ, their life will start changing immediately, to conform to the goodness that God has revealed through His design for us seen through all the teaching of the Bible, the Law in the Old Testament, the apostles teaching in the New. Goals become God orientated, God directed, and a new life is revealed, a Spirit indwelt and thus Spirit-empowered life and because of His presence in us, we receive and live NOW this eternal life, a life that started when we came to Christ and will continue on into eternity, believing in Jesus, living with Jesus and for Jesus. Amen.

46. The Hidden God

Short Meditations in John 6:  46. The Hidden God

Jn 6:46 “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.   

It is perhaps the fact that God cannot be seen that is the biggest stumbling block to Christian and non-Christian alike. God is spirit said Jesus (Jn 4:24) and you can’t see spirit. There have been times in the Old Testament when there have been ‘visions’ of heaven but that is different from the reality and so Jesus’ statement in this verse is simple and true. The fact is that we may have seen representations of God (angels) but never God Himself – until Jesus came. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)

But Jesus said those words to his close disciples at the Last Supper, and they struggled with it, so here with the crowd he isn’t that specific – but he does imply that he who has come down from heaven has obviously seen the Father. Again, it is a simple statement but so simple and true. But it does require a great leap of faith – that one has come from God, and that one is Jesus.

Now, interestingly, this verse doesn’t claim divinity; it’s a little less than that, simply that he has come from God and that could be taken by the crowd in a variety of ways. It is almost as if Jesus is putting it in ways that are gentler and more easily accepted. The fact that he performed miracles, such as the recent feeding of the five thousand, lends credibility to the claim of having been sent by heaven: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22)

But this verse doesn’t lend itself to the interpretation that he was simply a man, like John the Baptist, sent with a mission. No, the clear and unavoidable implication is that he has seen God face to face in heaven and that, now as a human being, makes him unique.

That is the extent of this particular but the overall teaching of this chapter is much more than that. First and foremost it is that he existed in heaven and left it: “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” Second, he is constantly claiming a unique relationship with God in heaven who he existed with and calls Father. The strong implication is that he is saying he is the Son of the Father, the unique Son of God.

I think it is fair to say, looking at the Gospels and Acts, that the early disciples struggled with this idea and it took a while for it to settle in, but now we have the full canon of Scripture and have the whole New Testament before us, we should never doubt the claims that we are considering here, that Jesus Christ, was (always has been) and is (and will always be) the unique Son of God. Hallelujah!

45. Prophecy

Short Meditations in John 6:  45. Prophecy

Jn 6:45 “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.”

The Message version builds this verse as follows: “This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, ‘And then they will all be personally taught by God.’ Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it first hand from the Father.”

There are really three parts to this verse. First there is the prophetic reference, a quote from Isa 54:13 that referred to Israel’s future, a time of blessing when God would teach the future generations. Life for the people of God includes receiving revelation from Him, teaching that would guide, lead and change them and make them be seen across the earth as the unique people of God. That was how it was supposed to be.

Second, there is reference to those who have “heard the Father and learned from Him.” The clear implication is that not everyone hears and certainly not everyone learns from Him. Hence the Message version’s, “really listening” emphasis. But this is the condition upon which the verse pivots. The first part is God’s intent, this second part is the response of those with open hearts to God, which leads on to, third, the outcome or response of such people who will take on board what they read or hear, they will turn to Jesus.

There is a sharp logic in this verse with a teaching that is easy to forget. God speaks, that is always stage one. When it first happens, before we turn to Christ, most of us don’t realise what is happening but the conviction that follows only comes because God has spoken into a receptive heart. When that conviction comes it is because we have heard God. As I say, I am sure most of us don’t realise this is what has happened, but it is. When His words penetrate our prepared hearts, we show we have heard by our response, which is always to turn to Jesus.

The apostle Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Gal 3:2) They had heard the gospel and then believed it and as a result were born again. To the Ephesians he said, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” (Eph 4:20,21) i.e. you were taught, you heard, and that provided a basis for how you were to live out this new Christian life. God’s word draws us to Christ and then Christ’s word guides us into the future. Make sure it happens.

44. Reality

Short Meditations in John 6:  44. Reality

Jn 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 

I often say when teaching about personal prophecy that if God is going to bring you fresh direction in life, He will speak the same or similar words at least two or three times. Now there is nothing strange in this, it is simply that He knows we are slow of understanding and need to hear the same thing again and again. (I know one church group who have maintained that if you want your people to hear and take in some item in the Notices, they will need to hear it six times in different ways!)  Thus we should not be surprised when sometimes Jesus’ teaching seems repetitive.

Back in v.37 we read, All those the Father gives me will come to me,” and now he adds, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” And later he will add, “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.“ (v.65) The work of Jesus on the earth is to reveal the Father and then die for our redemption, while the work of heaven is to convict those whose hearts are open to be convicted so they will turn to Jesus. All of the Godhead participates in the work of drawing us to them.

For the back part of the verse, I will simply repeat what I said in study 40. The reference to “at the last day” which appears in these verses three times (v.39,40,44), we so often think of as either Jesus’ second coming (see Rev 19:11-) or the final judgment day (Rev 20:11-) but it could also very simply mean the last day of our physical lives.

It seems a strange thing about life but for the most part very few of us give much thought to what follows this life. Perhaps because of the self-preservation instinct we focus all our energies on surviving, coping with each day, looking to improve our lot and so on, but nevertheless we give little thought to what follows. Again, when we are young, the possibility of death seems a long way off and it is only in old age that, as we look back at those who have died along the way and realise our frailty, we realise that every day is a gift and the evidence shows that any one of us could go at any time.

But when we do get around to thinking seriously about it, worries about existence after death arise and so Jesus’ words, “I will raise them up at the last day” come as assurance that death is not the end. The best illustration I have been given for this, I believe, was in Study No.63, the last in the series, “Reaching into Redemption” so may I encourage you to look that one up for the illustration in it.  The ‘new world’ ahead of us is so glorious it defies description, but it is there for all who turn to and receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Hallelujah!

43. Stop Grumbling

Short Meditations in John 6:  43. Stop Grumbling!

Jn 6:43   Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered  

So in v.41 we saw the crowd grumbling because of Jesus speaking about coming down from heaven and then in v.42 the fuller explanation, that they thought they knew his background so the whole thing didn’t make sense. Now we have Jesus telling them off for this grumbling.

We noted in v.41 that grumbling is an irritable or grumpy response, a negative response that looks to blame the communicator, but Jesus is going to give a completely different reason from the one we might give for their grumbling, but we’ll have to wait until the next verse for that.

We did consider previously how grumbling is the evidence of a bad attitude which we often see or hear about at the end of Sunday morning’s when the preacher doesn’t live up to expectations, but here we face something different: the challenging Jesus.

We are living in a period where we so often try to focus on God’s love but the trouble with that (and I started placing this emphasis over twenty years ago) is that it can almost sound like God tolerates whatever we do. I know I have said many times in the past, “God loves you exactly like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” Very often we have tended to major on the first half of that mantra about God loving you exactly as you are, particularly to help those with low self-esteem or those who feel beaten up by their failures or the hard knocks of life. And it is true. We see it in the way Jesus took on board the disciples, the way he treated Zacchaeus and the way he accepted tax collectors and ‘sinners’.

But the second part of that mantra is equally important, that God desires more for each of us, so that we are able to receive yet more of His love, but that comes not by staying as we are, immature and childish with little understanding, but by Him changing us and it is at this point that we encounter the challenging or correcting Jesus.  To the woman caught in adultery it was, “Go, leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:11) To Zacchaeus it was ‘come and invite me into your life’. (Lk 19:5). With Nicodemus he challenged his inability to understand (Jn 3:10).  Again and again we find Jesus challenging belief, looking for faith in the people before him and what he did then he does with us today. Remember the apostle Paul said the Scriptures are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting,” (2 Tim 3:16). Teaching sounds fine but ‘rebuking’ means reprimanding, censoring, scolding, while ‘correcting’ means putting right, changing to get it right, changing from wrong to right.  Jesus does all this with us. Are you OK with that?