As World War II in Europe was drawing to a close, the allied armies gathered up many hungry and homeless orphans, placing them in camps where they were well-fed and cared for. Despite the excellent care, the children slept poorly at night. They seemed nervous and afraid. Finally, a psychologist came up with an idea. After a large evening meal, each child was given a piece of bread to hold after he was put to bed. The children were told that this particular piece of bread was to be held and not eaten. They were to hold it until the next morning. The piece of bread produced wonderful results. The children slept soundly because, after so many years of hunger, they finally had the assurance of food the next day. It was right there in their hands!
In John 6:35, Jesus told the crowd, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” He’s telling them that He is the permanent answer to their spiritual hunger and thirst for God, just as He was the temporary source of their previous physical hunger. His purpose is to focus their attention away from their physical needs and direct that attention to their spiritual needs. The Lord Jesus is also telling them, in that short statement, that He alone is the source of life; He alone is the source of salvation. This is the first of seven “I AM” statements made by Jesus, and recorded only here in the Gospel of John. In the next five verses, Jesus elaborates on the meaning of that statement and how it applies to them.
I. SEEING WASN’T BELIEVING (verse 36)
Jesus begins by referring back to something He showed them previously. That’s what He’s doing in verse 36 when He says, “But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” It’s “show and tell” time again! He showed them, the previous day, the miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and fish, and they responded by saying, in verse 14, “This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.” However, they didn’t really believe their own words because, on the following morning they ask Jesus how He could have gone around the lake in such a short time (John 6:25). They don’t believe that He could have done so in a miraculous way. In verse 26, He chides them because they are following Him around, not because of the signs, but because of the food. There has been a lack of understanding and a wrong motivation on their part. I don’t sense anger on the part of Jesus, but rather, sadness because they are so earthly-minded and self-centered. So He reminds them again, in verse 36, of their unbelief in Him.
Jesus is using a teaching method that has been used on all of us many times in the past, and a form of instruction that we have used many times as well. It’s called “repetition” or “reinforcement”. Not only in the passage of Scripture we are studying (John 6:36-40), but throughout the rest of his conversation with this crowd, Jesus is saying basically the same thing over and over again from different perspectives. The focus of His teaching is going to be on the process of salvation. In response to their unbelief, Jesus is now going to be making some very profound statements.
II. JESUS’ ROLE IN SALVATION (verses 37-38)
In spite of their unbelief, Jesus says to the crowd, in verse 37, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me”. In view of the situation, I think that part of what Jesus is implying, by those words is: “I’m not here to argue you into the kingdom of heaven, nor force you to believe Who I am and what I say.” He tells them that the Father has given Him those who are to be saved, and all of those whom the Father has given Him will come to Him in faith. Isaiah 53 is the prophecy of the Messiah as the suffering servant, and in verse 11 it says, “As the result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied. By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” Jesus will see the fulfillment of His labors and “the many” will be saved. Jesus has stated that His Father is in control, and has chosen those who will be saved.
This concept of election was nothing new to the nation of Israel. Of all of the nations that have ever existed, the nation of Israel would have no problem understanding that God makes His choices based on His own sovereign will. He does what He pleases and no one can change it. We find this truth in God’s promises to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and others. The nation of Israel was His “chosen people”. We find that restated in the Psalms and the prophets, especially the prophet Isaiah. We see it also throughout the history of the nation of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures. God performed amazing miracles to show the nations that He was the true God, and that He was with His people Israel.
Jesus’ words, in verse 37, also include man’s responsibility. Those who are given to the Son by the Father will come to Him. There is an act of the will on their part, just as there is an act of the will by those who refuse to come to Him. In the remainder of verse 37, Jesus tells them what will happen to those who come to Him when He says, “and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” He is speaking of each individual believer and letting them know that each person’s salvation is secure in His arms. There is a true story that describes this sense of security.
When the evangelist, George Needham, came to preach at a town in England, he was the guest of a gentleman who had a beautiful home surrounded by towering trees. One day, while walking in the shade, meditating on the things of God, Needham heard a fluttering sound and the startled cry of a bird. Glancing upward he saw a lark being chased by a hawk. The little song bird dashed wildly through the branches, screaming in fear. Close behind were the fierce eyes and sharp talons of its enemy. The bird continued its frantic flight until it seemed exhausted and about to give up. Then it saw the evangelist below, and in an instant flew directly into his folded arms and nestled there. It seemed conscious of perfect safety. Do you think that evangelist would pick up that little bird and cast it to the hawk? Certainly not! He would defend it at any cost to himself. Do you feel safe in the arms of the Lord, no matter what might come your way?“
Almost two centuries ago, John 6:37 became a very significant verse of Scripture in the life of a woman in England. When you hear the words she wrote down, I think you will recognize them immediately. Charlotte Elliott learned an important lesson about Jesus one sleepless night in 1834. She was an invalid, so when her family held a bazaar in Brighton, England, to raise money to build a school, she could only watch from afar. That night she was overwhelmed by her helplessness and could not sleep. But her sadness was turned to joy when she realized that God accepted her just as she was.
Her experience inspired her to write these well-loved words: “Just as I am, without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!” When she published the completed poem in The Invalid’s Hymn Book, she included with it John 6:37. I wonder how many times that song has been sung, at Billy Graham crusades and elsewhere? And they haven’t finished singing it yet! Her song is a reminder that no one who comes to Jesus will be turned away.
Jesus continues the conversation by telling the people His reason for coming to earth. In verse 38 He says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” During His entire conversation with this crowd, Jesus uses the phrase “I’ve come down from heaven” six times. He’s telling them that His one and only purpose for leaving His throne in heaven is to do the Father’s will, and all that it entails. Their response to Him will not change His course of action, nor His commitment to His Father.
III. THE FATHER’S WILL IN SALVATION (verse 39)
In verse 39, Jesus describes the Father’s will from His perspective. He says, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” He is stating to them that it is His responsibility to protect and provide for all that the Father has given to Him and entrusted to His care. Jesus is part of the divine plan and is “under orders”, so to speak, from His heavenly Father. Those orders include raising them up on the last day as the final fulfillment of that plan (I Thessalonians 4:14-17). Verse 39 is an assurance of salvation to all whom the Father has given to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, because Jesus will fulfill all the responsibilities given to Him by the Father so that the Father’s will might be fully accomplished.
IV. THE RESPONSE AND THE RESULTS (verse 40)
In verse 40, Jesus now describes this same process of salvation from a human perspective, applying it to every individual. This time He says, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Do you enjoy a good mystery? Do you read mystery novels? Have you watched mystery programs or mystery movies. There is a library where I live and I noted that there are almost as many mystery novels as there are romance novels. and many more mysteries than westerns. Good mysteries tend to have high viewer-ratings on TV, and there are mystery movies galore. Even many of the romance and westerns have mysteries within them. People enjoy trying to solve mysteries before the solution is given. The Bible contains many mysteries also. There is the “mystery of the kingdom of God” (Matthew 4:11), the “mystery of His will” (Ephesians 1:9), and the “mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19), among many others. As you can see from the three I’ve mentioned, many of these mysteries in the Bible are tied to each other.
In this passage of Scripture, John 6:36-40, we are faced with a mystery: God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation. It’s important for each of us to know what the Scriptures say about this mystery, even though our finite minds cannot completely comprehend these truths. Since Jesus is going to be talking about this subject again in John 10 and 17, I’m going to try to stick to the information and concepts that Jesus is addressing in this Scripture passage.
In verse 40, Jesus describes the Father’s will in terms that we can understand. When He says the words, “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him”, Jesus may, once again, be using an illustration from the Old Testament scriptures that He communicated to Nicodemus In His conversation with him in John 3:14. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” He was referring to the bronze serpent that was placed on a pole (a standard with a cross-beam for holding a banner) and lifted up by Moses. Looking up to that serpent on the pole was an act of faith, humility, repentance, and obedience. Only then would those Israelites be saved from physical death, after having been bitten by the fiery serpents. Jesus is saying to the crowd in verse 40 that individuals aren’t saved because they are chosen by the Father and given to Him. They are saved because they have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and their changed lives are evidence that they are His. This eliminates the false conclusion that “If I’ve been chosen, I will be saved, so it’s useless for me to do anything on my part.” That’s looking at the wrong side of salvation. Our responsibility is to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This also rules out the theory of double-predestination – that God has chosen those who will be condemned. The Scriptures tell us that people are responsible for their choices. No one is going to be compelled to go to heaven against his will, and no one is compelled to go to hell against his will. That’s what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:18 when He said, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed in the only begotten Son of God.” That’s the human side or perspective of salvation.
Dr. H.A. Ironside had these words to say: “Are you willing to come to Jesus? He will in no wise cast out. Whoever you are today, if you will come to Him, He will take you in. You do not have to settle any question about predestination before you come to Jesus. And when you come, He receives you; and having come, you may know that you are one whom the Father gave to the Lord Jesus Christ.” Let me add that before you “come”, you have to “leave”, right? In order to come to a person, or to another place, you have to depart from where you are now. Jesus Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth (Philippians 2:9-11). Coming to Him in faith means leaving the things that are controlling our lives in order to give Him His rightful place as the Lord of our lives. Let’s make no mistake that we can have genuine faith in Him without repentance. They are the two sides of the same coin.
If you are a Christian, please be careful not to try to solve God’s side of the mystery of salvation. Let’s leave salvation in God’s hands. That’s where it began; that’s where it belongs; and it couldn’t be in better hands.
Let me share with you two illustrations that each give a picture of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. These illustrations have helped me see it from a human perspective, and yet cause me to realize that there is a divine perspective. The first is a diagram showing two lines going up to heaven. One of the lines is labelled “God’s sovereignty” and the other is labelled “man’s responsibility”. the lines are not parallel but are slightly angled toward each other. As the lines go up to heaven you can see that the lines are going to meet eventually, but they pass through a cloud and then meet on the other side out of our view. The cloud is labelled “human understanding”, and the lines meet on the other side in God. The illustration points to the fact that both concepts are given in Scripture, so there must be an explanation. For the time being we need to accept that by faith and God will explain the mystery when we see Him. The other illustration depicts a sign on the gates of heaven, and the sign reads, “BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND YOU SHALL BE SAVED” (Acts 16:31). After you pass through the pearly gates you notice that another message is written on the other side of that sign. It says, CHOSEN BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD (Ephesians 1:4). Those are the human and the divine sides of salvation. I hope those two illustrations will be helpful and useful to you.
As we reflect upon the mystery of God’s plan of salvation, may we be filled with praise, adoration, and thanksgiving for His sovereignty and grace. May we be reminded of God’s words to Isaiah in Isaiah 55:8, where God says,
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED
Thank you for visiting this recently-completed sermon on John 6:36-40. May the year 2018 be a joy-filled and challenging year for you. As the apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13-14, “. . . but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The race is on for the year 2018! I hope you are one of the contestants, not one of the bystanders.