The Welcoming Heart Of Christ
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37
Why is this passage in the Bible? Because it says something true that we hesitate to believe. Verse 37: “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “Anyone approaching me I will never push away. And anyone belonging to me I will never kick out.” Jesus is the most open and welcoming and steady Friend in the universe. He is the only one anywhere who cannot ever betray our trust. He staked his whole credibility on it. “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
That is one of the greatest things Jesus ever said. And we have a hard time believing something so magnificent. We deeply suspect he doesn’t really love us at our weakest and worst – which is what we really are. And why are we biased against him? Because our love is weak. We can’t believe that anyone loves with a wild and crazy abandon. But verse 37 tells us how Jesus loves. So let’s do this today – let’s go into attack mode against our denials of Jesus. Let’s become indignant with how we insult him and put him off. Let’s demolish our reasons for not taking Jesus at his word.
There are three major objections here in the passage. They are perennial objections to Jesus. Let’s admit the crazy that’s inside us. I heard a story about a little boy who took his first plane ride to see his grandparents. When he got off the plane, they asked him, “Did you enjoy the ride?” He said, “Yes, but I didn’t let my full weight down.” Why not let our full weight down on the promise of Jesus in John 6:37 today?
Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. John 6:26-27
Jesus said this to the people who the day before had experienced his miracle of feeding the 5000. So they were excited about Jesus. Here was a man who could do anything! But now Jesus is saying, “You don’t understand me. You don’t even have the categories to understand me. You just experienced a miracle. But you have more taste for the bread produced by the miracle than for the God who works all miracles. And I am the one through whom God works.” So here is our first objection: “How can I come to Jesus? I’m probably interested in him for the wrong reasons. I’m not sure I really want him as much as I want what he can do for me. I am such a spiritual doofus, and he is such a spiritual ninja, how can this work?” It’s a good objection, because it’s true. Who of us isn’t stirred by a great call to God? And yet when we’re absolutely honest with ourselves, we have to wonder if our motives are all that pure.
Our problem is, we undervalue the spiritual and we overvalue the physical. Verse 26: “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” The people wanted a Prosperity Gospel. But Jesus was not a Prosperity Gospel preacher. Can we admit that the Prosperity Gospel does appeal to us? It resonates with something deep inside. And that gives us an insight into ourselves.
The Bible explains that there are not a bazillion different kinds of people in the world. Basically, there are only two kinds of people. Some people have what the apostle Paul calls “the mind set on the flesh,” and other people have “the mind set on the Spirit” (Romans 8:5-11). In all this world, there are really only two mindsets. People with a fleshly mindset are tilted in favor of what is earthly and quantifiable – like money, prestige, power and all forms of big-deal-ness in this world. But people with a spiritual mindset are tilted in favor of what is eternal and miraculous – like experiencing God, growing in wisdom, preparing for heaven. And the Bible says that this difference, this great divide between people, is not a matter of less versus more, or good versus better, but life versus death, because the mind set on the flesh is really a way of rejecting God. Fleshly people go to church. They like God. But they don’t want too much of God. They want God to bless their little piece of the earthly pie, but they don’t want God to take over. Here in John 6 Jesus is saying to these people whose minds are set on the things of this world, “I fed you. You liked it. Now you’re interested in me, but for the wrong reasons. And I see right through it.”
That’s scary, isn’t it? It is possible to move toward Jesus for the wrong reasons. On Tuesday Jani and I sat through a sales pitch. When the salesman found out I am a pastor, he made a point of his own church-going, and so forth. Maybe he was sincere. But I kept wondering, Would the man have pulled in his Christianity, if it had jeopardized the sale? I don’t know. I do know that my own heart is treacherous. I know what it means to treat Jesus as a steppingstone to something of this world that I really want. So do you. But if we do not value Jesus for himself, why should he take us seriously? The truth is, we have a problem not simply at the level of choice but way down at the level of intuition and desire and our whole mindset. So what hope can we have that Jesus will even bother with us? And if he won’t bother with us, why bother with him? That’s a strong objection.
So let’s say our hearts do start caring more about God. We start feeling longings for God that nothing in this world can satisfy. Good. But are we free and clear yet? No. We then discover another reason why Jesus shouldn’t give us the time of day. We confuse faith and works. That’s our second objection:
Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 6:28-29
“The works of God” are the works God requires, that is, the human virtue and beauty that please God. And the people are asking Jesus, “So paint that picture for us. We do care about God. We do want more than a stomach full of food. So what is God asking of us? Tell us, and we’ll do it.” The Lord’s answer is surprising. The work God wants us to do is to believe in Jesus. That is our obedience – not good works but believing in Jesus.
How could it be otherwise? We have no good works. Our righteousness is Monopoly money in God’s real-world economy. It doesn’t matter how much we have. It has no value in God’s sight. Our self-made good works, that should impress God, are so much polished dung. The old Puritan William Beveridge said:
I cannot pray, but I sin. I cannot hear or preach a sermon but I sin. I cannot give an alms or receive the sacrament, but I sin. I cannot so much as confess my sins, but my confessions are still aggravations of them. My repentance needs to be repented of, my tears need washing, and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer.
When I was a boy walking to school, I came across puddles from the snow melting in the spring. The water seemed clear and pure. But all I had to do was take a stick and stir that water up and all the gunk lying at the bottom swirled up and that pure water was suddenly brown and nasty. That’s us. We can look good. But when we get upset, our true selves show up. So our good appearances are only appearances. We have no good works.
If you want to know one of the core beliefs of this church, I’ll put it in the words of Gerhard Forde, a Lutheran theologian:
We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works. To the age-old question, “What shall I do to be saved?” the confessional answer is shocking: “Nothing! Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!”
Listen to what God is calling us to believe. Jesus lived for you the virtuous life you’ve never lived and died for you the guilty death you don’t want to die. All you do now, all you can do, is receive him and his merit with the empty hands of faith. You don’t earn your place in the heart of God. You don’t maintain it. God gives it for Jesus’ sake, and you receive it just by believing it, period. But the crazy thing about us is, we keep going back to self-salvation. Not only do we not live well, we don’t even trust him well. So our confusion of works and faith is another good objection: “I deeply desire to save myself. How can I have Jesus as my Savior?”
Here is a third objection. Let’s say we’re wanting to trust God. But we inset yet another complication. Here it is: “I don’t respond well to the evidences God has given. He’s not asking me to take a blind leap of faith. He gives me reasons. He respects my mind. He is fair and reasonable. But my skepticism still shoves him away. What hope do I have now?”
So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus 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 do not believe.” John 6:30-36
Back in the Old Testament, God fed his people every day in the desert by dropping down manna from heaven. And Jesus is saying that that manna wasn’t really the bread of God. Jesus himself is the true manna that God gives – a rich filling and nourishing and satisfying from far beyond this world. And then he adds, “You have seen me, and yet you do not believe.” It’s a strange thing about us, but true – we have so put God on trial in our minds, that every evidence he provides only wins for him a stay of execution. As soon as the evidences stop coming, he’s condemned. That’s how our biases work against God.
Jonathan Edwards, in an essay entitled “Men Naturally God’s Enemies,” explained that we are born in all-out rebellion against God. It isn’t just that we don’t understand God or don’t think up at his level. The Bible says that we are born with intuitions opposite to God – in three ways. In our wills, we naturally hate correction and we enjoy defying God and deliberately go our own way. In our emotions, we naturally give our deepest feelings to others, while our emotions toward God are dead. In our minds and in our reasoning and weighing of evidences and probabilities, we naturally resist the truth of God. We think we know better, and when somebody somewhere claims he has disproved the Bible we’re intrigued. Without God’s grace, our minds are open to everything except God. Watch the discussions on cable news. We take everything but God seriously. So Jesus is saying here, we have a problem at the level of how we process reality.
We think our path to Jesus is one step at a time, one doubt at a time, each one answered to our satisfaction, so that we can then take the next step. It might play out that way. But what’s really happening in coming to Jesus is deeper. It’s a total worldview shift. It isn’t this problem here, say, evolution, and then the next problem, say, who wrote the Bible, and then the next problem, and so forth. What’s really happening must be deeper, because our unbelief is deeper than a series of topics. What we need is a miracle. Verse 36: “You have seen me and yet do not believe.” Seeing is not believing. These people saw Jesus. They saw him perform a miracle. They heard him explain it. They had the experience we all dream of: “If only God would come down and let me talk to him, then I’d believe.” He did come down. And they didn’t believe. And they are us. Why do we all find it so hard to believe? It isn’t for lack of evidences. It’s because we can’t believe. Our prejudices against him are dug in too deep. And here’s my point. That is a good objection to coming to Jesus. Why come, if I don’t even have the capacity within myself for right-minded belief?
But our Lord does not say, “Whoever comes to the right conclusions I will never cast out.” He says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” We can come with our half-baked ideas, because he will help us. Coming to Jesus is not like passing a test with a good enough score. Coming to Jesus is coming with with nothing to offer him but trouble, and he takes our troubles as his own.
Here’s something about Jesus you’ve got to know. He sees everything in us that’s against him, all our objections, every reason why the relationship can’t work. He sees it more clearly than we see it, and he isn’t put off. Here’s why. There is more in play here than our capacities.
The answer to every objection
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37
The Father is not waiting on us. He is taking the initiative. He is giving people to his Son. The Father is giving spiritual doofuses to his ninja Son. There is something going on in the heart of God that doesn’t depend on us at all. It depends only on God himself, because the love of God is too great to be limited to our capacity to receive it. The love of God is defined only by God’s capacity to give it. The love of God is free to run like the wind, because his love sweeps aside every objection we raise. God loves as only God can love. And God is giving fleshly-minded, works-trusting, doubt-loving sinners as gifts to his Son, to the praise of his glorious grace. The heart of God is why Jesus is not discouraged. The heart of God is why Jesus welcomes and receives and holds onto every straggler coming to him today. He is rejoicing in the greatest reality in the universe – the love of God for the undeserving.
Now we see why Jesus can say, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He sees every coming sinner not as a reason to brace himself but as a reason to be happy. He sees every coming sinner in any condition as yet another gift from the Father. He sees in you today one more reason to marvel at the love of God, and he couldn’t be happier to be involved in what only God can do. So you can come to him today with all your troubles, with all the reasons why you think he shouldn’t love you, his heart is wide open to you right now.
You say, “But I can’t give you a single reason why you should love me.” And he says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” You say, “But I have my heart set on earthly things and I love my own works and I caress my arguments against you.” But he says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” You say, “But I’ve accepted you before, and I didn’t stick with it.” And he says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” You say, “But if I come again, I can’t promise I’ll keep it up.” And he says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” His promise here answers every objection we’ll ever come up with. And the answer is, the open heart of God and the sincere welcome of Jesus.