Preconceived Notions and John 6

 

My kids are getting to the ages where they like knock-knock jokes and riddles. On our road trip this summer we would share riddles to pass the time. For fun, lets see if you can get these 2 riddles:

1) I travel all over the world, but always stay in my corner. What am I? A Stamp.

2) What kind of coat is always wet when you put it on? A coat of paint.

Riddles help us to look at the world differently. And sometimes they reveal our Preconceived Notions w/o us knowing it. See if you can get this riddle:

A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies in the crash, and the son is taken to the nearest hospital. The doctor comes in and exclaims: I cannot operate on this boy. Why not? the nurse asks. Because he is my son, the doctor responds. How is this possible?

How is it possible that the doctor cannot operate on their son, when the father is already dead? Any guesses? The answer is that the doctor is the boys mother. Did you have preconceived notions you were not aware of? When I first heard this riddle I was thinking about how maybe the father who died was a stepfather and the doctor was the biological father. Or maybe the boy had 2 dads. In the moment, it did not occur to me that the doctor could have been a woman. w/o getting into a big discussion about gender and the workforce, I can say that b/c of culture and my upbringing, I had preconceived notions.

Preconceived notions are opinions that are formed beforehand without sufficient evidence. And we all have them. And they are informed by various inputs in our lives: Media, Culture, Upbringing, and more. And we all have our own preconceived notions of God. We agree w/ Paul in Romans 11 and proclaim:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?

We believe that fullness of God is beyond our understanding, and yet we approach one another and God Himself w/ our preconceived notions of who He is. If you are a more Liberal Christian, you might say that JC was a guy just like us, giving us the best example of humanity, while deemphasizing the sacrifice of JC. If you are a more Doctrinal Christian, you might say that JC is found only in the creeds of the church, which deemphasize the life of JC on earth, while highlighting the realities and benefits of the cross. Whether you agree w/ my assessment or not, you probably agree that our perception of who JC is informs how we interact w/ others and God, and defines who we consider to be preaching the gospel and who is preaching something else.

 

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At The Table this fall we have been studying the life of JC seen in the book of John. And today I want us to look at John 6. So grab a Bible and turn to John 6. It has been our hope this fall to expose our preconceived notions of JC and discover Him again. I sometimes wonder how my version of JC would get along w/ JC Himself. So w/ all this in mind, lets look at John 6.

Today I want us to primarily look at the latter portion of John 6, but for context we must first look at vs. 1-15. JC and His disciples, after performing miracles in Jerusalem, cross the Sea of Galilee and are followed by a crowd. And in this famous scene, JC feeds 5,000 men, w/ only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. w/o preaching a sermon to the crowd (that we know of), JC feeds people. A more Liberal Christian might say: JCs primary concern was physically feeding, and therefore this is what we should do in His name. And a more Doctrinal Christian might discount this emphasis, calling it the social gospel, and say: JC is revealing a greater spiritual reality in this miracle. The way we read our Bible reveals our perceptions of JC. And the crowd that followed JC had their notions of Him too. This crowd had begun following Him because of the miracles He had done. They hoped He could satisfy their physical hunger and their political ambitions as well. The crowds believed He was the political messiah. And knowing they wanted to crown Him as such, we are told in v. 15 that JC slipped away from the crowd. And in vs. 16-21, JC performs another miracle, by walking on water. JC leaves the crowds further behind and crosses the Sea of Galilee again.

Now looking at v. 22-24, we are told that the crowd realizes that JC is gone, so they go looking for Him. They cross the lake and in v. 25 it says: Rabbi, when did you get here? This begins one of the great dialogs of Johns gospel.

Jesus answered: Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

JC says: You want me b/c I fed you, not b/c you understood the miracle. Do not seek food, seek eternal life. In v. 28, the Crowd responds: What must we do to do the works God requires? Their preconceived notion was that God required certain actions in observance of the law to receive His blessing. They are missing the point that eternal life is something that will be given to them, as v. 27 says. Their version of God was meeting God Himself . JC says in v. 29: All you must do is believe in the One sent by God. And so the crowd wants JC to prove that He is the One sent by God asks in v. 30:

What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

The crowd, perhaps seeing the connection b/t the sent one of Moses and the bread he gave, say to JC: Show us a miracle like Moses and we will believe. As one commentator said: Their request is strange, coming so soon after miracle of the 5,000. Why would those whom Jesus had miraculously fed only a day before ask for bread from heaven? It appears that the controlling term is not bread but the phrase “from heaven.” JC had given them food from the earth, but for them to believe He is anything like Moses, they want to see manna FROM HEAVEN. Maybe their preconceived notions had the Messiah looking like Moses. And in v. 32, JC says:

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. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

JC says, it was not Moses who gave bread from heaven, it was God Himself who gives life. JC is redirecting the dialog to explain that this is not a question of what Moses did in the time of the Exodus but of what God is doing right now. It is not a question of manna from the sky but of a flesh and blood person who stands before them. But they are not tracking w/ JC and say: Yeah, this is the bread we are talking about. They do not get it, so JC explains the metaphor, in v. 35, saying:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Fathers will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

He says: You want a sign from Heaven, I have come from heaven to do my Fathers will. He says: I am this bread that gives life, but you do not believe. And the crowd rejects His claim of coming from heaven, b/c they know where He came from; they know His parents. In v. 42: They said: Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, I came down from heaven? JC rebukes them saying:

Stop grumbling among yourselves… 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The crowds preconceived notion was that messiah was a political good guy, a prophet like Moses or a King like David. JC sticks to the point and asserts that no one comes unless the Father draws them. He says: The bread Moses gave did not give eternal life. Rather, I am the living bread, eat of me and you will live. Meaning, all who believe that JC is the sent one of God, will have eternal life. JCs physical death is the price for the worlds spiritual life.[1] But this talk of eating flesh is weirding out the crowd. They know their Bibles, and would have been perhaps been thinking about Leviticus 17:10, when God said: I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people And so the crowd asks in v. 52: How can we eat His flesh? JC does not back down form this image and says:

Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

Seems like an appropriate passage as we head into Halloween week, eating flesh and drinking blood. But this was the reaction of the crowd, JC is talking strangely. He says, I am the one sent from heaven. The creator of life sent me, if you feed on me, believing I am sent, you will receive life forever. In other words, JC promises something far greater than manna in the desert. He offers life with Him now and victory over death at the last day.

And to me that is the key phrase: JC offers life with Him today and victory over death at the last day. In context, JC fed 5,000 men w/ real bread, no strings attached. JC cares for the physical wellbeing of His people. w/o saying a word, JC proclaims that the Kingdom of God is like a hungry crowd that gets fed. He offers a satisfied life w/ Him now. Perhaps this point is something a Doctrinal Christian would pass over. But that is not the end. He also offers eternal life, victory over the grave, for those who believe that He is the sent one of God, who gave His body as payment for our sin on the cross, so that we would not die, but rise w/ Him into eternal life. Perhaps this is a point that a Liberal Christian would pass over. But they would do well to wrestle w/ the thought that JC not only offers us satisfied life w/ Him today, but also gives us victory over the grave. This is the bread He offers us, live today and eternity to come. This is the meal He invites us to eat. But all too often, we prefer the preconceived notions we may have of JC to JC Himself. Perhaps we prefer the notion that JC was a political good guy, simply showing us how to live and serve. Or we prefer to lock Him in the creeds, detached often from today. And so when our version of JC meets our neighbors version of JC we feel threatened. And instead of dialoging we go into survival mode, dig into our defensive positions, pridefully assert our opinions on Facebook or at the dinner table, and live lives of maintenance and self-preservation. b/c of our preconceived notions, we miss opportunities of dialog and love. That’s why I wonder how my version of JC would get along w/ JC Himself. The good news is that JC offers life with Him today and victory over death at the last day. He cares for the physical wellbeing of His people, but does not stop there. He is the sent one, who offers His flesh as sacrifice, saying: eat of this and you will live. This is the bread He offers.

And if you look at v. 60 it says: On hearing it, many of his disciples said: This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? And in vs. 61-65, JC essentially asks them: What will you do when you realize you are wrong, and see me return to heaven. He says: Only the Spirit gives life, and I speak the words of spirit and life. I am the bread of life. And v. 66 says: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Their preconceived notions of messiah did not get along w/ messiah Himself.

 

Today

My prayer for us today is that we would not become like these disciples who left. The Father did not draw them, so they did not believe. My prayer is that the Father would draw you close, that the Holy Spirit would reveal the preconceived notions you and I have of JC, and that JC Himself would reveal Himself more fully to us. The good news is that JC is the revealed messiah. He is the bread, the sent one from Heaven, and He invites us to life with Him today and victory over death at the last day. And so this means we need not settle for a life lived in survival mode, where we are constantly on watch in our defensive positions. Rather b/c of the work of JC on the cross, we can live a full life of peace, looking ahead to life fulfilled. We can leave the trenches and live into and share the resurrected life w/ others. So may we be found faithfully pursuing JC, as we live among our neighbors.

Amen.

 

[1] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 6:51). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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