August 29, 2004
Texts: John 6:32-51; 1 Thess. 3:12-13, 4:9 & Isaiah 54: 11-14
We are going to pass over John 5: 31-47 for the moment. That passages deals with the witnesses for the identity of Jesus as the Christ who include John the Baptist, the Father and the Scripture--we return to that at a later date. Today we are going to focus on brotherly love, the evidence cited by the Apostle Paul which proves that our faith is genuine--that it is indeed a work of God that no human being could bring about without divine assistance. This powerlessness, and lovelessness, again is the condition of fallen man out of which we have been redeemed. Paul says:
1 Th 3:12 and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; 1 Th 3:13 so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
And he proceeds to explain this in 4:9
1 Th 4:9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;
We know that we are born-again then if we have this ever increasing, God taught love of one another growing in our midst.
Just what this has to do with John 6 and Jesus’ explanation of the miracle of feeding the 5,000 becomes clear in verse 45: John 6:45 "It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. It was a fulfillment of prophecy that in the day of the Messiah, the people of God shall learn directly from God. For those who possess the eyes of faith this is precisely what is happening as Jesus taught on the significance of the miracle of the feeding, or of the bread of life sent down from heaven. In Jesus God was teaching.
I want to return to our earlier thought that as a sign of the times, of the kingdom age: people of faith are taught of God to love one another. Paul rejoices that the Thessalonicans have been “taught of God” to love one another. Jesus declares, verse 45: “It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God.” This is the origin of Paul’s thought and it is a fulfillment of prophecy regarding the age of the Messiah which is found in Isaiah 54:13. Isaiah 54 is to be read as a commentary on Isaiah 53. Isaiah 54:13 reads:
Isa 54:13 "And all your sons will be taught of the LORD; And the well-being of your sons will be great. Isa 54:14 "In righteousness you will be established; You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear; And from terror, for it will not come near you.
Now we can understand why Jesus says, verse 44: "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” And, in verse 45 He continues, “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” To hear Jesus is to learn of the Father and that translates into being taught of God. Again, to be taught of God is to come to the Son--and to come to the Son means the gain of eternal life.
We know that Jesus teaches and commands us to love God and to love one another. And that this love is to be ever-increasing, overflowing.
That’s the command. But we are powerless to do it--God must empower us to love one another. We cannot work ourselves up to this--it is a work of God in our hearts. Only the gospel of our Lord Jesus can empower and instruct us in these life-changing principles. Just as lovelessness, resentment, envy, slander and back-biting are the work of the Enemy, the proof that your faith is real is real, sincere love. The Jews could not love Jesus because they had not the love of God in them. (John 5:42) Just so, today, if the love of Christ is not in us, we will not manifest the love of God to God or to each other. If we do not manifest the love of God to each other, the world notices and rightly holds the church in contempt. They see all the church politics, wrangling, even love of contention and they rightly want nothing to do with the church, any church. This, of course, is to their eternal harm and to our shame. Therefore I pray that God will increase our faith and increase our love more and more as the days go on.
That’s it, brotherly love is the proof that our faith is genuine. This is the spiritual standard by which we may judge our condition and effectiveness. Worldly, or carnal standards are always attempting to intrude themselves in on us--especially in the guise of being spiritual, or really “Christian.” For example, the cultural standard of “tolerance is love” has been foisted upon the church. We are told that we are loving if we accept alternative life-styles--after all the tolerant world says that monogamous life-long marriage between a man and a woman is old fashioned and exclusive--only one option among many. That too is not a biblical standard. Beloved, it is never inappropriate, or unloving to lift up the truth--although you may be hated for it if you do. Criticisms about timing and occasion may arise which can be little more than masks for unforgiveness, hurt pride and a lack of love. The gospel version of love is inherently offensive to the world‘s take on love. Christian love, for one thing, is not nice. It doesn’t just go along, compromising and accomodating. No, the gospel style of love is subversive, unsettling and even unhappy to those who are walking according to the world‘s standards! Even some so-called Christians are worldly in their view of love.
However, those who do not have the love of God, or of neighbor in their hearts are spiritually blind in addition to being loveless. Therefore, they will never thank you for standing up for true love. For example, the world dictates, “Live and let live.” But the church says it is not brotherly love for anyone to encourage other people to live self-destructive, or wicked lives. If they are killing themselves, or dishonoring themselves by avoiding the truth, the loving thing to do is to say something truthful. A chief way to avoid the truth about real love is to go on the attack and to present oneself as a crusader against religious intolerance. And to label Christian love as hate speech, or intolerance. Sound familiar? It should.
When the world says, “There is no truth.” Or they say, with a tone of settled superiority, “The truth is only a matter of opinion--what’s true for you isn’t truth for me.” Love must stand up to these lies. But those who do may be sure that their reputation will suffer. They will be talked about as “judgmental, hurtful, and unloving--even if being hateful is the last thing in your heart.” When we are persecuted for truly loving others, scripture says, count yourself blessed. If people revile you like this, remember they reviled your Master. For sharing the Master’s reputation, suffering for the gospel of love is a great honor. A Christian can never justify himself in the eyes of the worldly--there is no end to their false accusations and distortions. There’s no limit to what they can conjure up.
Sounds pretty hopeless doesn’t it. Don’t despair. Rather take courage. While it is hurtful to be reviled and held in open contempt, it is certainly not hopeless because actually nothing that other people think about you, and nothing that they say about you can actually prevent you from loving God and neighbor. Remember, our reward is from God--and that is how the faithful have always lived. We are to live in a Godward and not a worldly manner. God is teaching His people how to love in each new day. And He rewards those who love as He commands us to. The way to that reward is refreshing simple and sure: love one another more and more.
Perhaps, the feeding is one of the greater works that Jesus alluded to in his Jerusalem sermon which we covered in part earlier in this series. After a long session of teaching about the kingdom of God, and a time of healings, Jesus, mindful that the Passover of the Jews was at hand (v.4), performs the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Lest we miss this important point, let me point out that the Passover was the definitive experience of the Jews--it marks the beginning of the Exodus as well as that period of time during which the people of God were formed as a nation, as a theocracy. In other words, Jesus is declaring through this miracle that one greater than Moses has appeared--and that a new age is at hand. The kingdom of God has appeared in their midst. Verse 15 confirms this interpretation: Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. Of course, this is rather misguided of the people but it does demonstrate that the inaugural character of this miracle was not lost on them. Other clues are to be found in the text as well such as John 6:32 Jesus therefore said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. John 6:33 "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." This makes explicit the connection between Jesus and Moses. It also explains a bit further what is meant by the phrase “bread of life”--Jesus means true bread, or the bread of God which gives life to the world. Bread then is a figure of speech which designates the life force which God continuously communicates to the world so that there may be life therein--all life, vegetable and animal on a continuing basis.
For the perceptive reader/listener I want to simply mention that I know that twelve baskets of left-over bread, signifying the twelve tribes of Israel, were gathered up. Apparently there was no fish left over--although it was served--and fish re-appear at significant moments later on (to prove the reality of Jesus’ physical resurrection--as well as to provide a tasty seaside breakfast in Galilee). This action is explained to the disciples later as a warning about the “leaven” of the Sadducees and the Pharisees and as introduction to the thought that communion with God is acquired through His body and His blood--through the work of the atonement. More specific to our theme here, however, is the fact that the love of God, as expressed through the bread of life, came down from heaven in bodily form in Christ Jesus.
 The phrase “bread of life sent down from heaven” carries a particular poignancy for me because it occurs in the Richards’ family table blessing which we recite at formal occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinner. We pray, “Let manna to our souls be given, bread of life sent down from heaven.” It is a tiny seed of the gospel embedded in a family tradition which has a direct relation to the text at hand.