“They can’t see the forest for the trees.” You’ve all heard that at one time or another. It really refers to a certain kind of blindness, doesn’t it? “You’re telling me that there is a beautiful forest right over there but I just can’t see it. There are too many trees blocking my view.” We marvel at such blindness. How can people not what is so obvious?
The problem is that their eyes do see it. Their eyes are just fine. But somewhere between their eyes and their brains they go totally blind. It’s a little bit like hearing and listening. Every parent knows their children are experts at demonstrating the difference between hearing and listening. In fact, I have actually heard it said that some wives think their husbands are quite accomplished at hearing and not listening. But I wouldn’t know any-thing about that.
Let me give you an example from Scripture. It isn’t about physical blindness. It’s about spiritual blindness. Like so many professing Christians today many of the religious Jews of Jesus’ time were very devout people. They had rules and they followed them to the letter. They had time-honored traditions and they painstakingly performed them to the last detail. These people had been preparing for their Messiah for hundreds of years.
They were convinced that their spiritual eyes and ears were fine. But the fact is that they were both blind and deaf. Then their Messiah came. But they were so blind and so deaf that they not only failed to see and to hear the truth, they actually turned against the truth and killed their Messiah. The irony is that nearly six hundred years before Jesus came to His own, and His own “received Him not,” one of their own prophets, Ezekiel, had warned them about their spiritual blindness and deafness.
1 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,
2 “Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house.”
How does such blindness and deafness overtake people who know the truth? How can you literally stand in the presence of God Himself, see His miracles, hear His words, and walk away unchanged? Who does that better than anyone else? I would argue that it is often the most religious people who do that better than anyone else.
No one was ever any more committed to their religion than the Jews of Jesus’ day. But they wanted the trappings, the traditions, the rites, and the rituals. But those things were merely shadows of the things to come. They were not the Substance. The shadows only required an outward and visible adherence. No change of heart was required.
But the Substance required an inward change. The Substance did require a change of heart. It meant that their trappings, traditions, rites, and rituals, had no power. It meant that their religion, in and of itself, had no power at all. The Jews could not tolerate that.
During Jesus’ ministry in Galilee He performs a miracle and heals a man on the Sabbath. Immediately the man arises, picks up his pallet, and walks. The response of the Jews is as unbelievable as it is instantaneous.
*John 5:10-11, 16
10 “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.”
11 But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk.’”
16 And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.
Do you see why they are angry? Jesus is “messing” with their traditions and their own man-made laws. “God has just performed a miracle, people! And you’re all upset because He didn’t do it according to your rules?” This is true spiritual blindness.
17 But (Jesus) answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
18 For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
Jesus has shown them who He is and He has told them who He is. He is their Messiah, the one for whom they have been waiting. They have seen and they have heard. But strict adherence to their religion has made them blind and deaf. So they honor the shadows and they dishonor the Substance.
Look at vv. 17-18 again. The Jews are infuriated because they understand that Jesus is claiming to be God. (In that culture both father and son were considered to be of one equal nature.) The rest of John 5 consists of Jesus’ own testimony as to who He really is, as well as the things that prove it.
First, He testifies that He is equal to God in works (vv. 19-20), equal to God in power
(v. 21), equal to God in judgment (v. 22), and equal to God in honor (v. 23).
Second, Jesus goes on to tell them that His testimony is true. John the Baptist testifies to His deity (vv. 32-35). Jesus’ own works testify to His deity (vv. 35-36). God the Father testifies to His deity (vv. 37-38). And, for the Jews at least, their own Scriptures testify to His deity (vv. 39-47). It is in this last passage that Jesus makes it clear that what they really need is Him, not their religion about Him.
39 “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;
40 and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.”
These are powerful and convicting words. Jesus is saying that their piety and their devo-tion to their religion, by themselves, are worthless.
45 “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.
46 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me.
47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
Jesus tells them that they don’t really believe Moses, whom they claim to love and revere, so it is no surprise that they don’t believe Him, whom they hate and despise. Listen, there is no one harder to reach for Christ than the one who is satisfied with and immersed in his or her own religion. Those who would kill Jesus prove it.
Sometime after this confrontation in John 5, Jesus is on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. It is here that He feeds the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. The next day the crowds appear again. But do they want Jesus? No, they want another free meal!
26 “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs (miracles), but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled.
27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him, the Father, even God, has set His seal.”
28 They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
Look again at v. 28. What they’re asking is, “Which religious duties, rituals, or works do we need to do to get this food that gives eternal life?” Jesus’ answer is as straightfor-ward as it is simple. He tells them in v. 29 – “Believe in Me!” This is the only “work” that will ever be acceptable to God for the salvation of anyone.
28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of your-selves, it is the gift of God;
9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast…
Works are connected to salvation only to the extent that true saving faith cannot help but produce works that are acceptable to God. (repeat) A so-called faith in Christ that fails to produce any good works is not saving faith at all. That’s what James is talking about.
14 What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works (to demonstrate it)? Can that (kind of so-called) faith save him?
James takes the next twelve verses to answer that question with a resounding, “No!” He explains by both example and logic that such a faith saves no one. (back to John 6)
In v. 30 the crowd questions Jesus.
30 They said therefore to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?
31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’”
Even unbelievers can quote Scripture, can’t they? (That’s worth remembering!) But even though they can quote it, they don’t have a clue as to what it actually means. These Jews are exhibiting incredible spiritual blindness, deafness, and hardness of heart. It was just the day before that Jesus had miraculously fed them all. Now they respond to His call for them to believe in Him by saying, in so many words, “If You want us to listen to You, You’re gonna have to do another miracle. Y’know, like if You’re really from God, feed us again. Bring down some of that manna from heaven like Moses did.”
We’re disgusted by their attitudes, aren’t we? But we should not surprised by them. It is simply unbelief. It’s helpful for us to remember that these people are not one iota different than you and I were just moments before God saved us and gave us a new heart.
32 Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.
33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”
The manna in the wilderness, while it was real in the sense that it fed people, was merely a temporary solution to a problem. You might say it had no “staying power” because it only nourished the physical body for one day at a time. It was only a shadow of the Sub-stance to come. Now Jesus tells them that the “real” bread, the “true” bread, the bread that gives eternal life has come and is here among them.
Do you think they “get it” yet? No, they don’t. The next verse confirms it.
34 They said therefore to Him, “Lord, evermore give us this bread.”
They still do not recognize Jesus for who He is. (By the way, the word for “Lord” here is better understood to mean, “Sir.”) They only want their physical needs met. They follow Jesus because they think they can get something out of it. The Apostle Paul spoke of that kind of continued unbelief in his first letter to the church at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 2:14
14 …a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Churches today are filled with people like that, blindly seeking to have their own desires and perceived needs met. “What can you do for me?” The tragedy is that countless churches are ready, and willing to accommodate them, to meet their “felt needs.” But Jesus didn’t take on human flesh and die for our felt needs. He became a man and died for our real needs – forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation. Listen, if you’re hungry, anyone can feed you. But if you’re lost, only Jesus can save you. (back to John 6)
Remember that the people said they wanted a meal of the bread that gave eternal life. But of course, there is no such bread. So Jesus tells them plainly.
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall not thirst.”
36 “But I say to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.
37 “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
39 “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus is saying that, unlike the bread that came down in the desert and gave temporary life to the body, He is the bread that has come down out of heaven and gives eternal life to the soul and the spirit. But He says much more.
• Look again at v. 37. “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me…” That speaks of God’s sovereignty and the Christian’s predestination.
• Look again at v. 39. “…of all that He has given Me I lose nothing…” That speaks of the Christian’s eternal security. You cannot lose your salvation because He can-not lose your salvation.
• Look again at v. 40. “For this is the will of My Father…” And you can be assured that Jesus will carry it out.
Well, what is the people’s reaction to all of this? How do they respond to the truth that they have seen and heard?
41 The Jews therefore were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.”
42 And they were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”
Still they do not believe. So Jesus tells them to stop their grumbling and again speaks to them in no uncertain terms. He tells them that they won’t believe, in point of fact, they can’t believe, if God has not prepared their hearts. They are helpless. He is saying that if God doesn’t draw sinners to Himself, no one can ever be saved.
44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who has sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
These are serious and sobering words. “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who has sent Me draws him…” This is a clear and powerful statement on the truth of the lost sinner’s inability to come to Christ unless God calls him. God elects, predestines, calls, and saves. He does it all. Furthermore, none of the saved can ever be lost and all of the saved will be resurrected to eternal life. If v. 37 didn’t make it plain enough, now v. 44 most certainly does.
In the next few verses Jesus teaches that what He is saying is perfectly consistent with what the Jews had already been taught in the OT. In v. 45 He quotes the Prophet Isaiah.
13 “And all your sons will be taught of the LORD…”
What that means is simply this.
• Everyone who is called by God comes to saving faith.
• Everyone who comes to saving faith does so because, in God’s call, they have been supernaturally enlightened to the truth about Jesus Christ.
• Everyone who has been supernaturally enlightened to the truth about Jesus Christ believes it.
• Everyone who believes it has eternal life.
47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
48 “I am the bread of life.
49 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
50 “This is (I am) the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”
This morning we have gathered together to take communion. In one respect the bread we eat is like the manna in the desert. It is capable of sustaining physical life, but it has no supernatural ability to save our souls.
It does not literally become the body of Christ as is believed and taught by the Roman Catholic Church in their doctrine of transubstantiation. Neither is the literal body of Christ somehow supernaturally “in or under” the bread we eat as is believed and taught the Lutheran doctrine that is called consubstantiation.
The elements are symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood. So when we eat and drink we are symbolically taking Jesus into ourselves. There are at least four ways in which this sym-bolism can be illustrated.
1. Just as food that is not eaten does the body no good, so too, the truth of Christ that is known but not internalized in useless. (example of brain and heart)
2. Just as food, when eaten, becomes a part of the body, so too, Christ, when He is taken in, becomes a part of the body.
3. The whole issue of trust is symbolized by the elements. No one eats spoiled or rotten food on purpose. We eat what we believe is edible and good for us. That is to say, we trust what we eat.
4. Finally, eating is a very personal thing. Just as no one else can eat for you, so too, no one other than Jesus can provide salvation for you.
7 No man can by any means redeem his brother, or give to God a ransom for him…
Now let’s look at the rest of John 6.
51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Jesus is speaking metaphorically about His death on the cross, about giving His life for the whole world. His body is going to be killed. With the aid of the Romans, the Jews are the ones who are going to do it. (no excuse for anti-Semitism) But again, they don’t understand Him.
52 The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.
54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
55 “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.
56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me.
58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven, not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.”
In these verses the basic truths of Christianity are clearly taught. In v. 53 it says that without Christ you do not have eternal life. Conversely, in v. 54 it says that, with Christ, you do have eternal life. Then in v. 54 it also says that you will be resurrected, and in
v. 56 it says that, as a Christian, Christ lives in you.
Finally, in v. 57, Jesus declares that He has the authority to say these things because He has come down from the Father.
There’s kind of an epilogue here. Those who would not believe said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (v. 60) Notice that they did not say, “Who can hear it?” They all had the physical ears to hear it. They said, “Who can listen to it?” What they were really saying is, “Who could believe such a thing?” Look at John 6:65 with me.
65 And (Jesus) was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
And with that many of those who had been following Him turned and walked away.
67 Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”
68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” You have (the) words of eternal life.
69 “And we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
That is Peter’s testimony. Is it yours as well? If it is, then these elements are for you. If it is not, it can be. Ask Jesus to save your soul. He will. Remember that He said…
37 “…the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
Just be willing to turn from your sin (the Bible calls it “repentance”) and You too will believe that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God, the bread that came down out of heaven, and that He is true food and true drink indeed.
Will you join me at the table?