Sermon Date: August 30, 0909
Sermon By: Pastor Dale Raether
Scripture: John 6:51-58
Head Knowledge or Gut Faith?
Our text this morning is a hard one. When Jesus talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, it almost sounds like cannibalism, which is how Jesus’ first listeners took it. However, deep down they knew Jesus was using symbolic language. They just didn’t want to accept what He was telling them, and so they pretended not to understand. As you listened to the Gospel reading a little bit ago, did you understand it? Maybe some of you did, but this is case where we really need to see the whole context, because then it all starts making sense. Anyway, here’s the issue He wanted Jesus first listeners to face, and this is an issue He wants us to face too. Is our faith merely head knowledge, or is our faith in our heart and all the way down to our gut?
The people in our text were angry with Jesus for even bringing this up because of course they were right with God! Of course they were going to heaven! And how dare Jesus even question if they were on the right path? What He needed to do instead, they thought, was a better job at taking care of their physical needs.
Have you ever had similar thoughts about Jesus? We know the Apostles Creed. We believe. We go to church and all that. So, why does Jesus let life be so hard at times? We know the answer. Peter writes, “These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed – I Peter 1:7.” In Hebrews it says, “The Lord disciplines those He loves – Hebrews 10:6.” Hardships are evidences of God’s love. But hardships then are also evidence that our faith is not yet what it should be. Do you accept that? Or, like the people in our text, do you believe that you need an easier life more than you need a stronger faith? As we think about this, the answer may scare us; but Jesus comforts us.
He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world – John 6:51." In the context of this whole conversation, the people understood that eating bread was symbolic for what a person does in order to be righteous before God. Here’s the connection. Just as eating physical bread keeps your body alive, so having the right faith keeps your soul alive. This is why Jesus said, “If anyone eats of this bread, (that is, if anyone has the right faith), he will live forever.
Now, the right faith, and there is only one right faith, is to believe that God the Son, (not God the Father or God the Holy Ghost, yet there is only one God), but God the Son became fully human. Then for all He was perfect. And for all and for the sins of all He suffered in His flesh and shed His blood. The Jews in Jesus’ day did not have a problem with what Jesus was implying about Trinity, because Trinity is clearly taught in the Old Testament. But what the Jews did object to was that only the death of God the Son could pay for their sins, because that would mean their good works weren’t good enough to save them; and this offended them. Jesus, however, did not back off because they were offended. Rather He confronted them even more.
We read on in our text, “Jesus said to them, "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. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink – John 6:53-56.” If you know anything about orthodox Jews, one of things they will never, ever eat is blood sausages. Or, if a Jewish person goes deer hunting, he will never do what Indians sometimes did when they went hunting. A Jewish person will never drink the blood of his kill. You see, in the Old Testament God hammered this into their heads until it became a part of their whole being that they to never, ever to eat blood. With this command God was teaching them in a symbolic way that they were not to put their faith in any other god, accept the Son of God, who would sacrifice Himself for them.
Incidentally, do you know how the ancients showed that they were one with their false god? By eating the bloody meat sacrificed to that god, which is another reason why God commanded His people not to eat blood. Anyway, when Jesus invited the people to eat of his flesh and drink of blood, He was identifying Himself in terminology they understood that He is God the Son and the only Savior. However in order for them to accept that, (and everything Jesus said and did proved it), they had to accept they needed a Savior. They didn’t want to do that! They wanted to content themselves with just having some head knowledge of God, so that they could keep on thinking and living any way they chose.
Isn’t this still a problem today – people living and thinking any way they choose? If our nation keeps doing this, what will become of it? Or, if we do this, what will become of us, will there still be faith living in our hearts when Jesus comes again? Our Epistle lesson this morning offers us some good advice, so that there will be. We read, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – Ephesians 5:18-20.” Why do people get drunk? Because they don’t like themselves; but when they drink, they can forget who they are. On the other hand we can truly face ourselves, we can truly face our sins and failures and all our embarrassing traits, by filling ourselves up with the Gospel through Word and Song. For example, after the sermon we will be singing, “You are the way; through you alone can we the Father find; In you, O Christ, has God revealed His heart and will and mind.”
The key to keeping our faith real, the key to not letting our faith turn into just head knowledge is through the Word keep facing our need for a savior and then through Word and Sacrament keep turning to the Savior. Also, when we want righteousness more than easier life, we will never get bored with the Gospel. We will never say to ourselves, “I’ve heard that all before.”
However, what if we really want to keep our faith real, but after reading the Word, we feel like we didn’t get much out of it? Jesus knows we might feel that way at times, and so He invites us in our text, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” The original Greek word for eat is intensive. It describes the way a dog gnaws at a fresh steak bone. When you feel like the Word is just sitting on your heart instead of sinking into your heart, keep on gnawing at the Word. In time it will sink in. Also, remember what makes us hungry for the Word? It’s recognizing our sins and our sinfulness. But even more, it’s believing that God loves us through the death and resurrection of His Son.
However, if God loves us and want us to trust in Him, why does He put things in the Bible that offend people? An example is in our text when Jesus compared putting their faith in Him to eating and drinking His blood. This was a huge turn off for the Jews. God on purpose offends us, adults, to help us understand that a child-like faith in Christ cannot come to us by our human reason. It can only come to us by the working of the Holy Spirit through His Word.
Another way the Spirit may offend us and strengthen our faith at the same time is through the Lord’s Supper. There He commands us to exercise our faith by believing what our reason can’t comprehend – and that’s that His true body and blood are present with the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of sins. But if we keep exercising our faith in this way, we won’t just have a head-knowledge, more and more it will be in our hearts too!
However is Jesus saying in our text that everyone should take communion? He is not! In fact our text isn’t even about communion. It’s only about putting our faith in Jesus as our Savior. Let me back this up scripturally. Whenever the Bible talks about communion, it always uses the words “body and blood.” What do we have here? “Flesh and blood” That’s the first difference.
The second difference is in our text Jesus says eating his flesh and drinking His blood, that is, faith in Him, is absolutely necessary for salvation. The Bible never says that about Communion. On the contrary, First Corinthians warns true believers not to take Communion until they have examined themselves, otherwise taking Communion could actually injure their faith, instead of strengthening it. But this is why we don’t commune children until they have been instructed, or this why we urge using the Preparation Before Holy Communion that’s in the front of our hymnal. God wants us to trust that we are not saved by going through the motions whether that’s coming to church or coming to communion. Rather He wants us to trust that we are saved by what Christ did for us, so that we respond in humility and thankfulness by living according to His will.
If this is what you want – to trust in Jesus and live according to His will, keep spiritually eating God’s Word and exercising your faith in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus will meet all of your needs of body and soul at the right time and in the right way. He will also comfort you here, and in the life to come He will wipe every tear from your eyes. Eat up, then! In fact don’t just eat until you feel stuffed. Rather keep eating spiritually until you feel hungry, and then let your hunger drive you to eat so more. Bon appetite!