A Full Christ for Empty Sinners: Part 4

John 6  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 7
But our attention is claimed by deeper wonders still. The incarnation is one marvel and mystery and glory of the gospel, the cross is the other. Any third miracle to compare with these the records of eternity afford not. There has been none such in eternity past; there can be none such in eternity to come. The Word made flesh! The Holy One made sin! But why was this? Was it not enough that God sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him? Had this been all, not one sinner of Adam's race would have been found on high to sing the praises of his Savior-God. Christ the incarnate Word, had there been no deeper mystery of love, would have shown, more than anything beside, man's hatred to God, and the utter hopelessness of his case. The blessed One well knew this when He came into the world, but now the proof was before His eyes. The more His intrinsic excellence, His moral perfectness was displayed, the more manifest it became that between Him and fallen man there was not one moral quality in common.
It is not, as others have observed, a question of degree, a race in which one immeasurably out distances another. No; it is contrariety—contrast—of the most absolute kind. All that men value and seek He declined and shunned. For all on which His heart was set they had no relish whatever. Men seek their own glory; He sought His Father's alone. Men do their own will; His Father's was His only business. Men love those who resemble themselves, and such as love them; He loved where there were no qualities He could approve, and where there was hatred to Himself that thirsted for His blood. To think of One who for the three and thirty years of His sojourn on earth never did one thing to serve Himself, spare Himself, exalt Himself, but for every moment of His life was and did, spake and, thought and felt, exactly as the Father would have Him! Let a man's eyes be opened, as they are when his ears are unstopped by the voice of God's Son; let his opened eyes rest on THIS BLESSED PERSON as the divine records set Him forth, and what is the result? “Woe is me,” he exclaims, “I am utterly hopeless now! Hard and vain have been my struggles to win life by keeping the law; but now, as I look on this moral picture, every trait, every line, convicts me of being exactly the opposite. I admire His ways, I could sit and gaze on Him and wonder; and if I could be like him—alas! every attempt deepens my conviction that it is all in vain. If Christ be what God delights in—and He is—He never can delight in me, for His ways and mine are farther than east and west asunder. What is to become of me, wretched man that I am?”
What, indeed, must have become of any of us, had Christ only glorified His Father in coming down to sojourn here as a living man? But this was not the whole; He Himself assures us it was not. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
As come down, as incarnate, He was the bread of God, His Father's gift; but there was bread which He Himself would give, even His flesh, which He would give for the life of the world. Now this giving of His flesh was the laying down of His life, the yielding Himself up to death, that He might become to sinners—to fallen, perishing men—what bread would be to a crowd of persons perishing with hunger.
It is in a slain Christ alone that sinners can now find what meets their deep and solemn need. Well may our need be met where God has been perfectly glorified about our sins! Convicted, by His life, of total contrariety to Him in every moral trait, whither shall we turn but to the cross, where this same blessed One gives His flesh that we may live?
Did His love go even to such lengths as these? It did. When nothing less than the death of a sin-atoning victim of infinite value could meet our need as guilty ones exposed to the wrath of God, or justify God in justifying us, His love was found equal to the emergency, and He gave His flesh for the life of the world.
That such is His meaning comes out more emphatically in His reply to the next cavil of those who stood round about Him. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” was their carnal, foolish inquiry. He stops not to explain, but repeats and amplifies His previous declaration. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” Evidently, for the blood to be apart from the flesh, so as to speak of eating the one and drinking the other, the blood must have been shed in death. So that we have here, in the fullest way, the death of Christ, the shedding of His blood, set forth; and, at the same time, the most solemn testimony of ITS ABSOLUTE NECESSITY FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL, and of the equally absolute necessity for ITS INDIVIDUAL RECEPTION. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Who besides could have thus provided for our perishing souls? What other life would have had in it the atoning value, the saving efficacy, at once to meet the highest claim of God's moral glory, the glory of all His perfections, and reach down to the lowest depths of our need as guilty, ruined, hopelessly undone sinners?
And yet it is as Son of man that He here speaks of Himself. How could He have suffered death had He not become the Son of man? How this links together the mysteries of Bethlehem and Calvary, the Incarnation and the Cross! The one was in order to the other. He came to die. “Once, in the end of the world, hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” It was “for the suffering of death” that He was “made a little lower than the angels.” And it is by His death we live.
Though He had life in Himself, and though, anticipatively of His atoning work, He gave life at any time to any poor sinner, it was only on the ground of that work that life could flow from His person to any who heard His voice and believed His words while here; and the actual shedding of His blood as that of the great and all-atoning Victim for our sins, was the only way in which the flood-gates of mercy could be thrown open to guilty, justly condemned sinners. How widely they are flung open now! How completely has Christ's precious sacrifice removed all the obstacles to our salvation presented by the character of God, His holy nature, the majesty of His throne, and the faithfulness of His word! “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness"; and while this perfection might surely have been displayed in the endless punishment of the whole guilty race, how then would the love of God have been exercised or shown? Where is that love so manifested as at the cross? and where besides is God seen as so inexorably just? The flames of hell are not so glorious a vindication of His righteous claims as the agonies of His spotless, immaculate Son. God's holy hatred of sin could not go further than the averting His countenance from the Son of His love when drinking the cup for us.
Who will not tremble before this holy Lord God, who, sooner than tarnish His throne, or break the word which had gone out of His mouth, that sin should have death for its righteous punishment, gave up to death—the death of the cross—the One who had been in His bosom from all eternity? And then to think of that One voluntarily yielding up His life? In obedience to His Father and in love to us He drinks the cup of wrath, that in Him, the Slain One, we perishing sinners may find all we need. Life flows to us through His death; and the soul that finds its hunger appeased and its thirst quenched by what Scripture tells of Christ on the cross, has not only life in Him, eternal life, issuing in the resurrection of life at the last day, but a present fullness of nutriment and refreshing, of which the Savior witnesses in the words, “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” Continuing to feed on Him as the slain as well as the incarnate Christ, we abide in Him and He in us. “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”
This language assumes, though it does not mention the fact, that He who used it would rise again. And with Christ as risen, they who feed on Him as slain, are so identified that He here for the first time in Scripture speaks of our dwelling in Him and He in us. Dwelling in Him we participate in all that is His; and by His dwelling in us we become vessels for the manifestation of what He is.
Nor is this the whole. Christ's own life as the Son of man was a life of entire dependence on the Father. And ours is one of dependence on Christ Himself. But the one is presented as the model for the other. “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by1 the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by2 me.” Blessed Jesus, teach us thus to live in hourly dependence on Thyself! It is at this point that the Savior sums up the whole subject of which He had been treating. “This is that bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead; he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.”
But the native sphere and home of this undying life is not earth but heaven. To all intents it is an exotic here. Perfectly was it manifested in the three and thirty years' sojourn on earth of the Son of man; and, as we have seen, this display of divine life in man, in the person of Christ, is one great leading subject of this Gospel. But the One in whom this display took place was a stranger here. The Book witnesses this fact throughout. We have not far to read before we find the words, “And the light shineth in darkness: and the darkness comprehended it not.” And then more plainly still, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” Even His own people, the Israel of Jehovah's choice, had, as we have also so largely seen in this very chapter, no heart for Jesus. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Thus rejected by those among whom He came, He makes no secret of whence He had come. To Nicodemus He says, “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” Who so competent to tell as He to whom these things were familiar, and the mystery of whose Person still made heaven His home, though as man He had come to sojourn below? “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Such were His own words to the Jewish rabbi; while in the same chapter (3), the Holy Ghost by the Evangelist's pen delightedly bears witness to Him as the heavenly Stranger here. “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that corneal from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth.” Alas that He has to add, “And no man receiveth his testimony"!
Our own chapter bears abundant witness to His having come down from heaven. This was what so provoked the opposition of the Jews; an opposition which became so open and so fully declared as to force from the Savior's lips the most solemn statements as to the contrast between their origin and the sphere whence He had come. “And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above; ye are of this world; I am not of this world” (chap. 8). No; He was from heaven. A true, real Man; veritably partaker with the children, blessed be God, of flesh and blood; partaker, as He has been telling us, of a life which He would give in the shedding of His blood, that there might be the link between Him and all who receive Him of an undying life. But all this could not constitute Him a native of this world, a denizen of the earth. He was a stranger here; and when many of His disciples began to say inwardly to themselves, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” He, knowing their thoughts, replied, “Doth this offend you? What and it ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?”
Thus does He give, somewhat obscurely indeed, as suggesting much more than was spoken, the first intimation of the third great fact of which our chapter is the witness. Christ incarnate, and thus come down from heaven; Christ slain, His blood shed for sinful men, becoming the suited food of a life, the first movement of which in us is in the sense of our need as sinners, a hunger which can only thus be appeased; and now Christ ascended, involving of necessity His resurrection, but including much more than this. The eternal life which was with the Father before all worlds —the eternal, uncreated, all-creating Word which “in the beginning” was “with God” and “was God” —had come down, and become in that act of deep humiliation “the Son of man.” He was now returning to that sphere of unmingled blessedness, of highest glory, whence He had come forth to Bethlehem's manger and Calvary's cross; but He was returning thither as Son of man. Thenceforth He should be seated as man on the throne of His Father. Heaven, not earth, becomes thus, from the moment of His session there, the home of all who, by eating His flesh and drinking His blood, become partakers of His life. Earth becomes a wilderness, a place of exile, to all such, just as it was to Him while here. He is our life, and this associates us necessarily with heaven and all that is native to that abode of purity and joy. As another once remarked, “If sin has opened to man the place of woe never designed for him but for the devil and his angels, grace has opened to him that heaven which is peculiarly and distinctively the dwelling-place of God.” “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's; but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” So the Psalmist wrote, and such indeed was the only inheritance which could have descended to us, even from unfallen Adam. The earth was given to him (Gen. 1), but when his sin had opened hell to the finally impenitent and unbelieving, grace opened heaven to all who become willing to enter there in the value of Christ's blessed Person and atoning work.
What He but obscurely hints to His disciples in our chapter has since become accomplished fact, and one of the great foundation-facts of Christianity. Christ has gone up on high. The Son of man has ascended up where He was before. His request to His Father (John 17) has been fulfilled. “And now, O Father, glorify thou me, with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Nor would He be there alone. “Father, I will [or, desire] that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me; for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Heaven is now the revealed home and sphere of that eternal life which, if absolutely and perfectly displayed on earth in the One of whom we read, “In him was life,” is also derivatively enjoyed by all who believe. “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?”
It was for other lips and another pen than the beloved disciple's to unfold this subject in detail. The place in heaven in and with Christ, bestowed on believers by the grace which reigns through righteousness by our Lord Jesus Christ, is Paul's distinctive theme. The manifestation of divine life on earth, perfectly in Christ, and really though derivatively in us, is the theme of John's Gospel and Epistles. It is, of all themes, the most vital, essential, fundamental. But deeply interesting it is to find such links as our Lord's words last quoted, and those from chap. 17:24, evincing that whether Paul or Peter or John be the instrument of communication, it is one vast circle of truth which is revealed, of which the center and fullness are found in the Person and Sacrifice and Exaltation of the Son of God and Son of man, Christ, the Word incarnate, Christ slain, Christ ascended; “a full Christ for empty sinners.”
Many who had for a season followed Christ drew back from the time when this discourse was delivered. This did not surprise Him; but it afforded Him the occasion of challenging the hearts of those who still surrounded Him. To them Jesus said, “Will ye also go away?” No one wonders that Peter was spokesman for them all; and he might not yet have measured himself, as afterward through grace he did when he went out and wept bitterly. Nevertheless there is a warmth, an energy, a decision about his words that we may well covet, and as to which we may challenge our hearts, dear Christian reader, whether we could reply thus. Go away! “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
May our hearts repel thus, and disown, every thought of any other than this blessed Christ of God. “To whom shall we go?” To whom indeed? Oh, to abide in Him! May we have grace to cleave to Him with purpose of heart, and may He be glorified in each of us, for His Name's sake. Amen.
(Concluded from page 363)
W. T.