Pastor Walther / August 23, 2015 / Pentecost 13
John 6:51-58 / The Living Bread
It’s interesting when you look throughout history, pop culture, or even our society, and people have always been drawn to the search for immortality. In the 1500s, a Spanish explorer was one of the first Europeans to discover Florida, thinking that the fountain of youth was in Florida. He’d probably have the opposite opinion if he saw it today! In what I would say was the best or second best Indiana Jones, The last Crusade, Indiana Jones has to race against the Nazis to get to the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus supposedly drank out of, and water that will supposedly make you immortal. Or you even look at our society and how people are constantly searching for the best clothes or creams or foods to make you look younger. But to actually live forever? That’s just a story tale, right?
Have you ever gotten the “Ok, I respect you and your religion, but how can you actually believe that?” Ever get that? “What are we in a Twilight movie now? Are you vampires and werewolves running around trying to be immortal? What you actually believe that you are supposed to eat Jesus and live forever?” Has someone ever told you that Christianity seems like cannibalism? Interestingly this thought is not a new thought. The Jews asked Jesus this very same question.
What is Jesus talking about? Is he really talking about cannibalism? I can already see you shaking your heads. No, Pastor. Of course it isn’t cannibalism. But that’s what a lot of people think about Christianity. That’s what the Jews were thinking when Jesus was talking! Thinking that Jesus was just some guy, some mere man, it was outrageous to them to think that they would have to gnaw on the arm of Jesus and digest it in their stomach. They were taking these words of Jesus very literally, while he was speaking more figuratively.
Yet, that wasn’t the only thing that they found difficult with Jesus saying this. They couldn’t get over the idea that this flesh and blood from heaven had “God’s approval,” and not the Law or even Israel’s privilege of being the “chosen people.” This was new to them. Jesus was saying that He was the way to eternity and not what they did or their ethnic background. This wasn't the Messiah they were hoping for! This wasn’t the kingdom they wanted! They wanted a strong Messiah that would make them look good against the Romans, not this guy claiming to be from heaven that lives in you.
In this specific text the word "my" is a wonderful key word that brings to us understanding. We aren't talking about any ordinary flesh, but we are talking about Jesus. He says it is “my flesh.” “MY flesh!” The Jews could not grasp this word “my." With the word “my” he separates himself from all other flesh, from all other people. This is not simply man flesh. Here, "my" flesh is like Jesus saying, “I am God and God’s son. My flesh is filled with divinity, and is divine flesh. This isn’t cannibalism.”
So then, on the surface this might seem to refer to the Lord’s Supper, doesn’t it? With the bread and his body? But the context makes it clear that this isn’t speaking of the Lord’s Supper because at this point the Lord’s Supper had not been instituted yet. Also here, Jesus speaks to a mixed audience of doubters and believers, whereas the Lord’s Supper is only for believers as an expression of unity with God and each other. And finally, there is no reference here to wine, which is the other earthly element with the bread in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus, here, is referring to something else.
So what is Jesus talking about? How do we actually eat this bread or this flesh and blood of Jesus? If we are to eat His flesh in order to have life, we need to know how! Remember, Jesus is using figurative language in this whole section, and to take this verse literally would be improper. This context makes it clear that Jesus is referring to faith. Eating equals believing. Jesus is the bread, and believing in Jesus means having eternal life. He came to give the bread, his flesh, for the life of the world. Jesus’ death brought to us life. Take away the death, and the flesh of Christ ceases to be the bread of life. But now this blood, shed on Calvary, when Jesus gave himself into death, is the fountain of life for the world. This living bread, the flesh of Jesus sacrificed on the cross, is so full of life and salvation, that all the world can eat it and live forever.
You can really see how the wisdom of God is beyond our understanding. It is altogether different and unique. However, unbelief is always offended by the truth of God’s wisdom. So when people are offended by Christianity or by the Bible, they do so without cause or reason. Unbelievers may think that the Bible isn’t rational, but that is only because they turn their blind eye away from the truth. In the words of the movie, A Few Good Men, they can’t handle the truth! Soon, you really see their true colors and see how truly unreasonable and irrational they are.
We see that in the lack of faith of the Jewish leaders, who were listening but couldn’t believe the truths of God’s word. The whole point of this was that Jesus was telling them to believe in him and listen to him. In doing so, he would remain in them. When we don’t remain in God’s word and listening to him, we begin to lose our trust in God. We begin to lose all trust in our savior. We lose our faith.
When we fail to remain in God’s Word, then these words become just as crazy as they were to the jews. When we fail to be in God’s Word, all of a sudden, Christianity seems nothing but a bunch of bigoted cannibals. The God of rationality comes into our hearts where Jesus once was, and Jesus becomes the stumbling block. How could the world really have been created in six days?! That doesn’t make sense! If there really is a God, how could he let my best friend die? If God is the God of love, shouldn't anybody be able to live together or to get married? After all, isn’t it all about love? Do you see how our minds try to rationalize as Satan works in them trying to make us doubt and question God’s Word.
There are some difficult doctrines, some difficult teachings in the bible, teachings that go against what our sinful nature wants or craves, teachings that go against what we think is rational, teachings that go against what the world tries to tell us. Yet, Jesus reminds us to hold on to ALL of his teachings as a unit, not just some, not just this one and that one, but all of his teachings, even the difficult ones.
But Pastor, that just isn’t the way I see it! That is so often the natural response to teachings in the Bible. Jesus knows that very well. He understands the difficulty we may have. But He delights in it, because otherwise, it would be like any other superstition or shallow religion. So he tells us things in his Word that by ourselves we would never believe. Truth alone can turn unbelief into faith, and the greater the measure of truth, the greater the power to convert unbelief into faith.
Jesus puts incredible importance on eating the flesh and blood and believing in him. But the English is unable to give the special force of these Greek words. There is a constant eating and drinking. It is a continuing action. It can’t be just a one and done believing. Wisconsin is amazing with it’s Friday night fish fries. You can almost go to any restaurant in Wisconsin and find a fish fry on a Friday. Would you be content to eat only one more fish fry in your life? I know I wouldn’t. Well, what about food in general? Would you be content to eat one more meal and just simply be done eating for the rest of your life? Since I was talking about Friday night fish fry, I’ll eat just one fish fry for my last meal…ever. Good enough. That fish should last me 60 or so years. Of course not! That would be absurd! There is not enough protein and carbs to keep you alive that long. You would die! I’m going to the extreme to show you the importance of staying close to God’s Word to nurture your faith. If you starve yourself physically, you will die. If you starve yourself spiritually, you will die.
You see, the more we realize the extent of our own sin, the more we realize what Jesus Christ did for us. The more appalled we are at the ugliness of our sin, the more intensely we’ll love him who rescued us in spite of it. The more we cringe at how driven we are to self-satisfaction, the more we can only gaze in amazement at him who devoted every ounce of energy to save our lives and not his own. However, in Christ, your life therefore has infinite value, no matter how insignificant or lowly it may seem to you and to the world. Your life is priceless to Christ! Even our death is beautiful. Death for us Christians isn’t the end. When our eyes close, it isn’t like the closing of a book.
That is why Jesus speaks these sometimes difficult to understand words to us. He wants us to continue to dive into Scripture and to soak up all the wonderful truth. I think these verses remind us of the depth and riches of God’s Word. Isn’t it amazing that we can search God’s Word all day long and yet God’s Word is simple enough for a young child to believe. God truly wants all people to be saved and to truly live forever in heaven. Indiana Jones and the vampires in twilight have nothing on this because we will live forever together with God in perfection, away from all sin and sadness. What a blessing that we have to be in God’s word, strengthening that connection with our Savior because that is all that we need for this life. That is what brings us peace. That is what brings us life. Amen.