“Everyone Who Believes”
February 26, 2017
Jesus is at the center of the faith that leads to eternal life.
I. The Son calls us to the work of faith. (John 6:22-29)
II. The Son is the object and ground of faith. (John 6;30-35)
III. Everyone who believes in the Son has eternal life (John 6:36-40)
In the course of raising children, I’ve had the opportunity to know more than a few four year olds. It’s one of my favorite ages, an age when little people begin to explore spiritual things, like heaven, hell and Jesus. But I’ve noticed, and I believe others have too, that if you ask pretty much any four year old how to get to heaven when you die, they will say ‘by being good.’ Many adults would agree. Whole religions, Islam in particular, are built around the idea that if your good works outweigh your bad, you get eternal life in heaven.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees seem to have had a similar view. They made great lists of works and laws necessary to achieve righteousness. I suspect many of them sincerely wanted to know what they had to do to obtain eternal life. But Jesus didn’t think that way, and didn’t teach that heaven was reserved for those who did good works. His new teaching, which wasn’t really new, was one of the key components of God’s Big Story of redemption. He made it much simpler than weighing works in a balance or striving to live a perfect, sinless, life. He said no to that. What he taught, over and over, was that eternal life is a gift for those who believe. The thing we want to do today is take hold of that teaching for ourselves, and also to see how central and glorious Jesus is to the faith that leads to eternal life. He himself is the one we believe in, his victorious work is the reason we believe, and he is the reward of our faith.
We’re going to look today at one of my favorite texts in the whole Bible, John 6. In verses 22 to 40 we’ll see that the only work Jesus calls us to is faith, and that Jesus is at the center of the faith that leads to eternal life. We’ll begin with verses 22-29. The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24So when the crowd saw Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
If you look at the beginning of the chapter, you’ll see the background. Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but he was followed by a huge crowd. And so Jesus takes five barley loaves and two fish and feeds 5000 men, not counting women and children, with twelve full baskets left over. Verse 14 says “when the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Next Jesus puts his disciples into a boat, but does not cross with them. Instead he comes to them in the middle of a storm, walking on the water, and immediately the boat arrives at Galilee.
So it’s in the context of this huge miracle of provision and the mysterious absence of Jesus, who didn’t go away in the boat, that the crowds surge back across to Capernaum, looking for him. And when they find him they say “Rabbi, when did you come here?” How did you get here? But Jesus knows that there is a superficial reason for this sudden intense interest. He doesn’t answer their question, but instead says “you’re looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” It wasn’t the compassion and power of God they saw in Jesus’ miracle, still less the Gospel provision of the bread of life. They were sidetracked by the bare fact of food in the wilderness.
But Jesus, with another kind of compassion, goes on to explain what the miracle stood for. He mainly teaches that ‘all this points to me,’ but he brings in this issue of the insufficiency of works and the sufficiency of faith. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” In context the work he’s referring to is their frantic pursuit across and around the lake, motivated by the desire for physical provision. Just as he said to the serpent, “Man does not live by bread alone,” now he says to them, “don’t focus so much on physical food that provides temporary subsistence, but seek a provision which will give you eternal life.” He lifts their eyes from what is temporary and passing to what is eternal and important. And instead of pointing to a thing as that provision, he points to himself as the provider. “The son of man will give this to you, because God has authorized him to do so.”
But the spokesmen for this crowd pick up on the word work and do what any four year old would. “Oh wow, eternal life, what do to be good enough for that? What works must we do, to be doing the works of God?” The Greek word is ergon, work or toil or effort. It’s the same word Paul uses for the works of the law by which, he says, no one will by justified in God’s sight, but rather by faith in Jesus. That’s really the same answer Jesus gives. Verse 29 “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Paul says works that you do cannot save you. Jesus says, well, there is one ‘work’ you can do which gives the eternal life you long for, and that’s to believe in the one he has sent.
Is this a contradiction? No. As Carson says “Faith is what God requires, not 'works' in any modern sense of the term. Even the faith is the fruit of God's activity, making this 'work of God' diametrically opposed to what Paul means by 'the works of the law'. The thought of the passage is indistinguishable from Paul: 'For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.'
I looked at some testimonies this week from old issues of Moody Monthly. One was told by Ted Simonson, who, as a young man, in seminary, had no faith, no conversion experience. But he ushered at a series of meetings for an English evangelist, Bryan Green. Green preached about the great storm that rose when the prophet Jonah tried to escape God's call, and emphasized that the seamen threw everything overboard, even Jonah, before the storm ceased. "This is the way it is in our lives," Green said. "We need to throw overboard all our bad habits and wrong attitudes before we can expect to find inner peace. We simply need to exercise our will power!" Here, I thought, was a preacher who was talking sense! This was exactly what I had been trying to do. Suddenly Green paused. "I've been stringing you along. That's not the way to stop the storms in your life." Then he told about another storm, another group of people in a boat, terrified. This time a figure appeared walking on the water. "When that person came on board," Green said, "the storm stopped. Your inner turmoil will continue until you take Jesus on board, until you believe that He died to pay for your sins. 'If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord" and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved' " Needless to say the seminary student finally became a believer that night.
So Jesus hears these miracle seeking Jews to ask him about works that can save, and he says ‘the only thing you can do is believe in the one God has sent, the Son of Man who will give you eternal life. He’s turning ‘the works of the law,’ salvation by will-power on its head. Salvation by weighing good deeds against bad deeds is an illusion, a fantasy of fallen humanity. But his audience is not going to be easily convinced. They circle around and say ‘wait a second, if it’s really all about you, you should be able to give us another sign.’
Verses 30 to 34: So they said to him, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
One might have thought that the feeding of the five thousand was sign enough. In fact, it had been enough to prompt speculation that Jesus was the promised Prophet like Moses. That’s why the crowd was asking for more spectacular signs as Moses had provided. What will you do? they ask Jesus. It’s possible that the Scripture reading in the synagogue that Sabbath was Exodus 16:11-36, the account of God's provision of manna. Their forefathers ate manna in the desert; there is even an Old Testament text to prove it. True, that manna spoiled with time. But that means, for the crowd, that if Jesus is promising to provide something better, then he had better be do an even more dramatic miracle than the miracle of the manna itself. If Jesus is superior to Moses, as his tone and claims suggest, then should not his followers be privileged to witness mightier works than those seen by the disciples of Moses?
Later, rabbis argued that the Messiah, the 'latter Redeemer', would call down manna from heaven, as did the 'first redeemer,’ Moses. This belief may have been known in the first century. If this is what the crowd means, it’s a demand that Jesus prove himself the messiah by duplicating the miracle of the manna. But Jesus could not possibly give in to such a demand. Jesus will not encourage the crowd's interest in a political messiah. Jesus says “Here’s the truth. You pay too much attention to Moses and too little to God himself, true supplier of the bread from heaven. Notice that Jesus shifts to the present tense: it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. Jesus is not only saying that his Father has been ignored while Moses has gained center stage, but that the true bread is not manna in the wilderness but what the Father is now giving.
Verse 33: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Just as the manna came down from heaven and gave life to the Jewish people in the wilderness, so Jesus has now come down from heaven to give life to the world. He’s moving toward the truth that he doesn’t just provide the true bread from heaven, he is the true bread from heaven. He’s also expanding his work from the Jews to the world. The decisive factor isn’t whether one belongs to the Jewish race, but whether one believes in Jesus.
But the crowd verse 34, understands little of this. Like the woman at the well with her 'Sir, give me this water,' they are still pre-occupied with the physical provision of manna, the bread of God that came down from Heaven. As with the woman at the well, this misunderstanding leads Jesus to speak even more plainly. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” When the crowd said 'from now on give us this bread,' they were suggesting that the bread of heaven, like the manna, needed to be given again and again. But the hungry and thirsty person who comes to Jesus finds his hunger satisfied and his thirst quenched.
This doesn’t mean there is no need for continued dependence upon him, continued feeding upon him. It does mean there is no longer the core emptiness that we saw last week, the hunger and thirst for righteousness. Notice that Jesus is speaking metaphorically here. The other end of this chapter is often taken to support the literal body and blood of Christ in communion. But here the metaphor is explained. Jesus is the bread of life, but it is the person who comes to him who does not hunger, not the person who eats him; similarly, it is the person who believes in him who does not thirst, not the person who drinks him. The meaning of the metaphors has been unpacked. Come to me. Believe in me. We don’t want to take all mystery or poetry out of this, but this bread of life metaphor is pretty plain. Remember, we’re already talking about eternal life, verse 27. So just as physical bread gives physical life, Jesus gives eternal life. You want eternal life? “Come to me. Believe in me,” Jesus says to you.
Have you done that? Another of the Moody Monthly testimonies I re-read this week was told by William Marsh. He was looking for God on his own terms. He said “This is my life. I, not Jesus, will decide what it will be.” But he tried making social justice, then pacifism, then environmentalism the center of his life and found all of them unsatisfying. Then he tried mountains, which has a certain appeal to me. In the mountains he sensed the richness of life and tried to touch the soul of the universe. But it never worked. People kept telling him Jesus was the meaning of life, but he always pushed back. Until one day, at a campfire in the mountains, someone quoted John 10:10 “I have come to give life and to give it more abundantly,” like true bread from heaven instead of mere bread from earth. Then he read “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Marsh says that he walked into the forest and said “Ok Jesus, I’ll stop running. I want you. Come now.” Jesus says, whoever believes in me will have their hunger and thirst satisfied.
But Jesus knows the hearts of these people. Verses 36-40: But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus continues to emphasize that many have seen only bread and power, not what they signify. This crowd has witnessed the divine revealer at work, but only their curiosity, appetites and political ambitions have been aroused, not their faith. And yet God’s sovereign purpose is not frustrated.
Verse 37 “All that the father gives me will come to me.” Jesus is confident in his Father, and knows that every person the Father has given him will come. We often talk about divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This passage is key to that discussion. The way I say it is that God is sovereign and chooses those who will be saved. That’s what this says. But people are responsible and must choose to believe. Their choices have consequences. And these truths are not incompatible. God is so omnipotent and omniscient that he can govern the entire course of the universe in such a way that it never negates the choices each of us make: those who come to me I will never drive away. You cannot truly choose Jesus by faith and have him not choose you. He will keep, hang on to and bless with eternal life everyone who comes to him by faith.
This, verse 38, is the entire purpose of the incarnation. “I came down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of my Father.” And that will was that the Son should lose none, that is no individual out of all that the Father had given him. Again, this verse emphasizes the sovereign choice of the Father. And Jesus promises that these people, chosen by the Father will be raised up, raised to life at the last day. This is the Father’s eternal plan, carried out by the Son.
But who are these people? Verse 40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The same people who are those given by the Father to the Son in his sovereign purpose are the ones who look to the Son and believe in Him, a free choice freely made with real consequences, eternal life and resurrection at the last day. Carson says “the one whom the Son does not lose, whom he raises up at the last day, is here described not in terms of the gift of the Father to the Son, but in terms of personal faith.”
Carson then says “John is not embarrassed by this teaching.” And I would add that Jesus is not embarrassed to teach this, “because unlike many contemporary philosophers and theologians,” he does not think that human responsibility and divine sovereignty are incompatible. “Thus, he can speak with equal ease of those who look to the Son and believe in him: this they must do, if they are to enjoy eternal life. But this responsibility to exercise faith does not, make God contingent, that is not sovereign over the course of the universe. “In short, John is quite happy with the position that philosophy calls 'compatibilism'.
But the main point of verse 40, and really of the whole section is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and Jesus will raise that person up on the last day, when he returns. So the next to the last thing I want to do today is to ask “do you believe?”
A third testimony I read was clear on this. It was told by Mary Antis, who was part of a church, not named, that encouraged people not to read God’s word on their own. But Mary’s husband Dwight, also an unbeliever, randomly gave her a Bible one Christmas, so she started to read it, and it unsettled her. She found things that contradicted what her church taught. “Oh no,” she thought. “This is what they warned us about. I'm no longer sure of my faith.”
One night, Dwight and I were enjoying a meal at the home of friends, Bill and Gloria. Bill pushed his plate aside and asked me a direct question. "Mary, do you understand God's plan for salvation?" The question startled me. Lately I'd been asking myself the same thing. "I used to think I did," I sighed. "But since I've started reading the Bible, my way doesn't seem right." "Tell me what you used to think," Bill said. "I was taught that you earn your way to heaven by good works performed on earth." Bill shook his head. "That must be frustrating," he said. "Do you ever feel like you11 never do enough good things to enter Gods kingdom?" I nodded. ''And when I sin, I feel I need to do extra good works so God will forgive me. Just when I hope I've paid for one sin, I commit another. I'm beginning to think it's hopeless."
"It is, Mary," Bill answered. "Let me show you Gods real plan of salvation." He reached into a kitchen drawer for a pencil and pad of paper. He drew a stick man and wrote Adam over its head, then drew another stick figure and labeled it God. Between Adam and God, he drew a deep canyon and wrote the word sin. "Sin separated mankind from God when Adam disobeyed," Bill explained. "There's only one bridge across the canyon that can bring us back to God, and that's Jesus, the perfect sacrifice" Bill drew a bridge. "When you confess you're a sinner and believe Jesus' blood was shed for all your sins, your sins are forgiven and forgotten. You are saved. You cross over the bridge. Now you do good works to bring honor and glory to Jesus' name."
I picked up the paper. "May I save this?" I asked. "Sure," Bill said. "I'll write a Bible verse on the back that will help you better understand what I've told you." That evening before going to bed, I looked at the sketch and opened my Bible to Ephesians 2:8,9. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." And Mary believed. The consistent message of Scripture is that we are saved from sin by grace as we believe, put our trust in Jesus Christ. We receive forgiveness, renewal, the presence of the Holy Spirit and eternal life by believing in the one God sent to save us, Jesus. Have you believed?
But I don’t want to end there, because many of you have believed. Our text helps believers to see how wonderful Jesus is, the pinnacle of God’s big story, how central he is to our faith, and how glorious. I want to close by pulling out of this text those phrases which remind us of who Jesus is and why he came. Listen to these as worship of the one who is the ground of our faith, the reason for our faith and the reward of our faith.
The Son of Man is the one who gives us the food that endures to eternal life. The Son of Man is the one whom the Father has set his seal, commissioned to do the work of the Messiah. Jesus is the one God sent so that we might believe. Jesus is the bread, the stuff of life, who has come down from heaven to give life to the world. Jesus is the bread of life who satisfies our hunger and relieves our thirst. Jesus is the one to whom the Father gives the redeemed. Jesus is the one who does not do his own will but the will of the Father. Jesus is the one who will not lose anyone who the Father gives him, but will raise that person up to eternal life on the last day. Jesus is the Son who we can look on, raised on the cross and resurrected to life, the Son who we can look on in faith to receive the promise of resurrection and eternal life.
In our last two songs we’re going to celebrate faith, “Faith is the Victory,” and the one in whom our faith is placed “We Believe.”