Today's Gospel finds us about three quarters of the way through John 6 - the bread of life chapter of the Bible. This chapter begins with the feeding of the five thousand on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. It then continues as Jesus sent the disciples back toward the other side of the Sea and then walked on the water to rescue them from the severe wind that prevented them from reaching the other side. When Jesus began teaching back in Capernaum, the people were still fascinated by the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and so Jesus used that fascination with bread to begin teaching them about His true identity. He began to teach the crowds that He is the Bread of Life from Heaven.
In today's Gospel, He continues to teach about Himself as the Bread of Life. In fact, this week's Gospel actually begins with the last verse of last week's Gospel. Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. This verse is important to help us understand what Jesus is saying in this sermon. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger - by using the words come and hunger He is letting the people and us know that coming to Him satisfies our spiritual hunger. Coming is like eating. In a similar way when He says whoever believes in me shall never thirst, He is saying that believing is like drinking. He is saying that just as food and drink become a part of us when we eat and drink, so also, He becomes a part of us when we come and believe.
The sad reality is that not all who see Jesus believe in Him. Jesus said, "But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe." This is the great cross of the theologian - a question that remains unanswered in the Bible. When two people hear the same law and the same gospel - when they both hear the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins - why does one believe and the other reject. In this world that loves free things, why do some reject the free gift - the gift for which that Christ gave His life for on the cross?
Thousands of people must have witnessed Jesus as He healed all manner of sickness, injury, demon possession, and even death. Never the less, some of those people not only refused to believe, but actually worked against Jesus. As we see in today's Gospel: The Jews grumbled about him, because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" These were people who saw Jesus, but did not believe. Why?
In today's Gospel Jesus tells us, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." Later on in this same sermon Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." Still later, He said, "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me." From these statements we learn that it is absolutely impossible for anyone to come to the proper knowledge of God under their own power. As Martin Luther's explanation to the Apostles' Creed says, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him" Instead, Jesus teaches us that it is the Father who draws us to Him. Those who eat and drink of Christ are eating and drinking because of the Father.
On the other hand, those who will not learn from the Father - those who insist that they are good and noble people who do not need forgiveness - those who think there are other ways to Christ - those who think that they can earn all or part of their own righteousness - these are the ones who reject the Father - who will not let Him draw them to Christ. These are the ones who hear the good news of Christ crucified and reject it. These are the ones who have no one to blame but themselves when they discover that they are lost forever.
How is it then that we learn from the Father? How is it that the Father draws us to Christ? Jesus said, "… not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father." With these words, Jesus teaches us that we cannot go to the Father. Only the one whom the Father sends can bring the Father's teachings to us. Who is that person? Jesus said, "I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me." Here we have it. Jesus brings the teachings of the Father down from heaven and the Father uses these teachings to bring us back to Jesus who is the Christ. The teachings of Jesus Christ are the teachings of the Father as Jesus told Phillip, [John 14:9] "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."
What is the benefit to us that the Father has sent the Bread of Life from heaven to us? What benefit do we receive when Jesus gives us the Father's teachings? Three times in today's Gospel, Jesus tells us the He will raise us up on the Last Day. Two times, He tells us about eternal life. Finally, in order to put a final emphasis on the benefit of eating and drinking the Bread of Life from Heaven, He said, "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." Living forever, not dying, eternal life, raised up on the Last Day - these are the words Jesus uses to describe the benefit of eating and drinking the Bread of Life - that is, coming and believing in Jesus.
As we come to the end of the Gospel for this day, we learn about the price Jesus paid so that we could have these benefits as a free gift. Jesus said, "The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Here we learn that Jesus is the Bread of Life who came down from heaven to offer up His flesh - His body - for the world. Here Jesus, once again, points us forward to the cross that waits for him in Jerusalem. Here Jesus, once again, reminds us that although God's grace is free to us, it cost Him his life. Here Jesus reminds us once again that He came down as the Bread of Life from heaven to take on human flesh so that He could die in our place.
When Jesus said He is the Bread of Life from heaven, He not only pointed forward to the cross, but also pointed back to the Old Testament. All the Old Testament references to bread that point forward to God's salvation come true in Jesus Christ. Here in Jesus we see the fulfillment of the unleavened bread of the Passover, the show bread of the Tabernacle and Temple, the manna of the wilderness, the grain offerings, and all the other images of bread that pointed forward to the Messiah, the Christ, that anointed one. Here is Jesus, the fulfillment of all those prophecies, ready, willing, and able to offer Himself up for the sins of the entire world. Jesus is the Bread of Life from heaven who offers eternal life to all. He will raise up and give eternal life to all who come and believe in Him.
Next week, we will come to the end of John 6, the Bread chapter. We will learn how people reacted to Jesus' sermon and we will learn even more about the salvation that Jesus gives to us as the Bread of Life from Heaven. Amen
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