Murmurs of Disbelief – 15th Dec. Sunday Worship Service

December 18 | 2019

Below is the sermon of the worship service

[John 6:41-47]

At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 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’?” “Stop grumbling among yourselves, ” Jesus answered, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: They will all be taught by God. ‘Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.

     It is one of the surest facts of Christianity that when the doctrines of man’s total spiritual depravity and the necessity for God’s electing grace in salvation are preached there will be resentment by many who hear them. That was true in Christ’s day, and it is true in our own.

In Christ’s day this is precisely what happened. So we are not surprised to find that Jesus’ teaching about the necessity for God’s grace in salvation, which we have in John 6:35-40, is immediately followed by an outbreak of protest and resentment by certain of the leaders of Israel. The author of the Gospel reports the moment by writing, “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he say, “I came down from heaven?”‘” (vv. 41–42).

In these verses we have a change of persons from the verses that have gone before, and probably a change of place. Up to this point Jesus has been speaking in the open to the crowds that had followed him from the other side of the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. Now he is speaking to the leaders who had heard his teaching, and probably speaking in the synagogue of Capernaum, as is suggested by verse 59. In this discussion Jesus restates his teaching and supports it by evidence both from the Old Testament and from experience.

However, the first thing we are told is that the Jewish leaders “grumbled about him.” The King James Version uses the word “murmur.” What does that mean?

Murmur suggests by its sound what people do when they disagree with someone and protest what he is saying. Murmuring is the confused sound that runs through a crowd when people are angry and in opposition to some teaching. This is what the leaders of Christ’s day were doing in regard to Christ’s teachings. Others do it in our day. In fact, it is a sin that few, if any, are preserved from.

The objections of the Jewish leaders took the form of a criticism of Christ’s person rather than a direct criticism of his teachings. They did not say, let us notice, “There are three reasons why we cannot agree with you and why we consider your views to be wrong.” Christ’s teaching was to0 consistent and too self-authenticating for that. Instead, they attacked him personally, saying, in effect, “Don’t listen to him. He is a nobody from the sticks of Galilee, the son of a carpenter named Joseph. Listen to us.” In this they revealed their consummate snobbishness, demonstrated their pride, and revealed their ignorance. The irony is that they did not recognize at all that there had been a virgin birth and that Christ’s true Father was God.
What did Jesus answer? It is important to notice that Jesus did not answer by defending himself on the personal level, as we might like to do. He could have done it, of course. But instead of this he returned to his teaching and restated it, giving two proofs. This was a challenge to his hearers to investigate his teaching for themselves. Finally, after having restated his teaching and given his proofs, Jesus stated the doctrine again for the final time. The verses that contain this read as follows: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes in me has everlasting life” (vv. 44-47).
We need to take these statements one at a time. First, Jesus repeats what he had said earlier, but here he does so in even sharper language. Before, he had said, “You have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me” (vv. 36-37). This implies that no one can come, apart from a special act of God on his behalf, but it does not say this negatively. Now Christ does. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
This verse is so straightforward in its language that it has always been a battleground between those who are willing to accept the doctrine of election here taught by Christ and those who resist it on rational or humanistic grounds. It was discussed by Augustine and Pelagius, by Calvin and Arminius, by Luther and Erasmus.
The latter case is particularly interesting. Erasmus had been led to attack Martin Luther’s teaching on the total spiritual depravity of man in a volume centering on the nature of the human will and on whether it can function in turning a man or a woman to God. Erasmus said it could. Moreover, he answered the obvious objection based on the argument of Christ in this verse- the objection that no one can come to Christ except the Father draw him- by saying that God draws people in the same way that an owner of a donkey might get it to move by holding a handful of carrots before its nose. The man draws, but obviously the will of the donkey is involved.    According to this theory, God originates salvation but a man nevertheless cooperates in it.
This may make good sense to the natural human way of thinking. But it is not what Scripture teaches, and Luther said so quite openly. What better drawing could there be, Luther argued, than the drawing of the Lord Jesus Christ himself? He was present among the people. He taught them personally. Still they did not come. In fact, they killed him. Luther concluded, “The ungodly do not ‘come’ even when he hears the word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly; which he does by shedding abroad his Spirit. When that happens, there follows a ‘drawing’ other than that which is outward; Christ is then displayed by the enlightening of the Spirit, and by it, man is rapt to Christ with the sweetest rapture, he being passive while God speaks, teaches and draws, rather than seeking or running himself.
This was a good answer, of course, But we can go even further than this on the basis of Christ’s statement. Luther’s keyword in answering Erasmus was passive.”He said that man was passive spiritually, inert, as inert as a dead man might be, if we may use that image. In John 6:44, however, there is in addition to this truth the thought that man also actually resists the work of God within. That is, he is not only passive; he also is perverse and obstinate.
We see this truth in the word that is chosen to speak of the Father’s work in “drawing” a man or a woman to Christ. This word always implies resistance to the power that draws. William Barclay gives a number of examples of this in his devotional studies on John’s Gospel. He shows that it is the word for drawing a heavily laden net to the shore, a net filled with a great number of fish (John 21:6, 11). It is the word that is used of Paul and Silas being dragged before the civil authorities in Philippi (Acts 16:19), It is used for drawing a sword from the belt or from its scabbard (John 18:10). Always there is the idea of resistance. So here also there is the idea that men and women resist God.
However, Curiously Barclay adds that “God can and does draw men, but man’s resistance can defeat the pull of God.” The curious thing about this statement, though, is that not one of his examples shows the resistance to be successful. The fish do get to shore. Paul and Silas are dragged before the magistrates. The sword is withdrawn. Indeed, we can go even further than this. As Leon Morris notes in his commentary, There is not one example in the New Testament of the use of this verb where the resistance is successful. Always the drawing power is triumphant, as here. People resist. In this their depravity is seen. But the power of God always overcomes the resistance in those whom he has determined before the foundation of the world to give to Jesus.
Is this discouraging? Not at all. Actually, the fact that God does draw men and women to Christ in spite of themselves is our hope.

At this point, the Lord Jesus Christ gives two points of evidence to support his teaching. He did not need to give evidence, of course. His word was sufficient. Nevertheless, in speaking to these religious leaders he does support his statement-first, by a reference to the Old Testament, and then, second, by an appeal to experience.
His reference to the Old Testament actually is a partial quotation of Isaiah 54:13. Jesus says, “It is written in the Prophets, “They will all be taught by God” (John 6:45). As it stands in John’s Gospel, we might read this verse with the thought that the “all” in the quotation applies to all men, thereby thinking that somehow God illuminates all, and men either come to Christ or refuse to come to Christ on their own volition. The full text, as Isaiah wrote it, shows that this is not the case. Actually, Isaiah wrote, “And all your children will be taught by the LOORD.” We see at once that the verse applies to God’s children only, not to all men and that it implies that one must first be a child of God through the new birth before one can really understand about Christ and come to him.
Jesus then goes on to show that this truth is also confirmed by experience: “Everyone who listens to and learns from the Father comes to me.” Why is it that you and I can present the gospel to some people and never seem to get anywhere, even when the circumstances seem entirely favorable? And why is it that others with maximum problems and limited understanding believe? The only answer is that God has taught the one person and has not taught the other. Moreover, all whom God has taught do come to Jesus.

Finally, after having stated his teaching and having given two points of evidence to support it, Jesus repeats his teaching about the necessity of God’s in election a final time. He says, “I tell you the truth, he who believes grace has everlasting life” (v. 47). There are many who have interpreted this verse in direct opposition to all that I have been saying. They have supposed that we are first to believe, after which, as a result of our having believed, we are given eternal life. But this would mean taking the verse in a way that would contradict all Christ’s previous teaching. Actually, it is a summation of it all.
Perhaps this illustration, often used by Donald Grey Barnhouse, will help. We must imagine a battlefield over which troops are advancing in order to take a ridge that is just before them. Suddenly heavy fire opens up, and immediately the soldiers fall to the ground and hold their prone position until the enemy fire is silenced. Imagine further that all the soldiers are either dead or alive and unwounded. When the firing stops the command comes once again to advance. Naturally, some of the soldiers do get up and move forward while others, the ones who are dead, do not. Why is it that the ones who do get up and advance get up? It is because they are alive and hear the voice of their commander. Does their getting up give them life? Of course not! It is rather the other way around. In the same way, he that “believes” on Christ does so because he already has “everlasting life,” The hearing and believing are the marks of the existence of the new life of God implanted within the individual.