True Food and True Drink from Heaven
Numbers 11:4-13; John 1:14; 6:51-59 (text)
November 29, 2015 * Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: Today, we start the season of Advent this year 2015. Advent is a time of remembering and giving thanks to God for his most precious gift: Jesus his only-begotten who was born a true human baby to save his people from their sin.
Advent and Christmas are two of the most cherised and beautiful Christian traditions. However, every Advent season, there are naysayers, many coming from Reformed circles, that Christmas, or any other day, should not be commemorated with special worship services. They cite the 16th and 17th century Puritans who rejected these other “holy days.” They argue that the 16th century Protestant Reformers also rejected these special days of worship, saying that the only day of worship is the Lord’s Day. Others say that these special days violate the Regulative Principle of Worship. And some even contend that these special days have been so corrupted and commercialized that Christians should not have any part of it.
But most other Reformed pastors disagree. First, the early German Reformers where the Heidelberg Catechism was written prescribed services on Christmas, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, while also allowing Good Friday. This was also adopted by the Dutch Reformers, and many other non-Puritan Reformers. Second, even in our worship services on these special days, we do not add entertainment or innovations to the elements of prayers, songs and preaching. We do not violate the regulative principle. Third, the corruption and commercialization of these special days do not make them unlawful. As we have seen in the cleansing of the Temple courts by Jesus, even the solemn feast of Passover was corrupted and commercialized, Jesus was in attendance. Moreover, Jesus attended even those feasts that were not commanded by God to Israel, e.g., an unknown feast in John 5:1 and the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah in John 10:22.
There are other benefits to our observance of Christmas. The first is that it is a reminder of God’s overall salvation plan, beginning with Christ’s birth, then his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Second, the birth of Christ has a major part in the Scriptures. It was prophesied by Moses, the psalmists, and the prophets. Matthew and Luke devoted 2-3 chapters of their Gospels to the birth of Jesus. Third, it confirms to us the historical fact of the Son of God assuming human flesh and blood to save his people from sin. The birth of Jesus was not a fictional tale of a cute baby born in a manger, announced by angels with harps to warm our hearts. Fourth, our Advent series today and in these next three Sundays is a fitting opportunity to get our unbelieving family and friends to hear the gospel of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus used the Jewish feasts as opportunities to preach the gospel of salvation to the Jews. Today, we can invite family and friends to our church on two most important days of the Christian year: Christmas and Easter.
But before we get to our text for today, it must also be pointed out that Christmas is not pagan, nor is December 25 set by the Roman Catholic Church. December 25 was not an accommodation to a pagan festival on the winter solstice to honor the Sun-god. Rather, it was calculated as the actual historical date of Jesus’ birth since the early church (Hippolytus in the 2nd century and Chrysostom in the 4th century). Church historians note that the connection between December 25 and pagan festivals was not intentionally set until the 12th century when Christianity spread to pagan northern and western Europe. So we see that many of the Christmas trappings we have today come from these cultures, such as mistletoe, Yuletide, and Santa Claus and his reindeer.
But now we come to our text. This passage is part of Jesus’ conversation with an audience of Jews and his own disciples. In John’s Gospel, Chapter 6 includes the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, and his bread of life discourse during his second trip to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. Again, his intention was to reveal himself as the fulfillment of a Jewish institution that was passing away. Remember that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt on the night of the first Passover event. When they reached the wilderness, the people started grumbling for food and water that they had when they were back in Egypt. Numbers Chapter 11, which we read, describes the grumbling of the people and Moses’ frustration with them. So Jesus tells them that he, not the manna from heaven or the water from the rock, is True Food and True Drink who comes from heaven.
Today, our theme is: “True Food and True Drink from Heaven” under four headings: (1) True Food and True Drink Explained; (2) True Food and True Drink Misunderstood; (3) True Food and True Drink Rejected; and (4) True Food and True Drink for His Disciples.
True Food and True Drink Explained
John 6 starts with another sign or miracle performed by Jesus: the feeding of the 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. This multitude followed him because of the many other signs he had already performed before them. So Jesus and his disciples retreated to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but the crowd followed him. Jesus told them that they were following him “because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v 26).
Jesus then began his bread of life discourse in verse 26. He told them not to work for food that spoils, but for “the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” The Jews then asked him again for a sign, even after he just performed a great sign the day before. They said that the prophet Moses performed a great sign by providing manna from for their forefathers in the wilderness. Jesus replied that the heavenly manna was not from Moses but from his Father in heaven. And he added, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then the Jews asked, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6:34).
This request is one of the parallels of this passage with Numbers Chapter 11. First, the people demanded Moses, “Give us meat, that we may eat” (v 13), the same demand by the Jews. Second, in the same verse, Moses asks God where he is going to get meat for the people In verse 5, Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread?” Second, in Numbers 11:21-23, Moses asks God how he will feed 600,000 people with meat for one month. In verse 7, Philip says that two hundred days’ wages will not be enough to feed the 5,000. Third, in Numbers 11:1, the people grumbling about their hardship in the wilderness. In verses 41 and 43, the Jews grumbled about what Jesus was saying: that he was the bread that came down from heaven.
So the Jews have never changed in 1,500 years from the time of Moses to the coming of Jesus. God performed mighty signs for them in Egypt, in the wilderness, during the conquest of the Promised Land, and during their wars against their enemies, but they still did not believe. They kept looking for more signs and wonders from God. When Jesus came, they still had not changed, with their endless demands for signs. Even today, many Christians still demand signs and wonders when the authoritative and sufficient Word of God is before their very eyes and ears for the maturity of their faith. Do you remember the book Heaven is for Real, written by the father of a four-year-old boy who he said had died? But the boy “came back from the dead,” telling him all kinds of tall tales of what he saw in heaven. It was a bestseller because apparently, Christians trusted the unbiblical words of a toddler, rather than what the Word of God says about heaven. May we believe with all our heart and mind that the Bible is sufficient and authoritative for all of our doctrine, worship and life!
The Jews were in unbelief even after Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people. They were in unbelief when Jesus taught them that he came from heaven. Is not this man the son of Joseph and Mary, whom they knew? But in John’s Prologue, we read that the Word, the Son of God, was with God from eternity. And in John 1:14, we read that this Word “became flesh and dwelt among us,” and the disciples saw his glory, the glory of God himself. From the Old Testament, we read of the promise of God to send his own Son to save his people. He promised a Seed to Eve, then to Abraham. He promised a Son to David. He promised that this Son would be born unto his people, from his own people, whose name shall be called, “Wonderful Counsel, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:7). Who could this be than only OneÂ who came down from Heaven, Jesus the Messiah?
So Jesus himself confirms his origin from heaven to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (3:13). And Paul also says that Jesus came down from heaven, “The first man [Adam] was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man [Christ] is from heaven” (1 Cor 15:47); and “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10). Daniel 7:13 describes the ascension into heaven of a Son of Man in the clouds.
And now that the Son of Man is in heaven, he rules and shepherds his church. He mediates and intercedes for all his people, in all their sufferings, sins, temptations, and requests, “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb 4:14).
True Food and True Drink Misunderstood
The Jews were in unbelief when Jesus taught them that he is the only True Food and True Drink. That the food and drink he offers is his flesh and blood. That “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood” will give them eternal life. So they disputed, quarreled and argued among themselves, “How can this man give his flesh to eat?” (v 52)
This is one of many misunderstandings of Jesus’ teachings. The problem with the Jews, and even with his disciples, was that they always took his sayings literally. When he told them that he would rebuild the temple in three days if it was destroyed, they were astonished. It has taken them 46 years to renovate the temple! They did not know that he was talking about his death and resurrection in three days (John 2:19-21) When he told Nicodemus that he must be born again to inherit the kingdom of heaven, he asked, “Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4) He did not know that Jesus was teaching him about the work of the Holy Spirit in regenerating his heart. When he told the woman at the well that if she drank the living water that he was offering her, she would never thirst again. And she misunderstood it as literal water, and not the eternal life that the Spirit’s work will give to her.
Here, Jesus is speaking of faith that leads to eternal life:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
And then he connects eating his flesh and drinking his blood to eternal life:
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
Therefore, what he means by feeding on him is believing in him, faith that leads to eternal life.
True Food and True Drink Rejected
Without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ words were rejected by the Jews. The Samaritan woman understood and then believed because of the Spirit’s work. Nicodemus later understood and believed also because of the Spirit’s regeneration. But the Jews grumbled against Jesus because the Spirit closed their hearts and minds to the truths of his words.
They grumbled among themselves, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus knew what was in their minds, and said to them, “Do you take offense at this?” His gospel is an offense to the Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). When Simeon saw the infant Jesus in the temple, the Spirit revealed to him that this was the Consolation that the Lord promised in Isaiah 40:1, and he prophesied, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2:34). Peter says that Isaiah foretold that the coming Messiah will be, “’A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Pet 2:8). So John says, “Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe” (v 64).
Jesus did not care about numbers, unlike many pastors and churches today who only care about numbers and budget. After they heard offensive words from Jesus, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (v 66). Jesus often offended those who rejected him, because he knew his Father’s salvation plan, “that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me” (v 44). Starting with 5,000 followers, he ended up with just a handful of disciples. What a church shrinkage seminar this was! But he knew that those who believed in him was the complete number that his Father had given him at that point in his earthly ministry. No one is lost! The Father will draw to himself all whom he has elected (6:44).
True Food and True Drink for His Disciples
But the Twelve who remained with him were firm in their faith standing with Jesus, saying with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (6:68-69). This is as great as Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Matt 16:16) And Jesus told him after he made this confession, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Through the Spirit of God, Peter’s heart was opened to the truth that Jesus is the Christ. This is what John also says in verses 63 and 64, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” In other words, those who do not believe have not been given life first so they could believe.
To those of you here today who have no faith in Christ alone, who trust in other men or women or saints or things, pray to the Father in heaven to open your hearts and minds.
Beloved people of God, Jesus was born to save his people from their sins by his broken body and shed blood on the cross. This salvation is applied by the Spirit to the hearts of his people in order that they may believe. And that they may have eternal life.
And this is the comfort to all of you who believe in this: that before the creation of the world, God the Father has chosen you to be saved by his Son; and that Christ will not lose even one of his chosen ones. You will all inherit eternal life, because you have believed in the Son of God who came down from heaven as your True Food and True Drink.