SERMON FOR SUNDAY, APRIL 29, 2018
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5).
The very first words in the Bible—we’re five verses in and already a lot of people have problems. Even many people who believe themselves to be Christians have problems with the Bible’s description of creation. “There’s no way the earth could have been created before the sun,” we’re told. “There’s no way the earth could have been created in a single day.” “Science proves that the biblical account is wrong.”
Despite the fact that many of the things that people thought the biblical writers got wrong have since been proven to be correct, there are still plenty of doubters when it comes to the first two chapters of Genesis.
But this is just the beginning of a whole book filled with improbable situations and circumstances. Can we scientifically explain how a 75 year old woman could give birth to a child? How a sea of water could be rolled back, leaving the ground that just moments before had been covered with water totally dry and then roll back once the Israelite people had crossed over? How water could come from a rock? Enough water to provide for hundreds of thousands of people, as well as all their livestock?
How a virgin could give birth to the Son of God?
And I wonder … could it be that Genesis begins quite intentionally with this paragraph that raises so many questions in so many minds? So many questions that the author makes absolutely no effort to answer or to explain.
Perhaps we’re being prepared for the Son of God, who, thousands of years later, comes into the world and makes absolutely no effort to explain all the things that He says and does that make no sense to anyone else.
Clearly, it’s really true that God never changes.
We’ve talked about how, in chapter 6 of John’s gospel, Jesus fed the crowd of 5000 men plus women and children with five loaves and two fish. We’ve talked about how He walked across the water to His disciples when they had abandoned Him and gone away alone. If you’d take out your Bibles, we’ll continue with verse 22:
Joh 6:22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.
Joh 6:23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
Joh 6:24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
Joh 6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
Things didn’t add up—the crowd had seen Jesus’ disciples get in their boat and leave without Jesus. And they knew there were no other boats there. Now they find Him on the other side of the lake and they want to know how He got there.
Jesus ignores the question and tells them:
Joh 6:26 … “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
“You’re not here because you want me; you’re here because yesterday you got a free meal and now you’re hungry again and you’re hoping for another free meal.”
Joh 6:27 “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
“I can give you more bread and fish, but in a little while, you’ll be hungry again. And no matter how much bread you get, you’re still going to die someday. I have something much better to offer—I can give you the food that will last forever—the food that, if you eat it, will give you eternal life. Anybody can give you bread and fish. I’m the only one who can give you eternal life.”
“For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Jesus is the authorized dealer—the only authorized dealer for eternal life. He didn’t come to fill stomachs with food, but to fill lives with the very presence of God.
Joh 6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
Have you ever asked that question? “How can I be assured of eternal life?” “What do I have to do to go to heaven?”
And Jesus doesn’t say, “You have to be a good person. You have to keep the Ten Commandments. You have to go out and evangelize.” He doesn’t even say, “You have to go to church every Sunday.”
Joh 6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
He says, that we must believe—believe in Him.
Joh 6:30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?
Joh 6:31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
They want proof. “What are you going to do for us?” Moses gave their ancestors manna, bread from heaven, in the wilderness. The manna kept on coming every morning for 40 years—the entire time that they were in the wilderness.
The crowd is far more interested in free food than they are in eternal life. They’re the Jews, God’s chosen people. They think they’re “in” just because of who they are.
Joh 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
Joh 6:33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Joh 6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Joh 6:35 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.
Joh 6:36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
Jesus is the answer to every need of the human heart. And it’s only in Him that we will never hunger again. First century Jews were searching for something that would satisfy their hunger—we continue to search 2000 years later. We live in a culture that is continually engaged in the experiencing of new and supposedly exciting ways of satisfying our material, physical and spiritual cravings. Buy this, drink this, eat this, drive this, try this drug, play this game, get these shoes or this shirt—the list goes on and on. Any satisfaction that we receive is only temporary.
And here we have the answer—Jesus. Because the world apart from God is dead. Despite our best efforts, despite all the seeming progress of the past 2000 years, the death rate is still 100%. Our need is extreme and radical. We, like Nicodemus, need a new birth. And in the words of John the Baptist in 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Jesus is the answer. Jesus has always been the answer—but it’s an answer that we don’t like, that we have a hard time accepting.
Joh 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Joh 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Joh 6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
Joh 6:40 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.”
Jesus is speaking to the crowd, but there’s also a message to His disciples here. Remember back in v6:12: “And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”
They gathered up 12 baskets, one for each disciple. And it was a lot of work. Now, in v 39, He says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
It was a lot of work to collect all those fragments of bread—and the unwillingness of Jesus’ listeners to accept what He’s saying now should be sending a clear message to His disciples that bringing people into the kingdom of God isn’t going to be easy. They’ll go to many who won’t accept the free gift of eternal life that’s being offered.
Joh 6:41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
Joh 6:42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Joh 6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.
Joh 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
Joh 6:45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—
Joh 6:46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.
Joh 6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
Joh 6:48 I am the bread of life.
Joh 6:49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
Joh 6:50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
Joh 6:51 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.”
Joh 6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Joh 6:53 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.
Joh 6:54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Joh 6:55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
“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 begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life.”
So let’s go back for a moment to the beginning. Genesis 1:27 tells us “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.”
Genesis 1:29-31 “And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’ And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
The original food for man came from trees.
Gen 2:9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:15-16 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”
The tree of life was right there—right there from the very beginning. Right there in the middle of the garden, right there available for Adam and Eve to take the fruit and eat it. But Adam and Eve ignored the tree of life and went for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead.
Which is what we all seem to want to do.
Genesis 3:24 “God drove the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned in every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.”
At the end of our story, the part yet to come, we’re told in Revelation 2:7 that, “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”
Could it be that the tree of life is a wooden cross on a hillside outside the gates of Jerusalem? A cross regularly referred to by the apostles as a tree? A cross on which the giver of all life was raised up to die? And could it be that the emphasis placed on food, on eating, throughout Scripture is all connected to this whole idea of eating from the tree of good and evil? Adam and Eve ate the flesh of forbidden fruit. As you and I do every time we sin.
Is John showing us this tree of life in the miracles that Jesus performs? He restores life and health, although not eternal life until the Cross and Resurrection.
In the garden the tree of life was right there, but Adam and Eve chose instead the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In John 6, the One who gives life is right there inviting everyone to come and eat. But many choose not to.
God, in His great love and mercy, is offering a second chance to receive the gift of eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Jesus, speaking to the Jews in John’s gospel, is both pointing backwards and pointing forward. He’s reminding them of God’s care and provision for them in the past. He’s repeating the words of the psalmist: “they should set their hope on God and not forget the works of God … and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation. … They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.”
Jesus is saying, “I’m the bread of life. I’m what you need. Believe in me and you can have that new life.”
Jesus is making it clear that the life He’s talking about is not some optional gift that we can choose to ignore—without the life He offers, we’re dead.
Choose—follow Me and live or go your own way and die.
V 60 tells us that “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” And v 68 says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (6:38-40).
Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life’”
Later, as Jesus shows John the end of the story, John writes:
Revelation 22:1-2 “Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse.”
No more tree of the knowledge of good and evil.