Is there a more beautiful chapter than John 6 when it comes to evidence of the patient saving love of Jesus that seeks to overcome the stubborn unbelief of our human hearts? Jesus, in his entire bread of life discourse, is the embodiment of what Paul meant by teaching with “great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
As we come to Sunday’s gospel (John 6:41-51) we are in the middle of five weeks of pondering this chapter, and we have reached the heart of the matter. The stubborn unbelief of the crowd – already evident earlier in the chapter – has now simmered to the boiling point as they grumble and grouse (v 41) about what Jesus had said.
But Jesus doesn’t give up on them! Consider in particular the connection of verses 43, 44, and 45. In verse 43, he issues an earnest rebuke to cease grumbling about his word. Why? Because in those very words was his Father’s power to draw them to the eternal life Jesus was offering them (verse 44). They were in that moment being taught by God as the prophets foretold (verse 45).
What a powerful testimony to the reality that if anyone comes to faith it is only because the gracious wooing of God overcomes the grumbling unbelief of man!
But having glimpsed the beauty of divine monergism in conversion, don’t dismiss this passage as passé for our already converted hearts! Yes, the work of God to win us to faith (conversio) has already brought us from death to life! But our theological fathers also wisely spoke about conversio continuata: “continuous conversion” rightly understood as the daily dying to our natural born unbelief and the daily being wooed by the gospel to ever stronger faith. There too the Father is at work to draw us ever more deeply into the embrace of our dear Lord Jesus.
And how desperately we need the Father’s daily drawing! Being brought to faith in Jesus did not silence the rumbling and grumbling forces of our natural hearts that seek to repel us from Jesus. Did you notice that the lessons appointed for this Sunday – both regular and alternate lessons – provide a panoply of those forces?
Who of us does not know along with the crowd in John 6 how to grumble and grouse about the lowliness of how God chooses to save us (whether it’s the humble appearance of the God/man or of his means of grace)? Who of us does not know what it is like in the public ministry to stumble with Elijah (1 Kings 19, the 1st lesson) as our inner pessimist wonders whether this whole kingdom of God thing is a lost cause? Who of us doesn’t know what it is like to feel the rising resentment of our natural bitterness, rage, and anger that wants to extinguish every expression of kindness and compassion in us – and right along with it our faith (Ephesians 4:30 – 5:2, the 2nd lesson)? Who of us doesn’t know the idolatrous indolence that is content with knowledge already gained as it risks everything eternal by its refusal to grow to maturity (Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3, the supplemental 2nd lesson)?
But thank God that the Savior is no more content this day to watch our hearts consume us after conversion than he was to stand idly by in John 6 while unbelieving hearts sought to block their conversion. Thank God that the One whom we confess – as the Prayer of the Day reminds us – is he who is always “more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.” This is the one who drew disheartened Elijah to the mouth of the cave (and back out to ministry) not by wind or earthquake or fire but by the gentle whisper that repeated saving plans and promises. His greatest delight is still patiently to draw us to his Son that we might delight over and over again as we “taste and see” (Psalm 34:8, the Psalm of the Day) how eternally satisfying is the Bread of Life.
So pray! Pray that our gracious giving Father continues to draw us to his Son by Word and sacrament. Pray all the more when you feel strongly those repelling forces of your natural heart that want to push you away from the eternal life the Son has given you. In fact, if ever we are unaware of those powerful forces at work against our faith within and without, then we have the greatest reason to pray since such spiritual cluelessness puts us in the gravest danger of all! Even then you can trust that for Jesus’ sake “the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15).
And if at such times we lack the words to speak, we could do much worse than to borrow these words from Friedrich Funke:
Draw us to thee
That also we
Thy heav’nly bliss inherit
And ever dwell
Where sin and hell
No more can vex our spirit.
Draw us to thee
Into thy kingdom take us.
Let us fore’er
They glory share;
Thy saints and joint heirs make us.
(CW 170: 4-5)