Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
We hope, after this sermon, to come forward and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And for those of you who don’t know what the Lord’s Supper is all about and are wondering what is hidden under the table-cloth here, it is quite simple: We have bread and we have wine. The bread symbolizes the body of the Lord Jesus, which was broken on the cross, and the wine symbolizes His blood, which was poured out on the cross. And as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are reminded of what Jesus did on the cross.
So as we have read this passage together, I am sure you can see why I have chosen it as the focus of the sermon this morning. It talks about bread and it talks about eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking His blood.
However, there are many Bible experts who suggest that this passage is not about the Lord’s Supper at all. And perhaps their most persuasive point is that Jesus makes an unbreakable link here between eating and drinking Him and eternal life. But the rest of the Bible and our own experience reveals that it is possible to partake of the Lord’s Supper and not truly believe in Jesus. It is possible even that some who come to this table today do not possess the eternal life that Jesus says results from a true feeding upon Him.
Now, we hope, of course, that that is not the case. We hope that all who come today do possess eternal life. And that is the chief reason we consider this passage today. For what cannot be argued is that this passage is about the connection between Jesus and eternal life. And the way Jesus repeatedly promises eternal life makes it plain that eternal life is a good and desirable thing.
Now, it cannot have escaped your attention that in these verses, JESUS COMMANDS US TO EAT HIM.
When He originally said this, He was talking to Jewish people. He told them that they needed to feed on Him and drink His blood. And the Jews were people of the OT. And the law in the OT absolutely forbade them from drinking blood. So they really struggled to understand and believe what Jesus was saying here. They kept coming back to Him with more questions, asking Him to explain what He was saying. And in the end, as you see in v60 and 66, many, even of His disciples, found what Jesus was saying too hard to listen to or believe and they left Him. So, the fact that some of us might be pretty unfamiliar with the Bible at all means we need to work through this conversation carefully to try and understand what Jesus is saying here.
So again, in these verses, JESUS COMMANDS US TO EAT HIM AND EXPLAINS WHAT THAT MEANS. And our approach today will be to start looking at this passage through a WIDE-ANGLE LENS, so we get a sense of the flow of Jesus’ conversation with these Jews, and then to get out our ZOOM LENS as we look more closely at some of the words and phrases that Jesus uses.
So two major halves to the sermon, if you like, as we consider THE CONVERSATION AS A WHOLE and then THE COMMANDS AND COMMITMENTS. And then we will end with a couple of ‘So what?” questions. What are we supposed to do in response to what we read here?
I. So firstly then, the CONVERSATION AS A WHOLE.
A. From verse 1, we see that there is a large crowd with Jesus.
B. And from verse 4, we see that it was PASSOVER time.
1. Passover was a national feast for the Jewish people. Around 1500 years before this time, the Jewish people lived in Egypt as slaves. But God brought them out of Egypt. And this event was the beginning of God’s relationship with the Jews as a nation. If you have heard of the 10 Commandments, you might remember how they begin. Do you remember, boys and girls? “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” So the miraculous way He brought them out was celebrated, every year, with the Passover feast. And it was that time of the year.
2. And we read earlier what happened soon after God brought them out of Egypt. The people were complaining that they didn’t have any food so God miraculously provided this heavenly bread. What was it called again boys and girls? MANNA.
C. So it’s Passover time and remembering the gift of Manna time, and what does Jesus do? He takes 5 barley loaves and two fish and miraculously multiplies it to feed a crowd of 5000 men, which means possibly up to around 20000 if you include the women and children that must have been there also. It is extraordinary!
D. And so, from verse 14, the people who witnessed this sign figured He must be the PROPHET who was to come into the world. Moses was the man who led the Jews out of Egypt and he was a prophet. And in Deut. 18 he spoke about a greater prophet who would come in the future. So these Jews saw this bread miracle and were starting to think that maybe Jesus was the one. And that sounds promising, doesn’t it. But, as verse 15 reveals, the problem is that what their idea of the Messiah is and what the Messiah really is are two, quite different things. They want Messiah to be an earthly king who smashes the Romans. So they try and take Jesus by force to make Him King. But that is not what Jesus came to be or do. So He withdraws.
E. Well, from verse 16, as if this bread miracle was not enough, JESUS THEN WALKS ON WATER! And the crowd knew that Jesus did not begin the journey in the only boat there was but that He is on the other side. So from verse 25, they ask Him when He got there?
F. But Jesus is not interested in justifying Himself or satisfying their curiosity. Jesus is not some magician-like prophet who does cool tricks for His adoring fans. He has come to announce the coming of a kingdom of which He is the king! He has come to show people how they can enter that kingdom. So He takes control of the conversation and calls on His listeners to look past the miracles themselves to what they demonstrate about the one performing the miracles. He says in verse 26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal.”
1. In short, He is saying, don’t focus on the food, focus on me! Food fills you for a few moments; I can fill you forever!
2. And please turn back to CH. 4:13 for a moment For there is a remarkable parallel there. Jesus is with a woman at a well. And they are talking about WATER. And Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” There too, Jesus is saying, water quenches your thirst for a few moments; I can satisfy you forever!
G. But in terms of the crowd, what He means in terms of Himself goes zooom right over their heads. They do, however, recognize that He wants them TO SEEK SOMETHING HIGHER than what up ‘til now has motivated them to follow Him. So because Jesus said in v27, “do not work for [this]…”, they, in verse 28, ask what work they should do?
H. And congregation, Jesus’ answer in verse 29 is the CENTRE of this whole conversation. OK? I cannot stress it enough. It is THE verse that you need to take home and dwell on. It is THE verse to memorize. It is THE verse that I hope all of you either have already responded to in faith or choose today to respond to in faith. Everything else He says afterwards feeds back into this verse. Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” And we will return to this verse in our second point when we zoom in to look at the commands and the commitments in this conversation.
I. But realizing that Jesus has pointed to Himself, the people, in verse 30, ASK HIM FOR A SIGN. And at first this sounds staggering to us. I mean, didn’t they just get fed, miraculously? But the bread, you see, in their minds, just gave Him prophet status. But now Jesus is apparently offering eternal life, which is a whole category above prophet level. So they want to see a sign equivalent to that claim. Even though Jesus has called on them to do a work, they, in a kind of parody, turn it around on Him and demand that He do a work to convince them of what He says.
J. And from verse 31, they are bold or cheeky enough to even suggest to Jesus what work He should do by pointing to the MANNA of the Exodus. Moses, you see, who in one sense you could say gave the people the Manna, had promised that a greater Prophet than He would come one day and do greater things than he, Moses, had done. So because of this, and because Jesus had spoken in verse 27 of “food that does not perish,” they point to Manna as they ask Jesus to do a work.
K. Well, in verse 32, Jesus wants them to see that Moses did not give them the Manna – God did. And then He says in verse 33, “For the bread of God is HE who comes down from heaven.” Notice that Jesus has moved the focus from manna bread to Himself as the one who has come down from heaven.
L. But again this goes zoooom over the heads of the Jews who want this bread, as we see in v34. So in VERSE 35, Jesus makes it very plain, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus wants His listeners to see that just as they need bread and water, so they must need Jesus! And just as bread and water satisfies your body, so Jesus truly satisfies your soul!
1. These Jews, you see, just wanted a King who would get rid of the Romans. But Jesus wants them to see what they really need and can find in Him is more and greater – Jesus brings you the forgiveness of your sins; Jesus brings you into the family of God; Jesus brings you into a life of daily satisfaction on earth with the certainty of eternal life in heaven!
2. But here is the difficulty in terms of these Jews: Because Jesus has not yet died on the cross, all He can do now is prepare these people for that time with the language of eating and drinking Him so that after He has died and risen they can remember these words and then understand and believe. OK? Is that clear? Jesus is using language that sounds to these Jews vague at best or like an abomination at worst. But after His crucifixion and resurrection, it should be plain and clear: Just as bread satisfies your earthly hunger, so you need Me and my work on the cross for true earthly and eternal satisfaction.
M. But from verse 41 we see that this was just TOO MUCH FOR THE JEWS listening to Jesus. I mean, come on! They knew Jesus and His family. They had seen Him grow up. They knew His origins. What could He possibly mean that He came down from heaven?
1. And this identifies A PRETTY KEY MATTER when it comes to Christianity: That there was a man who walked on this earth 2000 years ago, called Jesus, most people are happy to agree with. That He was the Son of God? That He was God in the flesh? That He was both human and Divine? Well, many are not convinced of that. But it is an essential part of what it means to believe in Jesus. Jesus is revealing Himself here as God. If you are to truly believe in Him, you must believe that He is God.
N. Well, it doesn’t get any easier for these Jews. Jesus doesn’t tone down His language by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, He ramps it up! From verse 47, He picks up where He left off: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” And jump down to verse 51 where He makes a clear reference to His coming death: “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus is saying here that He is going to be like the OT sacrifices that needed to be eaten.
1. I mentioned earlier that this is PASSOVER time. At Passover, the Jews ate a sacrificial lamb. Well, in the very first chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is described by someone as a “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
2. So Jesus again is using ideas that seem vague here but that should soon be very plain in the light of the cross.
O. But for now, this is still going zoooom over the heads of these Jews, as we see from verse 52.
P. And while Jesus has up ‘til now been using a Greek word that means eat, He now starts using a kind of CRUDER GREEK WORD that means to chew, gnaw, crunch or bite audibly: Verse 54 – “Whoever chomps on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Verse 58, “Whoever crunches this bread will live forever.”
Q. But this is just THE LAST STRAW for many who were following Him, as we see in verses 60 and 66. This is just too ridiculous and/or disgusting for them. So they leave Jesus.
And that, brothers and sisters, young people, boys and girls, and friends is the conversation as a whole. And while I spoke of two halves to this sermon, the second half, as we look at the commands and commitments is considerably smaller than the first half! For here we simply zoom in on the essence of what Jesus has been saying.
And we could summarize it all this way: To stay alive on earth, you need bread and water. To enjoy eternal life, you need to believe in Jesus. Everything Jesus has said here about eating and drinking Him has been said as a metaphor or word-picture for believing in Him. But what He wants you to see by the terms eating and drinking is that faith produces results as certainly as literal eating and drinking does.
I. Let’s see this firstly in terms of the COMMANDS in this conversation:
A. The first and central command, as we noted, is verse 29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” What is the command word in this verse? BELIEVE. And who is the “Him” being referred to? Jesus. Believe in Jesus.
1. And that is the same command at the end of verse 35, “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Believe in Jesus.
2. And verse 40, “Everyone who … believes in Him…” Believe in Jesus.
3. And verse 47, “Whoever believes has eternal life.” Believe in Jesus.
B. But other command words are used to describe what this means also: Look again at verse 35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” What is the command word? COMES. And who is the ‘Me’? Jesus. Come to Jesus.
C. And look also at verse 40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” What is the other command word in this verse? LOOKS. And who are we to look at? The Son. Look to Jesus.
D. To have faith in Jesus is to believe in Him, to come to Him, and to look at Him as the Son of God who came to die on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.
1. If I held before you a piece of bread and asked you if you agree that it is a piece of bread, you would say, Yes, because it looks like bread, it smells like bread, it feels like bread, and it tastes like bread. Well, that is what faith in Jesus means. Who He is and what He did needs to be as real to you as anything you can taste or touch or see.
2. And with the eating and drink language that Jesus uses, He is emphasizing the very real commitment of faith – to believe in Him is to take Jesus deep inside your heart and life. You can’t stand far off and appreciate Jesus from a distance and not allow Him to have any real effect on your life; You must, as it were, eat Him. That is rue faith.
II. For if you believe in this way, then the COMMITMENTS or the promises of this conversation are yours! And there are three of them:
A. The first is ETERNAL LIFE:
1. Verse 27: “Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”
2. Verse 40, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
3. And this is repeated also in vv47 and 54.
4. And eternal life is life, forever; it is life without the possibility of death; it is life with Jesus and the Father and the Spirit; it is life where there is no more crying or sorrow or sickness or pain or thorns or rust or decay or sin; it is life lived in the colour and beauty and glory and wonder of a new heavens and a new earth.
5. Your earthly life will end, sooner or later. But you will be raised up by Jesus to eternal life. He promises this if you believe in Him.
B. The second promise is AN UNBREAKABLE UNION WITH HIM: Verse 56, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
1. We have three engaged couples in our church. Abel and Danni, Josh and Milda, and Michael and Joanna. And after December, when they are all married, each of them will be able to say to their husband or wife, I am yours and you are mine. And they will also share the same surname.
2. Well, when you believe in Jesus, you go from being Mr or Mrs or Miss Sinner to Mr or Mrs or Miss Christian. You belong to Him and He belongs to you.
3. And the great news is that your union with Him is UNBREAKABLE. Look at verse 39, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Once you believe in Jesus, He will not lose you.
C. And the third and last promise is STRENGTH TO LIVE EACH DAY WITH HIM AND FOR HIM: Verse 57, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”
1. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
2. If you believe in Jesus, He will give you all that you need to live each day with Him and for Him. When you are weak, He will be strong; when you doubt; He will carry you through; when sin threatens to overwhelm you, He will forgive you and give you power to resist and to rest in Him. He will cause you to grow and persevere in faith.
So the commitments or promises are eternal life and union with Jesus and strength to live with Him and for Him.
All that remains then are the SO WHAT? questions:
And the first should be most obvious: DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS? Is He as real to you as anything you might eat and drink? Do you know and believe that you are a sinner and are you convinced that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?
• I hope you are saying Yes! Because if you are saying Yes then you will be raised up to eternal life; Jesus is yours and you are His; and He is with you to strengthen you each day.
• But if you are not sure about this and perhaps still a little confused, please talk to me or one of us after and ask for help. Pray to God that He might help you to believe in Jesus.
• And please, do it today for tomorrow might be too late. Nothing is more important than this and none of us can know if we will still be alive tomorrow.
• And we cannot ignore the negative implications of what Jesus says here: If you refuse to believe in Him, you will not receive eternal life. And other parts of the Bible explain that you will, instead, be sentenced to the miseries and griefs and horrors of hell. The Jewish people had been rescued from a horrible slavery in Egypt. But that is nothing compared to the horrors of hell. But by believing in Jesus, you can be rescued from an eternity in hell. And instead, as we have seen, you will be raised up to eternal life; He becomes yours and you become His; and He is with you to strengthen you each day.
And finally, a question or a word TO THOSE OF YOU WHO DO BELIEVE IN JESUS BUT are looking at this table feeling dirty because of how you stared at that woman in the shops yesterday, or troubled after a week that has been largely Bible-less and prayer-less, or struggling to reconcile what you profess about Jesus with the way you blew up at your kids on Thursday or how through this whole sermon you have spent more time thinking about the Rugby World-cup or what to serve to the guests you have invited over for lunch than the sermon, and you are wondering how Jesus can be yours when you so easily ignore Him?
• Well, if you are not sorry for your sins and not resolved to turn from them and do what is right, then don’t come to this table. For if you do, you will eat and drink judgment on yourself.
• But if you are truly sorry for your sins and you believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and you are eager to do what is right and good, then come; you need this table. The Lord knows that your faith is weak. So He has given you the good news of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins to hear in this sermon and at the table He will give you the good news of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that you can touch and see and taste. So come, believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that as surely as you see the bread of the Lord broken for you and the cup given to you, so surely was His body offered for you and His blood poured out for you, for the complete forgiveness of all your sins.
The message of John 6 is this: Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and Jesus will raise him up on the last day. Hallelujah! What a Saviour! Amen.