Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
[O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world: have mercy upon us, and grant us Thy peace. Amen.]
35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."
IN NOMINE JESU
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Pet. 2:2-3). These words, written by the blessed apostle St. Peter and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we usually hear on the First Sunday after Easter, marking the eighth day of the new creation, begun on the eighth day of Holy Week, when our Lord rose from the dead, after giving His body and shedding His blood unto death for the life of the world, making all things new. I've been recalling these words often after Pastor Poppe asked me to preach for him today, and especially after I baptized my infant niece, Alexandra, two weeks ago today. "Lexi," as our family calls her, is almost three months old and, in many ways, can be compared to the Jews in our text for today—with all due apologies to my dear niece! As a newborn infant, Lexi longs for her mother's milk, for, without being fed, she would die. Lexi is dependent upon her mother for her survival. She cannot feed herself yet; she needs someone to feed her, to put the nipple of that bottle into her mouth so she can suck on it and get that food she needs to live.
The Jews in our text were dependent upon Someone else for their spiritual survival, the Lord Jesus Christ, though they failed to see their need. Earlier in chapter six and mentioned in Mark 6 the Lord provided for their bodily needs, using a mere five loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5,000 people with all they wanted, and they were all satisfied. But it wasn't enough for them to believe that Christ is the living bread come down from heaven. They wanted a miracle—a real miracle—not something that could be whipped up on a Food Network program. The Jews were issuing their own throwdown to the Lord, challenging His divine Sonship. They saw Him only as the carpenter's Son. "And they said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, "I have come down from heaven"?'" (v. 42). It was as if they took what Jesus fed them and spit it all back out. An infant will spit back her food, often involuntarily, but the Jews were deliberate in their rejection of the Messiah and what He had to give for the life of the world. They were worse than infants. They did not want to be fed with what they needed to live spiritually. They did not want to be fed on the Bread of Life. They did not wish to eat of His flesh or drink of His blood. They certainly would not want to partake of the Sacrament of the Altar, where He gives His very body and blood for us, for the forgiveness of sins, and for eternal life to all who receive Him in faith. They could not stomach the pure spiritual milk, let alone the flesh that is Christ's body, as well as His blood. They despised the gifts Christ freely gives as well as the Giver of the gifts, God Himself. What the blessed apostle St. Paul wrote of the Gentiles in our Epistle (Eph. 4) certainly was true of the Jews in our text: "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph. 4:17-18).
They were not ready for the Bread of life. They were still after their daily bread. They rejected the very Bread standing before them. By the time of the events in our text, Judaism had become perverted. Their offerings and sacrifices were to be given out of repentance and faith, with their faith being in the long-promised Messiah, who was to come and who had come and stood among them. But by the time of our Lord's earthly ministry, the Jews simply offered these sacrifices and offerings as if these conferred God's grace ex opere operato; that is, they thought they could gain God's favor just because they went to the temple. It became a good work to them, taking the place of faith. One might say the Jews placed their faith in the sacrifices and offerings they gave in the temple. They had no desire for the Bread of life given for the life of the world because they were in their own little world, one which meant the death of all who reject Jesus as the Messiah. Lest we think we are better than they were, Scripture tells us that we are not. We want from Him what He has not promised to give. We seek Him in places where He has not promised to be found, that is, if we even seek Him at all. We too like to place our trust in our own works, as if these could merit salvation. We like to think that because it appeals to our ego, which has an over-inflated sense of self-importance, which sets our works and ourselves over against the God who created us. To this Luther says: "Now the Turk [Muslim], the Jew, and the pope say: 'I believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth.' They all search for God in heaven in other ways. But they fail to find Him, for He will not be found except in Christ alone. You will not meet or encounter Him elsewhere. He is the eternal Life, the Truth, and the Righteousness. If you overlook Him, you have no food for eternal life and salvation. Then nothing remains but mere thoughts. Yes, then people invent their own ways of serving God and of reconciling Him with good works. …But any attempt to apprehend God with our own ideas miscarries. Therefore if you do not want to miss God but want to find Him and have eternal food, then give ear to Him who declares here that He is the bread of life. If you desire to obtain everlasting life, then seek it with Christ and nowhere else."
We need not look any farther than the font, pulpit, and altar to find Christ giving His gifts, seeking to draw us to Himself, that He would feed us on Himself. Again, Luther says, this time in a sermon on our text: Thus you learn from the first utterance in today's Gospel that this knowledge must come from God the Father; He must lay the first stone of the foundation in us, else we will never do anything. But this is accomplished in the following way: God sends us preachers, whom He has taught, to preach to us his will. First He instructs us that our entire lives and characters, however beautiful and holy they may be, are before Him as nothing, yea, are as abomination, and displeasing; this is called a preaching of the Law. Then He offers us grace; that is, He tells us that he will not utterly condemn and reject us, but will receive us in His beloved Son, and not merely receive us, but make us heirs of His kingdom, lords over all that is in heaven and upon earth. This is called preaching grace or preaching the Gospel. But God is the origin of all; He first awakens preachers and constrains them to preach. This is the meaning of St. Paul's words when he says to the Romans: "So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Rom 10:17). This truth the words of the Lord in today's Gospel also declares, when Christ says: "It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto Me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He that is from God, He hath seen the Father."
Luther also teaches us in his Large Catechism: Therefore also it is vain talk when they say that the body and blood of Christ are not given and shed for us in the Lord's Supper, hence we could not have forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament. For although the work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. For what would we otherwise know about it, that such a thing was accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by preaching or the oral Word? Whence do they know of it, or how can they apprehend and appropriate to themselves the forgiveness, except they lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel? But now the entire Gospel and the article of the Creed: I believe a holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sin, etc., are by the Word embodied in this Sacrament and presented to us. Why, then, should we allow this treasure to be torn from the Sacrament when they must confess that these are the very words which we hear every where in the Gospel, and they cannot say that these words in the Sacrament are of no use, as little as they dare say that the entire Gospel or Word of God, apart from the Sacrament, is of no use?
We have seen the Father in the Person of His Son, who comes to us in His Word and Sacraments. But we do not like what we see…or hear…or taste. Some of us don't like to see the historic liturgy of the Church, which contains the very Word of God in it, unfold before our very eyes because we would rather be worshiped than worshipful. We complain that the liturgy does not say what we mean, when instead we need to mean what the liturgy says, for in it is the very inspired, inerrant Word of God. In the liturgy, God is the Actor; He runs the verbs. He acts, and we get to respond to His goodness. This offends us because we want to believe it is all about us. The truth is that it's not all about us; it's about Christ and what He has done for us. This is a scandal to us.
We do not like to hear the Word of God read and preached in our hearing. We complain about all sorts of things regarding the Word. We reject those parts of Scripture that make us uncomfortable. We pick and choose those parts we want to believe for and about ourselves. We don't like to hear that we are by nature sinful and unclean, that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone; that we have not loved God with our whole heart; that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves; and that we justly deserve God's present and eternal punishment. We complain the sermon is too long or too loud…or even too Lutheran. We don't like scriptural sermons because we don't like to hear what we are: lost and condemned sinners in need of a Savior, One who gives His body and sheds His blood for us to eat and drink, they very body He gave and blood He shed for the life of the world. Yet when we hear the Gospel read and preached to us in all its sweetness, we get angry then, too. We want to accomplish our own salvation; that is why works-righteousness preaching is so popular: it puts us at the center of our own little world, as if we could save ourselves. We don't want to think we need Someone to save us; besides, we're good people, right? Wrong! Unless we take hold of Christ and believe in Him, eating His flesh and drinking His blood, we shall be as the prophet Isaiah has described, "We've all become like an unclean person, and all our righteousness are like rags dirtied by menstrual flow. All of us fade like a leaf, and our wrongs carry us away like the wind. There's nobody calling on Your Name or rousing himself to take hold of You, since You have hidden Your face from us. You have handed us over to the tyranny of our wrongdoing" (Is. 64:6-7 AAT).
What's worse is that we would rather not taste and see that the Lord is good. What comes from this, the Lord's Table, is offensive to us because from here we are given the Lord's body and blood, which the Roman government deemed cannibalistic. But here we feast on Him who comes to us hidden in, with, and under bread wine, so that we would eat His body and drink His blood, which is what we receive when His Words of Institution are attached to these ordinary elements, giving us extraordinary gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. However, over the course of my ministry and in the time I've spent in the pew, I have seen people get up and leave before the Service of the Sacrament has even begun, depriving themselves of His body and blood. They leave hungry and thirsty. We complain that the communion liturgy takes too long. We whine about all the so-called hypocrites coming to the Lord's Table; yet we lack the ability to see into a person's heart, an ability afforded to God alone. We don't like how the wine tastes. The complaints seem to never end. God's response is simple and to the point: Repent, and believe the Gospel! Be still, and know that I am God. Take, eat; this is My body. Take, drink; this is My blood. Eat, drink, and be Mine!
This flesh and blood of Christ was, and is, real, given that we would eat, drink, and be His. Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, conceived that we would eat, drink, and be His. He was born of the Virgin Mary, born that we would eat, drink, and be His. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, suffering so that we would eat, drink, and be His. He was crucified for the life of the world. Christ died for the life of the world…for the life of you…for the life of me. On the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, for the life of the world…for the life of you…for the life of me. Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal for the life of the world. He brings forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for the life of the world, to all who believe in Him and are baptized, partaking of His body and blood, given for the life of the world, that we would eat, drink, and be His. Let the words of today's Introit be your invitation to come to the Lord's table to feast on the Bread of life: "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing" (Ps. 34:8-10), and from the Gradual: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19). God grant this in Jesus' Name, for His sake, and for the life of the world, that we would eat, drink, and be His into all eternity.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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