Eating Flesh and Drinking Blood
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world.
Jesus changed the world. Jesus’ teaching was revolutionary. He made statements that caused religious leaders to lash out to defend themselves. He didn’t just challenge contemporary thought; He shattered the thoughts that held religious ideals together. The text this morning is one of those statements. /I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood; you do not have life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I remain in him. Just as the Living Father sent me and I live through the Father, the one who feeds on me will live through me./ (Jn 6:53-57) That statement wasn’t just controversial to the religious leaders and “church goers.” It was repulsive. It was the kind of statement that would get you thrown out of church.
So why did Jesus make such a statement? Why didn’t Jesus tone his teaching down so he wouldn’t be offensive? Isn’t that what we would do? We wouldn’t want to offend anyone. The message isn’t good if no one will listen. Look what happened after that lesson. Scores of disciples quit following Jesus. I wouldn’t get very high marks for a sermon if most of you got up and left. In fact, I'd probaby get fired!
What was so important that Jesus needed to shock his hearers to get their attention? The same thing that is so important this morning: spiritual truth. Earthly wisdom conceals spiritual truth. Things that sound preposterous to our earthly minds can make perfect sense with spiritual wisdom. Jesus needed to shock his hearers past earthly wisdom.
We’re no different. We get so accustomed to viewing life through earthly eyes that we try to interpret spiritual truth with earthly wisdom. It’s kind of like the minister who visited a mental asylum and asked the Director what the criteria was which defined whether or not a patient should be institutionalized. “Well,” the Director said, “we fill a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup, and a bucket to the patient and ask him to empty the bathtub.” “Oh, I understand,” the minister said. “A normal person would use the bucket because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup.” “No,” said the Director. “A normal person would pull the plug. Would you like a bed near the window?” If we aren’t challenged by spiritual truth, we’ll make decisions based on options that seem best, but fail to take God into consideration. By the same token, Jesus’ words can shock us past earthly wisdom. His words in John 6 sound repulsive. They sound like cannibalism. /Eat my flesh and drink my blood./ How could Jesus make such a statement?
It was gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.
Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean... For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark...ten feet long.
But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. In Captain Eddie's own words, "Cherry," that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, "read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off."
Now this is still Captain Rickenbacker talking..."Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don't know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food...if I could catch it." And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. You know that Captain Eddie made it. And now you also know...that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset...on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast...you could see an old man walking...white-haired, bushy-eye browed, slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls...to remember that one which, on a day long past gave itself without a struggle...like manna in the wilderness.
Manna in the wilderness became a principal reminder to the Jews of God’s deliverance. For 40 years, God provided manna every morning.. Asaph in Psalm 78 called it “the grain of heaven” and “bread of angels.” In John 6, when the Jews challenged Jesus to provide a sign so they would believe, they said /our fathers ate manna in the wilderness. Just as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” So what will you do?/
What did you eat for breakfast this morning? What are you going to have for lunch? Americans spend one billion dollars every day eating out. Every day. One billion dollars. 50% of the world lives on less than $2 per day. Our culture is obsessed with food.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he used bread as a metaphor to explain his correlation to our existence. In Jesus’ day, bread was the stable food item. It was the least expensive and most readily available. Bread could go with any meal, or it could be a meal all by itself. There are some rocks in Palestine that look like loaves of bread. I wonder if Jesus could see some of those rocks in the wilderness when the Devil tempted him after he had fasted for 40 days. Bread was indispensible to the lives of the people of Palestine. Without it, they would die.
So Jesus said, /I am the bread of life. The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty again. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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./
Jesus wasn’t introducing a new religious concept to his listeners. They had heard Ecclesiastes 8:15 interpreted in this way by their spiritual leaders. /And I commend joy, for man has not good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun/. The standard rabbinic interpretation of that passage related the saying to the study of the Law and engaging in good works. Eating and drinking were interpreted in the context of feasting on the drinking in God’s word. Jesus takes that concept a step farther in our passage. We feast on and drink in Him, not just the words of Scripture.
/I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood; you do not have life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I remain in him. Just as the Living Father sent me and I live through the Father, the one who feeds on me will live through me./ (Jn 6:53-57)
So how do we eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood? When we first hear those words our minds might jump immediately to Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. And although it is true that the bread represents his body and the wine represents his blood, that's not Jesus primary point in this passge. He is not emphasizing that the one who partakes of Communion has eternal life. The source of eternal life is following Jesus.
/“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other./ (1 Cor 6:13) Jesus empahsized in Mt 15:17 that what came out of the heart, not what went into the stomach, made a man unclean. Jesus makes a similar statement in Mt 5:6: μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται. In John 6:63, Jesus says τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ ζῳοποιοῦν, ἡ σὰρξ οὐκ ὠφελεῖ οὐδέν· Jesus point is simple: the flesh has no value.
We understand physical appetitie. If you want to satisfy your phycial appeitite you run to McDonalds. Wendys, Sonic, the Mexican restaurant, or the Chinese restaurant. We know when we get hungry. Our stomaches growl. We feel the emptiness. Our body lets us know it needs food. Jesus wants us to understand that a BigMac doesn't sustain true life. It's a temporary fix. True life is spiritual, not physical. So where do we get spiritual food? We feed and drink on Jesus. Jesus is our spiritual food. ἡ γὰρ σάρξ μου ἀληθής ἐστιν βρῶσις, καὶ τὸ αἷμά μου ἀληθής ἐστιν πόσις. The funcion of food and drink is to give life. Only Jesus gives spiritual life, so He must be our spiritual food.
So how about your spiritual appetite? Have you ever felt hungry? What does spiritual hunger feel like? How do you satisfy it? If we were as concerned with our spiritual appetite as our phycisal appetite we wouldn't even be wondering what we are going to have for lunch today. Spiritual hunger means craving Jesus more than we crave physical nourishment. It is a longing in our souls that crys out to know God. It's an abyss in our psyhe that searches for meaning and purpose. It's an emptiness that searches for a God that is greater than ourselves, and it can only be satistifed by faith and trust in Jesus.
There are some signs of hungering and thirsting for Jesus.
One is a passion to do God's will. Navagating our own way through life seems empty when we are hungry for Bread of Life. We recognize our short-sightedness. We long to see the "big picture," and the "big picture" includes God and eternity. We recognize that He holds the key to understanding our place and purpose. If we take our eyes off His will, we lose track and become self-absorbed and filled with self-importance. I can't help but think of the fictional story Steven Covey used in /Seven Habits of Highly Effective People/. Interestingly, it has become a famous story, sometimes told as true. It also became popular because Max Lucado used it in his book /The Eye of the Storm/. I know you've heard it, but it really illustrates the point. A battleship was sailing through the darkness of a foggy night. Suddenly, a lookout on the bridge reported, "Light bearing on the starboard bow." The captain inquired as to whether it was steady or moving astern. "Steady, Captain," came back the answer. "Signal that ship," orderd the Captain, "We are on a collision course, advise you change your course 20 degrees." A moment later a response came, "Adviseable for you to change your course 20 degrees." The Captain became furious. He ordered, "Send, Change your course 20 degrees. I'm a battleship." The signal came back (you say it), "I'm a lighthouse." The one who is hungering and thirsting after Jesus knows he's not the lighthouse. Jesus is the lighthouse. He is fixed. He is solid. He is trustworthy. God's will allows us to change our course based on his stability.
Another sign is having an eternal persepctive. The battleship thinks it is really something until it runs into something unmoveable. God is the unmoveable; everything else is temporary. An eternal perspective causes earthly accomplishments to lose their appeal. They are temporary. They have no real substance. God is the only eternal being. We have eternal life, but only because He has granted it. We aren't intrinsically eternal. /The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life./ Glorifying God is your purpose. Eternal life is your future. You will stand before God's throne all by yourself, except for your relationship with Jesus. Only your faith in Him, your service to Him, your devotion to Him, will matter. The world seems like big stuff until you remember that God will cause it to vanish in the blink of an eye. So we comprehend and understand every thing based on its relationship to Jesus. If Jesus says it's important, it's important. If Jesus says it's not important, it's not important.
The person who is eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus spends time in prayer. Prayer helps focus attention on the things God deems important. Prayer is like a spiritual GPS that keeps us on the right road. When we get off route, our prayers just don't seem right. Something is missing. Prayer helps us view things from God's perspective. It helps us keep our wants and requests in check. After earnestly praying for some things, they suddenly seem out of focus. And we take time for God's word. We listen to God speak to us. Not only do we listen, we crave it. Things go better when we spend time in His word. Our lives have better balance. We keep things in perspective. And when we pray we don't talk all the time. We listen for the "whisperings" of God. We allow Him to introduce thoughts into our minds. We allow His Spirit room to work.
And we become excited about spiritual things. Working in God's church gets our blood pumping. Serving God brings us pleasure. We can't wait to get up every morning to see what God has in store for us. Our lives become a great, spiritual adventure. A surprise is always waiting around the corner. Worldly concerns that cause others to be sad or angry might cause us to chuckle. We aren't stuck on ourselves. We know that God has all things under control, even death. So we don't fear death. Jesus has promised we will never die. We just transform. We are the ultimate transformers. Who cares about changing from a robot into a truck? We change from mortal to immortal. We don't grieve like those who have no hope. We don't take this world too seriously. We don't forget who we are: God's people and Jesus' brothers and sisters.
Eddie Rickenbacker didn't forget. Every evening, he went down to the beach to feed the seagulls. We never forget. The Bread of Life came down from Heaven to grant us eternal life. He is our food and drink. We live for and by Him. Our lives show gratitude by service.
But what if we don't have spiritual appetite? What if we don't feel a hunger for Jesus? What do we do then?
First, remember that our spiriutal journey has peaks and valleys. It is like a mountain range. Sometimes we go down into valleys to learn obedience. Valleys help refocus our priorities. Valleys cause us to reevaluate things. Valleys make us ask questions like "What do I need to change in my life?" "How did I get here?" "Does this really matter?" "How could God let this happen?" And then as we move through the valley, God's Spirit realigns our spirit with him. And then He leads us back up the mountain. So you need to determine if you are in a valley. And if you are in a valley, spend time in prayer, meditation, and God's word seeking direction and guidance.
We can move from spiritual appetite to numbness. Satan can move us so far off course that God's Spirit is distant. Not because He chooses to be, but because we choose for Him to be. Sin, rebellion, loss of spiritual values, and fascination with worldly pleasure greive God's Spirit. And when God's Spirit is not in communion with our spirit we are restless, empty, and numb. In that case, you need to evaluate your life to see where you have allowed sin to enter. Seek forgiveness and healing. Pray for God's Spirit to convict you of sin and judgment. Ask God to restore you. Confess and repent. If you haven't denied yourself and committed to following Jesus by uniting with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus through baptism, be baptized.
You can also be devoid of spiritual appetite because you have never opened your heart to God. Have you shut out spiritual thought? Have you hardened your heart so that you aren't receptive to God's calling? If so, you need to pray to God asking Him to help you hear His voice. You need to determine to remove all things that conflict with God from your life. You need to ask God to teach you to be receptive to His Spirit. You need to commit your life to Him by fatih, repentance, confession, and baptism. And then get ready for the ride of your life!