Monday, August 20, 2012

Sermon on John 6:51-60, for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, "Words of Eternal Life"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Couple of place in NT talk about giving milk and not solid food: 1 Cor. 3, Paul addresses them as infants in Christ, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” Again in Hebrews 5 he chides them that they ought to have become mature in their faith and understanding by now, but instead needed to relearn the basics, and needed milk, and not solid food, for the one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness—but solid food is for the mature. Today: solid food, a challenging passage, but words that are spirit and they are life. Truly as Peter said, Jesus has the words of eternal life.
2.      Already now you recognize that the food I’m talking about eating is spiritual, not physical. Teaching, truth, God’s Word. And the “eating” you will be doing is spiritual also—the understanding of your faith as it grasps Christ and consumes the Bread of Life, the digestion of careful thinking and consideration of God’s Word.
3.      So also Jesus calls us to wisdom and understanding, to believe challenging things, to eat the solid food that He gives. That can be a bittersweet departure. Simplicity of youth and how we saw the world, or we wishfully think that “ignorance is bliss.” But we’re not called to idolize childhood or to stick to childish ways. Rather, Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Co 13:11). He’s saying that there was a time when that was expected of you, but now as a man, give up those childish ways. Maturity
4.      Jesus began to teach in John 6 that “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” People began to argue and question “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” and turned away. Troubling. He drove the point home more deeply, “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 you. 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 true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” At this point they were really astonished, even many of His disciples said, “This is hard saying, who can listen to it?” Maybe hinting, “Could you give us something easier?” Afterward many left Jesus. Large crowd at first, people following after feeding of 5,000. Dwindled, gone, Jesus asks 12 will they leave too? He knew that this would offend and turn many away, but couldn’t change them, because these words were Spirit and Life. The only life to be had was life through Him and from the Father. To take these words away from them would be to take away His Spirit and Life for them.
5.      So what did His words mean? How do we eat Jesus, the Living Bread from heaven? Is He talking about the Lord’s Supper, not yet established? What does it mean: flesh is true food and blood is true drink, whoever eats and drinks has eternal life? Sounds grotesque, even like cannibalism. Some hearers obviously took His words crudely and so they left Him. Too much for a single sermon. Solid food is more than sound-bites and catchphrases. Deeper thinking, digestion, and study required. Deeper study of God’s Word. Bible class is a good starting place, wherever you are, whether still feeding on milk, or desiring more solid food.
6.      Key point—what the eating does: gives eternal life, and without this eating you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on His flesh and blood has eternal life. From these points, we should see that He’s not talking first of all about the eating of the Lord’s Supper right here, which does not automatically give eternal life to whoever eats it. If it were describing first and foremost the Lord’s Supper, we might mistakenly think that anyone, believer or unbeliever, would have eternal life simply by the oral eating of the Supper, regardless of faith. Or that without it, you couldn’t have eternal life. But Jesus clearly teaches even in this same chapter that it is by believing in Him that we have eternal life (v.29, 40). So the indispensible eating that gives eternal life, and without which we have no life, is clearly the spiritual eating of faith—the hearing, believing, and taking to ourselves the Word of God where Jesus and all His benefits come to us (FC VII.61-63). Taking to ourselves, being fed and nourished on what Jesus has done in His body for us—His flesh and blood dying on the cross for us, granting us His forgiveness, righteousness and eternal life.
7.      In the Lord’s Supper, both kinds of eating take place. The spiritual eating of faith has to come before one can orally eat the Lord’s Supper for their blessing. Then we receive Jesus’ body and blood in hand and mouth in a mysterious yet bodily presence. The blessing comes to us when we’ve first received Him by faith.
8.      Many left Jesus at His hard teachings. They turned back, rejected Him, or were scandalized. In so doing, they also turned away from life. Jesus asked the 12 if they were going to do the same, and leave Him. Peter spoke those faith-filled words (now in our Alleluia verse) “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter got what Jesus was saying—that there’s no other way to God and to life, apart from Jesus. Whoever wants to be saved must come to Jesus alone. And it costs us nothing. But it cost God so much (Luther). It cost His only beloved Son. It cost Jesus His innocent suffering and death. For this costly price, this costly sacrifice, it is unthinkable for Jesus to soften or lessen His words that “The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”—because His words are spirit and they are life. His flesh and blood are our food, our drink, and our eternal life. Apart from Him we are without the life of God. In Him we have all the fullness and riches of His kingdom and promises.
9.      Luther described this as the “great true exchange…. He remains in us and we in Him. We become one loaf with Him. He, with all of His wealth, becomes mine. I, with all my sins and trouble, become His body. Then He remains in me. So I must have everything that He is and has, eternal life, righteousness, wisdom, strength, might and altogether every favor of which there is no end or counting. It is too much to grasp or measure, but it is my own. Therefore faith brings with it victory over the world, death, sins, devil and every misfortune. These Words contain such a wonder that no human heart can grasp or receive all of it. I, on the other hand, dwell in Him. So as a result, when I am fragile, as I stumble, snort, and fail, it cannot hurt me. For I am [carried] with my sins and weakness by and in eternal righteousness and strength.” (Luther, 46). Carried by Christ’s eternal righteousness and strength, surrendering our weakness and sin to Him, we praise Him who has the words of eternal life. Alleluia!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What do various New Testament passages mean by contrasting milk and solid food? 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2-3. Why are we to grow in maturity, and not remain in childish ways? 1 Cor 13:11

  1. Why is Jesus’ teaching in John 6 an example of “solid food?” How did many of His followers react to this teaching? See John 6:52, 60-61, 66-67. What are the confusing or seemingly offensive points about it?

  1. How does Jesus here, (cf. Proverbs 9:4-6) talk about another kind of “eating” than with our mouth? What is the kind of food that is meant in both passages? Why did Jesus not give them something “easier to swallow?” John 6:63; 68.

  1. What are the two types of eating that take place when we receive the Lord’s Supper? Why is the spiritual eating of faith, taught in John 6, the essential precursor to the right reception of the Lord’s Supper? When is eating without faith be harmful? 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Matt. 5:23-24

  1. Why is it necessary to have Christ’s flesh and blood as our spiritual food and drink? What role does His flesh and blood play in our salvation? John 19:18, 34; 1:29. Why must we look nowhere else for eternal life?

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