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True Christian Wisdom

John 6:51-66

Pastor Jason Zirbel

12 Sunday after Pentecost B
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

How do you define wisdom?  That's a tough question to answer, isn't it?  Wisdom is difficult to define because, as we all know, there are many different types of wisdom.  For instance, there's academic wisdom, and there's also common-sense wisdom.  You and I both know that these two forms of wisdom are often quite different from each other, and many times at odds with each other.  The two sides will never agree.  One is always is going to put their form of wisdom ahead of the other's, claiming that their form of wisdom is more valuable than the other's. 

This brings us to a third type of wisdom—conventional wisdom.  This wisdom is different from the other two in that this wisdom affects all of us in everyday life.  The dictionary defines conventional wisdom as "the generally accepted belief, opinion, judgment, or prediction about a particular matter."  Simply put, conventional wisdom is the wisdom of the culture; the majority.  It is a belief that has become so accepted by society that it goes unquestioned and unchallenged.  "Well…duh!  Only a fool would pump gas into their car while they're smoking.  Everyone knows that!" "Duh!  Of course not wearing a seat belt is unwise.  Seatbelts save lives."  To go against conventional wisdom is often viewed as a very foolish and unwise thing to do.

But this brings up a good question: Can conventional wisdom be wrong?  Just because everyone holds fast to a certain belief or opinion, does that mean that the particular belief or opinion is correct?  Keep in mind that conventional wisdom once held that the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.  The conventional wisdom of the 1950's believed and taught, many doctors included, that smoking and drinking while you're pregnant was okay for the baby.  Contemporary conventional wisdom says that it's okay to fornicate and shack up before you're married…just use protection.  According to the conventional wisdom of our day it's okay to be gay.  A person's sexual orientation and preference is nobody else's business.  It's ironic when you think about it, but 21st century conventional wisdom says that no one is ever wrong.  They're just different.  They just have alternative, yet equally-valid opinions and beliefs.  To go against this conventional wisdom and say that "this is wrong" is to invite a mass of public scorn and ridicule.  "You're wrong, fool!  You're wrong, because no one is ever wrong!" There's the irony I was talking about. 

Now, as easy as it is to recognize that conventional wisdom can be, and often is wrong, we must admit that we don't always recognize this when it comes to matters of faith—our faith.  Take a look at the Gospel lesson for this morning.  St. John tells us that a large group of people heard Jesus say some things they didn't understand or agree with…things they didn't like.  Jesus said some things about His body being the Bread of Life, and that if you wanted to have life you needed to eat of His Body.  There was no other way.  This sort of crazy talk went against all their conventional wisdom.  The group would have nothing to do with such crazy foolishness, so they turned away and walked with Jesus no more.  That's foolish!  That's eternally, damningly unwise!

Now, as easy as it is to recognize the faithless, foolish wisdom of the unbelieving masses that Jesus encountered on a daily basis, it's important to understand that this isn't the group Jesus was talking to in our lesson for this morning.  If you read your Gospel lesson, particularly in verses 60 & 66, you will discover that Jesus was speaking to a large group of His disciples.  This was a group of people who had purposely sought Him out and followed Him across the lake after He had miraculously fed 5000 of them a day earlier.  In fact, John makes the point of telling us in verse 59 that this group of disciples were being addressed by Jesus in church, in the synagogue as part of His teaching.  Think about that for a minute.  These were disciples of Christ who turned away from Him because they didn't understand something; they didn't like what they heard.  These were disciples who turned away because Jesus said something that—gasp!—rattled their cage and offended them (Jesus' own words-v.61).  Be honest: Do you think this sort of thing still happens today?  One look in the mirror of God's Law and we are confronted with the damning truth that it does—in our own daily lives.

And this is where conventional wisdom often bites us.  Conventional wisdom says that it's bad for business to offend the client.  The customer is always right.  Don't make the customer mad or they'll take their business somewhere else.  Many a church—many a Christian—has fallen prey to this conventional wisdom, blindly following the ways of this world and it's evil prince, blindly being led (and leading others) away from the Truth of God's Word.  How many of you would be willing to do whatever it takes to get some of our stubborn, AWOL loved ones back here in worship with us?  What if it meant apologizing for being faithful to what God has called us to do and to be?  What if it meant turning a blind eye to sin and doing things that please them rather than God?  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to hurt you and drive you away by calling your alternative choices and beliefs 'sin.' Let's work something out.  Let's compromise.  Tell you what: You keep coming back and I'll make sure to not offend you again by calling your alternative choices, opinions, and beliefs 'sin.'"

My fellow redeemed: Take a careful look at what the Gospel lesson doesn't say.  It doesn't say that Jesus ran after the offended group, trying to kiss their tails and make amends so as to get the numbers back in His favor.  In fact, it's just the opposite.  He let them walk away.  What's more, He then turned to the apostles and put the question to them, "Do you want to go away too?" Basically, what He was saying was the same thing I've said many times before: "This is how it is.  This is what God says.  If you don't like it, there's the door!" That's a tough pill to swallow in our day and age.  With Christ, there is no such thing as "lead, follow, or get out of the way."  It's just "follow or get out of the way." 

How many of you, when confronted with unrepentant, stubborn error, will go against conventional wisdom and let that stubborn erring fool walk away?  Keep in mind: This wasn't the only time Jesus did this sort of thing.  He also once let a rich young man walk away.  That rich young man wanted discipleship on his terms, and not on the Lord's terms.  Who was the real fool—the rich young man for walking away, or Jesus for letting him walk away?  Differing wisdoms will debate and argue.  Who's right? 

As a baptized and redeemed child of Christ, what does true Christian wisdom look like and sound like?  From a theological, faithful (not conventional) point of view, it's really is a no-brainer, isn't it?  True Christian wisdom looks and sounds like penitent confession.  "Yes—you're right, Lord.  I have sinned miserably in thought, word, and deed.  Forgive me, Lord, not on account of my merit or worthiness, but on account of Jesus Christ and all that He's done for me."  True wisdom looks and sounds like Jesus Christ.  This [the crucifix] is God's eternal and unchanging Wisdom.  I know it doesn't make sense to us.  I know the rest of the world calls this foolishness.  God's Wisdom looks like failure; it looks like a dead man hanging on a blood-soaked cross.  The wisdom to behold such a gruesome thing and rightly recognize it as an all-atoning sacrifice that has already brought us complete forgiveness and eternal life is faithful, theological wisdom that can only come from God. 

True Wisdom sounds like the very voice of our triumphant Lord and Savior, speaking His Law and Gospel to our hearts, calling us to repentance and the life and love that is ours in Him alone.  Do we always understand?  Are we never going to be offended by what we hear because we're followers of Christ?  Absolutely not!  Everybody loves to hear sin preached on as long as it's not their sin being preached on!  True, faithful wisdom, however, hears Christ and takes Him at His Word, even when we don't fully understand it or agree with it with our fallen reason and logic.  Think about that.  We're never told in the Gospel that the Twelve understood perfectly everything Christ was talking about in His Bread of Life discourse.  We're told that they believed Him, having been brought, through Christ's Word, to the wisdom that He is the Holy One of God who truly gives His flesh to eat for life and forgiveness.  That's faith.  That's true and faithful wisdom. 

My friends: The very wisdom of God is witnessed right here in the fact that you do believe and trust in this blessed reality; that you do have saving faith.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit in the very Word of God that we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, our Lord is actively creating and sustaining the very faith and wisdom we need to forsake all other wisdoms and ways of the world and to simply behold and cleave to these heavenly pearls of wisdom and life and salvation.  This is what we confess in the Third Article of the Creed: I believe that I cannot by my own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies me in/by the Gospel.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we are—regardless of age, race, IQ, health or financial status—resurrected into new life; the life that is ours in Christ Jesus; the new life that is apprehended and understood only in the wisdom of saving faith. 

As we close, I praise God for His grace, His mercy, and His active work in our little congregation because it is only by His grace, mercy, and working that we can hear the words of our Gospel lesson for this morning and easily identify ourselves with the faithful Twelve and with all the communion of saints, saying, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  Where else would we be?  You have the words of eternal life."

To Christ alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor.


Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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