Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on John 6; Date: 22 & 29 January 2012

For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

 

Intelligible Miracles

 

Last century – one Bible scholar from Germany shaped the thinking of many learned Christians across the world. His name was Rudolph Bultmann and – according to one source – “after the war he became Europe’s most influential theologian. His pupils held leading positions at leading universities, and his views were debated throughout the world” (New World Encyclopedia: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Rudolf_Bultmann, accessed 17 January 2012).

This morning – I do not think that any of us would be fond of his writings and lectures but many of us – (without much awareness) – have nevertheless shared in his world-view because it was the dominant world-view of the 20th century and for all practical purposes remains the accepted value system of our nation. I am talking about materialism” – the theory according to which physical matter is the only (important) reality. In this system, it is assumed that thoughts, feelings, the mind and will are products of chance and nature. We are basically chemicals and molecules and now – (if we are so inclined) – with the best asset that nature has given to us – our mind – we can process the information of the material world to work out what is true and acceptable to us.

Materialism in its many forms may not be easily understood – (besides, I am intrigued that materialism remains such a rampant practical force despite the rise of post-modernism; maybe we even treat spirituality as a material commodity which can be consumed) – therefore, any discussion of materialism may seem rather complicated and impractical for the purposes of Sunday preaching but it is not. Listen to some quotes from Rudolph Bultmann. Many of them may sound outrageous to you – (and they are because we object to the non-Christian presuppositions) – but others have become quite accepted among many – probably most – Christians in the West.

In fact, most believers – sound and church-going Christians – would insist that some of his statements are an adequate reflection of the Bible. Only – as I will show later – they are not. The ideas of materialism are dominant in our culture and we have absorbed some of the culture – even in the church – (thus, nowadays some church denominations can appear to be more materialistic than some of our post-modern youth) – but there is a new day coming when we return to the world-view and methods of Jesus himself. We must – to be effective.

Hear some quotes from Bultmann (written in 1940s) – Rudolph Bultmann: New Testament And Mythology, in: Kergyma And Myth. A Theological Debate, edited by Hans-Werner Bartsch, translated by Reginald H. Fuller, London: SPCK 1972, p1-44.

 

P:3: “All our thinking today is shaped irrevocably by modern science.”

 

P:4-5: “Human knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world – in fact, there is no one who does ... Now that the forces and the laws of nature have been discovered, we can no longer believe in spirits, whether good or evil ... Sickness and the cure of disease are likewise attributable to natural causation ... The miracles of the New Testament have ceased to be miraculous ...

It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles ... to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world.”

 

P12: “The last twenty years have witnessed ... a return to a naive acceptance [of the Bible teaching] ... The danger both for theological scholarship and for the Church is that this ... may make the Gospel message unintelligible to the modern world ... ”

 

P22: “The Spirit does not work like a supernatural force, nor is it the permanent possession of the believer. It is the possibility of new life which must be appropriated by a deliberate resolve.”

 

P26-27: “ ... the very fact that it is possible to produce a secularized version of the New Testament conception of faith proves that there is nothing mysterious and supernatural about the Christian life.”

 

P39-40: ‘Yet it cannot be denied that the resurrection of Jesus is often used in the New Testament as a miraculous proof. Take for instance Acts 17:31 ... Then again the resurrection narratives ... But these are most certainly later embellishments of the primitive tradition. St Paul knows nothing about them. There is however one passage where St Paul tries to prove the miracle of the resurrection by adducing a list of eye-witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). But this is a dangerous procedure ... An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.

Yes indeed: the resurrection of Jesus cannot be a miraculous proof by which the sceptic might be compelled to believe in Christ ... For the resurrection is an article of faith because it is far more than the resuscitation of a corpse – it is the eschatological event. And so it cannot be a miraculous proof. For, quite apart from its credibility, the bare miracle tells us nothing about the eschatological fact of the destruction of death ... ”

 

P42: “The real ... faith is the word of preaching which brings illumination.” P42: “The death of Jesus ... inaugurates the ... ‘word of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:18f.). This word supplements the cross and makes its saving efficacy intelligible ... ” P43: “In the word of preaching and there alone we meet the risen Lord. ‘So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17).”

 

What are we dealing with here? Bultmann scholars may accuse me of not doing him justice and not taking into account his many nuanced arguments but his starting point is crystal-clear: The world-view of our modern age cannot be changed; therefore Christians must take out of the Bible what is no longer intelligible to the man and woman on the street or to the learned minds in the lecture halls of universities. The unshakable consensus of our age demands the acknowledgement that there is nothing supernatural; therefore Christians must not embarrass themselves by talking about angels, demons, God, the devil, healings or miracles. Maybe this sounds a little foreign in 2012 – (here at Living Grace) – but these have been the powers that shaped our culture and current church life.

Bultmann – a church pastor and Bible scholar – did not even consider defending the supernatural. Everyone – even in the church – seemed to agree that apart from our natural existence there is nothing – no God. Thus, he was almost scathing when he considered the concept of sin as a concrete failing before God:

 

P7: “Again, the biblical doctrine that death is the punishment of sin is equally abhorrent to naturalism and idealism, since they both regard death as a simple and necessary process of nature ... to attribute human mortality to the fall of Adam is sheer nonsense, for guilt implies personal responsibility, and the idea of original sin as an inherited infection is sub-ethical, irrational, and absurd.”

 

Christians must not dare to preach anything that is considered nonsense – foolishness to the rational mind. According to Bultmann – this kind of preaching and witnessing is simply doomed and will bring no results:

 

P:3: “All our thinking today is shaped irrevocably by modern science.”

 

P:4-5: “ ... it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world – in fact, there is no one who does ... It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles ... to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world.”

 

P12: “ ... the Gospel message unintelligible to the modern world ... ”

 

P39-40: “An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.”

 

What was Bultmann’s solution to the problem? He did not resign as a minister and teacher in the church but committed himself to be intelligible to the modern person. He attempted to preach Jesusapart from the Bible and apart from the conviction that he was the Son of God – that he died for the forgiveness of our sins – that he rose from the dead – that he will return to judge the living and the dead. Bultmann attempted to preach Jesusapart from his rule and reign in eternity. We may say that – as a preacher – he had not much of a message left but he would have disagreed. In his mind – he had made Christianity acceptable, reasonable and conceivable to the modern age.

Many conservative Christians opposed Bultmann but – precisely at this point – they bought into his argument. You have to make the Good News of Jesus Christ – you have to make the preaching of the Bible – intelligible to modern people. The key to church life is preaching and witnessing and the level of clarity – (how reasonable and intelligible everything sounds) – determines the success and fruitfulness of the church:

 

P42: “The real ... faith is the word of preaching which brings illumination.” P42: “The death of Jesus ... inaugurates the ... ‘word of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:18f.). This word supplements the cross and makes its saving efficacy intelligible ... ” P43: “In the word of preaching and there alone we meet the risen Lord. ‘So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17).”

 

Does this sound familiar? As long as the preaching (and witnessing) is engaging, authentic, clear, fast-paced, attractive, intelligent, modern and multi-media, the people in today’s culture will come and be part of the church. As much as we can, we remove the stumbling blocks of old thinking and old community attitudes from modern expressions of faith. (With Bultmann) – we want to say something that makes sense.

Does this sound familiar and – at least in this regard – are we on the right track with Bultmann? Can you make the Christian message intelligible and reasonable to the people living in our city? Is it ever going to be reasonable to the natural mind? Just think about what we believe: There is one God but this one God exists in three persons: The Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. How reasonable is that? Jesus existed as God from eternity but then became a human baby and then died on a cross? How reasonable is it to believe that God could be contained in a human frame and even die? Can the eternal God actually die? How many sermons do you need to preach for the crowd to say: “Yes, I will stake my life on this story about Jesus. Wasn’t the sermon well-structured? Wasn’t the preaching educated? He quoted so many other people. This must be right.”

Will this work? It hasn’t so far and – therefore – we may go back to the method of Jesus which he himself practiced and instructed us to copy. Are you ready for a few surprises? Jesus was not doing at all what we would expect him to do. I read from the Bible – John 6:1-71:

 

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

 

 1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

 
Jesus Walks on the Water

 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,[b] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

 
Jesus the Bread of Life

 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[c]

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 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 them up at the last day.”

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 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’?”

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

 
Many Disciples Desert Jesus

 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

 

Footnotes:

a.     John 6:7 Greek take two hundred denarii

b.     John 6:19 Or about 5 or 6 kilometers

c.      John 6:31 Exodus 16:4; Neh. 9:15; Psalm 78:24,25

d.     John 6:45 Isaiah 54:13

e.      John 6:63 Or are Spirit; or are spirit

 

How did Jesus pull a crowd? How did Jesus tackle the mind-sets and culture of the people around him? The multitudes – (at first) – did not come to him for words – intelligible arguments – but miracles – especially supernatural healings which ministered to their needs: John 6:2: “And a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.”

Throughout his ministry – Jesus made much of his miracles:

 

John 2:11: This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

 

John 4:48: “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

 

John 5:20: For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.

 

John 5:36: For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.

 

John 10:25: Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me.”

 

John 10:38-39: “ ... even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

 

John 14:11: Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

 

John 14:12-14: I assure you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

John 15:24: If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.

 

John 20:30-31: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

[Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: “ … My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” Romans 15:18-19: “ … what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit … I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”]

 

What are we learning from this? Would Bultmann ever have impacted the church, if the church had not lost her way so completely? Why did he write, as he did? Why did he see no chance in changing the mindset of his age? Answer: He was a member of a church which no longer believed or performed any miracles. He ended up denying the supernatural – including God – because – in his own life and the life of the church – there was no longer an experience of the supernatural – no encounter – no confrontation with the power of God. How do you change anyone’s mind? Everyone has words – bla bla bla. You need an experience. [This is not denying that God’s words can stir in a person’s heart and burn with conviction. However, Jesus and the early church nevertheless used miracles to confirm the message. More about this below.]

He himself wrote:

 

P3: “Can Christian preaching expect modern man to accept the mythical view of the world as true? To do so would be both senseless and impossible. It would be senseless, because there is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical view of the world as such. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age. Again, it would be impossible, because no man can adopt a view of the world by his own volition – it is already determined for him by his place in history. Of course such a view is not absolutely unalterable, and the individual may even contribute to its change. But he can do so only when he is faced by a new set of facts so compelling as to make his previous view of the world untenable. He has then no alternative but to modify his view of the world or produce a new one. The discoveries of Copernicus and the atomic theory are instances of this, and so was romanticism, with its discovery that the human subject is richer and more complex than enlightenment or idealism had allowed, and nationalism, with its new realization of the importance of history and the tradition of peoples.

It may equally well happen that truths which a shallow enlightenment had failed to perceive are later rediscovered in ancient myths. Theologians are perfectly justified in asking whether this is not exactly what has happened with the New Testament. At the same time it is impossible to revive an obsolete view of the world by a mere fiat, and certainly not a mythical view ... ”

 

According to Bultmann – change can only come when there is a new set of compelling facts which force a rethink. In the church – these new facts consist of miracles – (that are backing up the preaching) – public displays of power. World-views can change – (easily) – when the preaching comes with evidence – when the preaching is confirmed by experiences of the supernatural (e.g.: the supernatural love of God, healings, multiplication of bread, peace, deliverance from demons, etc).

I know that this is challenging and uncomfortable – especially for a church that no longer knows how miracles operate. [See the message over the last two Sundays.] Yet, there is no alternative – not according to the Bible. People flocked to Jesus because of the miracles that he performed.

Have a look at what transpired – John 6:5-15 [retell in your own words]:

 

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

 

Jesus – with nothing in his pockets – fed five thousand men plus women and children. He took five small barley loaves and two small fish, gave thanks to God and then the food multiplied and multiplied until everyone was absolutely satisfied – with twelve baskets full of leftovers. Amazing! This is what we want and Jesus made sure that the disciples would learn the lesson. He confronted them first with the need of supplying food for all the people and then he showed them how to trust in God – without calculating the cost of buying food or counting a boy’s sandwiches. Whatever was there would be enough. Wow!

The people responded. A dream came true. Everyone put their faith in Jesus. Perfect – this seemed to go according to plan:

 

John 6:14-15: After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” ... they intended to come and make him king ...

 

This was progress and accurate according to the Bible. Jesus was indeed the Prophet – the fulfilment of the ancient promise that God gave to Moses – (the man that led the nation out of slavery in Egypt): “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18). Experiencing the miracle – the people got excited. Like Moses – Jesus would be the spiritual and political ruler of the people. Jesus would be their king – the Prophet as King. Perfect!

Only – Jesus seemed to undo his own ministry. Instead of affirming the people and accepting their expressions of faith – instead of reaping the benefits of the miracle – he left them. Would you do that?

 

John 6:14-15: After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

 

Why hide on a mountain when the crowd wants more from the man of God – Jesus himself? If that happened to us, we would probably offer another worship service, evening miracle meetings, conferences and seminars. We blog on the net, make more friends on Facebook – anything to keep the momentum going. Yet, Jesus walked away from everyone. Why?

This intrigues me and – for the disciples – the whole experience became even worse. Not only did Jesus hide on a mountain, he left them behind on their own. After enjoying the miracle among the multitude, (suddenly) they were doing it tough again. After experiencing one of the best highs – spiritual power in abundance – they struggled to complete an ordinary task: rowing a boat from A to B. What was going on?

 

John 6:16-21: When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

 

Miracles are a core ingredient of our ministry but they neither promise a life without struggle nor do they guarantee growing understanding. After the victory of performing miracles – the disciples – on occasion – as in this instance – kept encountering strong wind and rough waters – as we keep struggling against the powers and principalities of darkness – and the disciples – especially in this episode – also failed to learn anything from what happened in the feeding of the thousands.

Did they not pick up on who Jesus was? The crowd declared that Jesus was the Prophet – their King – and the disciples also knew that Jesus consistently proclaimed himself as the Son of God who had authority over life. He came to give eternal salvation. Therefore, who did they expect to walk towards them – on water – in the dark? Were there other people around that could do things like that?

The disciples seemed to be like us in the sense that we don’t like new and strange encounters. We get used to one miracle – the feeding of thousands in a nice setting of green grass and full bellies. This is okay and we rejoice. Only – on the same day – the disciples shied away from Jesus when the miracle was not the same – was not nice – but frightening. (Yet, in the storm they needed a miracle more than before.) Are we not same? Have we learned anything? In our case – is the gold-dust okay but not the fire of his glory?

 

[A few months ago, I was in Orange (New South Wales) and a few of us pastors shared miracle stories. The people from a certain church told me that they have had feathers appear in their worship services – hundreds of them. I became excited because I knew this kind of miracle from other churches around the world and I have been waiting for the feathers to come into our midst. Then – at the evening service of the opening conference (13 November 2011) – we were all sitting in the front row when some of the other pastors kept motioning towards me and smiling. As I looked at the speaker, I saw what they were seeing. Small white feathers manifested to the left and right of the preacher and floated down to the ground. It happened precisely when the preacher asked whether we would be ready for God to do a new thing. However, the preacher was not aware of the feathers.

I was rejoicing and also found a small white feather on my black pants one morning. Was this the same miracle or did it come from the duna? I am certain that – in time – we will see this manifestation – frequently – here at Living Grace and we will have joy over what God is doing.

However, over the last few days I found brown (dark) feathers at home and on Wednesday even my daughter showed me a brown feather and asked whether it came from an angel. I don’t know whether these feathers come from angels but I am comfortable with the white ones because white is clearly the colour of heaven. On the other hand, the dark feathers worry me a little. Is this okay? I googled the net to find out whether other Christian places have experienced the miracle of dark feathers appearing. It is so much safer to have something happen to you that is already familiar to others. Maybe the dark feathers have come into our home in another way – maybe the cat or the duna. In any case, I recognized that in my fearful response I was not any different from the disciples who were worried about Jesus walking on water towards them in the storm. We are not always ready for something new. Yet, God is creative with his signs and wonders. Otherwise, we get used to him and no longer pay much attention to his presence. He likes confounding us to test our humility.]

 

The disciples’ problem was that the miracle of multiplying food for thousands had not trained them to keep living on that supernatural plain. Miracles pointed to Jesus and Jesus promised more of them; therefore they were to expect them and count on them. What in the life of a Christian can be achieved without the presence of God which – by definition – is supernatural? Jesus walked on water to help the disciples and as soon as they let him into the boat – as soon as they put their trust in whoever was approaching them – they reached the shore where they were heading. This is the lesson: After the miracle of multiplying food, do not go back to a normal life and rowing the boat in your own strength. When he comes, let Jesus into the boat and – immediately – in his strength – on account of another miracle – reach your destination.

The day after multiplying the food, Jesus and the disciples caught up again with the crowd that received the miracle. Immediately, the crowd became aware of another miracle because they figured out that the disciples had taken the last boat to cross the lake but left Jesus behind. How did Jesus make it to the other side? Who was this man?

I read how the story continues:

 

John 6:25-27: When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed 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. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” [Notice how miracles are called signs. See also John 2:11; 6:2,14,30; 20:3.

 

Now we find out why Jesus was hiding from the adoring crowd. They had declared him to be the Prophet and wanted to make him King – (and this was not even wrong according to the Bible – they made a good confession) – but – nevertheless – their responses to the miracle did not go far enough. Jesus told them: “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed 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.

I have made the same discovery. There are people who love miracles because they receive a healing or share in the excitement of looking at the gold dust or enjoy the atmosphere of peace in the church. However, this is as far as it goes. There is a positive attitude toward Jesus and the church – a love of the miracles – but – surprisingly (at least for me) – no deeper reflection on who Jesus is and why these miracles happen. The crowd only followed Jesus for the sake of another miracle picnic – another meal time with a full belly. They did not come to expect more of him and find God in a new way. Yet, Jesus struggled to raise their expectations. The miracle only pointed to an even greater reality: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.Miracle food multiplied for a picnic – it was one meal here on earth – but the real miracle food – the one worth pursuing – sustains you for eternal life. If Jesus can give you a miracle lunch, find out whether he can give you even more – that is: eternal life.

Jesus said: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then, the crowd responded – John 6:28: What must we do to do the works God requires?Jesus answered – John 6:29: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.

In a sense – the crowd already believed in Jesus. They had already begun the required work of believing in him. They knew that he could work miracles – heal bodies and provide lunch – but – all the same – they had no idea who he actually was and what more he could give. Jesus – his true identity – would blow their mind. He was the kind of Prophet and King that exceeded everyone that had come before him. No one else had ever provided eternal life but he would. On account of the miracles that Jesus performed – he expected the crowd to take another leap of faith and trust him with the even bigger miracle of saving them. The crowd asked – John 6:28: What must we do to do the works God requires?Jesus answered – John 6:29: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.Believe him for more – not just healings, gold dust, feathers, etc. We love all of this – these are good gifts – demonstrations of his love – but – look further – believe him for eternity. Trust him to save you.

 

John 1:10-13: He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 

John 3:16-18: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

 

[I may finish the first half of the message here. These are some of the points that we have covered so far: 1) The world-view of our modern age cannot be changed unless a new set of compelling facts force a rethink. 2) In the church, these compelling facts consist of miracles. They challenge the material mind-set and confirm the preaching of Jesus. 3) People flocked to Jesus because of the miracles that he performed. 4) The miracles pointed to Jesus’ identity. 5) Miracles neither promise a life without struggle nor do they guarantee growing understanding. 6) Immediately, after the multiplication of food, the disciples struggled in a storm and were frightened when Jesus performed another miracle by walking on water towards them and rescuing them. 7) Yet, as soon as the disciples let Jesus join them in the boat and trusted him, they reached their destination. 8) The problem of the crowd was that they were interested in another miracle lunch and healings but not more. 9) They believed Jesus for more of the same miracles but did not trust him to provide eternal life. 10) What God the Father requires is that we raise our vision and believe in Jesus whom he sent. Amen.]

 

Sermon – 2nd Part: Review the first part and then read the remainder of the Bible reading – John 6:1-71:

 

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

 

 1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

 
Jesus Walks on the Water

 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,[b] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

 
Jesus the Bread of Life

 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[c]

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 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 them up at the last day.”

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 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’?”

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

 
Many Disciples Desert Jesus

 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

 

Footnotes:

f.       John 6:7 Greek take two hundred denarii

g.     John 6:19 Or about 5 or 6 kilometers

h.     John 6:31 Exodus 16:4; Neh. 9:15; Psalm 78:24,25

i.       John 6:45 Isaiah 54:13

j.       John 6:63 Or are Spirit; or are spirit

 

The conversation between the crowd and Jesus continues and now the crowd upsets me – as it may upset you. I read again from the Bible:

 

John 6:28-36: Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.

 

How can the crowd ask Jesus for another sign – another miracle – after thousands of them had seen food multiply the day before? Did it not happen and how could they ask for another miracle of supplying food? They said: “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness.” Did the crowd not just eat something like manna – miracle food – supplied by heaven? If I had been Jesus, I would have felt like shaking the crowd. When would they ever be satisfied? Instead of asking for one miracle after another, the time had surely come to accept the evidence and put their faith in Jesus. Let them act on Jesus’ demonstrations of authority and submit to him. Maybe this morning – the time has come for you to stop requiring more experiences and simply believe.

There comes a time when Jesus has enough. He will attack and judge a stubborn refusal to act on the miracles with faith. For instance, consider the following episode:

 

Luke 11:14-16: Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

 

Luke 11:29-32: As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” ...

 

In the case of the crowd – who had come to Jesus after performing the miracle of multiplying food – Jesus was very patient. He did not perform another miracle but he also did not pronounce judgement on them. He kept drawing their attention to his own person. He himself was the real miracle food. He said: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Everything became about Jesus – John 6:38-40: “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 those 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 them up at the last day.”

Yet, here the crowd made a mistake. When Jesus’ teaching became too difficult for them and somehow unacceptable, they – all of a sudden – chose to ignore the previous miracle – just a day old – and reduced Jesus to the ordinary – the box that they had him in before:

 

John 6:41-42: At this the Jews there 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’?”

 

The crowd failed to believe in Jesus on account of the food miracle; therefore rejected his teaching and the whole encounter did not end well. The thousands that flocked to Jesus all – except for a remnant of his disciples – took offense and left him. This is sobering – for us today. Miracles do not guarantee followers of Jesus – a full church.

In fact, a rather frequent response to miracles was hostility and Jesus’ greatest miracle – the raising of Lazarus from the dead after four days in the grave – led to the murder plot against him. No one doubted that the miracle actually happened but not everyone wanted to change their allegiance to Jesus. Another man’s miracle may prove you wrong but not everyone wants to change or take the risk of changing:

 

John 11:45-51: Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation ... So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

 

Luke 6:10-11: He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

 

However, there is still no alternative to miracle. We need them to do mission work according to Jesus. We can trust God will not let this method fail and our Bible reading gives us plenty of assurances that God will oversee the processes of our hearts:

 

John 6:37: All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

 

John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

 

John 6:65: He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

 

I come back to the beginning. Do you remember what we learned from Rudolph Bultmann? He did not believe in miracles; therefore did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God but he said something that rang true for generations of Christians: We must make the Good News of Jesus Christ intelligible to unbelievers. We must remove stumbling blocks of understanding. Bultmann’s words sounded good to a church that had lost the power of miracles. Let me give you another quote: “In the word of preaching and there alone we meet the risen Lord.”

We agree that there would be no faith without preaching and witnessing to others. We all grow in our faith through the proclamation of truth – the meaning of the cross and resurrection – and the declaration of God’s promises. The words of God have power:

 

Genesis 1:1-25: “ … And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light … ” 2 Peter 3:5: “ … by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed … ” Hebrews 1:3: “ … sustaining all things by his powerful word …” John 6:63: “ … The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”

 

1 Peter 1:23-25: “ . you have been born … through the living and enduring word of God … ” James 1:18: “God chose to give us birth through the word of truth … ”

 

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6: “ . our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction … you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”  Titus 1:3: “ … he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me … ”

 

We agree with Bultmann – in this instance – and the widespread practice of most churches that the word of preaching is of the utmost importance and – surely – must be as intelligible as possible. Agreed? Only, Jesus engaged in rather strange preaching. Instead of making his words accessible, he seemed to hold back with the meaning of his words. He made the concepts of salvation obscure and incomprehensible – on purpose. Listen to his dialogue and judge for yourself. Could he not have made things clearer:

 

John 6:47-56: “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.

 

[Cf. John 3:3-9: Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.]

 

These are not the words of a person that wants to be understood. If I preached like that, you would not want me back. This is double-dutch – (or double-german). Jesus could have done better. How can he be eaten like bread and how will people eat his flesh and drink his blood? Were they to become cannibals? Why did Jesus not explain himself better?

Even now – scholars are not absolutely certain what the words mean. With the benefit of hindsight – we know that Jesus’ flesh and blood have been given for us as a sacrifice on a cross and we share in the benefits of the sacrifice by faith but do Jesus’ words further hint at Holy Communion or some deeper intimacy with him? The crowd had no chance to listen to his dialogue and be impressed by a clear and intelligible presentation. It was almost as if Jesus was revealing some truth but was also hiding behind his words. And he was – on purpose.

Increasing clarity – according to Jesus’ design – comes with growing friendship between God and us:

 

Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs ... ”

 

Matthew 13:10-17: “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

 

John 15:15: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

 

John 16:17-33: At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

 “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” [Note also – as we will discuss later – that the miracle of knowing their thoughts disposed the disciples towards faith.]

 

Cf. Exodus 33:11: “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend ... ” Numbers 12:6-8: “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD ... ” Deuteronomy 34:10: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”

 

I spell out what is happening here. We may – at this point of time – as a church – be open to operate with miracles but we would – most likely – adopt the following method: Draw a crowd with miracles, then preach the Good News as intelligible as possible so that faith in Jesus comes out of the preaching. We determine to go from miracles to preaching to faith. Only, this was not Jesus’ way and won’t work. This is important. According to Jesus and the Bible, the miracles must be met with a response of faith and only with faith – (and be it small) – does the subsequent preaching make any sense. Maybe this doesn’t feel right – it certainly hasn’t been our practice – but miracles must directly lead to faith in Jesus and only then the preaching can further grow understanding.

Let me establish this truth from the Bible. Miracles are meant to do more than draw a crowd. They are meant to draw a faith response:

 

John 2:11: This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

 

John 2:23: Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.

 

John 3:2: He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

 

John 4:48: “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

 

John 5:20: For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.

 

John 5:36: For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me.

 

John 7:31: Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?”

 

John 9:16: Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

 

John 10:25: Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me.”

 

John 10:38-39: “ ... even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

 

John 12:37: Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.

 

John 14:11: Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

 

John 14:12-14: I assure you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

John 15:24: If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.

 

John 20:30-31: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

[Cf. By the way, the verses above demonstrate that the Bible is not unduly concerned with counterfeits. The magnitude of the miracles (see the raising of Lazarus) and their context seem to be out of the devil’s league and – in any case – he is more interested in causing sickness rather than healing. See also Exodus 7:10: “Aaron threw down his staff in front of Pharaoh and his court, and it turned into a serpent . Then Pharaoh in his turn called on the sages and sorcerers, and with their witchcraft the magicians of Egypt did the same. Each threw his staff down and these turned into serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up the staffs of the magicians.”]

 

Then – after the faith response – further understanding is possible and preaching becomes intelligible. This dynamic is played out again and again. In a moment – I will explain why but first have a look:

 

John 1:47-51: When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” [Nathanael’s faith was prompted by Jesus’ prophetic declaration that he had seen him under the fig tree. This positioned him to see even greater things.]

 

John 2:18-23: The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. [Only after the disciples saw the miracle of the resurrection and put their faith in the risen Lord, could they make sense of Jesus’ teaching.]

 

John 8:31-32: To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Once a commitment of faith has been made, the truth will unfold.]

 

John 8:43-47: Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires ... Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” [Jesus is not clear because the people have not put their faith in him and therefore cannot hear. Only those that belong to God, can hear what he says.]

 

John 10:19-21: The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” [The level of openness to Jesus determines the attitude towards his words which are obscure and raving mad to those that are hostile to Jesus.]

 

John 10:24-28: The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

 

John 10:37-38: “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” [Believe the miracles and trust Jesus’ identity so that you can know and understand more of him.]

 

Probably the clearest example of how miracles, faith and preaching work together is recorded in John 4 [retell in your own words]:

 

Jesus Talks With A Samaritan Woman

 

John 4:1-42: ... Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

 

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

 

 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him ...

 

Many Samaritans Believe

 

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”

 

The Samaritan woman and Jesus discussed spiritual matters – (e.g.: Jesus’ identity, spiritual water [notice again the obscure use of images] and later worship) – but only when Jesus performed the miracle of revealing supernatural knowledge about the woman’s circumstances – (the fact that the woman had been married five times and was now living with a man that was not her husband) – salvation opened up for her. On account of this miracle – she put her faith in Jesus – John 4:19: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” [John 4:25-26: The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”] She believed in Jesus as the Saviour because she said: “He told me everything I ever did.”

The miracle and the woman’s testimony of the miracle spread faith in her entire community and – during another stay of two days – Jesus built on this kind of faith with further teaching – John 4:39-42: Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ [Notice how much the miracle and Jesus’ supernatural knowledge had impacted her.] So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.The woman’s testimony of the miracle had predisposed people to exercise faith in Jesus which then positioned them to benefit from Jesus’ further preaching. There was a progression from miracle to faith in Jesus to understanding his preaching and growing in faith.

Why is there no alternative to this progression? Why can preaching not be intelligible unless there has been a faith commitment first – on account of some kind of miracle? The answer is that spiritual truth cannot be understood apart from the Spirit of God who gives understanding. Our own natural mind cannot fathom God. It is only when we make a faith commitment to Jesus Christ that we receive the Spirit of God and are born as new people in God – his children. Only then – enlightened by the Spirit of God – can we hear and understand spiritual things:

 

1 Corinthians 2:6-15: ... No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned ...

 

John 3:1-6: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” [Unless a person is born again and the Spirit gives birth to the spirit in a person, he cannot see the kingdom of God.]

 

2 Corinthians 3:14-16: But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. [Only after turning to the Lord and committing to faith is the veil of blindness and not understanding removed.]

 

[See also Luke 24:13-35. The two disciples’ hearts were burning as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them but they only received Jesus’ words and acted on them after the miraculous discovery of Jesus’ identity. On occasion, the words of God may burn with fire even for unbelievers but there needs to be something from God – some sort of revelation and faith – before the fire of the word can consume a person and be received so that there is conviction of the truth and zeal for mission.]

 

I come back to our main Bible reading once more. The reason that the core of the disciples did not also take offense at Jesus’ words and abandon him is expressed in these words:

 

John 6:61-64: Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” ... [Even though Jesus’ words are spirit and life, there is grumbling because some of the disciples do not believe.]

 

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 [have experienced through miracles] that you are the Holy One of God.” [Since Simon Peter and the others have put their trust in Jesus, they discern that his words have life.]

 

The core group of the disciples – the Twelve – had responded to the miracles with faith; therefore the Spirit had given them life – the kind of life in God – which made them discern that Jesus’ subsequent preaching had spirit and life. Faith in Jesus came before understanding. Jesus made nothing intelligible to those that ignored the evidence of his miracles.

Where does this leave us? I think that we must have miracles. Maybe we can get away with preaching only when we are dealing with lapsed Christians who already know that Jesus is real. These people don’t need further miracles to make another faith commitment toward him – [cf. Billy Graham’s ministry in back-slidden Christian nations] – but in a raw mission situation – and this is the case now in Australia – we must have miracles according to Jesus’ own ministry and the Bible. Miracles are demonstrations of power which point to Jesus. They demand faith so that further understanding will come in the preaching.

In a practical way, this applies to all of us. Sometimes the miracle – maybe a strange moment of God – demands a leap of faith – (the holding back of judgement) – before we can understand a new level of teaching from God:

 

A pastor (Kris Vallotton) was for the first time confronted with a woman who had the strange manifestation of shaking her head from side to side under the power of the Spirit while she was prophesying. He jumped out of his chair, went out, sat in his car with his heart pumping. God asked: “Where are you going?” “I’m scared. I’m going home.” “She has a word for you and I am not giving it to you unless you get back in here.”

 

I summarize the teaching points. The first ten are from the last session: 1) The world-view of our modern age cannot be changed unless a new set of compelling facts force a rethink. 2) In the church, these compelling facts consist of miracles. They challenge the material mind-set and confirm the preaching of Jesus. 3) People flocked to Jesus because of the miracles that he performed. 4) The miracles pointed to Jesus’ identity. 5) Miracles neither promise a life without struggle nor do they guarantee growing understanding. 6) Immediately, after the multiplication of food, the disciples struggled in a storm and were frightened when Jesus performed another miracle by walking on water towards them and rescuing them. 7) Yet, as soon as the disciples let Jesus join them in the boat and trusted him, they reached their destination. 8) The problem of the crowd was that they were interested in another miracle lunch and healings but not more. 9) They believed Jesus for more of the same miracles but did not trust him to provide eternal life. 10) What God the Father requires is that we raise our vision and believe in Jesus whom he sent.

11) After the food miracle, the crowd kept asking for another food miracle but the first one was enough and none was given. 12) When Jesus’ teaching became too incomprehensible, the crowd made the mistake of ignoring the miracle and only considering Joseph and Mary – his parents – whom they knew. 13) Miracles also cause opposition because they confront people with the need for change. 14) The methods of God will not fail because all those that he gives to us will come to us. 15) Instead of making his words accessible, Jesus made the concepts of salvation obscure and incomprehensible. 16) Increasing clarity comes with growing friendship between God and us.[1] He does not throwpearlsbeforepigs”. 17) The progression is not miracles, preaching and then faith but miracles, faith in Jesus and then understanding the preaching. 18) Unless there is a faith commitment, we cannot be born anew and be spiritual people who understand truth by the Spirit of God. 19) We must have miracles in a raw mission situation.

As a church – this morning – can we make a fresh commitment to having miracles among us and then dare to make better use of them? Let them point to Jesus. We challenge people to respond to them with faith in Jesus as their Saviour. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t ignore the evidence. Don’t just enjoy them but make a commitment to Jesus. Unless you connect the miracles with Jesus, nothing further will make sense to you. Put your faith in Jesus – be born of the Spirit – then listen and you will understand the preaching. In Jesus’ name – we have words of eternal life. Amen.

 



[1] Cf. R.T. Kendall: Out Of The Comfort Zone, London: Hodder & Stoughton 2005, p15-37.