“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.’” John 6:45
Each generation tends to believe that it is the first to experience things as they are, that never before has the world been as it is. In our own time, we tend to believe that the world has changed, that the times are not what they were. Thinking the world is entirely different from the past, there is a tendency to look at the church and we think it has never been through such times, as if things could not have been anticipated.
Saint John might have thought the latter years of his life were times unlike those before. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 and Christians were expelled from the synagogues in AD 85, but in his declining years as he sat and wrote the words of the Gospel, he would have thought about Jesus’ words this morning, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’”
Written in which prophets? John would have thought, and would straightaway remember.
Jesus is quoting from Isaiah Chapter 54 Verse 13 and Jeremiah Chapter 31 Verse 34. Jesus is anticipating times for the church that will be as filled with upheaval and uncertainty as were the days of the prophets. The writings of Jeremiah are particularly instructive for the present own times.
Jeremiah wrote, “No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah was expecting a new time, a time when God renewed his relationship with his people, but the times in which he lived were troubled times. Jeremiah is writing in times when, for the people of Jerusalem, the world was turned upside down.
In Jeremiah’s time everything got swept away. It wasn’t just their traditional ways of thinking and doing things that they lost; they lost their whole country. Life as they knew it was completely gone. Even the great Temple in Jerusalem, the one built by King Solomon was destroyed. Thousands and thousands of them were carried off to live in exile in Babylon.
Jeremiah is remarkable, he’s not like the people who say how awful everything is. Jeremiah sees everything gone and he still has confidence that there is a new time to come.
Jeremiah says to the people, all that we knew, all our traditions, all our sacred places, all our heritage has gone, but we still have God. But no longer will people be able to depend on someone else to think for them or to teach them, now they must think for themselves.
Jeremiah is telling the people in his time that they don’t need the Temple and they don’t need the priests, they can know the LORD for themselves.
Were Jeremiah talking to the church now, he would say, “OK. Everything has changed, things aren’t what they were anymore, but, do you know what? The LORD is still there and every one of you can know the LORD.”
The people in Jeremiah’s time would have been terrified at the advance of the Babylonian armies. They would have been in despair as their country and society were destroyed. They would not have welcomed Jeremiah’s suggestion to them that they would now have to stand on their own feet, that no longer will there be anyone to teach them. But the people of God survived because they were God’s people.
Jesus knew what lay ahead for his followers. He knew that the traditions with which they were familiar would disappear. He knew that there would be times of uncertainty and danger and persecution, but he has confidence in them. “And they shall all be taught by God.”
The times around the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, and the expulsion from the synagogues fifteen years later, would be as tumultuous for the young churches as they were for the people of Judah in the times around the destruction of Solomon’s Temple during the days of Jeremiah, but what mattered was not the events of history around them, what mattered was their relationship with God.
“Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me,” says Jesus. Do not worry about the past, do not worry about what is going on now in the world, keep focussed on me, is Jesus’ message to those who prepared to hear what God is saying through Jesus, and prepared to live their lives according to what they have heard.
Jesus is speaking to people in uncertain times and telling them they can have confidence.
One wonders if churches are prepared to hear and learn today as they were in those times. Churches are so often so preoccupied with their own affairs, and their own survival, that they forget what Jesus says about his followers, “And they shall all be taught by God.”
The church is not a requirement for faith. Perhaps Jesus would suggest that it’s time to be grown up Christians, time to be able to pray, time to be able to read the Bible, time for people themselves to be able to discern God’s ways.
Churches that will endure the present times are those where people can learn the lesson taught by Jeremiah and quoted by Jesus.
If churches are only about traditions and structures and clergy, then all those things are in danger of being swept away; but if churches have a living faith in a God who teaches his people, then their time is coming.
‘‘It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”