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PART III. (B.)
II. JESUS MANIFESTS HIMSELF AS THE SUSTAINER OF LIFE, BUT IS REJECTED OF THE JEWS, OF NOMINAL DISCIPLES
1. In Galilee.—
(1) By feeding the five thousand He shows Himself to be the source and upholder of all things (John 6:1-13);
(2) the meaning of this sign is misunderstood (John 6:14-15);
(3) He shows again His power in the realm of nature by His control over wind and wave, and also in walking on the sea that He can use natural laws according to His will (John 6:16-21).
2. (1) In His teaching He offers Himself as the true bread of life, the bread of God, the bread which is from heaven, of which the manna was but a type;
(2) as the Son of man who will give His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:22-51).
3. (1) The Jews murmur, and strive among themselves, on hearing this doctrine (John 6:52-59);
(2) many of His nominal disciples are offended at His saying, and “went back” (John 6:60-66);
(3) the disciples are led into firmer faith, which will lead ever more surely to conflict with the power of darkness, which manifests itself even in the ranks of the twelve.
Second Year of our Lord’s Ministry
Chap. 6.—Synoptic parallels: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17.
Time.—Nisan (March–April), A.U.C. 782, A.D. 29.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is recorded by all the Evangelists (see Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17). It is an entirely different miracle from that of feeding the four thousand (Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9).
John 6:1. After these things does not express immediate sequence (see John 5:1). Jesus went, went away (ἀπῆλθεν), or withdrew, went out, over (πέρας). The Sea of Galilee, of Tiberias.—Only once again is this lake called the Sea of Tiberias in the New Testament (see John 21:1). So the Sea of Galilee was afterwards principally called from the town of Tiberias, built by Herod the tetrarch, and named after the Emperor Tiberias. Probably the building of the town was not completed at the time of the ministry of our Lord; and besides, the new name would require some time before it superseded the old name. This name is that borne to-day by the small but growing modern town with its earthquake-shattered walls: Tubarîyeh.
John 6:2. The miracles.—Rather the signs (τὰ σημεῖα).
John 6:3. Into the mountain.—The hilly, sloping side of the eastern tableland as it falls toward the lake. The place was near to Bethsaida Julias, which lay near the north-east corner of the lake, where the Jordan enters it (Luke 9:10).
John 6:4. The passover was near.—I.e. the time was drawing on when it would be observed, and doubtless many of those who were in the crowds following the Saviour at this time were leisurely making their way to Jerusalem “to keep the feast.” The mention of “much grass” (John 6:10), and that the grass was “green” (Mark 6:39), gives a vivid picture of Galilee in March and April, when the whole land is carpeted with grass, amid which the wild flowers spring in rich profusion.
John 6:5. A great company came (πεζοί, afoot, Matthew 14:13).—I.e. round the north end of the lake. There is a ford near Bethsaida; and probably there was then a bridge where now stands the Jisr Benât Yacûb (Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob).
John 6:6. Prove him, i.e. to test or try him. Philip (John 1:44; John 14:8).
John 6:7. Two hundred pennyworth.—I.e. two hundred denarii, which, calculating their value at about 8½d., would amount to about £7 in our money. The bread was probably somewhat like the ordinary flat barley cakes, of which five or six may now be bought in Syria for a piastre (about 2¼d.).
John 6:8. Andrew and Philip (John 1:44; John 12:22).
John 6:9. Two small fishes.—Or simply two fishes (ὀψάρια). As the word is used also in John 21:9-10; John 21:13, it may simply be a local Galilean word for a fish. But it may mean fish specially prepared to eat with bread as a relish (see Westcott and Watkins).
John 6:10. Make the men (ἀνθρώπους).—Including women and children (Matthew 14:21), as distinguished from ἄνδρες, men only, at the end of the verse. Grass (Psalms 23:2).—See John 6:4.
John 6:11. To the disciples, and the disciples.—These words are omitted in the great MSS. א, B, L. They are considered by Tregelles, Tischendorf, etc., to be a gloss from Matthew 14:19.
John 6:12. Gather, etc.—It is from John we learn that this was done at the command of Jesus.
John 6:13. Twelve baskets (κοφίνους).—As there were twelve, they most likely belonged to the disciples; probably they were used as we use our modern travelling bags. These baskets are to be distinguished from the σπύριδες used in the miracle of feeding the four thousand. The latter were much larger.
John 6:14. That prophet.—i.e. Messiah.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 6:1-15
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.—The miracle which we are now to consider briefly is one of those that show Christ’s power in the realm of nature. Like His miracles generally, it is beneficent and not destructive. This, and the miracle of walking on the sea, are recorded by all the Evangelists. This miracle is distinguished sharply by several special circumstances from that of the feeding of four thousand (Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 8:1-10). The Evangelists vary slightly—although they do not contradict each other—in their accounts of the circumstances which preceded it. They supplement each other. St. John places it between the feast mentioned at the beginning of chap. 5 (probably Purim) and the succeeding passover. St. Mark gives the fullest account of the causes which led the Saviour to cross to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. The forerunner had just been beheaded by Herod; and his disciples had gone and told Jesus (Matthew 14:12). About the same time the twelve had returned from their mission of preaching and healing, on which Jesus had sent them out “by two and two.” The disciples doubtless needed rest after their labours, and time for converse, which they could not find in Christ’s “own country”; “for there were many coming and going,” etc. (Mark 6:31). John’s disciples also perhaps needed to be withdrawn for a time from these scenes of busy life. So our Lord and His more immediate followers—including, it may be, John’s disciples—sailed from the then busy western side of the Sea of Galilee to the comparatively lonely eastern shore, hoping for a time to be free from the thronging crowds. In vain. The multitudes, learning His destination, followed by land—by the road (πεζῇ). There were many sick and infirm among them, for they knew of His wondrous power (Matthew 14:14). So that the “desert place” was soon crowded where Jesus was. Nor did He turn those poor people away. He received them, spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and healed many (Luke 9:11). As the day wore on toward evening, and the westering sun began to descend behind the Galilean hills, tinting Hermon with rosy light, and the evening calm settled softly on the peaceful inland lake, the multitude lingered on, captivated by the winning accents of eternal love—witnessing with wondering gratitude the proofs of Christ’s healing power. The claims of physical nature were well-nigh forgotten; and when the day was far spent, the multitudes had not only no food with them sufficient to meet their wants, but they were far from any place where it could be procured. According to our Gospel it was Jesus Himself who first mooted the idea of feeding them. Probably He spoke to Philip early in the afternoon, and let the question simmer in the disciple’s mind, to prove, try his faith. It was also a trial of the faith of the rest of the twelve, for no doubt Philip consulted with them; and the conclusion they came to was shown by their coming as day was closing to request Him to send the multitude away. Did Philip’s weak faith tend to infect the others, and was he specially singled out for trial that his faith might be strengthened? (John 14:8-14). It seems strange that the disciples, who had witnessed already so many of the Redeemer’s mighty works, should begin to compute the sum of money (about £7 in our money) needed to procure even the simplest provision for so great a crowd. At His word, however, the disciples found out what provision there was among the company. “A lad was present who had five barley loaves,” etc. (John 6:9), but what, truly, were they “among so many”? At the command of the Saviour, however, the people were seated in order on the green grass—green and luscious at that season; and after giving thanks He distributed through the disciples this small provision, which multiplied miraculously in His hands. In the end all were satisfied—shown by the fact that at Christ’s command the fragments remaining were gathered into the disciples’ travelling hand-baskets (κόφινοι). And the people departed, firm in the conviction that He was “that prophet,” etc. (John 6:14).
 Even the two which seem of an opposite tendency—the destruction of the herd of swine and the withering away of the barren fig tree—have their beneficent side, i.e. the removal of what was evil and useless.
I. This miracle we may call an act of creative might.—The time when it was wrought was near the passover; and at that period the valleys and hillsides would be clad with sprouting corn. In parts of the Jordan valley itself the fields might even be assuming harvest tints. The corn, however, was not yet ready to be used as food. And Jesus, by His creative might (John 1:3-4), out of the small provision from the hands of the lad, made such increase that the multitude did eat and were satisfied. It was a rapid and instantaneous way of producing that which is prepared by gradual processes for man’s use, by Him with whom “one day is as a thousand years.” The same wonder in different form transpires periodically before our eyes: only we have become so familiar with it that we fail to recognise it as a perpetual proof of God’s creative power. Consider the amount of food required daily for a whole nation, or even for a large city. Thousands on thousands are employed daily in catering for this food supply. The food stuffs are gathered from every region of the globe almost. Whence do these stores come? Who ultimately provides them? Who feeds the teeming millions of men and other living creatures in the world? It is the providence of Him on whom we all depend—who opens His liberal hand and supplies the wants of “every living thing.” We are surrounded on every side by proofs and evidences of His creative might. If we would but open the eyes of our understandings, and look deeply enough into the nature of things, we should see at each seed-time and harvest a perpetual wonder, and realise that we are surrounded on every side by what has well been called “the natural supernatural.” When we consider these things sufficiently, such a wonderful work as this we are considering is just what we might expect from Him who is revealed at the beginning of this Gospel as the creative Word.
II. The miracle further teaches us a lesson of trust in the divine care—and in our Redeemer, that He will, as He can, supply every necessary gift to us. Human life is a hard training-school for some. But “sweet are the uses” of such a severe training if borne aright. Men born to affluence may be and often are tempted to forget to whom they owe the daily provided gifts scattered in profusion around them; whilst those who pray with the sense of need to a divine Father, “Give us each day our daily bread,” are kept in a wholesome sense of their dependence on Him “who is above all, and through all, and in all,” and with a confident feeling that their trust is not misplaced or vain. The crowds of passover pilgrims who turned aside to listen to Christ’s words of heavenly wisdom in the desert place by the Galilean lake realised, for the time at least, in their experience the fulfilment of the promise: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” And so all Christ’s disciples may in the same trusting spirit go about their Father’s business, assured that every needed gift will be given them; that the creative might (and providential love and care) which supplies the wants of every living thing—which fed the “five thousand men, beside women and children” (Matthew 14:14), at Bethsaida Julias—is unresting and unfailing still. The poorest and most tried if faithful will find it ever the same.
III. The lesson of this miracle of Jesus—the spiritual lesson—was not learned by all who witnessed it.—Many of the people continued to follow the Saviour in expectation of repetitions of this wonderful work. They sought for the meat which perisheth,—not for the spiritual bread which endureth, for the heavenly manna of which if a man eat he shall never hunger. So let this miracle be to Christ’s people not merely a fact in the story of our Lord’s life on earth—not merely another link in the chain of evidence of His divinity. Let it become a parable of divine truth, leading men to see Christ as the source of all true spiritual nourishment, the Heavenly Manna and the Bread of Life. Then, when He has been sought and found thus spiritually, it should teach a lesson of restful dependence on God, the source of all life, and on Christ, who, out of His infinite fulness, will freely give His people all things.
Harvest Festival Homily.—The passage read, which shows Jesus with wonder-working power feeding the starving multitudes, proving His disciples, and strengthening their faith, will furnish us useful lessons, and thus raise the harvest festival, beyond its relation to creation merely, to the higher region of a spiritual Christian festival. The harvest festival becomes then a Christian festival when Christ leads us therein—
1. To stronger faith;
2. To ministering love;
3. To the confession of thankfulness;
4. To faithfulness in little things. Teach us, O God, giver of every good and perfect gift, to sow in childlike trust, so that we may reap with praise and thanksgiving. Amen.
I. The harvest festival becomes a Christian festival when it leads to stronger faith.—Many people followed Jesus because they saw the signs He wrought on the sick. The thought that He was Emmanuel flashed through their minds. It remained doubtful, however, whether the miracles wrought for the sick were realised as signs for the strengthening of faith, or whether these would lead to material misconceptions. It was enough for Jesus, who lifted up His eyes and saw many people coming to Him, that, touched with sincere compassion, He should permit the sun of His benevolence to arise upon good and evil, as He said, “Whence shall we buy bread?” etc. (John 6:5). And John, our narrator, shows himself not merely to have been an eye and ear witness, describing the scene minutely, the grass, etc., but also bosom friend and beloved disciple of Him who came from the bosom of the Father. This he shows in that he was entrusted with the design of the testing question, as he writes, “And this He said,” etc. (John 6:6). Whoever comes into Jesus’ presence, on him Jesus lifts His eyes in blessing. Whoever begins to believe must be content to submit to testing questions which put weak faith to shame and banish unbelief. The premeditated divine work appears so much more glorious in view of Philip’s estimate that two hundred pennyworth of bread would not suffice, and after Andrew had brought the information about the five loaves, etc. These statements only confirmed the difficulty—did not remove it. Whence shall we buy bread? Is not this question repeated year by year, with every spring which may find the winter sowing safe, but may also find it ruined by frost; with every summer, which may see the fields ripening, but perhaps also desolated by thunderstorms or hail; with every autumn, which may see the grain harvested, but which at the last moment may bring disappointment? Each season furnishes us new examples of our dependence on the almighty, living God who balances the clouds, etc. (Job 37:0; Job 38:0, etc.); who put the fourth petition (Matthew 6:11) into man’s mouth and promises to grant it. Nature does it, so the modern heathens tell us, who imagine they have deposed the eternal Lawgiver and replaced Him by the laws of nature. If the curtain is drawn up the stage is seen to be empty. Fools say in their hearts, “No God.” But God’s children say every seedtime and harvest, “Abba, Father.” Here in the gospel narrative stands He who said, “My Father worketh hitherto and I work,” who knew what He would do, to whom no supplicating family (chap. 11), no surrounding multitude ever came in vain; whom no need ever nonplussed, but who also maintained as the fundamental law of His religion, “Seek ye first,” etc. (Matthew 6:33); who gives not alone daily bread, but also has made ready His eternal word, and seeks through the gifts to lead men back and up to the eternal Giver. A large number of the five thousand however … thought of the Lord merely as a Master or Steward, and would have taken Him and made Him a king. “O Lord, do not Thine eyes look upon faithfulness?” (Jeremiah 5:3). Thy giving and Thy withholding … Thy anticipating and delaying—in oppression and deliverance, in all things, He seeks to prove, to purify, to strengthen faith. Yonder, by Tiberias, Jesus knew what He would do. He has ever thoughts of peace toward men. He slumbers not, etc. Believest thou this?… Is your faith strengthened in times of trial? Then
“Thou stand’st not alone, over thee is thy Lord, who will keep and uphold thee:
Thou stand’st not alone, for around thee are ministering angels.”
II. The harvest festival becomes a Christian feast when Christ prompts us thereby to render loving help to others. The Lord took His disciples as fellow-labourers and helpers in His benevolent purpose.… The Lord gives His help mediately. As He wrought this wonder by increasing the food at hand, by multiplying the offered provision, so He employs men to aid their fellows—the disciples to help the brethren. He makes them ready to help, breaks and shames the natural selfishness and slothfulness of the flesh. In His farewell discourse He said, “The poor ye have always with you”; and again, “What ye have done unto the least,” etc. (see also James 2:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). In the case of those lost in vain traditions, in whom benevolent action sickens, withers, and dies, He turns the evasive question, “Who then is my neighbor?” into the question of conscience, “Who was neighbour to him who fell among thieves?” It is true the Lord makes a distinction between the gifts of ability and opportunity for well-doing (parable of ten pounds). And no state-monger, or people’s tribune, will ever charm away that distinction. But the love inspired by God, the consciousness of responsibility for our own knowledge and action, the true feeling for a brother’s well-being, can make low the mountains and exalt the valleys, bind up the wounded and support the weak.… We must be like stewards waiting the coming of our Lord.… Compare modern communism with the early apostolic Church. In the one there is levelling down by force; in the other equal participation and communication in the ministry of love. In the one case the robber command, Give what is thine; in the other the fraternal word, Take what is mine.… When, therefore, will the harvest festival become truly Christian? When it calls to a Zaccheus, Render back your desecrated Sunday, the wages detained and curtailed, etc. When it summons an Andrew and Philip to give of what they receive to the needy, for the upbringing of the orphan, the care of the aged, the sheltering of the sick, institutions for rescue, the education of future servants of the Word, etc.
III. We read that Christ took the loaves and gave thanks. A profession of thankfulness should not be wanting in a Christian harvest thanksgiving festival. Christ, the only begotten, etc., in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, on whom the Spirit descended (John 1:32), who at Cana changed the water into wine, here broke the bread with giving of thanks.… Notice (John 6:23) the feeding of the five thousand is connected with this giving of thanks. The day was coming when He would hold another and a greater feast. On that night in which He was betrayed He would say, “Take, eat,” etc. But before He took bread, the communion of His body, and raised the cup, the communion of His blood, He would give thanks, so that His sacrament could be called a Eucharist. And is the hymn
“Now thank we all our God!”
to be sung only once a year at harvest thanksgivings? The Fathers were not ashamed of a grace before meat; rather would they have been ashamed at the omission of it!… If any seek to insinuate, as is often done, that faith and science stand irreconcilably opposed to each other, and that the telegraph, the electric light, and the locomotive have gained the day, it may be freely conceded that science and invention show the conquest of the material by the spiritual, and only the unthinking would inveigh against or overlook those proofs of the nobility of the mind of man. But the religio-moral problems still remain—the themes of the regeneration of the sinful human heart, and the glory of redemption. Or can any one escape from an evil conscience by rushing away on iron tires? Or will the religio-moral misery of the time be alleviated because the electric light shines on it? Or is comfort at the loss of some loved one brought by the fact that the news of it was spread by the telegraph?… Thrice fools are they who do not acknowledge and praise God as a God from whom all we possess comes: body and soul, knowledge and power, law and gospel, grace here and hope for hereafter! From the thankless hand the good gift passes away; to an unthankful eye the world is gloomy. He is men’s light. With the upright God will show Himself upright, etc. (2 Samuel 22:26-27). He who possesses with thankfulness, to him will be given, etc. (Psalms 103:0).
IV. Faithfulness in little things is a lesson of a true harvest-thanksgiving. Love, thanksgiving, faithfulness in little. He commanded the disciples to gather the fragments, and they gathered, etc.… It is faithfulness in little things which, when the multitude are satisfied, commands, Gather the fragments. To Him, to whom the feeding of the five thousand was not too much, the gathering of the fragments was not too little. To despise what is little, to neglect what is small, not to care for the pence, is often the beginning of ruin to many a household.… Paul, who could aver, I know both how to be abased, etc. (Philippians 4:12), was so true to his principle that he wove the command of love and duty into one when he wrote, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another,” etc. (Romans 13:8). To possess little and yet to boast great things, to borrow and squander, to promise and not perform; at one time not to permit children to acquire learning, at another sinfully to overtask youthful powers untimeously,—by a few such strokes may be described the miserable domestic life of many a family. Franklin thus sums up his household and people’s domestic economy: The fear of God, Industry, Thrift! There only remains to be added the fourfold exhortation to self-examination. Whence is faithfulness in little things to be learned if not through a conscience quickened by Christ? Whence a tender conscience if not through the communion of a thankful heart with the thrice-holy God? Whence an enlarged heart if not through a daily struggle with selfishness? and whence faith if not through the word of God and prayer? (Psalms 119:32; Psalms 119:36).—Abridged from Dr. Rudolf Kögel.
John 6:11-13. Christian temperance.—The Saviour of the world, in nourishing the multitudes, teaches us that Christian temperance which we should observe in eating.
I. Jesus Christ teaches us in the nourishment of the body to avoid what is faulty and harmful.—
1. Avoid a too great attention to the solace and maintenance of the body. Jesus led the people into a desert place where there was little that promised material satisfaction, where the main attraction was spiritual. Very different it is with too many, who, as St. Paul says, make their belly their god (Philippians 3:19).
2. Avoid excess.—Nature is content with what is necessary. Jesus Christ never thought of the bodily wants of those people until it was absolutely necessary to do so. Men go far beyond this often. Indeed, as it is said in Scripture, men make themselves like the beasts that perish. The beasts, however, have this advantage, that they are satisfied with what is sufficient for them.
3. Avoid luxury.—Jesus Christ nourished the people with bread only. “God,” says Abbé Rupert, “gave the Israelites in the desert most exquisite food. The people asked, and He brought quails, etc. (Psalms 105:40). But it was not so much a gift of His liberality as a chastisement to punish them for murmuring.” There is nothing more dangerous and pernicious than luxury. It gives power to the forces of our carnal nature to revolt and cast off the yoke of Christ.
II. Jesus Christ teaches us how the nourishment of the body may be sanctified, and shows us how we may attain to this. How? By asking a blessing on the food, and by giving thanks; by His adorable presence, and by works of love.
1. He gave thanks to His Father. We should follow His example. It is from God we receive what is for our nourishment. This, among other practices, distinguished the early Christians from the heathen. And surely it is a strange thing that we should receive and enjoy the gifts of God without thinking on Him or giving Him thanks!
2. It was in the presence of Jesus Christ that the people received the nourishment which He provided and distributed. God is everywhere present, seeing all things; but it might be said that He is often more especially present in places and at junctures where we might be in danger of forgetting ourselves, as in our entertainments. But it is just here that we should not lose sight of Him. The heathen even were accustomed sometimes to bring their idols to their feasts, etc., under the idea that those false gods would teach them moderation. But because we too often forget our God, omnipresent though He is, what happens often? Judge from the example of Belshazzar. If God does not visit us so openly His secret judgments are not less awful and terrible.
3. Jesus Christ commanded that what remained over should be gathered up to serve for any who might afterward come. Thus the rich should aid the poor from their abundance. St. Louis fed a number daily from his table. There is much wasted in the mansions of the rich that might succour the poor. Yet many are allowed to perish, whilst the forgetful expose themselves to the fate of the rich man of the parable. Let us learn to free ourselves from the slavery of the body.—Bourdaloue.
The true bread of life.—Jesus went forward to die; the Lamb of God beareth away the sins of the world. But the redemption of Christ can avail for thee, and thy heart rejoice (Isaiah 66:10), only in the reception of the true Bread of Life, i.e. when the Lord and Saviour Himself has been received by thee through faith, and in the Word and ordinances wherein He is offered to thee. We consider in regard to this Bread of Life—
I. The need thereof.—
1. The people followed Jesus; but for the most part because of the signs and wonders He performed. Even as they needed bread, so their heart was empty of real trust in the gospel.
2. Our natural man is carnally minded and seeks “good times”; this may perhaps be agreeable to the fleshly nature, but even thus only in appearance; at all events, the spiritual man languishes, faith becomes ever weaker, the life ever more alienated from God; and in all the superfluity which the outward man enjoys the inner man starves, and forfeits temporal and eternal salvation, or runs the risk of doing so. Man “cannot live by bread alone,” but needs the Word which proceeds out of the mouth of God for the nourishment of his soul.
II. The preparation thereto.—
1. Jesus saw the need of the people; He let it be seen that without His setting to work there was no help possible (John 6:5-9). He brought home to Philip the littleness of his faith; He made use of the slender provision—had the people arranged in orderly fashion, took the bread, and gave thanks.
2. Jesus brings home to our consciousness our inability, and the weakness of our faith, so that we may turn to Him for help. He holds out to us the ordinary means of grace, the Word and ordinances, because He will even link to these the powers of grace, which are necessary to us in every contingency. He directs us to prayer, through which the means at hand are blessed and their employment assured.
III. The reception thereof.—
1. Every individual in the multitude received, none was omitted. Every one who had eaten was satisfied, and there remained much over.
2. Old and young, rich and poor, whoever comes to Jesus hungering for grace, receives through the Word and ordinances nourishing and healthful food, and that in richest measure. There remains from the blessing of the Sabbath, e.g., something over for the work-day. From this Bread all gain comfort and strength, which will serve us not alone in special contingencies, but will hold out through life.
IV. The blessing therein.—
1. The multitudes, in consequence of this miraculous feeding of the five thousand, acknowledged Jesus to be the promised Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15); they desired to make Jesus a king—in earthly fashion to be sure.
2. The Word and ordinances reveal Jesus to us as our all-sufficient Saviour; for thereby are we filled with comfort and strength, established in the knowledge that Jesus is the promised Prophet, High Priest, and King, and thus mighty enough to free us from the awful misery of sin and death. We are then mightily drawn to choose Christ as King to reign in our hearts, to let Him rule there, and so to walk in newness of life.—J. L. Sommer.
How the Lord Jesus proves Himself to be our true helper.—He shows Himself to be our true helper:—
I. In His desire to help.—
1. He sees not alone the material, but also the spiritual wants of the people.
2. He has compassion on the multitudes ere they complain to Him of their needs.
3. He comes to the resolution to feed the people, not only materially but spiritually (John 6:6).
II. In His power to help.—
1. He finds means to which He can link the miracle.
2. What He takes in His hand is multiplied, and attains His purpose.
3. When He gives not only have all who receive enough, but there remains much over.
III. In His wisdom in giving help.—
1. He caused the people to arrange themselves in order so that none might be passed over.
2. He points in the course of His succouring them to prayer, whereby the spiritual blessing is added to the material.
3. He thwarts carnal ideas, which are connected with material blessing merely, and directs men to His spiritual kingdom.—Idem.
John 6:1-3. This incident, while showing forth Christ’s glory, marks the crisis of His ministry in Galilee.—These incidents in the Galilean ministry are recorded for two principal reasons:
1. As manifesting forth the glory of the Saviour; and
2. As marking the culminating point—the crisis of the ministry of our Lord in Galilee. Three causes contributed to that extension of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee, of which this forms a part: the twelve who had been sent out two and two had returned (Luke 9:10); Jesus had heard of the death of John, and also that Herod the tetrarch was declaring, on hearing of the works of the Lord, that Jesus was John come again; and furthermore our Lord needed rest from labour (Habakkuk 3:15; Mark 6:31).
John 6:3. Jesus went up into a mountain, etc.—The Lord of glory incarnate suffered the sinless infirmities of humanity.
1. His body needed rest and refreshing as ours do; and when labours had been excessive He felt the need of rest and retirement.
2. His heart needed cheering and comfort through communion with His faithful disciples, and away from the feeble, unbelieving multitude; and
3. His spirit must needs be refreshed by uninterrupted communion with His Father.
John 6:5. Jesus saw a great company come unto Him, etc.—The reason why so many followed our Lord was, no doubt, for the most part because of the fame of His miracles; but in part also because those who had hitherto followed John were now most likely attracted to Jesus.—J. J. Weigel.
John 6:5. Grace needed for hard times, material and spiritual.—Want and poverty are grievous, and a rich measure of spiritual power is needed to sustain both, and that men may not fall into temptation and sin in consequence of them.—Idem.
John 6:5. Hard times.—Yes, truly, but thy sins are also burdensome. Lay thy poverty and thy sin in the balance, and see which weighs most heavily.—Idem.
John 6:7. Gold and courage.—If we have gold then we have courage enough; but if we lack gold our faith is apt to fail. Thus Philip’s reckoning is not founded on faith. “With gold, men are bold”; for gold men can purchase all things. “Gold sped, courage fled,” for men do not expect to get something for nothing.—Idem.
John 6:9. God’s store is never empty.—It is easy enough to utter the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” when it lies before us—when we have enough and to spare. The test of faith is to continue the prayer when the cruse of oil runs low, and the barrel of meal has been emptied. But even then the true disciple will remember the promise: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added” (Matthew 6:33).
John 6:11. The spiritual reception of material gifts.—
1. A Christian should first show his care for the soul in prayer, and then for the body by taking fit nourishment.
2. A table sanctified by prayer and thanks is never void; like a spring it is ever full.
3. The Lord gives nourishment to His people according to His own will, not according to theirs.—Weigel.
John 6:15. Earthly crowns are unstable.—The world gives its crowns as rewards. To-day it sets them on men’s heads, to-morrow it removes them. Enduring crowns are only to be found in heaven (2 Timothy 4:8).
The blessing of solitude.—Solitude is beautiful and grand only when it is chosen as a quiet resting-place, in which we can hold converse with God.—St. Gregory.
John 6:11. Christ’s care for all forms of human want.—What are the lessons of the “sign”? It teaches Christ’s care for all forms of human want. It reveals His continuous working as sustainer of physical life. In the miracle, some of the links ordinarily present in the chain which binds physical results to the divine will were absent; but their absence or presence does not affect the reality of the connection between the staple from which it hangs and the last visible effect. The cause of all physical phenomena is the will of God, and that will works in and through Jesus Christ, in whom is life, and without whom nothing created subsists. He is Sustainer as well as Creator. He holds the stars in His hand, and He opens His hand, with the print of the nail in it, and satisfies the desires of every living thing. But the great lesson of the miracle is that which our Lord Himself drew from it, in the following discourse on the bread of life.… The result of the miracle is next presented in two ways—the abundance left over, and the people’s excitement. As to the former, note that the “broken pieces” are not the crumbs that littered the grass after the feast was over, but the pieces broken for distribution. John alone records that Christ commanded the gathering. He thereby taught economy in the use and storing of His gifts, and bade the disciples recognise that dependence on His miraculous power does not absolve from the exercise of ordinary prudence. But if we regard the whole incident in that symbolic aspect in which He Himself presents it in the subsequent discourse, this abundant overplus and the care taken of it are fruitful of instruction. Men, women, and children all found enough in the bread from His hands. The world scoffs at the barley-bread which Jesus gives, which seems coarse to palates spoiled by the world’s confectionery; but it gives life to the eaters. If any man wants dainties that will tickle his diseased or fastidious appetite, he will have to go elsewhere for them; but if he wants bread to stay his hunger, let him go to Jesus, who is “human nature’s daily food.” But not only was there enough for each, but the twelve baskets were filled—one carried by each apostle probably—with the food that had been prepared and was not needed. “The gift doth stretch itself as ’tis received.” Other goods and possessions perish with using, but this increases with use. The more one eats the more there is for him to eat. All the world may live on it for ever, and there will be more at the end than at the beginning. In Christ’s gift of the bread of life there is always a certain unappropriated overplus, a quality of infinity of resource, which surpasses our present power of reception, and encourages us to hope for larger possession when our faith is enlarged. That unrealised possible attainment is not to be left unheeded, but to be gathered up in the baskets of our growing faith, our more ardent desire and more lowly obedience, that it may be food for to-morrow, when we are able to make it our own. The unwon treasures of His grace should stimulate endless hope, aspiration, and effort. To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant. That hope is folly, and worse, if cherished in regard to any life but a Christian life. Not to cherish it in regard to the Christian life is to fall beneath our privileges, and to lose the unused abundance prepared for us by the Master of the feast.—Dr. A. Maclaren.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 6:17. Jesus was not yet come.—They had probably understood that He was to meet them at some point on the shore.
John 6:19. As the stretch from the point where they set sail to Tiberias was perhaps seven to eight miles, the disciples had probably made only about half the distance (Mark 6:47). Jesus walking on the sea (ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης).—Not along the shore, as some rationalistic critics suggest. The whole narrative is against such an interpretation (see also Matthew 14:28-33), which is quite conclusive against this conjecture.
John 6:21. They willingly.—They were willing to receive Him, etc.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 6:16-21
Christ the hope of the faithful and of His Church in peril.—This narrative of St. John must be taken in connection with the parallel passages in the Synoptists (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52, which see), which give a more full and circumstantial account of this incident. St. John’s purpose, it may be, in his manner of narrating the incident, was to emphasise our Lord’s true kingship. He would not consent to be made a king after the desire of the Jews; but He showed in this miracle His true royal dignity. It was for this reason in part that He constrained His disciples to depart to the other side, whilst He remained behind. He did not wish them to be infected with the carnal enthusiasm of the people, and it was perhaps the rising desire in their hearts that He would comply with the wishes of the people that made it necessary for Him to constrain them (Matthew 14:22) to depart. And besides, He would turn the occasion into a means of strengthening and confirming their faith.
I. Peace on the mountain side.—
1. After the miracle of feeding the five thousand, which had been wrought on some plain near the lake most likely, our Lord retired alone to the mountain (whither He had gone before the miracle, John 6:3), in order to escape the throng of people who wished to proclaim Him a king. But as His kingdom was not of this world, His crown no tinsel or even golden crown of earth, to be placed on His head with acclamation by men, but, so far as this world was concerned, a crown of thorns, He went in the gathering darkness to the solitary mountain side.
2. Yet another purpose also impelled Him thither. It is true the divine Son was ever conscious of His Father’s presence; but as the Son incarnate He needed these periods of restful, undisturbed communion with the Father, whence He came forth strengthened for His work.
3. And especially at such a time would He need this strengthening. The people altogether misunderstood His mission; even His disciples were prone to be led away by the prevailing Messianic conceptions, whilst one of them “had a devil” (John 6:70). Therefore the incarnate Son needed to be strengthened now by close and uninterrupted communion with the Father, as in Gethsemane and in other crises of His ministry.
II. Trouble on the sea.—
1. Meantime the disciples had embarked for Capernaum. It would almost seem as if they had tarried for Him at some point along the eastern shore; but, as He had not come, in obedience to His order, previously given no doubt, they launched forth (John 6:17):
2. One of those sudden storms which sweep down on the deep trough in which this land-locked lake lies arose soon after the disciples set sail, and drove them, in spite of laborious rowing, toward the middle of the lake, so that when the fourth watch of the night began the toiling vessel was still far from its destination.
3. When suddenly, in the “struggling moonbeams’ misty light,” shining intermittently through the storm-rack, they saw that which confounded and terrified them—a human form treading securely over the heaving waters.
III. Peace on the troubled waters.—
1. On the solitary mountain side Jesus did not forget His followers. As before said, His intention was doubtless to strengthen their faith by that night’s experience. He saw them as they toiled in rowing. But they must be prepared for the hour when He should have to go hence, and they should be left alone to buffet with the winds and waves of the world’s opposition.
2. But when the moment He saw fittest had come He appeared near them walking on the storm-tossed waters. The first effect on them of His appearance was a sensation of terror. They forgot their Master’s power—that once before He had risen from sleep and stilled the storm, with words of rebuke to them for the weakness of their faith (comp. Matthew 8:26). They forgot that His power had, but a few hours before, been manifested in the feeding of the multitude. They had now to learn that that power availed though space and storm should for the moment sunder them from Him. And in His cheering hail over the stormy waters, “It is I, be not afraid,” we hear the prelude of the comforting words, “Let not your heart be troubled,” and the resurrection greeting, “Peace be unto you” (John 14:1; John 20:19; John 20:26).
3. Now they joyfully recognised their Lord, and were willing—heartfeltly willing—to receive Him into the ship. And after the incident in which Peter figures conspicuously, and which is recorded by the other Evangelists, Jesus entered the ship, the storm subsided (Matthew 14:32), and the vessel, obeying Him who rules in all the realms of being, was “immediately at the land whither they went.”
IV. Christ comes still to His people in storm and trouble.—
1. This miracle, like most of those wrought by our Lord, has a spiritual purpose, as well as that it was immediately intended to effect. His words of cheer, “It is I, be not afraid,” still ring out in the night and storm and tempest to comfort His people, and have done so in all the centuries since that night on Galilee.
2. Christ has passed from our view into the heavenly mount of God, and we have perforce to launch out here on the stormy sea of life. But shall we not, even in the darkest and most troubled hour, remember all He has done for us, His miracles of mercy and power in the past—all His goodness? and can we forget that the Shepherd of Israel, of His own people, neither slumbers nor sleeps, and that in the hour of need He will appear to our aid?
3. And when He does come it may be in unwonted fashion, it may seem as “purposing to pass by” (Mark 6:48), or as to the disciples at Emmaus “as though He would go further.” Yet it is but to quicken our faith and lead us to put confidence in Him, and trust in the fulfilment of His promise that He is with us always (Matthew 28:20), even when we cannot recognise Him in the events and circumstances that surround us. And thus, even in the solemn hour when we must fare forth across the waters of death, we shall, if faithful, know that He is near, and hear His cheering word, “It is I, be not afraid.”
4. The Church has fitly appropriated this incident as a type of her experience at earnest periods of her history. So, in these latter days, when fiercer storms than she has before experienced beat upon her, and her company strain wearily, it may often seem vainly, at the labouring oar, let them take courage, remember the past, and believe that He is near.
“And all is well, tho’ faith and form
Be sunder’d in the night of fear;
Well roars the storm to those that hear
A deeper voice across the storm.”
John 6:17. The Christian life under the figure of a voyage.—We see:—
I. The peaceful commencement;
II. The stormy progress;
III. The happy termination.
John 6:18. The progress of Christ’s Church on earth like that of a ship.
I. The ship has to contend with the winds and waves;
II. The ship’s company are fainthearted and fearful often;
III. But the Lord leads it by His powerful hand to the quiet haven.—J. L. Sommer.
John 6:18. Storms on the Galilean lake.—The traveller on first viewing the Lake of Galilee, approaching it either from the heights above or the Jordan valley, generally looks on a calm and tranquil scene. Lying far below the level of the Mediterranean Sea (600 feet), shut in by sloping hillsides, which are in reality depressions of great tablelands, it seems always the same peaceful, beautiful sheet of water. Its rippling wavelets glitter in the sunshine and murmur gently along the shore; and over the sunlit reaches the wild aquatic birds wing their flight. It would almost seem as if no wild commotion could break in on and disturb the restful scene. But in Syria and Palestine during winter and spring sudden storms arise at pretty regular intervals, lasting usually two or three or more days. Then the turmoil of the elements is often awe-inspiring and grand. The rains fall with tropical violence, lightning flashes all around, whilst the thunder crashes overhead and reverberates among the valleys and ravines of the hillsides. From those heights the storm-winds rush in fury and roar over the level country, lashing the waters of those inland lakes into stormy commotion, and sending foam-capped waves dashing on the shore. It was probably such a storm as this—one of the last of the season—that met the disciples. We have several hints of this well-known phenomenon of the regularly recurring winter and spring storms in Syria in the gospel narrative, not the least interesting being the graphic description in the concluding parable in the Sermon on the Mount.
John 6:19. The will of Christ potential in the miracle of walking on the sea.—It is a docetic view of the person of Christ which conceives of His body as permanently exempt from the law of gravitation, and in this way explains the miracle; a hard and mechanical view, which places the seat of the miracle in the waters, rendered solid under His feet. Rather was it the will of Christ which bore Him triumphantly above those waters; even as it was the will of Peter, that will, indeed, made in the highest degree active and potential by faith in the Son of God, which should in like manner have enabled him to walk on the great deep, and, though with partial and transient failure, did so enable him. It has been already urged that the miracle, according to its true idea, is not the suspension, still less the violation of law; but the incoming of a higher law, as of a spiritual in the midst of natural laws; and so far as its range and reach extend, the assertion for that higher law of the predominance which it was intended to have, and but for man’s fall it would always have had, over the lower; and with this a prophetic anticipation of the abiding predominance which it shall one day recover. Exactly thus was there here a sign of the lordship of man’s will, when that will is in absolute harmony with God’s will, over external nature. In regard of this very law of gravitation, a feeble remnant of his power, and one for the most part unconsciously possessed, survives to man in the unquestionable fact that his body is lighter when he is awake than sleeping; a fact which every nurse who has carried a child can attest. From this we conclude that the human consciousness, as an inner centre, works as an opposing force to the attraction of the earth and the centripetal force of gravity, however unable in this present time to overbear it.—Archbishop Trench.
John 6:19-21. The threefold word of comfort from our Gospel unto all troubled souls.
I. Be not afraid! for we have near us One who is our Lord and who will be with us even to the end of the world (John 6:19-20).
II. Be not afraid! for however strange and unwonted the manner in which He may come to us, His presence will ever bring us joy (John 6:21; John 6:1 st cl.);
III. Be not afraid! for when He is with us we shall speedily arrive at the desired haven; His presence will bring us success in our labours for Him (John 6:21; John 6:2 nd cl.).
John 6:18. Who is Christ?—Are our opponents right, and has Jesus gone never to return? The ground seems to be giving way beneath our feet! Now, indeed, is the time when faith must “be silent” before the Lord. Yet, what is it comes toward us through the darkness of the night? What kind of appearance is it for whose feet the rolling waters form themselves into a bridge? “It is a spirit”—so imagined the troubled ship’s company on Galilee.… [Equally astray are] those shortsighted interpreters who seek to lead men to trace back the greatness of Christ to a delusion, a seeming greatness, projected on the uncertain and wavering mists of tradition, on the concave mirror of a lively imagination. “He cannot have been really and truly the Son of God; but the superstitious and easily misled multitude proclaimed Him to be so. He did not speak the word of life, nor was He Himself the Word of life, but simply a pious fraud, a spontaneous poetical creation invented by various accomplices. Thus the forgery was executed. He will not quicken us either now or hereafter; but in our common speech and in our thought we may keep Him continually in existence from generation to generation. In all the history there is only a small kernel of fact worthy of belief: the envelope is a floating cometic mantle composed of sheer imaginations, legends, exaggerations, and misunderstandings.” Church of the Lord, can this be the foundation of your confidence!—Translated from Dr. R. Kögel.
John 6:19. “It is I, be not afraid.”—But a familiar voice says, “Be of good cheer,” etc. It is I. Thus spake this same voice to thee, my friend, as thy house became lonely and a bier was carried out, as thy heart felt unspeakably wretched. Then that star in heaven—the faith in thy heart—grew dim. But, trouble which appeared like blind chance—a malignant fate, a spectre—death, that grinning skeleton and king of terrors, laid aside the mask, and behold! it was the Lord. Then in quietness and assurance thou wert helped by Him. “It is I.” So the Lord ever makes Himself known to His Church, when, e.g., the State removes the accustomed supports, when Rome furbishes her weapons and increases her fastnesses, when materialism scornfully seeks the outward and visible; and the multitude with their voice ever-changing, now for, now against, like ebb and flow; and parties with their cry of “Here is Christ, or there,” seek reciprocally to excommunicate each other, and finally are in danger of banishing Christ altogether,—then the ground trembles. But everything will turn out otherwise from what men suppose. Only in Jesus has no one ever been deceived. Do the people of Capernaum ask Him, as it is in our text, Rabbi, when (rather how) camest Thou hither? No philosopher can explain this, that Jesus walks on the waters, making what seems firm to be unstable, and what is fluctuating, stable. The conflict of opinions, the loudness of calumny, the raging of passion, the power and roar of the billows, the thunder-roll of events, will at the decisive moment be overpowered at the word of the Church’s Lord. “Ye, My disciples, be of good cheer. It is I, be not afraid.” “The Lord is in His holy temple; be still before Him, all the earth.”—Translated from Dr. R. Kögel.
John 6:19. Faith amid the storm.—To the confidence and peace reached by the disciples on this occasion Christian people may and do attain, have trusted and not been afraid in storm and trouble (Psalms 46:0). A missionary thus described an incident on a great steamship during a terrible storm on the Atlantic. A fearful hurricane swept over the ocean, raising a tremendous sea, in the trough of which the great vessel tossed, helpless and unmanageable. It did not seem that if the storm lasted during the night the ship could weather it. The seamen could not cross the wave-swept decks; and the passengers were shut up in the great saloon. A crowd of anxious men and terror-stricken women, they clustered together, holding tightly to any fixed object. Only the children did not seem to realise all the terror of the situation. The minister-missionary was asked to engage in prayer. He did so, kneeling and grasping with his hands the edge of one of the fixed tables. He did not, however, utter any set ordinary form of prayer. It was just a simple talk with his God and Redeemer, just such a talk, as he expressed it, as a child would have with a loving parent. All were calmed and comforted by the simple prayer of faith, and took courage. Toward morning the storm abated, the ship was got under control, and they were safe.
“Thou Framer of the light and dark,
Guide through the tempest Thine own ark;
Amid the howling wintry sea
We are in port if we have Thee.”
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 6:22-24. None other boat, rather little ship (πλοιάριον).—The meaning of this long and complicated sentence is plain. A number of the crowd who had been present when the bread was miraculously supplied had remained at or near the spot where the miracle was wrought. They wished to see more of Jesus, to get hold of Him for the carrying out of their purpose (John 6:15). They had seen the disciples depart, but not the Saviour. In the morning, however, when Jesus did not appear nor His disciples, surmising that somehow He had got to the western shore, the people took advantage of a number of boats that had come over from Tiberias. The owners of those boats heard, it may be, that the crowd on the opposite shore desired to be conveyed across the lake to Tiberias.
John 6:27. The meat, etc., i.e. food (βρῶσις).—Material food which, even though given in a very direct way from the hand of God, is still perishable (Exodus 16:20). The term may be widened so as to apply to all material treasures and possessions. For Him hath the Father sealed, even God.
John 6:33. The bread of God is that which cometh down from heaven.—Christ led His hearers first to think of the new spiritual manna; and then when they expressed the desire, “evermore give us this bread,” He said (John 6:35), “I am the bread of life,” etc.
John 6:34. Lord.—This title shows that the sense of Jesus’ greatness had begun to dawn upon the minds of some of His hearers (comp. John 6:25).
John 6:35. He that cometh to (πρός), etc.; he that believeth in (εἰς), etc.—“The first word presents faith in deed as active and outward; the second word presents faith in thought as resting and inward” (Westcott).
John 6:36. But I said unto you, etc.—They had already seen His signs, and yet here they were asking for another sign (see John 6:26).
John 6:37. “All that the Father giveth Me shall reach Me (attain onto Me); and him who is coming to Me I will in no wise cast out.”—These whom
(1) the Father gives shall
(2) attain to the Son, and
(3) shall be welcomed lovingly by Him.
John 6:40. The last day is a phrase peculiar to John’s writings (John 11:24; 1 John 2:18).
John 6:41. The Jews.—It is not necessary to suppose an influx of new listeners. These discourses were uttered in the synagogue at Capernaum, and no doubt the rulers of the people in that locality were present. The Sanhedrin, and the authorities at Jerusalem, no doubt had their emissaries at Capernaum as elsewhere (Acts 8:3-4; Acts 9:1-2).
John 6:42. Is not this, etc.—The reception which the announcement of the birth of Christ met with at Jerusalem (Matthew 2:16-18) would certainly lead those who knew of it “to keep these things and ponder them in their hearts.” The widespread knowledge of it before the Resurrection would have led, on the one hand, to more strenuous efforts on the part of some “to make Him a king”; and, on the other, would have, through the increased enmity of the rulers and suspicions of such men as Herod, prevented our Lord from prosecuting His mission. It cannot be inferred from this verse that Joseph was still alive. Whose father and mother we know may simply mean: Whose names we know, whom we know about, etc. Christ’s works, His signs, should have convinced them that He was more than a mere man.
John 6:44. No man can come, etc.—The word “draw” (ἑλκύω) is used here in the same sense as in John 12:32. It is not a drawing against but with man’s will (comp. John 5:40).
John 6:45. Taught.—See Isaiah 54:13, “Where hearing is there is obedience; for faith is not of necessity, but by persuasion. The truth of Christian doctrine teaches that the ἀυτεξούσιν καὶ αὐτὸ προαίρετον (independence and self-choice) of the human soul is preserved entire” (Cyril in Wordsworth’s Greek Testament).
John 6:46. He hath seen, etc.—The incarnate Son is the eternal Logos (John 1:1-2).
John 6:51. If any man, etc.—Tischendorf reads (with א) of My bread (ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ ἄρτου). But the majority of MSS. and versions seem to confirm the received reading.
John 6:53. There is in this passage (John 6:51-59) no doubt a distinct reference to Christ’s sacrificial death as the true passover lamb. The distinct reference to “flesh” and “blood” points to the separation of them by death. First the whole life is spoken of as given for men, and then the body broken and the blood poured forth. “The Son of man lived for us, and died for us, and communicates to us the effects of His life and death as perfect man” (Westcott).
John 6:57. The chain of spiritual life is complete. The believer lives through and in Christ; whilst Christ lives in the living Father, the source of all life, who has given the Son to have life in Himself (John 5:26).
John 6:59. Capernaum.—On the western shore of the lake. About two hours from the point where the Jordan enters the Lake of Galilee the ruins of Tell Hûm are situated. These are most generally considered to occupy the site of Capernaum. And it is certainly most interesting to notice that Colonel Wilson, R.E., when exploring there the ruins of what must have been a well-built synagogue, discovered a stone on which was sculptured a pot of manna. “Captain Conder and Lieutenant Kitchener, however, agree, with Robinson, Renan, and many others, in placing this city at the ruin Minyeh—‘the town of Minim,’ or Christian heretics, who are called in the Talmud ‘sons of Capernaum’ ” (Twenty-one Years’ Work in the Holy Land). This site lies about an hour and a half farther south. Thus uncertainty still prevails as to the site of this city (Matthew 11:23).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 6:22-65
John 6:27. “Man shall not live by bread alone.”—This is a subject frequently and urgently referred to by our Lord (Matthew 6:25-34, etc.). And the reason why this is so is not far to seek. The spirit and tendency which He seeks to combat is that practical materialism which springs up especially where men are congregated in masses, and the struggle for existence is more keenly felt; and which also exerts its baleful influence wherever undue attention to earthly concerns is indulged in.
I. The material fails to satisfy men.—
1. What is material can satisfy only for the time. The material food that Jesus had miraculously provided for the hungry multitudes satisfied them for the moment. But on the following morning those same people were again surrounding Him seeking further material manifestations.
2. God alone, spiritual things alone, can fill up the needs of our higher nature. Our souls cry out for “God, the living God.” Scripture, and human history—the aggregate of human experience, testify to this.
3. What are the religions and rites of heathenism; what are those ruined shrines and temples of religions and peoples of the past—even of races forgotten and unknown—but an eloquent commentary on and testimony to the truth that man cannot in his complex nature be satisfied with material things alone?
II. Material things should therefore not exclusively engross us.—
1. “Work not,” etc.—seek not to obtain by your labour merely the food that perisheth; do not apply all your energies to this end. That seems to be the meaning of the Saviour’s words. He does not and cannot mean that men are not honestly to labour for daily bread, but that they are not to make this the first and supreme concern.
2. For by doing so they will stunt their nature, and by supreme attention to the things of earth they will become “of the earth earthy.” Are not socialism and secularism on the one hand, and the growth of colossal fortunes on the other, results of this undue attention to material things condemned by our Lord? And is not the widespread discontent of the world due to this cause?
“My heart is pained, nor can it be
At rest till it finds rest in Thee.”
3. The same truth meets us on a higher plane. Undue attention to scientific and intellectual pursuits, leading to neglect of our spiritual being, tends to poverty of the higher life. Witness the sad confession by Darwin, that he had lost in later life his taste for poetry, etc. That part of his mind had become, as it were, “atrophied” by disease. So our spiritual being becomes atrophied, dead, when the energies of life are wholly given to the material.
III. If we seek the spiritual, the material will in due measure be given.—
1. The spiritual life must come first. And if it is within our power, then there will be none of that over-anxious striving for material things that takes the true spring out of life, and often embitters it; and the angel of sweet content will smile upon our way.
“Content can soothe, where’er by fortune placed,
Can rear a garden in a desert waste.”—Kirke White.
2. God is the true summum bonum; and possessing Him, His children possess all things. This we can attain to through Christ alone. And for the true and heavenly food men must labour. Not as though they could gain it by their own exertions; for Christ gives it. But they must strive after it—seek for it earnestly.
3. And doing so it will be given, and with it every other gift. For Christ has been solemnly set apart and sent for this very purpose of bringing to men the bread of life; and the proof of His authority, the seal of it, is evident in His mighty works, etc. To those who enter His kingdom, to whom the Father has given the kingdom, all things needful will be added (Luke 12:32). “A kingdom—brave word! Then why not bread?” (Bengel.)
John 6:28-29. The work of God.—The Jews on this occasion, as on many others, missed the central idea in the words which Jesus had just spoken to them. The old legal concept, Do this and live, was evidently in their minds in this inquiry. They did not observe, or observing did not understand, the words, “Work for the meat that endureth, … which the Son of man shall give,” etc. (John 6:27). Hence their question, “What must we do?” etc. Had they duly weighed His words, and had they not been blinded to the truth, their question would have been, “How can we obtain from Thee this food that endureth?”
I. How shall men work the works of God?—
1. It is an inquiry of the utmost importance. For what are men sent into the world to do but just those very works?
2. And this inquiry on the part of those Jews who were sincere and earnest (not hypocrites like the Pharisee who thanked God he was not like other men) was a pathetic confession that they knew not how a right to do the work given them to do here. Every sincere man feels how imperfect, even when he is in earnest and struggling manfully, is the service he can render.
3. And when life has reached its middle course, or is hastening to its close, and we look back on the way that has been traversed, how little do we find to cause complacency? how much that is blameworthy? how much that remains undone? It is a question we should be ever asking, and it will be well for us if we are led to realise (and act accordingly) ever more clearly that—
II. There is a foundation work, which must precede and underlie all other works in the service of God.—
1. “This is the work of God, that ye should believe,” etc. For by nature we have no true desire to do God’s works. And it is only when we believe in Christ, become His, and are filled with His Spirit and our hearts with His love, that like Him we shall delight to do our Father’s will.
2. Faith is the spring of all true Christian activity. Without a living faith and the assured hope and peace that faith brings, all work would be but vanity, and every seeming gain only an adornment of the sepulchre of our hopes. This is the foundation work.
3. And believing will lead to our acting on our belief, and seeking in all our work to serve God after the example of Jesus—especially in those works of mercy, kindness, and love which were so conspicuous in His life.
4. And then, even though we come far short, and often err through the weakness of our nature, still the whole spirit of service will be Christlike; and there will be a constant endeavour after what is higher, “a pressing toward the mark.” The progress of Christendom shows that faith is the spring of a higher life and service.
III. Believe now!—
1. The human and the divine co-operate here. Men must agonise to enter in, etc. The higher life is one of progress, and the more assured and clear our faith, the more ardently will we labour.
2. But how many err as to the meaning of faith, forgetting that faith must work by love (Galatians 5:6); and that the genuineness of faith must be shown by works (James 2:18). What shall be said of the “faith” of those who live in and for themselves and the things of time?
3. To all it is a call to purer faith and higher endeavour. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand,” etc. (Romans 13:12-14). What lies behind of wasted efforts, neglected opportunities, etc., patches of tares where good seed should have been sown, barren spots where should have waved harvest blessings? Redeem the time which remains. Believe, live, labour!
John 6:30-35. The manna and the true Bread from heaven.—In this incident the Jews showed themselves to be true descendants of their fathers who “tempted God in the desert,” and murmured at the provision given to them by Him. In order to a clear comprehension of this passage it will be necessary to recall the Old Testament type on which this conversation on Christ as the Bread of Life is founded.
I. The nature of the manna.—It was a divine gift to the Israelites during their desert wanderings, and is minutely described in the historical passages (Exodus 16:0; Numbers 11:7-9) which refer to it. Much minute research has been expended to trace the resemblance between the manna given to the Israelites and a mucilaginous exudation from a species of tamarisk shrub, and other plants of the Sinaitic peninsula. It was described by the Arab physician Avicenna as “a dew which falls on stones or bushes, becomes thick like honey, and can be hardened so as to be like grains of corn.” Similar testimony is borne by modern travellers (Burckhardt, Niebuhr, etc.). This production is used to-day by the Arabs of the peninsula and by the monks of Mount Sinai in the form of a syrup to be eaten with bread. Now, although it is quite possible that divine power may have made use of a natural product of the desert, miraculously multiplying it as Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes, still the constant supply of the manna for forty years, its cessation when the Israelites crossed the Jordan, its quality of keeping fresh on the Sabbath, whilst it would not keep overnight on other days—all point to a divinely and miraculously provided gift (hence the derivation מָנָה, Mânâh, Arab. مَنٌ = a part or portion; it is a portion, a gift, from מָנַה, to divide a portion), unknown before to the people (hence the other and it seems proper derivation מָן הוּא, Man-hu, “What is this?”—Exodus 16:15), and taking the place of bread—the staff of life. It is to be remembered that the Israelites are not said to have lived on manna alone. They had their flocks and herds. Like the Arab tribes, during their forty years of wandering they might camp at certain places for more than a year at a time, and during that period cultivate the ground. But generally the manna was their staple food. Their desert fare lacked the variety and stimulus of the food they enjoyed in Egypt. Hence their murmuring at this divinely provided daily gift, although it was healthful, pleasant, and abundant.
II. The Jewish traditional ideas concerning the manna.—Although some of the people murmured in the wilderness, this miraculous provision made a great impression on all succeeding ages. It is one of the wonders recounted in the historical Psalms (Psalms 78:24; Psalms 105:40); and frequent reference was made to it in the rabbinical traditions of the Jews. There was one traditional saying that seems to have made a special and enduring impression: “The first Redeemer caused manna to descend for them; and so too will the second Redeemer cause manna to descend.” This idea is at the bottom of the question put to our Lord: “What sign are we to have that we may believe? Our fathers had the wonderful gift of manna: if Thou art indeed the promised Redeemer, where then is this promised meat that endureth unto eternal life?” (John 6:27). “A wonderful miracle was wrought but yesterday; when, however, shall we see that better and more enduring provision which will mark the inception and progress of Messiah’s reign?” This is but another instance of the people’s earthly conceptions—their desire for a material kingdom of God, in which material blessings then unheard of should descend upon them. Thus they misinterpreted the words of Jesus in reference to “the meat that endureth.”
III. Our Lord’s interpretation of the type.—He first pointed out that the popular idea that it was Moses who gave the manna was erroneous. It was God who did so. And then, that the manna after all was not veritably “bread out of heaven”—at least not in a primary sense—although, as provided by God, it was a heavenly gift. It was not the true bread, but only a fading type and shadow of the true, unfailing, heavenly bread. “For although it was not prepared by earthly hands, the manna did not descend from heaven itself, which is the throne of God. Therefore there is not given to you in the manna, which your fathers ate in the wilderness, what could nourish you to life eternal” (Besser). “But now My Father gives you the true bread out of heaven—for you and for the life of the world.” Not with the dews of night from the firmamental heavens alone does this true “bread of God” descend; but from God Himself. Not only does it nourish for a time a single people; but it gives life to the world, eternal life for all mankind, of every tribe and nation, of every age and period. Our Lord’s hearers were evidently impressed by His words; for they addressed Him as Lord, and uttered the request, “Evermore give us this bread” (John 6:34). But it was evident, too, that they were still immeshed in merely material ideas—conceptions of some heavenly and splendid provision for their earthly needs. Therefore our Lord pointed to Himself as the interpretation of this type, and the teaching they had just listened to: “I am the bread of life,” etc.
John 6:30-35; John 6:48-59. Jesus the bread of life.—After the miracle of feeding the five thousand at Bethsaida, many of the people were convinced that Jesus was the prophet promised of old. They even determined “to take Him by force and make Him a king,” and thus to lead Him to declare Himself openly as a Messiah after their own heart. And even when He withdrew Himself, and again came to Capernaum, they followed Him, seeking a further “sign” to assure themselves, after their material conceptions, of His Messiahship. Here is the sign which He gave them; and had they not been blinded by prejudice and tradition, they must have been convinced. None but One sent from God could with sincerity have uttered such words as these. Their import has simply to be considered to show that none but the eternal Son could make such a declaration as this. In the mouth of any other but God Himself such words would be blasphemous, if not meaningless. Consider the meaning of this wonderful figure—Jesus, the true bread from heaven, the bread of God, the bread of life. Christ is the bread of life because—
I. He is the ordinary and universal provision for the spiritual life.—
1. On a journey the travellers require food and drink to sustain and refresh them on their way. So, too, on their pilgrimage through time to eternity men need spiritual food for the soul. “What food and drink are to the body, so,” Christ says, “am I to the soul.” And by this He does not mean simply His teaching, His gospel. It is Himself. “The bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
2. He used this metaphor therefore to signify that just as bread is the most simple and universal means of subsistence, so is He to the soul. There are few places on earth where bread is not a staple of existence. Those places where it is practically unknown are low in the scale of civilisation, e.g. Greenland, etc. And so too where this spiritual bread is not found, spiritual life is stunted and low. There are many things men could well spare. Not so bread. So there are many things we could spare from our moral and intellectual, and even our spiritual life; but not Christ.
3. Bread is prepared in many forms; and Christ also comes to us in spiritual blessing manifoldly—in His word, His Church, His ordinances. In all these ways and forms we may receive spiritual nourishment. There are those who, like the Israelites, murmur against this spiritual food. It is too common, too insipid for them. The Israelites longed for the more stimulating food of Egypt. “This is the perverted nature of man, which cannot continue in the quiet enjoyment of what is clean and unmixed, but from its own inward discord desires a stimulating admixture of what is sharp and sour” (Baumgarten). Such are those who find their enjoyment in the draff of the world’s pleasures, the intoxicating cup of sinful enjoyment, and the specious banquets of earthly wisdom. To such the word of God, the day of God, and spiritual goods generally bring no delight.
4. But bread is not only a common and simple, it is a universal food. From childhood to age it is enjoyed by all. It is found and is welcomed in the palace as well as in the humblest cot. Follow the course of the sun round the world, and almost everywhere you will find bread in some form or other; thus it is well named a staff of life. So Christ is the universal spiritual food for humanity. From His fulness alone can we all receive “grace for grace.” Prince and peasant, man and child, whoever would live spiritually, must eat of this universal spiritual bread—Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
II. He is the most indispensable food of the soul.—
1. The want of bread cannot be properly compensated for by the supply of anything else. Nothing else can really take its place. With regard to other foods our taste changes during the course of the years. We never lose our taste for bread when in our normal condition.
2. Now so is it with the “bread of life.” Earthly pleasures and enjoyments lose their power after a time; they pall upon the taste. Men change from the pursuit of one to the pursuit of another, in order to find satisfaction. Earthly things change their aspect with time and fashion. What delighted yesterday is counted of little worth to-day; what fascinates to-day will have lost its glamour to-morrow. Youth goes forth to seek pleasure; manhood, honours and rewards. And if the things of earth are pursued in and for themselves alone, when the last page is turned the man is compelled to write as a finis to the book, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
3. Not so is it with Christ and the treasures He brings into the life. In Him are unfailing sources of satisfaction—joys that never fade, but become ever more satisfying to the end. It is related of Gellert, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Leipzig, Christian poet and fabulist, that when at the point of death, and when, according to the custom of the Lutheran Church, the sacrament of communion had been administered, he said, “I cannot now remember much; but continue to utter the name of my Redeemer, for when I hear it I feel in me new strength and joyfulness.” This is but one uttered testimony of the myriads unuttered of the indispensableness of Christ to the spiritual life. As bread cannot be replaced by the richest and rarest of viands, so were man to gain the whole world—its riches, honours, rewards—without this indispensable gift, these would be but dust and ashes in the end.—After Fried. Arndt.
“Rather poor—than without Jesus rich in glory and in power;
Rather sick—than without Jesus fresh and full life’s every hour;
Yes, far better ne’er to have been born than from this Friend apart;
Though a world be lost for Him, who know Him have the better part.”
Translated from Lavater.
III. He sustains and builds up our spiritual life.—
1. As the body craves for nourishment, and must be sustained by food in due measure, that it may be maintained and grow, so does the spiritual being. Christ alone can truly sustain, is the true bread of the soul.
2. Manifold are the attempts that have been made by men themselves to invent some satisfying food for their moral and spiritual being. The religions and philosophies of the past are the monuments of their ineffective toil. And at the present day, among those who reject the gospel, how many futile attempts do we find in the same direction? Whilst others, who see how vain all this effort has been and is, and who cannot in their pride of intellect and heart stood to accept the divine substitute, simply ignore the spiritual being in man or deny its existence, declaring that intellect and soul are—
“Magnetic mockeries, wholly brain.”—Tennyson.
Thus they oppose themselves to the continuous and universal consciousness of the race; to the myriads who by life or word have confessed Christ as the sustainer of their spiritual life, the giver of spiritual health, peace, joy; and also to the crowd of great men of intellect, learning, heart, who have borne the same testimony.
3. And Christ not only sustains, He builds up our spiritual life. The child becomes a youth, the youth grows to manhood, when fitly nourished. So is it in the spiritual life. But here, as in many particulars, the earthly analogy, even the heavenly provided manna, fails to show forth the antitype in all its fulness. The food of earth (even the manna) cannot prevent age stealing on us with stealthy step, so that in spite of daily bread the body grows weaker and finally decays. But there is a marked difference in the effect of the bread of God on the soul. With increasing age comes increasing spiritual strength and progress; so that not only is “the inward man renewed day by day” whilst the “outward man perishes,” but when the latter dies the germ of the former unfolds and blossoms eternally.
4. Those who spiritually feed on this living bread must and will display a continual growth in grace and knowledge and every spiritual gift. If this does not show itself, then, depend upon it, there must be either want of faith in appropriating the heavenly nourishment, or some spiritual obstruction preventing its assimilation. It is a false humility which would lead men to conceal or deny growth in the Christian life. And there are too many who fail to appropriate to themselves fully this true bread of life, so that they are stunted and dwarfed in their spiritual growth.
John 6:35-47. A willing people in the way of Christ’s power.—Christ’s kingdom was not to be a kingdom according to this world (John 6:15). He had already repulsed at the very beginning of His ministry those temptations, which were the germ of future importunities, to proclaim Himself a temporal Messiah in accordance with Jewish ideas and expectations (Matthew 4:5-10). He was to unsheath no glittering material sword; no pomp or pride was to herald the advent of His conquering might, and of that kingdom which was to be universal.
I. The rule which Christ has established.—
1. It is not to be compared with or likened to the empires or kingdoms of earth, which are but for a brief space. It was to be set high above them all, though at the beginning apparently feeble. It was to come without ostentation, but yet from its beginning it would be dependent on His appearing (Daniel 2:34-36; Daniel 2:44-45; Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 17:20-21).
2. This is so because His rule is a spiritual one (Matthew 20:25-28). It is set up in the hearts of men. It exerts its dominion over moral wastes of humanity, and where it is established the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose.
3. Mere external union with it is not possible; for the citizens of it become numbers in virtue of a great spiritual change which has taken place within them (John 3:3), which unites them in oneness of spirit and aim with the King and with their fellow-subjects.
4. And whilst it is a present it is also an eternal rule. The blessings of that rule are present (John 6:35; John 6:37), but in their fulness they will be realised hereafter (John 6:39-40; John 6:44). This is the rule set up by Jesus. His kingdom is one of life and light. He is its centre. It is by union with Him, by eating of Him, the living bread (John 6:35), that men become spiritually alive and fitted for this kingdom of life and light.
II. The way in which subjects of the kingdom are led to subject themselves to Christ’s rule.—
1. It is through the drawing of the Father. The willing Son receives those whom the Father gives Him (John 6:37). But the Father’s giving is not restricted; in this also He works in unison with the Son: “Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance,” etc. (Psalms 2:8). And the Son said, “As Thou hast given Him power,” etc. (John 17:2). Christ has set up this kingdom of grace and salvation, but He is at one with the Father as to the chosen ones—the elect—who shall inherit it, and who alone come to Him.
2. And they come because the Father draws them. He must do so, else men of themselves would never come; for men naturally have no desire to subject themselves to Christ’s rule.
3. But they are drawn not by force, although powerfully. They are not treated as mere machines. The Father seeks to influence them as rational, accountable beings. He (John 6:45) presents the truth of His word to their understandings; makes it sharp to pierce their consciences; touches their hearts with the power of His love. He does not, as Luther says, drag them to Him “as a thief is dragged to the gallows”; but draws and entices them lovingly as a Father seeks to bring back a disobedient son to his allegiance (Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:3-4). For God “wills not the death of a sinner,” etc. But there are those who do and can resist (John 6:40; John 6:60; John 6:66), who can grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), resist the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:51), and the power of the truth (2 Timothy 3:8). Their hearts are estranged quite from God, and they desire not to serve Him. Here the mystery of human free-will and divine sovereignty meets us. The two ends of the chain are seen here. The joining curve is beyond our present ken.
4. But let no man entertain the materialist or heathenish idea (which is simply an echo of a voice in the heart, seeking to justify him for a godless life) that he is not drawn, and therefore cannot be of those given by Christ to the Father. Let him desire to come, and lo! the way is open.
5. In many ways does the Father draw men—in joy and sorrow, etc.
III. Those drawn by the Father and given to Jesus come to Him.—
1. Here the action of the human agent in working out personal salvation (Philippians 2:12-13) is shown. There is a willing coming to the Saviour of those given and drawn by the Father. Here will men find the proof of their being of the number of the elect. Let them come to Christ.
2. This coming does not mean any mere external approach, as many came to Jesus in the days of His flesh. It does not mean mere outward fellowship in the Church. It is a coming into spiritual unity and fellowship.
3. The soul is attracted to Christ by the beauty of His character, the divinity of His message, the conviction that He is the truth, and that He is able to satisfy the needs of man’s nature, to become all his salvation and all his desire.
4. And in order to come to Him men need not descend into the deeps of a dead past to bring Christ thence; for He is now present, ever present by His word and Spirit, in His Church and kingdom. Nor need they ascend into heaven to bring Him down; for the kingdom of heaven is here and now, is in every believing heart; and its great King is not afar; for He is with His people, who even here are fellow-citizens of the saints, etc. (Ephesians 2:19), even to the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).
5. And those who come find eternal satisfaction and blessedness (John 6:35). For they come not like the multitude at Capernaum, seeking the meat that perisheth—that must perish; but the meat that endureth. True, material things will be given them according to the measure of their need; for to whom the bread of life is given what is needful will also be supplied (Romans 8:32). Men seek many things—wealth, honour, freedom, etc., etc. But they who gain salvation have everlasting wealth, honour, freedom.
IV. Those who come to Jesus abide eternally.—
1. They have the blessed promise, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Imperfect, feeble, erring, weak in faith, and feeling their unworthiness because they do not in all things live as citizens of His kingdom, yet His people know that they through faith do participate in His life. And this is shown by their desire after the higher life—the new obedience through faith. They seek earnestly to rise to the Saviour’s example of perfect obedience (John 6:38). They seek ever to be loyal to the Head and government of the kingdom, to honour and obey the heavenly laws.
2. Nor do they ever desire for one moment to leave Him. If He will graciously not cast them out, in spite of failure and fall, the longer they taste the blessedness of His rule the more they desire closer fellowship with their King, the more fully do they seek to honour and serve Him. For in His ways and in doing His will they find that higher harmony and balance of all the powers of their being which is expressed in the word peace. Just as Jesus Himself in the midst of disappointment, and when He was grieved at the rejection of His gospel by those to whom He came, found peace in the Father’s will (Matthew 11:25-27), so His disciples who come to Him learn to say joyfully, “In His will is our peace” (Dante).
3. But does not this promise of Jesus contain less than some other promises: e.g. “Come unto Me,” etc. (Matthew 11:28); “Peace I leave with you” (John 14:27)? No, verily. It means more than all others and contains all others. For if He does not cast us out in time or in eternity, then surely all things are ours (1 Corinthians 3:22). Consider what the promise includes. It implies that He will be with us to the end of our journey here—not only in holy service specially so called, the worship of His house, the sacred season of communion at His table or in the hour of prayer, but in all our work and labour when we seek to do it unto Him. It implies that He will be near us in that hour “when heart and flesh faint and fail”—that “He will not leave us in the dust” (John 6:39-40); and when the hour of judgment strikes, that He will confess us before the Father, etc. (Matthew 10:32). It implies, therefore, also all the blessedness of the heavenly state—the day that knows no night, the tree of life, etc., etc. Thus is consummated the blessedness of Christ’s willing people: they go no more out from His presence (Revelation 3:12), and rejoice eternally, serving Him day and night in His temple (Revelation 7:14-17).
John 6:38. He took upon Him the form of a servant.—No words more fully and beautifully describe the perfect obedience of the Son to the Father in carrying out to completion the work of man’s redemption than those striking words of the prophet, “The Lord hath given me the tongue of them that are taught,” etc. (Isaiah 50:4-10). Christ is the servant of Jehovah in an especial sense, of whom it was written that He came to do the Father’s will. What better and truer description of the Redeemer could be given than that which tells how the Lord gave Him the tongue of them that are taught, so that He should know at the right time and with comforting words to sustain and refresh the weary? As we read there falls on the ear of memory those blessed words of comfort and consolation which the Redeemer spoke to weary, troubled men, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour,” etc. (Matthew 11:28); “Let not your heart be troubled,” etc. (John 14:1); “Be of good cheer,” etc. (John 16:33). And what more striking result of the coming of the Life and Light of men to earth could be given than, “He that walketh in darkness and hath no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord”? And do not the intermediate verses of the prophetic word indicate clearly the lowly humiliation and suffering affliction which the Son endured, becoming obedient unto death, that He might do the Father’s will and finish His work? Consider then the willing obedience of Christ as our example. Christ’s obedience to His Father’s will as the incarnate Son and Servant of Jehovah is evidenced in His—
I. Hearing the Father’s word.—
1. All true obedience and service begins in readiness to listen to the voice of God. Unwillingness to hear that voice naturally results in turning a deaf ear to Him who speaks from heaven, and finally to disobedience.
2. Our Lord’s obedience to the Father’s voice was unmistakable. Well might the prophet’s words be applied to Him: “He wakeneth me morning by morning. He wakeneth mine ear to hear as those that are taught. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward” (Isaiah 50:4-5). “As I hear I judge,” said Jesus. “All that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). His ear was ever open to hear the Father’s voice; and with Him to hear was to obey.
II. His obedience was further shown in speech and action.—
1. The obedient child and servant will not oppose his wise and loving Father and Master either in word or deed.
2. Thus we find the perfect Son ever speaking those words which are well pleasing to the Father, and doing those works which the Father gave Him to do. “I speak that which I have seen with My Father” (John 8:38); “The word which ye hear is not Mine, but the Father’s which sent Me” (John 14:24). For all His teaching, therefore, our Lord claims divine authority. His word and the Father’s word are ever the same; between them there is perfect assonance, without suspicion of discordance.
3. And it was equally so with the Son’s activity. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17); “The works which I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me” (John 10:25); “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not” (John 10:37); “The works which the Father hath given Me to finish,” etc. (John 6:36).
4. Nothing could be more plain than the claim Jesus makes to be in accord in all things with His heavenly Father in word and work. Even in His state of humiliation, when He appeared in the form of a servant, as the willing and obedient Son, there was complete unity and concord with the eternal Father. And this is still more strikingly displayed in His—
III. Trustfulness in enduring.—
1. The way of sorrow and the cross of shame were surely a wonderful test of our Lord’s obedience, of His determination not to seek His own will, but that of His Father! He was despised and rejected even of those whom He came to redeem. He permitted Himself to be betrayed, by one who had companied with Him, into the hands of wicked men. “He gave His back to the smiters”; “hid not His face from shame and spitting”; and when He died on the cross, a voluntary sufferer, He endured for an awful moment the sense of loneliness as the bearer of the world’s sin.
2. Yet not for one moment did He “turn backward.” “I have a baptism to be baptised with,” etc. (Luke 12:50); “The cup which My Father hath given Me,” etc. (John 18:1-8).
3. And in all those sufferings, in which “He was obedient unto death,” did His trust in the Father’s love for one moment waver? “I know that Thou hearest Me always” (John 11:42). Often all night in prayer He strengthened Himself by communion for His arduous work, and came forth to conquer and declare: “I know that I shall not be ashamed”; “He is near that justifieth Me”; “Behold, the Lord God will help Me.”
John 6:51-59; John 6:63. The manner in which we must receive the bread of life.—There are certain conditions which must be observed ere this bread of heaven can become to us a means of nourishment and growth in the spiritual life.
I. We must eat of it daily.—Of what avail would it be to have bread placed on our table daily, did we not partake of it? The mere looking at or consideration of it will not nourish us. We must eat it (John 6:54). So, too, we must eat of the bread of life. And the means by which we can do so is expressed in the words, “He that believeth in Me hath eternal life” (John 6:47). We must receive Him with all that He brings of grace and truth and spiritual power; we must open heart and soul to take Him as our all in all.
II. We must assimilate this divine nourishment.—The food we take must be assimilated, converted into the substance of the body, or it will be useless for the purpose intended. Now it is evident that our Lord means that there should be such a close spiritual union between Himself and His people that they may be regarded as one (see John 7:37-40). They partake of His life, which flows into their souls, nourishing and building up. Christ is in His people. They are members of His body, partaking of His Spirit, branches of the living vine, nourished and made fruitful by His life in them.
III. We must avoid all extraneous and poisonous admixtures.—What is good food may be rendered injurious to health by mixing up with it what is corrupt or poisonous. Such things would prevent the best of food from fulfilling its functions. Thus too the gospel may be so mixed up with human additions and errors as to lose in great measure its power to nourish and build up. Let us then prayerfully obey the apostle’s exhortation: “As therefore ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him. Beware lest ye be led captive by philosophy or vain deceit, according to the traditions of men or the rudiments of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:6 et seq.).
John 6:58. The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?—Although our Lord was not, in the synagogue at Capernaum, in this great discourse on the living bread, referring to the Lord’s Supper, which was not yet instituted, still there is no doubt He was referring to the great truth which that ordinance commemorates, symbolises, and shows forth. He spoke of the giving of Himself for the salvation, the life of the world. It was nigh to the passover season, and He had just fed the multitude with the miraculously multiplied bread on the eastern shore of the lake of Galilee; and no doubt, in speaking to these people, He had in view the hour when He, our passover, should be sacrificed for us, and when the heavenly types of the manna and the bleeding lamb should be seen fulfilled in the great Antitype—when the rites commemorative of God’s goodness and favour to Israel of old should give place to rites commemorative of a more glorious redemption for the whole human race. This discourse leads to a fuller understanding of—
I. The Lord’s Supper as a memorial of eternal, divine love.—
1. Jesus was even now looking forward to the time when His great atoning work should be completed. The cross lay plainly in view. Was it not even then casting its shadow across His path in His recognition of the traitor among the twelve? And yet, in view of all He knew was to come, there was no attempt on His part to recede from His purpose. Rather we have here a full and wonderful statement of all that His incarnation with its humiliation, His vicarious suffering, His atoning death, were to bring to His people.
2. The divine love in the Father and the Son is seen working for this great purpose of redemption for the whole human race. The will of the Father and the will of the incarnate Son are seen to be in perfect unison. It is the Father who sends down the true bread from heaven; and the Son, who is the true bread, gives His flesh, His incarnate life, for the life of the world (John 6:32-51).
3. And added to all this are the drawings of eternal love (John 6:44), the divine teaching so patient through centuries of stubborn resistance, “here a little and there a little,” etc. (Isaiah 28:10), and the divine promises and invitations, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
4. It is this unspeakable love that the supper commemorates,—that love of the Father “who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32); that love of the Son “which many waters could not quench, nor floods drown” (Song of Solomon 8:7)—waters and floods of contumely, humiliation, affliction, and death. Think of what it all means, this wonderful love of God to fallen man, and then say should not the memorial feast, that tells of the completion at such a cost of those divine purposes of mercy and grace, quicken in our hearts more warmly the glow of answering love and resolves after a more consecrated service?
II. The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of salvation through participation in Christ’s life and death.—
1. It is this great truth that the Supper is chiefly a memorial of, we may say: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). For Christ, we may truly say, is the centre of all that concerns our salvation. It is of Him, through Him, to Him (Romans 11:36).
2. And here we are reminded of what is taught symbolically in the supper: that Christ’s flesh and blood, in the spiritual sense in which the terms are here used, are for the nourishment of our spiritual life and our complete salvation.
3. It was to redeem sinful men that He became incarnate, that He might “magnify the law and make it honourable” (Isaiah 42:21) by His holy, blameless life, and that He might bear for man the penalty of the world’s sin on the “tree of shame.” The cross of Christ is the deepest and fullest revelation of God’s love to His fallen creatures—that “He sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Christ gave His life for the life of the world, and it is by participation in that life that salvation is brought to it.
4. There are two worlds—a world that is lost and a world that is saved. And we are not to suppose that God’s purpose in creation will be so marred that the lost world shall be greater in extent than the saved. His gracious purpose in redemption will not fail. The world of the lost will continue to use the gift of freedom to enslave itself to sin and oppose itself to God. But Christ’s mighty work shall not be in vain. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). He shall yet have the heathen (Gentiles) for His inheritance, etc. (Psalms 2:8). To His kingdom, in the end, the glory and honour of the nations shall come (Revelation 21:26). “A great multitude, which no man could number, out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues” (Revelation 7:9), shall be gathered into the kingdom of His glory.
5. And all this is achieved through that completed work symbolically showed forth in the sacrament. And it is through lively faith in that work, and in Him who is its author, that salvation comes to the individual.
III. This sacrament is a blessed means of communion with the divine Source of spiritual life.—
1. It is faith that unites believers to the Saviour; and thus there is secured to them the benefits which flow from His death as showed forth in the supper—pardon and peace.
2. But there is a further advance beyond this position. One might be pardoned for offence given and yet remain unchanged. In the Christian life there must be renewal after the pattern of Christ, and this renewal must extend to all our being. Not only is the soul quickened, but the body is to be quickened as well—that body which is the tenement and partner of the soul, and without which our life would be incomplete.
3. But said Jesus: “Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). All this implies far more than a mere intellectual conception—a mere participation in thought and idea of Christ and His life. It implies an actual union with Him—a real and positive assimilation of His life by believers, as real as the assimilation by the living branch of the life of the living vine. Believers become truly members of His body. This is the mystery of Christ and His Church. The divine life of the incarnate Son, in all its aspects, is given to believers for the cleansing, the quickening, the nourishing of their life in all its aspects unto life eternal.
4. All this is brought before the eye of faith in the ordinance of the supper, which is not a mere commemorative act, but a fruitful means of grace. When observed faithfully, it brings us into close personal communion with Christ, and becomes a channel through which His divine life is given to us for “our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.”
John 6:54-57. The blessedness of spiritually feeding on Christ.—Those who communicate in an unworthy manner, says the apostle, “eat and drink judgment,” etc. (1 Corinthians 11:29). And unworthily communicating was the reason why, among the Corinthians, “many were weak and sickly, and many slept.” On the other hand, to those who approach the Lord’s table in unfeigned faith, and with earnest desire to have fellowship with the Saviour, there are given the communion blessings of comfort, strength, joy.
I. To those who come penitent and humble for past transgression there is given divine comfort.—
1. There are many, alas! who never seem to feel the need of repentance. Their moral sense has become blunted, their moral vision obscured, so that iniquity has no terror for them, etc.
2. Others do feel that sin is terrible, awful, so that remorse gnaws at their hearts. But this will not of itself make them worthy communicants, and lead to their receiving the blessing of comfort. Remorse must lead to penitence.
“Remorse is as the heart in which it grows:
If that be gentle, it drops balmy dews
Of true repentance; but if proud and gloomy,
It is a poison-tree that, pierced to th’ inmost,
Weeps only tears of blood.”—S. T. Coleridge.
3. But those who are truly repentant find divine comfort in the great fact this communion brings vividly before them: that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth, etc. And in the observance of the ordinance they are led with quickened faith to seek for their souls “that blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things,” etc. (Hebrews 12:24).
II. To those who come with resolves after new obedience strength is given.—
1. Many are the spiritual foes with whom we have to contend; still the impulses of the old sinful nature assert themselves and must be kept in check; still the spiritual life, so long as we are here, needs to be maintained and builded up.
2. And where shall we find strength and grace, enabling us to overcome, but through closer union with Christ—through becoming more and more partakers of His nature, so that as He overcame we also may overcome?
3. This is vividly realised (by faith) in His holy ordinance, etc.
III. To those who come desiring to rise to a higher life there is given spiritual joy.—
1. Nothing is more sad to behold than the case of one who began life with high ideals, but who has sunk down and become sordid and material, etc.
2. How often does it happen that Christians have begun their Christian life with resolves after better things, who by carelessness and conformity to the world have permitted the flame of heavenly love in their hearts to grow feeble, till it flickers almost to extinction!
3. In the sacred ordinance of the supper, approached in a truly humble and longing spirit, our Lord has provided a means by which this love in our hearts may be reawakened, and the oil of grace renewed to feed the heavenly flame.
4. And to those who come to the Lord’s table desiring to love more and serve more there will be given communion joy. Their great Example will be there revealed in all His beauty as the goal toward which they are to strive; and in the symbols of communion they will see vividly represented those spiritual blessings which are implied in spiritually participating by faith in Christ’s life and death—His body and blood; so that to them will be given the joy of realisation, of assurance as they remember Christ’s promise: “As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me” (John 6:57).
John 6:60-65. A hard saying justified.—There were apparently a number of people who had attached themselves to Jesus at this period of His ministry who ranked themselves as His disciples, but whose faith in Him was weak, and their conception of His mission not only imperfect but erroneous. The stupendous claim He made, not only that He was the promised Messiah, whose gifts would be greater than the heavenly gift of the manna to their fathers, but that He Himself was the bread of life which came down from heaven to give life to the world, and that those who would live eternally must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, staggered those half-attached disciples, so that they murmured at it. In answer to their murmuring Jesus corrects their misunderstanding of His words by pointing—
I. To His ascension.—
1. He had claimed to be the Messiah promised to the fathers (John 6:30-32), the giver of bread from heaven—nay, that He was the bread which came down from heaven (John 6:58), and that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to eternal salvation.
2. And the proof that His words were true would be given in His ascension into heaven. That would show whence He had come, and that His words were with authority. For He would not ascend like a servant, caught up like Elijah, or rapt from earth like Enoch. He would ascend as a Son, as the divine Son, by His own power into heaven, whence He came to earth. Moreover, this fact would remove such cause of offence as they had found in His words when those words were interpreted in the light of it.
3. And though in appealing to this event He appealed to their faith in Him as to its certainty, yet surely that faith might be looked for after the events which had occurred within a brief period (John 6:1-13; John 6:16-21), and which had led to this discourse at which they were offended. Moreover—
II. The ascension would explain His claim to be the bread of life.—
1. It would show at once in what sense He intended His words about “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” to be taken. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit,” etc. (John 6:63). When the flesh disappears, when at the resurrection I assume My spiritual body and ascend therewith into heaven, then you will understand that My words have a spiritual meaning.
2. The people at Capernaum thought of flesh which is born of the will of the flesh (John 1:13). If I spoke of flesh in this sense, My words would profit nothing.
3. Our Lord did not mean that His flesh profits nothing. It is indeed because He became incarnate that we have hope for eternity; and it was as the incarnate Son that He offered Himself for our sin (John 6:51). But His humanity—His flesh itself—was spiritually conceived. Without this His humanity would not have been fitted for His high emprise. And through the same Spirit we must partake of Him, be united with Him, have His life in us, if we would have life eternal. Thus to those who receive Him He gives power to become the sons of God—makes them “partakers of the divine nature” (John 1:12; 2 Peter 1:4).
4. It is the Spirit that quickeneth; it is by the Spirit we are new born into the higher life; it is by the Spirit that this higher life is nourished and sustained within us—by our union with Jesus and through all the means and channels of grace; whereby His life flows into our souls—His life as the risen, ascended Saviour, divine-human—building up our spiritual being and “changing the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed unto the body of His glory” (Philippians 3:21).
III. The new birth is necessary in order to spiritual understanding of and trust in Christ.—
1. Well did the Lord say to Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things,” etc. (John 3:12); and the apostle, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11-14).
2. The moral teaching of our Lord those disciples understood and were attracted by; but some of them could go no further. When faith demanded their adhesion to such deep spiritual truths as the giving of Christ for the life of the world, the necessity of feeding upon Him in order to their spiritual life, then Jesus became to them “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence,” etc. (1 Peter 2:8).
3. From the moment those followers began to gather round Him, He recognised who among them would become true disciples and believers, and who would not. And, too, in connection with this reference to our Lord’s passion and ascension the first mention is made of His betrayal. But why was the traitor numbered among the twelve? The answer is that “His Father willed it.” And if we might suggest a purpose it may have been this—that one who had companied with Him, and who vilely betrayed Him, was led in bitter remorse to confess, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood”; and thus with our Lord’s enemies Judas was forced to declare that there was no fault in Him.
4. The deep reason lying at the basis of the unbelief of those who did not really come to Christ in living faith is their inability to do so, because not drawn to Him by the Father (John 6:44). Some of those following Him had been drawn by the hope of having their material wants supplied—others as to a heavenly teacher, others as to One who might be hoped to fulfil the national expectations. Few came because they felt the need of a higher life, and were convinced that Jesus could bring them that life. These alone were drawn by the Father, had opened their minds to receive His truth, and their hearts to the impulses of His Spirit. These will not be offended. They may not and will not fully understand the truth of God—not all at once, but slowly, will spiritual things become plain to them. They, however, will not stumble at what they do not understand thoroughly, but will seek ever more for that spiritual revelation which God gives His children (1 Corinthians 2:10).
5. Our Lord here returns again to the mystery whence all spiritual life flows—the originating impulse of the divine will, and the blending in unison with it of the human will. The soil must be prepared, or the good seed will fall on it in vain; the heart must be made good, or it will be spiritually barren. The will must be submissive to respond to the drawing of the Father. But who is it that makes the heart evil, hardens it, opposes the will to the divine law? It is men themselves, of their own free choice. They are driven by no fate, impelled by no necessity; they feel themselves responsible for what they are. Therefore the giving to the Son by the Father of redeemed men is no arbitrary act ignoring human freedom and responsibility, but the exercise of the divine will in accordance with the laws of man’s being.
IV. Men should learn on a consideration of these things a lesson of earnest purpose in seeking salvation.—
1. In reference to the action of the divine will in relation to human redemption, we stand before what is here a mystery. But it is clear that men are not merely passive participators in this. They cannot save themselves; but without their willing co-working they are not saved.
2. Men by nature are on one level as sinners. All travel with more or less haste in the way of sin. But in every man’s life there comes a period when another way diverging from that of nature is reached—a way that is narrow, and the entrance to it strait; and each must choose which he will henceforth walk in. Many with scarce a thought pursue the way of destruction.
3. But others pause in their course, listen to warning voices telling them of their danger. Can they then enter the way of safety? No. But if they see their danger and desire to escape from it and to enter in the way of life, then the barriers which seem to oppose fall away, and a new force is given them fitting them for the arduous journey. They cannot transform their moral being, change their hearts. But if through the shining of the divine light upon them they see evil in its true light, and desire to have their moral nature new created, then God gives them to His Son to be made new creations. But all is of God! Even the desire itself is awakened by the strivings of His gracious Spirit; and apart from Jesus men can do nothing (John 15:4). Therefore to Father, Son, and Spirit we ascribe all the honour and praise of our redemption. God is all—we are nothing in carrying out this mighty work.
I. Our fellowship with Jesus Christ, who is the bread of life.—
1. Our neediness should lead us to Christ, who helps those who are in need.
2. By Christ the wants of our hearts are in wonderful fashion supplied.
3. Therefore should we trust in Him alone (John 6:13-15).
II. Jesus Christ is the bread of life.—
1. No one but He Himself can satisfy all our needs.
2. None but He can promise and accord full satisfaction.
3. He disposes everything for the reception of the true heavenly food.
4. He satisfies our needs through the agency of His disciples. As the people received the bread from Jesus, but by the hands of the disciples, so even heavenly gifts come to us through human agency oftentimes. But we must not forget the invisible Giver in regarding the visible “hand”—parents, teachers, etc., etc.
5. He enjoins on us a proper estimation of the value of the heavenly gift.
6. We should recognise and acknowledge Him as the only Friend and Helper and Lord of our souls.—F. G. Lisco.
John 6:25-65. The general idea running through the paragraph.—“Though the idea of life prevailing in this series of discourses appears to be identical with that of chap. 5., there is a difference between the teaching of the two chapters, corresponding with that which exists between the miracles of which they respectively furnish the application” (Godet).
1. In the cure of the impotent man Jesus does all; hence all through chap. 5. He dwells on His authority and prerogatives, His relation to His Father in nature and purpose.
2. In the miracle of feeding, the five thousand Jesus works through His disciples, makes use of them as agents, and offers the miraculously provided food to the people for their acceptance. Hence, as Godet rightly says, “in the discourses in the sixth chapter the ruling idea is that of faith, by which the heavenly food is to be appropriated.” Or as we might say, the main theme is the communication of Christ’s life and work to humanity, and the manner in which this spiritual, heavenly food is to be received. In chap. 6 the relation of the Father and Son to humanity is prominent.
John 6:48-63. The connection of this discourse with the Lord’s Supper.—In reference to one view of this great discourse there has been much controversy. Many of the early fathers have understood it of the Lord’s Supper,—the view entertained by the Romish interpreters generally. And it was no doubt this last fact that influenced, to some extent at least, some of the reformed theologians to deny any reference to the Lord’s Supper in the passage, a contention that may in a measure be conceded, as the supper had not then been instituted. But any dispute on this point is unnecessary; for—
1. There could be no actual direct reference to the Lord’s Supper so far as the audience who listened to this discourse was concerned.—That holy ordinance was not yet; but we must believe that the truths Jesus uttered were as applicable to those who heard them, and the promises as sure to them, as to those who should afterward be privileged to observe the ordinance of the supper. We cannot suppose that Jesus would have invited His hearers to participate in the blessedness to which He called them, had they required to wait till in the sacred rite it would be assured to them. Some might die ere then! We may be sure our Lord intended that those who believed in Him there and then might eat of Him and have eternal life.
2. But whilst this is so neither can there be any doubt that the ideas and truths which are brought forward in this discourse are those which underlie the ordinance of the supper.—For what are the great truths which meet us in those words? Are they not those of the incarnation of the Son, and His atoning work as the foundation of redemption for man? Jesus is “the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51); “And the bread which I shall give is My flesh,” etc.; “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood,” etc: in such words the incarnation of Jesus and the purpose for which He became incarnate are shadowed forth. Christ Himself showed that His words are not to be interpreted in a gross material sense, when He said to these disciples who erroneously understood them in this sense and were offended, “The words that I speak unto you,” etc. (John 6:63). The words crede et manducasti, “believe and thou hast eaten” (Augustine), sum up the central thoughts of the passage (Westcott). Coming to Christ and believing in Him evidently involves the idea of an assimilation into the nature of those who believe of what is here spoken of as flesh (σάρξ) and blood. It is an acceptance of Him in His humanity as the eternal Son incarnate—the Word made flesh as the foundation of our hope of salvation, the example we are to follow, the pattern to which we are to be conformed. It is, further, participation in His atoning work, the acceptance of it as done for us in order to pardon, peace, life.
3. But in meaning this believing, etc., means more also. Eating and drinking of Christ implies a close personal union of ourselves with Him and participation in His life and death.—We are to become partakers of the divine nature through Christ in the whole of our being. The life of the body as well as of the soul is to be quickened through Him, as is evident by the numerous references to the Resurrection in this discourse. When believers are spiritually united to the Second Adam they become spiritually quickened in Him to a new eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:45), whilst His blood received brings cleansing and pardon. Our life depends on our acceptance of Christ as the incarnate suffering Redeemer. And the terms “eating” and “drinking” which describe this acceptance are not mere metaphors. They describe a real assimilation, otherwise our Lord would not have used them. And they mean that believers really participate in the life of the incarnate Son; for the same Spirit through whom He became incarnate moves in the life of believers, transforming them more and more into His image. “If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus,” etc. (Romans 8:11); “Your bodies are members of Christ,” “He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:17); “We are members of His body,” etc. (Ephesians 5:30). This same Spirit, then, working in believers makes them truly and really participators in “the life and death of Jesus” (Lücke), of the “flesh” and “blood” of their incarnate, exalted Lord.
4. This great mystery of our dependence on and union with Christ’s person which Jesus “expressed in this address in words is precisely that which Jesus designed to express by an action when He instituted the Lord’s Supper” (Godet).—This union is sustained and nourished by the Spirit through the means of grace, which are channels by which Christ’s spiritual life flows unto us. And the Lord’s Supper is one of these means. Thus it may be truly said: “Jesus wittingly so shaped His words that at once and for ever they should properly treat of the spiritual enjoyment of Him, but after this that the same should naturally fit also the most august mystery of the Holy Supper when it should be instituted” (Bengel). “Although this discourse has nothing to do with the Sacrament of the Supper, the Sacrament has everything to do with it as the visible embodiment of these figures, and, to the believing partaker, a real, yea, and the most lively and affecting, participation of His flesh and blood, and nourishment thereby of the spiritual and eternal life here below” (David Brown, D.D.). “We must not say that in this discourse Jesus alludes to the Lord’s Supper, but that the Lord’s Supper and this discourse refer to one and the same divine fact, expressed here by a metaphor and there by an emblem. From this point of view the delicate question why Jesus here made use of the word flesh, and in the institution of the Lord’s Supper of the word body, is easily solved. When He instituted the emblem He took bread and brake it. Now it is His body, as an organism (σῶμα) broken, which corresponds to this broken bread. In the address at Capernaum, where only nourishment was in question, it was agreeable to the analysis of the multiplication of the loaves that Jesus should rather present His body as substance (σάρξ) than as an organism. The perfect propriety of terms shows the genuineness and authenticity of both forms” (Godet). “As Jesus in the conversation with Nicodemus in the third chapter does not speak of Christian baptism, but of that influence of the Spirit which forms the presupposition of the institution of baptism, so here in the sixth chapter He does not speak of the Lord’s Supper, but of that personal communion with the incarnate One in belief, which communion forms the presupposition of the Lord’s Supper. Thus, therefore, the evangelist could dispense with an account of the institution of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper, just as He dispenses with telling about Gethsemane by giving the scene in John 12:27 ff.” (Luthardt). See also John 13:8; John 13:14.
1. The use of σῶμα rather than σάρξ, in every account of the institution of the supper, is not without special meaning: σάρξ and αἷμα meaning the whole of His humanity, and the entire fulness of the sacrifice for the world; while αῶμα καὶ αἷμα suggest that organised personal life in which the Incarnation culminated, and the blood which was shed for the remission of sins. The αῶμα is not without reference to the new “body” in which the Spirit would be ultimately enshrined.
2. The phrase “drinking of the blood” is peculiar to these verses. In the Eucharist we “drink of the cup which is the new covenant in the blood of Christ.” “The hand of history,” says Edersheim, “has drawn out the telescope; and, as we gaze through it, every sentence and word sheds light upon the cross, and light from the cross carrying to us the twofold meaning, His death and its celebration in the great Christian Sacrament.”—Dr. H. R. Reynolds.
John 6:31. Manna.—The manna, according to the Jewish tradition of Josephus, and the belief of the Arab tribes, and of the Greek Church of the present day, is still found in the droppings from the tamarisk bushes which abound in this part of the desert (i.e. of Sinai). The more critical spirit of modern times has been led to dwell on the distinction between the existing manna and that described in the Book of Numbers; and the identification is further rendered precarious by the insufficiency of the present supply in the desert of Sinai. It became afterwards a favourite figure in Christian writings, to express the heavenly sustenance of the soul, either in the Eucharist or in our spiritual life generally. Of all the typical scenes represented in the celebrated Ammergau Mystery, none is more natural or touching than that in which the whole multitude of the Israelites, in every variety of age, sex, and character, appear looking up with one ardent expectation to the downward flight of the celestial food, fluttering over the hundreds of upturned heads, according to that fanciful and child like but beautiful conception of the descent of the manna. The historical origin of this sacred figure was always carried back beyond Palestine to the desert; a portion of it was laid up as a relic by the ark for this very purpose, “that they might see the bread wherewith their fathers were fed in the wilderness.” And a Christian poet has well caught, in The Song of the Manna-gatherers, the freshness, the monotony, and the transitional character of the whole passage through the desert, and at the same time has blended together the natural and supernatural in that union which is at once most Biblical and most philosophical.—A. P. Stanley.
John 6:31. Manna-gatherers.
Comrades, haste! the tent’s tall shading
Lies along the level sand,
Far and faint: the stars are fading
O’er the gleaming western strand,
Airs of morning
Freshen the bleak burning land.
Haste, or e’er the third hour glowing
With its eáger thirst prevail,
O’er the moist pearls, now bestrowing
Thymy slope and rushy vale.
Comrades—what our sires have told us,
Watch and wait, for it will come.
Not by manna showers at morning
Shall our board be then supplied,
But a strange pale gold, adorning
Many a tufted mountain’s side,
Yearly feed us,
Year by year our murmurings chide.
There, no prophet’s touch awaiting,
From each cool deep cavern start
Bills, that since their first creating
Ne’er have ceased to sing their part;
Oft we hear them
In our dreams, with thirsty heart.
John 6:35. Spiritual hunger and thirst satisfied in Christ.—These words should be written in letters of gold, nay, with living letters (which were better) in the heart, so that each might know whereon to rest his soul; whither he may go when he departs from this world, or when he retires to rest, or rises at morningtide, or whatever he does, that he may know this golden art: here with Christ my soul abides, so that I shall neither hunger nor thrist. This Man will not deceive me. These are excellent, sacred, and precious words, which we ought not simply to know, but make use of and say: Thereupon will I go to sleep at night and rise again in the morning; upon these words will I confide, sleep, awake, labour, and cross the bridge. For although everything should go to ruin, and father and mother, emperor and pope, monk and priest, prince and lord, should forsake me, and even Moses could not help me, let me but run to Christ and He will help me. For these words are sure; and He further says: Rest on Me; come to Me, and ye shall live. And the meaning of these words is this—that all that believe on this Man, who is called Jesus Christ, are satisfied, and will not suffer hunger or thirst.—Translated from Luther.
John 6:37. True coming to Jesus.—Those who come to church to sanctify the Sabbath according to custom, to take part in a beautiful service, to observe the good and honoured custom of engaging in the communion, will reap what they have sown, quiet Sundays and the name of being diligent frequenters of the worship of God’s house. But those who go no further, who do not come to Jesus, will truly find here the door of the church, and beyond it the door of the churchyard open to a quiet place, but they will not find the door of eternal life, of the place of John on the Saviour’s breast, open. In the end they will be cast out in spite of their churchliness and decorum, for they did not come to Jesus. They who come to Holy Writ and delight themselves with the noble strains of the psalms, the beauty of the parables, the correctness of the proverbs, the remarkable nature of the narrations, will perhaps arrive at the honour of being considered learned in the Scriptures, and in this will attain to the experience of pious excitations. But when they go no further, even though they receive the whole catechism as true, they have not thereby come to Jesus. The Scripture witnesses of Jesus and points to Him. The Scripture does not seek to attract men to itself, but to Jesus. Well then! they who come to Jesus Himself, drawn like iron by the magnet, as the earth is towards the sun, who come to Jesus as the greatest, although He appeared in the form of a servant, as to the fairest among the sons, although His bleeding head was crowned with thorns, as to the most merciful, despite His yoke, His cross, and self-renunciation, as to the wisest, in spite of the “offence” and “foolishness” of the word; they who come to Jesus as the sick to a physician, as children to a mother, as the erring to one who knows the way; they who come to Him not to put idle enigmatic questions, not to speak highly of Jesus merely and avow their admiration for Him, not to bow incidentally before the cross and then to pass by; they who come as sinners, as guilty, as condemned, in order to be made whole, redeemed, saved—such, though they came groping like the man born blind, infirm as the man at Bethesda, carried by others like the paralytic, though they should come creeping in place of walking, and even at the latest hour—they shall find Jesus, and not be lost!—Translated from Dr. R. Kögel.
John 6:38. The mystery of the Master-servant.—The mystery of the Master-servant, unapproachable as it is, has yet an imitable side; and in that most pathetic and wonderful instance Jesus sets forth the law for all His followers. That law is that dignity binds to service. If we are Christ’s we must stoop to serve, and serve to cleanse. The noblest form of help is to help men to get rid of their sins. The highest glory of powers and gifts is to humble oneself for the lowest, and to be ready to be a slave, if we may wash any stained soul or bind any bleeding feet. The example of Christ includes what He has done for us. Some of us are willing to look to the cross as the foundation of our hope who are not willing to take it for the law of our lives. But the benefits of the gospel are meant to impel us to corresponding action. How little any of us have caught the whole sweep of the meaning of that imperative example, that “ye should do as I have done to you”! What have we received from Him? What have we given to men? Are we not too much like some sullen, land-locked lake, which receives many streams and gives forth none? If our acts to others are not widened to correspond to Christ’s to and for us, the reverse process will set in, and Christ’s acts and gifts to us will shrink to the narrowness of ours to others. We all know that He is our example, and that even in the supreme and unapproachable gift of His death we ought to find the model for our lives. But the gulf between knowledge and practice is all too wide, and so our Lord adds one more to the beatitudes, pronouncing those blessed who add doing to knowing. Only they really know who translate all their knowledge into performance. Only they are truly blessed who have no principles which do not regulate conduct, and no conduct which is not regulated by principle. The one principle which can shape all life into blessedness is, Do as Jesus has done for you. Stoop that you may serve, and let your service be cleansing.—Dr. Alex. Maclaren.
John 6:38. Following the Master-servant.—Let us then walk with Him daily, having our “ear open like a disciple” to hear His word, and our hearts obedient to His command, so that we may faithfully serve Him. Then in days of joy and prosperity life shall become more bright and happy in the light of His love and favour. Then in days of darkness, when His disciples have to walk in the gloom and see no light (Isaiah 50:10), let them still “trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon their God,” and they shall not be ashamed. For He will make light to rise for them in the darkness (Psalms 112:4), and their life shall be crowned with the glory of a consecrated service. For Christ hath said of His true disciples and servants, “The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given them” (John 17:22).
John 6:39. The present blessedness of believers in John 6:39 is regarded as being safekeeping, in John 6:40 as being everlasting life. But the two types merge in the final issue, though even there the one reads “it” and the other “him.” The resurrection of the body is the necessary crown of that safe keeping and communicated life which are the believer’s privilege here. That glorious issue, without which the present experiences of the believer would be futile, and the whole of his earthly life a confounding riddle, is wrought by Jesus Himself, as is emphatically claimed by the majestic “I” which the original underscores, so to speak, by its position in the fortieth verse. He who feeds on the bread of life here cannot die. The resurrection to life must come as the cope-stone of redemption. Without it the building stands, would stand, a ruin, and the taunt would be justified, This Jesus began to build and was not able to finish.—Dr. A. Maclaren.
John 6:47-48. Life the quest of humanity.—All the world seeks after life, whether it be the day labourer, who is in indigence and cries out perplexed, What shall we eat? what shall we drink? or the rich man, who wishes to spend his days sumptuously and in pleasure; or the physician, who dissects the corpse in order to make plain the cause why life has fled; or the philosopher, who struggles to discover the universal secret, and cries out, Where shall I be able to grasp thee, infinite nature? or the artist, who deludes himself with the appearance of life, because he cannot produce the essence itself; or the Pharisee, who is foolish enough to attempt to satisfy his life-hunger with artificial food, in his self-chosen way of sanctity. Enough! All the world seeks after life, and our age not in the lowest degree. Here we find some claiming, like spoilt children, to have the manna gathered for them without toil; there, the complaint that the golden spring of life is spent so speedily, that so soon the pitcher is shattered at the fountain and the wheel broken. Here there is the accumulation, and raking together of gold and silver, as if men could thereby purchase life: there, foolish dissipation, as if men could best keep fast hold of life by dissipating it. Here again we find a strange mixture of loathing of life and horror of death; there, the consecution of licentious enjoyment and cowardly self-murder. The living spring, the word of the living God, they forsake, and make for themselves after their desires and dreams “broken fountains,” which in the hour of need contain no water. You may continue to seek what you long for, the fountain of life, strength and enjoyment. But there where many seek it—among the husks of the world, in the puddle of sin, in the intoxicating cup of lust, in shifting opinions and conjectures of human wisdom—it is not to be found. Do not say in scornful tones: The word of Jesus is a hard saying, the manna from heaven is a spare repast; the Bible has so many difficult passages. The burden of Jesus is light; your poverty is great. The dark portions that you complain of are not centred in the Sun, but in your own eyes—not in the word of God, but in your hearts. David knew better where the true wealth of life is to be found, as he shows in his evening prayer: “Thou rejoicest my heart, although these may have much com and wine” (Psalms 4:7). And Asaph knew it better still, as he shows in Psalms 73:23 : “Nevertheless I am continually with Thee!” And Jesus Christ knew it best of all. He understands your desires and needs, and declares, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall not hunger.” Here is a food that never consumes away, whilst still it nourishes; here is a food that satisfies our desires after eternity, which God has placed in the hearts of men; here is the power of God which overcomes all prejudices, resolves all doubts, annihilates all lies. Blessed are they who eat Christ, i.e. who receive Him with set purpose, obey Him with unswerving faithfulness, serve Him with all their powers. Jesus, the bread of life—they who receive and eat this shall not only not hunger, they shall not die, but shall live eternally. Israel’s fathers perished in the wilderness, notwithstanding the manna; they were struck down because of the disobedience of unbelief. Christians, on the contrary, who meet the Lord’s communication of Himself with the answering self-submission of faith—Christians who attach themselves to the Lord, and so become one in spirit with Him—Christians who receive the flesh and blood of the Son of man, not frivolously and thoughtlessly, not outwardly, but in truth, they shall live, live as long as their living Head lives. The earthly vessel will be broken, but the treasure of life remains. The outward man perishes, but the inward man is renewed day by day by the power of this heavenly food. The same apostle who before his martyr death said, “I die daily,” also said, “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Death did not to him portend destruction for the buds of the spiritual life, but unfolding. Death was not to him an overturning and clearing away of the table, but the invitation to the wedding sapper of the Lamb.
“No, no, it is not dying,
Thou Saviour of us all;
From founts of joy forthgoing
Love’s endless streams are flowing—
Here only droplets fall.”
Translated from Dr. R Kögel.
John 6:50-51. Christ satisfies the human soul.—Christ nourishes the soul into life eternal, and through His divine power sustains the germ of life that lies hidden there. It is the greatest of miseries when the soul hangers and thirsts after righteousness, and fails to find what can satisfy her hunger; when a cry ascends to heaven, and heaven seems to be deaf, like a cold wall; when the soul calls out in the wilderness of life, and no voice is heard from the howling waste except the echo of her own voice; when she sees across the flood all that she needs, and cannot cross over to obtain it. Yes, such is a truly miserable existence! On the other hand there is gladness indescribable when the soul can say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded.” There truly is satiation where Christ comes with His word and Spirit! Then the soul feels that this is life, real life, such as she has never before experienced, which comes from heaven, for it leads heavenward. The thought which He awakens in the soul, the feelings He animates, the anticipations of a greater future which He enkindles, the endeavours and activities to which He inspires, the elevation and divine dignity which He inbreathes—no, these are not from beneath, but mast have their origin beyond the clouds, for they bear the seal of eternal life. The clamouring hunger is silenced, and a feeling of satisfaction pervades the soul, such as men experience when victorious after a hotly contested fight, or when, after a long and toilsome journey, the wished-for end is reached. The soul now possesses what she needs, and in the possession and enjoyment thereof is blest exceedingly.—Translated from F. Arndt.
John 6:53. The meaning of eating Christ’s flesh, etc.—Some have been inclined to lower the meaning of such expressions as those in the text, because they think that they may encourage extravagance and fanaticism. But we should all bear in mind that man, it is true, is apt to abuse even the best things; but there are two ways of abusing them, one by over-using them, and the other by not using them enough. Many persons, it is likely, have attached some fanciful notion to the words “eating the flesh of Christ and drinking His blood,” and have let their thoughts and their tongues run wild, without bringing their hearts and lives to a sober and faithful obedience. But many, and perhaps more, by forgetting the force and peculiar meaning of the command to make Christ our food, and by putting always in the place of such lively expressions the mere injunction to obey Christ’s law, hare in fact grown cold in their feelings toward Him, have lost the sense of their close relationship to Him, have not held fast to Him as their head, nor have sought of Him daily their spiritual nourishment and strength. They have not then eaten the flesh of the Son of man, nor drunk His blood; they have lived much in the world without Him; and their life, therefore, has not been that life of faith in the Son of God which it ought to be. It is unwise in us now to use the same sort of figurative language in religious subjects, unless we merely borrow and quote Christ’s own words; because it is not natural to our national character or habits, and therefore appears to be affectation, even if it really is not so. But we must not lose our relish for it when we meet with it in the Scriptures: there it is in its place, natural and proper; and more powerful and edifying than anything we can put in its room. In fact, the more fondly we love the words of Christ, so much the better hope is there that we shall practise them. There was an especial promise given, that the Holy Ghost should bring them faithfully to the remembrance of His apostles, in order that they might record them without the possibility of corrupting them; and the more we study and feed upon them, the more reason shall we see to bless the goodness of God for preserving them to us so surely, and it is a further blessing that they are their own best interpreter; so that he who has the Scriptures only, and reads them humbly, sincerely, and with the exercise of his thoughts and understanding, will find for the most part that they are clear enough for any practical improvement, and become clearer and more effective for that purpose every time they are read with an honest heart and an humble spirit.—Dr. T. Arnold.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 6:69. And we believe and are sure that Thou art the Holy One of God.—This is the reading of all the great MSS. א, B, C, D, L, and is adopted by Tischendorf, Tregelles, etc. If this reading is to be received, we are probably to understand Peter’s confession as referring to Jesus as sent into the world to do the Father’s will, and as having His authority sealed by His mighty works and holy life.
John 6:70. Hath a devil.—διάβολός ἐστιν, i.e. one having the qualities of him who is called ὁ διαβολος.
John 6:71. Judas Iscariot, etc., rather Judas the son of Simon Iscariotes.—Iscariot is no doubt אישׁ קריות (Ish-Kerioth), a man of Kerioth, a town or village belonging to Judah (Joshua 15:25). But Westcott suggests that, as the true reading in Joshua is Kerioth-Hezron, this Kerioth might be identified with the Kerioth (Κεριώθ) of Moab (Jeremiah 48:24).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 6:66-71
The relation of different classes of men to the Saviour.—A time of testing had come for the followers of the Saviour. In His discourse in the synagogue of Capernaum, He had advanced into regions of thought not only far above, but alien to the desires of many among them. And they were not, we may think, of the number of the Jews who murmured (John 6:41-42), nor men who were inimical to the Redeemer. They were those who would willingly have continued to be His disciples; but His late teaching proved a stumbling-block, the prospects He held out were not such as they anticipated, His yoke to some of them was not easy, it may be, and thus we read that many went back. They were—
I. Those who separated themselves from Jesus.—
1. Many of those who had never really come to Christ, and remained spiritually unchanged, were more and more offended at His teaching; indifference, lukewarmness, faintheartedness, doubtless characterised them. His demands were too great for their little souls. The spiritual life and kingdom to which He pointed had no charms for them.
2. Thus they go without one word more from Him. Not by such followers would the world be won for Him. Rather will He choose a small handful of faithful, self-sacrificing men; for only such, guided by His Spirit, would turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
3. As Gideon’s army at the spring of Harod was purged from all the fainthearted and unfit (Judges 7:3-7), so that by the three hundred left God saved Israel from the Midianites, thus the ranks of Jesus’ disciples were freed from unfit and encumbering elements. They had put their hands to the plough and turned back, etc. (Luke 9:62). Such Jesus does not retain in His service—or rather they go back willingly, freely, from Him into the old life and the old ways.
II. Those who willingly and joyfully remained with Him.—
1. It is to the twelve our Lord addresses Himself in the memorable question, “Will ye also go away?” Did no others remain? That is an idea hardly to be entertained. But those five disciples already chosen, and the others who had associated themselves more closely with Him, stood nearest. And, as He saw the departing many, seeking some solace for His grieved human heart, He asked the others this question.
2. And the answer was, without doubt, cheering and grateful to the Son of man, “despised and rejected,” etc. Simon Peter, here as ever the spokesman, if not the representative of them all, confessed their loyal adhesion to their Master. He and they did not probably understand much that had been spoken in the synagogue. But they knew what Christ was—what peace He had brought to their souls; they had seen His wondrous works, and heard His heavenly teaching which those works explained and illumined. To whom else could they go? from whom else hear the words of eternal life? Nay, all they knew and had seen led them to believe and know that Jesus was the Christ—as He claimed to be—and the Son of the living God.
3. Our Lord desires a willing service. He had chosen these disciples; but those who were really His consecrated themselves freely to Him, under the blessed free constraint of His love and His Father’s drawing.
III. The traitor in the ranks of the disciples.—
1. The gleam of joy which fell on the Saviour’s path at the manifestation of His disciples’ faith and love was again clouded by the thought that even in this inner circle lurked a traitor.
2. “One of you is a devil,” our Lord had to say sadly. Judas remained, although he should have departed; for his adherence to Peter’s confession was evidently hypocritical. He remained, cherishing in his heart those carnal and earthly ideas of Messiah’s kingdom, probably resolving that he would watch the Saviour’s movements, and force Him to declare Himself Messiah in a temporal sense (all Judas would have cared for), or——
3. That Judas was wholly unmoved by the Saviour’s holy life and loving works and heavenly teaching can hardly be held in view of his bitter remorse (Matthew 27:3-5).
4. The patience with which our Lord endured the presence of this spying traitor (who was, moreover, a thief—John 12:6) was wonderful. But His Father willed that it should be so—for some purpose it was necessary that it should be so (see on John 6:64)—and His will rose, even in this, into loving acquiescence with His Father’s will.
IV. 1. Consider Him who endured such contradiction, etc. (Hebrews 12:3).
2. Consider the necessity for earnestness in religion. The religion of Christ will not admit of half-hearted adhesion, of lukewarmness, etc. Christ does not desire such disciples (Revelation 3:16). And in the ears of many in all the Churches His words of blame to Laodicea still apply, “I would thou wert cold or hot.”
3. The continuance of a hypocritical profession may lead in the end to awful results. Nothing more surely hardens the heart, and freezes the springs of faith and feeling, than a false and hypocritical profession of religion (James 1:22; 2 Timothy 3:13; Isaiah 29:13-14, etc.).
(See Illustrations, Chap. John 13:18 seq.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany