Salvation is Assured!
John 6:16 – 40
Don’t mistake the sign for the destination ...
I had to go to Milton Keynes last week. The staff from across the Co-Mission Churches gathered for our annual conference, and so I headed off to the magical land of roundabouts and futuristic home delivery robots!
I loaded my bags into the car,
Worked my way out onto the M25, then got onto the M1 to head up North.
When I was on the M1, as I was approaching Junction 14, I saw a huge sign, saying “Milton Keynes”, so I stopped the car by the sign,
Got out my laptop,
And waited for the conference to start.
Imagine my surprise, when everyone else apparently got lost, because I saw car after car of Co-Mission staff, whizz past me on the motorway, apparently paying no attention to the huge sign with “Milton Keynes.”
That’s not strictly speaking a true story, is it?
I did go to Milton Keynes last week,
I did see roundabouts and delivery robots,
But I didn’t stop at the sign on the side of the motorway.
To stop at the sign that says “Milton Keynes 10 miles”, or whatever, that would be crazy.
No, we follow where the sign points, because we don’t want to mistake the sign for the destination.
We’ve seen so far in our journey through John’s gospel account, that he records these various works of Jesus, miracles. But John, because of the point that he’s trying to make deliberately calls them signs.
He tells us near the end of his book, that Jesus performed many, signs, that is miracles, and John recorded some of them, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The signs are there, to point to Jesus;,
That he is the Messiah, God’s king,
That he is the Son of God who acts in the world as only God can,
And because this is who Jesus, we can have life in his name, the life in relationship with God for which we were created.
So you can see why John calls Jesus’ miracles signs.
We’re not supposed to stand amazed at the miracle. It’s there to direct our attention to what God is doing in Jesus to make himself known.
But it is easy to get, caught up on the sign. Feeding 20,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish is fairly impressive. But to think that the sign is all there is, is to see the sign on the Motorway, pull over and get ready for your meeting, thinking you’re in Milton Keynes, and then wonder why everyone else is driving past.
And in this section of John’s gospel, Jesus’ disciples get a private demonstration of his identity.
1. Jesus reveals more of himself to his disciples (v 16 – 24)
After the feeding of the 5000. The disciples set off in a boat, verse 17, across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.
18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.
The Sea of Galilee is notorious for sudden storms, even today, in part because its surface is 200 metres below sea level, making it the second lowest lake anywhere in the world.
And the disciples have found themselves in the midst of one of these storms.
But in the middle of it, Jesus appears, walking on the water; and, understandably they were frightened.
Notice in verse 17 John tells us by now it was dark.
It’s an eye-witness detail that reminds us John was there, and that he knows this is all true.
But generally when John talks about light and dark, daytime and night time, he does so deliberately, to picture the spiritual state of the people he’s writing about.
So Nicodemus in chapter 3, who doesn’t understand anything about what it means to be born again, comes to Jesus at night. He’s in the dark, spiritually.
When Judas leaves the last supper to betray Jesus. John makes sure we know it was night.
The Samaritan woman at the well, though, in chapter 4. She comes to realise that Jesus is the Messiah, the saviour of the World, and John tells us this happens right in the middle of the day.
by now it was dark, is a clue for us that the disciples are still in the dark spiritually. They haven’t yet understood who Jesus is.
And so Jesus reveals more of himself to them.
He rejects the crowds’ understanding of his identity. But he gives his disciples more and more evidence and gives them reason to put their trust in him.
Did you see how he reveals who he is? they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Remember what we’ve seen of the context;,
The Passover and Exodus themes are in the background,
Jesus provided bread out in the countryside, like the manna in the wilderness.
He met the need where no one else could, pointing to the even greater spiritual need people have, the need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, which is also a need that people can’t meet themselves.
And of course, related to that Passover-Exodus context that John wants us to be aware of, is the miraculous crossing of the sea, isn’t it?
God’s people were helpless and in great danger, and God, with a visible manifestation of his presence, enables them to cross the sea, miraculously and in safety.
And so now Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on the water,
He uses the language “It is I”, which is, the “I am” self designation that God had revealed to Moses at the burning bush,
And not only does Jesus cross the water miraculously, but after he joins them, immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Now, we don’t want to get carried away.
These are subtle clues.
“It is I”, for example, “I am”, is a legitimate way to introduce yourself. It doesn’t have to have other connotations.
But the paragraph break and the title above verse 16 weren’t there when John wrote this book. He expected us to read straight through from the earlier section to this one, with all the historical connections about the Passover and the Exodus still in our head.
And this is the way that God reveals himself when he turns up among his people.
Jesus uses this language very deliberately throughout his ministry, down in verse 35, for example, I am, the bread of life.
It’s unmistakable what Jesus is claiming, “I am that, eternal God.”
Even beyond that there are plenty of other places in the Old Testament where God’s power over the sea is stated and celebrated. Psalm 107 is a good example, picturing God leading his people through the stormy sea, safely to their destination.
Jesus shows his disciples, that he acts, exactly how they know God has acted in the past.
See, the point is not “whatever the stormy seas are in your life, Jesus will get you through them”!
You might have heard people apply these verses like that.
We’re supposed to read this and think “look how Jesus acts. Look at what Jesus reveals of himself.
The disciples don’t understand who he is,
So he comes to them, in a time of need, and reveals himself with power and authority, the power and authority that only the God of all creation can demonstrate.
Is this who you understand Jesus to be?
The God of the Old Testament?,
The God who holds creation in the palm of his hand?
Isn’t that so much greater, so much more reassuring than to mis-read this passage and think that Jesus just offers some clever tricks to help get through the stormy seas of life?
It sounds weak and kitsch in comparison, doesn’t it? And rightly so. And the error of the crowds we saw in the earlier section can become our error too.
They wanted to make him king of Israel. Jesus refused.
Here he shows himself to be king of all creation.
Do we need to sharpen our understanding of Jesus in the light of this?
Do we see him as king of all?
We cannot make Jesus king of just one part of our lives.
He is the God who rules over all
2. Jesus is not a material saviour (v 25 – 27)
So skip down to verse 25, because we see that although the disciples have had this private disclosure of Jesus’ identity, the crowds are still mistaking the sign for the destination.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
They are a crowd of materialists.
They’re only interested in what Jesus can offer in the here and now.
They’d seen the sign, but they hadn’t understood it.
Here’s a group of people standing around the big sign on the side of the road, thinking they’re in Milton Keynes.
For them, the sign is as far as they see.
I said last week it was 31 days until Christmas. I’m not going to give you the countdown now because it’s even more terrifying!
But what do babies and toddlers do at Christmas?
They play with the wrapping paper and they ignore the presents, don’t they?
But the wrapping paper is just a sign to say “here’s something special, but you won’t receive this until the appropriate time!”
When you do receive it, why would you focus on the wrapping paper, when the actual present is sitting right there?
Well, with babies and toddlers, it’s precisely because they don’t understand. They’re immature.
you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
Now, the crowds had seen the sign, hadn’t they? Jesus says, “you ate”
But they hadn’t seen it as it was supposed to be seen.
They hadn’t seen where it pointed.
It’s tragic isn’t it?
That people could be face to face with the God who acts for his people,
They could eat bread, miraculously provided from heaven,
They would see in front of them, the sign that great spiritual blessing is at hand, and yet they would miss out, because all they saw was material provision.
Some of us can remember Madonna singing Material Girl way back in 1985. It’s a song about a material girl living in a material world.
And Madonna would have fitted right in with the crowd here.
You can almost imagine them singing, “We are living in a material world, and Jesus is a material savior.”
And here’s a danger for us, I think, because we are immersed in this material world, we run the risk of missing the fact that the greatest blessings we receive through Jesus are not on that level at all.
There are blessings in the material world;,
There was bread and fish,
We have security, and comfort, and relationship and many blessings,
But they're not the greatest blessings we receive from Jesus, and they're not why Jesus came into the world.
So let’s take this opportunity, for Jesus to raise our eyes, to the blessings, the gifts that he brings.
Because in verse 27, Jesus gives 4 very brief lessons, about how to guard against thinking he is just for materialists, and so falling into the trap of mistaking the sign for the destination.
Verse 27, 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Did you see the 4 little lessons there?
Don’t work for food that spoils.
But work for food that produces eternal life.
Because the Son of Man will give you this food,
And you can trust Jesus, because God has placed his seal of approval on him.
A. Don’t work for food that spoils
So firstly, Don’t work for food that spoils.
Don’t think that Jesus is only on about material provision.
Jesus says don’t pour your life into something that finishes when you die.
The picture of food spoiling is a pretty horrible really, isn’t it?
When food spoils it’s not just that you don’t have it any more, but that it’s rotten, stinking, and filled with creepy crawlies!
Imagine you and I get to the end of our life, and we look back, and realise, “All I was interested in,
Everything I worked for,
All of what I wanted Jesus to do for me, can now only be described as spoilt food;, maggot infested and vomit-inducing.”
Is that what you want your life’s efforts to amount to?
And yet if our view of life is purely materialistic, the here and now,
Things I can touch and hold,
Then that’s what’s in store.
There’s that quote on the big poster in the Centre Court shops, “I like my money where I can see it - hanging in my closet”
That’s this, isn’t it?
I’m only interested in things I can see.
Don’t work for food that spoils.
That is to mistake the sign for the destination.
Jesus is not a material saviour, who came meet our material needs. Jesus has something far better in store for us.
What Jesus is most interested in, is not what you leave behind when you die.
In fact, to him, it’s spoilt food.
Of course, he’s not saying your family who are left behind when you die are rotten and disgusting.
But he is saying, and this is hard for us to hear, I think, “If that’s what you’ve worked for,
If your family is all you’ve invested in, you will have nothing, and you will have left them with nothing.”
Or in fact you’ve left them with less than nothing, because you’ve denied them what really matters.
We need to make sure we’re not throwing ourselves into the Christian life thinking it’s about material things, rather we work towards that which lasts.
B. Work for the food that produces eternal life
Which is the second little lesson. Work for food that endures to, or produces, eternal life.
You know the story of the 2 men who were standing at a friend’s graveside. And one turns to the other and asks, “So how much did he leave behind?” And the answer comes back, “All of it!” He left it all behind.
We know that’s the truth, but Jesus says, there are some things you can take with you when you die. There is a kind of food that endures to eternal life. If you receive it now, you enjoy it for eternity.
In a moment we’ll hear Jesus says that that food is actually himself. But right now he means that the life he offers goes on forever.
And it’s that life that we should work towards and have as our goal.
We’ll see in a moment that working for food that produces eternal life is simply to believe;, . To believe that Jesus offers us what we need for eternity with God;,
Forgiveness for our sin,
A new heart that wants to obey God rather than rebel against his rule,
Reconciliation with God who we’ve ignored.
But if to work is to believe, then it means to throw ourselves into life, in the light of what we know to be true.
Our life now should look like the life of someone who knows they’re forgiven through Jesus’ death in our place.
It should look like the life of someone who is convinced of the reality of the resurrection,
This work is to believe, and live in the light of Jesus’ words.
But you might have noticed the contrast;, Jesus says “work towards this food that results in eternal life, which the Son of Man will, give to you.”
We work towards it;,
It’s our priority. And we follow the sign to the destination.
C. Jesus gives this eternal life
But this food, and therefore the life that it leads to, come as gift from Jesus.
You can’t earn them.
The Son of Man is Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself.
And earlier in John’s gospel, the reason we can have life, is because the Son of Man must be lifted up, and that’s a picture of his crucifixion.
Yes, we get offered what we need for eternal life, but only because the Son of Man is lifted up.
Let’s translate that into less theological sounding language;, “There is one way to eternal life, and that’s through the death of Jesus in our place.”
D. You can trust Jesus
And we can have confidence in what Jesus says, because on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.
Have you heard the story of Victor Lustig?
He sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal, not once but twice! To 2 different people!
He posed as the Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Mail and Telegraphs, and no one bothered to verify his identity, before they bought the Eiffel Tower off him.
Or didn’t buy it, as the case may be!
And not one person asked, "should I believe this? Is there someone who can vouch for him?"
None of us wants to get fooled by believing a wonderful story about how we can have eternal life, only to discover, Jesus actually can’t deliver what he promises.
If you’re a Christian, which I guess most of us here are, what confidence do you have, that Jesus really is the way to eternal life?
As you’re handing out Christmas invitations at work, or in your street, and people ask you, “what’s so special about Jesus?
Why celebrate his birth?
How is he any different from all the lunatics that make the same sorts of claims that he did?!”
Or maybe you’re not a Christian, and you’re here today because you want to find out who Jesus is and what he’s on about,
How can you be sure that Jesus is worth following?
Well, we have an expert witness. And as far as expert witnesses go, they doesn’t get any better than this.
We can trust Jesus, because On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.
And I think we’re supposed to think of 2 great testimonies about Jesus by his Father in heaven;,
His baptism, recorded for us in John 1, where the Spirit of God descends on Jesus,
And his resurrection, the ultimate vindication of Jesus’ claims.
When lunatic religious nuts die, they stay dead.
When Jesus died, he was raised from the dead, just as he claimed he would be.
It’s the ultimate seal of approval. “This one”, God says, “is trustworthy.
When he says that death is not the end, you can believe him.” He really can get you to the destination he promises.
Jesus calls on people to believe (v 28 – 31)
But the crowd still don’t get it do they?
Having just heard that eternal life is a gift from Jesus, whose ability to give this gift is verified by God himself, the crowd respond, verse 28 “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
“Tell us what we need to do to please God, and we’ll do it.” No doubt in their minds at all, that whatever God requires of them, they’re up to the challenge.
the works God requires is kind of religious shorthand for obedience to the Old Testament Law.
They’re asking, “Which bits of God’s Law do you want us to focus on most? Give us your top 3!”
But remember the only “work” that matters, is to believe;
Verse 29, 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
As we saw, to work for things that last into eternal life, means to believe in Jesus’ death in your place, and to live like you believe, in Jesus’ death in your place.
But it’s important that we see that God hasn’t changed the rules, as if once upon a time what God required was following lots of laws, but now God just wants people to believe.
That would be unfair, like changing the rules from football to rugby halfway through the game without telling anyone.
No, the Old Testament Law was always about growing God’s people in their trust in God, and especially trusting in his provision for sin to be taken away.
If you sacrificed an animal as a sin offering, there was only ever any point to that, if you believed that you were sinful, and that God had provided a means for your sin to be taken away.
The law was always about believing. And the one real work of the Law, was to have faith in the God who gave the Law.
You you could sacrifice as many goats and sheep and cattle as you liked,
And you could clean your house from mildew,
And put tassles on your robes in all the right places,
And do everything else that the Law required of you, but if you didn’t believe in the God who gave the Law, who made provision for your sin and rebellion to be dealt with, what possible good could all those works of the Law do you?
None at all.
The Law was always about believing in God’s provision, and looking forward to God’s ultimate provision.And do you see how once again we’ve got this juxtaposition?
The work of God, what God requires of us in order to receive all the blessings that come through Jesus, is, to believe, which is really no work at all.
In the early part of last century, Robert Lightfoot, Professor at Oxford University, wrote these words,
So long as a person remains, and is content to remain, confident of their own ability, without divine help, he cannot “come to” the Lord, he cannot “believe”; only the Father can move him to this step, with its incalculable and final results’
The one thing that we must do, to receive eternal life, is first and foremost the work of God himself.
It’s God who enables us to believe in Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t just give the bread of eternal life, he himself is the true bread;,
He is what we need, if we are to experience life that is more than material.
Jesus is the true bread, so salvation is assured (v 32 – 40)
See, in response to his command, believe in the one God has sent, the people asked Jesus in verse 30 “What sign then will you give, that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness;
And Jesus replies, Actually, “it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.
Jesus is saying, no no, you’ve misunderstood what happened back there in the days of the Exodus,
It wasn’t Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
It was God, the Father, who gave you bread from heaven back then.
And it’s God the Father who gives you the true bread from heaven, now.
Jesus uses the word “true” where you or I might use the word “ultimate”
He doesn’t just it’s empirically correct.
It fulfils what has come before it.
It supersedes everything else.
When something is true, we don’t stand around waiting for something better to come along. It doesn’t get any better.
The people here are saying “bring back the good old days,
We want manna again,
We want that kind of provision,
Show us that sign!”
Jesus says, “they weren’t the good old days, they were just pointing to today.
They were just getting people ready for this.
This is the real thing,
Today is the day when real bread is available.
That manna back then spoiled,
The people who ate it all eventually died,
The real manna, bread from heaven, is not a bakery item, but a person, and a relationship with that person.
33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Back in verse 27 Jesus gives the bread of life, he gives what we need in order to have eternal life.
Now we learn even more, Jesus himself is the bread that comes from heaven.
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
always give us this bread the people ask, as if the bread of life was just like ordinary bread, can we have some for today?
And will you be open tomorrow so we can come back and get some more?
But this is ultimate bread, remember!
It doesn’t need to be given again and again,
We don’t need some kind of topping up, a new and different experience of Jesus every day in order for us to take hold of eternal life.
I don’t mean we’re not continually, daily dependant on Christ, of course we are.
But you don’t need new and different experiences of Jesus,
Greater and greater miracles from him, in order to be sure that we’ve been given what we need for eternity,
In order to have the confidence to stand before God.
There is nothing additional that you need from Jesus, in order for you to be assured every day, between now and the day you die, that you have received the fulness of what he offers;, forgiveness and reconciliation with the God you’ve ignored.
Do your hear the assurance in Jesus’ words?
Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
Verse 39 this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but 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,
To believe in Jesus, is to have the guarantee of eternal life.
Because our salvation is his work, from start to finish.
And you’ve been given, by God, to Jesus.
Because they care about proper English, the NIV translators have used a plural at the end of verse 40;, I will raise them up at the last day.”
It’s actually singular, but we would have to say, “him or her” which is a bit clunky.
But Jesus has been talking about all and whoever, and everyone, and then suddenly he zooms right in.
We’ve had huge concepts;,
Bread from heaven,
Dramatic events in Israel’s history,
The certainty of eternal life,
And it comes down to this.
A question of personal faith.
Is verse 40 true of you?
everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him or her, up at the last day.”
If you’re a Christian person, here is why you need have no doubt about your salvation whatsoever.
You might think you’re not good enough for eternal life.
Of course you’re not good enough for eternal life! You don’t deserve relationship with God after living as his enemy. But no matter how good you are you’re not good enough for eternal life, the only “work” for eternal life is to believe. And whoever believes in him, Jesus will raise up.
He’s not going to let go of anyone that his Father has given him.
No matter what this week looks like,
No matter what sin you struggle with,
No matter how much you’d rather not go doorknocking or inviting people along to our Christmas events,
No matter how different you feel to every other Christian you see around you,
No matter who attempts to undermine your faith,
everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and Jesus will raise you up, at the last day.”
If you’re not a Christian but you’re here because you’re interested, or not sure, I certainly hope that what we’ve seen of Jesus is intriguing, challenging.
But I’d hate for you to mistake the sign for the destination.
See verse 40 here is like another sign. It’s a sign that says there is eternal life.
There is life, beyond the grave.
I’d hate for you to see the sign, maybe even enjoy reading the sign, but not follow where it leads.
If you don’t know whether verse 40 is talking about you, please do something about it today.
Talk to someone, maybe who you came with,
Come and speak with me or one of the staff. We’d love to help out.
There are some booklets called “A Better Life” on the table outside the door, please take one, if you’re not yet sure if you have the life that Jesus offers.
Please don’t mistake the sign for the destination.