The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” 66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (NASB)
On the night in which our Lord was betrayed “and when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. But the events of John 6 occurred months before Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Now some scholars and pastors think that Jesus preached the Bread of Life sermon in anticipation of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
While different church bodies offer different explanations on how it is that Jesus’s body and blood are present in the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus’s words are spoken every time the sacrament is offered to the congregation.
But when Jesus first preached the Bread of Life discourse, the only words the people knew were the words of the Law of Moses, the Torah, in particular Leviticus 7:26-27, “You are not to eat any blood, either of bird or animal, in any of your dwellings. Any person who eats any blood, even that person shall be cut off from his people.” In Leviticus (17:10-12) we read “‘And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. 12 Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.”
Eating flesh with the blood still in it meant a life in exile from your family, friends, and people. Blood was life and life was precious to God. Taking life, taking or spilling the blood of the living was only to be done out of absolute necessity and once dead, God wanted to teach the living that life, that is the blood of a person or animal was precious, life giving.
This is the culture and context into which Jesus preaches His Bread of Life sermon. So image the confusion and outrage at these words. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” Here in John 6, Jesus is telling the crowds and us, that His flesh and blood are true food, the food that sustains eternal life and leads to the resurrection of the dead.
In my two previous sermons on the Bread of Life discourse, I pointed out that the more Jesus preached and the longer the sermon went, the more offensive it got to those who could not believe. While speaking pure comfort to the faithful, all the unbeliever heard was one condemning and offensive word after another.
Given what the people knew of Leviticus 7 and 17, Jesus’s words are an absolute offensive. In the history of this congregation, both under Pastor Marston and under me, there have been times when the words of Immanuel’s pastors caused offense. Some of these words were the result of the pastors’ stupidity and old sinful nature. But some of these words were nothing more than a restatement of what the Bible and Jesus said. In regard to the former words, the words of stupidity, sometimes people left the congregation in search of a preacher less offensive and more the member’s liking. In regard to the latter, sometimes the people left and went looking for some other doctrine. But regardless of which kind of words that were spoken, they all left because self-righteousness and a holier than thou attitude.
But look here and consider what you have just learned from Leviticus 7 and 17 and from John 6. Here Jesus speaks the most offensive words possible to the multitude and I assure you, they are more offensive to the self-righteous than anything Immanuel’s pastors have ever said from the pulpit or in adult class.
To the ears of the original hearers, it sounds like Jesus is promoting cannibalism. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” There is it again. The Nicodemus problem. “How can a man enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?” They can’t think theologically. They don’t understand because they don’t believe. They are stuck in the literalism of the law and they do not understand that the flesh and blood of Jesus must be poured out on the cross and that they must be partakers of Christ’s flesh and blood, if they are going to have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the resurrection of the dead.
This crowd is so steeped in unbelief, the law, and self-righteousness. They are so busy being offended, they can’t listen to what Jesus is teaching. They can’t understand. That is by the way what religious zealots do. If you want to know when a “cause” has crossed over into a religion for a person or group of people, just watch how they react to anyone who disagrees with their articles of faith. Just watch what they try to do to people who won’t comply with the expected codes of conduct and bow their knees to the orthodoxy of special interests. You know when people cross over from cause to religion because they act like zealots.
In Acts 17:11-12, St. Luke wrote of the Christians in Berea that they “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.”
The crowd in John 6 were not like the people of Berea. Jesus had been teaching that He is the Bread of Life from heaven. He had already said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” and “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” And again, “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
These statement and others teach that when Jesus was talking about eating and drinking in this sermon, He was talking about being drawn to Him, coming to Him, and believing in Him as the promised Messiah. And the promised Messiah’s ultimate goal is not to provide daily bread, but eternal life and the resurrection of the dead to all who trust in Him. He is talking about the work that His Word and the Holy Spirit performs in us to bring us to faith and to keep us in faith.
57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
Bread was the basic staple of any meal at the time. Bread was such a basic part of the meal that the word “bread” was often used as a general term for all the food served at the meal. So “bread” was essential food because it kept the body alive.
When Jesus said that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven,” He was teaching that He is the essential heavenly food. Our good works, our good intentions, the law, and the life we live in this world are not the food that brings eternal life. Jesus, His person, His work, His words are the necessary food for our souls.
The crowd is offended and they withdraw their affection for the Nazarene. 60 “Many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble?’”
The English translation, which uses the word “difficult” but it does not capture the full meaning of the Greek. The Greek word is sklaros, which means “hard, dried, and rough.” Jesus was preaching the way of salvation. He was preaching the Gospel, but to them it was hard and rough. The noun form of the word sklaros is sklarotas, which means “hardness of heart, stubborn.” They find Jesus’s words harsh, hard, rough. Jesus’s words find their hearts stubborn and hard.
With sklaros is sklarotas still fresh in your ears, listen to what Jesus says next. “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.’”
Once again we are confronted with one of the divine mysteries of the Christian faith. Those believe in the Lord Jesus Christ hear the Bread of Life sermon and hear the sweat and comforting Gospel. They hear because God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit drawn them to Christ and granted them faith. Those who are offended by the Gospel, can’t hear the words of eternal life because they have not been drawn by the Father.
John chapter 6 is the beginning of the great reversal. Popularity is fleeting, even for Jesus. Many of His disciples simply walked away. They were so offended they couldn’t stay with Him another day.
For those who had been called by the Gospel, Enlightened by His gifts, sanctified and kept in true faith, they knew voice of their God’s Son. Jesus asked the twelve, 67 “‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ 68 Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” One of those rare moments to theological clarity for the disciples.
The Words of Eternal Life are not found in your bed while you sleep in on Sunday morning. The Words of Eternal Life are not found on the golf course. The Words of Eternal Life are not found in political parties. They are not found in the public and most private schools. The Words of Eternal Life are not found in the wisdom of the day or the modern and post-modern philosophies, religions, and causes of the day. They are rarely found in churches these days.
“‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” The Words of Eternal Life are found only in one place – – The true church, faithful congregations, where the Word of God is rightly preached and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s teachings. “The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.” (Article VII A.C.)
You know where the Words of Eternal Life are found. They are found here in the readings, in the liturgy of the Church, in the Christian preaching, and in the Lord’s Supper, where you feed in faith upon the Word that was made flesh and blood and where you sins are forgiven.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus. Amen.