I am the Bread of Life: Finding Eternal Satisfaction

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.

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.’”

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.

John 6:24-35

Window of St Joseph's Catholic Church, Central City, Kentucky.

Window of St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Central City, Kentucky, by Nheyob and sourced from Wikimedia.

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 5th August 2018 at Manningtree Methodist Church, Essex. Scroll to the bottom for an audio recording.

Where do you seek fulfilment?

Where do you find satisfaction?

Difficult questions for a Sunday morning, but definitely questions worth considering.

You can learn a great deal about a person when you know the answer to these questions.

You see, I believe that the source of our satisfaction defines us, it shapes the pattern of our lives.

Some might draw satisfaction from their job. It’s usually easy to spot these people because all they ever talk about is work.

Some draw satisfaction from their home. These are the people who, when you visit their home, everything is pristine. Nothing is out of place, and you might think you’ve walked into one of those show homes that builders furnish to show off properties on their new development.

Others might draw their satisfaction from food. These people are often marked out by a slightly rotund shape. They might have piles of Mary Berry and Delia Smith cookbooks scattered around their home, plus an enviable collection of pots and pans.

I suppose if someone was to study me closely, they might think that I derive satisfaction from gadgets. I’m usually carrying the latest iPhone, plus an Apple Watch, and can bore for England about the latest in technology.

What might someone think is the source of your satisfaction? If they studied you, would they be able to pinpoint the one thing that satisfies you?

I wonder if someone studied any of us here today if they would deduce that we derive our satisfaction from a relationship with Jesus Christ?

I wonder if we, ourselves, think that we derive satisfaction from knowing Jesus, from having a relationship with him?

This is what I’d like us to think about this morning as we study God’s word together.

It might be helpful if you have John 6:24-35 open in front of you as we continue.

I’m going to try to cover three interconnected points this morning. These are refocusing our desires, what must we do, and Jesus, our eternal satisfaction.

Let’s get straight on with our first point, then, refocusing our desires.

I teach in a posh London prep school. The school has many pupils from the wealthiest end of our society. The road outside the school at picking up time is full of Teslas, expensive customised Range Rovers, Bentleys and Ferraris. Many of my pupils will, even as we speak, be holidaying in multi-million pound foreign homes, or relaxing in the most exclusive resorts around the world.

And you know what? Good for them, I say.

The people who send their children to my school have worked incredibly hard through school, through university and through their professional lives to earn the money that pays for their expensive lifestyles.

What does concern me, though, is that for some people, this quest for more and more money, for flashier cars, for more homes, for the best holidays money can buy, becomes the whole focus of their existence. This quest for more and better stuff becomes their primary desire. They invest in big houses and fancy cars because they think that this is where they will find satisfaction. And it is this pursuit of bigger and better stuff, whatever the cost, that shapes the pattern of their lives and defines them. I guess you could define them as brazen materialists.

In our reading from John’s Gospel today we encounter Jesus soon after he has fed 5,000 people with just five small barley loaves and two small fish. Well, 5,000 men anyway, as we see in John 6:10. The real number was probably several times larger, since women and children were not included in this number.

This same crowd, we see in verses 24 and 25 of this morning’s reading, were trying to find Jesus. They were a little confused to find Jesus in Capernaum, since, whilst the disciples had been seen getting into a boat, Jesus had opted for the slightly less traditional method of crossing the lake, or at least the first three or four miles of it, on foot.

Jesus is quick to reprimand his audience, who are probably Jewish, and more than likely being addressed by Jesus in the synagogue. They have been looking for him, he tells them in verse 26, because he provided them with a free meal. They ate the loaves and the fish by the lake, and ate until they were satisfied.

Their earthly needs have been satisfied by Jesus and they are happy. They have found satisfaction in having their physical hunger satiated.

They are following Jesus because they see him as a provider of free food and hope that he will continue to be their meal ticket. They think that he will continue to satisfy their physical needs.

At a simplistic level, if we are looking to define this crowd based on the source of their satisfaction, you could say that they like to have full bellies at no cost. Perhaps not unreasonable, but they have lost sight of who Jesus is as a consequence of their desire for him to give them food.

The crowd have completely misunderstood the reason for Jesus being present amongst them.

As the Biblical commentator William Barclay puts it, “it is as if Jesus said, ‘you cannot think of your souls for thinking about your stomachs’.”

Jesus doesn’t tell his audience that they are wrong to hunger for food. He knows that this is a perfectly reasonable desire. He doesn’t rebuke them for looking for satisfaction in earthly terms, but he does want them to think carefully about their life priorities.

You see, when we focus solely on earthly satisfaction, we lose sight of our spiritual identity.

In verse 27 Jesus tells the assembled throng, and through them, he tells us too, that we should not work for food that spoils, for food that will satisfy our hunger briefly but leave us wanting in due course. He tells us that we should work instead for food that endures to eternal life.

Sometimes if I work late, I pop into McDonald’s for a quick burger before getting the train back to our home in Sussex. Now, whilst I might buy the biggest, juiciest burger that McDonald’s has to offer, by the time I get home, I’m hungry again. I don’t know why, but McDonald’s food never seems to satisfy my hunger for more than an hour.

And that’s a good metaphor for the point that Jesus is trying to make.

Whatever we find ourselves craving, be it food, cars, homes, gadgets, a relationship, children, once we have them our craving continues. These things might temporarily satisfy us, but we’ll soon hunger for something else.

The Buddhists call this craving Tanha. They believe that Tanha, craving, is responsible for all the suffering in the world. It stands to reason, therefore, in their belief at least, that if only we could eliminate all craving from the world, then all suffering will end.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But I happen to believe that they’re wrong. I don’t see how it is possible to end craving. Show me a person who doesn’t crave, who doesn’t have desires of any kind, and I’ll show you a dead person.

Jesus’ approach is rather different. He doesn’t tell us to end our craving, to stop having desires, to stop looking for things that provide us with satisfaction. He knows that this is a fundamental part of being a human. Instead, he tells us that we need to focus our craving appropriately. We need to focus our craving, our quest for satisfaction and fulfilment in him.

Instead of trying to find satisfaction in earthly things that spoil, we should seek satisfaction in food that does not spoil, in food that endures to eternal life.

The source of this food is Jesus, as he makes clear in verse 27.

Jesus withholds nothing from us, and will gladly give us this eternal food if we just ask him to. He is able to grant us this food because he is the one whom God has placed his seal of approval.

There’s nothing wrong with drawing satisfaction from earthly things, whether that be food, cars, jobs or houses. We must ensure though that these things do not become our primary source of satisfaction. If they do, then we ultimately remain unsatisfied, unfulfilled. We won’t be able to shake off that feeling of emptiness.

If we only find real satisfaction in the food that Jesus will give us, we should refocus our desires on him. We must turn to him and make him our primary source of satisfaction.

On to our second point then. What must we do?

It’s great that Jesus will provide us with food that endures to eternal life, but how should we respond?

Funnily enough, this is exactly what the crowd asks Jesus in verse 28, “what must we do to do the works God requires?”

How can we work for food that endures, for satisfaction not just in the here and now, but eternally?

The crowd presumably expect a list of rules and regulations akin to the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses.

But Jesus surprises his audience. He doesn’t provide them with ethical codes or laws that can be ignored, circumvented or broken. Instead he tells them that the work of God is simply to believe in the one he has sent.

“The work of God is this,” Jesus says in verse 29. “To believe in the one he sent.”

What does it mean to believe in the one who God sent?

Believing in Jesus means believing his claims, trusting that he was sent by God, that he is the Son of God, that he died to pay the price for the sins of the world, that he rose again three days later, that he dwells at the right hand of God the Father, and has opened the way to eternal life for all those who believe.

Believing in Jesus is not simply about giving lip service to him. Genuine belief in Jesus is transformational.

If we believe in the one who God sent, our lives will be transformed, because our desires, our appetites will be redirected. Our priorities in life will not be about short term resolutions to our temporary appetites, but will take on an eternal perspective.

If we are to progress beyond empty statements of Jesus’ identity, if we are genuinely to believe in him we need to know him. We need to meet him in his word, the Bible. We need to spend time in prayer, listening to him and sharing our concerns with him. We need to understand his character, his priorities and strive to emulate him as closely as we are able.

Jesus was concerned about the lost, the sick, the outcasts. Jesus brought light into the darkness of the world. He brought love where there was hatred.

It seems to me that we live in a period in history where sometimes it feels like darkness and hatred might prevail. I’m sure that every successive generation feels this. But I am increasingly concerned at the self-centredness of the western world. Whether it’s the narcissism of social media, or whether it’s countries putting up borders, literal or metaphorical, to keep anyone “other” out, it feels like loving one another, the second of Christ’s great commandments, often seems to be side-lined.

Believing in Jesus should spur us on to want to stand out in the world as agents of life, of love, of light. If we share Christ’s priorities, we too will share his concern for the lost, the sick and the outcasts. We too will want to support the weak, the frail, the sick. We will want to look after the widows and orphans.

Ultimately we will want to show the world what we have discovered, that there is another way to live, a more enduring source of satisfaction; hope of an eternal life with Christ himself.

Of course, believing is hard. Many will find the idea of believing in something that they cannot see to be intolerably difficult, impossible, or even a nonsense.

Verse 30 shows that the crowd listening to Jesus struggled with this notion.

“Give us proof!” they demand. “If you are the one sent by God, give us sign! If you give us a sign we’ll believe!”

Funnily enough, these people had just been given a sign. They had just witnessed Jesus feed five thousand men, plus women and children, with five small barley loaves and two small fish. I don’t know about you, but I think I would regard that as a sign!

“Just one more sign, then we’ll believe,” they implore.

I wonder how many of us fall into this trap? I wonder how many of us lose out on the life that God would have us live because we are simply looking for more evidence of Christ’s identity.

More evidence please, God, then we’ll trust in you, then we’ll follow you.

How easy it would be to miss our calling, simply because we wanted more evidence.

There comes a point, though, where having weighed up the evidence, we must take a step of faith.

Take a step of faith to trust that Jesus is the one sent by God.

Take a step of faith to follow Jesus.

Take a step of faith to live the life that God has set out for us.

Sooner or later it will be too late.

Our earthly lives our finite, measured, if we’re lucky, in years. Yet the eternal existence we’re promised by definition lasts forever.

What a shame it would be if we missed the boat.

What must we do? We must believe in the one who God has sent.

Our third point then – the Bread of Life.

We must believe in the one God has sent because he is the Bread of Life who provides eternal satisfaction.

We’ve seen in verse 30 that the crowd asked Jesus for a sign so that they might see and believe him. In verse 31 they spoke of their ancestors who were given manna in the wilderness. We read about this in our reading from Exodus. Stuck out in the desert, God had given them bread to eat. They wanted Jesus to make bread come down from heaven so that they might believe.

He answers them by saying that it is God who gives true bread from heaven, bread that gives life to the world.

This seems like an appealing prospect to the crowd, who demand that Jesus always gives them this bread.

Jesus responds with one of the great I AM declarations, that mirrors the declaration that God himself gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM.”

“I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them in verse 35. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Here, then, is the source of genuine satisfaction. Whilst the fulfilment of our earthly desires will only be temporary, Jesus provides eternal satisfaction. Only by turning to Christ and believing in him will we find true satisfaction.

When looking at verse 32 and verse 35 together, we see that Jesus comes from heaven. He has been given to us by his Father. Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s redemptive plan for the world, the one whom the Jewish people had been waiting for, the one who the Old Testament points towards. Here is God himself, the word become flesh, dwelling amongst his created people, giving those who believe in his name the right to become children of God, as John stated at the beginning of his gospel.

Jesus, the bread of God, the bread that comes down from heaven, gives life to the world, Jesus says in verse 34.

Ever since the fall, humanity have dwelt in sin and death. Through our disobedience, as a consequence of turning from God, death has been a part of our human experience. A significant part too.

We’ve all experienced death through the death of loved ones we were close to.

We’ve all experienced the grief that accompanies the passing of someone that we loved. This is the reality of human existence.

Jesus, though, comes to bring life. He brings the hope that, if we turn to him, if we accept him as our saviour, earthly death is not the end, but the beginning. Just as Jesus rose from the dead to dwell with his father in heaven, the same will be true for us too. We too will be raised to life after death.

What’s more, Jesus affirms that this offer of life isn’t restricted. He gives life to the world, he says in verse 33. His offer of forgiveness, of eternal life, isn’t limited to those of a certain lineage, or nationality, or caste, or creed, or status.

He gives life to the world. His offer of forgiveness is open to all.

Anyone can turn Christ and be forgiven.

Anyone who calls on the name of Christ can find eternal satisfaction dwelling with Christ in God’s new creation.

This is reiterated in verse 35 when Jesus says that “whoever” comes to him will never go hungry, that “whoever” believes in him will never be thirsty. Whoever you are, Christ offers eternal satisfaction, eternal fulfilment.

Jesus brings satisfaction in ways that nothing else can. If we come to him we will never go hungry, he says. If we come to him we will never be thirsty.

So the question is, where will we seek fulfilment?

Where will we find our satisfaction?

Will we look to the world to address our cravings?

Or will we turn to Christ, the Bread of Life, who offers eternal fulfilment and satisfaction?

If the source of our satisfaction defines us, if it shapes the pattern of our lives, will we allow ourselves to be shaped by the Bread of Life, by Jesus?

Let’s all strive to refocus our desires and cultivate a genuine, life changing believe in Jesus, trusting that he is the Bread of Life.

If we draw our satisfaction from a relationship with Christ then we will have found a source of satisfaction that doesn’t spoil, but endures to eternal life.

Cleansing the Temple: Pure Worship

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 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.

John 2:13-22

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 11th March 2012 at St. Martin’s Church, Dorking (Methodist Congregation).

This morning we’ll be looking at the idea of purity of worship, but before we begin, I want to ask you a quick question.

Have you ever flown with Ryanair?

Having travelled with them several times in the past, I have to say that I would only fly with them again if there really was no other choice.  I find the seats very uncomfortable.  It irritates me that they have scrimped so much on their aircraft that there is no storage on the back of the seat in front.  I can’t stand the way they promote their lottery scratch cards.  What irritates me the most, though, is their pricing strategy.  It seems designed to catch people out and grab as much money from them as possible.  Yesterday I checked the cost of flights from London to Rome.  Ryanair’s headline figure was £25.99, but when I clicked through, the total cost came to a staggering £203.09.  Even at that high price, there is still the possibility that customers may have to pay additional fees.  Should a passenger turn up at the gate with hand luggage that is deemed too big, from this summer they will face a massive £100 fee to check the bag into the flight.  Ryanair’s staff actually get a 50 pence bonus for each bag that they make customers check in.  To me, the whole set up seems designed to fleece their customers for as much money as they possibly can.

This picture of an organisation trying to fleece people for all they can by embracing rather questionable tactics is not dissimilar to the Temple as visited by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.  Just like Ryanair, the Temple had developed strategies that seemed intended to catch people unaware and to rip people off.  Unlike Ryanair, which is, after all, a commercial operation, the Temple was intended to be the House of God, the place where Jews and non-Jews alike could come to worship in the presence of God.

It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus was angry.  Here he was, in his Father’s house, and it was being treated as nothing more than a money-making venture for the authorities.

So, to our first point.  The first issue I believe we see raised from our Gospel reading today is the idea of purity of corporate worship – the worship of God with other people.  That, after all, was the focus of the Temple in Jerusalem, and that’s why we’re here today – to worship God with other people.

The Temple in Jerusalem was the focus of the Jewish faith, the beating, pulsating heart of Jewish life.  It was more than a mere place of worship, however; Jewish people believed that it was the dwelling place of God amongst his people.

At the time of year we read about in our Gospel today, the Temple would have been a particularly busy, crowded place with Jewish people from far and wide in attendance to celebrate the festival of the Passover. This was a commemoration of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, a particularly important date in the Jewish calendar. The festival of Passover saw Jewish people from far and wide make a pilgrimage to the Temple.  It was this busy, bustling Temple that Jesus arrived at in John chapter two.

John records vividly what happened when Jesus arrived in the Temple. Jesus, a man we normally think of as a calm, quiet, placid character, was greatly angered by what he saw, and was not afraid to let his anger show.

Why, though, was Jesus so angry?

As soon as Jesus entered the Temple, he was confronted by people selling cattle, sheep and doves.  These were the animals which, under Jewish law, were required for sacrifices.  At Passover in particular, they would be needed in large number.  It might seem perfectly natural for the Temple to have these animals on hand, ready to purchase.  Some people, after all, would have travelled a considerable distance to make their sacrifices.  It would have been a rather arduous task to bring their sacrificial animals with them, so surely the Temple was offering a useful service.

Sadly, the stalls which Jesus saw in the Temple were not there to provide a service for the pilgrims, but to fleece them of as much money as possible. What angered Jesus was the way in which those selling sacrificial animals, the Temple authorities, were ripping off ordinary worshippers.  Animals for sacrifices cost up to ten times as much if they were purchased inside the Temple, compared with prices outside.

What was to prevent a worshipper buying an animal for sacrifice outside the Temple gates, in the bustling markets of Jerusalem?

Animals for sacrifice had to be pure, blameless and spotless.  All animals that were brought to the Temple had to be checked by an inspector, for which a fee was payable.  Unsurprisingly, a large number of the animals that were brought to the Temple were failed, requiring pilgrims to purchase new animals, which had been pre-approved, from the stalls within the Temple.

The Temple authorities had a similar racquet going on with coinage.  Every Jew over the age of nineteen was required to pay a Temple tax of half a shekel, equivalent to about two days’ wages.  This had to be paid in either Galileaen shekels or in sanctuary shekels, since ordinary coins were deemed to be unclean.  The money changers in the Temple were there to provide a service, changing coinage into a form considered clean.  The problem was that the money changers charged exorbitant fees for their services.  A straightforward change of a non-clean half shekel to a clean coin would require a fee.  If change was needed, another fee would apply.  Suddenly, just like an airline’s credit card fees, paying the Temple tax could become very expensive.

Jesus was not just angry about what was happening inside the Temple.  He was also angry about where it was happening.

The Temple complex consisted of a number of different areas, from the Holy of Holies in the centre, then the sanctuary, and then the Court of the Gentiles.  This was the section of the Temple to which non-Jewish people could come to meet with God.  And it was this section in which Jesus had discovered the animal sellers and money changers.  Not only were the Temple authorities ripping people off, but they were preventing people who wanted to worship God from doing so.

It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus was angry.  The Temple, a place of worship, had been utterly desecrated.  The noise and bustle prevented people from meeting with God.  Worship was pretty much closed off to all non-Jews by the market atmosphere in the Court of the Gentiles. The Temple authorities were ripping people off, trying to fleece them for as much cash as they could.  And this was happening in his Father’s house, the dwelling place of God and the focus of Jewish worship.

Jesus was aroused to such great anger by what he saw that he made a whip out of cords and drive the animal sellers out of the Temple, before overturning the tables of the money changers, sending their coins flying.

Jesus was absolutely furious, because the Temple was no longer a place of genuine worship. It had become a place marked out by corruption, dishonesty and hypocrisy. It had become the centre of an empty, formal religion. It was a place where those who ran it were not concerned for the souls of those whom they encountered, or genuinely serving God, but were out for what they could get. It was a place where many of the worshippers, having been brought up to know a corrupt Temple, worshipped out of a sense of duty and obligation rather than because they genuinely wanted to know God.

The corporate worship of the Jewish people had been utterly destroyed by the ungodliness of the authorities.

I wonder what Jesus would make of our places of worship today if he visited?  How would our corporate worship stand up in the face of a visit from Christ? I wonder if Jesus would be happy with the way we conduct our worship, or if he would be enraged by what he saw?

Jesus demands a purity from our corporate worship, and a genuine focus on God.  He wants our church authorities, our leaders and preachers, to be genuine people of God who feel called to lead God’s people in worship and to preach the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  I wonder how our churches would stand up to Jesus’ scrutiny?

Jesus expects a clear focus on God from all those who serve in our churches, to ensure that every aspect of our corporate identity is directed towards worshipping God.  He expects those who lead our music, or sing in the choir, or make the tea and coffee, or edit the church newspaper to be clear that the tasks they are undertaking are directed towards worshipping God.  He wants all of us, every single person in the church, to be inspired by a genuine desire to live out the Gospel and to serve Jesus Christ in all that they do.

I wonder what Jesus would make of our church buildings? Have they become like the Temple in Jerusalem, closed centres of commerce, or are they open, welcoming and friendly to all people.  Jesus expects our churches to facilitate our worship, not to distract from it.  Is there anything that we need to change in our church building to ensure that the main focus of our church is the worship of God?

What about newcomers and visitors to our congregation? Is there anything in what we do or what we say that prevents them from knowing God? Jesus expects our our services to be clear and straightforward, not burdened with complex language and strange music that makes it difficult for visitors to understand what we’re doing.

What would Jesus think if he visited our churches today? Would he be pleased with what he saw or would he be angry? Would he see genuine worship or a place too concerned with empty ritual? Would he feel forced to take up a whip to cleanse and purify our churches, or would he sit amongst us and worship his father with us?

The second point I want to consider today is concerned with personal worship – worship which is made very important indeed by Jesus’ words in our Gospel passage today.

In the second part of our reading today, Jesus totally turns the whole concept of the Temple on its head.  The Jewish people in the Temple had clearly been deeply disturbed by what they had seen. Their response to seeing Jesus’ anger is to demand a sign from him to prove that he has the authority to clear the Temple.  Jesus knew, though, that faith does not come from signs, and so he does not give them the sign that they demand.  Instead, he them rather cryptically, saying, “destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

His audience clearly think this statement is ridiculous.  They tell him that it took forty-six years to build the Temple, and he is claiming, it seems, to be able to rebuild it in three days.  They know that there is absolutely no way Jesus could do as he claims!

As is so often the case, however, they misunderstood what Jesus was saying. As John makes clear in his account, Jesus was referring not to the stone building he was standing in, but to his own body.  His statement foreshadows his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.  He knew, right from the start of his ministry, that his ultimate calling was to die, that the next three years would lead him to the cross.

Jesus’ statement is more profound than anyone at the time could have understood. Indeed, John comments in verse 22 that it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that they fully understood the significance of this statement.

Jesus’ claim to be able to raise the temple in three days, which John understood to mean his body, is significant because it turns the whole concept of worshipping God on its head.  As a consequence of Jesus, the Temple became totally irrelevant; God no longer dwelt in the Temple. John makes this clear right at the start of his Gospel, when he states the the Word, which is God, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  Jesus is the new Temple, the new focus for the worship of God.

Jesus statement that the Temple would be destroyed but that he would raise it again in three days is a direct reference to his own death and resurrection.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross, the Temple was destroyed.  When Jesus rose from the dead, the Temple was raised.

We see in the Gospel accounts that at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, the curtain in the Temple, which separated the Holy of Holies from the sanctuary and prevented people from approaching God was ripped in two.  When Jesus died, the barrier between man and God was removed.  At a stroke, the Temple in Jerusalem, and all that happened there, became utterly irrelevant.

As Jesus predicted in our Gospel reading today, however, three days after his death on the cross, he rose from the dead, having defeated sin and death, a triumph of good over evil.

With Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem is irrelevant.

Thanks to Jesus we do not need to go to a building to worship God.

We no longer need to sacrifice birds and animals to God.

As a consequence of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can approach God directly.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the irrelevance of the Temple as a centre for worship is made even clearer.  In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the Church as the body of Christ.  If the Church is the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is the new Temple, then we, the Church, are the new Temple.  God no longer resides in a building, but in all of us.  We don’t need to go to a building to worship God, because he, in the form of the Holy Spirit is in us.  Instead, if we chose to worship God, we should do so with the temples that are our bodies, our minds, our hearts and our souls.  Worship, in the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus, is something that we should do with every fibre of our being.  Our whole lives should be offered to God as a spiritual act of worship.  As Paul famously states in Romans chapter 12, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”

As the Temple should have been focused entirely on worshipping God, so now should the temples of our bodies.

This is personal worship taken to an entirely new level.

I wonder what implications Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem has for the new Temple of our lives?  If the Temple is now not a building but our bodies, our hearts and our souls, I wonder how we ensure that we are right before God?

Perhaps as well as looking at our church buildings and our services, we also need to look at ourselves, and ensure that we do not taint our worship of Christ.

Perhaps we need to look at our own motivation.

The Temple authorities in Jerusalem were more concerned about what they could get out of their position rather than facilitating real worship.  I wonder what our motivation for worshipping God is?  Is our worship hollow and empty, merely going through the motions? Or is our worship based on a genuine, deep felt, life changing passion for Jesus?

Why are we here today?  Is it out of a genuine desire for worshipping God, for learning about Christ, and for sharing fellowship with one another?  Or are we here out of a sense of duty to someone else?  Do we come to worship with reluctance?  Or maybe we’re here because our friends are here, and it’s a nice thing to do, to come and chat with out friends once a week?

Are we like the Jews who responded to Jesus’ clearing of the Temple, demanding signs and miracles?  Or are we passionate about hearing his word?  Do we listen to God, diligently reading his word in the scriptures, and listening to him in prayer?

I wonder if we keep the Temples of our bodies, our hearts, our souls and minds clear of detritus that prevents our worship, or that taints our worship?  Do we live for Christ, seeking to serve and honour him in all that we do?  Or is there something that prevents us from truly worshipping Jesus?

Do we need Jesus to come into our hearts and minds, and to clear away all the stuff that prevents us from genuinely worshipping him?

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The Call of Christ

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 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.”

John 1:43-51

What follows is the text of a sermon I preached on 15th January 2012 at London Road Methodist Church in Horsham, West Sussex.

I met Claire, my wife, on February 16th 2008. I was visiting Katie, a friend from university, who lives in Belfast. Katie, who I suspect may have been match making, invited Claire to join us for dinner in the evening. I was blown away by Claire’s beauty the moment I saw her. By the time I left Belfast, I knew I wanted to be with her. Unfortunately, though, Claire lived in Belfast and worked very long hours as a hospital doctor. I lived in Sussex and worked long hours and six or seven day weeks as a teacher in a boarding school. No matter what I wanted, it just seemed impossible that it could work out. Finding time to meet up would be incredibly difficult. Flying backwards and forwards between Gatwick and Belfast would be incredibly expensive. There was no way it could work. I pondered it long and hard but ultimately decided that it would not work, so it was pointless thinking about it.

Of course, in the end, it did all work out, but that’s another story!

Why am I telling you this? Well, sometimes we meet a person who has the potential to transform our lives. In order for that transformation to take place, though, we usually have lots of considerations to make. Do we make time in our busy lives for this person? Do we allow them to disrupt our regular routine? Or do we turn our back and just carry on as we are.

In today’s reading we witnessed two people who encountered someone who radically changed their lives the moment they met him. Philip and Nathanael both encountered Christ, and, whilst both ultimately decided to follow him, the way they reached their decision to give up their own lives and follow Christ was markedly different.

Today we will consider the way in which Philip and Nathanael responded to their encounter with Christ. We will reflect on whether we see anything of ourselves in Philip and Nathanael. And we’ll reflect on what a life following Christ might mean. We’ll do so under three headings – follow me, come and see, and finally, a question: what will we see?

So to our first point, then: follow me.

The first person we witnessed encounter Christ in our gospel reading today was Philip. What is noticeable straight away is how John describes their encounter. Today we often speak of “seekers,” people who have not committed their lives to following Jesus, but are looking for him with the possibility that if they find him, they will follow him. Looking at this encounter in our reading, however, it seems that when we speak in this way we might have got things the wrong way round. Take a look at John 1:43. It is not Philip who was seeking. It was not Philip who found Jesus. No, John is very clear in his writing that it is Jesus who found Philip.

It is worth remembering in our faith lives that it is not true that it is we who are seeking Jesus, it is not us who is looking for God. Rather, God is seeking us out. He loves all his people and is desperate to have a relationship with us, to get to know us. The question is – will we be open to his approach?

Philip was most definitely open to Jesus’ approach.

Without any introduction whatsoever, Jesus said to Philip, “follow me.”

Jesus’ command hit Philip right between the eyes. For Philip there was no question about what to do. He immediately dropped everything to follow a man that he had only just met.

For Philip this single moment represents a life changing decision, yet his response was instantaneous. He could justifiably have said, hang on, this is a rather big step you’re asking me to take. Do you really want me to follow you? Do I really have to decide now?

Philip could have responded by replying, “but I don’t know anything about you!”

He didn’t, though.

Philip could have come up with hundreds of different reasons why he shouldn’t follow Jesus.

He didn’t though.

Jesus commanded him to follow, and he did.

There was something so powerful about the very presence of Jesus that Philip unquestionably dropped everything to follow Jesus.

I wonder if you can identify with Philip here? We all have our own conversion stories. I wonder if yours is like Philip’s? Was there something about Jesus that struck you instantly that meant you had to drop everything and follow him?

Philip’s particular conversion is magnificent because there is something truly supernatural about it. There is nothing that we, as mere humans, could do to effect an experience like Philip’s. Philip encounters Christ and is immediately transformed. His life is immediately changed.

Did you hear Jesus’ call, “follow me,” and surrender your whole life to him?

Perhaps you’re here today as a non-Christian, trying to find out more about this Jesus that we worship. Maybe you would describe yourself as a seeker. If that’s you, then reflect on the way in which Philip came to follow Jesus. Philip was not looking for Jesus. Philip did not set out to find Jesus. Instead, Jesus set out to look for Philip and found him. In the same way, Jesus is out looking for each of us. If we’re open to him, as Philip was, he will find us, and he will ask us to follow him.

Are we following Jesus? Have we responded to his call of “follow me?” Like Philip, have we dropped everything and surrendered our lives to respond to his call?

Let’s move on to our second point: come and see.

Whilst Philip’s response to Christ was immediate and unquestioning, not everyone’s response is quite so dramatic. The second person we met in our reading was Nathanael. His decision to follow Christ was rather different to Philip’s, because his conversion did not start with Jesus, but with a friend.

That friend was Philip.

Philip was so excited about finding Jesus that he immediately had to go and find his friend Nathanael. Philip’s excitement was bubbling over, and there was nothing that he could do to contain it. He just had to share his faith.
I wonder if we feel the same way? If we know and love Jesus, does our excitement at finding our saviour lead us to seek out our friends to tell them about Jesus? Does our passion for Christ bubble over when we’re with our friends to the extent that we cannot help talking about him?

If it doesn’t, why is that? Do we truly know Christ? Do we honestly follow him? Have we really surrendered our whole lives to him?

Let’s look at the kind of guy Nathanael was. It quickly becomes apparent that he was rather different to Philip.
Nathanael was a devout Jew who took his faith very seriously. He knew his scripture, and had previously been spotted by Jesus sitting beneath a fig tree, a common place for Jewish people to sit, ponder the scriptures and pray.

He was also clearly an intellectual sceptic.

Philip began his introduction to Jesus by stating that “we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom the prophets wrote.” Philip knew that the way to share Jesus with his friend, the devout Jew, was by appealing to Jewish scripture.

On hearing Philip’s introduction, though, Nathanael remained sceptical. On hearing that Jesus comes from Nazareth, he responded, “can anything good come from there?”

Perhaps this was first century inter-town rivalry. Or perhaps Nathanael, as a scholar, knew that the prophecies of the Old Testament point to the Messiah hailing from Bethlehem.

Perhaps he would have responded differently if he had known that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Philip’s enthusiasm was not diminished by Nathanael’s cynicism. Far from it. Instead, he urged his friend to “come and see!”

He knew that if Nathanael encountered Jesus for himself, he could not help but be transformed. He knew that if Nathanael was to encounter Christ and experience the passion and excitement of knowing Jesus, just as he had done just moments before, Nathanael would have to leave his intellectual comfort zone and place himself before Christ. If he was to know Christ, Nathanael would have to meet Christ and experience Christ.

I wonder if you have ever attempted to bring someone to faith, perhaps a friend or a family member, who has responded in the same negative, cynical way that Nathanael did initially. Nathanael sneeringly responded to Philip that no good could possibly come from Nazareth. At that point, Philip could have argued and debated with Nathanael, telling him that he was wrong, that Jesus is good, that Jesus is worth following. Instead, Philip instinctively knew that they only way that Nathanael would come to know Christ for himself would be by encountering him face to face, so he invited him to “come and see.”

Rather than engaging in fierce arguments and debates with our non- Christian family and friends, we would be much better off inviting them to “come and see,” to come and meet Jesus for themselves.

How do we enable someone to meet Christ for themselves today, though? How do we emulate Philip’s invitation to “come and see?”

Since Christ dwells in all who truly believe, if we are true Christians then we can introduce people to Jesus through the way that we live, the things that we do, the words that we say. We can also invite our friends to groups like Alpha or Christianity Explored where they can have the opportunity to encounter Christ in his word and to ask questions.

Nathanael deserves credit, because he took Philip up on his invitation to “come and see.” Nathanael was an honest sceptic who was willing to follow the truth, wherever it might lead him, so he did go with Philip to meet Jesus.

Philip was absolutely right to invite his friend Nathanael to come and see. Nathanael does encounter Jesus, and as Philip suspected, he immediately dropped everything to follow Jesus.

What immediately hit Nathanael about Jesus was that Jesus already seemed to know him. Nathanael was stunned by Jesus knowledge of him.

On seeing Nathanael approach, Jesus commented, in verse 47, “here truly is an Israelite in who there is no deceit.”

Nathanael was shocked, because Jesus seemed to know him already. This was more than a casual, “haven’t I met you somewhere before?” Jesus did not just recognise Nathanael’s face. He knew what was on his heart. Unfortunately, from reading the Gospel account we don’t really know what it is about Jesus’ greeting that so shocked Nathanael, but clearly there was something. Some have speculated that Nathanael, whilst he had been studying God’s word under the fig tree, may have been reading about Jacob’s encounter with God in the desert. Jacob could have been said to have been deceitful, since when he encountered God in the desert he had left his home after deceiving his father and cheating his brother out of his birth right.

When Nathanael first met Jesus, he was shocked because by Jesus’ reference to him being “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” by which Jesus could be making a direct comparison between Jacob and Nathanael. Clearly if Jesus did know exactly which text Nathanael had been studying, be would have been a little surprised!

Whatever it was about Jesus’ statement to Nathanael, it clearly stunned him because Jesus displayed knowledge of Nathanael’s thoughts which, if Jesus was an ordinary human, there was no way he could know.

Nathanael, in a state of some shock, asked Jesus, “how do you know me?”

Jesus replied, in verse 48, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael was absolutely gobsmacked by this response. Jesus seems to have not only seen him whilst he was under the fig tree, but seen into him, seen what he was thinking, seen what was on his heart.

At this, Nathanael’s scepticism withered away. He now knew that this man Jesus was special. How else could he have known so much about him? He recognised that Jesus had supernatural knowledge. It was the only way that Jesus could know what he had been thinking.

In response, Nathanael immediately declared, “rabbi, teacher, you are the Son of God; the king of Israel.” His thinking was immediately changed. Indeed, Nathanael’s very world was changed by the recognition that Jesus was the Son of God.

If we will only “come and see” Jesus for ourselves, he will transform our lives too. If we recognise that Jesus is the son of God, our thinking will be changed, and our world transformed.

If we encourage our friends to “come and see” too, the same will be true for them. If they genuinely encounter Christ they will respond in the same way that Nathanael did.

What is it that makes following Christ such an exciting proposition, though? What is the reward that awaits Philip, Nathanael, the rest of the disciples, and us too, if we follow Jesus?

The answer to that lies in Jesus’ response to Nathanael’s declaration of faith, and it is that answer to which we will now turn our attention in our third point.

It is in the next part of our reading that Jesus addresses the question we may ask, if we come and see, what is it was shall see?

After Nathanael’s recognition that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel, Jesus told his new disciples that they would see incredible things if they stick with him.

Jesus took Nathanael and the others back to the passage in Genesis that Nathanael may have been studying whilst sitting under the fig tree. In that passage Jacob, who had been forced to leave home, lies down to sleep and sees a vision. In that vision, he saw a ladder, with its foot on the ground and the top reaching heaven. On the ladder he saw angels of God going up and down it. Above it he saw God, who promised him that he would give Jacob and his descendants the land on which he was lying. All people, God promised Jacob, would be blessed through his offspring.

In his promise to Jacob, God once more demonstrated his love for his people. Previously, people had tried to reach up to God at the Tower of Babel, and been punished by God. Now, though, God was himself reaching out once more to his people in the hope that they would come to know him and establish a positive relationship with him.

A ladder, though, is temporary. When a new house is built a ladder is used temporarily to link two floors. Once the house has been completed, the ladder is removed, and is replaced with a permanent staircase.

Here, in our gospel reading, we see Jacob’s ladder replaced with something much more permanent; the Son of Man himself, Jesus, the Messiah, the promised one of God. Through Jesus, God’s blessing has been opened up to all peoples, made permanent and everlasting. Jesus pioneers the new way in which the living God will be present and with his people. Jesus is the Son of Man who opens heaven to all who believe and trust in him.

This is the message, then, that Jesus had for his first disciples, and that he has for us today. As he turns to Nathanael and says, “you will see greater things” than merely Jesus’ supernatural reading of his hopes and fears, he is saying to Nathanael, his disciples and to us, that if we follow him, we will see truly astonishing things. Jesus’ power stretches beyond mere insight. What we will see with Jesus is the reality to which Jacob’s ladder and the Jewish scripture that Nathanael knew so well had been pointing.

Jesus shows us what happens when heaven and earth are bridged.

He shows us what it is like to be in God’s kingdom.

Why?

Because if we follow his example and live to serve, to love and to hope, we will see God’s kingdom built here on earth.

Jesus’ reading of Nathanael’s thoughts pales into insignificance against the true wonders of God’s heavenly kingdom.

If we follow Jesus, we too will see God’s kingdom. We too will see the greater things that Jesus promised his disciples.

No matter how we respond to Jesus’ call on our lives, we will witness miracles in our own lives, in those around us, and in the world in which we live.

No matter whether we respond as Philip did, unquestionably accepting Jesus’ call, trusting instantly in his word, or whether, like Nathanael, we have questions that can only be answered by an encounter with Christ, we are a part of God’s new kingdom.

The question today is, will you respond to God’s call? When Jesus asks us to follow him, will we do so? Will we accept that call on our lives?

And if we will, how will we respond to that call?

Will we be eager to rush out and tell our friends about Jesus?

Will we want to bring them to Jesus so that they can have an encounter with him for themselves?

Will we urge our friends to come and see Christ for themselves, as Philip did Nathanael?

Whatever we do, let’s ensure that we respond to that call and play our part in building God’s kingdom here on earth in the here and now.

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Jesus: The New Link to Heaven

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.”

John 1:51

Have you ever seen the hit Channel 4 show ‘Grand Designs’. I’m quite a fan. I love watching the houses progress from drawings to real homes. One of the things that always strikes me as I watch the buildings take shape is how dangerous building sites are. As someone who has an issue with heights, I worry particularly when the builders climb up ladders and walk around upper floors on just the beams. You certainly wouldn’t get me up there! I’m always relieved when the floors are boarded, and when the rickety ladders are replaced with solid staircases.

If you read yesterday’s Daily Reading, you might remember that we looked at Jacob’s vision of a ladder linking heaven and earth. In today’s verse, we see that ladder replaced with something much more permanent. Jesus explains that ‘the Son of Man’ is now the link between heaven and earth. ‘Son of Man’ is a term that was first used in the Old Testament book of Daniel to refer to one “who was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14). It is also a name that Jesus often applied to himself, an indication of his messianic role.

Jacob’s vision of a ladder confirmed that God still wanted a relationship with the people he created, despite their sinful nature. He showed Jacob that he was still reaching out to his people, and that heaven and earth were still connected. Now, two thousand years after Jacob’s dream, the ladder that Jacob saw was being replaced. God was still reaching out to his people; he was still keen that heaven and earth should be interconnected. Now, however, that connection was being established through something more permanent, more solid, than a ladder. The link now is his son, Jesus Christ.

Here in John 1, right at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus suggests to his disciples that it is through him that mankind can be reunited with God. It is through him that people can know God. It is through him that we can be saved. He is new the link between people on earth and God in heaven. What’s more, this new way to heaven is permanent. Once that connection between the heavenly realms and the earth had been established, it was secure for all time. Even 2000 years after Jesus spoke these words, Jesus is still in place as the link between heaven and earth. We can still know God through Jesus. We can still be confident that we will get to heaven through Jesus.

Give thanks today for Jesus, that he established a permanent connection with heaven. Thank God for sending his son to be amongst us, and to die for us. Praise God that through Jesus we have been saved and can have a relationship with him!

Thirst No More

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.”

John 6:35

Have you seen some of the ridiculous claims manufacturers put on the side of bottles of so-called sports drinks? These drinks claim that they will rehydrate you for longer, or faster. They’ll make you faster or more focused. One brand even suggests that by drinking their particular product you’ll be lured into trying sky diving, or water skiing or any number of other crazy sports! The one thing that they never claim is that if you drink their product, you’ll never be thirsty again. Indeed, it would just be impossible for such a claim to stand up. If such a product existed the manufacturer would quickly go out of business.

This is just the claim that we find Jesus making in today’s verse. He says that whoever comes to him will never be hungry or thirsty again. When we see people starving around the world, and read about the millions on our planet who don’t have access to clean water, does this claim really stand up?

The kind of bread and water that Jesus offers is not literal, physical food and drink. He is, he tells us, the Bread of Life. The appetite that he will satisfy is not for the food that we might eat and the water that we might drink, but our spiritual cravings. St. Augustine famously spoke of a “God-shaped hole” within all of us. For many, that hole manifests itself as a sense of emptiness, a feeling of lack of purpose, and a striving to find meaning of some kind. But that hole, like a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle, is a very precise shape. There is only one piece that will fit, there is only one thing that will go into that hole. Until the hole is filled, though, we will hunger for that missing piece.

In today’s verse, Jesus says to us, “look, I am that missing piece! The spiritual longing you feel, I will quench. If you follow me, your spiritual hunger and thirst will be satisfied.” If we strive to follow Jesus, we will, spiritually, never hunger or thirst again. As we live out the Christian life, we will discover purpose and meaning that cannot be found anywhere else.

Today, give thanks that Jesus is that missing piece in the puzzle of our lives that fits the God-shaped hole within us all. Give thanks that he alone quenched our spiritual hunger and thirst, and pray that as we strive to follow him more closely, we will feel increasingly satisfied.