Monday 26 April 2010

Believing is Seeing (John 6)

How do we know Jesus is the true Bread of Life?

We looked at John chapter 6 yesterday at the Chinese Church where Jesus miraculously fed 5000 with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish; and this question was asked at the end of the service. How do we know Jesus is who he claims to be - the true Bread from Heaven, who gives everlasting life to all who feed on him?

1. We cannot know based on our own existing appetites
It is worth noticing that the passage itself asks the same question.

At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." (verse 41)

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (verse 52)

It wasn't just the crowd - even Jesus' own disciples had problems with his words:
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (verse 60)

But right from the beginning, Jesus says they are making their judgements based on their existing appetites.
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." (verse 26)

We are motivated by our stomaches; our hunger; our desires. We come to Jesus with a list of our needs to be met. So often we leave disappointed thinking that God has not fulfilled our expectations. But instead of finding our appetites too big, Jesus says they aren't nearly big enough. You have had your fill! You are too easily satisfied!

2. The True Bread brings True Life
The crowd is shrewd enough to connect Jesus' miracle with the biblical account of manna during the time of the Exodus.

So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" (verses 30-31)

Jesus corrects their reading of the bible on two points. Firstly, it is not Moses who gave them manna but God. In this, Jesus is similar to Moses in miraculously producing bread and feeding the crowd. Yet, Jesus is vastly different from Moses - Jesus himself produced the bread that fed the crowd. The connection is not between Jesus and Moses, but Jesus and God.

Secondly, even the bread that Jesus speaks of is superior to the manna in the desert. Both come from heaven. Both come from God. But the True Bread brings life!

"For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (verse 33)

"Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die." (verses 49-50)

3. Taste and See
But the core of question remains. How can we know?

The short answer is - by eating it!

"If anyone eats..." (verse 51). "Unless you eat..." (verse 53). "Whoever eats..." (verse 54). "Whoever eats..." (verse 56). "The one who feeds.. " (verse 57). ".. he who feeds on this bread.. " (verse 58).

Psalm 38 verse 4 says "Taste and see that the LORD is good". And it is the same here. We come to know Jesus fully by trusting in him fully. We receive eternal life by eating of the Bread of Life.

4. Hear and See

The crowds want to see more miracles. Only then will they believe Jesus (verse 30). For the crowd 2000 years ago and maybe for many of us today, seeing is believing. Jesus replies with stinging words. Having seen, they have not believed (verse 36).

By the end of the chapter, it is Jesus' words that draws and divides. Because of his words, most leave him! This is hard teaching - they say. And give them some credit - it was! Believers are eat his flesh, drink his blood (verses 53 to 56)?

Yet for Christians, these are words of life - and Jesus calls on us to feed on him spiritually.

"The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life." (verse 63)

In the bible, hearing leads to believing leads to seeing. Often, we get it the wrong way around. We want to see, in order to believe, and only after that, will we hear what Jesus has to say. That is what the crowds thought. "Show me more miracles to prove who you are! Then we'll consider what you have to say."

We have just come off Easter when sermons have been preached on the resurrection of Christ. Many focus on the proof of the resurrection and this is important. But it is all the more important to preach the resurrection not simply as the bible's proof to non-believers (Acts 17); but as the proof of assurance to believers in Jesus. If anything, we should expect that preaching the resurrection may well serve as warning to those who do not trust Jesus. In the case of Paul at the Areopagus, it was evidence of Jesus raised to judge (Acts 17:31). And here in John's gospel, Jesus would refer to it as source of offence!

"Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!" (verses 61-62)

The words of Jesus divide. But they also draw.

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me." (verses 44-45)

And in the end, those who remain with Christ do so because of his words.

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (verse 68)

5. Believing is Seeing

As a Christian, this can be a very uncomfortable passage to read. Here the bible talks not about a passive salvation but an active savouring. I am not just to draw my life from him but to be drawn to his death. Knowledge of Jesus is framed in terms of hunger and thirst. Faith is equated with feasting.

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (verse 35)

And the biggest challenge for me from this passage is the radical reality Jesus paints for those who do claim to believe. On the one hand, he condemns those who are blind to the knowledge of who he is, having seen what he has done and having heard what he has said. Yet on the other, for those who have put their trust in Jesus, these words ought to open our eyes to the treasures that are already ours in him. Having believed we ought to be able to see!

"For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (verse 40)

To believe in Jesus is to always look to Jesus. To keep our gaze upon him and never turn away. It is to continually focus our hearts on the cross where he was broken for our sins and raised for our life. To believe in Christ is to see Christ as our complete satisfaction and fulfilment - in this life as well as the life to come.

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