Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 15)
August 16, 2009
Text: John 6:51-69

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Ps. 111:10; ESV). So we sang with the Psalmist in the Introit. Do you want to be wise? Wise, not in human eyes, but wise in truth? True wisdom begins with fearing the Lord. That is to say, it begins with revering Him, honoring Him, worshiping Him, and believing Him. To be wise is to trust the Lord in everything. It is to trust Him in all circumstances and in every situation. It is to trust that He has created you and redeemed you, that He loves you with an everlasting love, that He knows what is best for you, and that He commands you and intervenes in your life accordingly. To be wise is to trust everything that the Lord says. To be wise is to trust everything that the Lord says, to believe it is true, even in spite of all your own human reason, emotions, and sensibilities. Even when what the Lord says is unbelievable (and remember, last week we learned that the natural man, the old sinful flesh, is incapable of believing or receiving the things of God until the Holy Spirit transforms him), even then, wisdom believes God above reason, the senses, the emotions. Because God’s Word is perfect. It cannot be broken. And it is performative. When God speaks, it is accomplished. He never speaks an idle word. When He says something is, it is!

Last week we heard the Jews grumbling because Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41). Jesus was declaring Himself to be God, the great I AM, YHWH, Himself. Now He ups the ante even more. This morning He not only says that He is God, He says that He is God in the flesh. And, are you ready for this? He tells us that if we are to have life in us, the life of God, eternal and abundant life, we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Beloved, human nature cannot accept this. This is unreasonable. This is beyond all sensibility. This is not the meek and mild, Precious Moments Jesus who appeals to the emotions of our fallen flesh. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe this Word of Jesus. The Holy Spirit must give us true wisdom to believe this. For true wisdom only comes from God. Fear of the Lord only comes from God. Faith in God, and in His Word, and in His Son Jesus Christ, comes, as a gift, from God alone.

“How can this man gives us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52). The Jews ask a perfectly natural question. It is a fallen question, but it comes naturally to every one of us. To this day, many Christians cannot accept what Jesus here says: “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 abides in me, and I in him” (vv. 53-54). This is unreasonable, and so even many Christians, Christians with whom we will spend an eternity in heaven, nonetheless let their reason trump the Word of Christ on this point. Reason cannot believe this, therefore our brothers and sisters in Christ theologize and philosophize their way out of what Jesus here says, and so they deny that we do, in fact, truly eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, with our mouths. You know where we do this. In the Lord’s Supper. Christians who deny that Christ’s body and blood are really present, under the bread and wine, in the Lord’s Supper, received in the mouth of the communicant, do not make this denial because they are convinced by the Scriptures, but because of human reason. Here is the argument of the forefathers of the Reformed: Jesus has a human body. A human body can only be in one place at one time. Jesus ascended into heaven, bodily. Therefore He cannot be bodily present at every Christian altar every time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. This is pure human reason, beloved. It is very reasonable, but it is not Scriptural. On the basis of this reason, Ulrich Zwingli said the Sacrament was merely a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. John Calvin was a little more theologically refined. He said we really receive Jesus in the Sacrament, but only by faith, by stretching our faith up to heaven, where Jesus is, to receive Him there. But none of this is biblical. How can this man give us His flesh to eat? He can because He’s Jesus. And you can say things about Jesus you can’t say about any other human being, because He is not only human, but also God. Jesus can give us His flesh to eat because He’s God, and He says so. His Word cannot be broken.

When our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar in the upper room with His disciples, the night He was betrayed, He took bread and gave thanks and broke it and gave it to His disciples. And when He did this He said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). Well, is it, or isn’t it? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. True wisdom believes what our Lord says. When our Lord Jesus took the cup after He had supped, He gave thanks and gave it to His disciples. And when He did this He said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 27-28). Well, is it, or isn’t it? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. True wisdom believes what the Lord says. Remember, God’s Word is never idle. It is always performative. When God says something is, it is. When God says, “Let there be light,” there is light (Gen. 1:3). When Jesus, who is God in the flesh, says to a very dead, stinking corpse named Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out,” the man comes out, risen, living, breathing, walking, talking (John 11:43-44). When Jesus says through the called and ordained servant of the Word in this place, “I forgive you all your sins,” all your sins are forgiven, for He said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and it was, indeed, finished, once and for all time, the very atonement for the sins of the world. When Jesus says, “This is my body… This is my blood,” it is His body, it is His blood. Let not reason contradict Him. It is neither right nor safe to doubt Jesus. In fact, it is foolish, as opposed to wise. True wisdom takes Jesus at His Word beyond all doubt, every time.

And this is important because it is a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins. Why do you come to the Lord’s Supper? Why do you need to receive Jesus’ body and blood under the lowly forms of bread and wine? Why should you do this often? Because Jesus says this is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. In the Lord’s Supper, your sins are forgiven. Your faith is strengthened. Jesus says, “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” (John 6:55-56). When you commune, you abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in you. As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine. The very death of Christ is placed upon your lips, the very body pierced for your transgressions is received in your mouth, the very blood poured out for your salvation flows down your throat. All other food that you eat becomes a part of you, is transformed into you. This food makes you a part of it, a part of Jesus, transforms you, giving you the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The life is in the blood, God says to His people in the Old Testament. Concerning the sacrifices made by the priest, God says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Lev. 17:11). Your life is in Jesus’ blood. Jesus has been sacrificed on the altar of the cross to make atonement for your life. The Israelites were to eat the meat of the sacrifices, but not to drink the blood, for the life is in the blood. But in this respect the sacrifice of Jesus is different. Those Old Testament sacrifices only point to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54; emphasis added). You come to the Lord’s Supper to have your sins forgiven, to receive His salvation, that you may live in the very life of Jesus Christ.

Talking this way about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood offends the sensibilities. “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (v. 60). “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (v. 66). The idea of a flesh and blood Jesus giving of Himself for His people to eat and to drink was too much for them. They might have accepted the “Bread of Life” part, being metaphorical or symbolical language, but Jesus leaves no room for metaphor or symbol here: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (v. 55). Jesus isn’t a very good church-growther. He offends the people with His difficult sermon. Everybody leaves Him. Except the Twelve. Why do they stay? Jesus even asks them, “Do you want to go away as well?” (v. 67). Peter answers on behalf of the group. He answers on behalf of the whole Church of God, all who believe in Jesus Christ and trust His Word. “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” (vv. 68-69). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is born of the Word. God gives the wisdom to believe this. It is not wisdom in the eyes of the world. The world flees Jesus when His Word gets too hard. This is the wisdom of God. This is the wisdom of faith. Lord, to whom shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. And His Word is performative. If He says you have eternal life, you have eternal life. And He does say so. “Whoever feeds on this bread,” He says, pointing to His body, whoever feeds on this bread (pointing to the altar), “will live forever” (v. 58). Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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