Following His Footsteps: “Aiming at the Wrong Target” – John 6

target1Did you ever have an embarrassing moment that just wouldn’t go away? Olympic athlete Matt Emmons can sympathize with you, I’d bet:

Matt Emmons was just focusing on staying calm. He wishes he had been more concerned with where he was shooting. Emmons fired at the wrong target on his final shot, a simple mistake that cost the American a commanding lead in the 50-meter three-position rifle final and ruined his chance for a second gold medal. Ahead after nine shots and needing only to get near the bull’s-eye to win, Emmons fired at the target in Lane 3 while he was shooting in Lane 2. He had cross-fired — an extremely rare mistake in elite competition — and received a score of zero. That dropped Emmons to eighth place at 1,257.4 points and lifted Jia Zhanbo of China to the gold at 1,264.5. “On that shot, I was just worrying about calming myself down and just breaking a good shot, and so I didn’t even look at the number,” said Emmons, 23. “I probably should have. I will from now on.” (Washington Post: Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming at Wrong Target – Monday, August 23, 2004)

Wow, that had to be tough! I took some consolation in the fact that it was a “second” gold metal – no sense in being stingy. At the same time, to lose because he aimed at the wrong target had to be one of those moments he relived a few hundred times in his mind. There are others in sports with such embarrassing moments, and they are rumored to have started a “club”:

Minnesota Vikings “iron man Jim Marshall” played an NFL-record 282 consecutive games at defensive end. Yet, it will likely take a miracle for Marshall to lose his grip on his other notable mark: the most negative yardage accumulated on a single play in NFL history. On October 25, 1964, in a game against the San Francisco 49ers, Marshall recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards with it the wrong way into his own end zone. Thinking that he had scored a touchdown for the Vikings, Marshall then threw the ball away in celebration. The ball landed out of bounds, resulting in a safety for the 49ers. Marshall later received a letter from Roy Riegels, infamous for a wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl, stating, “Welcome to the club”.

Let’s all agree that we cannot win a game or a medal if we don’t aim in the right direction. While we are on the same page of agreement, can we also recognize the spiritual truth as well? Let’s say it the way John did in John 6…

Key Principle: To gain eternal life we must focus on accepting Jesus and what He did for us, not the other distractions that draw our eyes away from Him.

For some, the point of the Gospel – a relationship with Jesus – is obscured by other diversions. The passage suggests five. There are people who seem to be…

Desiring the benefits, but not a relationship with the Lord.

Some people want what God can DO for them – but not God Himself. Consider this account:

John 6:22 The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but [that] His disciples had gone away alone. 23 There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

Jesus made His way out to the disciples walking on the water, and that wasn’t intended to me a display, but a way He could get home to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples saw Him, and He entered the vessel –but that didn’t seem to be the original intent of the walk. Jesus wasn’t trying, even after the fact, to make His walk a matter of public witness. The fact that Jesus was there, and the fact that they all saw the disciples leave without Him gave rise to the question in verse twenty-five: “How did you get here?” Jesus cut through the question, and drove the discussion to their true desire. The people weren’t really asking about HOW Jesus got there – they wanted to know if He was going to continue to “make lunch” for each gathering. They didn’t come with the need for a healing, but they could always use a free lunch.

Jesus’ warning is valuable even generations later. He told them: “Don’t labor for the physical fulfillments, but rather place your hungers in what I can give you in the spiritual fulfillment of eternal life.” The Savior knew and openly expressed that God gave to Him some who were marked for a relationship with Him.

In 1922, a woman named Rhea F. Miller wrote a poem. In 1932, while struggling over some enticing offers to use his voice for financial gain, a copy of that poem was placed on the top of an organ in a family home in New York by a worried mother. Seated at the organ was a 23-year-old musician named George Beverly Shea. Shea read Miller’s poem and the words on the paper brought deep conviction. George took the time to set them to music. As he played the finished product and sung each word, George’s mom tearfully encouraged him to sing the new song in church the following Sunday. Those words are known to Christians in much of the world:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold, I’d rather have His than have riches untold; I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands, I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand. Refrain: Than to be the king of a vast domain, And be held in sin’s dread sway; I’d rather have Jesus than anything – This world affords today.

Life’s prize for a true Christian is not wealth or fame or worldly acceptance – the prize is Christ. The center of his faith is not deep self-understanding or calming inner peace – it is intimacy with Him. The pattern is not found in the popular and the successful of this world – but the Savior who gave Himself for others. The goal is not temporal accomplishment – for all will quickly fade when standing before the One whose Majesty is unparalleled in the Heavens. Paul understood this when he wrote: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Yet the gain was not simply embracing the long departed family of earth, nor entering a Heavenly home of delights set by a street of gold – rather it is standing in the clarity of the light emanates from the Son, with no need for any other light. The prize to the Christian is a life with Jesus. Since that is true, we must tailor our appetites to long for that, and not for peace, acceptance, wealth or fame. These tasty morsels of earth will be bland in tasteless above in the banquet halls of Heaven – offering nothing but distraction from the beauty, majesty and wonder of our Savior at the wedding feast.

Yet, even today, in the presentation of Jesus to lost men and women, we often hear those who make the presentation about inner peace, self-fulfillment or even riches. There have always been those who came to Jesus, but didn’t want Him – they wanted a “fix” for some problem. When He didn’t deliver in the time and way they hoped, they wandered off – because they didn’t come seeking Him.

Hungering a list to perform, not a relationship to cherish.

In that same way, Jesus showed another distraction people fall into…

John 6:28 Therefore they [the men speaking to Jesus] said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.

Notice the question they asked Jesus in verse twenty-eight. They were not asking for relationship with the Son (which is what Jesus just told them they needed). They asked how they could “work the works of God” – as if the works would substitute for a relationship. Jesus’ answer was the beginning place of relationship with Him – belief that He truly came from God and was on the mission He made plain in His speaking.

If one would come to Jesus to invite Him to be Savior, he or she must believe that Jesus was sent from God, and can deliver on the desired salvation because God has ordained the work of the One Who was called “Savior”. Without divine sanction and origin, Jesus was a good man Who desired to bring a message of the need a love for God and fellow man – a message He could do little to secure beyond pointing out the needs. If He is Who He claimed to be – the Eternal Son of God with power over sin and God’s appointment to pay fully for its darkness – then His mission needed to be embraced for His identity to be recognized. Jesus made the point that it was not enough for one to seek a list of works and fulfill them – the answer was found in the authorized connection between the Father and the Son.

Let’s be clear: If Jesus was sent from God, He existed before His birth in Bethlehem (as is clear from the teachings of the Apostle Paul in places like Colossians 1 and Philippians 2). If He was sent from God, the work He accomplished could secure the salvation He promised. If He was not from God – He was a well-meaning impostor. Jesus made clear it was not essential to begin with lifestyle changes and lists – it was essential to begin by believing that Jesus came from the Father, and His mission was approved by the Father. The issue was this: Jesus either came and fulfilled what God desired for redemption, or He did not. Jesus made the point that belief in that connection was the beginning point of receiving Him.

This is where the believer and the non-believer divide in our understanding. The world has, for the most part, been willing to see Jesus as a “good man” – but not as One Who was connected to God in the way that He described Himself to be. A Jesus of a manger in Bethlehem, a baby soft and cuddly is a threat to no one. Forgotten is the Jesus Who cleared the Temple in zeal – unless it is reformed to show how He hated “religious” people – which wasn’t really the point of the story. Forgotten is the Jesus Who gave Sinai’s law – for the Jesus “on the street” let the adulteress go – an ever understanding One who “knows our failures”. In essence, the Jesus of “pop culture” is a caricature of the One in the Bible. The One Who stands above all, the name at which every knee should bow and tongue confess as Master is not the Jesus on the street of America. Sadly, He is not the Jesus in many churches anymore, either. Our modern approach to Jesus has been to make Him more of a friend, a guidance counselor, a toothless chaplain – ever seeking to make our performance in life more successful and our heart during the journey more at peace. Though that isn’t the Jesus we need – it is the Jesus many want. Jesus told these men from the beginning the “divine connection” and Father’s initiative in the work was an essential understanding that put one on the road to recognizing His true mission.

Worshiping the men, but not their Master.

If you keep reading, yet another distraction from truth is mentioned…

John 6:30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.

The men made clear they had expectations of Jesus’ performance – they wanted to compare His works against those done before – particularly by Moses in the wilderness. In verse thirty, they called on Jesus to offer another “free lunch” like He did when they followed Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They pressed Him: “What WORK will you perform?” They continued: “Our fathers got bread from Heaven, in fact, the Scriptures say that HE gave them bread to eat.” In their words, they quoted Psalm 78, but misdirected the pronouns of the verses.

Psalm 78:19 said: “Then they spoke against God; They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? 20 “Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, And streams were overflowing; Can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?

At that point, the “he” pronoun sounded to many like MOSES who struck the rock – yet the He that caused the rock to yield water was the Lord – not His servant. The passage continues in the Psalms:

Psalm 78:21 “Therefore the LORD heard [ not the striking of the rock, but the complaints of the people] and was full of wrath; And a fire was kindled against Jacob and anger also mounted against Israel, 22 Because they did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation. 23 Yet He [God] commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven; 24 He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them food from heaven. 25 Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance.”

Generations later the people still apparently ascribed the work to Moses more than God. Jesus made that clear in His response – it WASN’T MOSES that gave you food in the wilderness – that came from Heaven!

People have the tendency to look at the servant of God and give him or her the credit for what God Himself does. We bring a message of truth, but the truth is not ours – we are the messenger not the source. A few chapters into the Book of Acts, people were seeking the shadow of Peter and John to fall on them – but these men made clear they had Jesus to give others – and there was nothing better. We must expect people to follow people before the message they bring – but as they mature they should not remain in that state. They should grow up and place their allegiance in the Lord above – or their faith will torque into a man-centered religious expression.

Hungering for temporal satisfactions, not eternal solutions.

At the core of many people is a distraction by a “here centered” life. Take a look at the words of Jesus…

John 6:34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 35 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. 36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” And later in… 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 will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

At the heart of the problem of belief is a hunger for fulfillment and success in the wrong place, and a blunted view of what is real, lasting and truly fulfilling. We see life on earth the center of all, and the “afterlife” as some addendum. Yet, this life is short, and the next is eternal – or the message of Jesus is a sham.

Jesus said He is the bread sent from Heaven – the needed element of sustenance. He said the Father had given Him some to follow Him. He said it was His Father’s plan He followed – and that those who followed Him would have eternal life, being raised up on the last day. He claimed the bread, once consumed, would give eternal life and make Him not die. Yet, Jesus was speaking of spiritual life and brought the antidote to sin sickness. His effort was not to fill our stomach, but to fill our heart, our spirit. The problem is simple: One who is looking for a full stomach will miss the offer of a full heart. Many people want “salvation” but they mean it in a “this world” sense. The fact is that we quickly recognize the dangers of a disease to the body – but not to the spirit. We “get” why Ebola is a scary disease – but not why sin is a much worse problem – because we focus on the wrong world.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, in her book The Heart God Purifies wrote this: “Most of us have become so familiar with sin that we no longer see it as a deadly monster. Sin is more dangerous than wild bears, more deadly than blazing forest fires. Ask Nebuchadnezzar, who lost his mind because he refused to deal with his pride. Ask Samson, who was reduced to a pathetic shred of a man because he never got control over the lusts of his flesh. Ask Achan and Ananias and Sapphira, who all lost their lives over ‘small’ secret sins.”

Pastor Jonathan Fallwell noted in a broadcast email yesterday that: “While Ebola destroys the body, sin destroys the inner man, which means it separates us from God and sends us in a spiritual tailspin. We see it in our culture, which has become obsessed with sinful behavior. Imagine watching virtually any modern television show or ad in the context of the cultural climate just 40, 30, even 20 years ago. Tragically, America has adopted a tolerance and acceptance of sin and it does not appear that this trend will soon end.”

Jesus was trying to get the men to realize that they were looking for food to get through the day –but He was offering food that would get them through eternity. It is hard to grasp God’s objective when the view of it is blocked by temporal hungers.

Perceiving a good man, not recognizing the “God-man”.

As He spoke Jesus encountered another reaction that was rooted in disbelief and distraction…

John 6:41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 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’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 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. 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. 46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 “I am the bread of life.

The men who heard Jesus recognized Him as the son of a family they knew. They didn’t say the name of “Joseph” and “Mary” out of derision – they were a good family. Yet, they were from Nazareth (as far back as anyone cared to remember) – and Nazareth was a LONG WAY from Heaven. How could Jesus point to the Heavens and claim He was anything more than a good man who came to do good works and bring happiness to hurting people. A few healings and miracles were not enough to prove that He was anything more than a good guy with a social conscience in their view.

Yet, Jesus was not unclear about what He intended His life to be and to mean to others. He made clear that His Father was drawing people to Him, and others would turn a blind eye. He made clear that He alone had seen the Father, and that belief in Him was the necessary belief that brought life. The people were ready to see Him as a good man – but not as the One Who came down from the Father to bring life eternal – the fully God and fully man eternal Son of the Holy One. He simply said: “I am the bread of life – I am what you need. Me. Nothing else will give you life.”

Look at the words of Jesus in verse forty-seven: “He who believes has eternal life.” Believes exactly “what” is the question. Jesus made the careful point that one must believe that He is the One sent from God Who has seen God, and knows what God requires.” That is the heart of the matter. Jesus either paid the price for sin knowledgeably – or He did not. He is either from God, or He lived in a dream or delusion. What a man or woman concluded about Jesus’ coming, purpose and work made the difference between life eternal and none – according to the words of Jesus as recorded by John.

Fixating on the image, but missing the point.

The longer I preach, the more I sympathize with the last problem…people fixate on an image or illustration of a message, but seem to miss spiritual point being made. Take a look:

John 6:52 Then the Jews [began] to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us [His] flesh to eat?” 53 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. 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 will 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 will live forever.” 59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard [this] said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 “[What] then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 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. 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.” 66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.

Jesus used an image of His body as “manna from Heaven”. In verse fifty-two the people didn’t grasp how they could “eat His flesh”. Strip away church history and the layered theologies of generations with the debates over “consubstantiation” (the doctrine of many of your Lutheran friends that the substance of the bread and wine “coexists with the body and blood of Christ” in the elements of the Eucharist) and “transubstantiation” (The liturgical view, as with your Roman Catholic friend) that the bread and cup at the mass undergo a “conversion” of the substances into the actual body and blood of Christ while the appearances of bread and wine still remain). Go back to the Jewish village of long ago – and recall the dramatic ways Jews were taught never, never, never to INGEST blood. Eating blood was worse than having a ham for dinner.

Jesus told them they needed to “eat His flesh” and the Jews rejected outright the image. Even the disciples told Him: “Nobody is going to listen to that!” Jesus’ answer reveals what the disciples and other listeners were doing with His point – obscuring what He was truly saying. He simply replied: “You guys are stuck on the flesh and missing the spiritual point of the whole illustration!” The flesh, food and eating wasn’t what Jesus was literally talking about – spiritual ingestion of an inner relationship was the point of the saying! He said: “The flesh profits nothing!” In other words, “I am not talking about baking me into your bread – I am talking about spiritual truth!”

How well I understand this comment. In the middle of a series from the Word, I may search for a personal illustration that opens a window to an elusive idea. Let’s say I tell you about the time I went skiing in the Pocono Mountains – and broke all the fingers on my left hand above and below the knuckles – all the way across. That is a true story, and the skiers among us may snap back from wandering in the message to hear about the incident. Those on the staff who like poking fun at me because I am no sportsman will listen intently. It will become the source of several jokes for future staff meetings. Sadly, whatever I was trying to illustrate from the text will quickly be forgotten. Illustrations to aid learners are important, but people can get caught up in the images. I see it all the time.

Let me be clear: Jesus doesn’t want you to EAT HIM in any physical sense. He doesn’t need to mystically add His blood to your communion wine. The bread we eat, if measured under a microscope after any priest of Pastor prays will still be, in every microscopic way, bread – nothing more. Jesus wasn’t telling people they needed daily bread blessed by a priest into becoming His body to go to Heaven.

Sin is of the heart. You don’t need to do anything to rebel against God in your heart. Greed is of the heart. Lust is of the heart… and so is salvation. It doesn’t come in a wafer – it comes in surrender to the Savior in the heart – and that was His point. The rest of the deep theology, for centuries, has served only to obscure the point and remember only the illustration.

Our permanent relationship with God in Heaven came at a price Jesus paid for us! The picture of intimacy and transformation from within was graphically offered, but not easily understood.

• Disciples then, and now, must see Jesus in His place – Who is Jesus?
• Disciples must understand where real life is – Where does Jesus fulfill us?
• Disciples must understand that only believers will get it – What does Jesus require of us?
• Disciples must understand that God enables the process – How does a believer find the truth?

Until we understand the place of Jesus, and recognize that reality is primarily in the spiritual realm (the physical is a reflection) we don’t understand the core of His message. When those truths are accepted and we change our lives to conform to the truth, God opens new doors to us.

Three Responses to Jesus (6:66-71)

Look at the responses to Jesus:

Some left to seek fulfillment elsewhere (6:66). John 6:66 “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”

When Christianity is about Christ, and not about self-fulfillment, some people leave – because they weren’t there for that reason to begin with!

Some remained and understood He had the truth (6:67-69). John 6:67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Some stayed but weren’t real (6:70-71) 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.

Yet, not all that left were lost forever (some would later return). Note that not all that stayed were truly “with the program” – Judas was sitting right there!

The response that was essential was inner surrender to Who Jesus is, and acceptance of what He does for us in our place.

Adrian Rogers told years ago of a man from Romania named “Josef”. He and Rogers were talking about the difference between “commitment” and the word “surrender” as preachers used them. Josef made an important distinction that is worth noting as we close: “When you make a commitment, you are still in some limited control no matter how noble the thing you commit to. One can commit to pray, study the Bible, give his money, to make automobile payments, or to lose weight. Whatever he or she chooses to do, they commit to it. It is a renewable quantity… Yet the term surrender is considerably different”, the man said. “If someone holds a gun and asks you to lift your hands in the air as a token of surrender, you don’t tell that individual what you are committed to. You simply surrender and do as you are told.” The key word concerning Christ is surrender, not simply commitment.

We are to be the slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ.” We must recognize that we come not to train Him to meet our desires better, but to be trained to find our sufficiency in Him. I would argue that we have enough commitment in the church today… we may lack a sincere understanding of surrender!

To gain eternal life we must focus on accepting Jesus and what He did for us, not the other distractions that draw our eyes away from Him.