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Bread to Eat - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

--

Two weeks ago, in our study of John 6, we saw Jesus say something amazing:

  • “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” -John 6:44a


And…

  • “…Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me…”  -John 6:45b


So, Jesus is making it plain that God must draw people to him.  Yet look what he says next:

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” -John 6:47


In this tenth “truly truly statement” by Jesus, we see yet again the parallel truths that God must draw people to himself and that people must believe.  Belief in Jesus matters eternally.  Yet we cannot come to Jesus unless God draws us.  Both things are true.  So, if we’re having trouble believing that Jesus is who he says he is, what are we to do?  The simple answer is:  Ask.  We can ask God to draw us.  We can (like the man in Mark 9:24) say, “I believe!  Help my unbelief!”  We learned last week that each person who asks such a thing brings a unique and profound joy to God’s heart –a joy that can only be shared between God and that person.  Believers, pray that God would draw the people in your life to Jesus… whether they’re friends or enemies, family or strangers… Ask.  You might be surprised by how God answers.


Meanwhile, Jesus has more to say in this profound conversation with the Jews in Capernaum:

  • “I am the bread of life.” -John 6:48


He’s repeating what he said back in verse 35, but he’s saying it in a discussion about belief and eternal life.  So, his meaning couldn’t be more clear.  Jesus isn’t speaking of literal physical bread to sustain physical biological life.  He’s speaking of eternal spiritual life.  In fact, he makes this point explicitly.  Look what he says:

  • Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. -John 6:49


The ancestors of the Jews literally ate manna from the sky during their 40-year journey in the wilderness (the book of Numbers records this journey).  This was the “bread from heaven” provided by God to sustain the physical lives of the Jewish nation during that time… all 2.5 million of them.  Yet they all still died.  The food God provided back then did not give them eternal life.  So, there is a clear distinction between what they ate then and what Jesus is offering now.  Jesus goes on to clarify:

  • “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.   I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” -John 6:50-51a


There is so much that could be said about those two verses.  But there are two major points to look at:

  1. When Jesus talks about people “eating the living bread,” he means when people believe in him and follow him.  They’re taking the truth about Jesus in and living their lives accordingly.  In this way, it nourishes and sustains them spiritually… and eternally.
  2. When believers “eat” the living bread, they will live forever in the kingdom of God, not in this temporary world.  Yet they will have bodies –new ones designed for eternal life.   Revelation 19-22 explains a lot about the coming kingdom of God, if you’re interested in further reading.  So, believers don’t live forever in this life.  They will live forever in Jesus’ kingdom at the end of all things.


That’s not all Jesus says about himself in those two verses.  Keep in mind, Jesus is talking to Jews who don’t believe in him.  They’re not getting it.  And because they’re not getting it, what Jesus is about to say next will absolutely shock them: 

  • “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” -John 6:51b


To the Jews’ way of thinking, there’s a lot wrong with what Jesus is saying here.  But for our purposes, it is more important to first understand what Jesus truly means.  We know plainly that the “bread” Jesus will give is himself.  But he is not giving it so people can eat it.  What he means is that he will sacrifice his life to atone for the sins of the world.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is a perfect sacrifice to perfectly fulfill the perfectly just requirements of God’s perfect law.  Jesus’ sacrifice is a one-time act for the sake of all believers for all time. 


It’s also important for us to remember that, though Jesus is giving his flesh for the “life of the world,” only those who believe in him will have eternal life in his kingdom.  This is not a new concept for us.  We’ve seen this earlier in our study.  Jesus makes it plain in John 3:16-20.  So, understanding this, we can look at where the unbelieving Jews in this conversation get hung up.


Their first and primary problem, as we know, is that they don’t believe.  This is the root of the issue.  But beyond that, they don’t understand that Jesus intends to sacrifice himself.  They can’t wrap their heads around this idea because they don’t properly understand the Old Testament predictions about the Messiah.  The short version is that they think the Messiah is supposed to be an earthly king of an earthly kingdom that conquers all of the Jews’ enemies (including Rome) and establishes a permanent kingdom where everyone is wealthy, and no one goes hungry.  Sounds pretty grand, doesn’t it?  Who wouldn’t want that?  But that’s not how it works.  That’s not the promise God made to his people.  Then, because the Jews don’t get that part, they assume instead that Jesus must mean people are supposed to literally eat him.  Ewww.  Look how they respond:

  • The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” -John 6:52


Jesus will respond with his eleventh “truly truly” statement.  We will examine it next week.  We love you!


Dean A.

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Bread to Eat - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

--

Two weeks ago, in our study of John 6, we saw Jesus say something amazing:

  • “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” -John 6:44a


And…

  • “…Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me…”  -John 6:45b


So, Jesus is making it plain that God must draw people to him.  Yet look what he says next:

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” -John 6:47


In this tenth “truly truly statement” by Jesus, we see yet again the parallel truths that God must draw people to himself and that people must believe.  Belief in Jesus matters eternally.  Yet we cannot come to Jesus unless God draws us.  Both things are true.  So, if we’re having trouble believing that Jesus is who he says he is, what are we to do?  The simple answer is:  Ask.  We can ask God to draw us.  We can (like the man in Mark 9:24) say, “I believe!  Help my unbelief!”  We learned last week that each person who asks such a thing brings a unique and profound joy to God’s heart –a joy that can only be shared between God and that person.  Believers, pray that God would draw the people in your life to Jesus… whether they’re friends or enemies, family or strangers… Ask.  You might be surprised by how God answers.


Meanwhile, Jesus has more to say in this profound conversation with the Jews in Capernaum:

  • “I am the bread of life.” -John 6:48


He’s repeating what he said back in verse 35, but he’s saying it in a discussion about belief and eternal life.  So, his meaning couldn’t be more clear.  Jesus isn’t speaking of literal physical bread to sustain physical biological life.  He’s speaking of eternal spiritual life.  In fact, he makes this point explicitly.  Look what he says:

  • Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. -John 6:49


The ancestors of the Jews literally ate manna from the sky during their 40-year journey in the wilderness (the book of Numbers records this journey).  This was the “bread from heaven” provided by God to sustain the physical lives of the Jewish nation during that time… all 2.5 million of them.  Yet they all still died.  The food God provided back then did not give them eternal life.  So, there is a clear distinction between what they ate then and what Jesus is offering now.  Jesus goes on to clarify:

  • “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.   I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” -John 6:50-51a


There is so much that could be said about those two verses.  But there are two major points to look at:

  1. When Jesus talks about people “eating the living bread,” he means when people believe in him and follow him.  They’re taking the truth about Jesus in and living their lives accordingly.  In this way, it nourishes and sustains them spiritually… and eternally.
  2. When believers “eat” the living bread, they will live forever in the kingdom of God, not in this temporary world.  Yet they will have bodies –new ones designed for eternal life.   Revelation 19-22 explains a lot about the coming kingdom of God, if you’re interested in further reading.  So, believers don’t live forever in this life.  They will live forever in Jesus’ kingdom at the end of all things.


That’s not all Jesus says about himself in those two verses.  Keep in mind, Jesus is talking to Jews who don’t believe in him.  They’re not getting it.  And because they’re not getting it, what Jesus is about to say next will absolutely shock them: 

  • “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” -John 6:51b


To the Jews’ way of thinking, there’s a lot wrong with what Jesus is saying here.  But for our purposes, it is more important to first understand what Jesus truly means.  We know plainly that the “bread” Jesus will give is himself.  But he is not giving it so people can eat it.  What he means is that he will sacrifice his life to atone for the sins of the world.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is a perfect sacrifice to perfectly fulfill the perfectly just requirements of God’s perfect law.  Jesus’ sacrifice is a one-time act for the sake of all believers for all time. 


It’s also important for us to remember that, though Jesus is giving his flesh for the “life of the world,” only those who believe in him will have eternal life in his kingdom.  This is not a new concept for us.  We’ve seen this earlier in our study.  Jesus makes it plain in John 3:16-20.  So, understanding this, we can look at where the unbelieving Jews in this conversation get hung up.


Their first and primary problem, as we know, is that they don’t believe.  This is the root of the issue.  But beyond that, they don’t understand that Jesus intends to sacrifice himself.  They can’t wrap their heads around this idea because they don’t properly understand the Old Testament predictions about the Messiah.  The short version is that they think the Messiah is supposed to be an earthly king of an earthly kingdom that conquers all of the Jews’ enemies (including Rome) and establishes a permanent kingdom where everyone is wealthy, and no one goes hungry.  Sounds pretty grand, doesn’t it?  Who wouldn’t want that?  But that’s not how it works.  That’s not the promise God made to his people.  Then, because the Jews don’t get that part, they assume instead that Jesus must mean people are supposed to literally eat him.  Ewww.  Look how they respond:

  • The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” -John 6:52


Jesus will respond with his eleventh “truly truly” statement.  We will examine it next week.  We love you!


Dean A.

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The Joy Set Before Jesus - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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Hello!  We’re so glad for the chance to consider God’s word with you.  If you are encouraged by these letters, be sure to thank the people who make them available to you.  We’re studying the Gospel of John, but we’re going to take a brief detour because there is something profoundly encouraging that we stumbled across last week that we want to look at a little more closely.


Last week, we claimed that you are the joy for whom Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).  We can’t say such a thing and just let it pass by.  We need to sit with this profound truth for a little while because it is so beautifully encouraging for us –even during the toughest days.  And it gives us an excellent motivation to love others the way God wants us to.  So, let’s take a look.


Here’s what Hebrews has to say:

  • Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:1-2


Like many other places in Scripture, we could consider these words for a long time and not exhaust everything they have to offer us.  For one thing, Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith.  That’s profound enough as it is!  Spend some time considering the implications of that given what we’ve been seeing in our study of John.  Wow!  For another thing, the encouragement we find in the first verse to consider “the great cloud of witnesses” --those who have gone before us (read about the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11)-- and to follow their example by putting down our sins in order to better endure the race that “is set before us” helps to motivate us during times of suffering.  Especially when we see that Jesus too endured a terrible trial for the “joy that was set before him.”  But it’s that last part that is so very important to consider this week:  The joy set before Jesus.  What is it?  Or, as we will see, a better question is:  Who is it?


To begin, let’s go all the way to the other end of the Bible… to Genesis 18:22-33.  You can look it up yourselves to read the whole thing (if you need a Bible, ask for one!).  But the basic idea is that Abraham is questioning God about his mercy…  and he’s kind of “pushing God’s buttons” a little bit by pressing the issue of whether or not God will show mercy for the sake of many people… or only a few.  What we see here is that God is willing to be merciful for the sake of a handful of people…  maybe even only one person.  


To be clear, the events we read about in Genesis 18-19 aren’t just about God’s mercy.  They are also clear and vital warnings about God’s wrath against sin.  So, if you decide to read those chapters, you’ll see a stark reminder of why God’s mercy is so important in the face of overwhelming sin.  So, God shows a singular mercy even during his terrible wrath against sin.  The idea that God would go to great lengths to show mercy to even only one person is about to get really important.


To see why, let’s take a closer look at the “joy” set before Jesus in Hebrews 12:2.  For one thing, this is a joy set beforeJesus.  In other words, it is a joy he has not experienced yet.  That’s amazing enough considering our understanding that Jesus is God.  What sort of joy could Jesus possibly need to wait to experience?  It’s not the joy of eternal fellowship with God the Father.  Jesus has always had that and will always have that (John 1:1).  Nor is it the joy of eternal life.  Jesus had that before he came to earth and he has it now (Ephesians 1:15-23).


So, it is a timely joy…  one that happens only at a particular time.


It’s also a profound joy.  A joy like no other.  Why can we say that?  Because, if Jesus is God, and he’s already experiencing the joy of eternal life and fellowship with the Father, what sort of joy would make it worthwhile for him to come to earth as a lowly human like us, endure rejection, terrible pain and suffering and even death on a cross?  Not only that, Jesus endured the punishment for all of our sins –when he alone was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).  The only truly and completely righteous person ever to walk the face of the earth was unjustly punished for our sins.  Why?  What sort of joy could possibly be worth all the suffering and humiliation Jesus went through?


The short, simple answer is this:  Jesus is willing to endure all that suffering for the joy of accomplishing the will of God(John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38).  And what is the will of God?

  • For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 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. 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 6:38-40


Brothers, friends…  The Joy set before Jesus –for which he endured the cross--  is you.  You specifically.  That’s the Joy Jesus has to wait for… when you say, “Yes, Jesus.  You are who you say you are.  I believe you.  You are Lord of all and Lord of my life.”  If you’ve said that from your heart and meant it, know this:  Jesus has been waiting for all eternity to hear you say those words…  and he endured humiliation, suffering, and death for the sake of hearing you say them…  and you have brought him a Joy like no other… a Joy that is as unique and different and special as you are.  And he rejoices over you --you alone-- and the unique, specific relationship he can only have with you.  Two more things to consider.  If you’re a believer, know this:  

  1. Jesus endured the cross for the Joy of fellowship with you, certainly.  But you’re not the only one.  That other believer you know… the one maybe you have a hard time getting along with…  that person also is the Joy for whom Christ endured the cross.
  2. That person (or people) you know who don’t believe… yet…  God might be drawing them.  And he might be doing so through you… through your behavior and your example –and they, too, are the Joy for whom Christ endured the cross.


We pray, dear brothers and sisters, that you would take such thoughts to heart and let them transform how you choose to interact with those around you… at all times… regardless of who they are.  Pray for us, also, and in earnest, that we would do the same.  We pray that you find great encouragement in these thoughts.


Dean A.

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Blindness - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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We’re taking a slow tour through John chapter 6 because there is quite the conversation going on between Jesus and the Jews of Capernaum and there’s a lot to consider.


Last week we saw Jesus make yet another profound claim about himself:  He is the giver of eternal spiritual life sent from heaven.  As such, Jesus is responsible for the eternal lives of everyone God the Father gives to him.  Further, it is God’s will that none who come to Jesus should be lost.  Last week we also saw how belief plays a major role in understanding these things.  We’re about to see that fact in action.  Look how the Jews respond to Jesus:

  • 41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” -John 6:41-42


Imagine a crowd of people muttering to one another under their breath.  You can tell they’re discussing something, but it would be hard to hear or understand exactly what they’re saying.  That’s what’s happening here.  But what’s interesting is that Jesus knows what they’re grumbling about and he knows what their problem is:

  • 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 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 6:43-44


Clearly, these Jews don’t believe what Jesus says about himself.  They don’t believe that God is his Father.  They think Joseph is his father, so how could he have come down from heaven?  If Jesus hasn’t come down from heaven, he can’t be the “bread” sent by God, right?  If Jesus isn’t who he says he is, then nothing else he says about himself is true.  This is what these Jews were muttering amongst themselves under their breath.  


Because Jesus is God, he knows what they’re saying, he’s aware of their unbelief, and he is repeating yet again the reason why they don’t believe:  Because God the Father (who sent Jesus) hasn’t drawn them.  And again, Jesus reiterates the promise that he will “raise up” (to eternal spiritual life) whoever God draws to him.  This is the same order of things we observed last week:  God draws people, those people believe, and Jesus raises them to eternal life.


Since the Jews clearly don’t understand this, Jesus reminds them that their own Scriptures speak to this very fact.  He says:

  • 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ -John 6:45a


It is always marvelous when Jesus quotes Scripture directly (he is referring specifically to Isaiah 54:13 here) because it shows that we today have access to the same Old Testament that Jesus read from.  It also shows that Jesus honored and recognized the authority of what is written in the Old Testament.  Therefore, so should we.  


Anyway, we could spend a long time exploring the connections between the prophecy in Isaiah 54 and what is happening here in John 6, but Jesus makes his own purpose for quoting it clear:

  • Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me… -John 6:45b


So, Jesus is using the Old Testament to reinforce what he is saying about how a person needs to be drawn by God (they “hear and learn”) before they come to Jesus.  This explains why the Jews are having such a hard time understanding and believing Jesus.  They don’t believe because God hasn’t drawn them… at least not yet.  What Jesus says next is extremely important for us to understand.  Look what he adds on:

  • 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. -John 6:46


This isn’t the first time Jesus has made this claim… that no one has seen the Father except him.  And we observed many weeks ago how Jesus could claim to be God and yet stand before people and tell them that no one has seen God the Father… and yet again say that those who believe in him have seen the Father (John 14:7)…  and that he can say these things and be correctly telling the truth only because of the unique relationship he has with God the Father as part of the trinity.  These things are hugely important, and we do well to remember them, but that’s not why Jesus is bringing it up.


What’s important to understand here is this:  Yes, the Jews in Capernaum did indeed physically see Jesus… his body, and many of the works he did.  But they still did not see God.  Why?  Because they didn’t believe.  Their “blindness” was a spiritual blindness.  “Seeing” God is a spiritual act.  God is spirit.  So, we don’t physically see him with our eyes.  But we do see his work in the world and in the lives of others.  And we are willing to acknowledge that we see it when we believe.  So, we don’t believe it because we see it, we see it because we believe it.


We don’t see God physically.  So, it’s not like he’s going to walk up to us, tap us on the shoulder, and say, “you!  Yes, You!  I am drawing you.  Come to Jesus.”  How then does he draw us?  He does it spiritually through his word and through his people.  

Ask any true Christian about how they came to know and believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and they will likely talk about how, looking back, they saw that God had been calling them their whole lives.  He may not have tapped them on the shoulder, but his call was effective anyway.


If we can be blunt for a moment, consider this:  God may be drawing you right now, at this very moment, as you read this.  This is how he does it.  When we read or hear his word, we recognize our need for him.  We see that we are lost and sinful people, trapped and unable to get out on our own.  Our lives are out of control.  So, we ask God for help (I believe!  Help my unbelief! -Mark 9:24).  If that’s you, right now, know this:  God loves you.  You are the joy for whom Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).  God has been looking forward to this moment for all of eternity:  the moment when you (yes you!) turn to him in repentance, confess him as Lord of your life and believe that Jesus is indeed who he says he is.  Is it your time?  It would be such a blessing for us to hear that today was your day!  We love you! 


Dean A.

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Jesus' Perfect Promises - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

--

Hello, everyone.  We’re grateful for you.  We’re reading through John 6.


Looking back on last week’s verses there is something else to think about.  Jesus, the bread / person from heaven gives life to the world (John 6:33).  So, the work Jesus does is a gift.  Yet, two verses later, that gift is for those who “come to” Jesus and “believe in” him (John 6:35).  This once again shows the sort of relationship a Christian has with Jesus.  Our work is to believe in him and come to him.  His work is to give us the gift of eternal life.  But the order of these two things is important, as we are about to see.


Consider this:  Why do the Jews in Capernaum still not get it after Jesus makes it so plain?  It all seems so simple.  Yet, we will soon see that their confusion is only going to get worse.  Jesus gives us the reason in the very next verse:

  • 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. -John 6:36


Once again, we see that belief is the key.  Even though Jesus is right there with them doing amazing signs right in front of them… even though they “see him,” the Jews in Capernaum still “don’t get it” because they don’t believe.  And because they don’t believe, no sign will convince them.  No amount of explanation will help them.  

This goes back to what we saw several weeks ago:  We talked about the popular phrase “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Ever use that phrase?  It’s popular enough and it makes sense on the surface.  Yet from these verses, we learn that when it comes to God, it’s the other way around.  Clearly, according to Jesus, unless one “believes it” first they will never “see it.”  This is how belief is so important.  For those who don’t believe, there isn’t enough evidence.  And there never will be.  For those who do believe, the evidence is everywhere and it’s plain to see.  Jesus goes on to explain how this very thing works as he says yet another profound thing about himself:

  • 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. -John 6:37 


“All” in this verse refers to each and every person --past present and future-- who will ever come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  So, we see that each and every Christian is given by God the Father to Jesus first.  Then, they come to Jesus.  That is the order of it.  Then we see the great promise Jesus makes: “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  


We need to linger for a moment on that last part.  When you’ve stumbled in the past, have you ever thought “that’s the last straw.  God will never accept me now for what I’ve done”?  Have you ever felt “not good enough” to come to Jesus?  Such thoughts and feelings are not true for one simple reason:  Friends, the fact that you want to come to Jesus… that you would even be concerned to be “good enough” for him is an indicator that God the Father is giving you to Jesus and that you will one day come to him and submit to him as Lord and Savior.  Look back on verse 37 and ask yourself:  Does it say, “All who are perfect?”  Does the Father give “only those who are good enough” to Jesus?  Does Jesus say, “whoever comes to me who meets my qualifications and has cleansed themselves of all unrighteousness I will never cast out?”  The answer, dear friends is no…  No… and again, NO!!!  Jesus will never cast out anyone who comes to him.  Why?  Because the Father gave them to him!  


Brothers… friends… let your faith fail not!  If you have doubts about your salvation, remember this:  If you believe in your heart that Jesus is who he says he is, and you’ve confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord…  Lord of the universe and Lord of your life…  then know this:  You are already a gift from God the Father to God the Son.  And Jesus will never cast you out.  


Will there be trial and trouble?  Yep.  Will you face the consequences of bad decisions you’ve made?  Definitely.  Does God discipline those whom he loves?  Surely.  See Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6 --It is an unmistakable truth.  Will that discipline be difficult and uncomfortable?  Probably!  But you are not lost forever.  Jesus never breaks a promise.  Ever.  How do we know this?  Look what Jesus says next:

  • 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 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. -John 6:38-39


Jesus isn’t just some guy running around making promises he can’t or won’t keep.  We know Jesus keeps his word because of who he claims to be.  Look again at what he says about himself:

  • Jesus has “come down from heaven” to do the will of the one who sent him (God the Father).
  • And the will of God is that Jesus should lose nothing of all (every person who ever believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior) that God the Father has given him.
  • Not one of them will be lost.  Why?  Because it is the will of God.


Look at the power Jesus claims for himself:  The power to “raise it up on the last day.”  “It” being all of those who ever believe in him.  Jesus claims that he will be there on the very last day –of each believer’s life and on the last day of all history-- to raise his people from the dead to eternal life.  Jesus has the power and authority to do that.  Why?  Because it is God’s will that Jesus should do so.


What an amazing claim!  What a wonderful promise! 


There is another word for “belief:” Faith.  As we believe that Jesus is who he says he is, we place our faith in him.  This faith allows us to trust that what he has just said is true for us.  We can trust that he will not cast us out.  We can trust that even if we don’t always obey the will of God, Jesus will.  Jesus always obeys the will of God the Father –even when it leads to his own death, as we will see.  So, if Jesus always obeys the will of God, and the will of God is that none of those who believe in him should perish but have eternal life, we have a great hope in which to place our faith… and every reason to trust that everything will happen according to what Jesus has said.  This faith and trust in Jesus then frees us to serve and worship him and live a life that’s pleasing to him.  What pleases God is not reluctant or half-hearted adherence to a bunch of rules.  What pleases God is a heart that loves him and wants to please him.  With all this in mind, where is your heart?  We hope it belongs to Jesus.


Dean A.

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Bread of Heaven - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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We’re in chapter 6 where Jesus is having quite the conversation with the Jews in Capernaum.  Last week, we saw how they challenged Jesus to give them a “sign” (as if feeding 20,000 people the day before wasn’t enough of a sign).  They argued that Moses had previously fed millions of their people in the wilderness for decades, so what Jesus did the day before was no great thing.  They wanted to see more.  In fact, the Jewish culture in Jesus’ day mistakenly expected that the Messiah would provide free food for the nation of Israel.  So, Jesus needs to correct their thinking:

  • 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


There’s a lot going on in these verses.  First, when Jesus speaks of the “bread from heaven,” there are two different meanings in mind here.  In verse 32a, there’s the “bread” which refers to the manna that God (not Moses) provided to physically feed the Jewish nation in the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 11:1-11).  So, this was a physical substance provided to sustain the physical life of God’s people in the wilderness.  This was also more like what the Jewish people in Jesus’ day were (mistakenly) expecting him to provide:  Free food for the entire nation.  


But they misunderstood the scriptures, which is why Jesus speaks of the “true bread from heaven” in the other part of the verse (John 6:32b).  He goes on the describe this “true bread” in verse 33 and this is where things get truly astonishing.  Let’s consider some things Jesus has to say about this “bread of God” (the “true bread from heaven”) –and about himself:

  1. The bread is a person.  Jesus refers to the bread as “he.”  In a couple of verses, we will see very clearly that Jesus himself claims to be this bread / person.
  2. The bread “comes down from heaven.”  So once again Jesus clearly claims to be a person from heaven.
  3. This bread –Jesus the person from heaven— “gives life to the world.”  There is a true and literal sense in which Jesus, being God, does indeed sustain the physical world and everything in it (see Colossians 1:16-20).  So, Jesus is the giver and sustainer of physical, biological life.  But that’s not the meaning intended here.  
  4. In John 6:33, Jesus uses the Greek word ‘zoe’ (ζωὴ) which refers to eternal spiritual life.   So, the “life” that Jesus –the true bread from heaven— provides is spiritual life.  And that spiritual life is eternal.  That this eternal spiritual life is given “to the world” does not mean everyone is automatically saved.  Jesus will again clarify this himself in a few verses, as we will see.  Jesus’ work was enough to cover the sins of the world, but only those who believe in him will be saved (John 3:18).
  5. This true bread –Jesus the person from heaven-- is “of God” rather than from God.  This speaks of the unique relationship Jesus has with God the Father in the trinity.  Jesus and God the Father are one.  So, this “bread from heaven” –Jesus—is God come to earth to provide eternal spiritual life to those who believe.


What a claim to make!


Tragically, it goes right over the heads of those who were listening to him.  Look how they react:

  • 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” -John 6:34


They Still.  Don’t.  Get it.


They’re looking for the free food… the easy ride…  they’re in it for what Jesus can do for them.  We today have to be careful not to be like them.  We understand these verses well enough looking back on it.  Still, very often we’re praying to God not to worship or thank him for the eternal, spiritual things he has done for us, but to make demands --sometimes very polite and kind ones on other people’s behalf-- but still… demands, nonetheless.  And most of them pertain to this temporal life.  People pray for wealth…  security… healing… comfort… “traveling mercies…” safety from various threats… and it is perfectly healthy and legitimate to bring these concerns before God in prayer.  God knows we need such things (see Matthew 6).  But if that’s all we’re in it for –what God can do for us physically in this life—then we’re doing all of this for the wrong reasons.

            

Jesus, seeing that his words are “going in one ear and out the other” decides to be even more clear and direct with the Jews in Capernaum:

  • 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. -John 6:35


This is both profound and clarifying all at once.  When Jesus says “I am…” he is very intentionally referring to himself the same way God does.  God is the great “I AM” (Exodus 3) who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.  This is a profound thing for Jesus to say about himself.  We just finished discussing what Jesus means by “bread of life.”  He has a spiritual meaning in mind –not a physical one.  Once again, Jesus employs the Greek ‘zoe (ζωὴ) for “life” which refers to the spiritual, rather than the physical life of the believer.


Another way to clarify Jesus’ meaning here is to look at it another way.  It’s impossible that Jesus could have meant literal physical life in this statement based on the nature of the promise he makes here.  If early Christians had thought that Jesus meant literal, physical hunger and thirst in this verse, Christianity would have died out while Jesus still walked the earth because his followers would all have either dehydrated or starved to death waiting for Jesus to feed them or give them a drink.  If this had happened, it would mean that Jesus failed to keep a promise he’s made.  Jesus does not break his promises.  Ever.  So, of course, Jesus did not mean literal physical hunger and thirst in this verse.  The promise Jesus makes here about those who believe in him is not to sustain the believer’s physical life, but to sustain their eternal spiritual life.


Still, as obvious as this is to us here and now, the Jews speaking with him really still didn’t get it.  And their misunderstanding and confusion are only going to get worse, as we will begin to see next week.  Until then, keep reading!  And consider how you might approach Jesus for your eternal, spiritual needs as you pray to him and consider his words this week.  We love you!


Dean A.

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The Work of God - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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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


And yet:

  • 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!  

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I'd Bet My Life On It! - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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We’re looking at John 6 and an amazing conversation that’s going on between Jesus and the Jews at Capernaum.  We’ve only just begun, and Jesus is already saying profound things about himself:

  • Do not work 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.”

A couple of weeks back, we saw that Jesus spoke here about two types of food:  The kind that “endures to eternal life” and the kind that… perishes.  That is a key distinction that we need to keep in mind as we look at this conversation.  But there are other parts of this statement that demand our attention.

First, we see again that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man.  This is nothing new.  It seems to be Jesus’ favorite way of referring to himself.  Also not very new is Jesus’ claim to be the source of the “food that endures to eternal life.”  He has repeatedly (in different ways) claimed that he is the very source of life –and not just earthly physical life, but eternal life.

Another amazing thing Jesus says here is that “God the Father has set his seal” on him.  Back several weeks ago, when we were in Chapter 3, we saw John the Baptist say:

  • Whoever receives [Jesus’] testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.                                                                                                                           -John 3:33

We noticed back then that a “seal” was like a personal endorsement.  In that culture, important documents were fixed with a seal (often created by a signet ring impressed in hot wax).  Sometimes, extremely important documents were sealed multiple times (by multiple witnesses).  For further reading, and an interesting view of God setting his seal to something, read Revelation chapters 5 through 8.  Jesus is the “Lamb” mentioned there, by the way…  

Anyway, a “seal” like the one we’re seeing in John 3:33 was a 1st-century way of saying something like “I’d bet my life on it.”  So, those who believe what Jesus says about himself are willing to bet their lives that God is true.

Now, here in John 6:27, Jesus claims to have God’s “seal of approval” in the same way.  Jesus is essentially saying that God the Father is willing to “bet his life” on Jesus.  What a bold claim to make!  How could Jesus say that about God?  Only because of his unique relationship to God the Father as part of the trinity.  Because they are one, Jesus would never do anything contrary to the will of the Father.  So, the Father can “set his seal” on the Son of Man fully expecting that Jesus will do precisely what the Father wills.  So, here we have a view of the amazing relationship between the Father and the Son in the trinity.

We’ll consider one last thing about John 6:27 before we move on.  It’s a simple phrase: “Do not work…”  Jesus is saying that we aren’t supposed to work for the food that perishes, but for the “food that endures to eternal life.”  But how does that square with the idea that salvation is not by works?  We can never earn eternal life.  Jesus says in the very same sentence that he “gives” the food that endures to eternal life to us.  So, is it a gift or do we work for it?  The people Jesus was speaking to apparently had a similar confusion.  Look how they respond:

  • 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” -John 6:28


Jesus clears it up right away:

  • 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” -John 6:29


Our “work” is to believe in Jesus who was sent by God.  And even that “work” requires help from God (“I believe!  Help my unbelief! -Mark 9:24).  This is like what we noticed in John 4:14 where Jesus gives the living water, but then we must drink it.  Jesus gives the food that endures to eternal life.  Our job is to eat it (as we will see in a few verses).  In other words, we need to believe Jesus.  We “set our seal” (bet our life!) to this, that God is true.  So, what we see here is yet another view of the amazing relationship between Christians and Jesus.

Paul speaks to this concept very well in his letter to the Ephesians.  Look what he says:

  • For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. -Ephesians 2:8-10


Friends, let us be clear:  Christians don’t do good works in order to be saved.  They do good works because they are saved.  When we, as believers in Jesus Christ, submit ourselves to his will for our lives, we begin to do the “works” that “God prepared” for us “beforehand.”  We begin to walk in the way he set for us before the beginning of the world.  What an amazing idea!


We encourage you today, believers:  Look for how God wants you to walk in His ways.  Ask him to help you on your way to his perfect plan for your life.  Even if it’s hard, it’ll be worth it!


If you don’t believe, we encourage you today:  Answer the central question:  Is Jesus Christ who He says He is?  It’s a “yes” or “no” question.  Because believe it or not, God has the perfect plan for your life, too.  Even if it’s hard, it’ll be worth it!  How do we know?  Because it’s God’s plan.  


One that he lovingly thought of for you before the world even began.  


Because He loves you.  


Dean A.

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Jesus is alive! - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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Easter Theme


Since Easter is near, we’re going to pause where we are in our study of John to consider what is perhaps the greatest thing Jesus ever says about himself.  All along we’ve been considering what Jesus (and others) say, and we will get to this passage eventually in our study of John.  But our celebration of Easter is so important that we’re going to “skip ahead” to touch on this profound thing that Jesus says about himself:

  • I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” -John 11:25

There is nothing subtle or difficult to understand about this.  There’s no huge interpretive challenge to face when trying to determine what Jesus says here, nor is there any way to misunderstand what he means by what he says.  We’ll see this even more clearly when we see the circumstances during which he says this amazing thing (Read John 11 if you’re interested in “skipping ahead.”  We’ll get there eventually!).  Still, what Jesus says here is clear enough.  It is quite plain.  Quite simple.  And, as we’ve seen, Jesus backs up what he says.  

If you decide to read ahead in John 11, you’ll see one way Jesus does that right then and there.  But more importantly, what we celebrate at Easter is how Jesus backs up this claim after he has been falsely accused, unjustly condemned, mocked, beaten, tortured, crucified, stabbed through the heart with a spear, pronounced dead, embalmed, and buried for three days.

What does Jesus do?

He gets up.  

He neatly folds the cloth that was wrapped around his head and leaves the tomb –Alive.

Friends, of all the things Jesus might have said, what he did says so much more.  We could consider that simple quiet act of getting up from the dead forever, but for today don’t walk away from this without considering the other thing Jesus says in John 11:

  • Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  -John 11:25-26


We pray, dear brothers and sisters, that your answer to Jesus’ question is “Yes!  I believe!”


A great preacher once said, “there’s no problem bigger than ‘dead and buried.’”  And then he shouted, “I SAID, there’s NO problem BIGGER than ‘DEAD and BURIED’!!!”  He’s right.  Jesus solved that problem.  Do you think he can help us solve ours?  We’re certain he can.  And the proof Jesus offers –that he got up from the dead-- is what we celebrate at Easter.  Happy Easter!  We love you!


Dean A.

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Food that perishes or lasts - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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Last week we saw how Jesus fed upwards of 20,000 people (5,000 men and their families) out in a “desolate place” (for further reading, see Luke 9:10-17 for another account of this event).  Before we move on to the next stunning thing Jesus does to back up the claims he’s made in chapter 5, let’s look back briefly on something:

  • 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” -John 5:46-47

These were Jesus’ words to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem at the end of chapter 5.  Keep in mind, several months went by between what Jesus says there and the feeding of the “large crowd” in chapter 6.  So, it’s not like Jesus said “Oh, you don’t believe me?  Watch this!” and then marched out into the wilderness to create a Walmart truckload of food for 20,000 hungry followers just to prove a point.  That’s not how it worked.  A significant amount of time passed between these two events.  But there are reasons why John recorded it this way.  One of them has to do with the connection between what Jesus did in chapter 6 and the mention of Moses in chapter 5.  This will become very clear a bit later, but for now it’s enough to know that Jesus, if he is God (as he claims to be), is no stranger to feeding huge crowds of people in a desolate place.  In other words, what happened in John 6:1-15 is nothing new for Jesus.

Consider this:  Here are some notes for further reading from the book of Numbers:

  • The number of men God (and Moses) led out of Egypt during the Exodus was 603,550 (Numbers 1:46). Read that number again.  Over half a million men.
  • That means when you count the women and children who accompanied those men, you’re talking about upwards of 2.5 million people crossing the Red Sea and following God (and Moses) into the wilderness.  That’s more than the entire population of New Hampshire and Vermont combined walking out into the wilderness.
  • And God fed them all.  With Manna from the sky.  Literally. You can read about it in Numbers 11.  For how long?  Long enough for them to get sick of it (Numbers 11:1-11).  Seriously.  But seriously, for how long?
  • Numbers chapter 14 gives us the answer.  (See also Exodus 16:35 and Joshua 5:12).  You can check it out for yourselves, but the short version is:
  • God fed the entire nation of Israel –possibly as many as 2.5 million people—with manna from heaven… not just for a day, but every day… for FORTY YEARS.

And this wasn’t done in any flashy sort of way, either.  The manna just appeared with the dew every morning (Numbers 11:9).  

God is omnipotent.  All powerful.  This means that it takes no effort for him to do anything.  He does one thing just as easily as he does anything else.  So, he feeds 20,000 people for a day in the wilderness just as easily as he feeds a swarming 2.5 million people for forty years… or creates a universe and everything in it (Genesis 1)…  

And he does all that just as easily as he walks on water.  

Which is what John records next (6:16-21).

   

Bearing in mind the focus of our study which is to look at what Jesus says about himself (and what others say about him), there’s not much to tell in these verses.  The mighty acts Jesus performs in John 6 speak for themselves.  We will marvel at them our whole lives and they will proclaim Jesus’ power and majesty and mercy and compassion and love for as long as God’s word endures –which is forever.  Amen!

Meanwhile, the crowd Jesus fed got left behind.  But they caught up with him in Capernaum the next day (John 6:22-24) at which point a very interesting conversation takes place.

  • 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

That they would refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” (teacher) is nothing new.  That they should wonder how Jesus got across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum shouldn’t surprise us, either, since no one saw Jesus get into a boat yet here is on the other side of the lake.  We of course know that he simply walked…  on the water…  Anyway, look what happens next:

  • 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

And there it is… Jesus’ 8th “truly truly” statement recorded by John.  Once again, Jesus blows right past the crowd’s superficial question and gets right to the heart of the issue:  Their superficial motives for following him.  As we observed before, they were in it for the free food.  Jesus is here confirming it and calling them out for it.  He continues:

  • Do not work 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.” -John 6:27

Here, Jesus indicates that there are two types of food:  Food that “perishes” and food that “endures to eternal life.”  The food Jesus gave to the crowd on the mountain a few verses ago –the bread and fish—is the sort of food that perishes.  It temporarily sustains temporal life.  The crowd ate it and got hungry again the next day… which is why they all followed Jesus to Capernaum… so they could get more free “perishable” food.  The Manna in the wilderness was “perishable” (Exodus 16:16-21) too and the people who ate it didn’t live forever.  Jesus will say this very thing in a little while, as we will see (John 6:49).

There is a lot more going on in this “truly truly” statement that we will look at next week!

            

Until then, we encourage you to consider this:  What sort of food are you working for?


Dean A.

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Food - Letters to the Prison

From the series - Letters to the Prison

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After many weeks in John chapter 5, we’re finally about to move on.  We lingered long over these verses because in them Jesus had so much to say about himself –and us.  Before we leave chapter 5 behind, let’s consider one last thing.  In bringing the Scriptures to testify about himself, Jesus says this:

  • 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.  -John 5:39-40

            

Jesus is clearly claiming not only that the Scriptures point to him, but that he is the very source of life.  The way to have life is by coming to Jesus.  So, we can find life in the Scriptures –if we follow where they lead… to Jesus.  This is why we study the Bible:  To know Jesus and to have the life that only he can provide.

            

To that end, we’re moving now into John 6.  Last week we observed that Jesus made some bold and profound claims about himself.  And we know that he always backs up what he says.  We’re about to see how.  John 6:1-13 records how Jesus feeds the “large crowd” who had followed him across the sea of Galilee to a mountain.  Here are some things to note about this “crowd:”

  • The crowd was following Jesus “because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (John 6:2b).  This tells us a lot about their attitude towards Jesus and what they were expecting of him.  This attitude will become even clearer a bit later.  But for now, it’s enough to know that they were in it for what Jesus could do for them.  They were in it for the show.  And they were about to get one…
  • Anyway, the crowd consists of 5,000 men (John 6:10).  But that number doesn’t count the women and children who were likely there along with those men.  So, the total number of people fed by Jesus in this event might be more in the 20,000 range.
  • Feeding 20,000 people well enough to have “twelve baskets” of “leftovers” (John 6:12-23) requires a substantial amount of food.  How substantial?  Keeping in mind that it was clear from the “leftovers” that everyone ate their fill, here are some statistics from our more modern appetites:
  • The average man today might consume up to 8 slices of bread in a day.  So, 160,000 slices…  with 28 slices per loaf of bread = 5,714 loaves of bread to feed this crowd of people.  We could say that maybe the women and children wouldn’t eat quite so much.  So, we could adjust this (totally not scientific) estimate down to an even 5,000 loaves.  One estimate found online suggests that so many loaves might fit into one tractor-trailer truck… filling it about halfway.
  • As for the fish…  the average man might consume 3.9 oz. of fish with today’s modern appetites.  That translates into 4,875lbs. of fish to feed this crowd with enough to have “leftovers.”  Consider this statistic about transporting fish:
  • Straight, flat-bed trucks with beds measuring 18–26 feet are commonly used. A four-wheel drive, one-ton pickup truck equipped with a fifth-wheel hitch and a trailer equipped with live tanks may transport 5,000-6,000 lbs of fish.  - https://wkrec.ca.uky.edu/files/livehaulcatfish.pdf

So, what we have here in a remote part of 1st-century Israel, being distributed by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, to a crowd of upwards of 20,000 people, was quite literally an amount of food equivalent to a Walmart tractor-trailer truck full of bread and fish.  Where did all that food come from?  Scripture doesn’t say, but it’s very likely that Jesus simply created it.  From nothing.  There’s no explanation for it in any of the four gospels.  No reports of huge wagons of food showing up… or mysterious noises or lights…  nothing flashy at all, in fact.  It’s a profound miracle done in a very simple and humble way.  No “hocus pocus” or theatrics.  Jesus simply gave thanks for the little food they had to begin with (John 6:9-11) and then handed it out… a whole truckload.

 

If the “crowd” was expecting some big display of Jesus’ power, they got it… but in a very quiet –and perhaps even disappointing—way.  In fact, the absolutely astonishing nature of this miracle is so muted by the almost nonchalant way the gospels mention it that clearly, the miracle itself was not the central focus of these reports at all.  So, this is the sort of thing we can wonder about and marvel at our whole lives.  And the statistics show the magnitude of what Jesus did out there on the mountain in front of probably 20,000 people.  But the act itself wasn’t the point.  This will become much clearer later in the chapter.

For now, we should consider what the crowd says about this whole event –what they say about Jesus and, in turn, what that says about themselves:

  • 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. -John 6:14-15

            

That Jesus is “The Prophet” is not necessarily new to us.  We saw John the Baptist affirm this about Jesus –by denying it about himself (John 1:21).  This would be the “Prophet” predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).  Jesus certainly is that Prophet.  But the “crowd” was only affirming it based on what he had just done for them.  They were in it for the free food.  They saw Jesus as their ticket to freedom from Roman oppression, too.  John 6:15 shows how the crowd was ready to make him king –an act that would have meant rebellion and revolution against the Roman empire who were currently ruling Israel.  None of this had anything to do with the crowd’s true spiritual need or with Jesus’ purpose in coming to sacrifice himself for the sake of the eternal life of everyone who would believe in him.  The crowd wanted a comfortable, earthly kingdom with free food.  And they wanted it now.  Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and fellowship with Jesus wasn’t on their political agenda.

            

This sort of “crowd mentality” will creep up in at least a few more places in our study of John –with dire consequences.  We still struggle with such things today.  It is so easy for us as individuals to get swept up in the current trends and current social opinions and whatever all of our friends or the “majority” is doing (or seems to be doing).  When that happens, we are probably no longer doing what we really want to do… or what Jesus wants us to do… we’re just following the crowd.  When we give in to “popular opinion,” we are no longer ourselves.  Friends, we encourage you today:  No matter what everyone else is doing, cling to the truth and act accordingly!  Pray that we would do the same!  We love you.  Keep reading John 6.  


Dean A.

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