by Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons
Gospel: John 6:35-50
"The bread of life" discourse resumes as Jesus, using the imagery of Isaiah 55 and of God's gift of manna to Israel during the wilderness wanderings, continues with his exposition of "he gave them bread from heaven to eat", v31. Jesus announces to the crowd that he is the bread of life; he is a life-giving divine revelation for all who believe in him.
v35. Jesus plainly says that he is the true "bread from heaven", the life-giving bread. Anyone who "comes to" him, anyone who "believes in" him (the phrases have the same meaning) will, unlike those who ate the manna, never hunger (nor thirst).
v36. In v32 Jesus changed the personal pronoun in the quote from "them" to "you". He now explains why he has done this. Unlike their forefathers who saw the manna and believed, this crowd does not believe.
v37-40. The Father has given Jesus the responsibility to gather and care for the new Israel. This fact the crowd needs to know, and know also that those who come to Jesus, those who believe in Jesus, who want to join God's new wilderness community through Jesus, will be preserved by him eternally. They will be preserved because Jesus does God's will and not his own. The survival of this community is assured. The bottom line is, everyone who "looks to" Jesus, the Word of God, the divine revelation ("looks to" means the same as "comes to", "believes in"), will join in the resurrection of the righteous and so share in God's new eternal community.
v41-42. The crowd is not at all happy that Jesus has claimed he is the bread from heaven referred to in v31. They know all about him and his family so why should they give ear and come to Jesus; hear him that their soul may live, Isa.55:3?
v43-45. Jesus tries a new tack. He reminds the crowd of a profound Biblical truth, namely, that it is only those who are seeking after God's revealed truth who will find it. It is only seekers who will be drawn to Jesus, the source of all truth, and it is only they who will share in the resurrection of the righteous.
v46. Jesus clarifies the point he has made in v44, 45, so as not to leave the impression that people are drawn to Jesus by some personal revelation from God. Jesus himself attracts the seeker because he is "from God."
v47-48. The truth, namely that the person who seeks divine truth comes to Jesus, is rephrased in the terminology of John 3:16. The person who believes possesses eternal life. This is what Jesus means when he says he is the "bread of life"; he is the embodiment of life-giving truth.
v49-50. The argument so far is restated. Manna is certainly a miraculous bread, but once eaten, hunger returns, and inevitably death. The heavenly bread that God gives in Jesus, once eaten, results in eternal life.
Feeding on the word
In our passage for study Jesus raises an issue which is central to the craft of preaching. Actually, Paul the apostle sums it up when he says "we preach Christ crucified". The particular focus on the crucifixion of Christ is developed in the next section of the discourse, v 51-58. In our section for study we are introduced to the truth that Jesus is God's divine life-giving revelation. It is this revelation which should be the focus of all preaching.
In expounding the text "he gave them bread from heaven to eat", Jesus makes the point that he is the "bread from heaven", in the sense of being God's divine Word, or revelation. He then goes on to make the point that the true seeker is drawn to the Word (comes to, believes in, looks at) and is sustained by it, raised by it in the day of resurrection and kept by it eternally. Christ is the Word of God, he is the final revelation of God to mankind. Those who feed on this bread, those who believe in Christ, have everlasting life.
The preacher constantly faces the temptation to craft entertaining sermons that titillate the emotions. Today's entertaining sermon is most often topical, dealing with issues in the Christian life; it rests on proof texts rather than exposition and is often burdensome, stressing law rather than grace. Of course, the supply of such sermon's is driven by demand. In the face of declining church attendance, preachers are forced to take the popular path to retain attenders and to attract new ones.
In the drive for "interesting and relevant sermons", the systematic exposition of scripture comes off second best. Unless a congregation is trained in the art of appreciating expository sermon's, they are easily beguiled by the drama and artistry of a topical, or theological performance. Yet, the systematic exposition of scripture itself covers every topic imaginable, and does so with divine proportions within the context of revelation. Each passage of scripture has its "Word from the Lord" and this sometimes with interrelated sub points. By expounding scripture we interact with God's Word to us, rather than the preacher's word to us.
So, rather than engage in crafting powerful sermons on topics of interest, or elements of systematic theology, the preacher is better advised to expound scripture. The crafting of expository sermons, based squarely on a passage of scripture, drawing on the truth of that passage and relating it to life, not only draws the seeker to Christ, but enlivens them for eternity. Such preaching does not play to the crowd, but it does gather the Father's children.
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