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Last week, Pastor Mark told us of the extreme confusion from the Jews as a result of Jesus’ instructions regarding His flesh. We know Jesus was speaking metaphorically, but the Jews were beside themselves thinking Jesus was talking about cannibalism. Jesus continued His explanation by saying that whoever does eat His flesh and drink His blood abides in Christ and therefore Christ abides in them. Jesus told them He lives because of the Father and anyone that eats of Jesus will live because of Christ. Jesus concludes by comparing manna, the bread of heaven, to spiritual bread. The people that ate the manna died, but the people that eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood will have eternal life. These things He spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum. This morning, we’ll see the response of many of His disciples and what it means for us.
Take a look at John 6:60-65 that we’ll be looking at today.
Hearing does not mean understanding. We start with a reference to “many of His disciples.” Who these people actually are is not mentioned, but as we have seen, many people followed Jesus with the hope of getting something in return. We’re still relatively early in Jesus’ earthly ministry and word continues to spread about Him. The twelve disciples are not included in this group as we’ll see in v. 67. John says, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” “This” refers to the difficult statements made that Pastor Mark told us about last week. Jesus spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. For the people listening, this represented radical teaching such as they had never heard before. Even though Jesus explained what He was talking about, they didn’t understand. Since they didn’t understand it, they rejected it.
I find this very curious. If you remember, I often compare situations in our walk with Christ to daily life. We commit ourselves to the most rigorous pursuits that have little to no bearing on eternity. We have football players and coaches who subject themselves to two or three a day practices in the extreme south Georgia heat, but can’t find the time for the once a week church service. We have law students that sacrifice all their time for two years to pursue a law degree, but can’t find the time to study the Bible consistently. We have social justice warriors that sit safely at their computer pointing out all the injustice in the world, but won’t step out from behind their keyboard to do practical ministry. We face uphill climbs in nearly every pursuit of this life and we’ll work to overcome those challenges, but to serve in Children’s Church, no . . . that’s not my gift. We learn incredible principles of algebra, calculus, and physics, but conclude the Bible is just too difficult to understand. The people that followed Jesus, and I mean literally walked behind Him, had the concept of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood taught by the Master Himself, and they didn’t understand. It was a difficult concept for them. Difficult mean hard, needing much effort or skill to accomplish, deal with, or understand. The Jews were part of that crowd. Remember back in v. 52, “The Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Jesus responded by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.”
The Jews and the others say what a lot of people say today, even in the church: “This is a difficult statement, who can listen to it?” In other words, “It’s too hard, I don’t get it.” Good teachers recognize the potential response of difficult concepts and adapt the teaching so the students understand. They provide additional examples of the truth so the students get it. The people Jesus is teaching are not incapable of learning, they refuse to entertain the ideas presented because they are difficult to grasp. Not only did the people not grasp the principle of abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in them, they grumbled about it. If this wasn’t eternally critical in our faith walk, it would be comical. What you’re saying is too hard so I’m just not listening anymore. It’s just too hard, I don’t get it.
Jesus, the good teacher, is conscious or aware of what is happening. They grumbled. It means to express one’s discontent or to complain or murmur. These are not redeeming qualities. Jesus asks them, “Does this cause you to stumble?” In other words, does this teaching, eating My flesh, drinking My blood, cause you to lose your faith? Does it cause you to walk away? Does it cause you to be offended? Matt. 11:6 says, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” Remember that Jesus is speaking of the principle of abiding. He previously used the example of being the bread of life. He’s doing what He can to help them believe, but the reality is they do not want to believe. Remember He’s speaking to them in the synagogue, the place where Jews worship God and the place where religious teaching took place. These were people you would assume would want to hear the truth from the One that was in the beginning with God and the One that was God. Throughout human history, the prophecy of Messiah was taught. People have been looking forward to the One that was prophesied in Gen. 3:15 since the fall of mankind. The people hearing Jesus didn’t understand and instead of saying, “Jesus, we don’t understand, can You explain it another way?” they complained among themselves and Jesus, being the teacher, calls them out with a simple, pointed question. “Does what I’m teaching you cause you to fall, to be offended?” By their own willful ignorance, they get offended at Jesus’ teaching. Instead of listening to the principles, they chose to ignore His words and got offended. Does this sound familiar? They don’t want to see the truth that is standing in from of them.
And then Jesus changes tactics. It’s clear the people don’t get it and really don’t want to get it so Jesus changes methods. He asks them a rhetorical question, “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” If you don’t understand the principle of abiding faith, how are you going to understand it when I go back to heaven? In Jo. 3:12 Jesus said, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things.” If you stumble over simple principles of faith, how are you going to get the more difficult principles? We see this played out often in the church. We see people faithfully attend week after week that seem to have it all together and then something happens. God has been faithful throughout their lives and something unexpected happens. A bad medical diagnosis. An accident. A life altering injury. An affair. A church split. A fallen minister. A fallen giant of the faith. A rebellious or wayward child. A lost job. This unexpected event causes a crisis of faith and they scream why, why God have You allowed this tragedy to happen? If you stumble over simple principles, how will you ever get through the difficult principles?
The abiding principles Jesus is trying to teach them is a lesson we need to get ahold of early in our walk of faith. If we don’t take the time and effort to understand something like the abiding character of Christ and what that means on a daily basis, how will we ever walk with Him when life happens? Not to be overly dramatic here, but what I have experienced from dealing with people in a crisis of faith are generally not a result of those tragedies I just mentioned. What I have seen is people looking for the smallest thing to be offended at to give them an excuse to blame someone else for what is lacking in their own faith walk. When my wife, Kari, was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, we never one time questioned if God had forsaken us. That doesn’t mean it was easy or fun, but we gained additional insight into the principles of Scripture, we learned valuable lessons about where our hope comes from, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we were able to rely on His plan. Tragedies are not allowed to break you down and cause you to leave the faith, they’re designed to show you the power of God and to give you reason to trust and praise Him. Tragedies in our lives allow those unbelievers around us to see our complete reliance on Christ and give encouragement to believers to know that we walk by faith. Tragedies help us to see that we must totally rely on Christ. Jesus is trying to get them to understand, is trying to persuade them to grasp the principle of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. If they can’t or won’t grasp that concept, they’re not going to get it when He is lifted up to heaven. Jesus has used this technique before. He said in Jo. 1:50, “Because I said to you that I saw you under a fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” In Jo. 1:51, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In Matt. 12:40, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In Matt. 26:64 Jesus said, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus often told the people of easy things followed by difficult things.
Jesus then tells them the secret to understanding. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” This verse is in direct keeping with what Jesus was teaching them about His body. He’s breaking it down in simple terms. The flesh in and of itself does nothing for anyone. A body is simply a vessel designed to carry the spirit. You hear this concept often preached at funerals. Without the Spirit giving and sustaining life, the body is just an empty house, an empty vessel void of anything that makes it of value. But a body filled with the Spirit is an entirely different matter. When Adam was formed from the dust of the ground, he was nothing until God breathed life in him. The reason people have value, all people, is because God is the giver of life. God’s power is the force that allows a life to be conceived, a life that is precious in His sight. Once that soul departs the human vessel, it has no value. This may be grim, but the empty vessel is discarded. It’s buried in the ground, or entombed above the ground, it’s burned and turned into ashes, or it might even be thrown into the sea. When the body is buried, we might go pay it a visit because of what the vessel meant when it was alive. Dead bodies have lost all their value because the life is gone.
The conclusion of the principle. The goal for this teaching was for people to hear the words, understand them, and then follow them. It serves no purpose just to have knowledge. Knowledge should impact us. Understanding principles are life changing. When you understand that God loved us so much that He was willing to send His Son to die to pay the penalty of sin, that is life changing. It’s life changing to understand that we love because God first loved us. Jesus knew that His teaching would fall on deaf ears, not because it was difficult to understand or they were prevented from understanding, but there were some that refused to understand. He declares, “There are some of you who do not believe.” It was not accusatory; it was not condemning: Jesus was stating a fact. There were some that did not choose to have faith.
John explains what Jesus said and says, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” Jesus knows these things because He is omniscient. He knows what is going to happen before it happens. He knows all the variables. He knows all the characteristics of the people involved. Just because Jesus knows what will happen does not mean He causes it. Foreknowledge is not causative. Jesus knows who will reject His teachings and who will reject Him and as a result will reject the Father and face eternity separated from God. While He knows that, He desire is that all will come to repentance. Jesus offers His conclusion by saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” Let me unpackage this for you. We need to remember Jo. 6:37 that we looked at a few weeks ago: “All that the Father gives Me will come to me, and the one that comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”
I’m going to do something a bit strange and simply repeat what I taught several weeks ago on this matter. Acts 28:27 says, “For the hearts of this people have become insensitive, and with their ears they hardly hear, and they have closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.” Why would God close the eyes and ears of people? This concept is called judicial hardening and it may be difficult to understand. This is a temporary condition designed to further His will. Those that are rebellious and disobedient are allowed to continue in this manner for a time. It’s all part of the redemptive plan that concludes with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Acts 2:23 says, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Jesus stepped out of heaven to affect the redemption for mankind. His goal was to accomplish what God the Father set before Him. The reason people walked away was not because God pre-selected them for condemnation, but because they failed to see Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. If God had determined that certain people had no ability for salvation, why would there need to be a temporary blindness? If they were totally depraved and had no chance at salvation, why make blindness to the truth temporary? God allowed them to continue in this blindness until such a time as He saw fit to take the veil off of their eyes. That’s why Jesus spoke in parables and mysteries. That’s why Jesus would tell people He healed, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” In Rom. 11:13-14, Paul said, “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Therefore insofar as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry if somehow I may move my own people to jealousy and save some of them.” There was a greater purpose in God’s plan of redemption that had to play out.
The difficult teaching over Jesus’ flesh and blood will conclude next week. For now, we’re left with the people in the synagogue confused and complaining about the hard teaching that Jesus has just shared. Jesus has challenged them by comparing this teaching to something really hard like His ascension. We know that salvation is only possible because of the plan of redemption put in place by God the Father. We know that the Father desires all men to come to repentance and the system is through Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. Join us next week as our friend Chris Martin will provide the conclusion to this incredibly important chapter of John.