The Fourth Sunday Lent| March 14, 2010| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. John 6, 51-58
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 and that it will be something like the traditional Christian view of heaven. 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 – who do their best to serve and follow God and to help their fellow man – will go to heaven. This is the popular creed of our day, namely that it doesn’t matter what your creed is – 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.
And so we’re faced with a rather ironic situation. While most people do believe in heaven, they don’t know how to get there. The words of Jesus recorded in our text for today make it crystal clear that there is only one way to receive eternal life and go to heaven. And that is by eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus.
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.” Now that is an unusual way of speaking, but it is not so difficult to understand him.
Jesus uses the words “eat” and “drink” to refer to faith. Faith eats and drinks. It takes in. It receives. As the mouth receives food into the body, faith receives food into the soul.
After feeding the five thousand with just five loaves of bread and two small fish, the crowd sought out Jesus to get more of what he had to give. St. John records for us the exchange that followed. They wanted food for the body. Jesus offered them food for the soul. Faith eats and drinks this food.
What is faith’s food? What does faith eat, drink, take in, receive? Nothing less than the flesh and blood of Jesus. 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 is worthless. 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 beliefs of those who don’t believe in Jesus. Such respect for other faiths is considered to be loving and kind. Certainly, we Christians should show love and respect for all people, including those who don’t know Christ. We cannot expect people to listen to what we have to say about Jesus if we show them no love or respect. 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 damn the one who holds to it. Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus was not lying when he said that. He speaks only the truth. His words mean what they say. They clearly teach us that 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 damning us. We Christians might as well admit it. This is not the kind of religion that impresses the crowds. It’s the kind of religion that makes people furious. That drives them away. 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 such a thing. 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 which bring 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 simply don’t exist. For how can anyone with sin stand before the holy God? Even the heathen know they need to get rid of their sins, even if they don’t know how to do it. Only a fool who doesn’t acknowledge God’s existence 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 eating Christ – trusting in his flesh and blood – is the only possible way to know God and to have fellowship with him. For 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 he opens 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. But 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 becoming flesh and blood for us brings that mystery to us. In knowing the man Jesus we 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. Please 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. Far less does he say whoever serves and obeys the rules of men has eternal life. No, 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 his eternal life in Christ’s flesh and blood has what he hopes for.
Everyone once in a while something will happen to us to remind us of our mortality. The truth of that hymn verse is driven home:
Death doth pursue me all the way
Nowhere I rest securely.
He comes by night, he comes by day
And takes his prey most surely.
A failing breath and I in death’s strong grasp may lie
To face eternity for aye
Death doth pursue me all the way.
We are living on the edge 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 by faith. And he gives them to us to eat and to drink in the holy Supper of his body and blood. 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. Amen