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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Jesus engages objections to his claim to be the heavenly bread
Text:John 6:41-51 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 111:1,2,5

Psalm 143:1,4,5,6 (after the law of God)

Psalm 85:3

Hymn 61

Psalm 150

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 54

Text: John 6:41-51

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

It was a weekday rush hour morning in Washington, DC.  Thousands of commuters made their way through the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station in downtown DC.  In one of the high-traffic areas of the station, a busker was plying his trade.  He was a violinist playing some classical music.  A few people stopped to listen, but most didn’t notice.  After playing for 45 minutes, the violinist had collected a grand total of $32.17.

Nobody recognized the violinist.  He was the world-famous virtuoso Joshua Bell.  A few days prior to this, he had played a packed concert hall in Boston.  Hundreds of people had paid over $100 a head to listen to him.  On that rush hour morning, he was playing a Stradivarius made in 1713, an instrument worth some $3.5 million.  This great musician playing great music on a great instrument only attracted the attention of a few in the Metro station.  Even those few had no idea they were in the presence of true musical greatness. 

When the Son of God came to this earth as one of us, his true majesty and greatness was similarly lost on so many of the people he encountered.  The Son of God was the one through whom the universe was created.  The Son of God was the eternal King of all creation.  He was so filled with love that he agreed to humble himself and come to our world to redeem us.  But all of this about him was obscured to just about everybody during his earthly ministry.  They couldn’t see his true identity and how wonderful he is.

In John 6, Jesus was at the synagogue in Capernaum.  Unlike Joshua Bell in Washington, D.C., he wasn’t undercover, he wasn’t hiding his identity.  He was clear about who he was and what he was doing, and was going to do.  He told these Jewish listeners that he was “the true bread from heaven.”  He said he was the “bread of life.”  Jesus repeats that in our passage for this morning.  When he says this, he’s telling them that if they come to him and believe in him, he will be like food that provides spiritual nourishment into eternity.  With him as the bread of life, anyone can have life that lasts forever. 

But when Jesus comes out in the open with his identity and mission, the Jewish listeners in the synagogue get their backs up.  They can’t accept what he’s saying about himself.  So verse 41 says they grumbled about him – they murmured among themselves because he said he was the bread come down from heaven.  How could that possibly be true?  They know Jesus.  They know all about him.  Remember, he’s a Galilean too.  These Galileans know one another.  They know Jesus to be the son of Joseph and Mary.  His father is a carpenter!  How could he be going on about having come down from heaven?  They think they know it all about Jesus.  These Jews think he’s either crazy, lying, or mistaken when he claims to have come down from God.  Whatever the case may be, he can’t be right. 

In our text for this morning, Jesus answers these Jewish people who refuse to believe him.  As he continues to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum, we’ll see how Jesus engages objections to his claim to be the heavenly bread

We’ll focus on what he says about:

  1. Divine drawing (focussing on verse 44)
  2. Sacrificial substitution (focussing on verse 51)

In verse 43, Jesus admonishes the people to stop murmuring among themselves.  He knew that they were doing this, and he knew why they were doing it.  Jesus knew their hearts and he knew that they were objecting to his claim to be the heavenly bread.  So now he’s going to address their objections. 

The heart of the matter is spiritual.  Their objections were not intellectual, as if these people were not smart enough.  Their objections were not because of a lack of information, as if Jesus hadn’t told them enough details.  The heart of the matter is their hearts.  Their hearts were not in a condition that would allow them to come to Jesus.  “Coming to Jesus” means the same thing here as in verses 35 to 37 – it means to have true faith in Christ.

Jesus says in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  This is a pregnant saying.  There’s a lot in these words.  These words speak of human inability to believe in Jesus Christ – no one can come to him.  Why is that?  Why is there this human inability to come to Jesus?  The Bible answers that in several places.  You could think of Romans 3, where Paul links several Old Testament passages together.  For example, Psalm 14:1-3, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.”  There human inability to believe, to seek for God, is directly linked to our sinful condition.  In our natural state, we are sinful and rebellious haters of God.  We don’t want him.  We don’t want a friendly relationship with him.   We don’t want to submit to him.  We don’t want to acknowledge our need for him or for his grace.  Therefore, we will not come to Jesus.  We will not believe in Jesus.  We cannot.  We are unable.  Because coming to Jesus means you acknowledge who God is -- he’s your Creator and a holy and righteous Judge.  Coming to Jesus means you acknowledge who you are – you’re God’s creature, sinful and rebellious.  These acknowledgements are too much for the natural human.  It’s just impossible to believe these things. 

It’s not possible on our own.  But it is possible if the Father who sent Jesus draws you.  It is possible if God is involved.  If God sets his sights on you and wills to save you, it is possible to come to Jesus.  Jesus is saying it ultimately depends on God’s grace to draw sinners.  Grace means receiving the opposite of what you deserve.  What you deserve is not to be drawn to Christ, but to be cast away.  But God shows grace.  He gives the opposite of what you deserve and he draws you to the Saviour.

And we have to note that word “draw.”  It’s an important word here in verse 44.  Everywhere that word is used in the New Testament there’s resistance on the part of what’s being drawn.  For example, the same Greek word is used in John 21:11, when Peter drags in a net full of 153 large fish.  Do you think those fish wanted to be caught?  Do you think those fish willingly got trapped in the net and willingly got hauled into the boat?  Of course not.  They resisted.  They had to be drawn or dragged, hauled to the boat.  Similarly, our sinful human nature does not cooperate with God’s drawing of sinners to Christ.  On the contrary, left to ourselves we would resist.  But God works with his Holy Spirit to graciously overcome our resistance.   He doesn’t do it violently or tyrannically.  No, God works with his Holy Spirit in a powerful but gentle way to draw us in.  Even though we resist with our sinful nature, he mysteriously and miraculously works with his grace to bring us to faith. 

What Jesus is saying here is that it takes a divine gracious intervention for anyone to accept and believe his claim to be the heavenly bread.  This is also the point in verse 45.  Christ quotes from Isaiah 54 – which we read earlier.  The Holy Spirit says, “They will all be taught by God.”  What does it mean to be taught by God?  It means to hear from him and learn from him and thus believe in Christ.  It’s not just hearing in the sense of the sound going in your ears.  It’s hearing in the sense of perceiving what he’s saying, understanding what he’s saying, and learning from what he’s saying.  This is the same thing as the drawing in verse 44.  To be drawn by God is to be taught by him and vice-versa.  In his grace he comes to you and opens your heart, illumines your mind, and gives what you need so you can believe in Jesus Christ as the bread of life. 

If God makes that happen to a person, then Jesus will also raise up that person at the last day.  That’s at the end of verse 44.  Here Christ is speaking of the resurrection of the dead at the end of this age.  When Christ returns with the clouds of heaven, there is going to be a general resurrection of the dead.  When we die, our bodies and souls are separated.  Our bodies are normally buried in the earth, and if we’re Christians our souls go to be with the Lord in heaven.  But when Christ returns, all souls and bodies will be reunited.  Unbelievers too will have their souls and bodies reunited, but to face judgment and eternal punishment.  Believers will have their souls and bodies reunited for vindication and eternal glory in the new heavens and new earth.  When Jesus says he will raise up that person at the last day, he means that he will raise up that person to perfection and glory.  We will have perfect bodies with none of the problems we experience in our bodies right now.  The gospel promises that this is the destiny of all who have been graciously drawn to Christ so they believe in him.

When the Jews grumbled against Jesus and his claim to be the heavenly bread, they were obviously showing that they had not been divinely drawn to Christ as yet.  If they had been drawn, they would have believed in him and would not be murmuring against him.  They were in need of this work of sovereign grace in their lives.  That’s why Jesus tells them this.  He tells them that their response and their objections are because God has not drawn them.  What are they supposed to do with that fact?   Well, the hope would be that some would see their desperate situation and call for God’s help and grace.  But these things were said also as testimonies to us.  That works in a couple of ways. 

First, do you have a true faith in Jesus Christ?  Do you rest from your efforts to earn your salvation and place all your trust in Jesus alone to do it for you?  Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in need of God’s grace at the cross?  Well, if you do, you have come to Jesus because the Father who sent him drew you.  You are not a Christian because of your own virtues or merits.  It’s all grace, dismerited favour.  Because it’s all grace, all the praise and glory go to God.  Brothers and sisters, give him that praise and glory. 

But second, let’s also learn from this the need others have for God’s sovereign grace.  Do you know someone who doesn’t yet have a true faith in Jesus Christ?  Most of us know such people.  Our text tells us that such people will not come to Jesus in faith unless the Father who sent him draws them.  It depends on God’s grace.  So what can we do?  We can pray.  We can plead with the Father for the lost people we know and love.  We can ask the Father to draw them, to teach them, to bring them to a true faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Brothers and sisters, keep praying for the lost.  Keep praying for God to work miracles through his sovereign grace. 

From verse 46 onward, Jesus continues to address the objections against his claim to be the heavenly bread.  He does so by explaining more about who he is and his mission.  In verse 46, he reaffirms that he has come from heaven.  He is the only one who has seen the Father.  Exodus 33:20 said that no one can see God and live.  Moses was only allowed see a glimpse of God’s glory from behind.  But Jesus claims here to have come from heaven as one who has beheld God in all his full majesty and glory.  If no man is able to do that and live, you see, Jesus is claiming again that he is more than just a man. 

In verses 47 and 48, Christ says what he’s said before.  With faith in him, there is eternal life.  He is the bread of life – he’s like that manna in the Exodus, except infinitely better.  In verse 49, he reminds them that the manna in the wilderness had its limitations.  You could have your earthly life sustained for a time with the manna, but eventually death catches up.  And the manna does nothing for eternal life.  But Jesus, as the bread coming down from heaven, is far, far better.  If you come to him, if you eat the living bread – which is to say, if you have a true faith in him, you will not die.  What he means is that you will not face the judgment of God against sin through eternal death, through eternal punishment in hell.  Instead, you will have eternal life.  Even though you may physically die, you are actually going to go on living forever in the presence of God.  This all happens through Jesus. 

That brings us to the remarkable statement at the end of verse 51, “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  This is where Jesus speaks of sacrificial substitution.  He’s talking about the cross, about the gospel that comforts and encourages us.  There are a few things we need to pay careful attention to here.  

First of all, notice how Jesus speaks here of something that’s going to happen in the future.  As he’s in the synagogue in Capernaum that day, the cross is still in the future.  From the perspective of our text, it was coming.  From where we are today of course, it’s something that has happened.  Jesus has done what he said he would do here in verse 51. 

Second, Jesus is going to give something.  From our perspective, he has already done that, he has given something.  But the point is to notice that he’s not a passive victim.  He is going to actively give something for the life of the world.  In his love, he is going to deliberately make a sacrifice at the cross.  The cross and what happens there is not an accident where Jesus just gets caught up in random events.  No, the cross is the fulfillment of a plan, and that plan includes our Lord Jesus intentionally giving something so others may live.

Next, let’s notice exactly what it is that he gives.  He says that the bread he gives is his flesh.  The physical human body of Jesus is going to be involved with this.  Indeed, at the cross, it’s his real human body that’s nailed there.  His flesh is the sacrifice he gives as the great High Priest.  Because it’s what’s necessary, a true human is going to make the sacrifice for salvation. 

For whom is this sacrifice made?  Jesus says here in verse 51 that it’s “for the life of the world.”  That word “world” is used several times in John’s gospel.  It can have different meanings.  Here the meaning is related to the context.  It’s related to the original audience of these words.  Christ is saying that his sacrifice is not just for Jews, but also for Gentiles.  His is a sacrifice which is intended for “the world,” for everyone regardless of ethnicity or nationality.  He’s going to save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  No, not all people, but all sorts of people.    

All of those elements are important, but the key thing that really drives it all home is the fact that this sacrifice Jesus will make at the cross/has made at the cross is a substitution.  He gives his flesh “for the life of the world.”  The word “for” there means substitution.  He makes his sacrifice in the place of others, on their behalf.  This is really at the heart of the gospel. 

This substitution is necessary if anyone is going to live forever.  That’s because sin has to be addressed.  There are two ways that can take place.  You can address your sin against God yourself.  You can.  Or at least you can try.  In fact, if you choose this route, you will spend eternity trying, but never succeeding.  Hell is eternal.  Hell is where sinners address sin for themselves.  Hell is where sinners bear the punishment for their own sin.  Because their debt to God’s majesty is infinite, the punishment in hell is also infinite.  It never ends.  It’s an awful option.  If you have heard from the Father and been taught by him, you can see that.  If the Holy Spirit opens your eyes, you can understand that.

Then you can also see that Jesus speaks of the better way to have sin addressed.  The better way is to have him address it through substitution.  The better way is for him to take your place on the cross.  The better way is for him to take your hell for you in his flesh.  That’s what happens at the cross.  At the cross, Jesus is the substitute for all who believe in him.  In his love, he makes the sacrifice of himself in our place. 

What’s taught here is the beautiful good news of what we call penal substitutionary atonement.  Let me explain each of the parts of that.  It’s penal substitutionary atonement.  “Penal” means that he takes our punishment.  You remember that Australia was a “penal” colony.  It was a place where people were sent for punishment.  Jesus takes our punishment in his flesh on the cross.  It’s penal substitutionary atonement.  “Substitutionary” means that he is our substitute.  He hangs on the cross in our place.  He takes the hell we deserve in his body and soul.  It’s penal substitutionary atonement.  “Atonement” literally means “at-one-ment.”  It is a sacrifice which makes us at one with God, which reconciles to God.  Jesus’ sacrifice brings us into a friendly relationship with the God whom we have offended.  Jesus’ sacrifice brings us into fellowship with the God whom we previously rebelled against.  Through Jesus we have atonement and our sins are washed away.  Now there are no obstacles to a good relationship with the holy God.  This is why we call the gospel “good news”!  It announces healing and restoration in our relationship with God.                  

That’s what Jesus was proclaiming at the synagogue in Capernaum that day.  Those Jewish people objected to his claim to be the heavenly bread.  They didn’t want to hear that Jesus had come down from heaven for their salvation.  So he patiently explained further what his identity and mission were all about.  Jesus told them of good news for them and for all the world, news of his impending sacrificial substitution.  As you can see further in John 6, this good news continued to be met with unbelief amongst the Jews. 

The question is:  how do God’s people today meet that good news?  First, do you believe it?  Believing it, does hearing more about penal substitutionary atonement thrill you or bore you?  Loved ones, it ought to stir up our hearts in love for the Saviour.  He took your punishment.  He was your substitute.  He is your atonement.  He did it all for you because he valued you.  You were worth his flesh and blood nailed to the cross.  Does that astound you or leave you indifferent?  It ought to floor us that our Saviour was willing and ready to give his flesh for our life.  This is amazing love.  And should we not love him who first so greatly loved us?

Those people there that day, they were convinced they knew who Jesus was.  They were convinced this was just Jesus the carpenter’s son.  But we know that he was and is the Son of God.  We know his identity and his mission.  He is the heavenly bread sent to save.  It’s all been laid out for us by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures.  Will we grumble and murmur about him, or believe and love him for who he is and what he’s done?  AMEN.


O God our Father in heaven,

We again acknowledge your sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners. No one can come to Christ in faith, unless you draw them.  You have done that in our hearts and lives with your Holy Spirit, and for that, we thank you.  Thank you for overcoming our natural resistance.  Thank you for softening our hard hearts and giving us faith in the Saviour.  Thank you for his atoning work in our place.  Thank you that he took our hell so that we can reconciled to you.  We pray for others whom we love, who haven’t yet been drawn to our Lord Jesus.  Please work in their hearts too.  Please save them.  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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