The Twenty-Third in a Series of Sermons of the Gospel of John
In 112 AD, the Roman governor of the province of Bythinia in Asia Minor–a man named Pliny the Younger (the son of the famous historian)–wrote to the Roman emperor Trajan, asking for instructions about what to do about a growing problem. Roman authorities, it seems, were quite worried about a new and increasingly popular religious sect. To the Romans, this new sect (called “The Christians” or “The Way”) was thought to be atheistic because they would not worship either the Roman gods or the Emperor. Christians worshiped their own God (a man they claimed rose from the dead), and who was in some way related to the Jewish God. There were also disturbing reports of cannibalistic practices among them, because these Christians gathered together in secret to eat flesh of their God, and then to drink his blood. The latter concern arises largely from the language in our text, containing Jesus’ statement in John 6:54, “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
We have spent a number of weeks going through Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse which is found in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel. As we have seen, this is one of the most remarkable passages in all of the New Testament because of the important (if not shocking) things which Jesus declared to the Jews who packed into the synagogue in Capernaum to hear him teach.
In the “bread of life” discourse, Jesus speaks of himself as living bread from heaven. He speaks of himself as one with YHWH (in some way), he claims that he is the source of all spiritual life, and that he will raise the dead. Then when the assembled crowd begins to complain and grumble about his statement that he is the “bread from heaven who gives life to the world” Jesus tells these Jews who considered themselves God’s chosen people, that they cannot come to him (in faith) unless and until they have been drawn to Jesus by the Father. As we will see in our text this morning, John 6:49-59, Jesus was not finished making difficult statements. He will now speak of the necessity of feeding upon his flesh and drinking his blood, and when he is finished with this discourse, many of those who had been following him, did so no more. Those who have been following Jesus from purely self-interest, walked away.
The context for the “bread of life” discourse is very important, so I will review it again briefly this morning. In John 6:1-15, John recounts how Jesus miraculously fed over five thousand people in the wilderness east of the Sea of Galilee. Large crowds were now following Jesus everywhere he went. People were bringing their sick and suffering to him so that Jesus might heal them–even out into the wilderness. The scene is one of “biblical proportions” in which Jesus acts as a new Moses, leading the people of God in a new Exodus from the wilderness of this present evil age into a glorious age of salvation in which the Messiah restores Israel, and then sets his people free from the guilt and power of sin.
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