Ask Dr. Aubrey De Gray and he’ll tell you it’s all within our reach – to be as spry at 500 as we were at 25. It’s called “Engineered Negligible Senescence” – science that wants to enable us to grow old without aging – maybe 5,000 year life expectancy, maybe even in the next 30 years. That’s the claim, at least. Of course, other scientists like Dr. Jay Olshansky, Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, lump things like this together in the “snake-oil” category with products like “Longevity” which claimed to “drastically slow the aging process”. It gave an august list of users including John Wayne, Yul Brenner, and Anthony Quinn. Among whom you may have already noted a common characteristic: they have all died. A part of our brains notes – as with the get-rich-on-stock-picks-quick schemes we might read online, so also here – if it sounds too good to be true… So much for the quest for immortality, right?
Or is it? We do know this, at least, don’t we? Whether or not science can extend the human lifespan by 30 years or 500, when somebody starts a sermon or a talk or a video with the claim that your life will be better, longer, healthier – your ears perk up, even if only for a second. Because you, like ages and ages of humans before you are intrigued, in some way, with the idea of cheating death. Centuries ago they searched for the fountain of youth and the elixir of life. Today we eat blueberries because anti-oxidants prevent cancer, and then we don’t because they don’t. We play Sudoku to exercise our brains, and toss it aside when studies show that exercised brains fall faster into Alzheimer’s. Any and all of that we do because ever since Eden, we’ve been looking for the key to immortality.
Well, look no further, the promise this morning will make your life better and longer. It is, in fact, the key to immortality. And you find it not with some board-walk barker, but with Jesus. It’s in John 6 again, where Jesus continues his complex conversation with the Jews after feeding the 5,000. Remember, the Jews had come to Jesus looking for more miracle-bread. In fact, they were looking for the Bread King who would improve life expectancy and give it buoyancy – life filled with enjoyment and comfort like helium fills a balloon and keeps it going up, up, up… What they didn’t appreciate was that Jesus said he’d come down from heaven. Because that didn’t match with their experience, not of Jesus the kid they grew up with. More, it just didn’t match up with their concept of life with God: the kind their rabbis taught – how Moses’ works won Israel a place with God; the kind they talked about in the streets when the Romans walked by – to be able to stand in the electric presence of God and feel life in thunder and lightning and bread from heaven. And Jesus’ was peddling himself as God’s bread for life?
They wanted Jesus to supply the kind of life they liked or they wanted Jesus to get out of the way so they could really live with God. Which is why Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” And in v.46, “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” You might say that the Jews had a faith in faith – they were God’s people and so they had life and ought to have it – their trust was in their experience. Jesus was saying that life with God comes to the people of God by way of faith in the Messiah. For the Jews Jesus emphasized: Jesus and God the Father were so inseparable that the Father they thought they had a relationship with, was always working to draw people to Jesus because the only way to see the Father was through the one who came from him, down from heaven.
We are tempted by the “faith in faith” kind of live. It’s tempting to think about life secured and good on the basis of how it’s going – if bad, then God’s got something wrong or we have, if good and prosperous, then we’re fine; or maybe 2) we’d say a kind of pious-sounding brand of the same, “Well, my relationship with God is fine, I pray all the time…” – to say it differently, “God’s good with me because he knows everything I need – I tell him every day.” There is a temptation for us to have faith in faith – our experience secures confidence for life. Jesus is really saying, “Life is secured on the basis of what God tells you.”
Listen to how Jesus describes the people of God who truly receive the Savior and enjoy his blessings: it begins with a quote from Isaiah 54 that those Jews would have known, “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” The key to immortality is to hear and learn from the Father. For assurance of life, Jesus doesn’t prescribe counting up our experiences or counting on the fact that we’re God’s people. Instead, God’s people hear the Father and learn from him like students sitting at the feet of their teacher for story-time. That doesn’t happen when you hope or when you pray. It happens when you pick up his Word. Just like Elijah experienced in our first lesson, God’s people must understand that, whether life is good or bad, we rely on God’s providing for life. And in his Word, he provides in the one way that secures real life. Paul said in Romans 10, “[F]aith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
And when we hear and learn from the Father, we recognize that, in order to live forever, we must receive the Father’s Son in the flesh. And that was obviously the difficulty for those Jews. They knew Jesus – as a physical person, from little on, as an adult come home again – “down from heaven”? They’d also had stories and promises of God doing great things in physical life for their forebears. And it can be tempting to think that there must be some other answers in life than a Savior who came to physically live on earth a long time ago, for the purpose expressly of dying horribly, so that he could rise and ascend away apart from any of our seeing…
But Jesus says that physical life isn’t the measure of real, lasting life with God. Even miracle bread from heaven still left people dead: Israelites ate manna and lived in the wilderness, but they died off eventually. Jesus instead is living bread, not that makes a body run, but that imparts actual life. Jesus is bread “that a man may eat and not die.” He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” In the verses after our section, the Jews are going to wonder whether Jesus means that they ought to chew on his arm or something. But no… He means that they ought to receive him in the flesh as the one who came from God, fleshy just like them and us, to live for us and to die for us, so that the whole world might benefit – might live.
Think about the immortality Jesus is promising. It surpasses this worldly experience – it runs underneath and alongside and finally beyond it. You believe, but friends, unless the Lord comes sooner you will also die. But that doesn’t mean his promise of life is bogus. It means that our experience of life isn’t the kind of thing he’s promising. Jesus, the Savior of the world, is connecting you and me again with the life of God by way of freedom from our temptations and guilt and sins. He gave his life for our forgiveness. But also that we might have this kind of peace: that when the Father draws us through his Word, Jesus promises, “I will raise [you] up at the last day,” because “[anyone] who believes has everlasting life.”