The Twenty-Fourth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
When Jesus declared that he was “the living bread who came down from heaven,” many of those assembled in the synagogue in Capernaum began grumbling. When Jesus went on to say “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 you,” a heated argument broke out. After Jesus finished speaking, John says, many of those present complained about his hard sayings, and from that time on “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” There can be little doubt that Jesus is driving away the multitudes now following him through these difficult sayings which reveal his identity as the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah, as well as the true nature of his mission–which is not to attract a large number of followers and lead an insurrection against Rome, but to obey his Father’s will, even if that meant giving his flesh on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. This is why Bob Godfrey very aptly calls the “bread of life” discourse in John 6, “Jesus’ church shrinkage seminar.” When Jesus is finishing giving his “bread of life” discourse in the synagogue in Capernaum, many disciples walked away and no longer followed him.
We are continuing our series on the Gospel of John, and we wrap our time in John 6 and our study of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse. We have looked at the setting for the sermon (Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5000, and Jesus walking across the Sea of Galilee), and we have considered the details of the discourse and the difficult sayings we find within it. We now consider the outcome of Jesus’ discourse–which is that many who had been following him, no longer did so. By this point in his messianic mission huge crowds were following him everywhere he went, but for all the wrong reasons. When Jesus fed the people in the wilderness they called him a prophet and wanted to make him king. Messianic expectations reached a fever pitch. But people quickly lose interest in Jesus whenever he reveals the true purpose of his mission.
The time had now come for Jesus to drive away the “looky loos” (the consumers) who are following him out of self-interest, and not because they are looking for someone who will deal with the guilt and power of sin. Given the usual image of Jesus–meek and mild–it can come as a bit of a shock we when consider that the Jesus who is revealed in the gospels is anything but meek and mild. His tender compassion and love for sinners is found throughout. But so is the disconcerting way Jesus speaks of himself (his claims to deity), and the way in which he dramatically confronts the religious leaders of his day with their self righteousness and misunderstanding of the Old Testament. In the “bread of life” discourse, Jesus says things which good Jewish boys would never say. Unless he is truly who he claims to be (the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah) then his words are positively revolutionary–even dangerous.
Before we consider the consequences of Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse (vv. 60-71), it is important to set out a brief outline of those events recorded in John 6 which took place in the Galilee region about the time of the Jewish Passover (the second during Jesus’ public ministry). What actually happened in the twenty-fours hours before and during the time Jesus gave this discourse? Why does Jesus get such a negative reaction from those who heard him in the synagogue? To answer these questions and to understand our text, we will briefly review these events in summary form.
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