Aug 12, 2018

“Taught by God” 8-12-18

John 6:35-45
12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2018

One of the things that makes John’s gospel such a joy and delight is the masterful way in which he weaves central themes through the various signs and discourses.  The primary theme, of course, is faith.  John brings his gospel to a close with a clear purpose statement: “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31) The connection between “I am the bread of life” in John 6 and the over-arching purpose is explicit.  “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35) Jesus offers himself to his hearers as enduring food.  Faith—believing—is the confident, grateful acceptance of this offer.  The offer at the same time, poses some simple soul-searching questions:  Are you hungry?  What are you hungry for?  How are you filling your hunger?  How’s that working for you?  Are you hungry for God?

Faith, however, is not the only theme of John’s gospel, though it is certainly what holds all the other themes together.  Another theme which our text touches on today is that of mission or sending.  In his first post-resurrection appearance to all the disciples in John’s gospel, Jesus’ first words are “Peace be with you.”  His next words are “As the Father sent me, so send I you.”  Now, all the gospels end with some sort of commissioning (though Mark’s original is probably lost to us.)  John’s gospel is striking in that the sending is the very first business of the time between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  However, this really should not surprise us since Jesus was constantly speaking of his being sent by the Father.  As we noted in the last message, John’s gospel presents Jesus as the man from heaven.  He is sent into the world by the Father.  Thus, in John 6:38 the Lord says, “For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” 

Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus remarks on various aspects of his sending by the Father.  These teach us the meaning of our own sending.  For example, he claims that what he teaches is what he has heard or seen in the presence of the Father. (5:19-20; 15:15) Thus, the Apostles are sent as those who heard the Lord’s words and saw his deeds.  In today’s text, he calls attention to the will of the Father, as opposed to his own, as that which directs his mission.  In the same way, we are sent to do the will of the Lord.  This same criterion is explicit in the epistles.  In Romans 12 we are to be renewed in our minds so that we might prove what the will of God is.  In Ephesians 5 St. Paul exhorts us not to be foolish, but to understand what the will of the Lord is.  The Great Shepherd benediction in Hebrews 13 seeks that God would equip us with everything good so that we may do his will.  In all of the discourses in John’s gospel, Jesus references his sending.   He does this in the first place to deepen and strengthen our faith.  But he also does so to teach us what it means to be sent into the world like Jesus.

Another recurring faith-related theme in John’s gospel is the relationship between seeing and believing.  It seems a plausible assumption that “seeing is believing.”  Life would we complicated indeed if we spent our waking moments doubting our sense perceptions.  However, in relation to Christ and God’s salvation, the relationship between faith and sight is more mysterious.  In this instance, seeing is not always believing.  In today’s text (6:36) Jesus continues to chide the crowd for their failure to “see” what was really at stake in the feeding of the 5000.  “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.”   Seeing is not always believing.  Seeing the Kingdom requires new birth.  Many who think they see are blind.  And, there is the humbling verdict of Isaiah recorded not only by the synoptic evangelists, but also John in 12:39, “And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not see with their eyes and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them.’”  Seeing is not always believing. 

The connection between seeing and believing is elaborated in other conversations.  In response to Philip’s request that he show them the Father in 14:8 Jesus says, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?”  Here seeing and believing are an issue for the disciples, but in a different way.  They see, but not perfectly.  They believe, but their faith is not fully formed.  Of course, the relationship between faith and sight reaches its final treatment with “doubting Thomas” in John 20.  Jesus tells Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands...Do not doubt but believe.” (20:27) Notice that Thomas is exhorted to have faith, even as he sees.  Seeing alone is not enough.  And, of course, the seeing – believing theme reaches its conclusion on our behalf: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (20:29) That the Apostles saw is very important.  We come to faith through the word of their eye-witness testimony.  But ultimately faith comes through more than sight and testimony.  Faith comes as people are “taught by God.”

Jesus reveals his mission in John 6 as a mission of rescue, a mission of safe-keeping.  It arises from the relationship between the Father and the Son.  The Father has given a gift to the Son and it is the Son’s mission to guard and keep it, indeed to raise it up on the last day.  This gift, in the first place, is cosmic in scope.  It is the Father’s will that Jesus should lose nothing “of all that he has given [him], but raise it up on the last day.” (6:39) This “all/it” is neuter gender in Greek.  It refers to the world of created things.  It stands alongside, but distinguished from, persons.  This distinction is highlighted by the slightly reworded repetition of the mission in 6:40.  “All who see the Son…may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”  Here the “all/them” is not neuter, but instead refers to people.  Note, though, that Jesus’ mission is nothing less than the “raising up” of the whole creation toward its God-ordained goal.  What that entails I cannot begin to say.  However, it certainly means that our labors in this world—all those human activities that form culture and civilization—are very important.  They are given to Christ and he will in some way raise them up.

At the heart of his rescue mission, though, are people. He came to save a people whom the Father gave to him.  These people are sinners and because of their sin the whole creation is disordered and broken.  Of these sinners also, it is clear, he will lose not a one.

These words speak to us of God’s sovereign initiative in the saving of the lost.  Though this is more fully elaborated in the discourse on the Good Shepherd in John 10, today’s text is striking in the way that it places the divine initiative, which is decisive and unfailing, alongside the free invitation to whoever desires salvation.  The saying, “I am the bread of life” is a free offer of salvation.  “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry” is more than just a probing question—“Are you hungry?”  It is an open, unqualified invitation to whoever desires eternal life.  Note, moreover, that “All that the Father gives me will come to me” is followed immediately by “and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”  That the Father’s gift to his Son is definite and will not fail is not a form of fatalism or determinism.  It stands inseparably with the free offer of everlasting life to the hungry.  No one who truly turns to Christ will be told, “Sorry, you’re not on the list.  You’re not part of the Father’s gift.” 

When the Jews are offended by Jesus’ claim that he is the bread who came down from heaven, Jesus replies by telling them that only the Father can enable people to come to him.  This clearly means that only the Father can move people past their objections to Jesus and receive his word as true.  The word translated “draw” in 6:44 (Gk. helkuo) is a strong word.  In John 18:10, Peter draws his sword.  In John 21:6 and 11, the disciples cannot haul their heavy, bursting nets into the boat so they haul them ashore.  In Acts 16:19, some disgruntled men in Philippi drag Paul and Silas before the authorities.  So, when Jesus tells us that only those who are drawn by the Father can come to him or that “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people unto myself” (12:32) we should never think of some vague sort of moral influence whose efficacy might be in doubt, or hang on the thread of some spark of wisdom or goodness or prudence in man.  What God draws will be drawn by God.

Particularly instructive at this point is the citation of scripture.  When Jesus declares that only the Father can overcome our doubts and reservations and enable us to come to him, he does not leave it as an insight of the Man from heaven.  Such a monumental claim deserves to be demonstrated from scripture.  So Jesus adds, “As it is written in the prophets, ‘They shall all be taught of God.’”  Now there is only one text in the prophets that precisely corresponds to this saying, Isaiah 54:13, which reads, “All your children shall be taught by the LORD.”  Moreover, it is part of an oracle about the end of exile and the restoration of fortunes of the people.  The language of 54:11-12 anticipates the vision of the heavenly city in Revelation 21.  The heart of the oracle is the LORD’s declaration of his unbreakable covenant of peace.  “For the mountains may depart and the hills may be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you.”  As a singular demonstration of God’s faithfulness and compassion, the prophet announces that “All your children shall be taught by the Lord.”  The implication is that they will hear and not stray, and that they will prosper under the Lord’s instruction.

When you ask what to make of the indispensable priority of God’s work in the saving of sinners, this is where Jesus takes us.  He does not offer a resolution of what we can only take hold of as paradox.  But, he does not take us to thoughts of dark foreboding.  If we, like Philip, learn to see God reflected in the face of Jesus, there is no reflection of a menacing divine arbitrariness that leaves us wondering deep down whether God is good.  We see in his face only the anticipation of the new creation in which the greatest blessing is to be taught by God.   Much to our amazement and surprise, that which we anticipate as the fullness of salvation is also proclaimed to be the beginning of salvation.  Only the heart taught by God comes to faith.  The heart taught by God lives by this instruction and longs for the day when the divine lessons reach their fullness.  So we sing joyfully of “God the Father, God of glory, miracles and mystery” and exhort parents, “Tell your children, age to age the same. Glorify the living Lord above, magnify his holy name.”  Amen.

Pastor Paul Copeland
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906