51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread 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, “Very truly I tell you, 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 them 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 them. 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 ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever 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 Then 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—they are full of the Spirit and 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 them.”
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 have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
We have reached the end of this series that defines God’s divine diet. Not surprisingly, it is a diet the begins and ends with the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. And what kind of diet is this? Is it one that feeds my stomach, my ego, my abilities, my personality, my relationships, my success, my happiness? Not so much because Jesus is so much more interested in feeding our spiritual hunger than our physical and worldly desires. In this beautiful chapter of John 6 we see that so clearly as the Bread of Life shows us his generosity towards our soul, his power to provide everything we need for life with him, the eternal effects he gives, and the wisdom he uses to feed us.
Now, over the past 3 weeks I have not actually preached on this chapter of Scripture describing our divine diet, the Bread of Life. That’s because I was saving it all for today.
So, as we get into these words from the end of John 6, basically what Jesus does in verses 51-58 is summarize the sermon up to this point. Like the perfect preacher the Son of God is, he wants to hit the main points again. He emphasizes two important things. The first is that a half-hearted relationship with Jesus is not going to cut it. If we are by nature spiritually starving and Jesus is the Bread of Life, then what good will it do us if we sort of pick at him a couple of crumbs at a time, or nibble at the edges, or take a sample bite to see how it tastes before we have anymore. No, our faith is not just one among many other things that we try to juggle in our increasingly busy lives. Jesus says our faith in him has to be the one thing that we can never skip out or skimp on. If we are dead in sin and Jesus is the Bread of Life, then our attitude toward him will resemble the way a starving person would act if you would give them the first real food they have seen in weeks. That’s the first point Jesus summarizes.
The second is related to it. Jesus says that all by itself even the most intense faith and whole-hearted devotion will do you absolutely no good. The only reason faith in Jesus does you any good is that Jesus is the Bread of Life. He says he is the living bread from heaven. That his food is for the life of the world. He says whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, whoever believes in me, has eternal life. If you are not interested in Jesus, the food for eternal life, then you have no life in you. It’s as if you are walking around in this world with no heartbeat and no hope. In other words, even the most intense devotion to a certain denomination or religious teacher, even the biggest beliefs in traditions and customs you hold dear, is simply a diet of the cheap, imitation, artificially-engineered, junk that hurts you. Only faith in Jesus is a diet of the all-natural, organic, grade A, divine feast that God gives for life in heaven. Faith is not the same as faith in Jesus. Only the faith that eats from the Bread of Life can give a person the kind of certainty and confidence that has no fear of death, because you will be raised to live with Jesus forever.
Amen. That is where Jesus ends his sermon. Normally, if you are trying to introduce a new food to someone, what do you do? You give them a little taste, a small bite. We are in that stage right now with Jet. He gets a little bit of peas, beans, corn, taco, lasagna, whatever it is. We may even try to mask it a little bit with another food we know he already likes. Jesus takes the exact opposite approach. Right at the end he takes a big heaping helping of everything he is trying to teach them and sets it all in front of them.
No wonder, then, that some of Jesus’ own followers come to him and ask, “This is a hard teaching, Who can accept it?” They are not saying that it is our work to accept Jesus as our own personal Bread of Life. But they are saying, “Jesus, you were so popular after that miraculous feeding. You had so many wanting to crown you as their king. You are going to blow it. You need to tone it down a little bit, because the things you are saying are kind of offensive to some; this is tough to swallow.”
Jesus responds by saying, “That’s kind of the point.” Specifically, he says in verse 61, “Does this offend you? …The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “I know that my message is a lot to take in. I know it might not look very appetizing. The sinful flesh isn’t going to make a turnaround and find this food to be satisfying and filling. The flesh is going to be offended by me, but that’s why it is up to the Spirit to make this food delicious rather than disgusting. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to create faith. It is God’s work to make the Bread of Life feed the spiritually starving.”
I think it’s a good reminder that Jesus does not say, “I have the bread of life. I can give you the Bread of Life.” It would be very different if Jesus would say, “All of my moral teachings and commands – the things I have told you about loving your neighbor, being humble, kind, and generous – these things are the bread of life. If you do them, you will live.” It would have been very different if Jesus would say, “My example is the bread of life. As you have seen me live, now you do the same. That’s how you have life with God.”
If Jesus was saying I have the bread of life, then it would not be so offensive. Then we could pick and choose what we want to eat from him. We could nibble a little to try it out. We could take some of what he says and combine it with other popular philosophies and or religious teachings and say, “This is what I want for my diet.” All of that would be more palatable. It wouldn’t cause people to squirm, like little kids trying brussels sprouts for the first time.
But instead Jesus says half-hearted faith will do you no good. Faith in anyone or anything else will leave you spiritually starving. And to this day there is not much more revolting or disgusting to human logic, to our human flesh than what Jesus says here.
Jesus could have said, “I have the bread of life,” but then we would have a big problem. If Jesus’ moral teachings or good example were the bread of life, we would be in big trouble. In fact, the person who tries to get eternal life by following Jesus’ moral code of conduct gets to the exact same place as the person who tries to gain eternal life by following the moral codes of Buddha or Muhammed. You get nowhere. God looks at our performance against any moral code and finds it pathetically lacking far short of his perfect expectations for us, not worthy of eternal life but eternal death.
That’s why Jesus came not to give the bread of life but to be the Bread of Life. That’s why he says, “I am the Bread of Life – not my moral teachings, not my good example – just me. My flesh, my blood, my life is the replacement for yours, my perfect obedience for your disobedience, my commitment for you cowardice, my compassion for your callousness, my generosity for your greed, my humility for your pride, my death for you debt.”
Jesus is our only hope. Our relationship with him has to go beyond half-hearted; it cannot be a mixture of Jesus plus other things. Only the Holy Spirit can get you there. Only the power of God working through this naturally offensive message can get you to enjoy the Bread of Life.
That’s why we see two different reactions to Jesus here. What’s interesting about the opposite reactions is that both of them come from the group called Jesus’ disciples. These are not his enemies, skeptics, or the curious. No, these are his followers. And it says in verse 66, “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” They were offended by him. They found his message to be unappetizing and decided to spit it out.
Jesus is not surprised by their reaction, because to the human nature, to the flesh, he is offensive. He is revolting to people who want to earn their rewards. He is distasteful to people who want to follow their own desires selfishly serving their own bellies. He is unpleasant to people who to enjoy their passions and have a little God time, too.
So Jesus looks to the Twelve and asks, “What about you? You do not want to leave too, do you?” And this is where we hear the other reaction Jesus causes, one that can only be attributed to the power of his grace, the power of his Word working in the hearts of those who are spiritually starving, the power of the Spirit who works where and when it pleases God. Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” Pretty much, “Jesus, no one else is what you are. No one else has what you have. No one else can bring us to where you will bring us.”
Peter is the one with this faithful reply. Really? The guy who says what he thinks before thinking what to say? The guy who so often puts his foot in his mouth? The guy who will later flee from Jesus side out of fear and then deny even knowing Jesus? How could Peter be the one to say these things?
Well, it’s because the Bread of Life is offensive. See, Jesus is not just food for the good. He’s not just food for the respectable. He’s not just food for the popular and wealthy. He’s not just food for the church-goers and the pious. He is the Bread of Life that came down from heaven so that whoever feeds on him will no longer be offensive to God but live with him forever.
And that is offensive to people. That God could love people who don’t seem very loveable, that Jesus would put me on the same level as the worst criminals and freely sacrifice himself for all, that Jesus would be willing to feed the poor and wealthy, the lowly and the mighty, the nobodies and the famous, the evil and the good, the cowards and the strong at the same table in heaven is so absolutely unsatisfying to my flesh, to my reasoning.
But it is also so amazingly true. Jesus never changes who he is, no matter who he is feeding. He will always be the Bread of Life for you and me and for the whole world. He will always provide what we need. It’s a huge helping of his grace found right here in his Word and sacrament, a huge helping of his forgiveness that covers and removes rotten, stinking sins, a huge helping of his love that fills you with an appetite for good things, a huge helping of his compassion that motivates you to live for him, a huge helping of his power that moves you to give his food to others. These words might be offensive to our flesh. They might be unappetizing to our human nature. But they are the bread from heaven. They are the words of eternal life.
The divine diet from Jesus, the Bread of Life, is what we need and he is always willing to feed. Speaking of that, next week we start a new worship series called Burning Questions. As the summer goes the way of the birds and the school year routine resumes we are going to contemplate some questions that people brought to Jesus and people still have for Jesus. Also, on Wednesday, August 29 we are going to have orientation for catechism class (6-8 grade) families to talk about how God’s Word is not just a Sunday morning, a Sunday school, a Wednesday night thing but an every day in the home thing. Then, on September 9th we are going to kickoff another year of Sunday school and Adult Bible study with a big potluck and family devotion after worship. That’s a lot of food, and I’m not talking about the potluck.
Jesus promises that whoever eats this bread will live forever. I don’t think he had in mind that we would eat from him once or twice. I think he has in mind to feed us offensively, to feed us so much that our selfishness, our half-heartedness would be removed forever, to feed us so much that would never be hungry again. Amen.