Sermon 8.19.18 Pentecost 13

August 19, 2018 Pentecost 13                                                                                                                                                     John 6:51-58  

               Watching people shop in the grocery store can be an interesting experience. 
  • Some people know exactly what they want.  They hurry up and down the aisles, quickly put items into their cart.
  • Other people take their time.  They carefully read the fine print, the list of ingredients.  Perhaps they are allergic to a certain ingredient.  Perhaps they have heard advice from a “food expert”: “Don’t eat too much sugar!  If the list of ingredients contains words you can’t pronounce, then don’t eat it.”  
  • Many others have concluded, “Eat whatever you want.  Enjoy it.  All of us are going to die anyway.”
                This morning Jesus Himself is speaking to us.  Jesus tells us something very different.  He tells us that those who eat a particular food have eternal life.  Those who refuse to eat this food have no life.  This morning Jesus says to us,
We will consider
1. Jesus’ claim; and then
2. Our response.
I. Jesus’ claim
        A. Setting
               1. Feeding the 5000
                Once again our text is from John chapter 6.  In the first verses of that chapter John tells us how Jesus provided food for a huge crowd of people – 5,000 men, plus the women and the children.  These people had been with Jesus most of the day.  Now it was supper time.  Our Lord’s disciples suggested that Jesus send the people home.  But Jesus had something else in mind.  He told the people to sit down in groups.  Then by His mighty power He multiplied 5 small loaves of bread and a few small fish.  With that food Jesus fed the entire crowd.  The people were amazed.  They even wanted to make Jesus their king. 
               2.  The next day
                On the next day (6:22) Jesus met again with some of those same people.  It was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, near the village of Capernaum (6:17).  The people were still talking about Jesus’ great miracle.  Jesus used that opportunity to teach the people more about Himself.  In the words before us Jesus is saying, “Today I am asking you people to stop looking at the bread on your plate.  Instead, I want you to look directly at Me.  Because ‘I am the bread.’”
        B.  I AM
                In his gospel St. John records several statements from the lips of Jesus that begin with the words, “I am.”  We sometimes call them the “I AM” statements.  Each of those statements involves a picture.  For example:
  • Jesus said, “I am the door.” (10:7)  When we hear those words, we ask, “In what sense is Jesus ‘the door’”?  Obviously He is not a piece of wood like the door that leads into the sacristy.  But He is the Door, the one and only Door, that leads to eternal life. 
  • This morning Jesus says, “I am the Bread.” (51) We ask our question again, “In what sense is Jesus the Bread?”  Obviously Jesus is not a loaf of bread like the one we buy in the store.  But Jesus is the Bread that all human beings need.
        C.    Jesus explains the Bread
               1.  His claim
               Why do we need that bread?  Jesus continues, “I am the Bread, the living bread.”
               The bread we buy at the store is not living.  Yes, the grain in that bread was a living plant at one time.  And that bread makes it possible for us to continue living here on earth.  But when Jesus calls Himself “the living bread,” He is saying much more.  Jesus is claiming to be God!  Only God is truly living.  Only God is the source of life.  Only God is able to create life.  When Jesus says, “I am the living bread,” He is claiming to be equal with God the Father, the Creator of life.
                Then Jesus adds, “I am the bread, the living bread, that came down from heaven.”  Jesus’ home is in heaven.  He lives and rules at the right hand of God the Father.  At a particular moment in history Jesus, the almighty Son of God, descended to this created world and lived among us.  He “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”
               2.  His promise: Live forever
                Then Jesus adds a promise: “If anyone eats from this bread, He will live forever.”  On the previous day Jesus performed a miracle and provided food for 5000 people.  But even that “miracle food” would not enable anyone to “live forever.”  We ask in our hearts, “Jesus, what kind of bread are you talking about?  What kind of bread will enable us to ‘live forever’?”
                Before we can ask that question, Jesus gives us the answer.  “This bread, Jesus says, is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (51)  “This bread is my flesh.”  When Jesus entered our world, He became a real human being.  He became real flesh and blood.  When the soldiers arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, they arrested a real human being of flesh and blood.  On the following day the soldiers nailed a real human being onto the cross, real flesh and blood.  The Bible says that this was the sacrificial payment for the sins of the world.  Jesus says here, “I give my flesh … for the life of the world.”  I.e., I give my flesh and blood in exchange for the life of the world. 
               3.  His invitation: Eat from this bread
               Then Jesus invites us to “eat from this bread.”  Here we need to ask our question once again, “In what sense can anyone eat this bread, eat Jesus’ flesh?”  No, Jesus is not suggesting some kind of orgy.  (Forgive me for mentioning it.)  And no, Jesus here is not talking about the sacrament of Holy Communion.  (That is something altogether different.)  Here Jesus once again is using a picture, a picture that we sometimes use today.  If a student loves a particular teacher and listens closely to the teacher’s words, we might say that “this student ‘eats up’ everything the teacher says.”  God uses that same picture in the Bible.  God said to the Prophet Ezekiel, “Ezekiel, eat the scroll” (Ezekiel 3:1ff).  “Eat this scroll, this book, on which I have written my words.”  No, Ezekiel did not begin to rip pages out of a book and jam them into his mouth.  God was asking Ezekiel to read His words carefully, to receive them, to think about them, to digest them.  In our text Jesus is saying to the people, “Eat up my words, receive my words, believe my message.  Believe that I am the living God who came down from heaven and became flesh and blood.  Believe that the flesh and blood I will offer on the cross is ‘The bread that I will give for the life of the world.’  ‘If anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever.’” (51)
               This eating is not something we do only once.  It is not like a vaccination that lasts a lifetime and does not need to be repeated.  Jesus is talking about a continual eating of this bread, something that continues day after day throughout our life.  I want you to continue eating my word.  That is why our pastor continually urges us to hear His word in church at Bible class; in our Sunday school, in our elementary school and in our Lutheran high school.
II.  Our response
        A.  Response of the Jews
                Unfortunately “the Jews” who were present with Jesus did not believe any of this.  They had already become our Lord’s enemies.  They quickly responded with a smart-aleck question: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (52)
                Jesus did not argue with them.  Instead He carefully, emphatically repeated what He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (53-55) 
  • “Men, if you do not believe My words, you have no life.  You men are spiritually dead right now; and you are doomed to eternal death.  Period. 
  • “On the other hand – whoever believes My word HAS eternal life.  Right now!  And I will raise his body from the dead when I return on the last day.  This is the truth.  Period.” 
        B.  Our response
                These are the claims of our Lord Jesus.  Now the question is, “How will we respond to those claims?” 
               1.  Realize: Standing in presence of God
               As we stand with the crowd there at the Sea of Galilee, and as we look at our Teacher, we realize that for the past 20 minutes we have been standing in the presence of God.  These words of our sermon text came from the lips of the living God who came down from heaven and became fully human.  No, as He stands there at the Sea of Galilee, He does not look like the Son of God.  But the Bible says to us, “Do not be fooled by His appearance.  Remember instead the words of Isaiah, “Truly you are a God who hides himself.” (Is 45:15)  As Jesus stands before us at the Sea of Galilee, He hides His glory behind and within human flesh and blood.  It is the Son of God Himself who says to us, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (51)
               2.  Exclusive claims
               All of us have heard these things before.  But there is one thing we Christians often forget.  That is the exclusiveness of our Lord’s claims.  Jesus did not say, “I am one of many doors that leads to eternal life.”  He said, “I am the Door.” And in our text He did not say, “I am one of many breads that can give people eternal life.”  No, He says, “I am the one and only living bread that came down from heaven.” 
               Here is where we Christians sometimes make a serious mistake.  All of us have our FRANS – friends, neighbors and relatives.  Many of them pay no attention to Jesus, the living Bread that came down from heaven.  They pay no attention to God’s word – they have no desire to “eat up” God’s word.  But most of them are good, fine people.  So we think to ourselves, “Surely God will not sentence these people to eternal death.  Surely God has a place for them also in heaven.”  Jesus however says something very different.  He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. … “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (51,53)
               When we hear that, we sometimes ask, “Jesus, if that is really true, what do you want me to do about it?”  Jesus answers, “Wolfgramm, you already know the answer to that one.  I have commanded you to bring the good news to all people.” 
  • And so for a moment don’t even think about the millions of heathen people who live far away.  Think about the thousands of people right here in Appleton who have come here recently from Asia or from Africa or from the Middle East.  Many of them continue devoutly to worship their own gods and know nothing about Jesus, the Bread or life. 
  • Think about the hundreds of people here in our own city who learned the truth about Jesus in their younger years; but who have decided now that eating the bread of life is really not that important. 
  • Look at the hundreds of children and young people right here in Appleton whose parents are just too busy to teach their children God’s word at home, too busy to bring them here to this place.  These children know nothing at all about Jesus.  Some of those children are our relatives. 
               Jesus says to us, “Wolfgramm, you and the other members of St. Paul have a lot of work to do.”
                This morning then we leave church with a prayer, a prayer to the Holy Spirit: “Thank you, O Holy Spirit, for leading me also to believe that Jesus is the living bread who gave His flesh for us.  Guard and keep us in our Christian faith!  Now, O Holy Spirit, open the hearts of others and make them receptive to the message we bring to them.”  Amen.                                                    ajw