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“That You May Have Life, and Have it to the Full”

by

BarryBlackburn(John 6:47-51)

(Message delivered By Barry Blackburn at Kentuckiana Christian Fellowship on July 29, 2015)

The Gospel of John is all about life—eternal life, that is.  Consider the “I am” sayings: “I am the bread of life,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Think of the prologue: “In him [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of all people” (all scripture quotations are from the NRSV).  Fast forward to the conclusion: “Jesus did many other signs . . . .  But these are written that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

That brings us to our text, another passage from John: 6:47-51. Listen as our Lord reminds us that he came to bring us life, life to the full:

47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your     ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “whoever believes will have eternal life,” but rather “whoever believes has eternal life.”  More than any other portion of the NT, the writings of John stress that believers already possesses eternal life.  Listen carefully to Jesus’ words in John 5:24: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Now how can Jesus say that we “have passed from death to life” when we all know that we’re heading straight toward the cemetery barring our Lord’s glorious coming?  Because the word “eternal” not only denotes life that is not ended by death, but also life that’s qualitatively different from and superior to ordinary life.  It’s a higher form of life.  It’s the abundant life that Jesus referred to when he said, “I came that they [my sheep] may have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10).  And through the power of the Holy Spirit, we already participate in this eternal life even if death stands between us and our resurrection.

Now if we already share in eternal life, then that life should stand in stark contrast to the darkness of a culture that is self-gratifying and self-destructive.  Just as we easily distinguish the moon and stars from the surrounding darkness, so does light shine in the darkness, and the darkness isn’t able to snuff it out.

I’ve long believed that the clear manifestation of eternal life in Christian believers and their churches is one of the most powerful tools of apologetics and evangelism.  When the church is functioning as it should, we’ll provide a powerfully attractive alternative culture to some on the outside.

If you think that our culture today—especially in the Bible Belt—is oppressive and hostile to Christians, consider the plight of believers in the Roman empire in the first three centuries.  They were almost swallowed up in a sea of pagan immorality.  The erotic art that hung on the walls of the Romans who died when Mt. Vesuvius exploded would shock you.  Worship of the Roman gods was demanded of all except for Jews, but by the end of the first century Christians lost this exempt status.  The practice of magic, often for evil, immoral purposes was ubiquitous.  The use of boys for homosexual sex went unchallenged.  Divorce was easy and common.  The entire economy road on the back of between five and eight million slaves.  Early Christians therefore believed that their pagan environment was infested with demons.  Who can blame them?

Even by the end of the second century, it’s estimated that there were only 200,000 Christians in a Roman empire of 60 million.  That’s less than 1% of the population.  By the year 300, it’s estimated that the number of Christians had mushroomed to somewhere between 5-8 million!  And by the year 380 a Christian emperor, Theodosius, established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire.

Now history’s complex, and I’m sure that there were multiple reasons for this Christian population explosion, but I’m confident about one thing: many pagans glimpsed the eternal life residing in the church and wanted to experience it for themselves.

Now we turn to our own situation today.  I’m convinced that if we consistently and faithfully live out an alternative culture in our homes and churches, then others will see the flames of eternal life among us and will become receptive to the Gospel story.  Like the moth that is attracted by the light of the candle, so some will come to us for the life that world is impotent to give.  Our visible attitudes and actions will, as Paul says, adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

So how, exactly, should we live in order to help the world around us to see eternal life in action?  How can we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior?

First, we must be a people who value human life as a gift of God.  We must continue to offer a clear alternative to a society that is often indifferent to new life in the womb.  The National Right to Life reports that just under 3000 unborn children are being aborted daily in the U.S.   In 2011, the last year for which reliable statistics exists, abortions in the US topped the one million mark.  In a culture of selfishness and death, we can testify by our actions and our words that we value all life as a gift from God.  We don’t see the unborn as a problem or an inconvenience, but we welcome them with open arms.  Thus we’ll teach our children and grandchildren to cherish and protect the helpless unborn.  We’ll support and fund efforts to educate people about the continuous, mysterious, dazzling development of life from conception to birth.  We’ll also work so that any pregnant mother may be assured of the necessary health care that birthing and raising a child will require.  Criminalizing abortion isn’t sufficient.  Some countries where abortion is illegal have rates of abortion comparable to nations which allow abortion.  We must work hard to convince our culture that the life of the unborn is sacred and therefore to be welcomed with gratitude.

We must also be a people who cherishes the life of the aged and infirm.  We must offer a clear alternative to those who advocate physician-assisted suicide and all forms of so-called euthanasia.  We must uphold the sacred gift of life from conception until a natural death.  That means that we’ll work to make sure that the elderly receive the health care that they need—including the skillful and compassionate use of pain relief.  It also means that we’ll not abandon our elderly to suffer loneliness, depression, and feelings of worthlessness.  The answer to the sorrows and physical pain of old age isn’t euthanasia; it’s spending the amount of time and money necessary to love and support the elderly until the hour of their death.  As a people who’ve been given eternal life, we’re in the business of life, not death!

Secondly, we must offer the world a community in which mutual love is the hallmark of our fellowship.  Late in the second century, the Christian leader Tertullian said that when the pagans of his world observed the behavior of Christians, they would exclaim, “How they love one another.”  There are so many people who are desperately looking for love—not romantic love, but the kind of agape love that Christ has taught us.  Mother Theresa, who ministered to the poor and dying in Calcutta, was spot on when she said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”  Perhaps it could be argued that eternal life is manifested chiefly in love.  So we Christians must be communities where outsiders see genuine love at work.   If so they will see people who are encouraging each other, serving each other, putting up with each other, forgiving each other, and eating together.  “By this,” said Jesus, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:35).  Jesus said that when the Son of Man would be lifted up from the earth, he would draw all people to himself (12:32).   And when our communities manifest the sacrificial love of Jesus, so will that love act as a powerful magnet to draw others to the Lord of love.

Thirdly, we offer the world an alternative to the distortion and perversion of marriage and sex.  As the so-called sexual revolution continues to play out around us, we have the opportunity to offer an attractive alternate culture to those who’ve become disillusioned with the empty promises of sexual liberation.  We offer a distinctive vision of marriage and singleness.  In God’s plan marriage is bound up with bringing children into the world.  It’s purpose isn’t the thrill of sex.  Therefore, we will continue, as we have done for two thousand years, to celebrate weddings only between members of the opposite sex.

Furthermore, we’ll uphold the permanence of marriage.  George Barna recently reported that divorce rates among Baptists in the South is higher than the unchurched.  This just won’t do.  We must do more to offer, not a reflection of surrounding culture, but a genuine alternative.  We will also oppose the notion that sexual activity is the pinnacle of human life.  We will defy a culture that wants to deify sex.  Therefore we’ll honor and support our young people who choose a celibate single life.  After all, they’re following the path of Jesus and Paul!  Think of the tragedies that flow from unchastity: broken hearts, divorce, unwanted pregnancies, abortion, estrangement from children, and in some cases, suicide.  The church has a wonderful opportunity to offer a genuine, joyful, healthy alternative to the madness of the world.

Fourthly, we’ll offer the world a way of life where honesty and integrity are not only praised but practiced.  We will refuse to cheat—on our taxes, on our insurance claims, in our dealings with customers, and on our spouses.  We will be people of our word: we will

do what we will say we do.  Our “yes” will mean “yes” and our “no” will mean “no.”  In 2002 the University of Massachusetts did a study that revealed that 60% of American adults can’t have a ten-minute conversation without lying at least once.  In a culture where deception is the standard operating procedure, we have the opportunity to exhibit a refreshing atmosphere of truth.  This means that we’ll keep our promises to each other, that we’ll pay our debts, that we’ll refuse to be two-faced—acting as if we like and approve of people to their face, but criticizing them behind their back.  Even deceptive people yearn to find people whom they can trust.  Why am I so enthusiastic about my auto mechanic?  Because I know that I can trust him not to do unneeded work on my car!  I can rely not only on his expertise, but on his honesty.  A community where the truth is practiced, where honesty prevails, and where integrity shines is a community where eternal life is making itself felt.

Fifthly, we offer the world a community of joy.  “It is astonishing,” wrote Karl Barth, “how many references there are in the Old and New Testaments to delight, joy, bliss, exultation, merry-making, and rejoicing, and how emphatically these are demanded from the Book of Psalms to the Epistle to the Philippians.” When the angels appeared to the shepherds near Bethlehem, they brought them “good news of great joy.”  And so we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”  No wonder then that Paul lists joy as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  I’ve always been impressed by the way that Luke portrays the early church—often the object of fearsome persecution—as a community of joy.  After the apostles had been flogged by the Sanhedrin, they left rejoicing that they were worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41).  After the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized, he went on his way rejoicing (8:39).  And finally, after Paul and Barnabas were driven away from Antioch Pisidia, we are told that, nevertheless, the disciples that we left were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (13:52).

So what aspect of eternal life do we have to offer to a joyless world: a community of sheer joy!  Eyes that shine, mouths that smile with love, hearts that are overflowing with gratitude rather than complaint, and minds that are confident in the glorious future awaiting us.    Joy is not just an emotion that we happen or happen not to feel; it’s a way of life that we practice, a way of living that we cultivate.  And its presence among us is a sure sign of the eternal life that animates us and beckons outsiders to share our joy.

Finally, sixthly, we offer the world a community devoted to the worship of God.  In 2011 a huge and expensive study conducted by Oxford University determined that belief in god or gods and an afterlife in not learned behavior, but is rooted in human nature itself.  Religion is global and reaches back into time as far as anthropologists are able to reach.

There is a deep and abiding urge in humanity to make a connection to a transcendent power.  The Latin verb from which the word “religion” is derived means “to bind.”  Despite modern attempts to snuff out religion, humans still want to make a connection to, to worship, the power in whose hands they lie.  But we don’t just offer just any kind of worship to any old god.  We gather to worship the one true God who’s revealed himself decisively and finally in Jesus Christ.  Each week we gather on Resurrection day and in the Spirit we offer our worship to the Almighty Father through the Beloved Son.

Listen to the classic definition of worship composed by William Temple:

Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.

It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness;

the nourishment of mind by his truth;

the purifying of imagination by his beauty;

the opening of the heart to his love;

the surrender of will to his purpose—

and all of this gathered up in adoration,

the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable . . . .”

And now I ask you:  Is there any clearer sign of the reality of eternal life than when the church gathers to worship her God?  I think not.  And isn’t our steady worship of God one of the brightest ornaments adorning the doctrine of God our Savior?  Surely it is.

In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”  The eternal life that we have in Jesus is a life that shines, a life that radiates the splendor and glory of God.  “Live as children of light,” says Paul, “for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”  Therefore our task is to let the light of eternal life shine in us and in our churches.  The light of eternal life, even when refracted by our less than perfect lives, possesses a magnetic beauty.  Others will see and be drawn to the Lord of life and light.  When all is said and done, I can offer no better ending to this sermon than to quote that simple but powerful song of our childhood:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

let it shine all the time, let it shine.

 

                           Barry Blackburn if minister of the Locust Street Church of Christ, Johnson City, TN.

 

 




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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8