Some people ask, “How can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?” That is a good question.
I like the way C. S. Lewis answers it. He says that:
... anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be sensible for a mother to say to the children, ‘I’m not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You’ve got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.’ Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.”I believe it is also the same with our heavenly Father. The power of his will is not seen in him coercing us to do what he wants us to do. The power of his will is seen in him giving us free will, the ability to love him or not. We see both the power of his will and the free will he has given to us as human beings exercised in our passage for today from John 6:36-46....
But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”Earlier in his Gospel, John has shown how Jesus offers the greatest gift in the world. He offers himself to us as the bread of life that satisfies our deepest hunger for all eternity. However, we continue to see a problem in Jesus’ first listeners. They had seen Jesus. They had seen all the signs he had performed: healing people, feeding over five thousand with five loaves and two fish. However, they refused to believe in him, to trust him, to believe that he was sent by God the Father. The fact that they were able to refuse Jesus shows that the Father had given them, as he gives to each of us, the free will to believe in him or not, the free will to come to him or not, the free will to love him or not.
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.
This story gives the lie to those who say, “If only I could have lived in the time of Jesus. If only I could have seen him heal people, heard him teach, seen him risen from the dead. If I could see him and hear him, then I would believe.” This story shows that this claim on the part of some people is not true at all. There were many in the first century in Palestine who saw Jesus’ miracles and heard him preach, but still they did not believe. If we don’t believe in him now, if we don’t come to him now and surrender our lives to him, chances are we may never do so.
Jesus points out to the crowd that the problem does not lie in God’s court. He is perfectly willing to receive them if only they will look to the Son of God and believe in him. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
What an open invitation that is! Who may come to Jesus? Anyone.
How may they come? Any way they can get there. I have seen video of evangelistic meetings held in the former Iron Curtain countries of Eastern Europe where people literally came running forward on a soccer field to receive Jesus.
Others are perhaps more reluctant to come to the Savior. C. S. Lewis says he was dragged kicking and screaming into the kingdom, looking in every direction for a means of escape.
It does not matter how we come to Jesus, so long as we come.
When may we come to Jesus? There is no age limit to when we may come. Jesus says “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” I have seen young children come to Jesus. I have seen old people on their deathbed come to Jesus. I have seen people in the prime of their life commit their lives to follow the Lord.
It doesn’t matter when we come, so long as we do come.
Where can we come to Christ? The answer is anywhere. It can happen in church, but it doesn’t have to be in church. Some people come to Jesus, as I did, while watching a program on television. Some come to the Savior in the quiet of their own home, or in school, or in their place of work, or while driving their car down the road.
We can come to Christ anytime and anywhere. Again, the “where” does not matter; what matters is that we come to him.
James Boice once told the following story....
Years ago in the Midwest there was an old German farmer by the name of Klein. He was an ungodly man. Although he lived across the street from an Evangelical Lutheran Church, he never went in; and, of course, he did not believe the gospel. To his way of thinking, the gospel was for other people, not for him. One day, however, the Bible school of the church began to teach the Bible school children the chorus of the hymn that goes:
Grace! Tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to the ear;
Heav’n with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
Saved by grace alone!
This is all my plea:
Jesus died for all mankind,
And Jesus died for me.
From his listening post across the street Mr. Klein heard the children sing. He heard most of the words clearly. But when they came to the line ‘Jesus died for all mankind,’ he thought they were singing ‘Jesus died for old man Klein, and Jesus died for me.’ The thought that Jesus died for him personally finally sank into his heart. Klein crossed the street to the church, attended services, and eventually committed his life to the Lord Jesus Christ.Jesus’ invitation is wide open, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” You can put your name in that song and it is just as true, Jesus died for you. He invites you personally to come to him.
However, as William Barclay notes, this passage shows the reasons why many of Jesus' first listeners rejected him, and in rejecting him, rejected eternal life.
First, they rejected Jesus because they were judging him by their own limited human values. They questioned, “How can this Jesus be the bread that came down from heaven? After all, don’t we know Jesus’ parents? How can Jesus claim that he came from heaven when he obviously has earthly parents.” The problem with Jesus’ first listeners is that they were judging Jesus by external standards, by what they could see on the outside, and only by certain things that they could see on the outside. They weren’t taking in the whole of Jesus’ life.
T. E. Lawrence was a British Army officer involved in the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule from 1916 to 1918. He became known as Lawrence of Arabia and a film about his life bore that title. Lawrence studied at Oxford, and through the course of his work in the Middle East, learned several languages. He received a number of awards during his lifetime but turned down a knighthood.
Lawrence was a close friend of Thomas Hardy, the writer. In the days when Lawrence was serving in the Royal Air Force, he sometimes used to visit Hardy and his wife wearing his RAF uniform. On one occasion, his visit coincided with a visit of the Mayor of Dorchester. She was bitterly affronted that she had to submit to meeting Lawrence whom she thought to be a common aircraftman. In French she said to Mrs. Hardy that never in all her born days did she have to sit down to tea with a private soldier. No one said anything. Then Lawrence said in perfect French: “I beg your pardon, Madame, but can I be of any use as an interpreter? Mrs. Hardy knows no French.” A snobbish and discourteous woman had made a shattering mistake because she judged T. E. Lawrence by what he looked like on the outside.
That is what many of Jesus’ contemporaries did with him. We need to be careful to never neglect a message from God because we despise or do not care for the messenger. A person would hardly refuse a check for one thousand dollars just because it was sent in a dirty envelope. God has many messengers. His greatest message came through a Galilean carpenter, and for that very reason many in the first century rejected both the message and the messenger.
Second, many of Jesus’ first hearers rejected him because they loved to argue. The NIV says that they grumbled, just like the Israelites in the desert.
John White says the problem with grumblers is they seldom take their issue to the person who can resolve it.
Many of Jesus’ contemporaries were anxious to let others know what they thought of him. However, they never stopped to ask God what he thought of the matter.
I have seen a similar thing happen in church committee meetings. Sometimes we become so caught up in what we want to see accomplished in the church, we forget that the church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the head of the church, but often we forget this and fail to ask him what he wants us to do in regard to a certain matter. Often it would be better for us and for the church if we would close our mouths, open our ears, and listen to what God would have for us. After all, it does not really matter in the end what we think, or want. What God thinks and wants matters infinitely. However, seldom do we take steps to find out what God thinks and wants.
God had spoken on more than one occasion and said about Jesus: “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to him.” However, many in Jesus’ day either did not listen to the voice of God, questioned that voice, or consciously choose to reject that voice. We need to make sure we don’t make the same mistake.
Third, many of Jesus’ contemporaries listened to him, but they did not really learn from him.
There are different kinds of hearing. Sometimes we listen to someone just waiting for our chance to criticize. Other times we listen, but all along hold a secret resentment toward the person in our hearts. Oftentimes we listen with a superior attitude. We hear what a person is saying to us, but all along, we are thinking that we are so much better than the person talking; we know more; we are more mature. Thus, we discount the speaker.
There is also the kind of listening that is completely indifferent. We pretend to listen to be polite, but we are not truly interested in the subject the person is talking about so we effectively tune them out.
Then there is the listening of the person who is simply waiting for their chance to speak. The evangelist, Luis Palau, once said that he pictured America as one great mouth. Everyone is talking but no one is listening. As I read many blogs on the Internet, view what countless people are posting on Facebook, see the never-ending number of books that are published every year, and occasionally watch the “talking heads” on television, I think Palau’s assessment is right. Our country is filled with people who want to talk, who want to be heard, and I suppose I am one of them. The question is: “Is anyone listening?”
The only listening that is truly worthwhile is the kind of listening that quiets all the inner static and truly takes in what the other person is saying. That is the kind of listening that we especially need to display toward God.
Several years ago, I went to see a Christian counselor to talk about some problems that I was having at that time. The man I went to see, who was recommended to me by a trusted friend, was the greatest listener I have ever met. He listened so well that I could feel him listening to me. I knew he was hearing, not just my words, but also the deepest longings of my soul, because of what he reflected back to me in the few words he spoke.
I have to confess: I do not think I have ever been a very good listener. I am working at becoming better. However, it is hard work, especially for a preacher like me. However, we probably all need to work at getting quiet enough to really hear what God and others have to say to us day by day. As someone once said, God gave us two ears and one mouth. Perhaps that says something about what the proportion ought to be between our listening and our talking.
Many of Jesus’ contemporaries rejected him because they weren’t really listening. We need to be careful that we don’t make the same mistake.
P. T. Forsyth has said, “It is better to pray over the Bible than brood over the self.” If we really want to know what God thinks, then we will come to his word in Scripture, pray over it and allow God to speak into our lives. Then we will find that the Bible points us to Jesus for salvation.
Geoffrey Tristram has written, “The great mystery is that God in Christ dwells in the very depths of our souls. But to reach those depths requires disciplined listening. The noises of the world, and the clamor of the self must be stilled. But it is there, deep within, by the grace of God, that we too may hear the sound of sheer silence in all its fullness and all its energy: the creative word that gives us life.”
Fourth, many of Jesus’ contemporaries resisted the drawing of God.
Jesus tells us that the only people who accept him are those whom God the Father draws to him. The Greek word that the Gospel of John uses for “draw” is “helkuien”. This same word is used in the Greek translation of Jeremiah 31:3 where God says: “With loving-kindness have I drawn thee.”
The interesting thing about this word “draw” is that it usually implies some kind of resistance. It is the word used in the Gospels, for instance in John 21, to refer to drawing a heavily laden net of fish to the shoreline. This same word is used of Paul and Silas being dragged before the magistrates in Philippi in Acts 16:19. This word for drawing is used of drawing a sword from a belt or from a scabbard in John 18:10. Usually, when this word is used there is an implied resistance. God can draw people to himself through Jesus, but we can resist God’s pull if we choose to do so. Sadly, that is what many of Jesus’ contemporaries did.
Jesus is the bread of life. That means that he is essential to sustain life. If we refuse his invitation then we miss life itself and we die. The Rabbis had a saying: “The generation in the wilderness have no part in the life to come.” In the Old Testament story the Israelites who refused to brave the dangers of the Promised Land after hearing the report of the ten spies, including the good report of Joshua and Caleb, these Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years until they died. Because they refused to listen to what God was telling them, they were forever shut out from the Promised Land. The later Rabbis believed that their ancestors, who died in the wilderness, not only missed the Promised Land, but also missed the life to come.
To refuse the offer of Jesus is to miss fullness of life in this world and it means missing everlasting life. However, if we accept Jesus’ offer then we can discover fullness of life both now and forever. Jesus is the Exodus; he is the way out of slavery to sin. He is also the one who brings us home from exile, home to the Father who loves us.
Dante put the glory of God’s grace this way: “The Infinite Goodness has such wide arms that it takes whatever turns to it.”
The will of the Father who loves us is powerful, so much so, that he can cause everyone who looks to Jesus for salvation to truly be saved, and he will raise us up at the last day. However, we have to look to Jesus. We have to trust and believe in Jesus. The Father can help us toward that end, but the choice is still ours.
The President of Princeton Seminary, Craig Barnes, tells the following story:
[My father] left us when I was sixteen, and once he left, he never stopped running. Every time we tried to find him, he would only leave and disappear again. He died alone in a raggedy trailer park somewhere in the middle of Florida. A neighboring pastor, who did not know him, spent two days trying to find his family even though he did not know our names.
My Dad missed all of the important events in his sons’ lives: graduations, weddings, birth of children, our two ordinations, and both of our Ph.D. ceremonies. He missed all of it. I prayed and prayed that he would return to us. I used to yearn for the day that he would show up in a congregation where I was preaching. My longing was for him to come through the line at the end of worship, take my hand and say, ‘Good job, son.’ But he never came.
At his funeral, I stared at the casket and wondered what happened to all of those prayers for him. Were they just lying around on the floor of heaven?
When the service was over, my brother and I went to his little trailer in hopes of piecing together something about his life. That was when we received the great Christmas gift. Sitting on his kitchen table was a devotional journal in which he had written his prayers and thoughts about various Bible passages. I was relieved to discover that he did not also abandon his faith. But then I came across a dog-eared, tattered page with the title ‘Daily Prayer List’ at the top. The first two items on that list were my brother’s name and my name.
I will never understand the lonely madness that drove my father away from everyone who loved him. But I am so thankful to know that to his dying day, he never forgot us. He talked to God about us, even though for some reason he could not talk to us. There was enough grace in that to get me through.
The grace was not that I received what I wanted. I did not find my father in time. The grace was that Jesus never lost him. And for me, the grace was that I then realized, through all of those years of praying for my dad, I was speaking with the Heavenly Father, who will never leave me or forsake me.The power of the Father’s will is such that it leaves a person like Craig Barnes’ father free to make some bad choices in life. However, the power of the Father’s will is also seen in that if we give Jesus even an inch, he will take a mile, and he will never lose us. That’s the power of the Father’s will. That’s the power of love.