"The Bread of Life Given for the Life of the World"
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John 6:35-51
August 13, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
"For the life of the world…." These words embody the entire mission and ministry of the Christ. These words summarize His purpose in coming into this world, in that His death would be for the life of the world. The Lord came to bring life to the world…eternal life. This eternal life He gives to all who come to Him in repentance and faith, for He gives them His flesh, the living bread from heaven, so that they would no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness but would have life and have it to the full. Our Lord is here speaking of eating Him spiritually; that is to say, to believe in Him and to come to Him who comes to us in His Word and Sacraments. This Bread is greater than the manna that fell from heaven, for that bread that fell gave sustenance to the body for a few hours, but Jesus Christ, the Bread of life, sustains the soul unto eternal life, for He gives His very self for the life of the world.
The Lord is not speaking in our text of the Sacrament of the Altar. He is not speaking of eating Him sacramentally, the eating of His body and drinking of His blood, which He bids us to do in His Supper. No, what He speaks of here is our SPIRITUAL eating of Him. That is to say, He is speaking of our believing in Him. This was more than the Jews could bear to hear, for they regarded Him as nothing other than the Son of Mary and Joseph. They resented Jesus the Messiah then, and they resent Him now. The blessed Reformer, Martin Luther, says about our text:
"Therefore the Jews begin to murmur and ask: 'How can one eat Your flesh?' To understand this we must realize that Christ is speaking of spiritual flesh and spiritual eating. It is faith which eats Him. Christ interprets Himself when He says: 'He who believes in Me has eternal life.' It is by faith that He is eaten; faith eats and believes in Christ. …Thus when one hears these words, that Christ is food and celestial bread, one can cling to it by faith; one can accept it with joy and understanding.
"Christ adopts a peculiar and figurative speech here. To 'eat' here refers to a spiritual eating and consuming. It was the miracle of feeding a vast throng with five barley loaves that gave rise to this discourse and argument of Christ, which runs through the entire chapter. On that occasion Christ remarked: 'It is not enough to eat and to fill your bellies, as the sows do. My dear people, be concerned about a different type of food and eating, lest you die. You are interested only in physical eating, as your fathers in the wilderness were. But come to the food which will not let you die. Bear in mind that you are beginning a different kind of eating.'"
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 the 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."
Unless we take hold of Christ and eat His flesh, that is, to believe in Him, 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).
For this reason Christ came, for the life of the world. He came to give life to His people, to those who hear His words and believe in Him, that we would be spared eternal condemnation. He has come so that we would eat Him spiritually, to believe in Him. Luther writes,
"Therefore Christ says: 'The bread which I shall give you is My flesh.' What kind of flesh is meant? Not veal or beef found in cow barns. Of course, that is also flesh; but it is not 'the flesh which I shall give for the life of the world.' This is a live and yet a dead flesh, a flesh that has died and by reason of its death makes the whole world alive. Not John the Baptist or Mary or any angel, but solely this Person, Christ, is involved. It is His flesh alone that does this. To it God wants to draw us and bind us. God is not to be sought or found outside the Person born of Mary, the Person endowed with real flesh and blood, and crucified. God is to be apprehended and found in the flesh and blood of Christ solely by faith. We must know that this flesh and blood, though real, not only have the qualities of flesh and blood but partake of the Divine…."
This flesh and blood of Christ was, and is, real, given for the life of the world…for the life of you…for the life of me. Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit for the life of the world. He was born of the Virgin Mary for the life of the world. He suffered under Pontius Pilate for the life of the world. 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 eat of Him spiritually…to all who come to Him by faith…to all who believe in Him.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ makes our coming to Him and eating His flesh easier, for HE comes to US, coming to us in His Word and Sacraments, so that we would hear Him and eat of His flesh spiritually, so that He would prepare us to receive Him sacramentally, that is, to eat His body and drink His blood in His Supper, the very body He gave on the cross and the very blood poured out from His sacred veins while on the cross, the very body He gave and blood He shed for the forgiveness of your sins and for the life of the world. Through the preparation, the spiritual eating, and the feasting, the sacramental eating, our Lord prepares us for the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. He is preparing us for the day when He calls us to our heavenly home, whether it is through our physical death or His coming on the Last Day. To this end Luther again teaches us in connection with the joyful reunion of our bodies and souls in heaven on the Last Day:
"But while we sojourn here on earth and the old Adam still endures, our flesh is unable to lay hold of and grasp this treasure properly. Our eyes do not see it, our hand does not feel it, our mouth does not taste it, and all our other members cannot reach or apprehend it. But yonder all this will surely be achieved. In that life our eyes will see it, our mouth will taste it, our nose will smell it. The treasure will shine in body and soul, for there we will have perfect assurance and the insight of experience telling us that He is eternal life. Even if I do not now taste it, grasp it with my hands and feel it, see it, or comprehend it with my reason, it is still mine by faith. I hear His Word; that is enough for this life until death appears, and my vile body turns to ashes. Then faith will cease, and my eyes will behold. Then it will come to pass that we experience this with body and soul and with all our faculties."
God grant this in Jesus' Name, for His sake, and for the life of the world.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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