Albert Mohler is the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and the author of numerous books, including Atheism Remix and He is Not Silent. The following are my notes from Dr. Mohler’s final session at the BOLD Church Conference in Columbus, Nebraska on October 2, 2012 (paraphrased).
Our calling [as pastors] is actually very easy to understand—it is to read the word of God, to explain the word of God and then to go home and do it all again. It takes a lot of confusion to mess up a calling that clear—not simple, but clear.
Over the last few days, we’ve looked at the need for Christians to defend the Christian worldview and specifically marriage and then the need for us to defend life and the dignity of mankind, and now we’re looking at the defense of the gospel. And we’ll be looking at a lengthy text, John 6:22-71.
When you look at this passage, it’s important to recognize patterns. When you look at the beginning chapter six, we have the feeding of the 5,000. And if you’re a [theological] liberal, you’ve got a problem. Some will just say it shouldn’t be there. Others [more creatively] say that this is a demonstrating of Jesus’ ability to melt the human heart—that the people had food but weren’t sharing. But the Word of God says that Jesus took five loaves and two fishes and multiplied them miraculously. There were no skeptics there on that day. There were those who were hungry and then those who were fed.
But we also see a perfect example of the “what have you done for me lately” crowd. These people pay careful attention to the boats and where Jesus is going and “just happen” to show up where he is, saying “Oh, Jesus, nice to see you here…”
And Jesus, with his perfectly omniscient nonsense detector, calls them out on their sin. He calls them out and tells them “Yesterday was about the bread that perishes; today is about the bread of life.”
You’d think that they’d have shrunk away from this rebuke, but they didn’t. Instead, they stay and keep asking questions.
They ask, “What must we do to be doing the work of God?”
This is a dangerous question in ministry because no one does the works of God. And Jesus tells them they must believe in Him—that is the work of God. And yet, they continue to press, and ask for a sign—even going so far as to suggest the sign: Bread from heaven.
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:32-34 ESV)
And Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV) He tells them that he came to give them the bread of life, not to feed from Him, but to feed of Him.
Jesus uses the words “I am.” Some scholars will tell you that Jesus never made the claim of divinity, but there’s no doubt that his hearers would have understood him to be doing exactly that in this moment—“I AM the bread of life, I AM the one who spoke from the burning bush…”
This is not a seeker sensitive message.
There are two bookends in John 6 that should assist us in our understanding of the gospel; both are necessary for us to hang our theology upon.
The first is verse 37:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV)
This tells us that Jesus’ atonement is complete and perfect. It’s so complete and perfect that even before His death He can say that all whom the Father gives them will come and will never be cast out.
We are secure in Christ, we are assured in our salvation in Christ. He did not come to offer a hypothetical, possible, tentative forgiveness of our sins. He came to give us an absolute promise.
Then there’s verse 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. (John 6:44 ESV)
You could put these verses together and have a nice little gospel. But this second point is more difficult to understand than the first. And we’re in good company because evidently the disciples had as hard a time understanding it as we do.
There’s no such thing as being generally or more-or-less sovereign. That’s why it’s a mistake to speak of the sovereign state of Nebraska or the sovereign state of America. We’re not sovereign. We have to go to sleep. We have to eat.
Sovereigns don’t get tired. They don’t have to wonder if their will is going to be effective. It’s effective because they’re sovereign. They’re sovereign because it’s effective.
Everyone who comes to Christ is one who is drawn to Him. Literally drawn to the Son by the Father.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:39-40 ESV)
Every Christian and every pastor must hang their ministry on this passage. If you’re faithful, your ministry will be completely effective. Our task to take the gospel to the nations is enormous. But we occasionally need to sleep. We need to eat. There are high school kids here taking algebra and wondering why. There are tons of people doing things for Christ right now who need to stop and have some lunch.
Because God made us that way. God isn’t concerned about losing anything. We’re not called to be sovereign, we’re called to be faithful. God will lose nothing…
And so we see the people grumbled because Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Notice that he doesn’t correct them, he intensifies it. He doesn’t say, “I know that’s difficult for you to understand and sometimes I’m a little…” He doesn’t do that at all.
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 you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58 ESV)
The atonement is here. The cross is right here. His broken body is right here.
Here we have Jesus referring to himself as the bread of life and specifically inviting them to feed on His flesh—this is a reference to a bodily crucifixion, a bodily death, a bodily resurrection. Without it there would be no atonement; there wouldn’t be anything for us to feed upon. We could not be saved.
In human terms, this is grotesque. If thinking about this doesn’t make you feel a little bit awkward, just think about sitting on an airplane next to a lost person… this isn’t stuff you can just say and walk away from as if you didn’t just explode a bomb in the room.
Jesus exploded a bomb every time he preached. His parables aren’t sweet little stories, they make a mess. This passage makes a mess.
Notice how the disciples react:
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60 ESV)
They’re confused. This is really difficult to understand. They’re watching these crowds develop, which is unusual in Galilee… And they’re expecting it’s time to hire the PR firm and rent a bus. They’re expecting Jesus to make a Messianic declaration. Then Jesus gets up and says, “I want to tell you a little story… Bye.” And that’s what’s happening here.
Now, we have to be careful at this point in John. The disciples are here, but they’re not the point. But they hear this message and begin to wonder, “This is a hard saying, who can understand it?” They perhaps wanted to help Jesus work on his messaging… But again Jesus treats them just as He had the Jews—He intensifies it.
But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:61-65 ESV)
The disciples so desperately need to hear this. We today so desperately need to hear this. Salvation is all of grace–it is a work of God.
There’s no such thing as believing a bit in Jesus. There’s no such thing as having a bit of Christianity. The New Testament only knows in-and-out. The problem is we can’t see the way Jesus can. We see here that Jesus knew from the beginning those who were his and those who didn’t believe. There’s no ministry failure, no loss in Jesus’ ministry.
And many walk away.
What if we didn’t have to worry about right or wrong—wouldn’t it be easier? There are few statements that we could imagine that are more intolerant than what Jesus has just said. Jesus isn’t about tolerance, he’s about atonement.
As preachers, in our heart of hearts, there are many passages we’d just skip. If we were just doing the highlights, our exposition of Leviticus would be really short. Have you noticed how many expositions of Romans end at chapter eight?
This is why I’m so committed to verse-by-verse expositional preaching. We need to the hard parts of Scripture, the full counsel of God…
hen I see these truths, I’m not sure I’m up to defending them, but I know they’re the truth. When you tell people this… it’s not going to go well on MSNBC, nor is it going to go over well with your neighbors. But it’s the gospel.
“No one can come to me unless the Father draws them to me…” Although stated negatively, think about the positive—the Father draws us to Jesus and we will never be cast out…
We ended where the text doesn’t, so we need to keep going. Jesus turns to the 12 and asks them, “Are you going away, too?” I’m so thankful I wasn’t standing there. What would they say?
And here comes Peter—this is the Rock, not the Peter whom Jesus tells, “Get behind me Satan.” Here comes Peter with the most humble confession of faith you’ll see anywhere in Scripture.
And he says, “Lord, where will we go? And we’ve come to know and believe you’re the Holy One of God.”
There’s nowhere else to go—so we’re going to feed on you. There’s nowhere else to go, so we’re going to drink your blood. There’s nowhere else to go, so we’re going to stick with you, Jesus.
This question He asked the 12, is the one that He asks the church in every generation—and every individual Christian. Our task is to defend the gospel, the sure promise that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. And without this message, there is no hope to offer in the world.
The true Church is found where the Word is faithfully preached. The true Church is found where Jesus asks the question, “Do you also want to go away?” And the true Church is found where they humbly answer, “Lord where else are we going to go? We’ve come to believe you are the Holy One of God.”