Preached: August 26, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The words of our Savior written down for our faith to hold on to with sureness and confidence are recorded in John 6
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. And in fact, the bread which I give is my flesh, given for the life of the world.”
Then the Jews began arguing against one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you: If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, so I live because of the Father, and whoever feeds on me will also live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven -- not like the bread your ancestors ate and died. Whoever feeds on this breed will live forever.” (John 6:51-58).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Good people go to a better place when they die.” “How unchristian of you to suggest that the deceased won't end up in heaven.” That's the sentiment of the world around us. If there's any sort of afterlife, it's a bright light of happiness that most everyone will eventually crossover into. Doesn't that ease the grief of losing a loved one? So what's the harm?
But Jesus' words here teach us something quite different from that popular sentiment. Emphasizing that he speaks the truth with authority, he says: “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” (John 6:53 NIV84). No life equals no fellowship with God now and no heavenly home later, only hell.
This is a sharp truth and to dull it endangers our own faith. For when Christians imagine that most people will end up in heaven, they grow lax in guarding their own faith and easily slip into unbelief, even though they still know about Jesus. The Bible says a little yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough (see Galatians 5:9). One false belief endangers your whole faith. May that not happen to you, dear Christian friends.
So let's take to heart Jesus' words here, for they not only warn us but bring us his wonderful promise to strengthen our faith. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54 NIV84). What a wonderful promise from which we draw our theme: Everyone who feeds on Jesus' flesh lives forever. May the Holy Spirit strengthen your faith through Jesus' words of promise.
So let's begin the first part by looking at how exclusive Jesus' words are. As I said, this is a hard truth for us. It feels unloving to say that many will be lost, even though they belong to churches or learned about Jesus at sometime. We'd like to imagine that they have some sort of faith, so they'll be saved. But that same sentiment tempts us to grow lax in our faith: “I've learned about Jesus. I'm connected to a church. So I'll be saved whether I diligently feed my faith or not.” How deadly those thoughts! For there is only one food that brings eternal life. “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:55 NIV84), Jesus says. Everything else fails. Only his flesh and blood are real food. That's the first part.
Now what does Jesus mean by his flesh and blood? What does it mean to eat it and drink it? The context makes it clear.
Over the past weeks, you've heard Jesus' words from John 6. He has told the people not to focus on food that spoils, our earthly existences that ends in death. Rather, only God can give the real food, the true Bread that brings eternal life. Even miraculous food, like manna in the desert, only sustains our bodily existence. But, he, Jesus, is the true Bread that came down from heaven, the only bread that brings life, eternal life.
God gives eternal life not based on our works. Rather, he works faith in our hearts, faith that believes in Jesus, the living bread from heaven. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29 NIV84). Then Jesus draws a parallel between eating the bread of life and believing in him. He says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NIV84). A little later, “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 6:39 NIV84), and “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life” (John 6:47 NIV84). He makes it clear that eternal life comes through faith and then say, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54 NIV84). Do you see the parallel?
So he's not talking about the sacramental eating, which we do in the Lord's Supper. He's talking about a spiritual eating. He pictures faith as feeding on him. To eat is to believe.
Notice how Jesus sharpens the picture in the section today. What does it mean to believe in him? It means not only to believe that he came from heaven, not only to believe that he somehow brings eternal life. It means to believe in his flesh. “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51 NIV84).
The Jewish crowd is shocked by these words. But Jesus doesn't lessen their sharpness. He makes his words strike even deeper by adding drinking his blood to feeding on his flesh. What's he talking about?
Put yourself in the place of one of those Jews. What would you think of in your religious life as a first century Jew when you heard of blood and flesh? Would that not bring to mind the continual sacrifices at the temple? The oxen, sheep, goats, and lambs whose blood was poured out and whose flesh offered up to God to atone for sin, for your sins?
Yet all those sacrifices were only a picture of what was to come. They had no value in themselves. Their value came only through what they foreshadowed. They weren't the real thing. But Jesus is. “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:55 NIV84). To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to believe that only his sacrifice of his flesh and blood pays for the sins of the world, including all of yours. “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51 NIV84).
There is no other payment for sin, no other sacrifice to appease God's justice against us, no other offering to reconcile us to the Father, so no other way to have eternal life. It's exclusive. Only Jesus' flesh and blood are real food. Without this faith in Jesus and his sacrifice for us, a person is lost to hell no matter how good they were or what church they belonged to or how much they learned about Jesus. That is not unchristian to say. That is the Christian faith taught by Jesus himself. Only his flesh and blood are real food.
Keep Jesus' sacrifice at the heart of your faith, dear Christian. Many who claim to follow Jesus have focused their faith elsewhere. How often does Jesus' sacrifice slip into the background rather than stay at the heart of our own faith? Are we daily feeding on his flesh, feeding on his sacrifice, believing to the very depths of our hearts that he suffered that god-forsaken death in my place, in your place -- offering up his flesh and blood for us? Just as we take food into the very core of our being and make it a part of ourselves, feed on Jesus' sacrifice, feed on his flesh and blood. How much bolder would we be to live for him and suffer for him, if our faith more firmly grasped his sacrifice for us? And even though Jesus' words here don't directly talk about the Lord's Supper, ponder how he later gave us his Supper to focus our faith on his sacrifice for us in that most intimate way.
Only Jesus' flesh and blood are real food. Only his sacrifice saves. And anyone who feeds on his flesh, that is anyone who believes that his sacrifice of his flesh and blood truly pays for all their sins, has eternal life. As the theme says: Everyone who feeds on Jesus' flesh lives forever. For you see, all who feed on him have fellowship with God.
Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:56 NIV84). That's fellowship with God, dear friends. Through faith in his flesh and blood sacrificed for you, you are in Jesus and he in you. What a blessing!
You are in him. He clothes you with his blood and righteousness. He presents you before the Father as holy and blameless. He surrounds you with his protection from the attacks of sin and Satan. He keeps you safe in the one true faith. Jesus is in you. He is in you to comfort your guilty conscience with his forgiveness, to open your understanding to know him better through his word, to strengthen you with Christian courage, boldness, and endurance to follow him.
And he will raise you from the dead on the Last Day. For you see, fellowship with God right now is the beginning of eternal life and not even the death of your body can end it. For Jesus has conquered death. Eagerly anticipate your resurrection, dear Christian. For everyone who feeds on Jesus' flesh lives forever.
But isn't all this the work of God, how can the man Jesus claim to do it? Do you feel that tension? This may well have been part of the arguing among the Jews. How can this man's flesh and blood bring fellowship with God and give eternal life? Isn't it idolatry to believe in human flesh? Yes it is if it's anyone else's flesh. But this particular man, this human being, named Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth -- this one man alone is different.
Jesus has already made that clear by teaching us that he is the Bread that came down from heaven. He is the One sent by the Father. And now he makes that clear again. “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of him, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven ... he who feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:57, 58 NIV84).
Jesus is the living God, the eternal Son of the Father. He came down from heaven, sent by the Father, and became fully human as well. That's why we believe in his flesh and blood. For it is the flesh and blood of God. What a mystery beyond our comprehension: God and man in one person. But how vital for our eternal salvation! Many would not find it hard to believe that there is an afterlife because some powerful being out there called God saves us in some way. But that's not the Christian faith. We believe that the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ saves us. For this flesh-and-blood man is our God. That's why his sacrifice pays for all sins. Our God in the flesh died for us. That's why his flesh and blood brings eternal life. For he bodily rose from the dead. And he will raise you from the dead. That's how we live forever.
Believe in Jesus, your God who sacrificed himself so that his flesh and blood bring you life. Only his flesh and blood is real food. Only those with this faith have fellowship with God and live forever. So feed on him in faith. Everyone who feeds on Jesus' flesh will live forever. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.