By porthkerryandrhoose, Nov 14 2017 04:09PM
I was at a confirmation a few years ago where archbishop Barry was presiding and preaching. In his sermon he declared "The essence of Christianity is this: that we do good and help other people." Was he right? While doing good and helping other people should be part and parcel of the everyday life of every Christian, is it the essence of Christianity? Is this the heart of what we believe? For many people, this is their perception of Christianity. It's about doing good and being nice and not offending anyone. The church is there for hand holding in times of disaster, to give a framework for marking solemn events and once a year as a backdrop for some feel good carol singing. There's nothing wrong in any of those things, and it's encouraging that people do still turn to the church, but what is our actual message? It's all there in John chapter 6, and it's not comfortable reading if all we think Jesus is is a warm comfort blanket, for he makes some startling claims. As we look at the last section of the chapter we will see the necessity of Jesus' death, the uniqueness of Jesus' status and the blessing of God's grace.
Let's begin with the necessity of Jesus' death. That's v60-61. It doesn't start well "On hearing it, many of his disciples said 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" What exactly was the 'hard teaching'? We need to look back to the previous verses, which Rhiannon took us through so well a fortnight ago. A great summary verse is v51 "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." Jesus was saying that the way to live forever was to eat him. If you look at this at face value, it is no wonder that people found the teaching hard. It smacks of cannibalism, which is quite clearly abhorrent. But, dig a little deeper, and things become clearer. The discussion, and the amazing miracle of the feeding of the 5000 which preceded it, took place at Passover. Passover was the time when the Jews remembered how God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. If you know your Bible history, you will remember that God sent 10 plagues on Egypt. The first 9 plagues mostly only affected the Egyptians, but the last one, the death of the firstborn would fall on every household in the land. It was a final and terrible judgement of God on the sin of Egypt. Of course, the Hebrews were sinners too, as we all are, and that's why the judgement would fall on them as well. The only way to turn it away was to kill a lamb as a substitute and place its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. In a very real sense, the lamb died in the place of the firstborn, so he could live and not die. The family were then instructed to eat the lamb. Jesus was saying that a penalty of eternal death is waiting and the way to turn back the judgement of God and enter eternal life, is by eating a second and more important Passover lamb, himself. His blood would turn away the wrath of God, once and for all. Just as the Hebrew people had to participate in the Passover meal by eating in the way God had set out, so do we have to participate. How do we do that, since we are not going to roast and eat Jesus? We have to believe in him. Jesus uses the idea of eating as a metaphor for believing. Look at v40 "everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life". Jesus was asking the Jews to believe in him as the new Passover lamb, the one whose sacrifice would turn away the wrath of God and give them life forever. The only one. The only way. Keeping the religious laws, making sacrifices, being good people was not enough. Eternal life was only available through Jesus' death. It was an exclusive claim. And it still is an exclusive claim. Only Jesus can turn back the judgement of God. We don't much like exclusive claims today. They are not popular. We like to think that God is a cuddly grandpa benignly smiling down at us and that most people, apart from the murders and paedophiles and rapists, will be OK. Especially the nice people, who try and do good. But Jesus says no. Eat me and live. Believe in me and have eternal life. We'll see it spelled out even more clearly in chapter 14:6 "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". It is an exclusive claim. And people don't want to hear it. This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?
Jesus responds to the question in v61 onwards. We might imagine he would say something like "Well, I know I said those words, but don't worry too much about them. I was being dramatic. Carry on as you were. Be nice to each other and it will all be OK." But that's not what Jesus says. He adds to the necessity of his death, the uniqueness of his status. And that's our second point: the uniqueness of Jesus' status. v61 "Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?" and in case people might think he was being dramatic for effect v63 "the words I have spoken to you - they are full of the Spirit and life." Jesus' sacrificial death is the way to eternal life because Jesus is like no one else. He came down from heaven and he will return there. He isn't just a teacher with some wise words. He is God himself. That's how he can make such unique claims. And we can't just pass them off because his words are full of God's spirit and life.
The reaction to his words is striking. v66 "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." Notice this isn't the Jewish leaders getting grumpy now. It's Jesus' disciples who are leaving him because they don't like the words he is saying. Friends, we mustn't be surprised when churchgoing people, even church leaders, deny the teaching of Jesus. We mustn't be disappointed when people start to show an interest in Jesus and then fall by the wayside. It happened was Jesus was physically there, teaching them in person. We often think, 'Oh if Jesus could just be there to explain this, everyone would believe'. No they wouldn't! At this point in his ministry nearly everyone left Jesus. Can you hear the sorrow in Jesus' voice in v67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the 12.' It looked like even the closest disciples would go. But Peter has grasped what Jesus is saying v68 "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the holy one of God." If they leave, who else could give them life? What future would there be? I have to say, I have reached this point once or twice in my life. When things have been tough and church life has been difficult I've thought 'why don't I just give up and live life like everyone else?' and the reason I've never been able to go through it is knowing that no-one else can offer eternal life. No one else can be with me and help me and carry me through. No-one but Jesus.
How was Peter able to make such a statement? It has to be only by God's grace. God is the one who opens the eyes of the blind. In Mark's gospel when Peter suddenly understands, the incident is paired with the account of a blind man being given sight. God in his grace opens blind eyes and softens hard hearts v65 "no-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them." Unbelief isn't a shock to Jesus. He knows the state of our hearts and he also knows the changes his Spirit can make. So don't give up. Don't be tempted to change the gospel message to make it more palatable to people. While the numbers in the pews might go up (and there's no evidence that they will, by the way), the numbers in heaven won't go up. What we need to do is to pray; pray that God will open blind eyes and soften heard hearts, that others might see the truth which is so precious to us - Jesus our passover lamb who died so we can have life.
A four-year-old boy was at the doctor for a checkup. As the doctor looked in his ears he asked, “Do you think I’ll find Big Bird in here? The boy was silent. Next, the doctor took a tongue depressor and looked down his throat asking the little boy as he did, “Do you think I’ll find Cookie Monster down there?” Again, the boy said nothing. Then, the doctor placed a stethoscope to the boy’s chest and said, “Do you think I will hear Barney in your heart?” The boy looked up and said, “Oh, no! Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my socks.” May Jesus be in your hearts and mine, that we might know his words and find in him eternal life.