“Read It Aright.”

5 September 2004

Texts: John 6:41-59


            Our great need is for spiritual discernment.  This should be the earnest and continuous prayer of God’s people because, even though we have the Word of God, and even though we may read it often--the sad fact is that we often read it amiss.[1]    Even as we have just prayed, we need to ask for spiritual discernment so that we may really “see” what is good and true and right.  Repeatedly in John’s gospel “seeing” is cited as a spiritual obstacle.  People have eyes but those eyes are untrained.  Therefore-their eyes can’t seem to get past the superficial, or the apparent meaning of things because the possessors of those eyes are too temporal, too earthbound, or even too worldly.  Jesus redeemed our minds when He redeemed our persons.  He taught us the truth and continues that ministry through the Spirit and through the faithful preaching of the Word.


            Things, spiritually speaking, are rarely as they appear to be.  So, as we journey back to the Sea of Galilee, to the place where Jesus performed His fourth and fifth signs (the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water), we need to understand that what is really going on is this: a new and greater Passover is being enacted in Galilee.  We should not be so distracted by the loaves and fishes, or, more accurately the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as to miss the essential parallels in this narrative to the Old Testament precedents.  The details supporting this overview are many.  First we may note that Jesus went up to the mountain (v. 3) and sat there with His disciples.  This parallels the actions of Moses in Exod. 24 which records one of the less familiar Mt. Sinai episodes:.

Exo 24:9  Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel,  Exo 24:10  and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.  Exo 24:11  Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank. 

In John 6 we read:

John 6:3  And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.


John 6:11  Jesus therefore took the loaves; and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.  John 6:12  And when they were filled, He said^ to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost."


Jesus is there with the elders of the New Israel, they commune up on a mountain, they eat together in the presence of God.  And no one dies.  We find Jesus up on the mountain again in v. 15.  This is where Jesus typically goes to commune with God the Father--to receive instruction from God as to what He should teach and what He should do.  Again, these particular behaviors echo those of Jesus’ mighty predecessor, Moses.

Exo 24:12  Now the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction."  Exo 24:13  So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God.


That similarity is entirely intentional.  Secondarily, we may note that while Moses passes through the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus walks on the water of the Sea of Galilee--a fuller demonstration of authority and mastery over nature than that of Moses.  Thirdly, we observe that miraculous feeding is part of the program.  Such a vast need was way beyond the meager financial resources of the disciples to even imagine beginning to supply!  While Moses superintended the feeding of hundreds of thousands for forty years--he did not supply the food, nor did the manna secure anyone from spiritual death.  The bread that Jesus offers, not the barley loaves and fishes, but the heavenly bread being Himself supplies an eternal need, a rescue from spiritual death.  Jesus is indispensable.  Furthermore, when the feeding is over, twelve baskets full of fragments are collected--symbolizing Jesus’ ability to provide for the whole nation of Israel even as Moses had done before Him.  This is a new and greater Passover indeed!  And the icing on the cake, so to speak, to top off the significances of going to the mountain, the walking on water and the miraculous feeding, we have the explicitly invited comparisons.  Jesus is the one who invites us to see the parallels and to contrast the two moves of God.  Jesus is incomparable.  Here, again, we see Old Testament events as a type of the coming of Christ, it is right here in the text before us.


            Not only were the Jews with whom these controversies transpired wrong about Jesus, they were also wrong about Moses.  That explains the high level of offense recorded in the scriptures.  For example, the Jews erroneously supposed that the manna came from heaven, that it was angel food--it did not.  (v. 31)  It only came from the clouds, it condensed out of the atmosphere naturally and yet it was indeed a miraculous supply--in amount and duration.  It was a test of daily obedience that compelled the people to deal with their tendencies towards greed, hoarding and disobedience.  Human nature still needs redemption!  And yet Jesus was the true bread of life sent down from heaven.  Furthermore, the Jews argued that Moses gave them manna.  Jesus points out that it was God who did that.  The Jews wrongly assumed that Moses would never be superceded, even though Moses indeed taught that he would be.  This latter error is what helped hinder their reception of Jesus as the prophet, the new lawgiver that Moses foretold would appear. Deu 18:15  "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.   This led them to erroneously assume that what they knew of Jesus, that He was Joseph’s son, was sufficient to allow them to deny His identity as the Redeemer, or even as the promised prophet--although in John 6:14 they said:  Therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world."  Ironically, the Galileans did not know Jesus’ Father at all!  Their presumed familiarity blinded them to the truth, and to the fullest opportunity of the moment.  And lest we succumb to the same error of presumption in dealing with God or with one another, we should memorize the scriptures which teach that God alone knows, searches the heart of man:


Jer 17:9  "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?  Jer 17:10  "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.

That Jesus could know what is in a person’s heart is further demonstration of His full divinity!


            Now, as to the miracle of walking on the water, we should observe the following things.  It conveys that Jesus Christ as the Creator of heavens and earth retains His complete authority over the elements, the wind, earth and water.  The disciples have rowed hard against the winds some three, or four miles--they are nearly at their proposed destination when they observe Jesus walking on the water.  They are terrified until Jesus identifies Himself to them and commands them not to be afraid.  He enters the boat and immediately (a favorite word of Mark’s) they are at their destination. This is not a natural occurence, this is supernatural.  Plainly Jesus did not walk around the waters as some commentators would have it--for that would not terrify anyone, would not explain the recorded abrupt arrival and would make the following verse irrelevant.  As if to drive the point of this being a miracle home, John records the observations of the people who noticed that Jesus did not enter the only boat (the boat entered by His disciples) and then observed Him with them at journey‘s end.  Then, entering other boats from Tiberius that came later, they noted that Jesus was not in those crafts either.  “Rabbi, when did You come here?” supports the miraculous nature of the event, which Jesus includes in His signs, in a most pedestrian manner.


            Jesus never answers their question except to infer that they haven’t properly perceived it as the sign that it was: it signified that Jesus is Lord of all.  He immediately challenges them to be discerning.  See the signs, understand who I truly am.  Get your eyes off the temporal and the worldly, be spiritual:  “labor for food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (v 27)  They ask, What shall we do?”  and He replies, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (v. 29)  John 6:33  "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world."  John 6:34  They said therefore to Him, "Lord, evermore give us this bread."  So far so good.  They have perceived something of the truth.


            Jesus proceeds in vv. 35-38 to present Himself as the indispensable bread of life sent down from heaven.  He insists that in addition to seeing, they need to also believe--that is the outcome of discernment:


John 6:35  Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.  John 6:36  "But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.  John 6:37  "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.  John 6:38  "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.



            With this as background, our text fairly interprets itself.  Jesus declares that He has come to do the Father’s will which is to redeem those God has purposed to redeem.  He will not lose one of those souls! John 17:12  "While I was with them, I was keeping them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.   And later, we read that  Jesus answered, "I told you that I am He; if therefore you seek Me, let these go their way," John 18:9  that the word might be fulfilled which He spoke, "Of those whom Thou hast given Me I lost not one."  And more than that on the last day, He will raise to life all God’s children.  Those who see and believe now will be happily there on Judgment Day.  In verses 41-59, John has recorded for us the ensuing dialogue which constituted part of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.  Teaching that shows Him to be indispensable as the bread of life, incomparable as the great Redeemer sent from God, who is of God and came to fulfill the will of God in our midst.  He is also the irreplaceable one because He is the only One who came to give His flesh and blood as settlement for our sins, reconciling us to God the Father.   He is entirely superior to the manna provided by Moses.  I want to close with verse 51: "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh."  Attend to this carefully, for Jesus has left literary devices entirely behind and speaks plainly.  He is saying that God has purposed to save the world through the sacrifice of this my body, my flesh and blood.  Later, when Jesus institutes the Last Supper, He pulls up this significance once again for His disciples and for us.  It has the same meaning as is behind John 3:16 and it is the same meaning as was conveyed to Paul, directly from the Lord, regarding the Lord’s Supper.  At the Last Supper, Jesus is speaking eucharistically, but here the emphasis is on the sacrificial aspect of what is yet to come with the cross.  Therefore, let us embrace the truth that the flesh and blood of communion are real food and real drink, spiritually speaking, and partaking of them by faith has the effect of cementing a real union between the believer and the Lord Jesus.  We may keep it as a memorial, but to the discerning believer communion is very much a matter of maintaining a presence, a Christ presence in His body which we are.  This is explicitly how the Lord has chosen to remain present in the midst of His people until His return in clouds of glory with all His angels.  Blessed are you if you both see and believe this!


[1] And that is one historical reason why it pays, so to speak, to have an ordained and trained minister in our midst, someone who specializes in reading and interpreting the Word.  This spiritual provision has been in place from the beginning despite the general deployment of the Holy Spirit amongst all believers.  The Holy Spirit teaches all and leads all into the fullness of biblical revelation on top of the work of trained expositors..