Read passage from "Alice Through the Looking Glass"..................
You may know that Lewis Carroll lived in Guildford near the Castle, and in the garden at the rear of his house which is open to the public there is a marvellous statue of Alice frozen in time bending forward, literally looking through a thick pane of glass. It was one of my favourite places for a quiet few moments reflection away from the busyness of living in Guildford.
Lewis Carroll is, of course, commenting in his deceptively childish style on the enigma of faith. Why is it that some people manage to believe things which other people find utterly incredible? In the upside-down world of the White Queen it seems that faith was all a matter of effort. "Hold your breath and shut your eyes", she advises. "You can believe anything if only you try hard enough." But on this side of the looking glass, we like Alice, know that it is not that simple. There is a world of difference between faith and mere wishful thinking. Holding your breath and shutting your eyes is not belief. Faith is not, as one school girl described it, "believing something you know isn't true".
That is the world of make-believe. And by definition, anything you have to make yourself believe cannot be true, for reality constrains belief effortlessly. As Alice put it, "It is no use trying," because "one just cannot believe impossible things." Yet many people appear to do so. Some would say that Christians are crazy to believe that God became a man in Jesus and walked upon the earth. Others would say that it is the non-Christians who are mad for not recognizing God's finger prints all over the beauty, the complexity, the wonder, the majesty of creation. Why do some people believe and others not? As we look at this passage in John's Gospel I want you to notice three reasons why people do not believe.
1. Because of their Search for Earthly Bread 6:25-31
The people could not stomach the Spirituality of Jesus' Message.
Read 6:25-31. Lets put this passage in context.
1.1 What had just happened
If you turn back a few verses you will see that Jesus had just performed the most amazing miracle. He had fed around 10,000 people from the contents of a small boy's lunch box. The text says there were 5000 men, so we must add on for the women and children. That was a sizeable proportion of local people.
1.2 Where it had happened
This was Galilee, trouble spot #1 in the Roman Empire. Feelings of antipathy for the Roman rulers ran high in these northern hills from where the bands of zealots planned their terrorist attacks. Not unnaturally the miracle by the shores of Galilee had caused a riot. The people had immediately recognized their chance. They wanted to make Jesus their king by force. If Moses the freedom fighter had delivered Israel out of Egyptian slavery and kept them alive with bread, surely Jesus could liberate them from the Romans. Was not this the meaning of his miracle? Shades of Ist century liberation theology. What had happened and where.
1.3 When it had happened
John tells us in verse 4 that this was Passover time. Now Passover was to loyal Jews in the first century what the Battle of the Boyne is to loyal Protestants in Northern Ireland today. Passover was a time of intense national fervour. If you were going to start a revolution in Judea, the best place was Galilee, and the best time was Passover. That is why Jesus had gone into hiding. And that is why he was so hard on them when they eventually found him. John 6:26-27 "Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." "What you Galileans have got to realize, Jesus is saying, "is that there are two kinds of bread.
There is bread that nourishes your bodies that will one day perish, and there is bread that nourishes your souls which are destined for eternity. And the trouble with you is that you are so earthly minded you are no heavenly good.
I fed you to make you realize who I am" The questions which the crowd fire at Jesus indicate their eyes and their stomachs were still fixed firmly on this world.
"When did you get here?" 6:25 = There were Self Centred Materialists
"What must we do?" 6:28 = There were Works Centred Legalists
"What will you do for us?" 6:30 = There were Man Centred Liberationists
We must not misunderstand Jesus either. Jesus never said that issues of political freedom or economic justice were unimportant. No one could accuse Jesus of being indifferent to the plight of the poor and the oppressed, but He was not and is not a political Messiah. Jesus refused to give in to the aspirations of the Galilean mob in the same way that he refused Satan's offer of power as the route to his kingdom. It is precisely because of the spirituality of Jesus message that, in the end, the Galilean peasantry abandoned him.
The same thing happens today. We could make the Christian faith appear more popular by promising peace and prosperity. But it is because Jesus tells us to be less concerned about our physical bodies and more concerned with our eternal souls that he is treated with contempt by those who are only looking for material answers to human problems.
There is a second reason why people do not believe in Jesus.
2. Because of the Source of this Heavenly Bread 6:32-42
The people could not accept the Supernaturalism of Jesus' Claims
Read 6:32-36. There is no getting away from it. He makes claims about himself which one could only call megalomaniac if it were not for his extraordinary modesty. Count the number of times Jesus uses "I" or "me" or "my" just in these few verses. 18x. Most of us would consider it bad manners to talk so much about ourselves. Jesus does not seem to be embarrassed in the slightest. Look at the assertions he makes
2.1 Jesus Claims a Divine Origin 6:38
"I came down from heaven." If somebody told you they had arrived by flying saucer it scarcely sound less preposterous.
In this Jesus was and remains unique. There are no parallels with other religious leaders. This is how C. S. Lewis put it.......
2.2 Jesus Claims a Divine Assignment 6:39
"I am here to do the will of God who sent me." And what is that Will?
Something nice and predictable like being a prophet or prime minister?
There are plenty of people around who have claimed a divine mandate for their mission in life? "No", says Jesus, "My mission is to raise the dead."
King Canute was hardly less ambitious. But most remarkable of all,
2.3 Jesus Claims a Divine Ministry 6:35
"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." According to Jesus, the reason spiritual things must take precedence over the material in our priorities is because in the final analysis, material things cannot really satisfy the human soul.
You will know that it was Karl Marx who popularised the expression, "religion is the opium of the people". According to Jesus the truth is the very opposite. It is materialism that is narcotic. Materialism anaesthetises people to the reality that real contentment, real satisfaction, real security are found only in the spiritual realm. Materialism renders these deepest needs permanently inaccessible. The pursuit of material things does nothing except create a descending spiral of acquisitive expectation that can never be appeased.
That is why these Galileans had tracked down Jesus. They could never be satisfied with yesterday's meal. They wanted another miracle meal.
This year it is a new car, next year it will be a new washing machine, a new TV, or video. Advances in technology, new designs and planned obsolescence are used to fuel this insatiable desire. No amount of physical bread will appease it. It was Jean Paul Satre, the novelist and atheist who wrote about this human dilemma with painful honesty: "That God does not exist I cannot deny, but that my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget." We all feel that cry. You would not be here if you did not feel it too. God has set eternity in our hearts. Yet Jesus gives no hint of feeling that same longing. He claimed to meet it.
"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." "If only you would open your eyes," Jesus was saying to those Galilean militants, "that supernatural bread you are looking for is staring you in the face. It is not a something but a Someone. Its me. I am not just the giver but the gift. "The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life."
But this was bread that they just could not swallow. The people had wanted to know what works they had to do, Jesus said, Just trust in me. It remains his assertion today and is an obstacle for many. If Jesus had said that eternal life is a matter of giving to charity, there would be plenty who would go out and buy their spiritual insurance. If Jesus had said that eternal life is a matter of practising yoga in your bedroom three times a day, there would be thousands who would be willing for that discipline. But Jesus didn't. He said that eternal life was not a possession but a gift. A gift received through a personal relationship with Him. There's a third reason why people will not accept Jesus.
3. Because of the means by which we eat this Divine Bread 6:43-59
The people could not tolerate the Scandal of Jesus' Cross
Read John 6:51-53. Let me make it quite plain here. I do not believe Jesus is talking about communion here. He is taking about conversion.
Communion is a symbol of something that only makes sense through conversion. When we eat and drink the bread and the wine we are remembering the breaking of Christ's body for us on the cross, we are identifying with him. His death becomes our death, his life becomes our life. It is deeply offensive to our pride to be told there is nothing we can do to achieve our own salvation. The cross is not a piece of jewellery, it is not a beautiful symbol of heroism and self sacrifice. It is a cruel, shameful reminder of what our sin and rebellion cost Almighty God to remove. The very idea of God having to suffer and die in public humiliation is to the unbelieving mind at best a ridiculous absurdity, to the proud religious mind it is a blasphemous obscenity. Why else would Moslems deny that Jesus died on the cross?
Why else would Jews not even use the cross as a mathematical sign for addition. The cross is a stumbling block, foolishness, to all who would not recognize their own depravity and need of God's forgiveness.
Three reasons for unbelief. The spirituality of Jesus' message, the supernaturalism of Jesus' claims and the scandal of Jesus' cross. If the Christian message is so uncongenial to the materialist, so incredible to the rationalist and so offensive to the religious, is it not incredible that those self same reasons are what attracts us as Christians now to Jesus Christ.
From the other side of the looking glass it all makes sense. Looking back at our past rebellion, our former indifference, our previous incomprehension we can detect glimpses of the hand of our Father God drawing us to Himself. When we first trust in Christ, our memory is full of what we have done in receiving Him. As time goes on we become more and more away of what He did for us. When we get to heaven we shall discover it is all of grace. Sovereign grace. Irresistible grace. Jim Packer is my favourite Christian author. Well into his seventies now, he nearly didn't make it through university.
Back in the 1940's while at Oxford he enjoyed punting but on one occasion he fell head first into the river. He describes it as a most unpleasant experience because there were a lot of thick weeds and entangled his legs and his arms and the water was very deep. He was very afraid that he was going to drown. "Imagine the possible reaction of some of my undergraduate colleagues in the boat," he said, "Some of them might have said, "Oh, you'll be all right, Jim. You can get out if only you try. Keep struggling!" Others might have said,
"Oh, I'd like to help, old chap; but you see, I have a problem of conscience about interfering with people's free will. I can give you tips on swimming, if you like." Jim Packer said that these two possible responses represent ways in which people view Jesus Christ. The first answer suggests people have the natural ability to save themselves if only they work at it. It is the White Queen telling Alice that you can believe anything if you practice. The second alternative says "I'll assist you as much as I can, but there are limits to how much even God can help a human being." It is the White Queen once more, offering advice on how to hold your breath and shut your eyes. But both ways of looking are really saying the same thing. Try harder, you'll make it. But Jim Packer couldn't help himself. He was drowning in self effort. Jim Packer tells us he was very grateful that his friend in the boat jumped into the water, overcame his helpless struggles, got him free of the entangling weeds and brought him to the river side, gave him artificial respiration and put him back on his feet. As Jim Packer said later, "That's what I call a rescue!" In John 6, that's what Jesus calls a rescue too. Jesus came to rescue us. It is as simple as that. He rescues us with the gentle wooing magnetism of a lover. Have you felt that love?
That attraction for Jesus, that glimmer of desire to be right with God, to have assurance about sins forgiven, and eternity security? Then it is the Father drawing you. I have been a Christian 25 years. I still find plenty of things in the teaching of Jesus hard to accept, much that is hard to understand.
The spirituality of his message when I want him to solve all human problems in a flash, the supernaturalism of his person when I want to go my own way, and the scandal of his cross when I want everyone to like me. Mercifully, faith is not merely mouthing a set of credal statements, but a loving relationship with the Person of Jesus. The question is not, "Do we understand everything he says?" but, "Are we ready to commit ourselves to everything he is?" Verse 66 says that from this moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Jesus. What does Jesus do? Plead with them to come back?
Soften his message to make it more popular? No, he turns on the few that remain and ask, John 6:67-69 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." Do you?