Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 28, 1954
NUMBER 37, PAGE 6,11b

"My Words Are Spirit And Life"- The Words Of Jesus

Harry Pickup, Jr.

A wise philosopher has said correctly that there are three prerequisites to language: (1) It must express reason; (2) It must contain reason; (3) It must speak to reason. While the words of Jesus contain all of these, they contain much more; they are "spirit and life."

Words are the vehicles of thought. They are "picks" that play upon the strings of human emotions. We use them to make men happy and to express our own emotions when we are happy. We speak them to provoke sadness and in moments of lamentation. We say them lucidly and precisely when we desire that men may understand accurately our thoughts. We say them vaguely and clandestinely when we would remain surreptitious.

Christ and the inspired men gave words new meaning. He did not form new words nor manufacture a new vocabulary. He took familiar words and gave them realizations only hoped for before. His words were quickening and powerful, "spirit and life."

The sermon on the "bread of life," as we have called it, was given near the close of the Galilean ministry and at the zenith of Christ's popularity. The opening verses of John 6 tell us that Christ and the disciples went into the hill country and he "sat" with them, probably because he was weary. A great multitude followed him "because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased." Weary as he must have been, his compassion is demonstrated as he becomes concerned for their hunger. There follows the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. This miracle brought to a climax his popularity as the people proceeded in an attempt to make him an earthly king. But the Messiah was not destined to such a mean estate. "When therefore Jesus perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." (v. 15)

When the disciples left by boat going to Capernaum, the sea raged and they were afraid until Christ walked on the water, made himself known to them, and "they willingly received him into the boat."

The next day — the preceding things happened during the night — the multitude again sought him and found him in the synagogue of Capernaum. (vs. 24, 59)

Several classes of Jews heard this message: (1) The shallow materialists, those who sought him "because ye did eat of the loves and were filled," (v. 26) (2) The weak, "This is an hard saying, who can hear it?", (v. 60) "many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more," (v. 66) (3) The confident believers, "And we believe and are sure that thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." (v. 69)

The Master questions their motives and insists that "they labor for the meat which perisheth not." (v. 27) His explanation is, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (v. 29) Christ then explains that he is the bread of life.

The central thought in the chapter is found in verse 47. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." There is power in these words; power that will give life. But the power is not just in the saying of them. Life is given to the believer because Christ said: "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 shall give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

As the Son of God was not destined to be a mere temporal ruler with an earthly kingdom, so his "believers" would not be the recipients of merely material blessings. Christ promises "everlasting life." Paul said, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all most miserable." (1 Cor. 15:19)

To believe on "him whom the Father hath sent" would be to believe that he was both the Messiah and the Son of God from heaven. To believe this was the block at which the Jews stumbled. But without this "meat" none could have "life."

The quickening power of Christ's words did not lie in the words themselves but in that they were spoken by the Christ, the obedient Son, who was doing the will of the Father. "I seek not mine own will but the will of the Father which hath sent me." (John 5:30)

There was power in the words of Christ to quiet the tempestuous seas, to conquer demonic spirits, raise the shutters of sightless eyes and call back souls to their lifeless bodies. These works were performed as a testimony of the Son from the Father. "For the work which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me." (John 5:36) Again, "If thou be the Christ tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me'." (John 10:24,25)

The words of Christ and the apostles were not mere incantations. There was authority and power behind them. After seeing Paul perform miracles the vagabond Jews in Ephesus tried to duplicate them by "calling over" those with evil spirits. They said the right words, "We adjure thee by Jesus whom Paul preacheth." (Acts 19:13) But the result was not the same with them as with Paul. "And the evil spirit answered, Jesus I know and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded." These words lacked divine approbation.

When the Holy Spirit came, being sent in the name of Christ, he testified not of himself but of Christ. (John 14:26) That word the apostles delivered and preached unto men. There were "spirit and life" in their words for they spoke the words of Christ.

The word has the power to begat. "Of his own will begat he us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruit of his creatures." (James 1:18) Peter refers to the word as the power by which those who are born again have had their souls purified. "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit . . .. being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever .... But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:22-25)

There is power in the word to save. "Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul." (James 1:21) You will notice that James says, by the authority of Christ, that salvation is dependent upon receiving the Word. Is the result obtained any different from the statement of Christ, "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." Certainly not.

Another thing we should say is that obtaining salvation and receiving everlasting life is never, on the part of man, a completely passive action. Having everlasting life is dependent on man's faith in Christ, or eating the bread of life. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any eat of this bread, he shall live forever." (John 6:51) This faith that man must have in order to receive everlasting life is described by Christ as a work. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (John 6:29)

Is the grace of God made void because Christ teaches that men "must labor for the meat that perisheth not," in order to receive life? Or because James teaches that salvation is dependent upon man's receiving the word? Most assuredly not. It is by God's grace that these conditions are extended in order that man may be saved. Who would argue that man's faith in Christ is commensurate with the grace of God or the life of Christ? Both Christ and James argue that the power does not lie in the literal words but in the authority behind these words. Man makes contact with the power in obedience to the word.

The salvation of which James speaks is dependent on man's receiving the word. The word has in it the power to save, but the power cannot become active upon the individual until it is planted. Certainly no one would be so foolish as to think that this mandatory action is equal to the power that is in the word. However, it takes the combination of these actions for the power to become effective.

The life of Christ has been given, the word has been written, all that is left for anyone to do in order to receive "everlasting life" is to "eat this bread," or, believe the words of Christ and all that this statement implies.