GOTCHA! – John 7:19-24

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INTRODUCTION:

“Gotcha” is an American slang term that literally means, “I’ve got you”.  It has been used in a number of ways.  Many of us have used that word in a conversation, and we had a specific purpose and meaning in mind.  It can mean “I understand what you are saying”, or “I’ll do what you’ve asked”.  The word is sometimes used in the sense of capturing or apprehending someone, taking someone by surprise, embarrassing or disgracing someone, exposing a person’s mistakes, or proving that the person is wrong.  That’s quite a range of meanings and uses for the word, and that’s not all of them.  Why would I be using the word “gotcha” to describe an event in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Does that choice seem strange to you?  As we study this passage of Scripture, I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not this title is appropriate.

TRANSITION:

As we begin our study of John 7:19-22, let’s imagine the scene at that moment in Jesus’ life.  It’s the week-long Feast of Booths [or Tabernacles].  Jesus arrived unnoticed, went into the temple and began to teach.  A crowd of people has formed around Jesus to listen to Him.  The Jewish religious authorities have arrived, have made their way to the front of the crowd, and are standing in front of Him, making accusations about Him; and Jesus is once again defending His authority.  Meanwhile, the crowd is standing there, watching and listening.

I.  THE ACCUSATION (verse 19a)

In verse 19, there is a change of direction.  Jesus takes the offensive position against them and assumes the control of the conversation.  “Turnabout is fair play”, as the saying goes.  It’s time for Him to examine their words and their actions, and offer His conclusions.  It’s time to bring them back to reality.  He begins His attack by saying, “Did not Moses give you the law”?  They are thinking in their minds, “Of course he did!”  They prided themselves on this, and believed that every violation of the law of Moses was deserving of death.  While they are gloating about their self-righteousness and their exalted position in the eyes of God, Jesus goes on to say yet not one of you carries out the law.” Those are stinging words to His questioners!  These leaders revere Moses and obey his every word – at least they try to give the impression that they do so!  Jesus is telling them, “You’re not carrying out the Law that God gave to Moses.  You’re carrying out your own version of it.  Those aren’t the Sabbath laws that God gave to Moses.  You’ve changed them and added to them to the point where they have become a despicable burden to the people.  It’s no surprise that you reject My teaching because you have rejected Moses’ teaching” (John 5:46-47).

At this point in Jesus’ discussion, it’s important to know the words that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 31:10-13.  Here are those words:

Then Moses commanded them saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the
time of the year of the remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel
comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose,
you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.  Assemble the people,
the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that
they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe
all the words of this law.” 
[bold print added to emphasize key words]

We aren’t told whether or not this is the seventh year but, if not, Jesus may be alluding to that command to remind the Jewish leaders that, when the people hear the words of the Law being spoken, they will notice many of the differences between the Law of Moses and the teachings they have received from these rabbis.

II.  THE QUESTION (verse 19b)

As further proof of their disobedience to the law of Moses, Jesus asks them a question:  “Why do you seek to kill Me?”  He is saying, “Where does Moses say specifically that I should be killed for healing a person on the Sabbath day over a year ago?  What offenses deserve the death penalty in the law of Moses?  If My healing-miracle is not one of those offenses, then one of the commandments in the law of Moses says, ‘You shall not kill’.  So you’re the ones who are breaking the law of Moses by seeking to kill Me.”

III.  THE CROWD’S RESPONSE (verse 20)

I can imagine that the leaders of the Jews were standing there dumbfounded.  Jesus’ reasoning was too solid.  They weren’t prepared for this, and didn’t know what to say.  The crowd, most of whom were from outlying areas and weren’t familiar with Jesus or with the things He was saying, come to the defense of their leaders.  In verse 20 we read, The multitude answered, “You have a demon!  Who seeks to kill You?”  They weren’t telling Jesus that He was demon possessed.  During that period of time, many Jews believed that all unusual or uncalled for behavior was prompted by the devil.  In this day and age, we might use the words “you’re out of your mind”, “you’re crazy”, or “you’re paranoid”.  They misunderstood Jesus’ words because they didn’t know the history behind them.

IV.  THE QUESTION ANSWERED (verse 21)

I’m sure the leaders were relieved that the crowd directed the attention of Jesus away from them, but it didn’t last for long.  Rather than become distracted by the crowd and direct His conversation toward them in defense of His sanity, Jesus ignores their remark and continues His conversation with the leaders of the Jews, answering His own question.  In verse 21, He says,  “I did one deed and you all marvel.”  The religious authorities were amazed when they learned that Jesus healed, in an instant, a man who had been lame for 38 years, just by saying the words.  It was a miracle that only God could perform.  Yet they wanted to kill Jesus because He performed that miracle on the Sabbath Day.

V.  THE APPLICATION TO CIRCUMCISION (verses 22-23)

In verse 22, we find that the Lord Jesus isn’t finished with His argument.  He is still building His case against them.  This time He applies their Sabbath laws to the rite of circumcision when He says, “On this account Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.”  First, He corrects their misunderstanding about circumcision.  Moses was not the originator of circumcision.  Before God told Moses to put the command of circumcision into written form in Leviticus 12:3, it had been practiced by “the fathers” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) over 700 years earlier.  In Genesis 17:10-12, God said to Abraham,“This is the covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . every male among you who is eight days old.”  Therefore, in obedience to that law, every man-child (male baby) is circumcised on the eighth day, no “if’s”, “and’s”, or “but’s” about it.  There are no exceptions to the rule.  It’s the law, and this ceremonial law even takes precedence over the Sabbath laws.  That was the teaching of the Jewish religious authorities of that day.  However, there were exceptions to that rule.  In the Talmud (the collection of the teachings of the rabbis), it states that, should the baby suffer from an illness, the circumcision is postponed seven days for the sake of the well-being of the infant.  Therefore, the baby’s health is more important than this rite of purification, and this is one of several exceptions in the Talmud.

With that information in mind, Jesus presents His next argument in verse 23, saying, “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath.”  Jesus is saying, “You make exceptions to circumcision on the Sabbath because the health of the child is more important than the strict observance of the Law, so why are you upset because I healed this man completely on the Sabbath?”  He’s telling them that they are contradicting themselves because they say one thing but do another.

There is another argument that isn’t spoken by Jesus, but it’s implied, and all the rabbi’s standing around Him know what that argument is.  As they add this final argument to the ones already stated by Jesus, they realize that they have lost their case and there is nothing to refute.  Are you wondering what that final argument is?  It has to do with one of the teachings of their most famous rabbi, Hillel the Great.  Hillel’s first great law of interpretation was, “The Major may be inferred from the Minor”.  What does that mean?  In this case, circumcision, which was considered to be the ceremonial law of the purification of newborn males) overrides the Sabbath, and health overrides circumcision.  So the Sabbath and circumcision are ‘Minor’ when compared with health.  Thus Jesus’ case against them might be put into these words:  “I did what’s considered ‘Major’ according to your laws and the teachings of your most famous rabbi, when I healed that man completely on the Sabbath, so why are you majoring in the ‘Minors’?”

What excellent arguments!  Case dismissed!  As I review Jesus’ arguments, a word comes back to mind.  The word is GOTCHA!  Does that word seem appropriate to you also?

VI.  THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED (verse 24)

While those teachers of the Law are standing there, looking at Jesus in wide-eyed amazement, experiencing the shame and agony of defeat, the Lord Jesus uses that moment to teach them a lesson in verse 24.  Here are Jesus’ words of instruction to these rulers of the Jews.  He says to them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  He’s telling them to repent of the way they have mistreated Him and do what’s right in the sight of God.  How easy and how tempting it is to make judgments about the actions and motives of others before all the facts are known, or in spite of the facts that are known.

A newspaper correspondent attended an auction where he saw, among other items, a pair of excellent crutches.  A poor, crippled boy was the first to bid on them.  A well-dressed elderly man was also interested in them and kept offering more money for them.  Some of the people frowned in disapproval, and one lady said, “Shame on you; let the boy have them!”  Whenever the boy called out a higher price, the man would always top it.  At last, the boy held up a five-dollar bill, all that he had, and made a final bid.  When more was offered, the young fellow turned away in tears.  The crowd muttered angrily.  Then, to everyone’s surprise, the gentleman presented the crutches to the boy, saying, “These are much too small for me, so I won’t have any use for them.  When I saw that you were crippled, my heart went out to you.  So I decided to buy the crutches and give them to you.”  The crowd began to applaud for they realized they had completely misjudged the man and the situation.  They looked at outward appearances only, and came to their own conclusions, when they should have given the situation time to allow the true motives to be revealed.  That same principle is reflected in our attitude toward God’s Word, the Bible.  Are we committed to what God’s Word actually says, or to what we want it to say?

One of the things that can cause us to make wrong judgments is peer pressure.  Em Griffin in his book, “The Mindchangers”, describes an experiment done by Solomon Asch with groups of 12 people.  They were brought into a room where four lines of unequal length were displayed.  They had to decide which two were the same length and publicly vote for their choice.  Person after person after person (11 in all) voted for the wrong line – because they had been told to do so ahead of time.  The one individual who was in the dark couldn’t imagine how in the world all these seemingly normal people could all choose the wrong line.  When it was his turn to vote, he had to decide, “Do I go with what I know my senses are telling me, or do I go with the crowd?”  One-third of those tested caved in to group pressure and changed their vote to agree with their peers.  Are you feeling the pull of peer pressure in your life?  Don’t let peer pressure keep you from repenting of your sin and following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  He will give you a new life, a changed life manifested by a love for Him and desire to obey Him and depend upon Him for strength, guidance, and victory.

Fellow-believers, a decision needs to be made in our hearts to do what is right in God’s sight even when everyone around us, where we live or work or go to school, wants to go the wrong way.  Ask God for the desire and the strength to make the right choice and do the right thing, even if it means standing alone.  In actuality, we won’t be alone.  The Lord will be with us, and there are many Christians over the past 20 centuries who have chosen to live righteously.  Some of their testimonies are written down for us in the Scriptures and in the history books.  I’ll close by giving you one of those examples.  In the third century, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, strongly opposed the teachings of Arius, who declared that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, but a subordinate being.  After being exiled five times for his beliefs, he was summoned before emperor Theodosius who demanded that he cease his opposition to Arius.  The emperor reproved him and asked, “Do you not realize that all the world is against you?”  Athanasius quickly answered, “Then I am against all the world.”

May we have that kind of tenacity in our obedience to the truths of God’s Word.

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TEACHING WITHOUT A DEGREE – John 7:14-16

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you have any “post-nominal letters”?  These aren’t letters that you write to one another or receive from one another in the mail.  The words “post-nominal” mean “after a name”.  The Wikipedia online encyclopedia gives the following definition:  Post-nominal letters are letters placed after a person’s name to indicate that that individual holds a position, academic degree, accreditation, or honor, or is a member of a religious institute or fraternity.  Some examples of post-nominal letters used in the field of education are:  BA [Bachelor of Arts], MS [Master of Science], and PhD [Doctor of Philosophy].  There are also “pre-nominal letters” (“before a name”) which are used mainly for a religious title or military rank.

What does this information have to do with the passage of Scripture we are now studying – John 7:14-16?  There were no scholastic degrees given in New Testament times!  True, but there were requirements to be met, especially for teachers of the Law of Moses in Judaism.  Learning those requirements is important for our understanding of these three verses of Scripture in John, Chapter 7.  Let’s take a good look at this passage of Scripture and you will soon see what I mean.

I.  THE SETTING:

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 7:10-13, we learned that Jesus went to the feast secretly in order to find out what people were saying about Him.  For several days He moved about and overheard many muffled conversations about Him.  Jesus learned what He wanted to learn.  There were many among the crowds of people who thought well of Him.  They were impressed with His character, and attracted by His personality and genuine concern for people.   It was now time for Him to come out of hiding.

II.  JESUS’ APPEARANCE IN THE TEMPLE (John 7:14)

Verse 14 says, “But when it was now the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach.”  It was the middle of the feast – the fourth day, and many Bible scholars believe that it was also the Sabbath day; so the crowd would be larger than at any other time during the feast.  Many of these worshipers would also be assembled in or near the temple.  Jesus enters the temple unrecognized.  By this time the people were no longer looking for Him and didn’t expect Him to be there.  Then the news starts spreading quickly around the temple area and throughout the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was in the court of the temple and was boldly teaching God’s Word.  People were flocking to the temple to listen to Him.  The words, “began to teach” are in the imperfect tense in the Greek, indicating that Jesus was teaching formally and continuously.  By so doing, He was winning the hearts of the people by His teaching before the Jewish leaders could put a stop to it.  His listeners were awed by His teaching. This may have been the first time that Jesus taught in the temple. but it won’t be the last time He does so.  Before His arrest, Jesus said, in Matthew 26:55, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.”

II.  AMAZEMENT AND CONFUSION (verse 15)

In verse 15, the apostle John focuses our attention upon the Jewish leaders.  They have arrived at the scene and are standing together at a distance, watching and listening.  What they see is a man dressed in a peasant’s robe, a lowly carpenter from Nazareth, of all places.  But they hear Him teaching the Scriptures from memory, with skill, with ease, and with authority.  The Lord Jesus was expounding the Old Testament Scriptures clearly and convincingly.  John tells us the words that are coming out of their mouths in their amazement:  “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” 

This was not the first time the leaders of the Jews stared and listened in wide-eyed amazement.  Twenty years earlier a group of elders in that same temple had similar looks on their faces and responded in the same manner, as a twelve-year-old boy sat in their midst.  Luke 2:46-47 describes that scene:

“And it came about that after three days they found Him [Jesus] in the
temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them,
and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at
His understanding and His answers.”

A few of those teachers may still have been alive and standing among the leaders in John 7:15.  We aren’t given that information.  But if there were any of those teachers in this audience, apparently they didn’t put those two events together and realize that they were looking at the same Person.  In both those instances, they were standing in awe of the One whom they chose to reject as their Messiah.

Without realizing it, they have just paid Jesus a compliment when they said, “How can this man be learned”.  They weren’t saying that Jesus was illiterate, but were wondering about the source of this knowledge and wisdom.  As they listened to Jesus, they had to admit that He was an excellent teacher because His knowledge of the Scriptures, and His ability to interpret the Scriptures, excelled their own!  Jesus had all the qualifications of a rabbi; He just didn’t obtain those credentials in the usual way.  What was the usual way?

At that point in human history the proper way, and the only way to become a teacher of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings was to go to rabbinical school.   At home and in the synagogue, Hebrew children learned the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament Scriptures).  They read it, wrote it, and memorized large portions of it.  By the age of 12 the young men were ready to pursue their careers (usually the family business or trade).  The best students continued their studies in secondary school, called “beth midrash”, which was usually in the synagogue, where they studied the Prophets and the Writings.  They also learned the interpretations of the Law.  The very best of these students could seek to become the disciples of a rabbi so that they might become rabbis themselves after the training.  The goal was to become like their teacher.  These disciples did not teach their own interpretations of Scripture.  They taught their rabbi’s interpretations.  New Testament scholar, William Barclay, described the practice with these words:  “No rabbi ever made a statement on his own authority.  He always began:  ‘There is a teaching that . . . “.  He then went on to cite quotations and authorities for every statement he made.”

That’s the background to their question as they watch and listen to Jesus teach the Scriptures.  It doesn’t make sense to them that Jesus can interpret the Scriptures on His own authority without the benefit of having all their years of study and training.  The perception that their teachings were “secondhand”, and His were “firsthand” must have enraged them.

III.  JESUS’ SOURCE OF AUTHORITY (verse 16)

The Lord Jesus overheard their conversation, or knew what they were saying to one another, because He proceeds to answer their question concerning the source of His authority.  I would have expected Jesus to say something like the following:  “I don’t need any authority other than Myself because I’m God.  I don’t need a teacher because I’m self-taught.”  However, that’s not His reply to them.  Rather than place the focus of attention on Himself, Jesus focuses the attention upon His teachings and His Teacher.  Verse 16 says, “Jesus therefore answered them, and said, ‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.’ “  I was taught, “Whenever you see a ‘therefore’, find out what it’s there for”.  The apostle John uses that word to indicate that Jesus is going to be correcting their words and their thinking.  He didn’t want them to come to the conclusion that He came up with those teachings on His own.  Rather, He is telling them that He has a Teacher, and those teachings come from Him.  The One who sent Him, the One He’s been telling them about, is His Teacher.  In a similar manner to their method of teaching, Jesus teaches only what the Father Who sent Him has imparted to Him.  So He’s saying, “My teachings are not original.  God has sent Me, taught Me, and commissioned Me to say what I have been saying.”  You might say that the Father who sent Him is the Author of His words and holds the copyright to them, whereas Jesus is the publisher – the One who proclaims them.

It’s not only His teachings that are under the authority of His Father.  His miracles, His schedule, His whole life is under the authority of His heavenly Father.  This realization has given me a new perspective on the Roman centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:5-9.  Here is that conversation:

And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him
entreating Him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home,
suffering great pain.  And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to
come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say
to this one ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and I say
to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled.

I used to think that the centurion was saying that he was a man “with authority” but that’s not what the Scripture says.  He describes himself as being “under authority”.  He knows that Jesus has described Himself as being under the authority of His heavenly Father, and he’s telling Jesus that he is under authority also.  He was able to give orders and have them obeyed.  His soldiers obeyed his orders because they knew where his authority came from.  It was delegated to him by the tribunes, who received their authority from the two consuls, who were appointed by the emperor himself. Being “under authority” gave him authority (delegated authority).  By disobeying him, they were disobeying the emperor, and there would be serious consequences after it was reported.  Do you see how this applies to Jesus?  He was also under authority, the authority of His heavenly Father, and there is no higher authority!  His training and His teachings were superior to theirs, and they knew it.  Yet Jesus was humble, and this surprised them.  Humility was not a typical characteristic of the rabbis of His day.  Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:6-7:  “They love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi.”  The title “Rabbi” comes from a Hebrew word which means “great”, “great one”, “master”.  Jesus allowed people to call Him by that title because He alone fit the description.  He goes on to say to His disciples in verse 8, “But do not be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.”

Seventeen hundred years later, there is another story about true greatness.  In 1717, King Louis XIV, who preferred to be called Louis the Great, died.  His court was the most magnificent in all of Europe, and his funeral was the most spectacular.  In the church where the ceremony was performed, his body lay in a golden coffin.  To dramatize his greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral would be very dimly lit, with only one special candle that was to be set above the coffin.  The thousands of people waited in silence.  Then Bishop Massillon began to speak.  Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.”

How true and appropriate were the words and actions of Bishop Massillon.  Only God is truly great and worthy of adoration.

CONCLUSION:

The study of these three verses of Scripture, John 7:14-16, has been a lesson in pride and humility.  Have you ever said something, out of jealousy or envy, that you wish you hadn’t said, or done something that you wish you hadn’t done?  Former president Ronald Reagan shared the following experience from his own life:

Ronald Reagan, recalling an occasion when he was governor of California
and made a speech in Mexico City:  “After I had finished speaking, I sat down
to rather unenthusiastic applause, and I was a little embarrassed.  The speaker
who followed me spoke in Spanish — which I didn’t understand — and he was 
being applauded about every paragraph.  To hide my embarrassment, I started
clapping before everyone else and longer than everyone else until our ambassador leaned over and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
He’s interpreting your speech.”
(quoted by Gerald Gardner in “All the Presidents’ Men”)

How embarrassing!  The ambassador saved him from even further embarrassment!  Like that ambassador, Jesus is doing these Jews a favor.  He answered their question before they could say it out loud to the crowd and then wish they had never said it.  He stopped the course of their jealous thinking and mumbling before it got out of hand, thus saving them from embarrassment.

Mr. Reagan would have been quick to admit that his actions were motivated by envy and jealousy, which are both manifestations of pride.  He felt he deserved a better response from the crowd because of the position of authority he held as governor of California, and because of the content of his speech.  How do you and I handle authority?  Some of us may have credentials before our names or after our names.  We’ve worked hard to earn those credentials and they give us a degree of authority.

Are you and I under authority?  Do we live life the way we please or are we subject to authority?  If you were pulled over by a police officer for speeding, and you said, “You can’t do that to me; I’m under my own authority!”  Whose authority is going to prevail in that situation?  That police officer’s authority was delegated by the city, which received that authority from the state.  I’d want to show some respect and obedience to that authority!  Only Monopoly games have get-out-of-jail-free cards!

Our credentials, no matter how many of them we may possess, do not give us the authority to enter the kingdom of heaven.  That’s not something we can merit, nor is it something we have a right to possess.  No human credentials can give us that authority or earn us that right.  It’s God’s heaven and we have to enter it God’s way.  The only acceptable entrance requirements include humbly acknowledging our own sinfulness (Romans 3:23), repenting of our sins, believing in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (Mark. 1:15) who paid the price that our sins deserved (I Peter 2:24), and placing ourselves under His authority by following Him and obeying Him (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Are you ready and willing to place yourself under His authority?

If you are a Christian, having already made that commitment, can you honestly and humbly say that God’s Word, the Bible, is the final authority in your life?  Do you believe and teach nothing that is contrary to the Word of God?  Is the authority that the Lord Jesus Christ possesses in your life, and the love you have for Him, evidenced by the place that God’s Word holds in your life, and your wholeheartedness in loving and serving Him and others?

May you experience the fullness of following Him as His beloved children.

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FLESH AND BLOOD – John 6:51-59

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INTRODUCTION:

“THIS IS A TEST.  THIS IS ONLY A TEST.”  Have you heard those words before? Those words are a warning to all who are listening and watching, telling them that this is only a practice session, and informing them that, if this was an actual alert, instructions would be given to prepare each person for what was about to happen.  As you listened to those words, were you trusting that the one who was speaking them was telling you the truth, and was speaking with authority?

Author C.S. Lewis made the following statement concerning belief and authority.  He said, “Believing things ‘on authority’ only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy.  Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority.  I believe there is such a place as New York.  I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there is such a place.  I believe it because reliable people have told me so..  The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority – because the scientists say so.  Every historical statement is believed on authority.  None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them; in fact, on authority.  A person who balked at authority in other things, as some people do in religion, would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

Since the very beginning of His ministry, the Lord Jesus has been speaking with authority, and this authority has been attested to by John the Baptist, by the voice of the Father from heaven at His baptism, and by the miracles He has performed.  Let’s see how the Jewish leaders and the crowd respond when Jesus’ words seem offensive, and they don’t understand what He means by what He is saying.

TRANSITION:

Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum, and He’s been telling the people in the synagogue that He is “the bread of life”, and that whoever eats of this bread will not die but will live forever.  The crowd is taking His words literally, thinking that He is talking about physical bread.  They are bewildered by His words because they don’t understand how this can be physically possible.

I.  REPETITION AND ADDITION (verse 51)

In chapter 6, verse 51 of John’s gospel, Jesus repeats this statement about Himself, but this time He adds a trailer at the end of it.  He says, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Notice that Jesus did not say “my body”, but “my flesh”.  The Greek word is “sarx”, and Jesus is going to use that word six more times before this conversation is over.  As the saying goes, the Lord Jesus has “opened a can of worms” and there is going to be a repulsive reaction from the crowd.  Get ready for some negative repercussions!

II.  THE RESPONSE (verse 52)

How did the people react to those words?  Verse 52 says, “The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”   They must have thought that Jesus was talking about some form of cannibalism.  The Greek word translated “argue” literally means to “fight” or “quarrel”.  They are “fighting mad” and are taking out their anger on each other in the presence of Jesus.  Notice the words they use to refer to Jesus, calling Him “this man”.  After all the things that Jesus has said and done so far in His public ministry, they refuse to consider Him to be anymore than just a man.  They’ve shut their eyes and closed their ears and their minds to everything they have seen and heard.  Ironically, many of those present didn’t close their mouths to the free food that was miraculous provided for them on the previous day!

I used to wonder, “Why didn’t Jesus tell them He wasn’t speaking literally but figuratively, and then explain to them what He meant by those words?  I now think that a more appropriate question is, “Why didn’t they ask Jesus to explain to them what He meant?”  The answer to both of those questions is the same:  the crowd didn’t want an explanation.  What they were looking for was an excuse and an opportunity to kill Him.  As John 5:18 says, “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill Him . . .”.  Maybe that’s why they were arguing so vehemently with each other – they may have been fighting about how they were going to kill Him and who was going to do it. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that those thoughts were in their minds.

The crowd may have missed the words “for the life of the world” because of the shocking words that preceded them.  Jesus was saying that what He was offering them wasn’t for the Jews only, but for everyone.  As the apostle John says of Jesus in I John 2:2, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

III,  EATING AND DRINKING – FLESH AND BLOOD (verses 53-58)

Rather than calming the angry crowd, Jesus makes a series of statements that are even more repulsive to His audience.  He begins by saying, in verse 53, “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 yourselves.”   In John’s gospel, we find that Jesus often uses the phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you”.  He does so, not because He is telling the truth in this case, but because He is letting His listeners know that He has firsthand knowledge of what He is about to say, and therefore is speaking with authority.  He is also implying that they should, therefore, pay close attention to what He is saying.because it is very important information that applies to them. 

When Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood”, what did He mean by those words?  Why did He say them?  There is a tendency to look for similarities between Jesus’ words to this crowd and the words He said to His disciples at the Last Supper.  But Jesus was not referring to the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) in this conversation here in John 6.  He did not intend His statement to be taken literally.  He is using an analogy to communicate spiritual truths in the context of what they have already been talking about.  This is one of the many times in John’s gospel where Jesus uses symbolism to communicate spiritual lessons.  We have already studied Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus compared the wind that was blowing that evening to the Holy Spirit, and told Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.   In His conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus compared the water in the well to the living water He would give her, and if she drank from it, she would never thirst again but would have everlasting life.  So what does Jesus have in mind on this particular occasion?

Here in verses 53-58, as the Lord Jesus uses those words several times with some alterations, get ready for a history lesson, a principle of philosophy, and another short course in Greek grammar in order to understand what He really means by those statements.  Firstly, the differences between His words spoken here and those spoken much later at the last supper are much greater and more numerous than any possible similarities. 

   A.  A HISTORY LESSON

When the Lord Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (the Passover feast) with His disciples, He did not say “This is my flesh”,  He said, “This is my body.  He also did not say, “This is my blood”.  Rather, He said “This is the new covenant in my blood”Luke 22:20 says, “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’.”  The focus of His attention is on the cup and the new covenant.  The Lord’s Supper (Communion) is not a sacrifice but a remembrance.  The apostle Paul addresses this issue to the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 11 because of misunderstandings concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Some members of the church at Corinth, along with many in churches today, mistakenly thought (or think) that eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord’s Table is essential for salvation, and that all who do so are guaranteed salvation.  The apostle Paul quotes those words said by Jesus, and then, in verse 26, he summarizes by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  Rather than being a source of salvation, the Lord’s Supper is not only a remembrance, but also a proclamation. 

Looking again at the context of Jesus’ words on the way to the synagogue and in the synagogue, Jesus uses this analogy of flesh and blood because that was the initial subject of the conversation.  He was comparing Himself to the manna which their forefathers ate after fleeing from Egypt.  The Jews listening to Jesus took pride in the manna, considering it to be heavenly food which extended one’s lifespan, and asked Jesus to give them a sign like the manna.  Jesus addressed this belief of theirs by saying that He is the living bread.  He is greater than the manna because the life He offers lasts forever.

Rather than look ahead to the Last Supper to find a reason for Jesus’ words, it would be better to look back in history to the night when the first Passover was celebrated.  Before the manna, there was the Passover meal.  Before God sustained His people with the manna, He saved them from their bondage in Egypt.  In order for this salvation to occur, a price had to be paid:  death for life.  In Exodus 12, each household of the sons of Israel was told to slaughter a lamb, roast its flesh and eat it along with unleavened bread and put the lamb’s blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of their home.  When the death angel passed through Egypt that night, wherever he saw that blood he would “pass over” that house and the firstborn would be spared from death.  The people of Israel would also be delivered that night from the bondage of Egypt, and God would lead them to the land He had promised them and give them a new life there.  So the flesh and blood of the lambs were the instruments used by God to bring salvation, deliverance, and a new life for His people as they believed and obeyed the word of the Lord given to them through Moses.  I believe that the original Passover was the Old Testament event that Jesus may have had in mind as a basis for comparison when He spoke of eternal life and deliverance through His flesh and blood.

B.  A PRINCIPLE OF PHILOSOPHY

A second evidence that Jesus was referring to salvation comes from one of the branches of philosophy called logic.  It is the science of evaluating arguments and determining sound reasoning.  A fundamental law of reasoning is the following:  “Two concepts which are equal to a third concept are also equal to each other.”  That sounds logical, doesn’t it?  Let’s see what Jesus is saying in verses 53-58 and then add up the results that come from the “eating” and “drinking”:  1)  If you don’t do so, “you have no life in yourselves” (verse 53).  So Jesus’ command is absolutely essential for eternal life.  2)  He “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (verse 54).  It’s a guarantee of eternal life and physical resurrection.  3)  He abides in Me and I in him” (verse 56).  Jesus speaks of an eternal relationship with Himself.  4)  “he shall live because of Me” (verse 57).  Jesus is saying that He is the source of that life.  5)  “he . . shall live forever” (verse 58).  Once again, the result of doing so is eternal life.

In each of His statements, Jesus is equating “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” to having eternal life as a result, correct?  If we look ahead to verse 63, we find that Jesus says, ” . . . the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”  Jesus is telling His disciples afterward that he was speaking to the crowd in the synagogue about spiritual things and was not to be taken literally.

Now let’s compare Jesus’ words in verses 53-58 with other statements He made recently on the topic of eternal life.  Several times the Lord Jesus has spoken clearly about eternal life and what was necessary on man’s part in order to receive it.  In His discussion with Nicodemus, He began to speak clearly and literally in John 3:14-16, where He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.”  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  The only other recourse given is that of perishing.

Later, in John 5:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  The only other option given is “judgment”.

Now, in the middle of this present conversation with the Jews, Jesus says, in verse 47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”

As you can see from these three statements made by Jesus, eternal life results only from believing,  The logical conclusion, then, is that “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” is the same as believing in Him, with an emphasis on His atoning work, since both concepts have the same result.

C.  A LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR  (verse 53)

As you probably know, the Gospel of John, together with all the other books of the New Testament, was written in Greek.  The English language, in this particular passage of Scripture, does not communicate the tense of certain verbs as clearly as the original Greek text because there are more tenses to Greek verbs than there are in English.    In verse 53, Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”  Those two verbs (“eat” and “drink”) are in the aorist tense, denoting a one-time action.  It is not continued or repeated, but is a once-and-for-all event.  In passages of Scripture such as John 6;29, where Jesus asks people to believe in Him for eternal life, or tells them that they do not believe, the aorist tense is used also.  This is another proof that the words, “eat my flesh and drink my blood” are equivalent to saving faith because they are both once-for-all events, using the same tense of the verbs.

D.  A SECOND LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR (verses 54-58)

This second lesson is a new insight for me.  Below is the New International Version translation of verses 54-58:

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will
raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father,
so the one who feeds on me will live because of me,  This is the bread that
came down from heaven.  Our forefathers ate manna and died,
but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The words “eats”, “drinks”, and “feeds” are verbs in this English translation, but in the original Greek text they are not verbs, but participles.  You may be thinking, “Would you refresh my memory?  Just what is a participle and what does it do?”  I will be glad to do so, having just refreshed my own memory!  Participles are verb-forms ending in “ing” which have the characteristics of both a verb and an adjective.  To demonstrate that definition, let me write out for you verses 54-58 again, only this time you will see those verbs changed to participles.  The words that I’ve enclosed in parentheses are implied in the Greek text.

The (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life and I will
raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
The (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood remains in me, and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father,
so the (one) feeding on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that
came down from heaven.  Our forefathers ate the manna and died,
but the (one) eating this bread will live forever.

Does reading that literal translation give you a change of perspective?  It did for me. The present participles put the emphasis on the believer rather than on believing.  Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is a one-for-all event, demonstrated by the use of the Greek aorist tense.  Once a person takes that step of repentance, faith, and commitment to Jesus Christ, thereby becoming a Christian, a life-long process begins (as demonstrated by the use of the present-participles).  It’s called the “doctrine of sanctification”.  This process includes growing in our relationship to the Lord through spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer, as well as through the fellowship with other believers.  As verse 56 says, “(The believer) remains in me, and I in him.”).  There is a closeness to God that becomes closer, and a fellowship with God that becomes deeper as the believer spends time with Him.  It’s the abiding relationship that Jesus will later describe in John 15.  There is also a deepening dependence upon God as the believer seeks to obey God, serve Him, and be a witness for Him.  It’s the Father’s desire, and it should be our goal, to become more and more like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  So verses 51-53 focus on the beginning of spiritual life – how a person becomes a believer, and verses 54-58 describe the believer’s spiritual growth until the day when God calls him home to be in His presence and enjoy Him for eternity.  The once-for-all event of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, evidenced by genuine repentance for our sins and the surrender of our lives to His Lordship, then becomes a moment-to-moment fellowship with God, and obedience to our heavenly Father as His adopted children.  When this life is over we will see God face-to-face and enjoy His presence and His love for eternity in heaven.  Those are the three aspects of the doctrine of salvation:  justification (the one-time event),  followed by sanctification (the process of spiritual growth as His children), followed by glorification (with God for eternity in heaven).

IV.  POINT OF REFERENCE (verse 59)

The apostle John ends this conversation of Jesus by letting us know where it occurred.  We can’t say that this conversation didn’t happen because John documented it.  John writes, “He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”  Our responsibility. as readers and students of God’s Word, is not to discount this conversation or overlook it, but to understand its spiritual meaning and apply it’s principles to our lives.

CONCLUSION:

Where are you today in relation to this conversation between Jesus and the Jews in the synagogue in Capernaum?  Do you understand what it means to believe in Jesus Christ?  Do you realize the price that Jesus, the Son of God and the Lamb of God, is going to pay to make that relationship with God possible?  Are you ready to commit yourself to follow the One who wants to give you a new, and an abundant life now, and eternal life with Him in heaven?  Whether you are ready or not, please read my “About Page” to understand what that decision involves and the Scriptures that declare it.

If you have placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and your life bears evidence to that decision, are you growing daily as a result of your fellowship with Him?  Are you enjoying His presence with you throughout your day, and learning to depend more and more on His strength and His faithfulness to supply your needs?  Is it becoming more and more obvious to those around you that your faith is real and your joy is infectious?  I hope so.  That’s just part of God’s desire for His children, as revealed in His Word.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

Welcome to this completed construction site.  John 6:51-59 is a controversial passage of scripture with a number of viewpoints or interpretations.  There can only be one correct interpretation,  The Lord Jesus had a reason and motive for saying the things He said, and the apostle John was an eye-witness and wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.