Words to live by | Online journal of Marc Heriot

Archive for the ‘Gospels’ Category

John 6:61-62 Seeing the Son ascend

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” John‬ ‭6:61-62‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

In other words, if you are stumbled over my words, my parents, this teaching, the contradictions you see, then you will be flippin’ out if you see man’s real, fully lived-out identity.

In the context Jesus had related himself to the manna which came down from heaven, which God provided miraculously for Israel in the wilderness. In the same way he too “came down from heaven” — the Father provided him as food for the life of world, mysteriously, out of obscurity, his origin was mostly unknown. Just like the bread which fed the 5000 was multiplied out of sight, so the bread in the wilderness which seemed to come from the sky every morning, was a provision provided from the bakery of heaven — we don’t see where it came from. The whole concept of “descending” or “ascending” to and from heaven is lumping it into the category of being “out of sight,” just as the baby that is formed in the womb, or the seed is transformed into a living plant. There are some things that are not observable. Yet the possibilities Jesus opens up when he says this are incredible.

Digging deeper, after Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples saw him literally ascend:

He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1:9 NAS

It was amazing to watch, I’m sure, like when Elijah whisked off in a whirlwind, or Enoch or was taken. Any time the physical laws of earth are suspended, it pushes the boundaries of the imagination. But was Christ’s ascension stumbling? Was it faith-shaking, possibility-opening, and mind-altering any more than the miracle of the bread, or the walking on the water? It sounds odd to be categorizing something that I can barely wrap my mind around, yet in the context of what he was saying in John 6, he inferred that “ascending to where he was before” would be more stumbling than the words that already caused many of his disciples to leave him. To me, this is no more stumbling than any other sign the disciples saw.

I don’t believe Jesus was referring to his coming and going on earth, but something that is more relevant to each person alive: “What if you see a mortal, a person in flesh and blood, the son of man, return, go up again, to the place he was before, previously, at the first?” In other words, if you were to see a man, return to the original context, splendor, glory, power and authority that God created him to inhabit. A place that all men were intended to occupy before the tempter sabotaged God’s original intent so that he could claim that place for himself? It would not only seem unreal, but it causes me to pause, and potentially stumble me even more than being told I need to eat his flesh. Understanding what God intended for Adam, all men and women, and me, is something I feel is just beginning to re-emerge for his kids to feast upon.

Jesus had spoken about this same topic of his — and our— identity earlier with Nicodemus in John 3 under similar circumstances — Nicodemus was stumbled at the concept of being “born anew.” It was another impossible physical requirement of something that Jesus intended to be spirit, and life. And Jesus responded in a similar way:

If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. ‭‭John‬ ‭3:12-13‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Identity. Who I am matters. There was something intrinsically stumbling about Christ and who he was. It looks like he was born from Mary and Joseph, a poor family in one of the most despised cities in Galilee. He was! Yet he was also born as the perfect son of God. Just like Adam. He had an unobstructed, unclouded view of the perks and privilege of being a son of the most high God. Our Father initiated this story of man in the Garden and it went horribly wrong. In Galilee, at great risk, is starting it again in Jesus. Jesus embodied great majesty in great humility. Why would this be so stumbling and what was at stake? It was the kingdom itself and who maintains rights and access. It was something so incredible that brightest one in heaven (Lucifer) coveted it for himself at the beginning and wanted to snatch it from man, and then spit on him.

Who Jesus is in the flesh could be described in the most muted terms at the transfiguration. Pure light. Effulgence. Access to heaven’s courts. A man, again walking in the halls of the kingdom with access to the king, the throne, the heavenly angels, the administration of heaven, the myriad of possibility that exists in heaven and earth, the secrets of the universe, knowledge, wisdom, power, might. While in this body, Jesus occupied this place of wonder, possibility, and most importantly, relationship with the one who started it all. Instead of starting the school of Astrophysicists in the Time Warp Temple of Possibility, he focused only on one thing. He muted that majesty and appealing to broken and fallen man in order to win his heart back to the Father. Restoring God’s love on earth. Of course, all the fun creation stuff, and playgrounds of possibility would follow, but first thing first. Restore man. Jesus is who every man should, and could, be. And that mission is accomplished through one means: faith.

Believing these things about Jesus, about myself, about the kingdom seem like too much. It’s unreal. And just like “eating his flesh” requires trust and faith, so does understanding what man is when he ascends to the place we first occupied. Add to the mix an enemy fiercely determined to hide this from me, and I understand the question better.

My challenge today is to accept the identity he is unfolding about the sons of God. Not only believe it, but to live it. The same flesh that Jesus walked in, I am called to walk in to. What Christ is, I am to become. The food he ate then became, I am to eat then become. There is an invading force of God’s kids ready to be assembled and reoccupy our homeland after being so abruptly exiled.

And there was war in heaven … and the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. Revelation‬ ‭12:7-12‬ ‭NASB‬‬

John 6:53-56 Eating, then becoming the meal

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” John‬ ‭6:53-56‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Eternal life! That’s the offer on the table. And it’s an incredible one. I receive life that will never end in exchange for my choice of food. It’s that simple. If I can only make my way past the gate. That narrow, limiting gate. The gate that acts like a kitchen strainer: filtering out big chunks of unbelief, while letting pass those believing hearts that are hungry and desperate for something they refuse to let their natural mind and sensibilities limit.

Eating his flesh and drinking his blood, taken literally, seems absolutely offensive. So for Jesus to say this, it catches our attention. It was spoken to Jews who were fastidiously observant of the law. The Levitical code precisely defined which foods Israel may eat. Even if they could get past the morbid suggestion of cannibalism and do what Jesus asked, it was forbidden. It’s a difficult statement on so many levels. In the church we eat bread and drink wine as a symbol of consuming his body and blood. As much as I value the sacrament of communion, interpreting these words in this natural way is similar to how zealous Jews interpreted Moses words when he told them to bind God’s words on their hands and their forehead in Deuteronomy 6:8 — they created phylacteries, little boxes literally tied to the hand and forehead. To them it not only fulfilled the requirement, it also served as a symbol of their outward devotion.

But Jesus’ words are Spirit and life. They apply to the heart and core of our inward man (John 6:63). My natural mind will always have difficulty grasping them. And Jesus said frankly, “no one can come to Me unless it is granted him [unless he is enabled to do so] by the Father.” John‬ ‭6:65‬ ‭It’s the Spirit which breathes life into them.‬‬‬‬

I can’t move far from what is at stake — life, in exchange for our choice of food.

While Jesus walked the earth, kicked up the dust in Palestine, and shared time with those whose lives he intersected, he was that flesh and blood that they ate. It is significant that the conversation in John 6 is about a contrast between the physical and spiritual. During the time of the Exodus, God fed his people with physical bread from heaven every morning. Manna (literally, “what is it?”) Yet, as Jesus and Paul reference these events, we understand that they are shadows of the real. The law is a schoolteacher that brings us to Christ. That bread which fell in the wilderness was a symbol of the real bread — Christ. Physical bread keeps the body alive. Spirit bread keeps the soul and spirit alive.

While on earth, Jesus lived out his intersection with heaven. He was the very image of the invisible God. His behavior, his character, that which he laughed and cried over, the correction, the friendship, the conversations, care, nurturing of the disciples, compassion for the sick — all of it expressed in human flesh the exact heart of God. When you looked at Jesus, you were looking at the Father. (John 14:9). When others found and followed him, listened and watched, he became that meal. When the disciples fellowshipped with him, they drank deeply of his spirit, fed at his table of teaching and understanding, they were encouraged, built up, emboldened. The sheep follow the shepherd. Men become what they observe. We are what we eat.

Fast forward to today. As a member of his body I become that same meal. We feast on Jesus in each other. It’s both a requirement to eat, and an offering to be available as the meal for others.

The amazing thing about grace, is that in it, God extends to me something I am completely unworthy of. He says I’m forgiven. No longer is my sin counted against me. Period. It’s absolute. If that were not enough he then calls me a son of God, an heir, and co-heirs with Christ. Christ was the firstborn of many sons. The body of Christ has many members, and I am one of them. Christ is the head. All that Christ is, I am called to become. The very Spirit of God that was in Christ, now abides in me. The body, every member, is in Christ. Is Christ. And is that meal. Now I am the one walking the earth. I am the one with real flesh and blood to offer. Although the Holy Spirit is invisible, people may see me. I am the “flesh” that the Spirit inhabits. But not me alone, that flesh is also my sister and brother in Christ. Those that share the same journey as I do. And when we are together we offer each other our “flesh and blood” or the life that we live out daily and our own personal intersection with heaven.

When was the last time you sat down with another over a coffee or a meal and shared heart and soul? You were vulnerable and expressed your journey and your experiences with heaven. While you were interacting you felt a dynamic interface with the other that was not only nurturing but it felt like a real meal for the soul. Relationship. Friendship. Trust. Giving. Receiving. Together we are called to be a temple for his presence. It’s hard to deny that when believers assemble with one heart and purpose that his tangible presence is obvious in that place. The body and blood of Christ is that meal. We need each other.

Daily when I venture out into my world, I have begun to recognize that I may choose to offer myself as a meal to others. It’s a place of vulnerability and authenticity to live my kingdom identity transparently. There is great, great power and authority given to the sons of God, yet who may see it as it really is? Who may stare at the sun and see anything? So, we clothe ourselves in humility and venture out, serving, preferring, and loving others just as Jesus would.

What is the price of eternal life? Our choice of food.

My personal challenge

This morning I hear the Spirit say, I cannot be drinking from two fountains. If I drink from the same source as the world, I get the same nourishment and frankly, the same side effects from the poison offered. — Yet even when I do, he said, “If you eat any deadly thing, it shall not harm you.” Another declaration of grace for death-riddled man. — If I drink from the fountain of heaven, I feed on Christ. I eat his body, drink his blood. It is life to me. And what Christ is, I become. You are what you eat.. except when grace must supersede some stupid choices.

As I think about this, it feels frightening to live solely from the food served at his table. Why? Because it will make me different. I won’t appear to be the well-rounded, integrated Christian that many in the church value. I could become a little more black and white. This is good, this is not. A little more convinced. God heals — as opposed to “let’s see what happens” or “who knows God’s will?”

He’s called me to life. Abundant life. Eternal life. Eating at his table. And becoming that table for others to feast upon.

John 6:66 Separating the good from the bad

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. John‬ ‭6:66‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus is many things and one role I don’t often put him in is the winnower or the refiner — separating out the bad from the good. Yet, this is something essential in his kingdom and more personally, in my walk with him. Out with the old, in with the new. It’s one thing to dismiss entire populations of unbelievers — those atheists, Muslims, cultists, or self-gratified — but entirely another when two followers are walking shoulder to shoulder and the Holy Spirit knife comes between them. One trusts and believes, the other doesn’t and stubs their foot, stumbles, and departs to nurse his wound.

Jesus spoke unambiguously about the priority of the value of loving God first: it is more important than even the most sacred of earth’s relationships — our families:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew‬ ‭10:34‬ ‭NASB‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬

In another place, Jesus spoke about the children of the kingdom being mixed with those who were not:

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away… Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew‬ ‭13:24-25, 30‬ ‭NASB ‬‬‬‬‬‬

He spoke passionately about wanting to make this separation:

I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! Luke‬ ‭12:49‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

He is a refiners fire:

But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. Malachi‬ ‭3:2-3‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When he sits in final judgement at the end of the age:

And He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Matthew‬ ‭25:33‬ ‭NASB‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬

There are distinctions in the kingdom. But what is being distinguished? Those who believe and trust with those that do not. And what a subtle and often hidden line this is between us all.

In John 6, Jesus spoke some difficult words. Even today they cause many to scratch their heads. But there were those who were following for reasons other than real faith. They forcefully pushed their agenda. And in the timeline of Jesus life, he was about to be marched to the cross — where all the sheep would be stumbled and scattered. Timing is everything in the kingdom. And this was not the time for these self-designated unbelieving disciples to accomplish their agenda.

Everyone has a mixture of heaven and earth in their heart. Our Father and Refiner is extraordinarily measured and patient with the process. Sometimes the fire is gentle heat — a wise word that helps me see an area in my heart not yet yielded to him. Other times the fire is more intense — it’s a circumstance that I cannot understand and causes emotional pain and makes me question the love and faithfulness of my very good shepherd. Any time there is a distinction made, it’s a risk that my heart will lean away rather than lean toward Jesus. To stumble. To fall. Personally, I believe that our Father takes these moments very seriously and is fully intentional in the process.

On a personal note, this past week I was convinced of a direction I should be taking, believing that I had heard from the Holy Spirit specific encouragement. I was confident and assured that I heard from God. Sure enough, circumstances bore this out. Things were going exactly as I was expecting. Until suddenly — they weren’t. Abruptly I pulled to a stop. What had I heard? What did I have confidence in? If I hadn’t heard from God, how did I mix this up? If I cannot trust my ability to hear and act, what may I trust? I have been a believer for 40 years, so being able to hear my Father’s voice is pretty important at this stage in my life. Yet here I am, stumbled.

One thing is absolutely certain to me, God loves me and wants me to be a child of his kingdom. He wants to speak to me and he wants me to hear his voice. And He is absolutely trustworthy and good to me. Yet being a believer or unbeliever is not something determined magically — it’s a condition, a choice I make in my heart. Becoming a lover of God or an enemy of God is something that is nurtured. It begins as a seed in the heart an is watered and grows. I realize that I have allowed two ways of thinking in my own heart, and they grow side by side. So even though I may be stumbled at times as I endure this process, I forcefully take what I know and cling to the kingdom. I will not let go. Just like the three Hebrew children responded to the king who was about to kill them in a fiery furnace:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. Daniel‬ ‭3:17-18‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Fire separates. Purges. Refines.

If I want to be a son of the kingdom, I want the fire. No one wants a polluted mix of gold; a diamond that is blemished with coal; wine with the aftertaste of vinegar; or a warm garment with a gaping hole. If I’m afraid of the fire it’s most likely because I love something attached to my flesh. I owe my Father, my God, my Savior, a whole person and unmixed love. He will never change, he’s the refiner. But just like his disciples do here in John 6, I land on the rock of Jesus, “Where do we go, you have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:61 Stumbling

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? John‬ ‭6:61 ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

There are significant obstacles to believing, to Christianity, and to faith. The biggest? Jesus himself.

Paul wrote:

But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed.” Romans‬ ‭9:30-33‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus knows that the one thing that qualifies me for kingdom life is belief in him — that he is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the one sent to redeem me from my sin and set things right again. Not works. Not position. Not history. Not lineage. Nothing else.

Yet, he broke every mold and expectation that the Jews had for their deliverer. His response to John’s disciples when asked if he was the one, shows he was aware.

And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. Matthew‬ ‭11:6‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

It wasn’t Jesus that set their misaligned standard, yet over time many of God’s kids walked so far away from the Father’s heart and then let imagination and and their minds fill in the blanks with ideas that did not originate in the kingdom. I can imagine a dialogue with his disciples where he pleads:

“I know I don’t fit the part! I’m not the man that is head and shoulders above everyone else. I’m not riding into Jerusalem on a white stallion with light pulsating around me or a halo on my head. I’m little. Meek. Lowly. Yet, I know who I am and who is in me and with me. And you too can see it. You see the love, the miracles, the evidence of God and his anointing on me. You know in your hearts that I am the one. And I tell you what I hear and know. He is love, and his intent for you is nothing but good. I am telling you in no uncertain terms that by believing on me you will live forever. I am the resurrection and will raise you up. I am your bread, your food, your drink, in fact everything else you have need of. But one other thing is true, it will be very difficult for you to believe this, particularly in the coming days when I am captured and killed. But let me assure you… believe in me, and you won’t be disappointed.”

So fast forward to today. The names have been changed, the circumstances altered, but the situation is the same — can I believe in him? Is he really my bread? My life? My resurrection? Does he really give me what I ask for? Heal my sickness? Whatever I’ve established as a test of authenticity or whatever is my benchmark for the reality of the Christian faith, consider it violated. Why? Because he still requires belief. As assuring as the things are that I have personally seen, I must still choose belief over everything else.

This is personal.

The kingdom of God at it’s core is about identity, privilege, position, being accepted and loved. And the lofty place from which man fell (and by extension was intended for every person alive) is hardly recognizable today — or in Galilee when Christ walked about. If I were to sit and have someone explain to me the glory and magnificence that my Father intended me to live within and become, I would begin to understand the fierceness of my adversary at wanting to snatch it from me. When people saw Christ, they saw a man. And as you drew nearer to him, you saw a man authentically living out an identity that staggered the imagination — if it was true. Ah, the catch. If. It was either true, or not. He was either the Son of God or he was delusional — and surprise, I’m the judge. The difficulty with accepting comes in many flavors. For me, if what Christ claims is true, it reflects equally on my identity and the possibility for me. Believing in him means that I must accept what he says about me. Ouch! My foot just hit a rock.

During my lifetime there will be one point (or many) when everything sacred in my heart will seem violated, just like the disciples experienced in John 6 and again when Jesus was crucified. But just like Jesus told John’s disciples in Matthew 11:6, “the blind see, the deaf hear” and his own disciples concluded in John 6:68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” I must base my faith on context, on what I see and know. But at the very same time, not be stumbled by what I see and know… Him.

I hold my faith in a very precarious balance.

John 6:35 I am the bread of life

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Never. No. Not. Ever.

What is it that is negated, cancelled, denied?

Hunger and thirst.

For whom?

Those that have come to him.

Simple. Profound. Powerful. True.

Jesus demonstrated this integration of the physical and the spiritual when he was traveling with his disciples through Samaria. The disciples went to buy food and when they returned, encouraged him to eat. His reply to them: “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” John‬ ‭4:32, 34‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

Real food. Real drink.

Eating, drinking, breathing, and sleeping are about the most basic physical needs I have. I will not survive in this body if I take a bite once a year, possibly on Easter or Christmas. The rhythms and cycles of my body demand regular care. It’s no small coincidence that I was created to need — demanding daily, moment by moment need — and my Father declares that he is the one that fulfills them all. They reflect a spiritual reality that is just as demanding, needy, and which He sustains just as readily. But it is very difficult for the natural mind to make the journey to the spirit. And it is easily stumbled. At the end of this confrontation with the Jews, Jesus makes a statement to his disciples which contextualizes the entire conversation:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. John‬ ‭6:63‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬

But make no mistake, his life isn’t reflected in a chasm between the flesh and the spirit. He just gave them physical bread. And now he is giving them spiritual bread. It’s the same transaction. He is the source. Jesus is that bread. The physical and spiritual are intertwined. It’s our adversary who would like to segregate them, then point to the flesh and encourage us to demand food or healing which is isolated and apart from the real feast of Jesus and his forgiveness.

My family had the privilege of being involved in a Christian relief organization called Food for the Hungry and we traveled to Nicaragua for a summer as part of their outreach. The idea was to deliver physical food supplies, while also providing spiritual bread to a hungry people. I love this approach because it’s integrated. It’s real. It satisfies tummies while placing the source of supply in the center of the transaction. As we open our heart to the true bread, the physical bread will follow. It’s impossible for the spirit of life in Christ to visit me without becoming a source of bread, water, and breath that springs up and feeds not only me, but those near me as well.

Jesus made many “I am…” statements. Just like God said to Moses at the burning bush when he said “tell them that I am… has sent you” Jesus is the “I am” in the flesh. What do I need today? He is… what I need him to be.

Cross references:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” John‬ ‭6:48-51‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John‬ ‭7:37-39‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; Revelation‬ ‭7:14, 16‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

Pray, then, in this way..Give us this day our daily bread. ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:9, 11‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

On other occasions the Lord said, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), “I am the veritable Vine” (John 15:1).

John 6:30-33 How much convincing?

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John‬ ‭6:30-33‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

If I’m keeping count, this is round 3 of this boxing match of words. Round 1, “How did you get here?” Round 2, “what are we to do?” And now this. So far it is Jesus that has landed the heavy blows. Now they stop pulling their punches. “Our forefathers ate from the miraculous in the desert, so if you are who you claim to be, what else are you going to give us so we may be convinced?”

Just like those in the wilderness, they kept coming back to the miraculous and ceased being convinced by it. They forgot it’s source. It didn’t come from man, it came from God. The question itself is crazy. The reason they were pursuing him in the first place according to John 6:2 is that they were observing the supernatural signs. And just like those in the wilderness, they were not being trained by their experiences. Faith was not being produced by all that they saw and tasted. It’s uncanny the similarities that John 6 has with the story of the manna in the wilderness — and Jesus makes sure to link the two.

Take a little journey for a moment back to that time. The Israelites were in terrible captivity in which they cried to God for help. Even as they expected a deliverer, they resisted Moses. Yet God still did incredible things: the plagues, the passover, the release from Egypt with their arms full of treasures, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, the opening of the Red Sea, the crossing on dry land, the sea closing on the Egyptians. It was a parade of the miraculous and today is still a reference point of supernatural for believers. After all that, then… they were hungry. After all they saw, and experienced, they did not trust that “I Am” would be food for them. Then in response, on top of all the miracles of deliverance God gave them bread from heaven. Yet, their hearts still did not see or believe. Amazing.

Fast forward to Capernaum and this showdown. The circumstances are much the same. They (and mankind) were oppressed, expecting a deliverer, and even as Jesus shows up, they resist him. Yet God still did incredible things through him. He even fed them with bread and just like in times of old their hearts were unwilling to believe. In response, Jesus chisels at their rock-hard hearts to see if he can get in. It’s not time for tenderness now, only the sledgehammer will work.

If my heart relies on the mind alone I will be stumbled.

In the garden, Adam traded trust for knowledge. It resulted in death. The mind is a weary member of our body to place the lofty responsibility of my well-being into its care. Jesus is purchasing back the real path to the kingdom — a healed spirit which may trust and and believe. The result is life!

The impacting message for me in these verses is this: when will the miracles that I have experienced become — commonplace, forgotten? When will I cease to be amazed at the smallest of signs and require more and greater? When will my need and my appetite supersede my worship and delight? The flesh is always hungry and will always want more. Without a conscience, friend, or Holy Spirit, I would be a very heavy man, immobile at the the dining room table… but still asking for another serving. Rather than sitting in unbelief asking for proof, I may bask in the delight of simply being! I’m a miracle. He put life in me! Where did I come from? How did my soul begin? I am from him, for in him is life, and the life is the light of man. Yes, the mind would like to interrupt and tell me — “I have seen many births and understand the biological process well” — trying to highjack the miracle of it all. Fortunately, I may choose what I hear. And these disciples in Capernaum may choose as well.

Jesus sets the ring for the final rounds of this match: “For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” He is linking the experiences — the bread that miraculously appeared then has also miraculously appeared now, in him. Jesus is saying, I am that bread. Just like the manna’s source was God, I came from that same source. Just like you didn’t see when the manna appeared, you didn’t see when I appeared. Just like the manna nourished, I nourish. The biggest difference is that when I eat bread, I am hungry again, but when I eat the true bread, Jesus, I feast on the source that isn’t eaten up.

The result of accepting, embracing, believing, trusting, loving… and eating Jesus, is life.

John 6:28-29 This is work!

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” ‭‭John‬ ‭6:28-29‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Every day work compels me forward. Within is an internal compass, even a personal satisfaction with what I can do. Work at its core is the expression of who I am, the choices I make, and who I hope to become. Work produces everything that I may spend — whether it’s something I need or something to trade for what I need, or it spends time investing in relationships, or myself, or others. Yet there is nothing that I can do for God, bring to him, buy for him, offer to him, that will catch his eye except one thing: faith. In Genesis, God made a distinction between the work of Cain and Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. Genesis‬ ‭4:2-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

One was accepted, one was not. One was made in honoring faith, the other made out of self-prescribed efforts. On the surface it may look trivial, even arbitrary, yet the distinction mattered.

So the question is a good one… “What should I do? What does God want from me?”

And the audacious response. Believe.

And not just in something generic, but instead, in someone. Me.

You?

Yes, me.

It’s not a principle. Not a system. Not a doctrine. Not an event, miracle, or story of something supernatural. It’s not even embracing Christianity. It’s a person. A real, live, thinking, feeling, knowing, caring person.

What an audacious proposition.

Then, among these followers it would have seemed crazy because the litmus test they had prepared for the Messiah had failed. In their eyes he did not qualify. And today it could continue to seem crazy because… he’s not here. And He’s not saying these things to me, I’m reading them in the Bible or hearing them from someone else. Or is he?

Today, just like then, I grapple with the idea that I must embrace something I cannot see. Something that may not appear fully, beyond a doubt, real or true. And within every person is a different standard for believing. Some will believe based on the experiences recounted by another, whereas others must put their finger in the hole of a nail-scarred hand. Yet that is the nature of faith—it is accepting as true something you cannot see— it relies on an internal and intrinsic ability to believe.

Let’s move this conversation from the twilight zone to the practical. We already do this every day. I don’t see air, yet I believe in my next breath. I haven’t put my finger in the power outlet, yet I trust my mother who says it doesn’t feel so good. I don’t see gravity, the full light spectrum, or hear the audio spectrum outside my hearing range, yet I believe they exist. I did not meet Abraham Lincoln, yet I trust the history books that he was a real man. So in fairness I should not set a standard for believing in Jesus that is so very high and out of reach. Yet if I’m honest, the truth appears inconvenient and the nature of man does not want it within reach — it costs me too much to believe.

As I consider these things this morning, I’m thankful for the moment I chose to believe in this man of history. Yet, that is simply the beginning. Faith grows. Step by step he leads me into his kingdom into things that seem unreal, amazing, absurd, marvelous, then preposterous. When he tells me he loves me, I have no idea what that means. So my entire life he plays in the sand box of my faith and creates castles of love. Then it begins to make sense to me… the journey of faith is in Jesus. Nothing else. No one else.

“…believe in the one he has sent.”

When he said this, his disciples could reach out and touch him. Ask him a question and expect a response. They could observe his behaviors and habits. He was flesh and blood. But today, he asks me to believe in something I cannot see. What’s the deal?

Without stealing the thunder of the coming verses in John 14, Jesus told them it was better that he was going away — because if he did, the Holy Spirit would come and dwell in us. He was “with” them, but would be “in them.” Make no mistake, Jesus is just as real today as when he was walking the earth. Yet the means by which he connects with me is the thing that has changed. Then, ears could listen, eyes could see. But just like then, today my spirit must be awake and alive to hear and understand. Then he could interface with a few, today with many. This still blows my mind. He is a real person. And he really wants to have friendship and relationship with me. But, I must believe.

Then they saw him and were close to him, but missed him because they could not believe. Today, I cannot see him, but I love him and trust him… and he is just as close.

In verse 27 he says, “work for the food that endures to eternal life.” And in this verse he clarifies that work, “believe in the one he has sent.” And today, that is still the core of the work I am called to do.

So, what does it mean in real terms to believe in Him? His Spirit indicates what this is, but if I were to drill down a bit and put it into words (for myself), it would mean to first, accept Jesus’s identity as the son of God. He in fact is the living, breathing, exact representation of who God is on this earth. Jesus was the person who God was fully pleased with and who trusted him, had relationship with him, and his actions lived it out. If this identity is true, then second, his words and instructions are important — I should pay close attention to them. And third, in some of the words he spoke he said he was the way the truth, the life, the door, the resurrection, the good shepherd, and so many other things. He is our health, our remedy, our supply, a river within, our future and hope. Everything good! And what is better than… a friend? My “work” is to know this friend. Trust him. Be influenced by him — as a sheep following a good shepherd.

It’s time to go to work.