The Work of God - Letters to the Prison
From the series - Letters to the Prison
Hello, everyone! We’re moving through John 6. But before we go much further, let’s take another look at some verses from last week:
- 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” -John 6:28-29
On the surface, the conversation looks simple enough. The Jews ask Jesus what they need to do, and Jesus tells them: What they need to do is believe! And this is totally true. This is what God wants us to do! But consider this: There’s more than one way to understand the phrase “this is the work of God.” What we’ve just seen is Jesus saying, “this is the work God wants you to do.” This meaning is true and correct.
Also true and correct, however, is the other way to look at it: “This is the work of God” also refers to the work God does in the believer. So, God works in the believer and that work manifests in our belief that Jesus is who he says he is. Here, one could legitimately ask: How does that happen? How is it that belief is the work we need to do and yet also the work God does? Is it our job to believe that Jesus is who he says he is or is it God’s job to cause us to believe it?
The answer, friends, is “yes” and… “yes!” This is a hard thing to reconcile in our minds. In fact, it’s impossible to reconcile this in our minds: That God is sovereign and in complete control of all things and therefore calls his people to him, and yet we are able to make choices about our beliefs and be responsible for the consequences of those choices. Still, this is the very thing Jesus is saying here. He confirms it clearly later in the chapter when he says things like:
- 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.” -John 6:40
- 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. -John 6:44
So, on the one hand, we’re the ones who “look to the Son and believe in him” but at the same time, “no one can come” to Jesus unless the Father draws him. The parallel truths of God’s complete and sovereign rule over the universe and our responsibility for our free will choices run together throughout Scripture. We see it all over. This is just one place where it is particularly evident and clear. We could consider this issue forever and not ever find a way to reconcile those twin truths without contradicting or compromising one or the other of them. In the end, we simply need to accept them and get to the business of believing in Jesus and living truly according to those beliefs. This is one place where we have no choice but to humble ourselves before a God whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
This is also another place where we can say, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
The good news is that when we believe that Jesus is who he says he is, we have every reason to trust him and be at peace with what he is saying here even if our tiny little finite brains can’t grasp it all. We might not have it all figured out, but we can place our trust in the One who does! And he will “raise us up on the last day!” What a joyful promise that is!
So, we have a hard time getting it. And, going back to the conversation at hand, it’s apparent that the Jews in Jesus’ day don’t get it, either. Look what happens:
- 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” -John 6:30-31
Keep in mind, these were the same Jews who followed Jesus across the sea of Galilee from the place where he fed upwards of 20,000 people (John 6:22-25), like the day before. And yet they’re still asking for a sign! The Jews are basically saying “OK, God wants us to believe in you? Well, why should we? What are you going to do for us so that we’ll believe in you?” They go on to mention the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the wilderness that we mentioned briefly a few weeks ago (“As it is written” refers to the historical accounts of this event found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). They’re basically saying “God fed the entire Jewish nation in the wilderness every day for 40 years! And here, you only feed 20,000 of us for a single day?! How does that add up? What more are you going to do for us?”
Look how Jesus responds:
- 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” -John 6:32-33
This is Jesus’ 9th “truly truly” statement. Whenever we see those words, we know that Jesus is about to say something hugely profound and important and that we need to pay close attention. The first thing he does is correct the Jews’ misunderstanding of who fed who in the wilderness back in the days of Israel’s 40-year wandering in the wilderness. God was the one who provided for the nation of Israel in the wilderness, not Moses. Moses was just another mouth to feed in that regard. The other thing Jesus does is distinguish between what the Jews ate in the wilderness all those centuries ago and the “true bread from heaven.” We talked a few weeks ago about the two types of food: One that “perishes” and one that “endures to eternal life.” Here, Jesus is making that distinction again.
Then Jesus says something utterly profound about himself: He is the “bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” What a stunning claim to make! We’ll consider that one further next week. We love you! Please pray for us. We are so grateful for your fellowship and prayerful support!