The Hardest Saying of All
July 8, 2012 Speaker: Series: The Gospel of John
Topic: The Gospel Passage: John 6:52–6:59
The Hardest Saying of All
I. OPENING ILLUSTRATION
A. Two Women, One Sin, Two Faces
B. Why the Difference? The Blood of Christ. We’re about to see why.
1. The Great Galilean Ministry: Jesus has been preaching and doing miracles, raising Messianic hopes, gathering multitudes of inquirers and many new followers
2. The Feeding of the 5000: Most recently, he has miraculously fed 5000 men. As a result, they try to make him Israel’s king. But he refuses, sending the multitudes away and retiring to a mountain alone.
3. Hard Sayings: Now they search him out again, still misunderstanding his ministry, still hoping for an earthly King and provider, like David or Moses. So now, very intentionally he responds with deep, challenging truths; truths the people will refer to as hard sayings:
a. You’re motives are wrong: You are seeking for physical provision, rather than spiritual; for food that perishes, rather than food that endures to eternal life
b. I am the True Bread: Yes, God desires to feed his people, but spiritually. And the food he gives the world is ME, the true bread; the spiritual bread that will fill, satisfy, and endure to eternal life
c. I am the True Bread that comes down from heaven: My origin is not from this world; I am a heavenly being, not an earthly
d. I am the True Bread that comes down from heaven as a gift from the Father: I have a unique relationship with God; he is my Father, I am his Son.
e. No one can understand these things or respond to them properly by coming to Me unless the Father grants it.
4. The people’s response: They grumbled, murmured, complained.
6. So how did Jesus respond? By giving the hardest saying of all: “I am the living bread that came down from haven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51).
B. Introduction: Today’s text is divisible into three parts:
1. (6:52-59) The Hardest Saying of All
2. (6:60-65) The False Disciple’s Response: They Turn Back
3. (6:66-71) The True Disciple’s Response: They Stay Put
III. (6:52-59) THE HARDEST SAYING OF ALL
A. (52) A Dispute Arises
1. Scripture: “The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
2. Comment: In recounting this Discourse, John identifies four groups of people, ranging from many in number to few in number: The multitudes, the Jews, a large group of Disciples, and the Twelve. Here he speaks of “the Jews.” These appear to be the leaders of the synagogue in Capernaum, but they speak for the multitudes.
Because of Jesus’ most recent saying, these begin to strive, dispute, wrangle, and otherwise debate the meaning of Jesus’ cryptic words. They are thinking literally, of his physical flesh, and so cannot see, or at least agree, as to how exactly he will give it them.
The question they asked is a reasonable one. More than that, it is a profoundly important one. The way we answer it will influence the quality of our Christian life, and even our eternal destiny itself. So this morning, let us try to discover the true, biblical answer to their excellent question: How can this Man could give us his flesh to eat!
B. (53) A Warning
1. Scripture: “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 you!”
2. Comment: Observe first that he now adds something further to his previous statement: Not only must people eat his flesh, they must also drink his blood! This statement was shocking to every pious Jew. Over and again in the OT, God had strenuously forbidden the pagan practice of drinking the blood of animals, whether as food, or as part of a religious observance. Yet here Jesus not only insists upon it, he insists upon it strenuously, prefacing his remarks with words “truly, truly.” This is a solemn warning: If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no spiritual life in you. Therefore, on the Last Day you will not enter the Kingdom of God, but perish in the Judgment.
C. (54-55) A Promise
1. Scripture: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
2. Paraphrase: Here the Lord repeats himself, but this time in the form of a two-fold promise. I would paraphrase it this way: “The person who continually feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood already possesses eternal life; therefore, on the Last Day, when I come again to judge the world in righteousness, I will raise him from the dead, glorify his body, and welcome to eternal life my Father and I in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
3. What does it mean to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood?
a. The short answer: It means to believe in him, to come to him by faith, for salvation.
We learn this from verse 47, where Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” To believe brings eternal life; to eat Jesus flesh and blood brings eternal life. Therefore, believing, eating, and drinking are clearly the same thing.
We also see this in verse 40, which reads, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.” God will raise you on the last day if you behold and believe; God will raise you on the Last Day if you eat and drink. So again, eating, drinking, and believing are the same thing.
b. The long answer: It means to see and understand all that Christ did for his people on the Cross, and personally to receive it to oneself by receiving him.
Previously, Jesus has stressed the importance of faith in his divine Person. Here he stresses the importance of faith in his Work, and especially his sacrificial death. He has just alluded to this in verse 51, where he told the Jews that he will soon give his flesh for the life of the world. In other words, he will willingly surrender himself to the Romans, who will tear his flesh and shed his blood on a Cross, so that a whole new world of redeemed sinners can be forgiven of their sins and come to life: now, on the Last Day, and forever.
4. What exactly did Jesus do for us on the Cross?
It will take a lifetime—and maybe even an eternity—to fully understand. But here are some glorious biblical words, well worth further study, that God has given us to get us going:
Substitution Satisfaction Propitiation
Atonement Reconciliation Redemption
These weighty words help us to see and understand all that Christ did on the Cross; they help us, by faith, to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
5. Why did Jesus use such graphic, shocking, and potentially offensive imagery to make his point?
Answer: In order to stress the importance of understanding and personally receiving all the merits of his saving Work on the Cross.
Here’s an illustration to help you understand this point. Imagine that you are at the Red Robin Restaurant. You order your favorite: A California Burger. The waiter arrives and sets it before you. You exclaim, “I do believe that’s the most beautiful hamburger I’ve ever seen! Look at that quarter pound of medium-rare ground sirloin! Look at that bacon! Look at those tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and avocado! Thanks so much!” From such remarks it’s clear that you see and admire the hamburger. But what if you never eat it? What if you just sit there talking about, but never personally ingest it, never take it deep into your belly and your bowels? Well, maybe you don’t really believe it’s so great after all. One thing sure You will never really enjoy it; you will never be nourished by it; it will never do you any good.
By using this imagery, Jesus is telling us the exact same thing about saving faith in him: It is not enough to simply to discuss, or debate, or admire, or even sing about his saving Work on the Cross. No, in order to receive eternal life, we must see, in the Spirit, our profound need of the benefits of that work, and then personally receive them for ourselves by receiving him into the very depths of our being.
D. (56) Continual feeding, continual abiding
1. Scripture: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
2. MP’s: We must continually feed, for in so doing we will continually abide. How this works: Conviction, repentance, confession, restoration. It’s a lifestyle!
3. Cross-reference: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
–1 John 1:7-9.
E. (57) Continual feeding, continual living
1. Scripture: As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me
2. MP: Appropriating the merits of Christ’s work, we receive life from him, even as he ever receives it from the Father. To all eternity, we will receive this life because of his broken body and shed blood!
3. Illustration: The two women: Here is the difference: One has eaten and drunk and come to life; the other has not. Pray that she will!
F. (58) One bread alone saves from death!
1. Scripture: “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
2.Comment: The fathers who ate the manna in the wilderness died; and to judge from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, many perished in hell. The manna did not change them or save them. But those who partake of Christ—the true Bread—will be saved. Though a true believer in Christ may die physically, he will never die spiritually. At the moment of death, his soul will enter Heaven; and at the Last Day, Christ will raise him from the dead so that he will live forever in God’s eternal Kingdom.
G. (59) Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.
IV. (60-66) THE FALSE DISCIPLES DEPART
A. A Division Arises: Jesus has spoken hard sayings. This was the hardest of all. Now a division arises between those who truly believe, and those who do not. He begins by giving us the response of those who do not.
B. (60) A Hard Saying
1. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
2. MP’s: Many disciples—maybe hundreds / A hard saying: Yes, hard to understand, yet the gist is clear enough: “I have a unique relationship with God: He is my Father. He has sent me to give eternal life to all who will receive me.” So then, while Jesus’ saying is indeed hard to understand, for these men the real hardness may be in surrendering their preferred idea of the Messiah in order to follow this Man into a life of costly obedience / Jesus’ words are putting their discipleship to the test!
B. (61-63) A Lifeline
1. Scripture: But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
2. Comment: Jesus knows their thoughts, and that they are near to failing the test. So he throws them a lifeline, affirming what many of them have probably suspected all along: His words are not to be taken literally, but have a deeper, spiritual meaning.
He begins by asking, “What if you were to see me, the Son of Man, ascending to where I was before?” In so speaking, he bids them to imagine him ascending bodily into heaven to be with his Father, something he will soon do, and something they will soon hear about. Under such circumstances, how could they possibly eat his flesh and drink his blood? They could not. Therefore, they should realize he has been speaking mystically, symbolically, spiritually.
And now he throws out another lifeline. For he says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” While cryptic, there is no escaping Jesus’ meaning here: In saying that people must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he was speaking spiritually, not literally
3. Application: It is vital that Christians appreciate the message tucked away in verse 63. All of us desire to experience the fullest possible measure of spiritual life. According to Jesus, how does it come to us? It comes by the Spirit, through his words. The Spirit gives us “life,” through the words of Christ, because of the finished Work of Christ. Practically speaking, this means that we must come to God every day, asking him in prayer to quicken the Word of God by the Spirit of God. We do this in our quiet times; we do this on Sunday, as we sit under the Word preached, prophesied, and taught; we do this in our home group, when we discuss the Word. Let us do it faithfully. / Note this also: If the Spirit is quickening you to the true meaning of the Word, it will bring life, not death. Fleshly understandings of the Word profit nothing; they bring no infusion of divine life to the soul. This is one important way we discern error: Erroneous teaching does not bring life, but continually brings confusion, controversy, and death. Not to forget this important truth!
C. (64-66) The Lord is not surprised by unbelief
1. Scripture: “But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
2. Comment: Even before the mass defection occurs, Jesus knows who truly believes in him, and who does not; he knows who will stay, and who will depart. He knows this because he is God, and he know it because he knows whom the Father has chosen; whom the Father has given to him. So Jesus is never surprised by unbelief, nor by professions of faith that result in apostasy; that result in people walking away from the faith.
In this text, Jesus and John speak of these things so that we will not be surprised either. Until Christ returns, this is how things will be. For as long as the Gospel is preached, some will receive it and some will reject it. Among those who receive it, some will remain and some will depart. Such things should not surprise, or discourage, or offend us, though often they will bring much sorrow. They happened in Jesus’ day; they have happened all throughout Church history; and they are sure to happen in our day. Forewarned is forearmed.
V. (67-71) THE TRUE DISCIPLES REMAIN
A. Intro: Jesus now turns his attention to the Twelve. Eleven of them stand as a picture of the True Church; of all for whom Christ died; of all whom he brings to faith and life by his Spirit and his Word; of all who truly eat his flesh and drink his blood.
B. (67) A Test
1. Scripture: “So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
2. Comment: Jesus knows that they do not want to go away, but now gives them an opportunity to make what the Bible calls “the good confession;” to publicly declare their faith and so strengthen their walk with him. The Lord will give us similar opportunities. As he said, “Before (the end comes) they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” God will enable you to make a good confession.
C. (68-69) A Good Confession
1. Scripture: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
2. Comment: Every saint of God thrills to Peter’s words, and with good reason: They supply three easily understood marks of true faith, and so convey to true believers a deep sense of assurance and joy.
Do you wish to know if you are among them? Then ask yourself this: Is Jesus the last stop; the end of the spiritual road; is it utterly inconceivable to you that you should turn to anyone else—any other religious teacher—in order to find spiritual truth and establish a true and lasting connection with God? Do you delight in Jesus’ words, and the word’s of all the prophets and apostles who sang of him? Do those words bring life and joy and strength into your soul, and do you prefer them above all others? Finally, do you know and believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God; the Holy Son of the Father; the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; sent into the world to live and die for the redemption of his people? If you can answer yes to all these questions, then rejoice: You are one with the Eleven, and one of Jesus’ own.
D. (70-71) A Flawed Confession
1. Scripture: Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet, one of you is a devil.” He spoke this of Judas Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.
2. Comment: In his good confession, Peter spoke truly for most of the disciples, but not for all. So Jesus corrected him: “All of you have not believed; in fact, one of you is a devil, an agent of Satan who will oppose and betray me.” Possibly, Jesus says this as a warning to Judas. Certainly, he says it so that all his true disciples—including us—will not lose confidence in his judgment or his deity. When he chose Judas it was not a mistake. His Father led him to do it, and he did it with eyes opened wide, knowing full well that in the end it would lead to betrayal and death, but also to eternal salvation for the people of God.
Why would God lead Jesus to choose a devil, a traitor, to be one of the Twelve? Possibly to teach us that God causes ALL things to work together for the good of those who love him; even evil things; even the occasional traitor in our midst, for whom wise pastors must ever be on the alert.
VI. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION