This four-week romp through John chapter 6 seems a bit like the TV show “24” which plays out a day in the life of a federal agent, one hour at a time. We seem to be going through Jesus’ sermon at the synagogue in Capernaum at about the same pace.
When we left off last week, Jesus had just dropped a whopper of a sentence on the ears of the 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 hard enough 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, drinking His blood. Of course this starts a dispute. 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?”
That’s a good question. I always smile a bit when I read that verse. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” I think John must have smiled when he wrote this. Every week John said these words in the midst of one of his 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 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.
Now you can’t blame Jesus’ first hearers for not getting it, because Jesus hadn’t instituted the Lord’s Supper yet. He was “priming the pump,” so to speak. 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, much less hit it big in the polls, by telling them they have to eat your flesh and drink your blood. Generally, they lock people away who talk that way, or medicate them heavily. In fact, everything Jesus says in this morning’s reading is downright crazy, 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 talk of a mad man. Except for the fact that this same Jesus also died and rose again from the dead. And that being the case, we need to listen 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” this passage, or 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 switch in verbs.
Up until now He’s been using the common word for “eat” (esthien), 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. Trogein. To chew. To grind with the teeth. That’ll grind your molars!
John has a good reason for quoting this saying of Jesus. No one else wanted to touch. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wouldn’t go near it. But John heads straight for it. He has in view two groups. The Jews who rejected Jesus’ messiahship, and those who wanted to blend pagan philosophy with early Christianity into a kind of 1st century “new age” movement later called “gnosticism,” a kind of “spirituality” that said 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 the “spiritualizers,” John is saying that Jesus is God in the flesh, a flesh that suffers, dies, and rises, and you commune with this God in the flesh in your flesh, namely with your ears and with your mouth.
Watch for the spiritualizers. 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 not real or actual. You’ll recongize this as all sorts of ways of pushing God out of the picture.
You 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 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? Jesus said, “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 more and greater. The crucified and risen flesh of the Son of God, of Jesus Christ. That is 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 partake 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, 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 1970 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 and you live.
Drinking blood was strictly forbidden in the Old Testament. “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 NT Israel it is given 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 is no other food and drink in the world like the body and blood of Jesus. All other food perishes and spoils; 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, are God’s banquet of salvation, the table He prepares for us in the presence of our enemies – sin, death, hell, the commandments that 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.
In the name of Jesus,