Week of October 30, 2011
Bible Verses:† John 6:5-13, 35-40.
Lesson Focus:† This lesson is about Jesusí feeding of the 5,000 and His teaching that He is the Bread of life who alone can satisfy our spiritual hunger.
Jesus Provides: †John 6:5-13.
† Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" † He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. † Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." † One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, † "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?" † Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. † Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. † And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost." † So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.† [ESV]
Just as John sometimes provides details that help to explain puzzles in the Synoptic narrative, so the reverse is sometimes true. Mark 6:33-35 explains that, after the crowd had run around the north end of the lake in order to catch up with Him, Jesus taught them at some length Ė and that is why He felt concern about feeding them. In this instance Philip was the obvious person to ask: he came from the nearby town of Bethsaida [1:44]. John adds the comment in verse 6 to forestall any reader from thinking that Jesus was stumped, surprised by the miracle that was eventually performed. John writes that Jesus already had His own plan, but that the problem itself gave Him a further opportunity to test Philip. Philipís response betrays the fact that he can think only at the level of the marketplace, the natural world. One denarius was a dayís pay for a common laborer; two hundred denarii therefore represents eight monthsí wages. But the crowd was so large  that even such a large sum of money would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. Andrewís contribution is to introduce a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish . Only the Fourth Gospel specifies that these were barley loaves, the inexpensive bread of the poorer classes. The small fish were probably pickled fish to be eaten as a side dish with the small cakes of barley bread. Andrewís point, of course, was that this tiny meal was ludicrously inadequate to the need. John mentions it to heighten the miracle. Despite the size of the crowd, Jesus proceeds in an orderly fashion, seating the people in preparation for the meal. Mark 6:39-40 mentions that they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties, and that the grass was green, confirmation that the event took place in March or April when the grass is still green, before the hot summer sun burns it brown. The total number of people, including women and children, may well have exceeded twenty thousand or more. What John stresses is the lavishness of the supply: the people ate as much as they wanted, far outstripping the tidbit that even two hundred denarii would have failed to supply. So also the true bread from heaven who gives life to the world far outstrips the manna in the desert [30-33]. Though the Lord has lavish abundance to meet the needs of the people, He will let nothing be wasted. Collecting what was left over at the end of the meal was a Jewish custom. Twelve baskets are filled with leftovers indicating that there is more leftover than there was at the beginning. That there were twelve baskets is almost certainly significant: the Lord has enough to supply the needs of the twelve tribes of Israel. All four Gospels draw attention to the number.
Jesus Satisfies: †John 6:35-36.
† 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. † But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.† [ESV]
It was obvious that when the Lord Jesus spoke of Himself as the bread, He was using an image about which everybody knew. So we turn to what people know about bread for His meaning. What is important about bread? The first answer is that bread is necessary for life. In Christís day bread was even more essential than in our own time, for it was the only staple in most personsí diets. Without bread, people died. Thus Jesus was claiming to be the One whom men and women could not do without. Second, bread was eaten daily. This point brings to mind that phrase in the Lordís Prayer that says, Give us this day our daily bread. God is able and willing to provide for our spiritual as well as physical needs. When Jesus says that He is the bread of life, He is saying that He is the spiritual nourishment that we need in order to grow spiritually to maturity. The church of Jesus Christ is weak in our age, and it is weak simply because the individuals who compose it are not strong because they are not feeding daily upon the bread of life. Would you like to see spiritual growth in your own life? Then you must feed daily upon Jesus. This means, in the first place, that you must not look to other people as the source of your nourishment. That is what the people who had been talking to Jesus were doing. They were looking to the current teaching of their rabbis and to Moses and not to Jesus. Do not look to people as the source of your teaching unless they are directing you to the teaching of Jesus found in His Word. In the second place, we must not look to earthly things for our satisfaction. Are you looking only for your earthly needs to be granted? God will satisfy your earthly needs. He has promised to do it. But if that is the whole of your desire, even your major desire, then you are never going to see a great moving of the Holy Spirit of God in your life. We need to get our minds off ourselves and our needs, and we need to focus instead on the Lord Jesus Christ and His glory. Verse 36 teaches the principle of manís total spiritual inability. The people did not believe because they could not believe, and because of this, Jesus was not in the least surprised by their attitude. They had witnessed all the evidence for Christís claims that a person could wish. They had seen Him, heard Him. But they could not believe. We must be careful as we say this to point out that the inability of man in spiritual things is not a physical inability and, therefore, that a man is not excused by his failings. He is guilty for his inability to believe. For the full tragedy of manís situation apart from Godís grace is that man will not admit his need and will not come to the Lord Jesus Christ to have that need met. Certainly, anyone who will may come to Jesus. But who wills to come? The answer is: No one except those in whom the Holy Spirit has already performed the entirely irresistible work of the new birth so that, as the result of the miracle, the spiritually blind eyes of the natural man are opened to see Godís truth and the totally depraved will of the sinner is turned about to enable him to embrace Jesus Christ as his Savior. When you as a sinner begin to understand this, when you begin to understand something of your nature and the absolute necessity for Godís electing grace, then and only then do you begin to see how desperate your situation actually is. If you are holding onto the belief that you have some ability in spiritual things, no matter how small, then there is no great need to worry. But if you realize that the Bible is completely accurate and serious when it says that you are dead in trespasses and sins, that you cannot come to Christ apart from a miracle, the working of which is entirely in the sovereign choice of God, then you find yourself close to despair. For how can you be saved if it is neither in your nature nor power to trust in God and in the work of the Lord Jesus? You cannot. You have no hope; no hope, that is, unless God intervenes, in spite of yourself and your desires, to save you by pure grace.
Jesus Secures: †John 6:37-40.
† All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. † 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, and I will raise him up on the last day."† [ESV]
† These verses are given to fix our minds upon the grace and sovereignty of God in all things. They therefore take confidence away from anything that might be found in man and, instead, anchor it in God alone who alone is able to support it. They teach of manís sin and inability, Godís electing and irresistible grace, the free offer of the gospel, and Godís keeping power on behalf of his saints. Another way of saying the same thing is to say that these few verses carry us deep into the principles of the Reformed faith. If verse 36 says that left to himself man is totally unable to believe on Jesus Christ or come to God, it is also equally and gloriously true that God does not leave all men to themselves but rather acts, in spite of manís will, to save some. So verse 37 declares: All that the Father gives me will come to me. It is because of this truth that Christians are able to preach and testify to Christís gospel. We need to enter into this verse by looking into each of its parts. First, it speaks of the original position of all things, saying that all are in Godís hands. This must be so if God is able to give some of those who are in His hands to Jesus. Within a certain limited sphere of activity it is true that you and I make our own decisions. But in this verse God is telling us the far greater truth, that we are held in Godís hands in relation to everything important whether we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ or not. Second, this verse also speaks of a great transaction, according to which some of those who have been held in Godís hand in His suspended wrath have been handed over to the Lord Jesus Christ in His mercy. This is the greatest contract of all time, and this is not the only place in the Bible where this truth is mentioned. For instance, in the seventeenth chapter of John, Jesus speaks of those whom the Father has given him in verses 2,6,9 and 24. Who are these who have been given by God the Father to Jesus Christ? They are those about whom Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4: even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. Third, our text teaches that this great transaction that took place in eternity past between the Father and the Son is to be followed up by many specific changes in time. This is seen in the text in the contrasts between the tenses of the major verbs. In verse 37 where the Son is waiting for those whom the Father has given, the change is from the present tense to the future: all that the Father gives and will come. In verse 39, where the matter is looked at from the perspective of the eternal will of God, the change is from the past tense to the present: of all that he has given me and I should lose nothing. In other words, the choice of God in eternity past has this effect: that men and women come to Christ now in time, coming as sinners who need to be saved, coming with nothing in order that they might receive everything from Christ. Finally, some should also be encouraged by the fourth point, which tells us that there is no exception in what is described here. For all that the Father has given to Jesus will come. None of these teachings is given to limit in any way the free offer of Godís grace through the gospel. This is the offer of the second half of verse 37. What is meant by the word come? What does it mean to come to Him? To come to Jesus means to have faith in Him. Faith in Jesus is commitment to Jesus based upon a belief that He is who He said He is and that He will do what He has promised to do for everyone who trusts Him. Faith is trusting Christ and proving His promises. Who, according to verse 37, may come to Jesus? The answer is: anyone. How may they come. The answer is: in any way. When may they come? The answer is: at any time. The first half of verse 37 is written in the abstract: All that the Father gives me will come to me. This is the part of Christís sentence that deals with election. It is plural, designating a great number. It is abstract, for we do not know who those who are called by God are. The second half of the verse, however, is both singular in number and personal: whoever. It is Jesusí way of saying ďYou,Ē whoever you may be, and however and whenever you may come.
[38-40]† Verses 38-40 teach the keeping power of God. This doctrine means that God never begins a work that He does not intend to finish and that, therefore, no one whom He has called to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior will ever be lost. This doctrine is present at the end of verse 37: I will never cast out. This theme is now developed more fully in verses 38-39. Not only is Jesus promising to reject no one who comes to Him, He also is stating His determination to lose none of those who do come. Who are the ones about whom the verse is speaking? Who are those who will never be lost? The answer is that the verse applies to all who will come to the Lord Jesus. The all of verse 39 is the same as the all of verse 37. So, whoever you are and however you may have come, if you have come to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, this truth is for you. If you have truly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then this verse is Jesusí own statement of the truth that you will never be lost. He will keep you. Second, not only is the keeping power of God for all who have come to Jesus, it is also absolutely certain. It is certain because both the will and the power to keep those who have come to Christ from falling are Godís. It would not be a certainty if the will and power were manís. In other words, the verse is telling us that when we believe in Jesus Christ for our salvation we are actually trusting that God will be able to keep our spiritual deposits, and it is asserting that He will indeed keep them. Eternal life is a certainty because it is founded upon the combined wills of God the Father and God the Son: will of my Father Ö I will raise up. As we try to enter into verse 40 let us look first at the sovereign will of God; second, at the fact that this will is confirmed by Jesus; third, at the areas in which the wills of God the Father and God the Son combine; and fourth, at the truth that God is determined to carry out His will for us now. We begin with the sovereign will of God. It is beyond and above anything that we can know on this earth. Indeed, it is the origin of all things and that according to which all things are ordered. Godís will is absolute. It is unlimited. It is determined only by itself. God needs to consult no one in formulating and effecting His plans. Godís will is independent. Godís will is fixed, for it does not need to adapt to changing circumstances. It controls the circumstances, for it is omnipotent. Godís will is also irresistible. Second, this section of John tells us that the good and benevolent will of God is confirmed by Jesus. In this section of John, three areas of Godsí will concerning us are mentioned. First, verse 37 tells us that the will of God is seen in our election. Quite clearly, the plain sense of verse 37 is that God has chosen a great company of persons, all of whom he has given to Christ and all of whom will come to Him. The verse further tells us that Jesus confirms this aspect of Godís will by promising never to drive away anyone who so comes. Second, verse 39 tells us that the will of the Father is confirmed by the will of the Son in the matter of our preservation. Finally, the will of God is confirmed by Jesus in the matter of our entering into a new quality of life now. Eternal life is a present possession. Hence, verse 40 adds to the preceding thought of the keeping power of God the equally important thought that God is determined to accomplish His will in us now. The fact that God has placed His own eternal and everlasting life within us is evidence that His will extends to the way we live, think, act, and grow now.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† How does this fourth miracle recorded by John function as a sign? How does it point toward God and to what aspect of Godís nature does it point? What does it reveal about Jesusí mission and character? What response does it invite?
2.†††††††† What did Jesus mean by identifying Himself as the bread of life? How are we to feed upon Him? What is the connection in verse 35 between coming to Jesus and believing in Him?
3.†††††††† Who comes to Jesus seeking salvation? How is it possible for a spiritually dead person to come to Jesus, to look on the Son and to believe in Him? [see John 1:12-13; 3:3-6; 1 Peter 1:3].
4.†††††††† Every believer is the Fatherís love-gift to the Son. What does the Son promise to do with the Fatherís love-gift? What sense of assurance and security can you derive from these verses?
John, Andreas Kostenberger, ECNT, Baker.
The Gospel According to John, James Boice, Baker.
The Gospel According to John, D.A. Carson, Eerdmans.