Sermon for Sunday 1st August – from Phil Horscroft

John 6: 24 to 35

We heard last week of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. 
This was the ‘largest’ of the signs in John’s Gospel.  Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is basically part two of that miraculous event and, in my view a demonstration of why John calls them ‘signs’ instead of miracles because the miracle pointed directly to the lesson our Lord Jesus offered the people the day after, which we are looking at today.  We can see from verses 24 and 25 that the people who had been fed by our Lord Jesus have followed him across the lake.  Now we know from what our Lord Jesus says to them that they followed Him across the lake because he had fed them with a miracle, and they were hoping for more of the same. They were thinking with their stomachs instead of the brains or their hearts.  Now, we can’t really blame them.  It is easy to forget, in this day and age of relative plenty, that food in those times was one of the biggest problems for people.  They had no way of preserving their food.  There were no refrigerators no quick transport systems no preservatives.  You ate what was available, you ate what was produced locally, and unless you were wealthy, you often didn’t know where your next meal was coming from.  The only staple in the western world that could be transported over any distance was grain from which they made bread.  Everybody ate bread; from the lowest beggar, whenever he could get it, to the highest emperor or king to soak up his gravy.  Fruit was a luxury and meat was an occasional treat for the ordinary people, but bread was the staple diet of almost everybody. 

So our Lord Jesus couches His message in an idiom that everybody can understand and He tells us how we should structure our relationship with Him by using the metaphor of bread.  In verse 27 he tells them

“Stop working for the bread that rots and work instead for the bread that saves; The Son of Man will give you this bread because the Father has ‘put His seal of endorsement on Him’. In verse 35 He concludes this section with the first of the I Am statements by telling the crowd

“I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never be hungry, and he who believes in and cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me will never thirst any more (at any time).” 

Now our Lord Jesus is coming at this subject from one direction, the spiritual, but the people persist in looking at it from the direction of the secular world.  “What must we DO to earn this bread?” and this is, for me, the crux of today’s reading for people in every church; that word DO.  The people are centred upon a world where nothing is for free, if you want to eat you work or beg or steal; because, never forget, this is the world of fallen man. God told Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:19 “In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.”   

So our Lord Jesus talks to them in a language He knows they will understand and follow. This is the physical world where we get hurt, we get sick, we get old and wear out.  So it’s no surprise that the people were centred on the physical aspects of what they had witnessed, because under the old covenant, before Christ came, we were bodies that had a spirit.  But a new covenant has been established, in which we have been graduated to a state where we are spirits that have a body; and our Lord Jesus has come to show us how our spirits can take part in the new covenant; and He begins to tell us in this passage and, like everything He tells us, it works on every level from the simplest to the deeply philosophical.  Paul tells us in Romans 6:23.  For the wages which sin pays is death, but the bountiful free gift of God is eternal life through and in union with Jesus Christ who is our Lord. 

Through and in union with our Lord Jesus, which means to us the body of Christ, which is the church.  It’s not uncommon, when people talk about why they first came to church, to hear phrases like ‘I wanted some structure in my life’ or ‘we’ve started a family and we wanted to make sure our children had a good foundation in their life’.  For myself, I have known since a very young age that it is all true, but I never did anything about it until my mother died and a friend said to me ‘the burning coal which falls out of the fire goes out very quickly’.  Now there’s no shame in any of those answers; we each of us are called, we have been chosen, John 15:16 says :You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and I have appointed you [I have planted you], that you might go and bear fruit and keep on bearing, and that your fruit may be lasting [that it may remain, abide], so that whatever you ask the father in My name [as presenting all that I AM], He may give it to you. and we answer the call each of us in our own way, but basically at the start we are all mostly just looking for bread. But we should never forget that it is a journey, and we all have to start somewhere, from one state of being to a better one and then to a better one and then to a better one.  But there is a danger that you can get things the wrong way round.  It would be like being on the right bus but you got on it on the wrong side of the road so you’re going in the wrong direction to the wrong destination.  Your works MUST come from your faith in our Lord Jesus.  Your faith MUST be the foundation of your works and not the other way round.  Don’t misunderstand, your works are very important. We are told in the book of James chapter 2 verse 17

“So also, faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power, it is inoperative, dead”.

If, however your works are not motivated and rooted in your faith in our Lord Jesus then you are in danger of falling into the trap of doing these things simply because you know it’s the right thing to do.  And that could mean you’re really doing it for yourself.  Remember the warning our Lord Jesus gives us in Matthew 7:21 to 23

Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name and driven out demons in your name and done many mighty works in your name?  And then I will say to them openly (publicly) I never knew you; depart from me, you who act wickedly, disregarding my commands.

We can look at the people who have followed our Lord Jesus across the lake to help us understand this message.  They had made three basic mistakes that we can make today if we’re not careful.

1)     They wanted the wrong things from God.  

They wanted our Lord Jesus to be their earthly King and drive out the Romans and establish the Kingdom of Jerusalem in its place.  They wanted the Romans to pay them taxes instead of them paying the Romans taxes.  They wanted all the other nations to pay them tribute.  They wanted to be the bosses of the world and have the world come to them.  It was all about them.  They wanted the same world but a better job, better food and a better place in that world. Our Lord Jesus was telling them, and us, that He has come to bring a new world and a new heaven.  Not the old world of status, hierarchies and rich and poor, but a world where we can sit and eat at His table, where we can really get to know Him.  So don’t pray for a better car or a better house.  Pray for a better heart or a better understanding or a better chance for your loved ones.  Figure out what you want from God and more importantly where you want it.  This world or the next.

2)     They had the wrong view of salvation.

“What must we DO”?  There is nothing we can Do to earn our place at the Lord’s Table.  We are all imperfect, only God is perfect.  There is nothing we can do to achieve salvation.  You can go out today and give all your worldly goods to the first homeless man you meet.  It won’t make you perfect, it might make you the nicest person in Basildon for a couple of days; it will certainly make you homeless, but it won’t buy you a ticket into heaven.  There is nothing you can DO to earn salvation, if we want to be saved then only God can DO something to achieve that.  There is nothing any of us can do to earn salvation; except what our Lord Jesus has told us in verse 29 of today’s reading.  “This is the service that God asks of you: that you believe in the one that He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His messenger].  Now once you begin to do that, and it won’t be a smooth trip, then everything else will grow out of that.  Remember our Lord Jesus talks about the fruitful vine and how we must become branches of that vine.  It’s not possible to become a branch of the true vine if you don’t really believe it exists.  It doesn’t matter how strongly or how well you do it. 
You’re not competing with anyone, you’re building a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus.  It only matters that you try as hard as you can.  The world will get in your way and you will stumble, but that’s ok, we all do that.  As long as you keep getting up and trying again; but do yourself a favour, don’t try to do it on your own.  Be a part of the body of Christ, make sure you get on the right bus.

3)     They had the wrong view of faith. 

“Give us a miracle, a sign, that we may believe”.  That isn’t faith, that is slavery, and our Lord Jesus isn’t looking to enslave us.  He wants us to come to Him freely, of our own accord, in love not fear.  He is the good shepherd, who cares for and loves us, His flock, and He wants us to sit and eat at His table knowing that, in whatever measure, we deserve to be there because we did the best we could to get there.  He wants us to get to know Him through prayer and studying His word and being a part of His body, the church.  The writer of Hebrews puts it best I think in chapter 11 verses 1and 6

(1) ‘Now Faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith revealing as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. (6) ’But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him.
For whoever would come near to God must necessarily believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him out’.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  What relationship would survive the statement “I don’t believe in you”?  If you’re praying in the hope that God exists, then you are basically that guy who never looks you in the eye when he talks to you; and who takes that guy seriously or trusts him, at all?  If you’re praying to God through your belief in His son our Lord Jesus, well that is a very vital difference.  If your works are based upon the foundation of the sure and certain knowledge that God is alive and carrying out His plan through the resurrection and the life of His Son our Lord Jesus then you are on the right bus going the right way.  It doesn’t matter how much you believe. Remember the parable of the mustard seed.  If your belief is that small seed then be assured that, if you step through the door that is our Lord Jesus and you feed it and you water it through prayer and studying the scriptures and works, it will grow.  Remember I talked about the law and about Grace.  The best description is one that I heard from a preacher called Derek Prince, in which he likened the faith journey to a trip through a land you don’t know.  You can use a map or an expert guide.  The map is the law.  The guide is the Holy Spirit. If you’re not very well trained and very skillful at map reading then you’re going to get lost as soon as it gets dark and windy and starts to rain.  If you listen to the guide, which is the Holy Spirit, then you’re going to stay in the light, take far fewer wrong turns and find all the best places to get out of the rain and you’re going to find the way, the truth and the life that is our Lord Jesus.  Amen

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