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Believing the Impossible

Charlie Boyd - 1/19/2020

When you think about it, what Christians believe is really extraordinary—God became a human and walked the earth. God died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended back into heaven, and through simple faith in Jesus, God gives us eternal life as a free gift. 

Many of the people you rub shoulders with every day have decided that those things are quite impossible to believe. But for us, we don’t have to force ourselves to believe these things. So the question is: How do believers believe things that unbelievers find impossible to believe? 

Are Christians just more gullible, more naïve, than most other people? We might be accused of that. But it can’t be that so many people are just delusional. No, there’s a mystery here—the mystery of faith. Some people have it, some people don’t. The question is, Why? Why do unbelievers not believe? Why do believers believe? John 6 helps answer those questions. (By the way, I’m not going to work straight through this passage. I am going to tease out the main points and show how Jesus emphasizes them in a more topical fashion.)

Reasons Unbelievers Don’t Believe

First, they don’t understand the spiritual significance of Jesus’ message (Read John 6:26-35). What Jesus is saying in these verses (big picture) is something like this: “You Galileans must realize that there are two kinds of bread. There’s the bread that nourishes your physical lives, which ultimately will spoil. And there’s the bread that nourishes your spiritual lives, which lasts forever. You ate the loaves and were satisfied, but you’ve completely missed the point. Feeding people is a sign that points to my willingness and my ability to meet a much deeper spiritual need.” And that was the problem—they refused to believe because they didn’t understand the spiritual significance of Jesus and his message. 

The same thing is true today. Many people refuse to believe in Jesus because what Jesus offers doesn’t seem relevant enough or practical enough. “People are starving. Nations are at war with each other. Something has to be done. Don’t tell us about some pie-in-the-sky heaven. Don’t tell us about a personal relationship with a man who died 2,000 years ago. Feed us now. Free us now.” But Jesus refuses to be a Messiah on our terms. He will not allow us to define who he is or what he has come to do. He is not a meal-ticket or a political reformer. The sad fact is, the spiritual significance of Jesus’ message just isn’t what many people then or now are looking for.

Second, they cannot swallow Jesus’ ridiculous claims (Read John 6:41-42). We saw back in chapter 5 that Jesus claimed to be equal with God and the religious people considered those claims to be blasphemous. Here, he makes the same kind of claims to these militant Galileans, and they think his claims are ridiculous. (read verses 35-40). He’s trying to get this crowd to see that if they could see him for who he really is, they would see that what he’s offering them would satisfy their souls— not just their stomachs. He’s saying, “I’m not just the giver of bread, I am the bread.” He’s saying, “You have to come to me to satisfy the deep hunger you feel inside. You have to come to me or you will not have life. But to those people that claim was utterly ridiculous. The same is true today. For Jesus to say that eternal life is something you find by finding him—by believing in him and him alone—some people just can’t accept that. Yes, he’s a great teacher, a good loving example to follow, but to say that Jesus is God who has come down from heaven with the power to give life to those who come to him, well, that’s just too ridiculous to believe. Jesus is bread they just can’t swallow.

Third, they cannot stomach Jesus’ offensive initiation (Read 6:51-59). As Jesus continues speaking, he makes it harder, not easier to believe. He claims to be the bread of life. When the crowd rejects that, he starts talking about “eating my flesh and drinking my blood.” And so he moves from being outrageous to downright offensive. Step outside your Christian mindset for just a minute and you have to admit that when Jesus invites us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, it’s really distasteful. It’s off-putting, gruesome, ghastly, abhorrent, cannibalistic—yuck! 

Later on, the church took most of “yuck” factor out of this by saying that Jesus was really talking about Holy Communion. But there's no way would the people in the crowd would have understood the “Lord’s Supper” in any way other than gross cannibalism. 

To understand what Jesus is saying, you need to compare v. 54 and v. 40. The promise is the same in these two verses—eternal life and being raised by Jesus on the last day. The difference is that v. 54 speaks of eating and drinking Jesus flesh and blood and v. 40 speaks of looking to Jesus and believing in him. Jesus is using symbolic language. He’s saying “Eating is believing and believing is eating.” So the metaphor of eating flesh and drinking blood tells us what it means to “believe.” Believing in Jesus is not simply a mental exercise. No, to believe in Jesus is like eating bread. When you eat, the food enters your body and that food strengthens, sustains, and energizes you. It becomes life for you. Even more, it becomes a part of you. So to believe in Jesus is to trust him in such a way that your relationship with Jesus flavors all that you are and all that you do (Brian Onken). And people still choke on that today as well. They can’t stomach the fact that Jesus demands so much. Yes, go to church. Yes, be a relatively good person, but let Jesus be life for me?” That’s going too far.” (Read verses 60, 63-64, and 66)—”This is a hard saying; who can accept it?” Again, Jesus makes the point: "What I have been saying to you is spiritual in nature. It is the Spirit who gives life, not the flesh. These words, as difficult as they are to accept, are spirit and life.” But sadly those words didn't appeal to the appetites of the crowd that day. And many who had once considered themselves disciples walked away from Jesus.

So with these obstacles How does anyone believe? I mean, these are very real barriers to faith—barriers that every one of us has to deal with. And, with it being this difficult to believe What would keep Jesus from being discouraged that all these people are rejected him? Well, not everyone walked away. There are some who did take him at his word as hard as it is to understand. But why? Why do believers believe? 

Reasons Believers Do Believe

Three passages in this chapter tell us why there will always be some who do believe.

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

These three passages confront us with an area of Biblical truth that many find more difficult and offensive than anything we've talked about so far. Theologians have called this the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God in Salvation, or the Doctrine of Election. And as you may know, it is the subject of enormous debate. (Dr. J.I. Packer’s illustration about almost drowning in a river and how he was saved). The point is, you cannot make yourself a Christian. It is God who gives you the ability to believe. He jumps into the river of our self-centered lives where we're entangled with all kinds of sin. He illumines our minds, renews our affections, liberates our wills, and he enables us to embrace Jesus by faith. People come to Jesus solely by God’s grace. And because Jesus knew that that was the way it was he could rest in this: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” There was no question in his mind about it. Jesus didn't ascend into heaven wringing his hands, wondering how it would all turn out, worrying, “What if no one believes in me?” No, he knew with certainty that God would draw people to him. Some people say that's a hard teaching. Who can accept it? But for me, I've never understood God's sovereignty in salvation that way. For me, it's the only answer to the mystery of faith. It's the only answer to why some people believe the impossible, ridiculous, outrageous claims of Christianity, and others do not. And that brings me great encouragement. Read verses 67-69. Basically, Peter says, "Lord, we've looked at the alternatives, and it’s true, sometimes we don't understand what you’re saying. But Lord, we've never found anyone like you. Lord, what you’ve said to us has met our deepest need. What you've said to us has delivered us from our sins. Your words have freed us from our fears. Lord, your words are the most remarkable words we've ever heard. They explain life to us. You satisfy us because you have the words of eternal life. And Lord, we have come to believe, that you are the Holy One of Israel. You are the One we’ve been waiting for. You do fit the prophecies. You do fulfill the promises. You are the incompatible Christ and there is no other place we want to be except with you. That's what lies behind Peter’s words. That's what it means to believe. Not that you have to understand everything Jesus says, but that you entrust yourself to everything he is. Can you say what Peter says here? Is that your story? If not, is God drawing you to himself even now? If so, put your faith in Jesus now. 

True belief in Jesus does not mean you understand everything Jesus says, but that you entrust yourself to everything he is.