Allegheny Valley Church Of God
"Have It Your Way"
Have you ever wondered what the apostles would think if, in a burst of Star-Trek time-travel, they could bridge the thousands of years between the first century Mediterranean arena and contemporary America? What would they say if they could see some of our great cathedrals and churches? Would they be impressed at the style of worship? Would they envy the freedom we have to practice our religion openly in any place we choose? (Except, of course, in our public schools.)
One might think that they would be overwhelmed with praise to God for the spread of Christianity in our nation. And, indeed, we are a blessed nation. America has been the fountainhead of missionary enterprise for over one hundred years. We were founded by men and women who, for the most part, had a saving faith in Jesus Christ and, at the least, acknowledged the importance of the Judeo-Christian scriptures for the founding and maintaining of our government. But, after over 200 years of existence as a nation, does our country really have one of the largest Christian populations in the world? Or have we allowed another kind of Christianity to replace the one so dear to our founding fathers.
I believe we can get the answer by careful study of the scriptures. The particular passage I have in mind is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 6. And the focus will be verse 63:
"The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."
It is there that Jesus gives us a distinct contrast between life in the flesh, and life in the Spirit.
Marching to Zion!
Everything seemed to be going as planned. Jesus had been ministering throughout the region, healing the sick and casting out demons. The people were following him in droves, and some had already put forth the proposition that this one might indeed be the Messiah, the promised prophet, the Savior of Israel. It was nearing the time for the Passover, and the religious zeal of the people was more charged than ever. Some perhaps thought that this Passover would indeed be the first one of Messiah's Kingdom.
And then, something so remarkable happened to have left no doubt, not even in the mind of the hardest skeptic. In the midst of a crowd of thousands of people, Jesus took a few loaves and a few small fishes and turned them into a feast for all with pieces left over. Taking this as a token of the Kingdom to come, in which they believed they would have eternal prosperity and abundance, they were ready to proclaim him King. There was one small problem, however. Jesus did not let them. It says in verse 15 that Jesus, seeing that they wanted to make him king by force, left them and went up on a mountain to be alone.
When they finally caught up with him the next day, they were puzzled at his appearance. They didn't understand how he could be where he was, because they didn't see him walking on the water, (That's another message.) so they asked him how he got there. But there was an underlying reason for their concern, one which we can understand by the context of the passage. Jesus didn't try to explain to them how he got where he was without a boat. What he did was challenge them as to why they wanted to follow him.
I. The fleshly seek satisfaction in temporal things, the spiritual are satisfied with spiritual things.
Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill."(v26)
Jesus realized that the only thing that attracted the people to him was the fact that he met their felt needs. They were hungry and he fed them. They wanted freedom from the gentile oppressor, and he would provide that for them. But his refusal to be their king, at least to their standards, caused them to begin to doubt once again.
"Do not work for the food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (v27)
Jesus admonishes his hearers to be careful not to equate faith with food. As Isaiah the prophet questioned his generation: "Why do you spend money on things that don't satisfy?" (Isa. 55) so Jesus challenged those who claimed to be his disciples to forget about the temporary, temporal, sensual fulfillment of bodily and emotional needs. Instead, he emphasized the spiritual, eternal things, particularly the forgiveness of sins and the new birth. (John 3) In other words, acceptance by God. After all, that is what religion is all about, isn't it? How can we make ourselves acceptable to God? The Jews believed that, by being circumcised and by adhering as closely as possible to the ordinances of the Mosaic law, they could somehow earn their way into heaven. This attitude is evidenced in their next question.
II. The fleshly seek to satisfy God in their own power, the spiritual realize they cannot, and simply believe.
Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"(v28)
This question represents the basis for all of mankind's fascination with religion. From the darkest jungle in the deepest part of Africa, to the most elaborate and glorious shrines of some of the most ancient arms of the Christian church, men and women have strived to somehow earn a box seat in the eternal ball park. "How can we work for the things that don't perish?" "How many devotions? How much money? How many prayers? How many chapters a day?" And on and on and on. But Jesus' answer is a telling one:
Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (v29)
This, then, is the work: believe. Trust in, be obedient to, revere as Lord. One might object to the inclusion of the word "obedience." "After all, we are not saved by the work of obedience, are we?" one might ask. But, if we study all of the New Testament, we might put forth the question, "If we are disobedient, can we truly be saved?" Obedience is given as a chief manifestation of a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ. "Faith without works is dead," said James. Jesus himself gives his closest disciples the admonition "If you love me, keep my commandments." It says that Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. His belief was manifested in his obedience. It was not his obedience that saved him, but it was his obedience that proved to the world that he was saved. Yes, good works accompany salvation, but they don't spend well when purchasing forgiveness. That could only be obtained through the price of pure blood, the blood of Christ.
Yes, the only work we need to do is believe. In fact, if we try to get there any other way, we are, according to Paul in his letter to the Galatians, cursed. (3:10-11) This idea was not well received by the Jews of Jesus' day. They were so ingrained with the idea that they were God's special people, and that they had the inside track on pushing their way into God's favor, that mere belief was too easy. After all, if that were true, then common sinners could have access to the Kingdom of Heaven. The self-righteous Jewish religionist could not stomach such an idea. This is why they asked the next question:
III. The fleshly seek a temporal sign, the spiritual receive a heavenly sign.
So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" (v30-31)It is incredible to me that these people, who just a few hours ago were ready to proclaim Jesus as the King on the strength of the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, are now asking for a sign. Jesus' answer:
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, 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 to eat. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."(v32-33)
It is with this statement that Jesus begins one of the most insightful and, to some, puzzling discourses in the Gospels. He calls himself the bread of life, and claims that all who truly believe must eat his flesh and drink his blood. This pronouncement did not sit well with most of his hearers. In fact, we read later on in the chapter that many left him at this time. The sign he offered them was not the one they were looking for. When the people realized that Jesus' mission was primarily a spiritual one, the walked away to wait for another leader who would cast the gentiles out of the city of God.
When Jesus realized many were leaving him, he asked his closest disciples, "Will you leave, too?" upon which Simon Peter gave the true answer of faith, "Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life." It is evident that Peter and the rest of the twelve (with the exception of Judas) didn't fully understand the mission of Christ until after the day of Pentecost, yet they had the faith to continue in his teaching and leading.
It is important to note that, from this time on, Jesus began to tell those who received healing and deliverance from him not to tell anyone who did it. It was shortly after this incident that Jesus first told his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem and be persecuted and suffer many things at the hands of the people. This message was not a popular one, even amongst his closest disciples. It was so distasteful that it seems that the soon-to-be apostles completely blacked it out. Even though Jesus clearly told them what would happen to them, they were taken by surprise and shaken to their very souls at the crucifixion of Christ. Yet their faith brought them forth from the valley of the shadow of death to begin a movement that would turn the world upside down.
Have it your way?
So, what does all this have to do with the 20th century church in the United States of America? Just this, what is the brand of Christianity that is being promoted by our churches and denominations? Are we holding up the mirror of God's word to a lost and dying generation to show them their sin and need for a Savior, or are we holding up the mirror of flesh, telling people that they are really good people and just need someone to understand them? Are we presenting Christ according to what God wants, or according to what Jesus wants? Are we marketing the Gospel in order to attract bigger crowds on Sunday, or are we reaching out to those who are lost for eternity with the bad/good news?
"I thought the Gospel was good news." you might say. Well, it begins with bad news. That is that we are all sinners, and a picture of our sin hangs on an ugly cross in the form of a disfigured human being who never did anything wrong. That imagery does not attract church members, but it is the only appeal that will get people into heaven. The good news is, of course, that Jesus did not stay on that cross. He was buried and resurrected on the third day and sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.
The requirement is still the same: Believe on him who the Father has sent. Eat his flesh and drink his blood. That doesn't mean that the bread and wine of communion actually turns into his body and blood, as some would teach. But the command represents a total acceptance of Christ and total consumption of him and with him. It's not a once or twice a week thing. It's a lifetime change. I'm afraid too many have believed that, just because they said a prayer, or just because they felt warm and fuzzy inside at a meeting, they have been converted to Christianity. But Jesus said that in the day of judgment, there would be many who will say "Lord, Lord,..." but will be horrified to hear the words, "Depart from me, I never knew you."
Do you know him today? Have you "counted all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.."? (Php 3:8) Or have you just made Christianity another club or association to which you belong? Have you had it your way, or His?