Responding to Difficult Words

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

March 12, 2000

Responding to Difficult Words

John 6:41-71

I received another unusual e-mail this week. A man sent me a copy of his letter to Randall Terry regarding the Christians in Vermont who were, as he put it, "protesting homosexual marriages getting the same benefits as straight marriages." I have no idea why it was sent to me except he says that I am part of the "you people" who "need to get a life." For those that are not aware, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state legislator had to find a way to give homosexual partners the same benefits as marriage partners.

What was disturbing about the letter was the man’s view of God. It was obvious from his remarks that he had read portions of the Bible, but he understood neither what he was reading nor the God it reveals. In his view God, "created us and then said basically, ‘suffer now or suffer later’." "Either live for God in this life, denying ourselves all the ‘worldly’ fun we could be having and go to heaven, or live for ourselves in this life, indulge our "flesh" and go to hell."

The Bible is quite straightforward in its revelation of God, but that does not mean it is easy to understand. The problem is not the Bible, but man’s mind which has been "darkened in understanding" because of sin (Eph. 4:18). As 1 Cor. 2:14 puts it, But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. Satan has "blinded the eyes of the unbelieving" (2 Cor. 4:4). But before anyone wants to blame Satan for their troubles or unbelief, let me remind you that it is sin, not Satan, that is the problem.

Satan’s is powerful, but he is very limited. James 4:7 is very clear and direct, "Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you." The problem is that people love their sin and are enslaved to it (Rom. 6), so that they are unwilling to submit to God. They profess themselves to be wise, but become fools (Rom. 1:22). Even those that do not ultimately reject God (Rom. 1:28) will distort Him to fit their own ideas. That is why Paul warned Timothy about those who would fall away and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:10) and would not endure sound doctrine but would get teachers who would tickle their ears in accordance with their own desires (2 Tim. 4:3).

This morning we are going to finish Jesus’ "Bread of life" discourse in John 6. In it we will see the response of different groups of people to Jesus’ declarations about Himself. Even though Jesus uses metaphors to present His claims, all of these people should have understood what Jesus was saying, but each responds differently because of what they were looking for. As we look at their responses, consider what you are looking for and your own response.

THE SETTING (6:1-40)

The setting for Jesus’ discourse here goes back to Jesus feeding the 5,000 plus the previous day. If you will recall from our study of the first part of chapter 6, Jesus and the disciples had sought to get away from the crowds in Galilee by going across the Sea of Galilee to a lonely place on the northeast shore. However, the crowds followed them there. Jesus had compassion upon them and both healed the sick and taught them of God. That evening he performed the additional miracle of multiplying five barley loaves and two small fish into enough food to for more than 5,000 with 12 baskets left over.

After the meal was over, the crowd began to recognize that Jesus could be the promised prophet spoken about in Deut. 18 and they intended to make Him king. Jesus knew this and disrupted their plan by first sending his twelve disciples back to Capernaum in the boat and then dismissing all the people. Jesus then went up to the mountain to pray by Himself.

That night, a storm came up that greatly hindered the disciples from making it across the lake. Sometime between 3 and 6 a.m., Jesus walked across the lake on the water and joined the disciples. This frightened them at first until Jesus assured them it was Him and He got in the boat with them and calmed the storm. They then immediately reached Capernaum. (If you like to know more about either of these events, pick up the sermon tapes).

That morning the people who were still on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee began to look for Jesus. When they could not find Him they traveled to Capernaum where Jesus had been staying for the previous year. When they found Him a discussion began between Jesus and the crowd. Jesus first gave them a rebuke for seeking Him for the wrong reason, (they had been fed by Him the day before (6:26), and He encouraged them to work for the food which endures to eternal life. He went on to further explain that the work of God was to believe in Him. They responded by demanding an additional sign from Jesus, like what happened during the time of Moses when God provided the manna from heaven. This began the "bread of life" discussion.

In the initial part of this discussion in verses 32-40 Jesus makes direct claim to be the antitype of the manna. The manna was physical bread that would be eaten, but hunger would return. Jesus was the "true bread out of heaven" that would give life. Jesus claimed to be the "bread of life" which would remove hunger and that to believe in Him would end thirst (vs. 32-35).

Jesus went on to further explain that He would not cast out those who came to Him and that He had come down from Heaven to do the Father’s will and not His own (37-38). The Father’s will for Jesus was that He lose none of those given to Him, but would raise them up on the last day (39). The Father’s will for them was that"everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (40).

It is at this point we pick up the text for this morning’s study.


John 6:41 (NASB) The Jews therefore were grumbling about Him, because He said, "I am the bread that came down out of heaven." 42 And they were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?"

Grumbling is speaking in low tones, murmuring. And the text here says they were doing it about or concerning Jesus. They were not happy with what He had said and they were talking it over among themselves in such a way that they did not want Jesus to over hear them directly. We have all seen and heard this kind of thing happen. Someone says something in a speech the people did not like or understand and the crowd starts whispering.

What was the problem? Notice first that the text says that it was "the Jews" that were doing this. Throughout John’s gospel the phrase, "the Jews," refers to those who are generally following the pharisaical system and are hostile to Jesus. These are not the religious leaders from Jerusalem that have come up to hassle Jesus, but local people that knew Jesus and His family – as verse 42 indicates. If you look ahead to verse 59, you will see that Jesus is saying all these things in the synagogue at Capernaum. These are the leaders of this synagogue and their followers. Their mindset was really not any different from the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

Their primary problem was with Jesus’ statement that He was "the bread that came down out of heaven." They reject the idea that Jesus was something other than an ordinary man like they were. The fact that they knew Him and His family only added to their rejection of His claim. The questions in verse 42 are rhetorical expecting a positive answer. The point being that since they knew Jesus’ father and mother and had watched Him grow up, so he could not be someone who came down from heaven.

Jesus heard their grumbling and knew what it was about. He answers it in verse 43-51 showing why they did not believe and then restates His claim even more forcefully.

First, Jesus addressed their grumbling. Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among yourselves." Jesus does not address the specifics of their grumbling, but simply tells them to stop. Like the fellow that e-mailed me this past week, people may not like God’s commands, but He has every right to give commands to His creatures and expect those commands to be obeyed. That is the human responsibility side of God’s interaction with us.

Next, Jesus addresses God’s divine action. John 6:44 "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." Those who reject or do not like the doctrine of divine election do not like this verse and have to do quite a bit of theological gymnastics to try and get around it, but it is very clear. Jesus had already mentioned twice (vs. 37, & 39) that they Father gives people to the Son. Now Jesus states it forcefully that unless the Father draws a person, they cannot come to Jesus Christ.

The word "draw" here is elcw (elcho) which means to "draw or drag." This is not a "moral influence" or a "gentle persuasion," but a strong force that gets the job done. It is used of the fish "dragged" ashore in John 21:6,11. The force can even be violent such as when Paul and Silas are "dragged" into the forum (Acts 16:19) or Paul "dragged" out of the temple (Acts 21:30).

Theologians have called this "drawing" to Christ "irresistible grace." It is God’s grace in drawing us out of our sin and redeeming us in Christ. Like a fish in the net being dragged to shore, that is not where we would naturally want to go. Some fish might swim with the net and be moved easily while others swim against the net and are moved by the force of the net. In both cases the net does its job and the fish are drawn in. So it is with salvation. Some of us were more compliant than others, but all who are saved were drawn to Christ by the Father through the Holy Spirit’s action of convicting us of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). No one seeks to turn from their sin to Jesus Christ on their own desire and power. Those who believe in Jesus and become the children of God are not born of blood (genealogical heritage), nor the will of the flesh (your own desire), nor the will of man (someone else’s desire for you) (John 1:12,13). At the end of verse 44 Jesus reaffirms His earlier promise of resurrection – "to raise him up on the last day."

Now before anyone tries to blame God for their unbelief, look at verse 45. "It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." There are several passages this quote could come from, but it is probably from Isaiah 54:13 "And all your sons will be taught of the Lord . . .". This passage, as well as the others, look forward to the time when Messiah would come and teach the people. They would be taught by God Himself. Those that hear and heed will come to Jesus.

The negative is that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. The positive is that all those that hear and learn from the Father will come to Jesus. However, not all taught by God will hear and learn. That was the case with these Jews.

In verse 46 Jesus identifies Himself again as the one who reveals God. "Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father." This is a contrast even with Moses. God granted Moses his desire to see Him, but all Moses saw of God was His God. God had told Moses "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" Jesus has seen the Father because He is from God. If these Jews wanted to know God, then they needed to listen to what Jesus was saying to them.

In verse 47-51 Jesus restates again His promise of eternal life and contrasts Himself as the bread of life with the manna in the desert.

John 6:47 (NASB) "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 "I am the bread of life. 49 "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 "This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh."

The contrast between Jesus and the manna is made clear here. The manna was only the type of what Jesus would be. The manna could sustain life only for a short time, but the curse of sin would still bring death. Jesus is the bread from heaven that overcomes the curse of sin and so brings eternal life.

That this is metaphorical is clear in the context. It is another mishal – a paradoxical saying that makes a veiled, but pointed remark. Jesus is referring to His coming sacrifice for sin on the cross. His statement concerning the bread in verse 51 is in the future tense. He is going to give His flesh for the life of the world. To believe in Jesus (vs. 47) is to accept him as the one crucified for your sin. Passover was at hand (6:4) and Jesus would be the final Passover lamb.


The Jews did not understand the spiritual nature of what Jesus was saying. They take the words Jesus as literal instead of figurative and so are in even greater confusion. John 6:52 The Jews therefore [began] to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us [His] flesh to eat?" They had been grumbling among themselves before, but now they are arguing with each other. What Jesus has said is difficult for them to understand. Jesus explains it to them again in verses 53-58.

John 6:53 (NASB) Jesus therefore 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. 54 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 "For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. 58 "This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever."

This should have been very understandable to them, but again, they did not understand the figurative language. Jesus could not have been advocating the literal eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood, for such would have been cannibalism which was unthinkable under the Mosaic law. A person who ate blood was to be cut off from among the people (Lev. 17:11). While even Jesus’ close disciples did not understand that the Messiah would come first to suffer and die for man’s sins, the concept is presented in the Old Testament in passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. The knowledge was available for them to have recognized Jesus’ statements about His blood as a reference to a sacrifice. In addition, eternal life (vs. 54,58) is a spiritual concept as is the concept of abiding in Jesus and Jesus abiding in you in verse 56. Even though confused, they should have humbly asked more questions. Instead they argued among themselves and rejected Jesus.

The same still occurs today. People do not understand Jesus’ claims, but instead of humbly seeking more information to understand, they reject Him on the basis of their limited knowledge. God resists the proud and arrogant, but He gives grace to the humble. What attitude do you think you need to have as you study your Bible?


As I pointed out earlier, Jesus said these things while teaching in the Synagogue at Capernaum (vs. 59). Now Jesus turns His attention to His disciples. These are those people that had attached themselves in some way as followers of Jesus, or at least their claim would have been to be followers of Jesus’ teachings. There could have been quite a few there. But they are also having a hard time with what Jesus had just said.

John 6:60 Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard [this] said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" They were not arguing, but they were grumbling – talking in low tones among themselves. Their statement is a true one. This is a difficult teaching of Jesus. It is not that it is difficult to understand, but that it is difficult to accept. This passage is the basis for the Roman Catholic Church teaching of transubstantiation – the idea that the bread and wine of Communion become the literal body and blood of Jesus. Because of this, the charge is valid that the Mass must be understood as the re-sacrifice of Jesus and eating the wafer is cannibalism

Jesus responds to them. John 6:61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, "Does this cause you to stumble? The idea of stumbling here is being trapped into sin. Jesus is asking if the what He said has led them to their sinful response. This is not to imply that Jesus somehow tempted them, but rather did His words expose the hardness of their sinful hearts. They also should have been asking questions. Instead they were grumbling.

Jesus then tells them of a future event they would not believe if their hearts remained hard. John 6:62 ["What] then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? Were they also rejecting Jesus claim to have come from heaven? Would they also reject it even if they saw Jesus return to heaven? What evidence would convince them that Jesus was from God. They had seen the many miracles. They had eaten the bread and fish He had miraculously multiplied the previous evening. They wanted manna from heaven and Jesus explained that He Himself was much more than manna, yet they were rejecting what they had heard.

Jesus continued, 63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. Jesus tells them directly that what He had said earlier was of spiritual things, not of fleshly things. This verse also proves that Jesus was not talking about cannibalistically eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He was using an analogy for believing Him and His claims.

Just as food and drink are offered and accepted, so is Jesus’ offer of Himself as the means of eternal life. Just as food and drink are assimilated by the body for nourishment, so belief in Jesus brings about the nourishment of the soul.

Jesus then warns them, John 6:64 "But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father."

The truth of what Jesus said was demonstrated in action very quickly. John 6:66 (NASB) As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore.

Again, it must be emphasized that a person can claim anything they want, but that does not make it true. Many of these people claimed to be followers of Jesus, but when that meant they would have to believe that Jesus was actually from heaven, they rejected what they did not understand. They wanted a savior that was like themselves, just more powerful to be able to throw off Rome’s yoke. They were looking for someone that would make their lives better in the here and now, not someone who was actually God in human flesh that would require such allegiance and intimacy of relationship as to be described in such terms. If they were to pursue Jesus in such a manner that He would abide with them, then Jesus would reveal even their hidden sin.

People still have the same reaction to Jesus Christ. They claim to be followers for awhile, but the more they understand of whom He is and what He desires, the more uncomfortable they become. They want to escape hell, but they do not want to have to become so spiritual. They like living according to their flesh. I hate to sound cynical, but I know that from the examples in Scripture and my own life experience that there will be those here today that will eventually reject Christ. I don’t know who it will be, and often it is a surprise. Let this serve as a warning – don’t let it be you. Jesus already knows everything about you and still loved you so much that He died in your place for your sin. Living in the flesh is only a facade of what life can be. Living for Jesus is true life. Nothing could be more fulfilling. Don’t trade the reality of the abundant life in Christ for the false promises of life in the flesh. If your life is not what you were hoping it to be, then the answer is in learning more of Christ and walking with Him – not in following the example of those pointed out in our text who walked away from Him.


Jesus now concerns Himself with the twelve. Those He had chosen to be His closest followers.

John 6:67 (NASB) Jesus said therefore to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" The question is rhetorical and expects a negative answer, but Jesus asks it as a test for the twelve. Simon Peter answers, 68 Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 "And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God."

Peter is acting as the spokesman for all of them. Notice he uses the plural "we." "Lord, to whom shall we go?" "We have believed." As a group they had come to understand and believe that Jesus was who He was claiming to be. Jesus was from heaven. He was the Holy One sent by God the Father. That was a problem for the Jews and the disciples that had walked away, but it is the truth that if believed will bring eternal life. If Jesus is who He claims, then everything changes in your life as it did for the twelve.

But even among the twelve, there was one imposter. John 6:70 Jesus answered them, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and [yet] one of you is a devil?" 71 Now He meant Judas [the son] of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.

What is your response to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God who was sent by the God the Father to redeem man? Do you believe Him to the be the bread of life? Or do you try to find your sustenance in someone or something else? Do you find Jesus’ claims to be ludicrous as the Jews did? Or perhaps just to hard to accept as the disciples who left? Or are you like one of the twelve that believed?

You can fool me. You might even fool yourself, but you cannot fool Jesus. The proof is in your life. Do you eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood? Jesus makes it clear that this is a requirement for eternal life. How do you do that? Through His word. Again, verse 63 – "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." John 5:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. To feed on Jesus is to feed on what He has said. That is how you can know Him, believe Him and follow Him.

What is your response to Jesus’ difficult words?

Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the name "Eternal life" is said. 2) Discuss with your parents how to have eternal life.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why do people not understand the Bible? Can Satan be blamed for a person’s unbelief? What had occurred the day before Jesus’ "Bread of Life" discourse in John 6? Where was Jesus during this discourse? Who was there to hear him? Why were the Jews grumbling against Jesus (vs. 41)? What is the responsibility of man to God’s commands? What is needed for a person to come to Christ? Can God’s "drawing" be equated to a "positive moral influence"? What does it mean? What is man’s responsibility toward the revelation and teaching of Jesus concerning God the Father? What does Jesus say is required to gain eternal life in this passage? What is the contrast between manna and Jesus, the Bread of Life? What is the response of the Jews to Jesus’ teaching? Who are Jesus’ "disciples" in this passage? Why were they grumbling? Can Jesus’ statements concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood be taken literally? Why or why not? What gives life in verse 63? What value is the flesh? What was the response of these disciples? What was Simon’s Peter response to Jesus’ question (vs. 67)? Did all of the twelve believe as Peter?

Sermon Notes – 3/12/2000 a.m.

Responding to Difficult Words – John 6:41-71

The Setting (6:1-40)

The Difficulty (41-51)

"Dragged" – elcw / elcho John 21:6,11; Acts 16:19; 21:30

Vs. 45 cf. Isaiah 54:13

The Response of the Jews (52-59)

The Response of the Disciples (60-65)

The Response of the Twelve (66-71)

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