God Saves All Who Come to Jesus
Passage: John 6:35–6:47
Sermon on John 6:35-47 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, July 7, 2013
The Point of Feeding the Five Thousand
It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve been in John 6 and so it might help to pause for a moment and get the bigger picture in our minds. If you recall, Jesus took five barley loaves and a couple of fish and he miraculously fed more than five-thousand people in one sitting. And just like the rest of the miracles Jesus performs, this particular miracle was not an end in itself. The miracle had a deeper significance. Giving five-thousand Israelites more than their fill of bread, was God’s way of revealing his Son’s glory to Israel. The abundant provision of bread given through Jesus was to teach Israel that Jesus is the true Son of God who had come for their salvation—and not just their salvation, but the salvation of the world, people like you and me who need deliverance from our sins and reconciliation with God.
So the true bread Jesus has in mind is not a kind of bread you merely eat to satisfy your tummy; the true bread is so much more. The true bread from heaven satisfies your entire being with God himself forever. So Jesus says in verse 27, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Then again in verse 32, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And then again in verse 35—as plain as Jesus can say it—“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
So three times now, Jesus has told the Jews directly what the bread miracle was about. It was ultimately meant to point them to himself and his mission to meet Israel’s and the world’s greatest need. Their greatest need was not another barley loaf or even manna falling from the heavens. Our greatest need is not next week’s pay check or a different house or a kinder boss or more obedient children or a different President and political majority. Our greatest need is eternal life found alone in a relationship with God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s true, because we can have all those other things—we can even benefit in great ways from all those other things—and yet still perish under God’s wrath for our sins. So, from an eternal perspective—which is the perspective that really matters—our greatest need is deliverance from eternal wrath and total satisfaction with eternal life in Christ.
A Heart Satisfied with God
That’s what Jesus says we gain, when we come to him. Verse 35, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He’s further describing what eternal life with God is like, what it is that Jesus—as the Bread of Life—really does provide for his people. The idea of not hungering and never thirsting stems from Old Testament imagery that conveys our heart’s satisfaction with God.
For example, think of the day when God told Israel why he let them hunger in the wilderness and then fed them with manna. Deut 8:3 says that God did it to humble them, “that he might make [Israel] know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Translation: true life revolves around you feasting upon God’s self-revelation. Even during their wilderness wanderings, God was teaching them through physical bread where to find true bread—namely, in knowing God through his word, through his self-revelation. And here comes Jesus—the word of God made flesh—saying that eternal life is found by coming to him. Life is about more than just physical sustenance and material gain; life is wrapped up in knowing God through his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are prone to believe that life is wrapped up in the things we can see—as evidenced by our moaning at inconvenient stop lights and our relentless pursuit of Cosmopolitan appearances. So often we believe life revolves around the things we can get our hands on now, or around the ten-second sensations we can feel at midnight; but Jesus is telling us that these things never satisfy the soul. Like the nation of Israel, we were made to thrive on a relationship with God. That’s why the Prophets call us away from our worldly appetites and to respond to God’s invitation to truly live: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to [the Lord], and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to [the Lord]; hear, that your soul may live” (Isa 55:1-3). God calls everyone to come to him, because he’s the only one that truly satisfies.
There are spiritual blessings that God abundantly possesses and that we desperately need if we are to live truly, and the only way to gain them is by coming to and believing in Jesus. And when we come to Jesus and believe in Jesus, this passage says that we gain eternal life—we gain all that comes through a relationship with God—to the degree that we no longer hunger or thirst. Everything we need to truly live with God, for God, under God, is granted us in Christ. We may still be tempted to find life elsewhere, but we will no longer be endlessly and rebelliously trying to satisfy those urges with what we can find in the world. We will instead fly to Jesus Christ time-and-again, knowing that only he can truly satisfy.
We will go to him, because only he can bring us the life spoken of in Rev 7:16-17, where we see God’s martyrs before the throne, sheltered with God’s presence, and the angel says of them, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Verse 35 says, that that promise of eternal life is ours, when we come to Jesus and believe in him. We see it again in verse 37, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” And again in verse 40, “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” And again in verse 47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
The Necessary Condition of Faith in Christ
So, that’s the condition you must meet in order to gain eternal life. You must come to Jesus and believe in him, in order to gain God’s free gift of eternal life. That means you must see yourself as a desperately hungry sinner, you must abandon your empty pursuits of worldly satisfaction, and you must cast yourself wholly into the care of Jesus—the Bread of Life—to find mercy and total satisfaction with God. When any sinner under the sun meets that condition, eternal life will be theirs forever. That’s true for every person in this room: if you want eternal life with God, come to Jesus, believe in Jesus, cry out to him for a new heart that will find its ultimate satisfaction in God alone. Faith in Christ is the necessary condition to gaining eternal life—to gaining the all-satisfying relationship with God we spoke of earlier. That’s the good news Jesus is telling these Jews about his person and his mission: he is the Bread of Life, and God sent him to give eternal life to all who come to Jesus.
But what should we make of the fact that even Jesus’ own people reject him? The Jews aren’t coming to Jesus. Jesus points that out in verse 36: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” Likewise, in verse 41 the Jews grumble about Jesus—much like the Israelites grumbled against God in the wilderness, manifesting their unbelief. Verse 41, “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” So, regardless of how plainly Jesus is setting eternal life before them, regardless of how clearly he’s spelling out his mission to save the world, the majority of his people are still rejecting him.
The Problem of (Jewish) Unbelief
So, what should we say about the fact that even the Jews despise him? Is not the entire purpose of John’s Gospel to argue that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, that he is the anointed Christ of God sent to deliver Israel from her sins and usher in the kingdom of God? What should we make of the persistent stubbornness of Israel’s religious leaders who persecute Jesus? Or what about the blatant reality that the majority of Israel rejects their all-sufficient King, even after God’s borne witness to him again and again and again? Is God’s mission through his Son somehow compromised by Israel’s unbelief? After all, if God’s own covenant people aren’t acknowledging their Messiah, who’s to say that Jesus is in his right mind or that he’s the Bread of Life at all?
Jesus settles all these questions in the following verses and proves that Israel’s unbelief does not compromise God’s mission, nor does their unbelief undermine Jesus’ identity as the Christ. Jesus’ confidence rests not on the approval of the Jews, but on the sovereign will of his Father and the infallible mission of the Son; and that’s where he wants our confidence placed as well this morning. In other words, when you come to Jesus for eternal life, when you come to eat of his bread, what you encounter is that God brought you to his Son and his Son secured you for his Father. That is why we gain life in Christ, namely, the Father’s will and the Son’s work bring us into fellowship with God. Jesus raises both of these points about God’s sovereign will and his Son’s infallible mission in the following verses.
The Father’s Sovereign Will
So, let’s look at the first point Jesus makes about the sovereign will of the Father. Verse 37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He mentions this giving to the Son again in verse 39, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me.” So in both places, we see that the Father gives people to Jesus and that giving of these people to Jesus is the decisive factor in whether they come to Jesus. In other words, nobody comes to Jesus on their own. Yes, they still come. Yes, they still believe. But beneath their coming and believing is God’s sovereign will giving them to the Son. Nobody is morally able to come to Jesus apart from the Father’s sovereign doing. If you want to know how that works with the condition of faith, verses 37 and 39 show us that the Father guarantees that all he’s given to the Son will meet the condition of faith. Eternal life is given only to those who believe; and the Father guarantees that some will actually believe. So by saying that nobody can come to Jesus apart from God’s sovereign choice, we are not undermining faith, we’re simply establishing why the faith exists. Our belief does not force God to give us to his Son, we believe because God has given us to his Son.
Verses 44-45 then help us see how the Father gives people to the Son, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” So the way the Father gives us to the Son is seen in that he draws us to the Son. What does that mean? I believe God’s act of drawing is bound up with verse 45: “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” That’s a quotation from Isa 54:13; and in Isa 54:13, God promises a day when he would restore his covenant with Israel as a result of the work of his Suffering Servant, which we know is Jesus Christ. And in that day, God’s people would encompass not only his faithful remnant, but also people from all the nations; and what would characterize all these people within his covenant is that they would be “taught by the Lord.” That means all of them would have new hearts receptive and obedient to the Lord’s will. The language is very reminiscent of the inward transformation associated with the new covenant, and which John speaks of in terms of the new birth (cf. Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:24-26; Joel 2:28; John 3:1-8).
So the way God draws people to his Son is by causing inward transformation, so that they want the Son and come to the Son and believe upon the Son. Again, the only people who will ever come to Jesus are those the Father gives and draws to Jesus, no more and no less. The language Jesus uses, here, is nothing short of what is bound up with God’s free and sovereign work of regeneration (cf. 1:12-13; 3:16, 21). Scripture also speaks of the Father giving people to his Son in the sense of divine election. That, too, is God’s sovereign work, and we see it in places like Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17:2, 24, and we see it in Eph 1:3-4. The Scriptures teach both realities of God’s sovereign work and they complement one another—whereas God’s electing work of some to salvation occurs in eternity past, God’s regenerating work happens in history through the work of his Spirit and the proclamation of the gospel. So whether we’re speaking of election or regeneration, it is the Father’s work to save some by giving them to the Son and also drawing them to the Son. That is the ultimate cause behind our coming to Jesus. We do not owe our election and regeneration to faith; rather, we owe our faith to election and regeneration. The Jews who are speaking to Jesus will not meet the condition of faith apart from the Father’s work. If they come to him, it is evidence that the Father has given them to the Son.
The truth of these words are unsettling to the natural man inside us, because we want to find something in us that could possible serve as the basis of our salvation. But when we hear Jesus say such words, we’re immediately reminded that to search for something we did to gain eternal life is to search in vain. We are not a neutral people; we come into this world running fast and hard to hell, with no looking back. Our coming to Jesus was wholly owing to God’s work in us. We contributed nothing to him looking so favorably upon us in Christ except our own wretched sinfulness. Moreover, that God acted to give us to the Son and draw us to the Son should remind us not only that we were once separated from the Son, but we could do nothing to help ourselves to the Son. We had to be given to him; we had to be drawn to him; and God does both according to his own gracious will.
That means Christians should be the most humble people on the face of the planet. We must never think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Our salvation is owing to nothing of our own merit and nothing of our own loveliness. We once walked the course of this world and we’re still vulnerable to the same sins as the rest of society. The only reason we’re running away from our sins to Christ for eternal life is solely owing to God’s sovereign will. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world; he gave us to his Son; and he wrought the inward change which drove us to his Son, even overcoming our resistant wills. We are just as deserving of hell as the rest of the world, but because of God’s work, we find ourselves among those undeservingly saved. How could we ever speak any truth of the gospel with a kind of pomp and air about ourselves as if we arrived at these conclusions on our own? How could we ever contend for the faith in such a manner that looks down our noses at other people as if to say our own intelligence brought us to God? How could we ever fight for Christian values in the public square without tears of gratitude for now being among those “taught of God” and compassionate hearts towards those still lost as we once were? In the same manner God has shown us mercy; we should show mercy to others.
Moreover, that God gives people to the Son should give us great confidence in the gospel’s power to save. Whenever we preach the gospel to others and they refuse to believe or they mock us and persecute us, our flesh is tempted either to lose confidence in the gospel’s power to save or to try to fabricate conversion to Christ through additional means. However, what Jesus teaches us here, is that there’s nothing wrong with the gospel message. It will save everybody God intends for it to save. The Father does not forget whom he has given to the Son; the Son does not despise any part of the gift the Father’s gives him; and the Holy Spirit will never miss any of those the Father has given the Son, ever. He will ensure they come to him according to the Father’s choice and his Son’s work. As people reject the message of the cross, we need not water it down or add anything to make Jesus more attractive. Nothing we do can bring about genuine conversion; such an inward transformation is in God’s hands. Sure, we preach the gospel like crazy, since that is his means for converting the nations; but the Father ultimately overcomes a sinner’s resistance by drawing him to Christ.
Such a view of God’s sovereignty in salvation is often accused of hindering missions and evangelism. But Jesus views his Father’s sovereign will as the only hope for missions and evangelism. Because of God’s work, Jesus is certain that people will be saved; people will come to him; people will believe in him. In fact, he’s so confident they’ll come to him that he even plans to raise up the full number of them on the last day. The same confidence for missions also appears in 10:16 when Jesus says that he has other sheep scattered among the nations and they will hear his voice and follow him. Apart from God’s sovereign work of giving and drawing, the Great Commission will not be finished. Sinners are too hardened to respond to the gospel on their own. But this text says that God will win all he gives to the Son.
So let us not hesitate to bring the gospel into the lives of others regularly, regardless of their unbelief. It is through the hearing the message of God’s sovereign, unstoppable mission through his Son that proud sinners are humbled and brought to faith. Is this not the practice of Jesus, to preach sovereign grace to hardened, impenitent sinners that they might close their arrogant mouths, fall on their faces before Christ, and be saved? Listen to Jesus’ declaration to the unrepentant cities in Matt 11:27-28: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” That’s divine sovereign initiative in salvation! Then what does he add? “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Can we unpack the gospel like that before unrepentant sinners? The gospel is a message about God’s sovereign work in Christ and if anybody comes to faith, it will be through that message and no other.
So never should we make the false assumption that God’s sovereign work hinders missions and evangelism. If anything it empowers it with a gospel whose success depends not on the wills of men, but on the sovereign work of God. God is not bound by the many sins of men, but is free to save whom he will. His plans to save his elect are not frustrated by unbelief; their unbelief only gives opportunity for him to demonstrate his mighty power in regeneration as we preach the message of the cross.
The Son’s Infallible Mission
The second point Jesus raises is that of his own infallible mission. By saying his own infallible mission, I don’t mean that it’s a mission other than his Father’s; but that it’s his mission to accomplish. And by describing it as an infallible mission, I mean to say that Jesus’ mission to save all the Father gives him will not err or fail. His mission will be carried out with such certainty, with such perfection, with such totality, with such omnipotence, with such submission to his Father’s purpose, that he will lose no part of the Father’s gift as a result. He will save them all to the uttermost. He speaks this way in verses 37-39: “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So the will of the Father is nothing short of the Son securing resurrection life for all he gives the Son. Every person the Father gives the Son will not be lost, but will be saved and raised by the Son to a resurrection of life on the Last Day. Jesus has come to do nothing except the Father’s will: he will save no more than the Father gives him and he will save no less than the Father gives him. All that the Father ordains to eternal life, the Son will also win. The countless multitudes from every nation, tribe, language, and people who’ve been given to the Son will be saved by the Son—not a single one lost. The work of the Son renders the Father’s will for his elect undefeatable.
And if you’re coming to Jesus for eternal life; you’re in the mix of those eternally secured by the work of Christ. He’s not just your Savior for today; he is your Savior for everyday till he raises your dead body from the grave. It usually doesn’t take five minutes in the morning for me to encounter the weakness of my flesh or be tempted by the enemy toward despair. The same may be true of you. But Jesus’ words lift our heads from a focus on our own weaknesses to his infallible mission—a mission that not only secures our deliverance from sin with his bloody cross, but also raises us to life at the resurrection of the just. If you’ve been given to the Son—if you’ve come to him for eternal life—Jesus words imply no less than, “Child of God, you’re gonna make it!” Not because of something in you, but because of the infallible mission of Christ to secure eternal life for all the Father gives him.
Might you consider that when you come again to the Lord’s Supper this morning? Might you consider that you don’t come to this Table because God has offered you mere possibilities for salvation or even a hypothetical salvation should you reach the end by your own efforts? Might you consider instead that you eat this bread and drink this cup because God has secured for you salvation in full? It is because the Son secures complete redemption for all the Father gives him that he is your all-sufficient Savior. Think of it. No sins will be standing in your way at the resurrection because Christ took them all away at the cross at his Father’s request. No death will be left to hold you in the grave because Christ conquered it for you at his Father’s request. No wrath will await you at the resurrection because Jesus’ Father told him to stand in your place and absorb it all for you. All that awaits you on the last day is the Son’s resurrection power which will usher you into his Father’s glory. If you’re trusting in Christ, the Lord has even sealed you with the promised Holy Spirit, to guarantee you obtain the inheritance. That is what we eat and drink to remember this morning. Eternal life is really ours as we come to Christ as the Bread of Life, because the Father’s sovereign will and the Son’s infallible mission underlies the eternal life he gives. Despite what the Jews reject and what the world considers foolishness, we who believe have tasted that the true bread from heaven will never fail us. The Father and the Son guarantee it. Let’s eat and drink to that end.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus