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13th Sunday After Pentecost

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John 6:51-58 Pentecost 13 Eat This, Not That 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (NIV2011). Dear friends in Christ: “Eat This, Not That!” is the title of a series of books which have proven to be quite popular over the last several years. The books focus on helping people make better decisions about the kinds of food they put into their bodies. The simple premise is that when a person makes certain choices in what he or she eats, that person can lose 10 to 30 pounds or more and live a healthier life. For example, if you want to go out to eat, and you are in the mood for a salad, the book says to eat the Santa Fe Chicken Salad at this restaurant, not the Mexican Grilled Chicken Salad at that restaurant which contains 550 more calories. Or if you want a hamburger, the book says to eat the Double Steak Burger with Cheese at this restaurant, not the Little Deluxe Cheeseburger at that restaurant. That choice supposedly will save you about 270 calories. So “Eat This, Not That.” Over the last few weeks we have read John chapter 6 where Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life. In today’s Gospel, near the end of the same discourse, Jesus urges us to “Eat This, Not That,” to eat the Bread of Life, and not the bread of our own making. I. Eat the flesh of the Son of Man Recall the setting. Not long before this, Jesus had miraculously provided supper for 5000 men, besides women and children, by distributing five loaves of bread and two fish. When the people recognized what Jesus had done they were ready to make him their king by force. Here was someone who could make their existence in this world much more comfortable. He could provide for their physical needs every day. But Jesus wasn’t simply a “bread king.” He had come for a different purpose. So, as tempting as it might have been for Jesus to become their “bread king,” Jesus walked away. The next day the people found Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum where he began to point them to himself as the Bread of Life. Throughout his sermon Jesus repeats several main points: (1) He’s the Bread from heaven. He is the Son of God, and God sent him. (2) As the Bread of Life from heaven, Jesus offers more than nourishment for a temporary existence in this world. He gives the blessing of eternal life with God. (3) In order to receive this life with God a person needs to feed on him. He is the Bread of Life. In the verses before us today, Jesus repeats many of these same points. So that the people in the synagogue could not be mistaken as to what Jesus was saying, he told them, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” When they began to argue about what Jesus was saying, Jesus again made his point: Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” The picture was repulsive. Eat Jesus’ flesh? Drink Jesus’ blood? Was Jesus promoting some sort of cannibalism? No. The entire sermon was sparked by the question, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” To which Jesus answered, “The work of God is to believe in the One he has sent.” In this context, Jesus is not talking about a physically eating and drinking, but a spiritual eating and drinking. He’s talking about believing in him as the Son of God. He was talking about trusting in him as the Savior. He’s talking about the faith that the Holy Spirit creates by the Gospel, that faith which gives people life with God. Like the people to whom Jesus was talking, if you are looking to him simply to make your existence in this life more comfortable, you are missing the point. Jesus isn’t a “bread king.” He is the Son of God. To eat his flesh to believe that he took on human flesh to redeem you. To drink his blood is to believe that he poured out his blood as the complete payment for your sin. Those who believe this are those who feed on the Bread of Life. They have life with God, not only in the future, but also right now. Before we go any farther, we have to acknowledge that when we read Jesus’ words here, we can’t help but think of the Lord’s Supper. But a close study of this chapter reveals that Jesus wasn’t talking about the Lord’s Supper in these verses. First, Jesus had not yet instituted the Lord’s Supper. Second, nowhere does Scripture use the terms “flesh and blood” for the Lord’s Supper. The terms used for the Lord’s Supper are always “body and blood.” Third, in this sermon Jesus says repeatedly that eating his flesh and drinking his blood is an absolute requirement to gain life with God. But nowhere does Scripture ever say that the Lord’s Supper is an absolute requirement for life with God. Finally, here Jesus guarantees life with God for everyone who eats his flesh and drinks his blood. But nowhere does Scripture issue that guarantee to everyone who partakes of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, the apostle Paul points out that a person can receive the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and thereby bring judgment on himself. So, again, let’s not miss Jesus’ point in these verses. In this context, when Jesus is talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood here, he is inviting us to believe that he is the Son of God, the Messiah, our Redeemer. To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to believe that he came to be our substitute, to give us life with God. II. Don’t eat the food of your own making Many in that synagogue did not want the kind of Messiah that Jesus was claiming to be. They didn’t think that they needed the kind of Bread that Jesus was offering. They much preferred to feed on other “bread,” like the food of their own making. Some imagined that they already had life with God because of their ancestry. They feasted on the fact that they were the physical descendants of Abraham. Some feasted on their own outward obedience to God’s laws. At times we might find ourselves thinking in similar terms: “I have the bread of my family’s connection to the church.” Or “I have the bread of my own efforts to live a decent life.” “That’s the bread I eat, and that bread will save me.” But if you can be your own redeemer by trusting in your ancestry, or by your own efforts to be a decent person, then why did the Son of God do what he did? Why did he humble himself and leave his Father’s throne? Why did set aside the full use of his glory and power? Why did he become a suffering servant and die the death of a criminal in your place? Shortly after our hymnals were published in 1993, a member of the church I was pastoring at the time asked to talk with me. He was concerned about something in the new hymnal. The wording in the confession of sins had changed just enough to give him pause and consider what he really was confessing each Sunday morning. He asked, “Pastor, why did they use the word, “evil” in the confession of sins? Now we say, ‘I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.’ Why do we say that?” My friend implied that, although he knew he was sinful, he had never done anything “evil.” But “evil” is a valid description of our sin. We dare not downplay our sin because, as others have correctly pointed out, “If you make sin small, you make Christ small.” If you imagine that your sin is only a hunger pain that you can ignore or satisfy by eating the food of your own making, you are wrong. You might have the blessing of a long lineage in a church. You might lead a moral and decent life. That’s all fine and good. But the Son of God still says to each and every one of us, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” At any given time, about half of all Americans are on some sort of diet. And there are literally hundreds of diets from which a person could choose. People try just as many spiritual diets, thinking that by them they might be able to find life with God, or maybe at least a peaceful existence in this world. But only one spiritual diet gives us true life with God. If you want life with God, then eat this, not that. Continue to feed on Jesus, the Bread of Life. Amen. Pastor Karl M Schultz First Lutheran Church Lake Geneva, WI August 19, 2018
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