The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
August 3, 2014
“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.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, 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 eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:51-58
Most people believe in life after death. It makes them feel comfortable. It is more pleasant to believe in life beyond the grave than to believe that we all die like dogs and simply rot in the ground until we cease to exist. That's a depressing thought. People want to believe in heaven. So they do. Most people believe in a life to come. It will be a beautiful place where we will experience great joy and peace.
Along with this belief in heaven is another popular belief. That is that all people who sincerely follow their religion and do their best to serve and follow God and to help others will go to heaven. Their creed is that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere in your belief and do your best to live according to your creed.
While most people do believe in heaven, they don't know how to get there. Jesus makes it clear that there is only one way to receive eternal life and go to heaven. And that is by eating and drinking his flesh and blood.
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Jesus uses the words "eat" and "drink" to refer to faith. This is one of the most compelling biblical illustrations of faith. Faith is eating and drinking. Four things come to mind about what this illustration tells us about our faith.
First, there must be something to eat before you can eat it. Since faith is trust in God's promises, God must first give you those promises before you can have faith. Without God's promise given to us in words spoken by God there can be no faith. Those who won’t listen to God's promises have no faith. They have nothing to eat.
Secondly, one can eat good food or bad food. If you eat bad food, you poison your body. If you trust in false promises you poison your soul. It matters what you believe about God. It is a matter of life and death.
Thirdly, when you eat something it becomes a part of you. You are what you eat. That is true biologically. That is also true spiritually. The word of God that faith eats is what you are. God puts it in you and it makes you what it is. Faith receives Christ. Luther pictures the Lord’s Supper as a wolf eating a lamb and becoming a lamb. The sinner receives Christ and becomes a Christian. The Christ he has received by faith is the Christ who gave himself for his sins. He is the Christ who is life itself.
Finally, eating does not turn food into food. Faith doesn’t win or earn or contribute something to eternal life. It receives it. A good steak fillet does not become a good steak filet when I eat it.
Faith eats and drinks. It takes in. It receives. As the mouth receives food into the body, faith receives food into the soul. But what does faith eat, drink, take in, receive? Nothing less than the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. If you want something else, go find some other religion, Christianity is not for you. But if you want life, if you want to rise from the grave to eternal life, you need to eat and to drink the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. You can find God nowhere else than in Jesus' flesh and blood. You can find life nowhere else than in Jesus' flesh and blood. There is no other way to heaven than by eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus, that is, by trusting in this your God whose flesh is given for you, whose blood is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.
Apart from this flesh and blood of Jesus, your faith isn't worth a thing. In fact, it is no faith at all. Faith in heaven or eternal life, apart from faith in the flesh and blood of Jesus, is not faith, but folly. For if Christ's flesh were not given to you, if his blood were not shed for you, there would be no heaven for you. There would only be punishment for your sins from an angry God.
Christians are often urged to respect the religious faith of others who don't believe in Jesus. Such respect for other faiths is considered to be loving and kind. But it is not love that respects false faith. Any faith that is not faith in Jesus' flesh and blood is a faith that will surely condemn the one who believes it. Jesus said, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." Apart from Christ, apart from his flesh and blood, apart from eating and drinking his flesh and blood, there is nothing in us but death. No other faith receives life. No one can go to heaven apart from faith in Jesus. And apart from this flesh and blood of Jesus, our good deeds don't mean a thing. In fact, our holiest works succeed only in condemning us. This teaching makes people angry. Jesus makes exclusive claims. We can't confess the Christian faith unless we accept those claims. When I confess my faith as a Christian, I am not merely saying that Jesus is my only Savior, my only hope, my only life, I am saying that he is your only Savior, your only hope, your only life, no matter who you are, what you have done, or what you believe.
Many who call themselves Christians insist that faith in Christ isn't necessary to receive eternal life. But no true Christian would say this. A Christian is one who has eaten Christ's flesh and drunk Christ's blood. He knows better than to think there could be eternal life from any other source. For what is the alternative to Christ's flesh and blood? What else could win life for us? Has anything or anyone else paid for our sins that bring us death? Can anything or anyone else turn away God's anger against our sins? What other way of eternal life could there possibly be?
Other avenues to God don't exist. How can anyone with sin stand before the holy God? Even the heathen know they need to get rid of their sins, though they don't know how. Only a fool would think lightly of his sin and not be afraid of the Judge of the living and the dead. This is why it is obvious to the Christian that trusting in Christ’s flesh and blood is the only possible way to know God and to have fellowship with him. In Christ's flesh and blood our sins are borne, our debt is paid, our penalty is removed from us, and we are set free. In Christ's flesh and blood, and nowhere else, the gracious, life-giving God is found. Look for God apart from the flesh and blood of Jesus, and you will find the consuming fire, the angry Judge, the God of wrath who hates sin and all sinners.
The flesh and blood of Jesus are powerful. The name given to him by the prophet Isaiah included the designation, Mighty God. The true might of God is seen and found only in the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. Jesus said that he lives because of the Father, in these words opening to us the eternal mystery of the holy trinity, that the Son was begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. This is the eternal mystery. It transcends all human understanding. When this eternal and only begotten Son of the Father became flesh and blood, then God came to us. While we will never fully understand the mystery of God, Christ reveals this mystery to us by becoming flesh and blood for us and by giving that flesh and blood to us. By knowing the man Jesus, we now know the God of all creation.
And we know him as the God who loves us. Why else would he be willing to take on our flesh and blood? Why else would he be willing to suffer for our sins? Why else would he be willing to shed his blood in the agony and anguish of the damned? He did it all because he loved us. And he offers himself to us. All those who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal life, for he is their life. Note well what Jesus says here, and let the simplicity of these words drive out whatever would pollute your faith. Jesus does not say whoever serves me, whoever loves me, whoever obeys me, has eternal life. He says whoever eats and drinks. Note this well and don’t let anyone take it away from you. Whoever eats and drinks. Whoever receives the flesh and blood of Jesus in faith. Whoever trusts for eternal life in Christ's flesh and blood has what he hopes for.
What do you hope for? What are you hungry for? We all have our own notion of what the good life is, and it would certainly include such things as good food, clothes, housing, transportation, and just a little bit extra for stuff we really want. But none of that will last. The reason the food spoils, the life ends, and the possessions break down is that all of us live in bodies and in a world that is under the curse of sin. This sin clings to us and flows out of us every time we have an impure thought, say an unkind word, and set our affections on the creation more than the Creator.
Then something will happen to us to remind us of our mortality: the truth of that hymn verse, “Death doth pursue me all the way.” We are living on the precipice of eternity. You might not live through this week. Anyone of us could face eternity today. Our own flesh and blood gain us nothing and cannot make us ready to face eternity. But Christ's flesh and blood are a different matter entirely. He gives them to us to eat and to drink spiritually by faith. He also gives them to us to eat and to drink bodily in the Lord’s Supper. As he gives, we set aside any affection, confidence or trust in anything else, for as he gives us his flesh and blood, we receive our very lives. We are joined to God. We are born from above. We are raised from the dead. We are headed for glory.
Rolf D. Preus