John: That You May Believe- Studies in John’s Gospel (12) “Questions and Grumbles

Sermon by Derek Thomas on January 5, 2003

John 6:25-72

John 6:25-72
Questions and Grumbles

Turn with me to the gospel of John chapter 6
beginning at verse 25. Jesus has just walked on the Sea of Galilee over to
Capernaum. The folks who had gone to the eastern shore of Galilee have now made
their way back to the northwestern shore hiring water taxis, perhaps, in order
to do that. Since Jesus had been left on the other side, they are surprised to
find Him here in Capernaum.

“And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they
said to Him, “Rabbi, when did you get here? Jesus answered them and said,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because
you ate of the loaves and were filled. “Do not work for the food which
perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man
will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they
said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus
answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him
whom He has sent.” They said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, that we
may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? “Our fathers ate the manna
in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to
eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses
who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the
true bread out of heaven. “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of
heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give
us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life: he who come to Me
will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. “But I said
Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly
not cast out. “For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the
will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that of all
that He has given Me I lost nothing, but raise it up on the last day.’ “For
this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in
Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him because He said, “I am the bread
that came down out of heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of
Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down
out of heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among
yourselves.” “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him;
and I will raise him up on the last day. “It is written in the prophets, ‘And
they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the
Father, comes to Me. “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who
is from God’ He has seen the Father. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who
believes has eternal life. “I am the bread of life. “Your fathers ate the
manna in the wilderness, and they died. “This is the bread which comes down out
of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. “I am the living bread that
came down out o heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and
the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then
the Jews began to argue with one another saying, “How can this man give us His
flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “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. “He who eats my flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in
him. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who
eats Me, he also will live because of Me. “This is the bread which came down
out of heaven, not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live
forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.”

Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, we pray now for Your blessing as
we turn to Your word and this particular passage, that may we see Christ in all
of His glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

If you’ve ever been to the synagogue in Capernaum,
you’ll recall what it looks like. It is a beautiful site. The remnants of the
synagogue are still there; archaeologists believe that at least a part of the
floor that you can walk on actually belongs to the time of Christ. That’s where
we are; on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was a synagogue that
had been donated by a wealthy centurion. And here in the synagogue of Capernaum,
Jesus begins this somewhat convoluted discussion about the bread of life. It’s
been brought about because of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. After that
miracle, Jesus had sent the disciples to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee
and crowds had made their way along the shore. The disciples had gone in a boat
but crowds had gone along the shore. Then they were sent back to Capernaum and
they had been caught in a storm. Jesus, who had been left on the other side
walked towards them, calmed the storm; the disciples and Jesus now find
themselves in Capernaum.

These crowds of people–some of them are believers,
many of them are not–they’ve seen the miracle of the loaves and fishes and they
want to hear more; they hire water taxis to get them to Capernaum. They are
surprised to find Jesus there. They ask Him this question: “How did You get
here?” But Jesus doesn’t answer that question. In fact, they are nonplused by
the answer that He gives them; He goes for the jugular. He says to them, “You’re
not seeking Me because you have genuinely seen the truth of the miracles that I
have performed. All that you have seen is something that has appealed to your
eyes and senses but the truth of it all–the real meaning and significance of it
all hasn’t dawned upon you.”

All excitement about Jesus isn’t necessarily truly
spiritual in character. They were fascinated by the spectacle that they had
seen, but they were blind to the truth and the reality of the person of Jesus
who was standing in their midst.

Now Jesus enters in to this narrative about the bread
of life and this wonderful pronouncement, “I am the bread of life.” And I
want to look at it, picking up three particular verbs that occur in the course
of this narrative which I hope will help us catch the thread and the discourse
and the interchange between Jesus and this crowd of people.

I. Asking.
In the first place in verses 25, 28, and 30, you’ll see that
they are asking Jesus a series of questions. The New International Version uses
the verb to ask. In your pew Bibles I think it is they said, but
it’s a question that they are putting to Jesus. What is it that Jesus is saying
about Himself that evokes these radical responses from men and women who are
apparently accustomed to sitting in a place of worship? Remember, they are in a
synagogue. They’ve come with a question about how He had got there. And He
virtually ignores that question. He is able to tell the difference between that
which comes out of our lips and our mouths and that which truly resides in our
hearts. He is able to tell what the true and deepest questions really are.
You’ve focused your attention, He says to these people, on bread that will pass
away. Labor instead for that bread which lasts for eternity. They were concerned
about trivial superficial things–the material things of this world. They wanted
someone who could provide bread for them every day, but they weren’t focusing on
the truly significant issues. “Are you focusing on what will enable you to live
forever?” Jesus asks. Jesus says to these people, the question you really should
be asking is, “How can I attain that bread which lasts forever?” How can I feed
upon that bread that will enable me to live forever?

You notice in the discourse that they have the
impudence to stand above Him. They say to Him, “Moses could feed a million
people for forty years. Why should we believe in You?” And He corrects their
interpretation of the Bible. It wasn’t Moses that had brought bread to a million
people; it was God who had provided that bread. His point to these people
was to say, “You’ve missed the whole point.” You study the Scriptures but
all you see are divine regulations; you don’t see Me. You don’t see the One to
whom the Bible is pointing. He is saying to them that they don’t understand the
Bible because the Bible is speaking about Christ. Augustine likened the Old
Testament to a darkened room with only barely the light of a candle. All the
furniture was there but you could barely see it. Calvin, alluding to
Hebrews 8 and 10, likened the Old Testament to the sketch that an artist might
make, at best some resemblance to the final painting, but it’s just an etching,
it’s just a sketch. McCheyne says about the Old Testament that it is like the
difference between the bride just before the wedding and the bride after the
wedding when the veil has been removed. Oh yes, you can see a little through the
veil and you can tell it is so and so, but when that veil is lifted and you can
see the beauty of that bride. My best and favorite illustration is Lloyd Jones’
who says that the Old Testament is like a man who is standing before a wall and
he jumps up every now and then, and just for a micro-second he can just glimpse
what is on the other side of the wall, but he keeps landing back down again.
These people were only interested in the things of this world. They were
laboring for bread that perishes.

Do you know the author Jack Higgins? He’s a
world-famous author and one of the leading novelists of our time. I know him
because he was born in Belfast. Go to Amazon.com and put in Jack Collins, and
you’ll see 90 or 100 references to books he has written–he’s a multi
millionaire. He lives on one of these channel islands; I think its Guernsey, a
tax haven. Jack Higgins is not his name; it’s a pseudonym. He was asked just
fairly recently what he wished that someone had told him when he was younger.
Here’s a man who has everything and lives on an island off shore to keep the
money that he has because he’s got so much of it. And do you know what he said?
He said, “I wish someone had told me that when you get to the top, there’s
nothing there.” Isn’t that incredible? Jesus is saying to these people, you’re
laboring for that which perishes; labor for that which endures to eternal life.

What is the greatest question that we could ask
ourselves tonight? What’s the greatest question that you can ask tonight? “What
must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s the greatest question–a question that
concerns every single one in this room tonight. Maybe you’re not even listening,
maybe you’ve fallen asleep, maybe you have absolutely no interest in this sermon
of this service but it’s the greatest question you could ask yourself. “What
must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What is the one thing that is necessary to enable me
to live forever in the presence of God? And the answer that Jesus gives is to
have Him as the bread of life. “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but
for the food that endures to eternal life.” What does that mean for many of us
here? Let me put it this way. What does this mean for a Christian
stockbroker? We’ve got a few of them here. What does this mean for you?
You’ve watched the markets and they’ve tumbled. What does this mean for you,
when Jesus says, “Don’t labor for that which perishes, but labor for that which
endures to eternal life.” What it means is that you do not labor for the food
that perishes, you do not fret that somehow your entire life has become
jeopardized because the material things of this world are collapsing around
you. Your joy isn’t destroyed by it. Your peace isn’t destroyed by it.
You’re not working and laboring for the food that perishes. Your goal is to
enjoy Christ, and to be exalted in the way that you work.. The Christian
stockbroker will say, in the face of a falling market, “The main food that I
want from this job is still there, because my hunger, my deepest hunger, is to
know the goodness and grace of Jesus Christ residing within my soul.”

II. Grumbling.
Jesus responds to these
questions that are put to Him. Turn to verse 41, and you’ll see another verb,
the verb grumbling. The Jews are grumbling. They’re grumbling because
some of the things Jesus now says are hard things. They’re difficult things,
they’re extraordinary things. He says, for example in verse 37, “All that the
Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me, I will never cast
out.” There is a giving on the part of the Father, there is a coming on the
part of men and women, there is a receiving on the part of Jesus Christ. “This
is on the crest of the wave of God’s sovereign grace that the free overtures of
the gospel break upon the shores of lost humanity,” John Murray says. It’s a
beautiful, beautiful sentence. Jesus has two conditions of men and women in mind
when He says this. He’s speaking to unbelievers, yes. He’s speaking to those
who have never labored for the bread that endures to eternal life. All they
live for is the things of this world. All they live for is that which they can
see and handle and touch and taste. That’s all they live for. And they think
now that they’ve seen in Jesus someone who will make life just a little bit
easier for them. And He’s saying to them, He’s emphasizing to them, if they’re
ever going to know this bread that endures to eternal life, that that salvation
is a sovereign work of almighty God. He’s speaking to unbelievers.

But He’s speaking also to believers, He’s speaking to
His disciples, and He’s reassuring them, He’s giving them confidence, He’s
saying to them that because salvation is a work of God from beginning to end, we
can rest in the assurance that having begun a good work he will complete it unto
the day of Jesus Christ. Unless, you see, unless there is a work of divine
spiritual renewal, none of us would ever come to Christ. And what Jesus is
saying to these Jews who are grumbling at what He is saying, ‘You know, the
greatest thing that you need, is to be humbled. The greatest thing that you
need is to be brought down in the estimation of yourselves and your own ability.
Because you have to understand this: that there is absolutely nothing that you
can do to save yourselves, apart from the sovereign grace of almighty God. You
cannot by your own unaided strength come to Me, and you can’t even enjoy the
bread that endures to eternal life apart from the drawing of My Father.’

Do you see how humbling a message that is? That
they’ve been reduced and reduced and reduced and reduced so that they say,
“Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. Naked come to Thee
for dress, helpless look to Thee for grace. Foul I to the fountain fly, wash me
Savior or I die.” You know, there’s another version of that. It goes like
this: “Something in my hand I bring, also of the cross I sing, I’ve always tried
to look my best, slightly flawed I pass the test, God I’m sure will not pass me
by, if I but try and try and try.”

Is that where you are today? You’re trying to be
good, you’re trying to do this, that and the other. You’re coming to church,
you’re reading your Bible, you belong to all the right associations and clubs,
you move in the circle of Christians because you’re trying and trying and trying
and trying to be good, and somehow or other, so that when you come before the
bar of the justice of God, He will look down and see that you’ve just scrapped
by. And Jesus is saying, “Unless the Father draws you, by a sovereign hand, you
are dead in trespasses and sins.” You see, Jesus is deliberately crushing their
pride. They’re grumbling, and you can understand why they’re grumbling.
Salvation is absolutely all of grace or it is nothing at all. Salvation is a
sinner saying, “I’m starving, I’ve got nothing to offer.” Lloyd-Jones once
defined a Christian, and he was referring to Romans 3, of course, “A Christian
is a man or woman whose mouth has been shut.” Isn’t that a startling definition
of a Christian? A Christian is a man or woman whose mouth has been shut. There
is within each one of us, a gravitational pull toward self-justification. And
Jesus is saying to these spectators of His miracles,’ “Unless My Father draws
you, you can have nothing with Me.” He’s humbling them, He’s humbling them to
the point where they will say, “Nothing in my hands I bring, nothing in my hands
I bring.”

III. Arguing
But there’s another verb I want us
to see in verse 52, and it’s the verb to argue. “The Jews then argued,
or disputed, among themselves. Because Jesus now begins to talk about eating
His flesh and drinking His blood. Now you understand He means that in a
spiritual sense. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat,” they ask? I
remember back in 1968, it was the summer, I was just a wee lad. I went to the
local bookstore and I bought J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings, and
I devoured it. That’s the verb I use, I devoured it. I could not put it down.
Now you may say, “That’s obsessional.” And I will agree with you. I’m on the
border, I’m probably over. But you see what Jesus is saying here. “Unless you
are obsessed with Me to the point that you eat Me.”

You know, you can’t get more graphic language than
that. “unless you come to the point where day-by-day-by-day you’re life’s
dependence is upon eating Me, then you cannot have eternal life.” Unless you
eat My flesh, drink My blood, you have no life in you,” Jesus says. He is the
bread, which in the incarnation, has come into the world. We are to eat and
drink in conversion, in ongoing communion with Him. It is discovering the issue
that in Jesus Christ the heart cries of my soul are all met. Do not feed on the
bread which perishes but feed on that bread which lasts forever. You know, bread
can get stale. You know that. I’m not talking about this bread that you get in
the store in plastic bags that lasts for several weeks. I don’t know what that
is but it’s not bread. Bread perishes within two days, three days; it’s got mold
on it.

Do you see what Jesus is saying? He meets our needs
every day. I never reach a stage where I say, “He used to meet my needs but He
doesn’t do so anymore because I’m all grown up.” Do you remember sherbet
fountains? Only Andy McGowan will know what I mean by Sherbet Fountains. It was
one of these candies that was full of a sugary sherbet sugary with a licorice
stem through which you sucked all the sweet sherbet. I hadn’t had one in thirty
years and I was in Canada last year and I bought one. I saw it there in the
store. It was from my childhood; I bought it and you know it was disgusting.
Because I had grown up; I’d forgotten just how sweet and sickly it all was. You
know, when you become a man you put away childish things, but I never
grow tired of Jesus. I need Him every day; He feeds me every day. I dare not go
one day without feeding on Him, without communing with Him.

I’m fascinated by the fact that in verse 59, suddenly
in the telling of this story, John says, “Jesus said these things in the
synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.” Why? He’s been talking about some of the
most difficult concepts like eating His flesh and drinking His blood and so on,
and then all of a sudden John says, “Do you know He told this in the synagogue
at Capernaum?” Why does he do that? Because John wants you to understand is that
it is possible to be in a place of worship, in a place where the Scriptures are
opened up on a daily basis, and yet not to understand anything at all about
Jesus. You may be very religious, you live in the South. Of course you are
religious. It’s possible to be religious, it’s possible to be found in the
church, it’s possible to be found in the precincts of where the gospel is
preached and still be unconverted and still not understand what it means to feed
upon Christ to eternal life.

There’s that wonderful story of Jim Boice. Sorry,
it’s about a Scotsman. And he is making his way in a transatlantic crossing on a
ship and he’s frugal. He’s bought his ticket. He sees the dinner, but decides
that is not for him; he brings his own food. After awhile, the food gets stale
and crusty, until the last day he goes to the dinner and then somebody says to
him, “It was part of the price of the ticket.” You can be sitting here tonight.
You can be so close to the gospel that you could reach out your hand and touch
it. That you’re so close to eternal life–do you know what that means–eternal
life, and yet miss it. We didn’t read the section, but at the end of chapter 6,
verse 66 says, “That many of the disciples turned back and no longer walked with
Him.” But Peter, dear, dear Peter. “Will you also go away?” Jesus says to Him.
And do you remember the words of Peter? “To whom else will we go?”

Where in the world are we going to go tonight except
to Jesus because He has the words of eternal life. Are you trusting in Him
tonight? Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ and in Him only for your
salvation? Are you feeding on Him day by day? Because if you’re not; do it
tonight. Call upon Him while He is near. Do you remember what Jesus says in this
passage before us tonight? “Him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out.”
Doesn’t matter what you’ve done; doesn’t matter what sordid past you’ve had;
doesn’t matter how foul you’re sins may be. If you come to Jesus, He will not
cast you out. Let’s pray together.

Our
Father in heaven, we thank you for Your Word. Bless it to us now, we pray and
bless it as a word of converting power. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

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