Note: What follows is Sermon #3 of three messages based on John 6.
This sermon was delivered October 18, 2015 at Nairn Mennonite Church, Nairn, Ontario, Canada. I was the guest preacher on these three occasions. Sermon #1 is entitled “Two Signs”. Sermon #2 is “Three Questions and One Answer”.
Sermon: Living Bread – Exodus 16:1-12, Deuteronomy 8:1-3; John 6 41-59
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Scripture quotations are from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
There is a parallel between the passage we read from Exodus and the one in John 6. In both cases, there is grumbling; in both cases there is bread that comes from heaven.
There is a parallel between the passage we read from Deuteronomy and the one in John. In both cases they speak of living on more than physical bread. Rather we live only by what comes from God.
- definition = complain or protest about something in a bad-tempered but typically muted way.
OED says “the word “grumble” derives, in part, from the French verb grommeler, to mutter to oneself. But grommeler also applies to animals: it means murmuring, snuffling, growling between your teeth. There’s something animalistic about grumbling. It differs from arguing, which is …, rational, … Grumbling is bodily: in the eighteenth century, you could describe yourself as “grumblous”—full of grumbles—…In the nineteenth century, you could have “the grumbles.””
Jon Bloom in the “Desiring God” website says, “The Bible often refers to faithless complaining as grumbling and warns us not to do that (Numbers 14:26–30; John 6:43; Philippians 2:14; James 5:9). Grumbling complaints directly or indirectly declare that God is not sufficiently good, faithful, loving, wise, powerful, or competent. Otherwise, he would treat us better or run the universe more effectively. Faithless complaining is sinful because it accuses God of doing wrong.” [https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/we-are-far-too-easily-displeased]
In our passage for today, it begins with a grumble. The Jewish synagogue attendees or leaders in Capernaum think they know that Jesus is a fellow Galilean and don’t like Jesus’ claim that He comes from God (from heaven). He had lived there.
John 6:41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
What right does He have to claim that He is divine? They think they know all there is to know about Jesus’ parentage.
There is another thing that the Lord wants to tell them.
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Their grumbling is insulting and unreasonable. It is even dangerous in that it assumes that you can use human reasoning on its own to sort out God and His sovereign plans. If we think we can figure everything out by ourselves, we insult God because we are saying we do not need His help. No one, Jesus declares, can come to Jesus except the Father draw him or her. And, not only that, but also Jesus is the one who will raise that person up in the last day.
The Father “draws” people to Himself. He teaches and woos, illuminates. This internal illumination is needed; it is a work of God. Also needed is our response in the form of belief – v.47, belief for eternal life. This can be seen as an invitation.
Then, the Lord states again that He is the bread of life. He is different form the manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness. the wilderness manna could not grant eternal life. Their ancestors died, after all. Jesus is clearly saying that to “eat” means to “believe”. If you believe, you have eternal life (v. 47); if you “eat” you live forever (v. 51). Jesus is the living bread (bread of life) and He refers to Himself as giving His “flesh” for the world.
The language reminds us of the Communion Service (or Lord’s Supper or Eucharist). In the other Gospels where the Last Supper is described, Jesus takes the bread and says, “Take, eat, this is My body.” Then, He takes the cup and says, “This is My blood of the covenant”. In the first chapter, John wrote, “The Word became flesh.” (1:14) The term “flesh” refers to Jesus Himself. Here in ch. 6 the term “Bread” is used as well. So, we have all these terms – flesh, body, blood, bread – all referring to the Lord Himself, who gives His life for others (“for the life of the world”, v.51.
To understand this more, and to sort out the meaning of the Communion service, we read on in verses 52-58.
John 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
First, the hearers argue about what Jesus is talking about. They argue amongst themselves. If He was talking literally, He was advocating cannibalism; if He was arguing figuratively, what did He mean? “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
The Lord answers this question.
If you eat His flesh and drink His blood, you have life. If eating His flesh was offensive to some, drinking His blood would be even more because the Law of Moses forbade the drinking of blood. Often in the Bible, the word “blood” is used to refer to violent death.
- 54 is essentially the same as v. 40:
- 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
- 40 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 them up at the last day.”
The same truth is stated. In the one using the image of eating and drinking, we have a metaphor – a picture version of the straightforward statement about believing. The same thing is found in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 15:16 and Ezekiel 3:3 two prophets spoke of eating the word of God. This pictured receiving the truths of the word of God into one’s life.
This is why the Mennonite Church statement of doctrine sees the elements in the Lord’s Supper as symbols that lead us to remember what Jesus Christ did for us in His death on the Cross.
Mennonite Church Canada:
Confession of Faith – Article 12: The Lord’s Supper
We believe that the Lord’s Supper is a sign by which the church thankfully remembers the new covenant which Jesus established by his death… The Lord’s Supper points to Jesus Christ, whose body was given for us and whose shed blood established the new covenant.2 In sharing the bread and cup, each believer remembers the death of Jesus and God’s act of deliverance in raising Jesus from the dead. As we relive this event with a common meal, we give thanks for all God’s acts of deliverance in the past and present, for the forgiveness of sins, and for God’s continuing grace in our lives.
The supper re-presents the presence of the risen Christ in the church. As we partake of the communion of the bread and cup, the gathered body of believers shares in the body and blood of Christ3 and recognizes again that its life is sustained by Christ, the bread of life.
You see the words “sign”, “remembers”, “points to Jesus”, “re-presents”. The bread and the cup are tokens used to remind us of what Jesus Christ did. They do not change form bread and wine, but they point to the body and blood of Jesus given for us. Our responsibility is to believe or trust in Him who paid the penalty of our sin and was offered as a sacrifice in our place.
The Lord goes on to emphasize the union of the believer and Himself (vv. 56-57). To “remain” in Him is another way of saying to “abide” in Him, something repeated in John’s Gospel (ch. 15). The Father sent Jesus the living father, the life-giving Son, and the believer who is in Christ and therefore also has this life.
The passage ends how it began, with mention of the manna in the wilderness and its temporary nature, as compared to the life Jesus offers and its eternal nature (v. 58).
All of this is pretty heavy. Yet, the Lord thought it important to present to an audience in His day and to include in the inspired scriptures for future generations.
- This section is like the others we have already considered in my previous messages from John 6 (“Two Signs” and “Three Questions and One Answer”). The passage is Christ-centred. The miracles we looked at in vv. 1-21 (feeding the 5000 and walking on water) were meant to get observers thinking about the uniqueness of Jesus – who can do these things except God? The next section, verses 22-40, seek to move on from the signs to the words of Jesus in which He claims to be the Son of God.
- The passage offers two alternatives: grumble or believe
It is clear what the Lord requires:
- 43, “Stop grumbling!” and instead, .
- 47, “the one who believes has eternal life”
The people who grumbled were missing the teaching of God because they were occupied with grumbling about something they didn’t understand. They may think of Jesus as a significant teacher, but still considered Him an ordinary man. This is how most people in our culture see Him today.
If you, or someone with whom you are talking, has a question about Jesus or the Bible, the Lord would challenge that person to become familiar with the teachings of Jesus and His person – verse 45, “Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.”
If you allow yourself to really listen to God you will see Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament pictures such as the manna in the wilderness to the reality of who Jesus is and why He came to earth – and how we are to respond – “believe”. Jesus challenges the hearers to give Him serious consideration.
In v. 47 He adds, “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.” The “verily” is an emphatic expression meaning, “Listen up! This is important. This is revelation from heaven. “Truly, truly…”
Which will it be – grumble about God and His Son Jesus Christ, or believe and rely upon Him for eternal salvation?