November 5, 2023
In seasons of doubt or discouragement, how do we know our faith is secure? In John 6, Jesus spoke of the vast wonder of saving faith, declaring Himself to be “the bread of life.” Whoever comes to Him and believes in Him, He said, will not hunger or thirst, nor will they ever be cast out. Examining these remarkable and reassuring words, Alistair Begg reminds us that our salvation is grounded in the will of God, given by the Father, and redeemed and kept for all eternity by the Son.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, I invite you to turn to John chapter 6 and to follow along as I read the section that we are looking at this morning, verses 35–40. John 6:35–40.
Jesus is addressing the crowd, and he said to them,
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet [you] do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Father, we turn now to the Bible. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of Scripture will never pass away. And it is to Scripture we look, seeking the help of the Holy Spirit, that the words of my mouth, the thoughts of our hearts may be acceptable in your sight, for Lord, you are our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Well, if you just have arrived this morning or if you’re joining us online and wondering how it is that we’re at John 6:35, the answer is very simple: it is because we ended at verse 34 last Sunday. And we are en route to the various “Truly, truly” statements made by Jesus throughout the Gospel of John. We aren’t stopping on every single one, but we are moving inexorably at the moment to the one that is found in verse 53 of this chapter: “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, the reason that we are working our way through the entire chapter is in order that when we come to that verse, we might understand it in the context in which it’s set—in the context not only of chapter 6 but of the Gospel of John, where the purpose of John, he says, is to have recorded these signs in order “that you [might] believe that Jesus is the Christ … and that by believing you [might] have life in his name.”
And so, when we read through John’s Gospel, we’re being confronted by Jesus. We’re being confronted by the identity of Jesus. But that verse, to which we will finally come in the next couple of weeks or so, is one that is filled with misunderstanding and is often misapplied to the detriment of those who are being sincere. And it is important, then, that we understand that when Jesus uses metaphorical language and applies it in a nonmetaphorical way, that we are alert enough both to an understanding of language and to the unfolding story of Scripture that we’re able to make sure that we don’t go wrong. And part of the privilege of being a pastor and a teacher is to try to help us to that end.
So, we begin at verse 35. I found this hard, to lay it out in a way that has immediate points. But we have this amazing declaration in verse 35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me [will not] thirst.’” Well, this is a metaphor, isn’t it? “I am,” he says, “the bread of life.”
Now, I want us to notice—because it is important now and will be—that it is the person who “comes to” him who does not hunger, not the person who eats him. And it is the person who “believes in” him who does not thirst, not the person who drinks him. Now, we’re not going to delay on this, but it is important, because we’re going to come to this metaphor when we get to verse 53; and therefore, this helps us—it makes preparation, at least, for us—in our understanding.
It’s important also that we recognize the twofold “whoever” that is here in verse 35: “whoever comes to me” and “whoever believes in me.” This is in keeping with what we’ve already been seeing. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only [begotten] Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but [should] have eternal,” or everlasting, “life.” You’ll find the same thing… And we didn’t have an opportunity to study chapter 4 together, but Jesus says to the woman at the well in that context—and it will repay you to reread chapter 4; it’s so wonderful—Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” And, of course, she immediately misunderstands him and says, “Well, can I just have a huge tub of this water, then? It would be a great help to me.” And, of course, the point is the same.
Now, with that said, let’s be very clear that what Jesus is saying in this statement, in verse 35, is that the core emptiness of the human soul is answered in him. The essential vacuum in the life of an individual, spiritually, is answered in Christ alone. And as I’ve been pondering this throughout the week, I’ve been reminding myself of the privilege that it was to sing, as I’ve told you before, in the Bible class in Scotland. And we would be arranged in age groups from the small ones to the big ones. I think I was nine when I started, so I was on the front row, wearing a kilt—although you don’t need that picture in your minds. I apologize. But there I was with the rest of the nine-year-olds. And as it went back, if you were seventeen or eighteen, then you would be on the back row. And the fellow who was a businessman who led the Bible class and used to conduct the singing—I’ve told you about him before. He waved his hand like this. It was completely irrelevant to everything that was going on.
But one of the choruses—number 79 in the book, as I recall, 79 in the CSSM chorus book—goes like this:
I am feeding on the living bread;
I am drinking at the fountainhead.
And whoso drinketh, Jesus said,
Will never thirst again.
And then it had a refrain, an antiphonal approach. And the question was “What, never thirst again?” And the answer was “No, never thirst again.” And so the way he had it was that we in the front row, the first couple of rows, we got to ask the question. So it went like this:
“What, never thirst again?”
And then the answer came: “No, never thirst again.”
“What, never thirst again?”
“No, never thirst again.”
“And whoso drinketh, Jesus said, shall never, ever thirst again.”
And I bless God for the memory of Norman Walker, a guy who was successful in business but had a love for the lives of boys, and who not only taught us how to sing but taught us about who Jesus was and told us that he was the very answer to the longings even of our nine-year-old or seventeen-year-old hearts.
Of course, we see this all around us. We’ve seen it most visibly, most tragically, I think, in the last week or so with the great preoccupation—and understandably so, I assume, if the program Friends was everything that history now says it was: a show that made the cast very successful; a cast that was being paid $1.1 million per episode (that was each!) by the time it was in the final season. Made them successful, made them rich, but hasn’t made them happy. And I just ordered Perry’s autobiography. It opens like this:
Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty.
And I should be dead.
Now, Jesus is going on to speak about the vast reality and wonder of saving faith. And despite the clarity of his signs, despite the impact of his words, look at verse 36: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet [you] do not believe.” Back in chapter 5, he had said to them as well, “You search the Scriptures,” which is good, “because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
And we’ve seen this, haven’t we? That what Jesus has done in this amazing sign most recently—well, in chapter 5—the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda, and then, here in 6, the amazing provision of food for these thousands of people… But what has it done for these folks? It’s merely aroused their curiosity. It stirred their political ambitions. They immediately said, “Well, this would be a good person to have as our king. Maybe he will overthrow the Romans. Maybe he will be the one to champion us and help us on our way.” So they became curious. They became, if you like, stirred. But there was no evidence of faith at all.
Now, that ought to cause us just to say to ourselves, “This is truly amazing, isn’t it?” The teacher of this material is Jesus, the incarnate son of God. The signs that he has done are unmistakable, and they’re also unavoidable. Nobody who was in the community could ever avoid the fact that the people were going home saying, “You will not believe what happened! That man, for thirty-eight years sitting there, has just been walking and jumping all around the temple courts.”
“Yes! And you know what? I was part of the group the following day, when, along with thousands of others, we were fed.”
The people said, “My, my! That’s very interesting.” But they didn’t believe.
Well, why would we be surprised, then, when, entrusted with the privilege of teaching the Bible, people respond to the Bible when you proclaim it to them and say, “Well, that sounds very interesting, but it’s totally irrelevant to me. I don’t have any interest in it at all. I can see some people are excited about it.”
In fact, at the end of chapter 6 there’s a mass exodus. Because Jesus has spoken so clearly, the crowd is not expanding; the crowd is diminishing. It’s a strange church growth strategy, isn’t it, that the more you preach and the more you teach, the fewer are the people that are there? It’s not just that people don’t come. It is that those who come start to go away: “This is a hard saying.” “I don’t like to hear that. I think I must go somewhere else. I’m going to take my baseball bat and go and find another diamond,” so to speak. It’s sort of a metaphor.
Now, in verse 37, as we follow along—if 35 gives us a declaration from Jesus, 36 gives us the reaction of the crowd, and in 37 we come back once again to this further declaration: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will [not] cast out.” So the confidence of Jesus in his, if you like, evangelism is not gauged by the response of the crowd. That’s not the determining factor for him. What is the determining factor is the will of his Father. That’s what he’s saying. “I am operating,” he says, “from all of eternity on the basis that the Father has a company that he gives to me.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “You know, your unbelief doesn’t really move me. It doesn’t really surprise me. It can’t prevent the purposes of my Father from taking effect.”
Now, what this is affirming is the fact that God from all of eternity has chosen to have “a people that are his very own.” And this company is then given to Jesus the Son. The Son saves them completely so as to present them blameless before the glory of the Father one day in heaven.
Now, let’s just turn for a moment to John 17 and the prayer of Jesus—his High Priestly Prayer, as we often refer to it. I just want to galvanize this thought in our minds by listening to what Jesus is saying here—17:1: “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and [he] said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.’” Down to verse 6: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” Verse 9: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” I think we’ve got the picture now, but just two more. Verse 11: “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me …. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, … not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
So, what we’re dealing with here is the amazing, great, deep truth of God’s election—the appointment to life of a people out of the world. Men and women do not come to Christ because it seems to them like a good idea. If you check with friends who perhaps have come to know Jesus along the journey of life, maybe later in life, and you ask them about how it was, from their understanding, that they ever came to trust in Jesus, they’ll tell you all kinds of things—perhaps “I was in a study with some friends,” or “I read Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis,” or “I had a mishap in my life that confronted me with my human frailty,” and so on. But the one thing that you’re not going to hear them say if they have truly come to Christ is “Well, I just thought it was a good idea. I mean, there’s a lot of options out there, and I thought I would try the Jesus thing.”
Well, it’s never happened, and it never will happen. Because the fact of the matter is, and what the Bible makes perfectly clear—and you have this in Romans chapter 8, which I’m quoting—the heart of man, the human heart, is at enmity with God. The human heart is at enmity with God. The human heart does not please God, nor can the human heart please God, so that when God manifests his glory, the reaction of people is actually negative.
We just sang,
Heav’n above is softer blue
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
[That] Christless eyes have never seen.
Romans 1: behind a facade of wisdom, they turn their back on the manifestations of the glory of God. They look up into the heavens, and they see nothing beyond their tiny minds. They don’t look up and marvel at God—that he has created the universe and so on. And the natural inclination is to find ourselves substitute gods, create little idols for ourselves.
Chapter 5, again, making the very point here—5:43, is it? “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.” It’s the truth, isn’t it? That’s what people say: “No, I’m into Hinduism. I found—this is quite amazing!—you can sit like this, and you do this and this. And it’s so wonderful.” “Well, have you heard about Jesus?” “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, you mean the Bible Jesus person? No, no, no, no, no.”
“I have come in my Father’s name, and you don’t even pay attention to me. Somebody else will come in his name, and they will flock after him.” That’s exactly what has happened. “How can you expect to receive glory if your only focus of glory is bounded by the limits of your own horizons?”
Oh, it’s so straightforward. When we acknowledge that men and women… (And we say this all the time. I stole this line, as you know, because I quoted it the first time from David Wells.) When we say that men and women cannot access God in their own time or on their own terms… Right? They can’t just say, “Oh, yeah, that’s fine.” When we say that, we are in accord with what Jesus is saying here. In the words of the late professor Murray, it is a psychological, intellectual, and moral impossibility for a man to come to Christ except by the secret and efficacious drawing which is the gift of God the Father. You see that down in 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” This is immense, is it not? You see, we have complete freedom of choice, but our wills are held in bondage by sin. They’re held in bondage by sin. We make our decisions, yeah. But by nature, we just don’t say, “Well, I think it’d be a good idea to become a Christian.”
“All that the Father gives me will come to me.” See what’s being said here? The Father gives the person to Christ, but it is the person themself who comes: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” This is actually a divine necessity.
You see, there are a number of impossibilities that are contained in these verses. One is, first of all, the impossibility of our, by nature, simply laying hold on Christ. Then, when we do lay hold on Christ, it is as a result of a divine necessity. It doesn’t say—look at the verse again—“All that the Father gives me may come to me.” It doesn’t say, “All that the Father gives me has the opportunity to come to me.” It doesn’t say, “All that the Father gives me is able to come to me,” but “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” “I have spoken to you,” he says to these folks. “You have seen my signs, you’ve heard my word, and still you do not believe. But listen: all that the Father gives me will come to me.”
Now, there is a great mystery in this, is there not? And I hope this will help to make sense of some of the things that I say with regularity—namely, I know you hear my voice, but do you hear the voice of Christ? The voice of the preacher, which is an external voice, knocks at the human heart. Knocks at the human heart. It is the inner call of God, that internal voice, which unlocks the heart and opens it. This is what God does.
Now, how, then, would it be… Because people then say, “Well, how do I know if I said…” How would we know that we were part of the company that the Father gives to the Son? By our coming to Christ. By our coming to Christ. Because by nature we don’t come to Christ. Now we come to Christ.
“I heard the voice of Jesus say…” We learned it last Sunday night:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, [O] weary one, lay down
[Your] head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
… Weary, worn, … sad.
I found in him a resting place,
And he has made me glad.
Now, here is another impossibility that is in this text: “All … the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” It’s impossible! It’s impossible to be united to Christ—that the Father has given you to his Son, who has died for you; you have come to him—it is an impossibility that the Lord Jesus would cast away any person given to him by the Father.
Now, this should be a great comfort. Because our past lives may have been very bad. Our present faith we may not regard as particularly strong. Our repentance and our prayers may not quite be up to par, even from our own perspective. Our knowledge of Christian doctrine may be not that of the person that we would like it to be. But we have come to Christ. We have come to Christ. And he will not cast us away.
Now, verse 38 advances the ball up the field, where Jesus, if you like, explains what’s been going on: “I have come down from heaven.” Nobody can say this. Muhammad doesn’t make this claim. Buddha doesn’t make this claim. Krishna doesn’t make this claim. Nobody makes this claim. “I have come down from heaven,” he says, “not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
And what is “the will of him who sent me”? Twofold. Number one: “And this is”—verse 39—“the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Remember, we’ve already seen that the Jews’ response was “He seems to be claiming to be equal with the Father.” He was exactly saying that: “My Father is working …, and I am working.” And they decided, “Well, we can’t live with this at all. We’d like to have him in some measure, but we’re not going to bow to him in this way.”
“The will of the Father is that I should lose none of those that he has given to me.” I think it’s the Toplady hymn again:
The work which his goodness began
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is [Yes] and Amen
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Nor all things below or above
Can make him his purpose forgo
And [separate] my soul from his love.
You see, if you are here this morning, and you’ve been caught out by what I just said because you are one of the very small company of people who have decided that the Christian pilgrimage is really going to begin because you’ve decided that it’s a good idea, let me ask you a question: What are you going to do when you wake up on a Tuesday morning and decide that it’s not a good idea anymore? You got nothing left.
No, salvation is grounded in the will of God: given by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and kept by him, raised up on the last day. This is the promise. This is the ground of Christian security—not depending on our human wills. Not for a moment! That’s why I love when we sing, “Mine, mine, mine! … Thou art the sinner’s friend, so I thy friendship claim.” That’s it right there. People say, “Well, I’m not a sinner. Well, I know you keep saying that, but I just don’t accept it.” Well, pray God that he will come, and you hear his voice rather than mine, and the key is turned, and the heart is opened, and the life is changed.
What is the second part of the Father’s will? Verse 40: “For this 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.” You see this anticipation of a day when we will stand in the presence of God. One day “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And in the words of the song that we sing, in Townend’s song: “A shout of joy, a cry of anguish, as [Christ] returns and every knee bows low.” “I will raise him up on the last day.” Notice, “everyone”: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone…” Does that mean everyone? It means everyone. Everyone, without exception.
“Yeah, but what did you just say? Apparently, you just said that the Father has a company that he has given to his Son. How can the Father have a company that he’s given to his Son, and then it says ‘everyone’?” Well, truths that look contradictory to us are not contradictory in the light of heaven. The answer to the paradox is to live with the paradox. What do you need to know? You need to know this: that everyone who looks and believes… Bishop Ryle says, commenting on that, “Here is a comfort for fearful, doubting sinners. The answer in the message of the gospel: a full and free salvation for everyone who looks and believes.”
Murray, in his masterful use of language, says, “It is on the crest of the wave of God’s sovereign grace that the free overtures of the gospel break upon the shores of lost humanity.” And the reality of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the response of man is not found separated by fifteen books and a hundred and twelve chapters. Look. It sits side by side on the page. Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.
Let us pray.
There may be some of us here who’ve listened over many weeks, and we’ve found ourselves vacillating from one opinion to another. And yet, this morning, as we hear God’s Word, we find ourselves saying, “It is to you that I will look. It is to you, Lord Jesus Christ, that I will come. And in coming to you and in trusting you, I will find that all the promises of your Word then apply to me, insofar as they remind me of the security and joy and ultimate reality that is mine in trusting Jesus.” Salvation in Christ alone—for there is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus. Some people regard his name as a stumbling block. Some people think the story is foolishness. But for those entrusted to Christ by the Father who have turned to Jesus in childlike, believing faith, there is joy unspeakable.
And we bless you, Lord, for your Word and for your Son. In his name we pray. Amen.
 See Matthew 24:35.
 See Psalm 19:14.
 John 20:31 (ESV).
 John 4:14 (ESV).
 John 4:15 (paraphrased).
 Matthew Perry, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir (New York: Flatiron, 2022), 1.
 John 5:39–40 (ESV).
 See John 6:66.
 John 6:60 (ESV).
 Titus 2:14 (NIV).
 See Jude 24.
 See Romans 8:7.
 George Wade Robinson, “I Am His, and He Is Mine” (1876).
 See Romans 1:21–23.
 John 5:43 (ESV).
 John 5:44 (paraphrased).
 David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and the Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 191.
 John 6:44 (ESV).
 Theodore Beza, quoted in J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. John (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1879), 1:373.
 Johann Wild, quoted in Ryle, 1:374.
 See John 5:18.
 John 5:17 (ESV).
 Augustus Montague Toplady, “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” (1771).
 Anna Hudson, “Dear Savior, Thou Art Mine”
 Philippians 2:10–11 (ESV).
 Stuard Townend and Keith Getty, “Jesus Is Lord” (2003).
 “The Father’s Donation,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 3, Life; Sermons; Reviews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 209.
 See Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15; 4:7.
 See Acts 4:12.
Copyright © 2023, 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.