Bread of Heaven
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Bread of Heaven

John 6:52–59  (ID: 3630)

Jesus proclaimed that we must eat and drink of Him to have eternal life. But how could that possibly be? Addressing this often misunderstood and misapplied passage of Scripture, Alistair Begg explains that Jesus used physical descriptions to explain spiritual truths. Spiritual hunger—that deep-seated desire to make sense of existence—is universal. Only when we’re united with Christ do we find the true food and drink that satisfies our deepest longings. All Jesus requires is that we know our need of Him and place our trust in His provision.

Series Containing This Sermon

“Truly, Truly, I Say to You…”

Twenty-Five Divine Declarations from John’s Gospel John 1:1–21:25 Series ID: 29001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our Scripture reading this morning is from the sixth chapter of John, reading from verse 52 through to verse 59. I invite you to turn to it and follow along as I read. John 6:52:

“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’ Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning, grant us that we may in the light of that wisdom hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

That prayer, of course, again comes from the Anglican prayer book, and it’s a very helpful prayer.

I also want to begin, as we turn to John 6:52, with a quote from another Anglican long gone, Bishop J. C. Ryle. And in his comments on the section that I have read and that we’re about to consider, he introduces them by saying this:

Few passages of Scripture have been so painfully wrested and perverted as that which we have now read. The Jews are not the only people who have striven about its meaning. A sense has been put upon it, which it was never intended to bear. Fallen man, in interpreting the Bible, has an unhappy aptitude for turning meat into poison. The things that were written for his benefit, he often makes an occasion [of] falling.[1]

So, that really sets the context for us. There’s a silence as I read it, and understandably so, because we have come to our text for this morning, eventually to the “Truly, truly” that we have been anticipating for a number of weeks. It’s some three weeks since we were last in chapter 6, and John 6:53: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Now, the way in which I have endeavored to deal with this in my own study and in seeking to present it to you now is to first of all consider the setting in which this comes, then to consider the statement itself, and then to give consideration to the significance of it as we seek to apply it to our own lives.

If you’re familiar with Venn diagrams—it’s one of the few things I remember from mathematics in England, first of all. I really hadn’t a clue what was going on, but I liked drawing the circles. And there was something significant about the way you drew these three circles, where they interacted with one another, and the real key to it all was where all the three circles conjoined. I think that was what it was supposed to be.

And so, I’m giving you these three words: the setting, the statement, and the significance. You must deal with your own Venn diagram here. Because as you listen to me work through the text, it may not—you say to yourself, “I’m not sure if we’re in ‘setting’ or ‘significance’ right now.” Don’t worry about that, because I won’t be sure myself. That’s why you have a Venn diagram, and just the pieces that you don’t know what to do with, just put them in any circle you want. All right? But that’s the way we’re going to approach it.

Now, the reason we’re going to set it in terms of its context or its setting is simply because, as I say, it’s three weeks since we looked at this. And we began to look at John chapter 6 as we have looked at each of the “Truly, truly” statements: in light, first of all, of the context that is set by John’s explanation of the purpose of his gospel, which we read at the end of chapter 20, where he says, you will remember, “There were more things than I have recorded or any of the Gospels have recorded in terms of the life and the teaching and ministry of Jesus. They would need to be very big books to contain it all. But,” he says, “these things are written in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the Messiah of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name.”[2] So when we read the Gospel of John all the way through, we realize that John, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, as he lays out this gospel, this good news story, he does it in such a way that he is assuming that people will be encountering the evidence, that the evidence will provide a basis for their consideration and perhaps for their faith, and that in finding faith in Jesus, they will then discover life that is truly life.

Now, the eating and the drinking that are described here, which we’re going to have to consider—which jumps us forward to the statement for a moment—the eating and the drinking, you will notice from your text, are the means to eternal life. That’s what it says: they are the means to eternal life. So, clearly, it is vitally important that we understand what that means. If the issue of eternal life is at heart, then we can’t, we daren’t get this wrong. And that’s why we’ve been taking our time working our way through the setting, working our way through the chapter. We haven’t done this for any of the other “Truly, trulys.” And the reason, I said at the beginning, when we began to work our way through it, was for this very reason: that we would be saved from misunderstanding and misapplying this “Truly, truly” when we finally reached it.

And so, we have now reached it. And when you read John chapter 6, you realize it’s been quite a couple of days. All the drama that is contained in the events and then in the dialogue are directly tied to a question, a very straightforward question that was posed by Jesus himself. You remember he was teaching the crowds at the beginning of the chapter. They were all present, and Jesus poses a question. He says to his friends, “Where are we to buy bread, so that [the] people may eat?”[3] It’s a very practical question, a very important question. People don’t want to go without food, especially if it’s been a long day, especially if they’re tired.

Spiritual hunger is not unique to a few individuals that choose to study their Bibles every so often. Spiritual hunger is a reality for every person in the whole world.

Now, John tells us that it was actually a test that Jesus was posing. You can see that right there in the text, if you look—and that’s why it’s important to have a Bible and to look. Verse 6: “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he [was about to] do.” Not only did he know what he was about to do, but he knew also what he was about to say.

And as I read and reread chapter 6 this week, I realized there’s a tremendous amount about bread in it. Whether it’s bread or loaves or food, it’s a bread passage. Anyone who’s a baker must absolutely love John chapter 6, because it’s all about the bread. I gave up counting at twenty when I was going through, just marking in my text mentions of bread, mentions of loaves, and so on. Not only is it about bread, but it’s also about belief. And Jesus is actually addressing the matter of spiritual hunger throughout the entire chapter. That’s important for us to understand. How is it that I can be… How can I have my hunger satisfied?

Let’s just pause and acknowledge this: spiritual hunger is not unique to a few individuals that choose to study their Bibles every so often. Spiritual hunger is a reality for every person in the whole world. It is as much a reality as is physical hunger. And the reason we know that is because God made us for himself. We can’t live by bread alone but only by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.[4] So whether people understand it or not, the deep-seated longings of a life, of a heart, the positioning of ourselves to try and make sense of our existence, is ultimately tied to the fact of our spiritual hunger.

And that’s why Jesus says to them in verse 27, “Do[n’t] work for the food that perishes.”[5] He doesn’t mean “Don’t go to work. Don’t earn an income.” No, he says that’s not where you’re going to find the answer. “Do[n’t] work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.” Well, where do you get that kind of food? What do we have to do to make sure that if that is what we need to be working on, what should we work on? And Jesus says in verse 29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” “These things were written in order that you might believe and that by believing you might have life in his name.”

Imagine we went out this week and just decided to take a poll amongst our neighbors and our friends and said, “You know, what do you think God wants us to do, if we’re going to do what God wants us to do?” You think of all the things that people would say. I guarantee you, no one, unless they were here this morning, would answer in terms of this verse in John chapter 6: to believe. To believe. It almost seems too simple, doesn’t it? “[Focus on] the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give … you.”

Now, I want you to know, I counted up twenty or so “breads,” but look at all the “believes” just for a moment, so that we’re not in any doubt about the recurring emphasis. Let’s start in verse 35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, … whoever believes in me shall [not] thirst.’” Verse 36: “You[’ve] seen me and yet [you] do not believe.” Verse 40: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him…” You can go down to verse 47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” And jumping forward, perhaps, to next Sunday in—where are we?—verse 64 (just have to make sure it’s there): “But there are some of you who do not believe.” Well, that fits some of us this morning, doesn’t it? And verse 69: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”[6]

And Jesus has been making this clear throughout this entire dialogue, all starting with this amazing miracle that had taken place. He is calling people to believe in the one whom the Father has sent. And classically, in verse 51—which was where we left off last time—he has said to them, “I am the living bread that [comes] down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Now, once again, you see the reaction of the people, as before in verse 41, is to resist what he’s saying. In 41, when he had said he’s the bread of life, he’ll raise him up on the last day,[7] they “grumbled about” Jesus. They said, “Who does he think he is, that he can say this?” It wasn’t so much that he had done a great miracle; they liked that. They fancied the idea of some more food. Many people are interested in Jesus if they can get from him the kind of material encouragements for which they long. But that wasn’t what it was about. How can he say that he is the one who came down from heaven?

And again, look here: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is incredible. Incredible! We ought to pause and say, “Really? Jesus must have been the most egocentric preacher that ever lived.” We don’t like egocentricity. You don’t want me or any of my colleagues to be explaining what I believe or myself or really anything about me at all. It’s largely irrelevant. In fact, it’s almost completely irrelevant. But the fact of the matter is, Jesus is all about “I, me, and mine.” “I am… I am… This is about me. This is what I will do. I will do that. I will do the next thing.” Who says such things? Who makes such claims?

But you see, the miracle with which the entire encounter begins, that establishes the power and reality of Jesus as the very Son of God—once we have come to the determination that Jesus is who he claims to be, then the miracles don’t present any kind of difficulty at all. I mean, the difficulty would be that if God were to step down into time and he didn’t do something dramatic, people would have said to one another, “Do you think he has really stepped down into time?”

But Jesus has done this, and the people’s ears have been pinned back, if you like. There is no difficulty to these things once we are brought to the understanding that Jesus is who he claims to be.

He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all,
And his shelter was a stable
And his cradle was a stall.[8]

What we’re dealing with here is the doctrine of the incarnation. Not only does he step down into time—move into our neighborhood, as it were—but he steps down into the reality of the cross. He was handed over so that we might be set free.

Now, in verse 52, when the Jews dispute amongst themselves, it’s no surprise, because Jesus has actually just made it almost impossible for them to reconcile what they’re hearing with the reality of their own framework of understanding. And so they “disputed among themselves.” Jesus had said that he would give his life for the world. He’s not saying, “I’m putting together a little cult. I’m trying to get together a few people—a few hundred people, like Jim Jones in Guyana—and we’re just going to live by ourselves and believe certain things on our own.” No! No, no, no, no: “I’m going to give my flesh for the entire world.” And so they said to one another, “Are you kidding? How could that possibly be?”

Now, he ups the ante on them: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” Now, what is Jesus saying there? Where is his flesh given for the life of the world? At the cross. He knows that he is moving inexorably to this point. He understands that he is the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah, from whom we have read this morning; that he is the very embodiment of the song that we’ve been singing; that he is a “man of sorrows”;[9] that he has come in order to seek and to save the lost; that his design and his desire is that men and women might come to know God through Jesus.

And we’ve never understood the gospel at all and we’ve never understood Jesus at all or what he’s come to do if we miss this point. At the core of the gospel is the reality of redemption. You read that in the letters: “In him we have redemption through his blood”[10]—that we’ve been set free. We have been redeemed from our old way of life. Jesus is anticipating how that will all take place. When the writer to the Hebrews identifies it in Hebrews chapter 9, he says, “He”—that is, Jesus—“entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, having a obtained eternal redemption.”[11]

Where is Jesus’ flesh given for the life of the world? At the cross.

So, let’s come back to it: “Anyone who eats of the bread will live forever.” What Jesus is actually pointing out is that he is going to do something for us on the day he dies so that he can do something for us on the day we die: “I’m going to give my life so that on that day—since I am,” as we will see later, “the resurrection and the life—what I have done for you in that place is going to make all the difference in the entire world when you pass through the valley of the shadow of death.”

And so the Jews began to argue among themselves. I’m not surprised. There’s probably all kinds of things going on in some of our minds right now, depending on our background. They “disputed among themselves …, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” I’d imagine the conversation. I mean, somebody says, “Can he really serve up his flesh like a meal?” And one of the other guys says, “No, clearly that’s not what he’s talking about.” And another fellow says, “Well then, tell me: What is he talking about? If that’s not what he’s saying, what is he saying?”

So, Jesus is not referring to a physical process. He is not referring to a physical process. He is clearly not doing so. The misunderstandings are a feature, actually, of John’s Gospel. And this is perhaps the one that holds the greatest potential for misunderstanding amongst those who are listening to him. You remember, in chapter 2, the great misunderstanding when he says, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”[12] And the people said, “Well, you can’t do that with the temple.”[13] He wasn’t talking about the temple in Jerusalem; he was talking about his body. They didn’t get it. In chapter 3 he says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”[14] And Nicodemus goes, “How does that work? How can a grown man enter a second time into his mother’s womb?”[15] Jesus said, “I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about something else.” In chapter 4, to the woman: “And if you knew who it was who was asking you for a drink of water, you would ask him for a drink of water. And if you drank that water, you would never thirst again.” And she says, “Oh, well, I’d love to have that water, because I hate coming here in the middle of the day.”[16] Jesus is not talking about that water.

Here’s another misunderstanding. He’s using physical things in order to explain spiritual truths. So when you come to verse 53, Don Carson, whom we all greatly respect for his work, says, “Any dullard could see that Jesus was not speaking literally: no-one would suppose Jesus was seriously advocating cannibalism and offering himself as the first meal.”[17]

Jesus doesn’t backpedal. He takes it up a notch, maybe. Verse 54: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up [at] the last day.” “Unless…” “Unless you eat…” “Unless you eat…” That’s what’s so staggering about it, isn’t it? “Unless you eat…” “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you, because the life that is yours is only in union with me.”

Now, think about this for a Jewish person. The law of Moses had so much to say about blood. You couldn’t even eat the meat unless it was drained of the blood. So the idea that Jesus was saying to them, it’s like, it’s the most abhorrent notion possible: “We are Jewish people. We have nothing to do with blood. How could we possibly drink blood?” And then in 54 he states it positively. In 53 he says, “Unless you do this, you’re stuck.” And then he says in 54, “Whoever does this actually has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Now, what we have to face in this, in studying this, is that Jesus is speaking of something which he says is absolutely indispensable and individually necessary to eternal life. It’s categorical, isn’t it? It’s fascinating! Now, the reason that people get themselves in deep trouble over this is that they assume that Jesus is speaking about the Eucharist, that he’s speaking about the Lord’s Supper, that he’s speaking about Communion. Now, think for a minute: if he was, then what would he actually be telling us? He would be telling us this: that the one undeniable necessity in order to gain heaven is to be present at Communion.

Well, you are sensible people. You have to think this out. We’ve gone through the entire chapter. Is there anything in the immediate context that causes any one of us to believe that Jesus’ hearers would have said to themselves, “Oh, this is Communion! This is the Lord’s Supper!” No, for one very good reason: that at this point in the story, the Lord’s Supper has never even been instituted. Therefore, they were not thinking that way. So those who think that way have got a real problem.

You say, “Well, I don’t know about that. You seem not to be taking the Bible literally.” What does it mean to take the Bible literally? It’s very important that we do learn to take it literally, because an unwillingness to take it literally can send us in all kinds of wrong directions. For example, when we say, “God created the heavens and the earth,”[18] if we don’t take that literally, then we’ve immediately gone wrong. But it is also possible to be so literal that you get yourself in even worse trouble. To take the Bible literally means that we take adverbs as adverbs, commas as commas, semicolons, adjectives, nouns, verbs, and so on, and we take the language in which it is used. So the language, for example, in the poetry of the Psalms is different from the language of the Epistles—the way in which it is expressed. And we need to understand that when the language is figurative, then it must be understood figuratively, so that to take the Scriptures literally means that we have to take the figurative as figurative in order that we might understand.

For example, Isaiah 40: “All flesh is grass.”[19] “No, it’s not.” Yes, it is. “No, it’s not.” Yes, it is. “What do you mean it is?” Well, what’s the picture? It’s figurative.

Jesus says, “This is my body.”[20] Do you think in the Last Supper, he was doing this? Uh-uh. Taken literally, that would appear to legitimize the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation. And incidentally, think how many dear, sincere souls may find themselves simply entrusting in an external rite rather than coming to trust in who Jesus is and what he has done, missing the reality to which he points because of something that has been interposed.

You know, not only is the whole notion of a literal eating and drinking a revolting idea to the Jews; it also is, as I’m saying to you, almost inevitable, then, that people would be forced to conclude that since this is the means of salvation, there is then a rite that is interposed that is necessary for salvation. But the Bible makes perfectly clear that nothing like that is necessary for salvation, only repentance and faith. “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”[21] If this were to be the case, then the whole thing that I did on the thief on the cross is completely nullified. What a shame for him and for everybody else that was never “at Communion”!

No, we need to understand this. We need to understand that Jesus is saying not literally but figuratively, that he is speaking metaphorically, not sacramentally. And you as sensible people, again I say to you, consider verse 54: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” All right. Now, remember why we said we were going to study beforehand: so that we would have verse 40 in mind, that when we came to verse 54, we would be able to make sense.

Verse 40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Okay? Verse 54: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood…” Jesus, are you changing the thing? Have you moved away from what you just taught us in verse 40? “No,” Jesus says, “I’m saying the same thing. What I said in 40, I’m speaking figuratively, metaphorically to you of these very things.” And the point, the essential point of it all, is that in this graphic picture of eating and drinking, of absorbing, of consuming, of being identified with, of being filled up with—which is a picture—the point is that Jesus must be personally received; that what he has done on the cross, what he is moving to do on the cross, is of such significance that men and women must come to him and must find in him the true food and the true drink.

Now, if chapter 6 is not about Communion, it’s fair to say that when you take Communion, it’s not difficult to have certain aspects of chapter 6 in your mind. Because when we come to Communion tonight, what we’re actually supposed to be doing, whether we understand it or not, is that we’re eating upon and drinking upon Jesus, not in the physical dimension of the moment but in the spiritual reality of it: “Jesus, this is who you are. Jesus, this is what you have done. You have redeemed me by your blood. You have purchased me for yourself. I belong to you, Jesus. I believe in you, Jesus. I commune with you, Jesus.”

And just in passing: part of the reason many of our Roman Catholic friends have so little interest in the way we approach the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is because it seems in its essence to be entirely trivial, to be a mere addendum to what’s going on. And that is, of course, a matter for another day. The graphic picture of believing is there in eating and drinking. Ignatius said that the Eucharist was the key to immortality. His influence lives on. Augustine said, “Believe, and you have eaten.” “Believe, and you have eaten.”

The ‘true food,’ the ‘true drink’ for men and women’s deepest needs are found in Christ, and only in Christ.

Now, there’s nothing particularly dramatic about this, either. Because when you think about it, we use similar terminology. I have a stack of books just about everywhere but beside my bed, and last night I was devouring another one on golf. I mean, I think my wife probably said, “It looks like you could just eat that book.” I could. Weren’t there some professors that you had at university, and you said, “You know, I love to go there; I’m just drinking in their lectures”? “I swallow stories.” “I chew over a matter.” We say, “I could even eat my grandchildren.” When we’ve gone wrong, we talk about eating our own words.

No, this is the issue: “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the person who puts their trust in him.”[22] Peter picks up that picture in writing basically a discipleship manual in his day, and he says, “You know, I want you, like newborn babies, to earnestly desire the pure milk of the Word, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.”[23]

Now, verse 55 is emphatic, isn’t it? “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” The “true food,” the “true drink” for men and women’s deepest needs are found in Christ, and only in Christ. This is why we take his story out to the world. This is why we encourage people over the weekend. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood [actually] abides in me, and I in him.” Again, what a picture!

You see this is the significance of it. There’s two things to notice, I think, and we must stop—maybe come back to it a little bit tonight, ’cause the Venn diagram’s not really finished. But if we understand this, we realize that what Jesus is saying is something that is intensely personal, and it is something that is of eternal significance. What he’s saying is “You’re going to live forever.” You live forever. We had two funerals this week, of believers. They’re not dead. They’re alive—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, absent from the body, present with the Lord. Why? Well, because they understood who Jesus was, why Jesus came. They realized that they were sinful, that they needed a Savior. They realized that it wasn’t an academic exercise, that it wasn’t a program; it was a person. They were introduced to him. They came to trust in him. It changed everything for them. Has it changed everything for you?

See, it’s one thing for this to be a mystery. It’s another thing to try and turn it into magic. There’s mystery here, for sure. And the idea of abiding with Jesus, of being with him, it’s really fantastic, isn’t it? He goes on to say, “You know, we’re not talking about the stuff that was that your fathers enjoyed. That was good. God provided the manna. But they died. But you eat this, you’ll never die. You’ll abide with me forever.”

Here we are in the first Sunday of Advent—maybe the second; I’m not sure. But anyway, here we are, and we are about to anticipate the fact that there was no room for him. He came, and there was no room for him in the inn. And yet he for whom there was no room is the one who has gone to prepare for you and for me a room. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place, I will come again, receive you unto myself, that you and I may abide forever.”[24] Forever!

That’s the tragedy of physical relationships, human relationships: we know they must come to an end. No minute can last long enough for us, no moment, no birthday, no celebration. Eventually, it is gone. But in Christ we abide. We abide.

One of my favorite times in all of the year—actually, it makes me a little nostalgic—is when the FA Cup Final is covered from Wembley Stadium in London. You say, “Oh golly, here we go again.” Well, yeah, here we go again. You should know that in the early 1920s, at the football stadium in Britain, as a kind of warmup before the game, they used to play “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Can imagine it: “Come on and hear, come on and hear.”[25] Right? Okay? So somewhere along the line, the president of the Football Association said, “You know, I’m not so sure that this is the best of things,” and he introduced in 1927—with the blessing of King George V and Queen Mary—he introduced the singing of “Abide with Me.” Okay? And that song, then, since 1927, even through the war years with its short time, is still sung to this day in that context. And if you look up why in the world it is sung, it actually says, in the text that I read, it is there as an expression of faith on the part of those who are routinely irreligious.

Why would you get a hundred thousand people… Let’s reduce the numbers by twenty thousand. They’re full of beer. They’re full of expectations. They’re full of football. They’re full of nonsense. And then the band starts:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, … abide with me.[26]

The guy who wrote that was Scottish, actually. He was born in Kelso, became an Anglican clergyman. There are far more verses than are routinely sung. And this is part of what he wrote, and with this we’ll stop. Lyte is writing this. He wrote this hymn in the prospect of his death. So this idea of “abiding with me,” that this is not a momentary thing—that it’s not like we’re in, we’re out, we’re up. No. So:

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as thou dwell’st with [your] disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free,
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me. …

Thou on my head in early youth [did] smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.[27]

What from Christ [the] soul can sever,
Bound by everlasting bands?
Once in him, in him forever;
Thus the eternal covenant stands.
None shall pluck thee
From the [Savior’s mighty] hands.[28]

Well, we’ll come back to this perhaps.

Lord, we thank you for your Word. Oh, clear the clutter from many of our minds, Lord. Help us to hear the insistent invitation of the Lord Jesus: “Come to me. Come to me. Come not to a program, an agenda, a philosophy. Come to me.” Lord, I pray that even in the singing of our closing hymn, divine transactions will take place between those who have listened, have wondered, but have never closed with your invitation. Grant that for them, the affirmation of this song may be their coming to Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.


[1] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. John (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1879), 1:393

[2] John 20:30–31 (paraphrased). See also John 21:25.

[3] John 6:5 (ESV).

[4] See Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4.

[5] John 6:27 (ESV).

[6] John 6:68–69 (ESV).

[7] See John 6:40.

[8] Cecil Frances Alexander, “Once in Royal David’s City” (1848).

[9] Isaiah 53:3 (KJV).

[10] Ephesians 1:7 (ESV).

[11] Hebrews 9:12 (paraphrased).

[12] John 2:19 (NIV).

[13] John 2:20 (paraphrased).

[14] John 3:7 (ESV).

[15] John 3:4 (paraphrased).

[16] John 4:10, 14–15 (paraphrased).

[17] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 295.

[18] Genesis 1:1 (ESV).

[19] Isaiah 40:6 (ESV).

[20] Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24 (ESV).

[21] Augustus Montague Toplady, “Rock of Ages’ (1776).

[22] Psalm 34:8 (paraphrased).

[23] 1 Peter 2:2–3 (paraphrased).

[24] John 14:2–3 (paraphrased).

[25] Irving Berlin, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911).

[26] Henry Francis Lyte, “Abide with Me” (1847).

[27] Lyte, “Abide with Me.”

[28] John Kent, “Sovereign Grace o’er Abounding Sin.”

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.