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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

John 6:51–69

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 12, Proper 15, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Aug 16, 2015 

We just heard the ending words of John 6.  John 6 is also known as the Bread of Life chapter.  In order to properly understand the words at the end of the chapter, we need to take a few moments to review the rest of the chapter.

The events at the beginning of the chapter show us that Jesus is, in fact, the Lord of Creation.  The chapter begins with the account of Jesus using a boys lunch to feed 5,000 men and their families.  This happened in an empty area on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  After Jesus fed the 5,000, He put the disciples in a boat and sent them back to Capernaum while He went up on the mountain to pray.  The disciples encountered a headwind and were not able to cross the sea.  When Jesus finished praying, He walked to the boat on the water.  Immediately the headwind stopped and Jesus and the disciples landed on the other side.  These two events demonstrate that Jesus is well able to supply us with all our needs and protect us from every danger.

Jesus and His disciples arrived on the other side of the Sea of Galilee around dawn of the day after He fed the 5,000.  The word immediately went out, and people from the surrounding area began bringing friends and family to Jesus for healing.  Jesus healed and taught as He made His way to the synagogue in Capernaum.

Some of the 5,000 that Jesus fed the previous day also found Jesus as He was on His way to the synagogue.  Although they never came right out and asked Jesus for more food, Jesus could see into their hearts and knew that they were only interested in Him in order to get more free food.  Jesus used this as an opportunity to teach that although He supplies all our earthly needs, that is not the main reason He came down from heaven and took on human flesh.  His main reason for coming was to provide us with all our eternal needs.

The crowd wanted to compare Jesus and Moses.  They claimed that Moses was better because he fed the entire nation of Israel for decades.  Jesus only fed a few thousand for one meal.  Jesus first of all pointed out that it was God who gave the manna in the wilderness.  Moses was the servant of God at the time.  Jesus also pointed out that all the people who ate the manna in the wilderness are dead.  The people who participate in the eternal food that Jesus gives will rise from the dead on the last day and never die again.

Jesus taught that just as a person needs food to live here on this earth, so also a person needs eternal food for eternal life.  He taught that He is that eternal food.  As He taught that He is the eternal food, He explained that eating the eternal food meant believing in Him.  He said, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. (John 6:29) He also said, This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40) With these words and others, Jesus taught that eating eternal food meant believing in Him.

It is important that we understand all this context from the preceding verses of John 6.  It is especially important that we understand that when Jesus is talking about eternal eating, He is speaking of faith that believes.  Otherwise, these last few verses of John 6 will sound a lot like cannibalism.

Jesus said, 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. (John 6:51) Now that we know the context of these words, we know that Jesus is talking about believing in Him for eternal life.

The people in the synagogue struggled to understand what Jesus meant.  They had not made the connection between eating and believing.  The Jews disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (John 6:52) They know that Jesus is not talking about the kind of eating that they did the day before when they ate the bread and fish that Jesus gave them.  Never the less, they know no other kind of eating and they are confused.

Jesus kept right on teaching.  If you understand that eternal eating means believing, then Jesus words make perfect sense.  On the other hand, if you are like most of the hearers in the synagogue and do not understand if you are still thinking about eating bread and fish, then Jesus words are disgusting.

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. 54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. (John 6:5358)

The signs that Jesus performed in this chapter and others demonstrate that He is from God.  It is as the blind man told the Jewish authorities, Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. (John 9:3233) As a man from God, His word is true.  He has told the crowd that He is the bread of life from heaven.  He claimed God the Father as His Father and that He is the Son of God.  He taught that He came to give eternal life to those who believe in Him.  He explained that those who put their trust in His body and blood will have eternal life.

The rest of the chapter shows that there are two ways to react to Jesus message: belief and unbelief.  Some who heard Jesus words said, This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? (John 6:60) The text then tells us that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:66) This is the response of the unbeliever.

As Jesus watched His congregation shrink in size, He turned to His disciples and said, Do you want to go away as well? (John 6:67) This gave Peter one of those rare opportunities to say exactly the right thing.  In fact, Peters reply is so excellent that part of it is in the Alleluia verse for Divine Service Setting One.  Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:6869) This is the response of the believer.

The reaction of these people shows the truth of the words written by the writer to the Hebrews: The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) Whenever anyone proclaims the Gospel, some will believe and some will reject.

The full meaning of Jesus words on this day became clear to the disciples when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Feeding on Christs flesh and drinking Christs blood means believing in His body broken and His blood shed on the cross.  Christs shed blood and broken body earned the forgiveness of sins.  That forgiveness is the source of eternal life for us.  This is the central teaching of Christianity.

The Bread of Life chapter, John 6 is an excellent summary of the signs and teachings of Jesus as He began to prepare His disciples for His suffering, death, and resurrection.  He taught them and He teaches us that He is the source of eternal life.  It is by faith in His body broken and His blood shed that we receive the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life.  For those of us who live after His death and resurrection, these words point us to the cross that saves us.

Another thing we learn from this chapter is that some people will reject eternal life.  In spite of the fact that Jesus is the only perfect teacher who ever walked this earth, some who heard Him rejected Him.  We often forget that the Gospel divides people.  The Holy Spirit uses the Gospel to draw people into the family of God.  At the same time, the very same Gospel will drive away those who refuse to believe.

Jesus made it very clear that we are to proclaim the Gospel as we live our lives in this world.  At the same time, we are not called to convert an unbeliever.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  When we proclaim the Gospel and say, Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, (Acts 16:31) we are asking our hearers to do something that they cannot do.  We are relying on the Holy Spirit to bring them into the family of God.  We are asking the Holy Spirit to work in them so that they also believe in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins that leads to eternal life.  Amen

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