Is Jesus Really From Heaven?
John 6:41 – 71
Is Jesus Really From Heaven?
How could you possibly miss out?
When I was a little kid I was fascinated with the story of the Titanic. I think that’s where my fear of dying in some terrible transport accident comes from!
But I would read everything I could get my hands on, about Titanic and all those other great ocean liners of the early 20th Century.
One of the stories I came across, was of a man from here in London, who wanted to start a new life in America and so he decided to buy a ticket on one of those enormous ships.
It took him nearly 3 years to save enough for the ticket from Southampton to New York, but he thought one way he could save some money would be to take his own food on board with him, so that he wouldn’t have to buy his meals on the ship.
He packed an old brown leather satchel with bread, and cheese, and fish. And for each day of the week-long journey across the Atlantic, he ate, just a little bit out of his bag.
Naturally, as the journey went on, his supplies dwindled, the bread went stale, and, well, imagine the fish!
And so on the very last day of the voyage, he decides, “hang the expense, rather than eat the last few rotten crumbs from my satchel, I’ll go and have a meal in the ship’s dining room.”
Of course when he got there, he discovered, laid out for him, all the food he could eat, and more, that had been included in the price of his ticket, all along.
He’d been contenting himself with stale bread, when the finest food had been provided for him.
And we wonder, how can you miss out like that?
How can you be so blind as to miss out on that wonderful provision?
Well, we’ve seen in John 6 over these last few weeks, exactly that problem.
Jesus has been showing that he’s the bread of life;
Just as physical food is required for physical life, so Jesus offers us what we need for eternal life.
We saw that the bread of life is what Jesus gives, forgiveness for our sin,
Reconciliation with the God we’ve ignored.
But also Jesus is the bread. More than anything else, we need, him.
The life for which we were created can only be ours though Jesus.
And yet, there are some who will have nothing to do with what Jesus offers.
See how this section begins with people grumbling,
They raise objection after objection,
“What Jesus says can’t possibly be true, because, ”
“There’s no way I can believe what Jesus offers, because”
And you might have heard those sorts of thoughts.
They may be your thoughts,
Maybe there are some parts of Jesus’ teaching that seem too hard,
Or too good to be true,
Or that demand such a whole of life response, that you’re really sure whether you want to stick with Jesus for the long-term.
Maybe you’ve been a Christian for a long time, and the further you go on in your faith, or the further our society seems to go away from the Christian faith, the harder it feels to believe what Jesus says.
Perhaps you’re not a Christian, but you’ve heard some of Jesus’ teaching,
And maybe you wonder, “wow, it all sounds quite hard,
Hard to believe,
Hard to accept,
Hard to hear,
Hard to talk about with others”,
Here in John 6 we encounter some people’s objections to Jesus, people saying “I can’t accept what Jesus offers for this reason or that reason”, and then, they miss out.
Let’s take a look.
Objection 1 - “Jesus can’t be from God” (v 41 – 51)
The first objection is an issue of identity.
People don’t believe Jesus has come from God.
Look with me at verse 41, 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’?”
Jesus claims to have come down from heaven, and he acts in the world like God has acted in the past, but can he really be God, when he’s clearly a human?
The Jews, tends to be John’s shorthand for the Jewish religious leaders, maybe those in charge of the synagogue where this is happening, down in verse 59.
Jesus claims to be God, and they don’t believe him.
I had to verify my identity to be registered for this week’s General Election.
The question of who I am is apparently quite important in whether or not I get a vote!
But getting a vote is nothing compared to what hinges on finding the truth about Jesus’ identity. It’s the reason John wrote this book;, that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Chapter 20 verse 31.
It matters how you answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”
Is he God?
Is he the saviour?
Is he the Saviour of the world?, or just the saviour of a particular group of people, or type of people.
Your answer matters not because it determines reality, but because it will show whether you’re living according to reality, or whether you’re denying it, and so missing out, on the wonderful provision laid out for you.
People don’t believe Jesus has come from God because they think they’ve got the full picture of Jesus already.
“We know him,” they say,
We know his family, his mum and dad.
We remember him when he was a little kid, running around the carpenter’s shop, playing with the tools.
How can he possibly say, “I came down from heaven?”
It would be a bit like if our 8 year-old Abby, comes out of the kids programs in a few minutes, into where we’re having tea and coffee, and she starts walking around announcing in a loud voice that she’s a member of the Royal Family, and she’s made a special trip down from Buckingham Palace to pay us a visit!
We all know better!
You know her family,
Some of you have seen the family photos in our home from when she was a baby,
How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
Of course, if we’ve kept the Exodus-Passover theme that John wants us to be mindful of in our heads, as soon as we read of God’s people grumbling about Jesus, we’re reminded that God’s people have a history of thinking God’s not doing things the way he should!
This is the exact language used in Exodus and Deuteronomy, to capture the complaining of the people against Moses. Remember, they’d been miraculously rescued,
Spared God’s judgement,
Spectacularly delivered, and they grumble against Moses.
And though their grumbling was directed at Moses, in reality they were grumbling about God himself.
God wasn’t doing what they thought God should do.
God wasn’t the kind of God they wanted.
And the terrible irony is, that when that living God turned up among them in the person of Jesus, their objection was exactly the same.
They grumbled against Jesus, and were in fact grumbling at God himself.
God had come to rescue and to provide, and they began to grumble because he wasn’t the God they wanted.
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
They know something about who Jesus is, but they assume that’s the whole picture, and so in fact they miss out entirely.
If we focus only on one part of Jesus’ identity, to the exclusion of everything else, we miss out on who he really is.
And we might think, “yes, well, it is a bit hard to believe”, just like we wouldn’t believe a child whom we know claiming to have come from Buckingham Palace for a royal visit.
We might think the crowd’s objection is understandable.
But if you focus only on Jesus earthly origins, then you’ll miss the fact that he’s come from God, to give us the life of God.
If, because someone thinks they’ve got Jesus figured out, they don’t believe that he is the bread that came down from heaven, what have they done?
They’ve denied the one thing they need for eternal life.
If they don’t believe that Jesus is the bread of life, the one essential need for the life of eternity, then they don’t get that one essential need for the life of eternity.
It would be a bit like saying, “I believe water is a conspiracy between world governments and the pharmaceutical industry, so I’m not going to drink it!”
To say, “I know the whole truth about it, and I want nothing to do with it”, is to cut yourself off from what you need for life.
To deny Jesus’ heavenly origins is to reject what he offers, and to cut yourself off from the possibility of eternal life.
Objection answered: Salvation depends on Jesus being sent by his Father
Because Jesus answers this objection, by saying salvation depends on him being sent by his Father.
See there in verse 43,
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.’ u 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.
Notice Jesus doesn’t answer these objections by getting his mum to come out and talk about the angel visiting her before Jesus was born, and how she conceived by the Holy Spirit, and so, yes, Jesus really did come from God.
He says salvation depends, on my coming from God.
So, if you want salvation,
If you want relationship with God,
Then you have to accept the Son, sent by God the Father,
The entirety of Jesus’ mission depends on the fact that he has come from God, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,
Or verse 46, No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.
Because Jesus comes from heaven, he is the only one who can who make God known.
See, there is a man named Peter, who you don’t know. He’s a lovely, kind man.
If you knew him he’d be an encouragement to you in your Christian life and ministry, I’m sure.
But you can’t meet him.
You can’t learn about him.
He lives in another country.
And you won’t find his phone number anywhere,
You can’t email him,
But he’s my grandfather.
I’ve known him all my life,
I’ve been in his home more times than I can count.
And I can introduce you to him!
If you wanted, we could call him right after the service, and get him out of bed!
Why can I do that, but you can’t ever know him without me?
Because I’ve come from him!
Just a few months ago I was with him.
And because I’ve come from him, you can know him now, too!
We can only know God because Jesus has come from God.
The Old Testament was clear, no one had ever seen God.
No one could possibly see God. A sinful, rebellious human coming face to face with the holy and perfect God, against whom they were rebelling? Impossible!
If Jesus wasn’t sent by God, we’re left on our own, far from God.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, Jesus says, and the verb “to draw” is the language used in the Old Testament, in places like Jeremiah 31 to picture God drawing Israel to himself in the Exodus, and making them his own.
This is the Bible’s regular way of describing God bringing people to himself.
But it’s also the language used later on in John’s gospel to describe hauling in a net full of fish,
In the book of Acts, it describes Paul and Silas being carried in before the civil authorities,
And Paul being dragged out of the town of Lystra to be stoned.
Every single use of this word in the New Testament describes a drawing that is successful, regardless of whatever opposition or resistance is mounted.
It’s decisive and final.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,
Do you feel the weight of what Jesus is saying?
None of us were ever looking for God,
But God, in his great kindness, draws us to Jesus, the one from heaven who makes God known.
And Jesus, we’re told, brings in the long-expected age when God himself will teach his people. It was promised through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and there’s one example there of an Old Testament quote in verse 45 ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Well that day has arrived! God has come from heaven, and is teaching his people!
If we’re to come to God, it’s because God teaches us,
God enables us to understand,
And God draws us.
That’s why we pray for our friends and family who aren’t Christian.
It’s why lots of us are using the 5 Friends 5 Ways card, to remind us that it’s God’s work to save people, and we ask him to draw them to himself, and to teach them.
But of course, since no one sees God face to face. The way people are taught by God, learn from God, is through Jesus. Verse 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father
Do you see how our salvation depends on the fact that Jesus has come from his Father in heaven?
A good man, a wise teacher, cannot make God known.
See, Christmas is not just about the birth of any baby, nor even just a special baby.
Christmas us about the one who is from God, who has seen the Father, coming into our world.
And of course, if Jesus hadn’t come down from heaven, if he were not the one who is from God, there’s no way he could be the bread of heaven, that one necessity for eternal life.
Because no mere human can offer eternal life.
Try offering eternal life around in the office this week, Spread some eternal life around the school gate as you’re waiting to pick up your kids!
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.”
Everything about Jesus’ mission hangs on his identity. Which highlights the danger in saying “I like to think of Jesus as, ” or “To me, Jesus is, ”
Come up with some other picture of Jesus and Jesus becomes powerless.
No longer can he make God known,
No longer is he the bread of life.
He’s just, a man,
A figment of your imagination.
If we get Jesus’ identity wrong, he has nothing of any consequence to offer us, and we’re stuck eating the rotten food out of our satchel, when the banquet is laid out for us.
Notice Jesus also speaks of the need to believe, verse 47.
God drawing people doesn’t mean they’re made followers of Jesus without their knowledge.
I’m constantly un-subscribing from email lists I never signed up for.
That’s not what coming to faith is like;, that we only find out about it afterwards.
No, the one who believes has eternal life.
Jesus here is offering eternal life, for anyone who will believe.
But human knowledge is never enough to gain us that eternal life, or to figure out God’s plans.
Our only hope, is for God himself to come, and to teach us, and draw us to Jesus.
Objection 2 – “We can’t eat Jesus” (v 48 - 59)
But the way Jesus speaks about people coming to him, raises another objection,
See verse 51, 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.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
In the days of the early church, some opponents of the church accused Christians of being cannibals, because of this kind of language.
It does have a bit of a zombie theme running through it, doesn’t it?
I’ve never really been in to the zombie genre, but I understand that this is what it’s all about,
And the dead coming back to life,
In reality it’s a metaphor we’re quite familiar with.
We speak of devouring books,
Drinking in, a spectacular view,
We might swallow someone’s tall story,
Or chew over an idea,
Occasionally we’re forced to eat our own words,
We’ve got lots of expressions that match this sort of language.
If we can understand this metaphorically, why do these religious leaders object so strongly?
Objection answered: To eat is to believe
Part of the reason is that 2000 years ago, this wouldn’t have come across like zombie language, but sacrificial language.
If we think less, “Night of the Living Dead” and more, what happened every day in temples across the Roman Empire, we’ll understand the strength of this reaction against Jesus’ words.
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.
Jesus isn’t saying, “I’ll make you a zombie”, he’s saying, “I’ll make me, a sacrifice”
What happens after an animal gets sacrificed?
They don’t just stick the bits in the recycling, do they?
No, once the sacrifice had been offered;, it was eaten. And whoever ate the flesh of the sacrifice, expected to share in the benefits of the sacrifice, whatever they thought the sacrifice might be.
Eating the flesh was a way of saying “I’m in this,
I’m committed to this,
I want to take hold of the benefits that this sacrifice brings”
Jesus is saying, “I’m a sacrifice. If you want eternal life, if you want to be raised up on that last day, you need to participate in the sacrifice.”
Of course, we don’t physically eat Jesus flesh, or drink his blood, it’s a metaphor for believing.
Remember, we keep seeing, the “work” of eternal life, is to believe.
Compare verse 40, where we finished last week, everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
to verse 54, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
To eat, is to believe.
In fact Augustine, A bishop in North Africa around the turn of the 5th Century, noted that Jesus is saying “believe, and you have eaten already.”
Whenever blood gets mentioned in the Bible, the focus is generally on death,
A violent death,
A sacrificial death.
So it’s impossible to read this and not see Jesus’ bloody sacrificial death on the cross, looming large over this conversation.
And so if, to eat, is to believe, here we find out exactly what we believe in, in order to receive eternal life.
If we believe in Jesus sacrifice for us, we receive the benefits of his sacrifice.
Verse 54, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
The way to eternal life is not just by believing in a man,
Believing his wise words,
But believing in his sacrifice,
Believing that he is the sacrifice that pays the penalty for our sin.
And even more broadly, eating is a sign of total commitment isn’t it?
You watch a parent trying to get their young child to try some new food.
The child looks at it suspiciously,
They touch it on the tip of their tongue, and think that passes for eating it! “Can I have my pudding now?”
But no, “you actually have to eat it!”
So a tiny nibble, and kind of one molecule gets swallowed.
And after 2 years of this, the child discovers they actually like this food, and so then they start eating it!
And I can see all the parents nodding their heads, because you know that’s exactly how it is!
To speak of eating Jesus flesh is to speak of an all-in, total encounter with Jesus through believing in his death for us.
It’s a real engagement with who Jesus is, not just nibbling around the edges like an unconvinced toddler.
It might be worth just highlighting the fact that Jesus is not talking in the first instance about the Lord’s Supper.
That parallel between verses 40 and 54 make it clear that to eat is to believe, not to eat bread and wine.
And although the words all sound very similar to us, the New Testament language around the Lord’s supper is all to do with “body”, not “ flesh.”
I think flesh is supposed to remind us of John 1, the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
This is the one who sacrifices himself in our place;, the one who came from God and took on flesh.
Of course, the Lord’s supper is also speaking about Jesus’ death for eternal life,
But the Lord’s supper is not how we get eternal life. Otherwise we wouldn’t have to worry about doing evangelism, just slip some communion into your friends’ lunch and they’d be saved!
Clearly, that’s not how Jesus thinks people get eternal life.
We receive eternal life, by believing, by this all-in encounter with Jesus, captured by this image of eating and drinking him.
“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.
Joy Davidman was a communist and strident atheist before becoming a Christian.
Towards the end of her life she wrote a reflection on the first of the 10 Commandments, you know it, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me,
She observed that lots of people will say: "Yes, of course there must be some sort of Force that created the galaxy. But it's childish to imagine that It has any personal relation to me!"
But We live in an age of lost faith and lost hope and empty hearts. Today the Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," must include, "Thou shalt, have me."
Jesus is saying “you must, have, me.”
Lip service is not enough,
Forming an opinion about who I am, is not enough,
Thinking I’m a wise man, or a good teacher, is not enough,
You must, through believing, engage with my sacrifice, the once for all sacrifice for sin.
Verse 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.
No wonder people got upset,
Jesus says that he is going to be a sacrifice that can make people right with God.
And the implication is, no other sacrifice can do it.
Here in the Jewish synagogue, where people came to be assured of the value of the Old Testament Law, and the benefits of the sacrificial system, Jesus says none of that can bring life.
For some, Jesus’ teaching is too hard (v 60 – 71)
So little surprise, that On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” and then in verse 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
This isn’t the 12, but a larger group of disciples, and among this larger group, not everyone who looks like a disciple is a disciple.
There were crowds of people who followed Jesus around, but not all of them would trust in Jesus’ sacrificial death.
The religious leaders object to his claim to have come from heaven,
Others object to the necessity of his death in their place.
Jesus makes it clear later on, in chapter 8 for example, that only those who hold onto his teaching and continue to obey his commands are really his disciples.
Some turn away, and we probably know people who have done the same.
And the reasons are probably much the same as we see here in John 6.
For some, no doubt it’s the whole idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood;, It’s the total commitment required that puts them off.
For others, it will be the question of identity where we started, they want a Jesus who’s a good man or a wise teacher, but they can’t accept he is the eternal God.
And so, if I were Jesus, which is always a dangerous way to begin a sentence, but at this point, I would probably soften things a little bit.
See, if the numbers in our kids and youth programs start to slide, the temptation for Tash and for James, will be to ease off a bit on the “Jesus bits” and just do more of the stuff that seems likely to gather the kids in a bit more.
At some point if our church becomes unpopular in the community, the temptation for those of us who teach the Bible, will be to say less about sin and Jesus’ sacrifice, and God come in the flesh, and more about “achieving your goals”, and getting the life you’ve always wanted.
If you’re a Growth Group leader, then when someone in your group starts attending less and less regularly, and when they are there want to engage less and less with the Bible, they maybe just want to talk about ideas and experiences,
Tthe temptation for you as a leader, will likely be to give them the kind of group experience they want;, “everyone’s ideas are equally valid, let’s just sit around and talk about them.”
When you notice, one of your friends from this congregation, here at church less and less,
Not wanting to talk about faith when you catch up,
Then when you do see them, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be tempted to steer clear of talking about Jesus’ words,
You’ll direct the conversation away from eternal things.
But does the fact that people find Jesus’ message hard, cause him to go soft on his message?
Not at all! Instead he asks, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!
“If you’re not happy with what I’ve said so far about my mission and identity, how are you going to feel when this story plays out in its entirety?
If you object to my claim that I came from heaven, well what’s going to be your reaction when you see me ascend back to the Father’s side?”
As I said, I’m sure we all know people whose objections to Jesus’ teaching and ministry have caused them to turn away.
But the great tragedy is, there’s nowhere else to turn.
Peter’s exactly right when he says, verse 68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Do we believe that?
Do our lives show that we believe that?
Does the way I spend my time demonstrate that I believe that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life,
Do my conversations with my non-Christian friends reflect that?
Does the way we do things as a church reflect that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life?
Sometimes it’s hard to follow Jesus.
Sometimes his teaching is difficult.
You can bet that Peter found it hard at times, Matthew records him saying to Jesus, “We’ve left everything to follow you.”
And there may even be someone here this morning/afternoon, who’s tempted to go the way of the crowd.
Maybe for you it all seems just too hard, and you’re tempted to walk away from Jesus.
But to turn away from the one whose words are full of the Spirit and life, well the only other option is to turn to ourselves, to seek eternal life by our own means, our own, “works”.
To turn away from Jesus, makes us the man on the ship, eating rotten crumbs that do us no good at all, when the most magnificent food is laid out before us.
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.”
Thank you that Jesus came from heaven, eternal God broke into the world, that we might know you, and that we might have eternal life.
Help us to believe in Jesus and his death in our place.
Thank you that Jesus’ words bring life.
Help us to hear his words, and not miss out, contenting ourselves on crumbs that can never satisfy nor bring life, when the blessings of life through Jesus can be ours.