Apply the Word: This Isn't the Christ You're Looking For
This past Sunday, Benny preached on John 6, when Jesus feeds the 5,000 by multiplying a few fish and loaves of bread into enough food for everyone, plus leftovers. One of the big themes of this passage is that nothing saves but faith alone in Christ alone.
John tells us this was near Passover, probably in part to explain the large crowd, but also to contextualize why the Jews misunderstood Jesus' actions the way they did. They had national salvation on their minds, the kind of salvation God performed when their ancestors were in Egypt. In the Passover story in Exodus (Ex. 12), the Jews ate unleavened bread and spread blood on the door posts of their homes. When God sent judgement on Egypt that night, everyone with the blood of the lamb on their home was spared. Israel's oppressor was judged, and Israel was set free.
Israel in Jesus’ day was looking for a second Moses to lead them in a new Exodus, this time from Rome. And when Jesus provided bread in the wilderness, they were convinced he was like Moses who provided manna, bread from heaven, for their ancestors in the wilderness (Ex. 16). The Jews in John 6 were convinced Jesus was their new Moses, and they wanted to make him king so he could perform a similar salvation from Rome. Their idea of the Messiah was a national king who would defeat their political adversaries, once again judging their oppressors and setting them free, making them the world power they always wanted to be.
Jesus sees their misunderstanding, perceives their misguided intentions, and raises two objections.
Their ancestors weren't as saved as they think.
The salvation they need isn't what they think.
In other words, He affirms that he is Christ, their Messiah, but He isn't the Christ they're looking for.
1) For his first objection, Jesus explains that though the ancient Israelites were spared from God's judgement on Egypt, and they did indeed receive manna in the wilderness, none of that got them into the promised land. All of them died under God's judgment in spite of his deliverance and provision (John 6:49). Jesus' point is that being part of the religious community and participation in religious activities and blessings does not mean you are saved. He's telling them, "You can be a good Jew and participate in Passover, you can have ancestors who experienced the blessings of God, and you can yourself experience the blessings of God. If you rely on that, however, you will wind up in the same place as your ancestors - dead under God's judgement."
2) Now, if being a good Jew won't get you to heaven, and if receiving blessings from God won't get you into heaven, what will? This leads to Jesus' second point. When the Jews seek to make him king, Jesus flees into the mountains and then crosses the lake on foot (John 6:15-21). When they find him the next day, Jesus takes them to task over their wrongheaded understanding of salvation. He contrasts the needs they want him to meet (temporal, material) with the needs he came to meet (spiritual, eternal) (v. 25-27). He tells them the way to become a recipient of the kind of "Bread" that grants eternal life (as opposed to the manna that gave only natural life) is to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the "Bread from Heaven" (v. 27-29). He then uses eating his flesh and drinking his blood as a way of pointing to his atoning death on behalf of all who believe in him.
What Jesus is telling the Jews is the only religious act in which they must participate to be saved is to exercise faith in Jesus Christ. He is telling them that their ancestors missed the point of the manna. Manna, the bread from heaven, was meant to teach them NOT to live by bread alone, but by God's word, and living by God's word means believing in him. Jesus is telling this crowd that they are failing in the same way their ancestors failed. They have the outside all right, but they have the inside all wrong. They have the form of godliness, but they don't have its power.
What does this mean for us? It means we, too, tend to elevate things other than faith to the status of necessary-for-salvation. We believe we have to be "good Christians," or good Christian parents, or good Christian spouses, or good Christian servants, or good Christian somethings in order to be saved; or, if not saved, then to be loved. We may not buy into the notion that we have to take communion in order to receive absolution for our recent sins, but we often feel we must pray enough, grieve enough, read the Bible or fast or serve enough to get back into God's good graces. We look for evidences in our life circumstances for a reaffirmation of God's good favor towards us, and, oh how disappointing our circumstances can be on this point.
Jesus is telling us to stop looking at all these other things and "[look] upon the Son of Man and [believe] in him," and you will have eternal life, and he will raise you up on the last day to the resurrection of life (v40). This, above all else, is where our assurance comes from - God has shown us that Jesus died for our sins. Look at Jesus' saving work on your behalf and believe that he did it for you and that God is pleased and satisfied with his sacrifice, and you will be saved. If you look anywhere else, whether it's to your performance or your circumstances, or your heritage, or your ability to argue for the reasonable nature of your faith, you will be let down, and you may be lost.
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