True and false religion collide once again. According to verse 66, even many of Jesus’ disciples deserted Him after He said these words. The humanity of Jesus physically present among them became a stumbling block to faith. They saw the previous miracle of the loaves and fishes as a sign that He was the Prophet foretold (6:14), but they expected a political Prophet who would put food in their bellies, bring them good economic times and freedom from Rome. They were like the Jews condemned to die in the wilderness because they grumbled against God and refused to believe the report of Caleb (Numbers 13-14). Even their Rabbis had said: “The generation in the wilderness have no part in the life to come” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977, p. 220).
Jesus saw through all of this and explained: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them…” Similarly, Paul wrote: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (I Cor. 2:14). A Christ of our own making does not save. It was not earthly bread with which these Galileans needed to be filled, but the bread that would soon be broken and given up in sacrifice at the cross. Jesus is that One which the manna in the wilderness could only point to. And it is only in “tasting” Christ that one finds true life. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
However, it is only those whom the Father draws who can taste this Bread. And how does the Father draw us? During our confirmation years we learn Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith;” (http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php#creed).
We all are by nature enemies of God who deserve only His wrath, but He comes to us in grace and draws us to Himself. It is expressed this way in the Smalcald Articles, Part III Article IV: “We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich…in His grace… First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached…in the whole world; which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. Secondly, through Baptism. Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourthly, through the power of the keys, and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together, etc.” (http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php). This is good news for all people everywhere: “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” (v. 45).