Monthly Archives: August 2018

Eat this life-giving bread (John 6.41-59)

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‘How can this Jesus say that he is the bread that has come down from Heaven? We know his parents, Joseph and Mary; we know where he comes from and it’s not heaven!’. Knowing his ordinary human origins, it is understandable that the Jewish leaders found it hard to accept that he came down from the glory of his heavenly Father. They didn’t have the benefit of later theological debate which finally formulated our Christian faith that Jesus is 100% human and at the same time 100% divine.
In objecting to Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven, the Jewish leaders also failed to note his emphasis on life. He had said that he is “the bread of life” (6.48) – and again in this passage of Jesus’ teaching he underlines life. In previous blogs we have noted several times the centrality of Jesus’ gift of life, even eternal life. In this week’s passage we learn that this life comes from “the living Father” (6.57), the source of all life. Even Jesus confesses that he lives “through the Father”. So now Jesus is the bread of life, gives eternal life to all who come to him and will raise us up “at the last day”.
Who is this gift of life for?

a) Drawn by the Father (6.44)
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As with everything in the Christian faith, we can only come to Jesus through the working of the Father. By his Spirit he so works in us that we are drawn to Jesus. This may happen through our circumstances or through our inner thoughts and desires. With each person the Father works in particular ways which he adapts to our particular character and personality.
My father died just before I was born, so I never knew him. As a result for many years after my conversion I tended to concentrate on my relationship with Jesus as Lord and on the Holy Spirit. Only much later did I begin to appreciate the wonder of God as our loving, strong, true Father. He cares for us and protects us. He provides for us through his Son and Spirit. It has been very special in my Christian life to enjoy and worship God as our Father.
b) Come to Jesus (6.44)
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In previous blogs we have observed John’s use of the two Greek prepositions para/towards and eis/into, prepositions of movement rather than of position. Here too in 6.44 John quotes Jesus as saying that we need to come para/towards him. Our lives need to be redirected so that we begin to walk in a new direction. We are drawn by the Father in such a way that we begin to follow Jesus, to walk in his way as his disciples. It is as we listen to the Father and learn that we come to Jesus (6.45).
c) Believe (6.47)
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Although we cannot see the Father, Jesus has come to represent the Father and through his life as a human being we can see the Father in him and believe. Again and again in John’s Gospel we are exhorted to put our faith in Jesus as the one who has been sent from heaven by the Father. We put our trust in him because he is utterly trustworthy, the true Son of God. As the mirror-image of the Father in heaven we can put our confidence in him.
d) Eat his body and drink his blood (6.48-58)
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Some sacramentally-minded commentators see this teaching as Jesus’ institution of the Communion Service. It is true that John does not record the Last Supper, although he does recount the washing of the feet. So it could be that this is John’s equivalent of the Last Supper. Other commentaries deny this. In either case it is clear that these verses are speaking of our  total oneness with Jesus. We take him in all his fullness into ourselves and we become wonderfully one with him. What an intimate relationship we have with Jesus! As we partake of him, his flesh and blood, he comes to live in us and we abide in him (6.56).
What next?
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In Moses’ time the people of Israel ate God-given manna in the desert, but they all died (6.58). But as we share in the life of Jesus, he gives us the glory of eternal life. He will raise us up with him at the last day (6.44)and we have the joy of eternal life. Physical death becomes merely the door to the glory of the fullness of life. Jesus therefore declares that those who feed on him “will live for ever” (6.58). Let us rejoice!
Parallels with John 1
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This passage clearly reflects various elements which we saw some weeks ago when we looked at John 1, the Gospel-in-a-nutshell introduction to the message of Jesus through John.
In John 1.14 the living Word “came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. Now in John 6 Jesus comes as the true bread and the true blood from the Father above. Both in John 1 and again here in John 6 Jesus is not only truth personified, but also he was with the Father and came down from heaven. No-one has seen the Father or can see him except the one who was eternally with the Father (John 1.18 and 6.46). We have also already observed John’s use of para/towards; we remember that in John 1.1 the Word was para/towards God – commonly translated in John 1.1 as being with God.
In John 6 the Greek word used for Jesus’ body is sarx/flesh. In John 1 too the Word became sarx/flesh, a general word which connotes all nations and peoples as distinct from just Israel and the Jewish people. The universality of Jesus’ work of grace is further underlined by the fact that Jesus gives his sarx/flesh “for the life of the world” (6.51) which reminds us of John 1.9/10) with its four-times repeated “world”. The all-embracing “whoever” in John 6 parallels the “all” of John 1.
So we can only be impressed how in John 6 many of the key themes of John 1 and of the whole Gospel are highlighted. Their repetition shows that it must be God’s will that we should all take them to heart.
Editor’s note – please pray for Elizabeth Goldsmith who is “having to rest very quietly at home” at the moment – and for Martin who is shouldering extra domestic duties! They appreciate very much your prayers, but please, no direct calls.
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“I am the bread of life” – John 6.25-40

“I am the bread of life” – John 6.25-40

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Our motives

The crowds around Jesus have seen Jesus and the miraculous signs he has done before their very eyes, but still they don’t believe in him (6.36). In other passages Jesus rejects the sort of faith which is dependent on seeing Jesus’ miracles, but now he castigates the crowds that they are seeking him “not because you see signs, but because you ate the loaves and were satisfied” (6.26). Jesus’ words raise serious questions for us too. What is the basis of our faith in Jesus? Why do we believe in him? What motivates our Christian faith? There is always a danger that we believe in Jesus for what we can get from him – new life with a purpose, fellowship which satisfies our loneliness, healing from sickness, the forgiveness of our sin and his gift of eternal life. ‘Bread’, even spiritual ‘bread’, can underlie our faith in Jesus the Messiah rather than a loving wonder at his glory, holy perfection and faithful love. Our faith can therefore be selfish rather than being based on an overwhelming admiration of him.
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How well I remember the evening when I put my faith in the Lord. He had given me 24 hours of peace from being badly bullied at school. But my new faith was not in any way expecting further miracles of loving grace; he had proved himself to be alive and true. It was on the basis of his reality, truth and loving kindness that I set out on the path of faith (for further details see my life story “Life’s Tapestry”). And over the last 69 years he has graciously revealed so much more of his glory which I failed totally to appreciate when I was young.
 God’s call
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a) True manna
Jesus tells the crowds to work for what “endures to eternal life” (6.27), not just for food that perishes. In the desert Israel had been given manna to eat, but that didn’t last. Once Israel had left the desert and entered into the promised land, God withdrew his gift of daily manna. And the manna couldn’t be saved up and kept for another time; it went wormy if it was not eaten on the day it was given. In contrast with the manna, God is now giving the the true bread from heaven. As Jesus declares in 6.33, this bread gives life to the world (not just Israel). 6.33 is slightly ambivalent in meaning. It could be saying that ‘the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’. It could also mean, as in NIV and other translations, that the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Assuming the first possible meaning, the crowds beg Jesus, “Always give us this bread” – not just a temporary gift of bread as with the manna in the desert. Jesus however builds on the second meaning and declares that he is the bread of life, the one who comes down from heaven to bring life to the world.
b) God’s work
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Jesus commands the people to work for food that endures eternally. In response the people ask him, “What should we do to work the works of God” (6.28). Defining what it means to do God’s works, Jesus assures them that the work of God means that they should believe in Jesus, the one sent from heaven by the Father (6.29). That is the work to which God in Jesus calls us. The one condition for all Jesus’ gracious life-giving generosity is that we should believe in him, entrusting our whole life to him and following him in committed, holy obedience.
c) The gift of Life
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As so often in our expositions of John’s Gospel, we note again the strong emphasis on Life. In and through Jesus the fullness of life comes to us. He so satisfies those who come to him and believe in him that we need never feel hungry or thirsty again (6.35). As we believe in Jesus and belong to him, we have full confidence that Jesus will never ‘drive us away’ (6.37). This assurance strengthens us through all the trials of life. Jesus assures us, “I shall lose none of all that he (= the Father in heaven) has given me” (6.39). Indeed Jesus’ gift to us is not just life, but also actually eternal life(6.27 and 40). He will resurrect us “on the last day” (6.39). So we live with the eager and sure anticipation that the ultimate climax of history includes our resurrection and ascension with Jesus unto eternal life. What glory! We shall feast with him in his immediate presence and revel in the fullness of his glory.
My wife and I are now in our mid-80s. We are constantly bombarded with news of people of our age dying. Knowing that death will probably come to us too in the next few years, it is wonderful to rest in the assurance of God’s promises. Through Jesus’ resurrection we have begun on his gift of new life and through his ascension we have the assurance that this life continues eternally. As believers in Jesus, our Messiah and Lord, we have eternal life. Hallelujah! What a Saviour! The totally undeserved grace of God is so amazing!
Exhortation
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Have a good look at Jesus – 6.36, 40! Come to him! Believe in him! Receive his gift of life, even eternal life!
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Who is this Jesus? (John 6.16-24)

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The story of Jesus walking on water goes together with the feeding of the crowds in demonstrating that Jesus is truly (we may again note John’s frequent emphasis on truth, true and truly) the prophet like Moses who is to come (6.14). Indeed these verses not only show Jesus as that prophet, but also indicate that he is God come down to us into this world.
The revelation of Jesus as the coming prophet was followed by sad misunderstanding and therefore Jesus withdrawing alone to a mountain (6.15). Even his own disciples did not accompany him there. In that context we read the symbolic words “It was already dark” and “Jesus had not yet come to them” (6.17) – John uses the relationally significant ‘towards’ for Jesus’ coming ‘to’ them. To that darkness and absence of Jesus is now added the danger of a strong wind and rough waves. Spiritual darkness without the life-giving presence of Jesus is so often accompanied by rough situations!
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“It’s a ghost!” (Matthew 14.26), the disciples exclaimed when they saw Jesus, as the Greek implies, “walking about on the water” (John 6.19). They were really frightened when they saw this apparent ghost walking around so easily on the water and then actually approaching close to their boat. But Jesus says (dramatic present tense) to them, “I am; don’t be afraid” (6.20). The perfectly correct translation “It is I” fails nevertheless to reflect the stark simplicity of Jesus’ words. “I am” is of course the name of God and John’s Gospel frequently underlines Jesus’ revelation of himself – I am the bread of life, the light, the good shepherd, the door, the way, the truth and the life etc. Jesus is God himself present with us, so of course he is well able to walk on water. And if God in Jesus comes towards us in our boat, even in the context of a stormy wind and high waves, we need not fear. No wonder the disciples now “want to receive him into the boat” (6.21) – not just ‘willing’ which is a bit grudging, but they actually ‘wanted’ to have him in the boat with them.
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A miracle! “Immediately” they reached the shore to which they were headed (6.21). Jesus’ presence with them brings immediate results. They had been struggling against the wind and waves, desperately trying to row the boat to safety. But now the same Jesus who miraculously feeds crowds has also miraculously brought them  immediately and safely to shore. The crowd too realised that something special had happened. They knew that Jesus had not gone in the boat with the disciples and yet now he was no longer there where he had fed the crowd. So they got into their boats and went to Capernaum to look for Jesus (6.24) – looking for Jesus is just what crowds should be doing! Let’s pray and work with that aim even here in Britain!
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Feeding the Crowds (Part 2) – John 6.1-14

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Introduction (6.1-4)
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a) Galilee
Although John only records the feeding of the 5,000 (a Jewish crowd) and omits the Gentile 4,000, he locates it in the ethnically very mixed Galilee – even across on the other side of the lake where the population was mainly non-Jewish. So John reminds us again that Jesus desires not only to feed his own Jewish people, but also the Gentiles. As followers of Jesus we too are called to feed both our own people and also ethnic minorities and all peoples in every country all over the world.
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b) “A great crowd”
Many churches in Britain  seem content with a nice little congregation of about a hundred. And if they attract two hundred people, they are looked upon as a large and significant church. Considering the total population of a city or town, we quickly realise that two hundred is just a drop in the bucket. How can we win the crowds for Christ, not just a few individuals? “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9.36). In Africa, Asia and Latin America some churches do have such huge congregations that they really can make an impact in their locality and reach the crowds for Jesus.
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c) What drew the crowds?
The great crowd followed (a significant word in the Gospels) Jesus “because they saw the signs he did for the sick” (6.2). Healing miracles make an impression and draw the crowds, but true faith cannot just be based on sensational signs. We may observe in these verses that Jesus immediately leaves the crowd, goes up on a mountain and sits down there just with his disciples (6.3). After he had fed the crowd he also “withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (6.15). He dared not entrust himself to them, for they had a completely wrong understanding concerning him as Messiah and as the promised “Prophet who is to come” (Deuteronomy 18.15).
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d) A Mountain
God revealed the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai. Jesus comes with a prophetic ministry like that of Moses, revealing the Word of God in his own person – he is the Word. In the Bible God frequently reveals himself very specially on a mountain. Jesus calls his disciples on a mountain, he is transfigured on a mountain and he gives his final Great Commission on a mountain. And now in John 6 Jesus feeds the crowds and reveals himself as the Bread of Life on the mountain.
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e) Passover
At Passover we celebrate God saving us from death, granting us his liberating life. It was at Passover that Jesus died for us as the sacrificial lamb. By carefully noting that Jesus’ feeding of the crowds took place at Passover time, John underlines the fact that Jesus has his death in mind as he feeds the crowd.
John doesn’t record Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples just before his betrayal, trial and crucifixion. But John 6 seems to take its place. The verbs in 6.11 remind us of that Last Supper and the institution of the Communion Service in which we share in Jesus’ death – Jesus took the bread, he gave thanks and he distributed them. So John again emphasizes that Jesus has his impending death in mind.
So, when Jesus was feeding the crowd, he was not just thinking of bread and fish, material feeding. In giving the bread, he was not just looking back to Moses and the gift of manna from heaven. He was also looking to the future which lay before him. Evidently he wanted to feed the crowd with his sacrificial atoning death. In his mind the physical and the spiritual went hand in hand. So it is still today in Christian mission. We are called to give bread and fish to the hungry crowds and also at the same time to share with them the good news of Jesus’ saving death and life-giving resurrection.
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What a test! (John 6.5-15)

To test him and perhaps also the other disciples, Jesus asks Philip where they could buy enough bread to feed the crowd. The other Gospels tell it slightly differently; in them Jesus says to his disciples, “You give them something to eat”. One can only shudder at the challenge and laugh at the pathetic response. They have seen that a boy in the crowd has five small loaves and two small fish – both “loaves” and “fish” are in a strongly diminutive form in the Greek. What use is that with a crowd of 5,000 men, not counting women and children?! In that pre-birth control era a typical family may have been husband, wife and six children. So the crowd may well have consisted of up to 40,000 people in total. Five little loaves and two small fish (not whales!)! What ridiculously inadequate resources! But in the hands of Jesus, inadequate resources can be multiplied. So that huge crowd ate from those loaves and fish until they were full. And twelve baskets of left-overs were gathered.
As we face the crowds today in mission, we may also feel with those disciples. Our gifting and resources seem so futile in the face of the immense task of world mission. For example, what impact can our little congregation make on the 1,350 million people in China? The very question is ridiculous! And individually we may feel dreadfully inadequate for the task of mission locally to the people in our street, our housing area, our town and county. As we face our weakness, let us place our pathetic resources in his hands, rededicate ourselves to feed the world’s crowds and trust him to multiply our gifts.
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