Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel, Sunday February 8th, 1961
"This is the Bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die." John 6:50
It may be reasonable to suppose that in most of the records of Scripture we have precise reports both of events and utterances. If our Lord is reported in this chapter verbatim, then we cannot be surprised that His words were rather too much for His hearers. The difference amongst them, however, is simple. His critics used every word they did not understand to condemn Him. On the other hand the faithful amanuensis, John, no doubt mystified by His words, preserved them in heart and mind as truth, the full significance of which had yet to be understood.
That is, of course, true of the simplest sentence our Lord ever spoke as much as it is of the present passage. We shall not think that even today we can understand all that is recorded in this chapter. But we can follow the apostle's example, we can seek to understand remembering that the truth of God is always inspiration and life when it becomes part of ourselves by faith. In this way what little we can grasp will be eternally beneficial. There are three main streams of thought in this passage.
1) THE LIVING BREAD
In this passage our Lord directs our attention to Himself. We shall understand nothing accurately about the Christian faith until we see the significance of Jesus in such a way that He transcends all other issues, organisations and persons.
" This is the work of God that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent." Our Lord tells us that all the energies of the Father are directed towards the Son, seeking to draw men to Him; because He is the focus of the Father's thought and eternal purpose. Everyone therefore is to see the Son. This is where Christian experience begins. You may read your Bible, you may recite a creed, but the work of God is to bring a person to see the Son. That is to say the first step is not our believing but an act of God in revealing to us the Son. There are antecedent operations in the whole being of the individual, drawing him out from ignorance or indifference to perceive the inwardness of the glory of the Son. Then with his mind awakened, his heart inflamed, his will subdued he is led out to the first co-ordinating experience of his life. He knows indubitably the transference of redemption, propitiation, substitution and all other ministries of the blood of Christ in his behalf.
The Scriptures are so presented to us that as we read them in relation to the Son, the Holy Spirit unveils Him to the inward sight as a blessed, indubitable reality, the focus of our increasing concentrated attention. He is the centre of Divine Light, and we are constrained to commit ourselves to Him in solemn and certain faith that embraces every faculty of the soul. This is saving faith taking us through formal affirmations and theological definitions into the embrace of Christ as our life, and it produces inward personal transformations that constitute us in truth a new creation, the genus of which is the life of the Son as the dominant life of our own personality. Its sustenance and growth are far more important than the Adamic life which is ours and is under the judgment of death.
Our Lord declares here that for the maintenance of this new life He, and He alone, is the Bread." He that believeth," says our Lord," hath everlasting life" and of that life He is the Bread. The receiving of this life from Him demands that He become to the recipient-- BREAD! Recently I was looking at some pictures of the children in the Congo. Our hearts have been moved as we have seen their emaciated bodies and the deep sunken eyes. Their trouble is lack of food. They have received human life but are cut off from the source of its nourishment. It is a very simple explanation but its results are tragic! Perhaps if the angels have pictures in heaven of professing Christians on earth, it may be we are appearing to them as those who have received Divine Life but we are not being nourished on Him Who is alone the Bread of this Life!
This brings us, therefore to
2) THE APPROPRIATION OF THE BREAD
The vitality of this Bread lies in its origin. The Son brought it from heaven. It never reaches us through Adam. This is the Bread which came down from heaven. It is made available to us by the absolute obedience of the Son within the arena of human experience. This means that inevitably it relates us to the heavenlies and requires of us a rigid and absolute obedience to the Will of God. If we are numbered amongst those professing Christians whose obedience to God is determined by whether they think God is, or is not, right, then we shall know nothing of our Lord's teaching in this chapter. Our Lord did not do His own Will but the Will of the Father. It is always the peril of the human to think itself right, but Jesus always preferred the Will of God.
We have a long way to go to plumb the depths of the words: "Even Christ pleased not Himself." As our Lord presented Himself in this chapter He was disclosing truth in a mystical means that none of His listeners appeared to appreciate. There was the sharp rejoinder of unbelief, matched by the reverent mystified faith of the few who refused to go away. They indeed stayed with Him because He had brought them so far and they knew none else to whom they could now turn. What does He mean by eating His flesh ? We must have some answer to it because if we fail to do so we have no eternal life in us. It was not cannabalism; else they would have rended Him on the spot. We are bound to think of the Last Supper but then, as He offered the Bread: " This is My Body," it was clear that it was not His Body which was complete and whole in the presence and view of the disciples. When our Lord knew that the disciples were troubled He suggested that if they were troubled about this, what would they do when the Son of Man ascended up from where He came? And as if to deliver us from too much literalism He adds that it is the Spirit that giveth life, " the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life."
From which I deduce that the feasting on Christ has relation to His ascension to the right hand of God and that we shall find within His words the answer of the Bread to our need. For a long time I have felt that as Baptists we were rightly literal in the observance of the ordinance of baptism, but that we forsook our literalism in the Supper. I find nowhere in Scripture anything to suggest that a certain specified person has powers to change the substance of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ. Equally so I find nothing to endorse the view that the bread is only a symbol. As I see it, the eating and drinking is to be understood in this way. From the moment of Divine illumination the transcendent glory of the Christ from the ages to the ages, is unveiled to the child of God. No part of the revelation can be excluded because it is, in effect, ravishing to the born again spirit. The majesty of the One Who being in the Form of God passed through Mary into our humanity. He expiated our sin on the Cross, broke the barriers of the realm of death, and ascended to the Eternal Throne of Infinite Majesty. He is the Sustainer of His people, the One in Whom the present and the ultimate hold together. His Coming and Reigning and Subduing is altogether too much for our understanding. We fall at His feet as dead! Thenceforward in His body and blood we see the one eternal purpose of God in Him, all else falls away, the purposes of men are empty, the pleasures of the world are tawdry and Christ now and for ever satisfies. The bread and the wine are then the united testimony of those who are feeding moment by moment on Christ. They are the media of the gathered Church, the expression in time of the Timeless Body of our redemption. The act of our eating and drinking is the declaration of our attitude and dependence on Him and our common attestation one to another that the eternal life He has given us is satisfied and nourished completely in Him Who is the Bread of Life.
3) THE RISEN MAN
You noticed, of course, in the lesson, the recurrence of the sentence: "And I will raise him up at the last day." This refers to the one who has been drawn to see, to believe, to eat the flesh of the Son of Man. He has received the Bread that came down from heaven and has seen the ascension of the Son into heaven. These are not principles but the revelation of the Son in the action of perfect obedience to the Father. We must note it carefully that the only thing the race of Adam can do is to die! But resurrection is an act of the Second Man from heaven. It is part of the omnipotence of the Son, the fruit of His obedience unto death.
The resurrection of any one of us depends entirely upon the personal act of the Ascended Lord. We need have no fear but rather be comforted in faith. Our Lord has no moods, He does not like us one day and criticise us the next. Your resurrection and mine depend on the omnipotent Fiat of Him Who has offered His body and blood for our sin and Whose power to do and to achieve is governed only by His eternal will to bless. But resurrection is not a philosophical deduction, it is not a political right; it is a redemptive act and this fact is all-important. The last day is not a Saturday or a Sunday, but probably an era. It will certainly be when He comes in the air preparatory to the judgment of the world. His magnetic personality will draw to Himself the man who has believed, has received the life, and been nourished upon the Bread of Life. This spiritual man whose innermost being has been transformed by a new creative act making the seed of life to be not in Adam, but in Christ will be raised up. The body of corruption will be of no more concern than the butterfly is concerned with the caterpillar stage through which it has passed. By a voice more commanding than that addressed to Lazarus and with results more wonderful than Lazarus knew, the spiritual man shall be raised up in the glories of incorruption. "The trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed!" Lord, evermore give us this Bread.
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