January 3, 2018

God's Eternal Truths - Christmas 1

Eternal Truths are Neither Old nor New
1.     For Jesus – True Man and True God.
2.     For the Jews – Objective/Universal Justification
3.     For Us – The Means of Grace

John 6:41-51 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." 42 And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says,`I have come down from heaven '?" 43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 "It is written in the prophets,`And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. 46 "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 "I am the bread of life. 49 "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."

The week after Christmas usually holds that annual problem when getting new things. What do we get rid of? You might be someone who packs everything away and never gets rid of anything. You might be someone who throws everything in a box and takes it to Goodwill without a second thought. You might be someone who agonizes over what stays and what goes.

At least from my perspective, and perhaps you think similarly, part of the appeal of a gift is the new factor. The fresh smell, the plastic seal, the neatness of the box, the feel of being the first owner, and so on. But, as soon as that box is opened, the new factor is gone. I’ve even found in the past years that sometimes I will just stack my gifts up and think about using them before I open them. It’s a time to admire them a little bit before they get out in the hustle and bustle of life and a time to plan so that I can use them to their max potential. You might be thinking, wow, Pastor, you’re really overanalyzing the situation – and I totally understand. But I know how quickly something new and valuable can become something old and forgotten. How quickly does that happen for you?

The debate between old and new isn’t relegated to Christmas presents either. It’s the central theme of the New Year’s Day – out with the old and in with the new. But, no matter what time of year, in the church we are confronted with questions all the time that deal with the same things. Should we change that tradition for something that’s more common today? Should we go back to the way we used to do things? Is there ever a time to adjust doctrines and teachings because of a greater clarity of Scripture, or perhaps because our culture and times are changing so much? We face these kinds of questions all the time, as all Christians have since the beginning. What’s better – the new or the old? Well, it depends of who’s definitions of new and old we’re using.

In our text today, we see an intersection of old and new regarding three key teachings of the Christian faith. One that deals directly with Jesus, one that deals directly with the Jews, and one that deals directly with us. And yet, as with all of God’s teachings, they are pertinent and applicable to all peoples. May the Holy Spirit bless us on this journey through His Word.   

Part 1: For Jesus: True Man and True God.

In the verses before us, Jesus is claiming His divinity as God and His status as the One and only Savior of the world. Coming on the heels of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus uses this opportunity of immense popularity with the people to teach them about these three important truths, using the illustration of bread as a starter. His popularity was immense because He had just fed well over 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 3 small fish. For a society stooped in poverty, this power to provide was a difference maker. They thronged about Jesus. John 6:15 tells us that they wanted to make Him a King by force. But Jesus departed the crowds and ascended a nearby mountain to be secluded. After He crossed over the Sea of Galilee the people followed and wanted to know more. Jesus told them in John 6:26-27: "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."

This context sets the stage for the verses before us. The people wanted Jesus to be an earthly King – someone to rescue them from the Romans and to give them everything they needed in life. Jesus told them, your faith is weak because it is based on what you ate, not even the miracles, and because it is expecting the wrong thing. For the crowds, the miracle of the feeding marked an opportunity for something new. A time to usher in a new era for their nation and a time to have new blessings from God. But, in their fervor for something new, they had forgotten the age-old problem they suffered from. Their greatest need was not food or drink, but the bread from heaven – God’s own Son, sent to suffer and die for their sins. This was the eternal promise of God from even before the beginning of time. It was the constant theme of the Old Testament Scriptures. The Messiah would be exactly what Jesus claimed at the beginning of our text – True God and the only Savior from sin. A Messiah who would not bring new blessings or restore old rights, but usher in the eternal era of faith and heaven.

The principle stumbling block for the people was that Jesus was a human, like them. To the people, Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph. For many, they had grown up with Jesus. They were familiar with Him – perhaps even common to them. If He truly was God, wouldn’t He be much different? He certainly didn’t look like He came down from heaven. Well, He was different, but not in appearance. Jesus captured the issue well in verse 40 when He said to the people. "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." We often talk about faith as being able to believe withouth seeing. That’s true for us, but the people of Jesus’ time wrestled with a different problem. They had to believe even though they saw. Jesus tells them that the key to heaven is being able to see Jesus and trust in Him. It seems like a no-brainer for us but we didn’t grow up with Jesus. He was not our contemporary, our neighbor, or a citizen in our culture.

Part 2: The Jews – Objective/Universal Justification

Some people were confused at Jesus’ words. Some perhaps taken a back a bit. Others, were outraged. The very first verse tells us that the Jews complained against Jesus because He said that He came down from heaven. This doesn’t mean that every Jewish person present resisted Jesus. The title of “the Jews” was commonly used to refer to Jesus’ opponents – those individuals of the Jewish community that were so upset with Jesus that they eventually killed Him. They were led, of course, by the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders. Without a doubt, this particular event would prove to be crucial to the eventual crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the Jews.

But the true lesson for the Jews was in the consequence of this thought. Just at the physical aspect of Jesus was a stumbling block so also was their own physical lineage. The hardened, nationalistic Jews believed that they alone were God’s people, and therefore they alone would be saved by God. They knew nothing of Christ’s mission to justify the entire world – all peoples and all nations. Jesus gets to this point in our text when He says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 "It is written in the prophets,`And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. [Verse 51 as well]

Jesus states plainly that “everyone” who hears and learns from God can be a believer. He even quotes the Old Testament as evidence, that God had promised to teach all people. The notion that Gentiles could come to faith in the true God was just as offensive to these Jews as the idea that Jesus had come from heaven. But, they failed to realize that by rejecting the latter, they missed out on the former.

The lesson that the Jews remind us of is that what you believe about Jesus is closely connected to how you treat others. The new philosophy of our age is similar to the old Jewish lie that they alone were saved. Today, people believe that it doesn’t matter what God you believe in. It is said you can be a moral, upstanding person to all people regardless of your profession of faith. In a certain way that is true when it comes to human justice, but God says there is only one way to perfect, complete universal justification from sin, and that way is through Christ alone. Any boast outside of Christ is a self-righteous claim.

Part 3: For Us – The Means of Grace

The final teaching recording in these words looks most directly at our lives. We believe in Jesus as true God and true Man. We confess that He came to save the world and succeeded in the task. We wrestle with how to follow those truths today. Jesus gives us just as clear an answer as He gave to the Jews. “It is written…” “Everyone who hears and learns…” “The one who believes has everlasting life…” There is the key for our lives. We call it the Means of Grace.

God has recorded His truth in His Word. Therefore, the path of the Christian is a path of hearing and learning. It’s easy to be a weekend warrior Christian who takes the name of the Savior but doesn’t invest in growing or learning in God’s truth. It takes time, effort, and intention to make the Word of God a priority – not because of lack of access but because of scarcity of time.

Because of our short attention spans and our one-click, get it now culture, we are tempted to turn to new ways of receiving God. Some say it comes through the feeling of community and fellowship of church, or the excitement of worship – those moments when you feel “on fire” for God. Others say it’s about keeping our faith manageable – not going out on a limb by trusting things that confound our understanding. They try box God up into a little package that fits their reason so they never have to trust anything that makes them uncomfortable or invites a change in heart or attitude – or dare we suggest obedience.

How soon, though, before those new things become old? How soon before the feeling wears off; before the packaging is stripped away. If we are the voice of authority for our lives, how do we decide what to keep and what to discard? Jesus tells us He alone has eternal truths, where one doesn’t need to worry about old or new. Often, there is value in both old and new, depending on how you approach them. To the Jews, He called them to discard some of their old beliefs that stood in the way of the gospel. But, in so doing He was also warning against making their faith into whatever they wanted it to be, by not staying focused on the Old Testament.

The lesson is alive in today. God’s truth is not about old or new or anything in between. It’s eternal. We shouldn’t change His teachings because we feel like there’s something better to be had. Neither should we rely and trust in them because that’s what those before us did. The value and validity of something is not about when it came in history or when it was (or is) most popular. It’s about WHO it came from and WHAT it means for our lives. The truth of God’s redemptive promise in Christ Jesus is eternal. It predated our existence and it will be around long after we leave this world. That is what we trust in, grace from God, for us, from His Son, Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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