Today's Gospel brings us to the end of John 6, the Bread of Life chapter. In this chapter, Jesus has been teaching us that He is the Bread of Life from heaven. As we come to the end of this chapter, we see that our attitude toward Jesus as the Bread of Life depends entirely on who we think He is. Is He God in the Flesh come to offer Himself up for our sins or is He just this guy who happened to have a teaching ministry in Galilee? Our thinking on this one question determines how we think about His teaching in this chapter. If Jesus, the Bread of Life, is God, then this chapter is a beautiful word picture of His plan to save mankind from sin. If Jesus is merely a man, then this chapter is just plain gross and comes very close to promoting cannibalism. It all depends on who you think Jesus is.
Since today's Gospel is still part of the sermon that Jesus began in the Gospel from two weeks ago, some of what He says in today's Gospel depends on remembering what He said earlier. Context is always important when reading any book, especially the Bible. One verse from last week's Gospel is especially important when we want to understand what Jesus means when He speaks of eating and drinking. [John 6:35] 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 because it helps us understand that when Jesus is talking about eating and drinking in this sermon, He is talking about coming to Him and believing in Him.
Believing in Jesus means believing that He saves from sin and gives eternal life. It means believing that He is not only the man who preached in the synagogue in Capernaum, but that He is also God and Savior. That is exactly what Jesus preached to His listeners in the synagogue in Capernaum. Today's Gospel continues to teach that Jesus gives His flesh for the life of the world as we begin reading with the very words that ended last week's Gospel: "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."
As we come to the last section of Jesus' sermon, He begins to expand on the idea that He will give His flesh for the life of the world. Jesus said to them, "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." Three times Jesus talked about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. In addition, He re-iterated that His flesh is food and His blood is drink. He also equates this eating and drinking to eternal life.
These words begin to unveil the price Jesus will pay in order to secure salvation for us. Jesus knew that He would offer up His body on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. When He speaks of eating His flesh, He is telling that synagogue crowd that He will sacrifice His body for them and they are to believe in Him because of that sacrifice. In a similar way, Jesus knew that He would shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins. When He speaks of drinking His blood, He is telling the synagogue crowd that He will shed His blood for them and they are to believe in Him because of that sacrifice. Eating His flesh and drinking His blood both point forward to the same thing, the sacrifice that He will make on the cross for the sins of the entire world. Those who believe in Him will receive the benefits of that sacrifice, resurrection into eternal life on the Last Day.
These words of Jesus are very gracious. He promises salvation to all who believe in Him. He states that He will procure that salvation by sacrificing His body and shedding His blood. He says that this salvation is for the entire world. The question in the minds of those who heard Him preach that day was, "Can this guy actually deliver on this promise?"
The ability to pull this off depends on who Jesus is. Suppose Jesus was a man and nothing more. Even if Jesus somehow managed to live a perfect life and die an innocent, sacrificial death - even then, the most He could do is save Himself. Furthermore, given the sinful state of man at birth, even this saving of self would be impossible. No, Jesus must be more than a man if the words of His sermon are to have any truth. In order for Jesus to keep the promises that He made in that sermon, He must be God.
This is a radical claim. It runs counter to everything we experience here on this earth. That is why Jesus said that no one can come to Him except by the Father. We cannot accept Jesus' claim without God's miracle of conversion. Although God does not explain why some people reject this miracle, we should not be surprised when they do. Some people rejected this miracle and so rejected Jesus' true identity even when Jesus was the preacher. Jesus' claim to be God and savior was too radical for them.
How did those who rejected Jesus respond to Him that day? The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" They also said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" Finally, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. They rejected Christ, His message, and His salvation. Paul described this situation well when He said, [1 Corinthians 1:22-23] Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. The body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins was a stumbling block to those who rejected Christ.
The body and blood of Jesus are still stumbling blocks for many today. All god-based religions claim that their god is powerful, knowledgeable, immortal, transcendent, and so forth. While the true God is all of these things, He reveals his true essence when He takes on mortal flesh and sheds His blood on the cross. This is the expression of the inner most being of God. Never the less, there are many who claim to be Christians but are ashamed of the cross. There are even some churches that refuse to display a cross because it might offend someone. How sad that people who call themselves Christians are offended by a symbol of the core event of the Christian faith. How sad it is that many who believe they are Christians do not even know what the core event of the Christian faith is.
Praise God that not all who receive God's call reject it. Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "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." You've got to love Peter. He never seems to do things half way. When He is wrong, he is all wrong, when he is right, his words are priceless.
Jesus had said that His words are life and now Peter confesses that Jesus and Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. There is nowhere else the Twelve can go for these words. These words of eternal life are the words that the Father uses to draw us to His Son. They are the words that the Holy Spirit uses to give faith to us. They are the words that the Holy Spirit uses to teach us that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. As Peter says, Jesus is the Holy One of God.
All four Gospels tell us that there was a time when Jesus' followers became fewer and fewer. As the day of the crucifixion grew closer, Jesus made the cross clearer. As the cross grew clearer, Jesus' congregation became smaller. At the end, one of the Twelve betrayed Him and the rest of the Twelve fled from Him. Eventually, even God the Father forsook Him as Jesus faced our sin and its punishment in utter loneliness. In this way, Jesus' body hanging on the cross and His blood shed on the cross freed us from sin and eternal death. Those who eat this body and drink this blood - that is those who believe in this crucified Lord and Savior will join Him in His resurrection when He returns to raise His own to eternal life on the Last day. Amen
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