11th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. S. D. Spencer- Pastor of Messiah
51 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." 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 Jesus said to them, "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. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Grace peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
We continue our four-week walk with Jesus through John chapter 6. Or our 5 weeks of talking about bread, in particular the bread of life.
Last week, Jesus dropped a huge statement on the ears of those Jews who had come to hear Him. He said, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Think about it. It was too hard for them to hear Jesus say, “I came down from heaven.” Now He talks about eating His flesh, and if that weren’t scandalous enough, also drinking His blood. Of course this starts a major disagreement. Last week the crowd was merely grumbling, mumbling under their breath. This week, they’re arguing, yelling out loud. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” It was like they were saying, “Is He crazy, is He promoting cannibalism?”
That’s a good question. I always grin a bit when I read this verse. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” I think John must have smiled when he wrote it. Every week John said these words to his own congregations,” Take, eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood. Given and shed for you.” John knew the answer, and so do you. How can Jesus give us His flesh to eat? Answer: By taking bread, giving thanks, giving it to His disciples and saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.” That’s how.
It’s hard to blame those first hearers of Jesus’ words for not getting it, because Jesus hadn’t instituted the Lord’s Supper yet. He was “priming the pump,” getting them ready, just as He prepared Nicodemus for Baptism by saying, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” God has a way of doing that - preparing people ahead of time so when the thing happens, everyone says, “Aha. So that’s what He meant.”
Now you don’t exactly win friends and influence people by telling them they have to eat your flesh and drink your blood. Generally, they put people like that away and throw away the key, or medicate them heavily. In fact, everything Jesus says in this morning’s reading is downright crazy, if were it not true. His flesh is true food; His blood is true drink. The living Father in heaven sent Him. He lives because of the Father, and whoever eats Him lives because of Him. This is crazy talk; the type of talk of a mad man. Except, that this same Jesus also died and then rose again from the dead, which is another crazy thing that no one had done before. And that being the case, we need to listen carefully to what Jesus has to say, regardless of how crazy it might sound.
“Truly, truly, I say to you.” When Jesus says this, He’s not kidding around. He’s put His “amen” to it. Amen means, this is certain and sure. Listen up. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Wow! And just in case you are tempted to “spiritualize” that passage and say something like, “Oh, Jesus really means that you’re supposed to eat His flesh and drink His blood “spiritually” through faith,” or something like that, Jesus does a little switching of verbs.
Up until now He’s been using the common word for “eat” (phago), which could be understood in a figurative way, the way someone might say of a good book or movie, “I just ate it all up.” But now, Jesus switches to a different word for eating, which can only be understood in terms of the mouth. Trogo. To chew. To grind with the teeth. To use your molars!
John has a good reason for quoting this saying of Jesus, no one else wanted to touch it. Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn’t go near it. But John heads straight into it. He has in view two groups. The Jews who rejected Jesus’ Messiah-ship, and those who wanted to blend paganism with early Christianity into a kind of 1st century “new age” movement this was later called “gnosticism,” a kind of “spirituality” that said physical material stuff is bad; spiritual stuff is good. For the Jews, John is showing that Jesus is greater than Moses ever was. Moses gave manna; Jesus gives His flesh. For these “spiritualizers,” John is saying that Jesus is God in the flesh, a flesh that suffers, a flesh that dies, a flesh that rises, and you commune with this God in the flesh with your flesh, namely with your ears and with your mouth, with your molars.
Watch out for the spiritualizers of our age. They’re all over the place, and not just the “new-agers.” You hear people say, “I’m very spiritual, but I’m not religious.” By that they mean they believe in some higher cosmic power but they don’t want to be troubled by messy things like church bodies and congregations. And they especially don’t want anyone telling them what they must believe.
It happens among us, too. The old Adam in each of us is very “spiritual.” He would love to put God up on some spiritual shelf, a God who has nothing to do with this messy world, a God who doesn’t get His hands dirty. A God who doesn’t have hands! When we say “spiritual” we usually have in mind the opposite. Spiritual not material. Spiritual not temporal. Spiritual not earthly. Spiritual not secular. Spiritual not bodily or fleshly. Spiritual but not real or actual. You see we have all sorts of ways to push God out of the picture and out of our lives. We try to keep Him as far away from us as possible.
We hear it when we try to organize congregational life. “Pastor, you tend to the spiritual matters, and we’ll worry about things like money and church property.” But aren’t we all priests to God in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ? And isn’t everything, including money and property, “spiritual,” in the sense that everything has eternal implications for our lives? That’s what the Orthodox Church teaches. That’s what Jesus said too, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is.” Money is certainly a “spiritual matter.” Paul wrote, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices....this is your spiritual worship.”
Remember, the Word became Flesh and dwells among us. The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, the second Person of the undivided Holy Trinity, became and remains human flesh and blood. God is man and man is God in Jesus Christ. The infinite God dwells in the finite Flesh of Man. And no place is this more evident than in the Lord’s Supper where Jesus gives us His flesh to eat as bread, and His blood to drink as wine, with His own words, “Given and shed for you.”
The bread is His Body, His flesh, offered up for the life of the world. Israel ate the flesh of the Passover lamb and of the sacrifices. They were in communion with that sacrifice, and through that sacrifice, with each other. We have much more and greater in the crucified and risen flesh of Jesus Christ the Son of God. That’s true food. Food that lasts forever. Food that makes you what it is, the body of Christ. Food that unites us as one. “You are all one body for you all partakers of the one Bread.”
This bread which is the flesh of the Son of God you eat with your mouth. It all sounds rather crude to the spiritualizers, but let them dream and meditate and sniff their incense. Without a sacrificial death, there is no forgiveness, there is no life. Without the shed Blood, there is no cleansing from sin. The sacrificial death of Jesus, offered once for all people, once for all time, some 1976 years ago on a cross is yours in the bread which is His Body, in the wine that is His blood. You feed off His death to live.
Drinking blood was strictly forbidden in the Old Testament. Leviticus 17 says “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life” (Lev 17:11). In the New Testament it is given for us to do, “Take and drink. This is my blood of the new testament.” The Blood is the life of Jesus the Son of God. And He gives His sacred Blood for wine that you may drink and live forever. The pagans feed their gods; our God feeds us.
There’s no other food and drink in the world like the body and blood of Jesus. All other food perishes and spoils; but the Body and the Blood of Jesus conquered death, rose from the grave, and endures to eternal life. All other food and drink, you earn with your sweat and work; this Food and Drink you receive as a gift of God’s undeserved kindness. All other food and drink eventually dies with you; this Food and Drink raises your body from death to life.
This is how Christ abides in us, and we abide in Him. He is our Bread and our Wine, our Food and our Drink. His Body given into death to save us and raised from the dead to deliver us; His Blood that is His own life poured out for our forgiveness, we are fed at God’s banquet of salvation, the table He prepares for us in the presence of our enemies - sin, death, hell and all the commandments that would condemn us.
So away with those naughty splits of vaporous “spiritualities.” God has joined our flesh in Jesus, and He puts into our mouths true food and drink with the promise, “I will raise you up on the Last Day.” You can’t more spiritual than the words the Lord puts into your ears and the Body and Blood he puts into your mouth. Eat, drink, listen, and live for Jesus has forgiven all your sins and given you eternal through Himself, through His blood. In Jesus name, amen and amen!
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN