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Sermon: John 6:49-59: Life and Death

Sermon Audio

Reading of God’s Word

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus 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 you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’ Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.” (John 6:49–59, ESV)

Introduction

When we use the words life and death we typically have physical life and physical death in mind. When we say that someone is alive we typically mean that they are breathing. When we say that someone is dead we typically mean that their body has stopped functioning as it should – the heart is no longer beating, the lungs are no longer processing air, the brain is no longer firing.  This is what we typically have in view when we talk about life and death.

And these are the things that many people are most concerned with – life and death in the physical sense.To the natural man nothing is more important than possessing physical life. Physical death is the worst possibility of all. Nothing is more serious to the natural man.

But the scriptures present us with much more complex view of life and death, one that we would do well to adopt.

According to the scriptures our greatest enemy of all is not physical death, but spiritual and eternal death. And the greatest blessing of all is not physical life as we know it, but spiritual life.

To state it another way the scriptures teach that it is possible to be alive physically (the heart beating, the lungs processing air, the brain firing as it out to fire) and yet to be living in a state of death. Conversely it is possible to be physically dead, and yet alive in the spirit. I suppose I should also say that it is possible to be alive and alive, and dead and dead.

Though this way of speaking may sound strange at first it becomes clear when we remember a few things:

First of all, we should remember that we are complex beings consisting of body and soul. The body may be alive and the soul in a state of death, the body may be dead and the soul in a state of life, and so on.

Secondly, we should recognize that death is not merely an event, but also a state of being. God did not lie when he warned Adam that he would surely die in the day that ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Though it is true Adam went on living for hundreds of years more after that day, he did in fact die on that day. He was given over to death. The death that once threatened him was now a sure thing. Furthermore he was given over to the state of death, as his fellowship with God was severed. He was cast out of the garden of God and the way to the tree of life was blocked, and this certainly symbolized this reality. Death is not only an event, but a state of being.

Thirdly, we should remember that this is how the scriptures consistently speak concerning life and death. Take for example Paul’s words Christians in Ephesus: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—” (Ephesians 2:1–2, ESV). Paul, writing to people who were alive physically and alive spiritually in Christ reminded them of the how they used to be “dead in the trespasses and sins” before they came to faith in Christ. They, at one time were alive according to the flesh, and yet in a state of death according to the spirit.

He wrote to the Colossians in a similar way: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…” (Colossians 2:13, ESV)

This is a most basic doctrine of the holy scriptures. When thinking of life and death our greatest concern should be spiritual life and death, eternal life and death. Though we are most naturally concerned for the well being of the body, we ought to be more concerned for the soul.

That is precisely what Jesus is concerned with here in this most beautiful passage. He is concerned with providing for the soul of man. He is, relatively speaking, uninterested in ministering to the body apart from the soul.

Transition 

I struggled a bit to know how to organize this passage into sermon form. Some passages lend themselves to a verse-by-verse exposition. This one resisted that approach. I think the reason is that it is repetitive. The same basic thing is said over and again but in different ways and with greater intensity as the passage progresses.

So instead of considering vs. 49, 50, and so on, we will ask three questions and find the answers in the text as a whole.

The important thing to notice here is that this passages (vs. 49-59) is essentially and elaboration upon what has already been said in vs. 35 and 47- 48.

Vs. 35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35, ESV)

Vs. 47-48: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” (John 6:47–48, ESV)

This passage elaborates upon the claim that Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus elaborates, though, using highly metaphorical or symbolic language.

In the preceding passage Jesus presented this teaching in straightforward, mater-of-fact sort of way. I am the bread of life. Come to me. Believe in me. Those who come will never be cast out. I will raise them up on the last day. 

Here Jesus uses strong imagery. In fact, he uses the kind of imagery that, instead of appealing to his audience, would prove appalling to them. He talks about people needing to eat his flesh and drink his blood. This would have been most offensive to his Jewish audience, given that the law strictly forbid the drinking of blood, or the eating of flesh with the blood in it.

So why did he move from speaking in a plain way, to the use of startling metaphor? Two things may be said:

One, his use of startling metaphor was a kind of judgment upon his unbelieving audience. They would not receive his clear and straightforward teaching, and so he speaks now in metaphor – in symbols. Jesus used parables in the same way, as you know. Luke 8:10: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” (Luke 8:10, ESV)

Two, although the metaphorical language in this passage has a negative effect upon the unbelieving, it has an illuminating effect upon the those who believe – those given to the Son by the Father – those drawn to the Son by the Father.  The metaphorical, symbolic, speech of Jesus here brings a depth and detail, contour and sharpness to Jesus’ most direct word’s, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35, ESV)

I would like to ask three questions of this text that I think will help us to wrap our minds around all that Jesus is saying here.

What is Jesus Offering?

Q: The first question is, what is it that Jesus is offering here?

A: The answer is that he offers life eternal. 

Jesus’ audience has made it unmistakably clear that what they wanted was for Jesus to do what Moses did. They want another Moses – Moses 2.0. The want to see a repeat of the Exodus event. Moses delivered from Egypt, they wanted to be delivered from Rome. Moses fed them in the wilderness with manna from above and water from the rock, they wanted to be feed by Christ with bread, not once, but again and again. They were willing to follow Jesus so long as he would do what they wanted him to do, and be what they wanted him to be.

Jesus here insists that their exceptions of him were much to small. Their thoughts were misdirected. Their vision for the coming prophet, priest and king, to little, to temporal, to worldly.

In verse 49 Jesus says, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” (John 6:49, ESV) Talk about being blunt! But Jesus’ point is an important one. He is saying, as good and incredible as the manna from above was, it was limited in what it could accomplish. It could sustain life for a time, but it could not deliver from death. It could not deliver from physical death, and certainly it could not deliver from spiritual death. The manna that was given by God ad through Moses, though good, was certainly limited.

Jesus offers more.

Verse 50: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”” (John 6:50–51, ESV)

Jesus offers life eternal.

But what does that mean exactly? What are the characteristics or qualities of this eternal life offered by Jesus? What does it mean to have the eternal life that is found in him?

First of all, notice that Christ is not claiming to save from physical death. Death is the door through which all must pass from this life to the next. I can think of only to exceptions: Enoch, who “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24, ESV), and those who are alive when the Lord returns. Except for those exceptions, all pass through the door of death. Christ does not claim to deliver from that!

Notice verse 54: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54, ESV) The phrase, “and I will raise him up on the last day” is what I want to draw your attention to here. This is a reference to the resurrection of the body when Christ comes again. Notice that the resurrection of the dead takes place on the last day. The last day is the day when Christ comes to judge the world and to usher in the final state – the new heavens and the new earth.

We do not have the time here to discuss the end times in detail – it’s not the point of the text. Two things should be noticed though. One, when Christ offers eternal life we should think, in part, of life lived eternally in resurrected, raised up, physical bodies – bodies, much like the body of our Lord in his resurrection. Two, if it is true that Christ will raise us up on the last day, it must also be true that physical death is inevitable. In other words, Christ is not promising here to save from physical death, but from spiritual death.

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:50–57, ESV)

The second thing that we should notice about the eternal life offered by Christ is that it is something we experience in the here and now, and not only in the future.

Notice verse 53: “So Jesus 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 you.’” (John 6:53, ESV)

This is an interesting thing for Jesus to say to group of people standing before him, living and breathing. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have [present tense] no life in you.” 

It is not, you will have no life in you (in the future), but you have no life in you now. They were alive, and yet they were dead. Eternal life and eternal death, you see, are not merely future realities. They are states of being that we experience in the here and now.

Verse 54 says positively what verse 53 said negatively: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54, ESV) Again, notice that “has” is present tense. It is true that the eternal life offered by Christ effects the future – those in Christ will be raised up bodily and reunited with their souls, which have always been alive in Christ, united with and seated with in him the heavenly places – but this eternal life offered by Christ is experience by those who believe in the here and now. To believe in Christ truly is pass from death to life.

This has already been stated in John’s gospel in 5:25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24, ESV)

John repeats this principle in his epistle. 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14, ESV)

Death, you see, is not merely a future event, it is a state of being. So also with eternal life. It is not merely a future benefit for the believer, but a current state. To have eternal life in Christ Jesus is to have it now.

Of course we look forward to Christ’s return. We long for the day when all things will be made new – sin and death and misery will be no more – we long for that day when Christ will bring all things to a grand and glorious conclusion. But for the believer, eternal life is something we taste now.

We have been given a foretaste of it though the outpouring of the Spirit, by the forgiveness of sins, though knowing the the love of God, and by experiencing fellowship with God through union with Christ.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4–7, ESV)

What we had and then lost in the garden has been restored in Christ – fellowship with the God who made us. This is, in part, what it means to have life eternal in the here and now while we wait for the consummation of all things.

The third thing to noticed about the life offered by Christ is that it is in fact eternal life. It is life unending – life without end – life without the threat or possibility of death.

And so while it is true that those in Christ are alive now by the Spirit and have tasted of life eternal, it must also be emphasized that eternal life will not be experienced in it’s fullest sense until we experience it in the resurrection, after the return of Christ, when all things are made new. It is then that eternal life will be experienced in the fullest sense. It is then that we will live forever and ever, body and soul.

Tell me, does that sound good to you? Does it sound good to you to go on living forever and ever?

Some would say no. Some would say that that sounds like the most miserable thing of all, to go on living forever.

Those who view everlasting life as a negative and miserable thing misunderstand the quality of life promised in Christ Jesus. The life that Christ offers is life in it’s highest form. It is life without sin, sickness and death. It is life without conflict and strife. It is, perhaps most importantly, life without any separation whatsoever from the God who made us.

Listen to how eternal life is described to us in the Book of Revelation:

Verse 21:1-4: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1–4, ESV)

So Christ offers life eternal – life everlasting. Those in Christ have a foretaste of it in the here and now having passed from a state of death to a state of life. Physical death still threatens, but for those in Christ Jesus it has lost its sting. This is what Jesus offers..

How Can He Possibly Provide It?

Q: The next question that must be asked is how can he possibly provide such a magnificent thing?

A: The answer is that he can provide it because he is the bread of life.

“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:48, ESV)

“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”” (John 6:50–51, ESV)

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:54–55, ESV)

This is obviously metaphorical, or symbolic, language. Jesus is not really bread, of course.

Here is the meaning of it. Just as physical bread possesses the qualities and characteristics necessary to impart physical life, so too the person of Jesus Christ possesses the qualities and characteristics necessary to impart spiritual life.

There is a reason why we eat bread and not tree bark. The obvious reason, besides the taste of the it, is that bread, given it’s nature and makeup, is able to nourish the body, whereas tree bark is not. The physical makeup of bread corresponds to the physical needs of the body.

And similarly there is a reason why Jesus can offer eternal life as no other person or thing can. Only he, the God-man, was and is capable in imparting it to us. Only he, having come from above, can provide life from above. Only he corresponds to the need of the human soul.

He is bread come down from heaven (vs. 50)

He is living bread (vs. 51)

His flesh is true food. His blood true drink. (vs. 55)

And it is in this last phrase that we are told how it is that he will provide eternal life. He will provide it through the giving of his flesh and the shedding of his own blood.

The event of the cross is what is in view here. Jesus Christ would give himself up for the sins of those who believe. His body would be broken, his blood spilt. It would be through this act of selfless sacrifice that he would provide eternal life for all who would believe.

He, being fully man, lived as man should live. He obeyed God completely. He kept God’s law. And he, being fully God, had the ability – the power – to take upon himself the sins of those who trust in him from all the world, and to atone for those sins by dying and raising again the third day.

Jesus Christ is the bread of life, the living bread, true food and true drink, because he is from above. He was no ordinary man.

Were he an ordinary man, it would do no good to believe in him. To trust in an ordinary man for eternal life would be like eating bark or rocks or dirt for the nourishment of the body. I suppose you could do it, but it would not benefit you in the end, because these things are not suited to for the task.

How can Jesus Christ provide eternal life? He can provide it because he was and is God come in in the flesh. He made atonement for sins through his broken body and blood spilt.

How Do We Receive It?

Q:  The last question is this, how do we receive this offer of his?

A: The answer is that we receive eternal life by eating with the mouth of faith.

Verse 51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”” (John 6:51, ESV)

This is a metaphorical, or symbolic, way of saying what has already been said in a most straightforward way in the preceding passage.

Verse 35: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35, ESV)

Verse 40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, ESV)

Verse 47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47, ESV)

So, to eat of Christ is to believe in him, to trust in him, to have faith in him.

Just as the mouth is the instrument by which we receives food to the nourishment of the body, so too faith is the instrument by which a person receives the benefits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

We are compelled here to eat of Christ.

It’s important to notice in verse 51 that the word “eats” is in the aorist tense in the greek, meaning that the eating is described as a snapshot, one time event. We are to eat of Christ. That is, we are to believe in him. And notice that, according to verse 51, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. “ (John 6:51, ESV) The same can be said of verse 50, and 53.  The eating is described as a particular event.

The meaning is this: we receive eternal life the moment we believe, the moment that we eat with the mouth of faith.

But notice this, as we continue to read we come to verse 54 where the word used to describe the eating of Christ changes, as does the tense in the greek.

Verse 54: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54, ESV)

Verse 56: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56, ESV)

Verse 57: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” (John 6:57, ESV)

Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58, ESV)

Instead of the word “eats” we see the word “feeds”.  And here is the significant thing – instead of the aorist tense, which describes an event as a snapshot, one time event, we have the present tense used which communicates ongoing activity.

The meaning is this: We do indeed have eternal life the moment that we believe (aorist tense; eat). But to believe in Christ truly, is to feed upon him perpetually (present tense; feed).

In other words, the faith of true Christian has more in common with the steady and consistent grazing of cattle than the feeding frenzy of a pride of lions.

It is true, we have eternal life the moment we believe, but true faith is an abiding faith – an ongoing and consistent trust in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Application and Conclusion

May I make some brief suggestions for application before we close?

The first is most obvious. I would urge you to think deeply and seriously about life and death.

Having thought about life and death I would then urge you to believe (trust) in Christ from the heart.

Having believed in Christ from the heart I would then urge you to go on trusting in Christ in from the heart.

Consider the relation of the Lord’s Supper to al that is said in John 6. The Lord’s Supper signifies the spiritual reality that John 6 describes. Do not neglect the the Lord’s Supper. Do not approach the table in an unworthy manner. Christ is feeds his people through the Supper and is spiritually present in it.

Lastly, may I exhort you to savor God through Christ Jesus. Perhaps you have lost your taste for him. It is time to repent and to feed upon him once more.

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