Faithlife Sermons

Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

Heidelberg Catechism  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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John 6:41–71 ESV
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the 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.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So 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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on 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 whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This 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.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Scripture: John 6:41-71
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Days 28-29, Questions and Answers 75-76, 79
Sermon Title: Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood
What we have before us to consider the Lord’s Supper tonight may be somewhat surprising in that it is not a passage that tells us about Jesus in the upper room with the twelve disciples.  We will not come across those familiar words with the breaking and distributing of bread, “Take and eat; this is my body,” or with wine that has been poured into a cup and passed around, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In fact, John’s Gospel does not contain a record of Jesus’ last supper before his death and betrayal. What he did include, however, is this interaction that Jesus had with those following him in time after he fed well over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. They came looking for more food, and Jesus wanted to give them food for eternal life.     
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I may have said it before, but I will say it again—living when and where we do is quite convenient when it comes to being taught the Christian faith. We have easy access to Scripture in our language in various forms. We have the entirety of the written Word, which enables us to read all of the events and teachings that we hold as inspired by the Spirit. So when we hear “eating flesh and drinking blood” mentioned here, most of us without likely hear Jesus calling the people to believe in him by being attentive to when he would give his life. Our minds probably do not wander into thinking if Jesus was a zombie or vampire. I believe I can say with some confidence that no one needs to eat the literal flesh off of Jesus’ limbs or drink a cup of his blood to guarantee salvation. These were pointing to his death.   
This has not always been so clear though, and other traditions may believe differently. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of those who received this message for the first time. Having received a meal the previous day, these people now returned for more. Jesus effectively told them that on today’s menu was his flesh and blood, “real food and real drink.” Hopefully the messages that travel between our brains, and our taste and smell sensors, and our judgment will signal that this is one of the most unpleasant meals.  If taken literally, it is understandable why his offering was not very attractive. 
It was not an easy message. Back then and today too it is a message that truly takes faith to comprehend. The people in this synagogue in Capernaum had physical appetites needing to be nourished.  Yet Jesus wanted to give them the opportunity for much greater nourishment. But doing, many in this crowd of followers were not able to wrap their minds around his offering. It was too hard, or harsh and maybe even too gross. As we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus may very well have been a prophet, even the Prophet, but they did not have the necessary appetite to receive his meal.
This trouble with the teaching of Jesus has come up at other times in history. The early church faced political officials and opponents, who heard about the “feast of flesh and blood,” and accused Christians of being cannibals. 1500 years later, during the Reformation, communion rose up as one of the major issues. The Roman Catholic Church claimed the bread and wine of their Mass literally become Christ’s flesh and blood. Our Reformed ancestors, at that time members of the Catholic Church, were studying Scripture, and they wanted that re-examined. In much more intelligent language, they concluded that we do not eat Jesus. The leaders could not reconcile the issue reminding us that even among believers there is not total agreement on the elements.
What we want to consider broadly tonight is what do we believe about this Supper? Sometimes we call it communion, emphasizing the communion of believers in participating, and also with Jesus. Others may call it the Eucharist, which comes right from the Greek word meaning the thankfulness that is involved. As we have seen with our study of the sacraments so far, these practices are all about our sharing in Christ’s one sacrifice and the blessings that come to those who believe in him for salvation. 
When it comes to the communion specifically, the Catechism helps us to understand that when we receive the bread and wine, this is a physical practice. We receive the nutrients and compounds that make up the food and drink. But the point is not so much that you leave the worship service having had a snack. Much more importantly is that we have had our spiritual appetites nourished by the Spirit in a manner that reminds each of us what Christ has done.  We remember the real, physical death that Jesus died, and that action was for us. Answer 75 uses the phrase “for me” three times and “to me” one other time, that we would be convinced that Christ died not for himself or his salvation, but rather wholly for us and all believers. 
While those words spoken by Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me,” are etched into many of our communion tables, we hold this sacrament as much more than a simple memorial. The second point of answer 75 speaks more to that, “As surely as I receive…the bread and cup…as sure signs…So surely he [Christ] nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured out blood.” 
This draws us to what it means for the Spirit to confirm faith as we looked at some weeks ago in Lord’s Day 25. Because of God’s grace, which we have through true faith, we know that Jesus’ sacrifice saved us from the death and condemnation we deserve, and have been given hope of an amazing future. While our mortal bodies will all pass away unless Jesus returns before that time, we get reminders of the promise spoken over and over again in John 6 that there is eternal life and he will raise us up on the last day. The resurrection hope that we have means that we will experience true communion with him. Taking the bread and the wine ought to comfort us for now and for the future. 
Hopefully we are hearing and understanding that the nourishment from participating in the Supper causes us to reflect back on what Christ has accomplished and to look ahead in hope to the end of his sacrifice in eternal life. We also want to consider our belief as to how the Spirit provides and sustains believers right now. The Catechism reveals three major ways that celebrating communion does this. The first way is by offering believers an invitation to profess their faith again. We confessed in answer 76 that to eat and drink is, “To accept with a believing heart the entire suffering and death of Christ and by believing to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” 
Think about our crowd in John 6; they were a crowd looking for something simple and temporary.  Jesus was offering them food that when digested properly provides everlasting life. While the majority of that crowd did not have the ability to believe and comprehend his offer, not all of his disciples left. By sticking around, these people were confessing that they did in fact believe; they wanted the life he could give them. When we genuinely accept what Jesus teaches and offers, we receive God’s forgiveness for all of our sins. As each and every one of us is a convicted repeat offender when it comes to sin, we need to be reminded that our God is a gracious God. Thus regular participation in the sacrament is an opportunity to profess and recommit our hope and trust in his work.
If we have baptism in our minds, signaling how God claims his children before anything we do, then participating in communion is a chance to respond to God with the commitment of our love. It is not a practice to take lightly without genuine repentance and turning from our sins. That does not mean that if you sin before or after participating, you are condemned, but this supper is intended for true repentant believers. Its effectiveness is for those who see what God is doing. Hopefully as we mature, we will come to not only better understand but also to better appreciate that what is signified by the elements is Jesus’ action to cleanse us of sin and guilt by his perfect justice and mercy. That is what we in the church are to teach those coming to the faith whether to the children in our families or to those who come believe in God later in life.
Communion provides believers the invitation to profess and commit to faith. The second way it sustains us is taught in the second part of answer 76, “Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ’s blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as members of our body are by one soul.” This is such an amazing promise and witness for believers. The Spirit of Christ unites us with our Lord and Savior. We share in all parts of who Christ is. Jesus, who lived a perfect, sinless life, a life perfectly glorifying God; we believe that we get to be one with him. 
I wonder if the Catechism authors had Ephesians 5 on their minds when they wrote this. In that chapter, Paul was writing to the church, and he was talking about family and marital relationships. But in talking about spouses, he wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” 
It is profound to consider how Christ laid his life down for his people, his bride, and that he is the one who purifies us by taking us to himself. He commits to someone who has not been faithful in the past. As his bride, we have cheated him, yet he remains faithful to us. Even though we are separated until he gathers us to himself, we are one with him. This is an incredibly deep thing to take to heart when we practice communion, and hopefully it sticks with us. If we hold what Ephesians 5 talks about between Christ and his bride, then there should be something Spirit-driven in us to grow in faithfulness to our heavenly partner.  It is a great assurance that once we have entered into committed fellowship with him, he promises to never divorce us. Let us be clear, we are called to not test the graces of God, and that is a fruitful piece of advice that any of us in a husband and wife marriage would identify with as well. Things tend to be better we care about the needs and wants of our spouse, when we seek to serve them as we would want ourselves to be served. As we look at the redemptive work of Christ, we ought to see that he has married us to himself; furthermore, God desires for us to be faithful to him. Participation in the Lord’s Supper, allows true believers to experience union with Christ.
The final piece we get to consider together this evening, very much building upon the union of believers and Christ, is what we find in the final part of answer 79. “He [Christ] wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths receive the holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our own sins.” Our sins been washed away, but so too we have received the obedience of Jesus. 
We, united with Christ, have gone to the cross; our sin was nailed to him there, but because we are one flesh and one bone, because we are married to him, he has forgotten the past; there is nothing to look back on and be discouraged by our previous unfaithfulness, because Jesus has taken the sin and the guilt away. We need not worry nor be anxious because of how wretched we were.  When our relationship with our Savior is right, then he gives us the way to experience pleasure in all that he offers.  Just as marriage tends to give the bride a new name, so we also have been given a new identity that the Lord’s Supper reminds us of, and encourages us to live out of that commitment.  
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper in our worship services should be a significant occasion for those who believe and have been saved. That is true whether we practice it four times a year or six times, or as John Calvin advocated for, every week. Believers can come with the basic mindset, do this in remembrance of me, but from that foundation we are also called to grow in understanding what has been offered to us. Our souls receive a taste of the bread of life, and we get reminded of that taste as often as we participate. We will never be starved by the one who has come down and given himself for us. Whenever we gather at the table, may we live looking back, looking ahead, and looking even now at what Christ does. Christ, our living risen Savior, is at work uniting us with his body, a union which will be perfect when he comes again. Amen.
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