Read food = authentic life = happy ending
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 At that, the Jews argued sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his[a] flesh to eat?”
53 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in ourselves.”
(Btw, Jesus is talking about having faith in him and his Word—“digesting his Word.” He’s not talking about the Lord’s Supper. You know he’s not talking about the LS because 1) he hadn’t instituted that yet, it did not yet exist; and 2) here he makes this kind of “eating and drinking” necessary for salvation—faith is necessary for salvation, not the LS, you can go to heaven without ever having had the LS.)
When they heard it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching! Who can accept it?”
1) When a soul has hunger pangs for an authentic life
This is the story of the greatest sermon in the world, preached by the greatest preacher in the world, using the greatest object lesson in the world. It’s the kind of story that could be made into movie. And at the end, everyone would cheer and be slapping the preacher on the back.
But I have some bad news. In the real life version, you know what happened when the greatest sermon was preached by the greatest preacher who used the greatest object lesson in the world? Almost everyone got upset, quit going to that church. Hard feelings.
That’s not how the story is supposed to end, is it. But it did. See, the preacher I am referring to is Jesus Christ. It all started with his astounding miracle of the Feeding of the 5000. What a way to start a sermon! What an awesome object lesson for what came next! Because what came next was Jesus going into this beautiful imagery of how he and his Word are like food, food for the soul. It was an interactive sermon, he allowed people to ask him questions. It was a sermon perfectly crafted, so deep that theologians still wrestle with it and yet so simple a child can understand it. And it was preached by the Son of God. Who could be a better preacher than he? And still, it turned out badly. People got scandalized. They said, “This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?” And then it says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (v.66) And that was pretty disheartening for Jesus. In fact, it this seems like such a low point, you can hear it in his voice when he turns and asks his 12 closest disciples, “You do not want to leave, too, do you?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if somehow this story could have a happy ending? But what chance is there of that? We might think, or at least I am thinking, that if things turned out that badly for Jesus Christ, the greatest preacher with the greatest sermon, what chance do you poor people have, listening to this sermon by this preacher?
Unless. Unless . What if…maybe there is a way for this story to have a happy ending. Today. Right now. With you. By how you listen. As you, by the power of the HS, listen like someone who is hungry for a real life that never ends. Listen like someone who wants to toss off all that photoshopped fakey life, that poser, pretense kind of living. Like someone who wants to live a real, authentic life that never ends. With that kind of listening, by the power of the HS, this story will have a happy ending. With you.
Because you who have hunger pangs in your soul for a real, authentic life that never ends, here’s something that satisfies– “My flesh (his Word) is real (Greek–authentic) food and my blood (his Word) is real (Greek–authentic) drink…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood (listens and digests his Word) has eternal life.” That’s as real as it gets.
2) When real “food” seems too hard to swallow
This guy I knew in high school one time told us this story of how he and his brother took a box of dry oatmeal, found the two biggest mixing bowls they could find in the kitchen, and filled them to the brim with oatmeal. And then they had a contest. The contest was, who can eat their bowl of dried oatmeal the fastest…without drinking a drop of water. Which seemed, he said, like a fun idea at the time. But then he said, “Do you know how hard it is to swallow mouthful after mouthful of dry oatmeal with no water?”
If you can imagine how hard it might be to swallow dry oatmeal, then you can understand what Jesus’ followers were saying about his sermon, when they said, “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” (6:60) The word hard means “dried out”—like oatmeal. What they were saying was not “This is hard to understand” but more like, “These teachings are hard to swallow”, like dry oatmeal.
Yah, that’s right. The Bible’s teachings are hard to swallow. But only because each of us naturally has so much scar tissue between our ears and souls because of our sin. So much scar tissue in the “throat” that connects our ears to our soul. Scar tissue that we are born with, because we are born with that damnable attitude that I belong to me, my life is about me, I get to decide what is true and what is not and what morals will be and what makes me a good person and what God is like. That kind of damnable attitude puts scar tissue in our “throats” and makes the Bible’s teachings hard for us to swallow.
And so we might be tempted to try to make the Bible’s teachings easier to swallow…for others, for ourselves. Stop mentioning the roles of men and women. Let anyone come up for communion. Quit talking about money. Stop saying that we deserve hell. Or that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We may be tempted to make the Bible more palatable, you know, so people find it easier to swallow, so we do.
But you want to know something funny? That’s not what Jesus does. In fact, he makes things worse. He tells his followers, “This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.” And that’s when people start choking on Jesus’ words. They start grumbling and arguing sharply among themselves, our text says.
And then Jesus, what is he thinking? Jesus just makes it worse! The very next thing he says is something he knows is going to offend them, these Jewish people who are so careful about what they eat and all their dietary laws, he says, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life I you.” Eat his flesh? Drink his blood? Doesn’t Jesus realize how offensive that kind of talk is to Jewish people who were forbidden to eat any meat with blood in it (Lev. 17), who won’t even eat delicious, crispy bacon? “Eat my flesh, drink my blood”. Doesn’t he realize how offensive that is? That’s just too much! Too much to ask them to swallow.
It reminds me of a story a pastor told me, about this couple who had been coming to church for almost a year. They had moved from a big city to that small community. They kind of stuck out, because were very modern, up to date people. But they loved that church. They were like people who had lived all their lives in the desert and church was their oasis. They took the BIC class. It was going so well. And then we got to lesson #16. In lesson #16 was a study the roles of men and women. And the pastor read, “Wives submit to your husbands as the church submits to Christ. For the husband is the head of the wife like Christ is the head of the church.” And the room got silent. “Wives submit?” “Husband is the head?” This was repulsive to them. This sounded like the Dark Ages to them. It was too much, it was just too much to swallow. They choked on this teaching. And so they stopped coming. Full stop. And you think, wouldn’t it have been better for that pastor just to skip that lesson? At least they would have kept on coming to church, right? Wouldn’t have that been better?
But that’s not what Jesus thinks. That’s not what he did with his Jewish followers, was it.
And so what conclusion do you draw? Since Jesus knows what he is doing, it must be necessary to ask people to believe teachings they find hard to swallow. And it is. Christ knows that each person has to be confronted with the full scandal of his cross, his sacrifice which alone atones for sin and his resurrection which alone gives us victory over death and his perfect life which alone makes us righteous–the scandal of the cross and every doctrine that goes with it. And you know how many of the Bible’s teachings connect to Christ’s cross? All of them.
But we have been talking about others. What about you? Which teachings are hard for you to swallow? I have mine, you have yours. Which ones? How about God’s command to forgive others from the heart just as you have been forgiven, is that hard for you? Or that we are to patient under affliction? Do you know what one of the teachings that many, many long time Christians find hard to swallow, at least at various times? The teaching, “God is love.” Easy to believe on sunny days. But can be one of the hardest to swallow in the bad times. Just ask Job. What are the teachings that you especially find hard to swallow?
It is necessary that you be asked to believe them. Jesus does know what he is doing. These teachings we “choke on” are cutting away that scar tissue in the throat between our ears and soul. Because when we are offended by this doctrine or that practice that flows from doctrine, then it becomes so clear that what is worked in us is worked by God. That the fact that I do believe even these hard teachings is not my own doing but evidence I have been touched by the finger of God! That the Holy Spirit of God has worked this in me! For those who love Jesus bend their knee for every teaching of his Word.
And sometimes it has a happy ending. Like this man and his wife who were in their first BIC class. And our pastor rightly taught the way of salvation, that we are saved only by faith in Christ and apart from him we are lost. And the man suddenly stood up. “Are you saying my dad is in hell?”, he demanded. Our pastor rightly said, “I didn’t know your dad so I can’t say. But what I can say is that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved and he who does not believe will be damned.” The man told his wife, “We’re going.” They marched out of that church, closing the door behind them a little harder than necessary. Next week, same time, the pastor was working in his study and suddenly here’s this man and his wife. And the man says, “Aren’t we going to have BIC class tonight?” The pastor said, “It seemed to me that you weren’t coming back.” The man replied, “Yah, if you had asked me as I was leaving last week, that’s what I would have said, too. But I been thinking. I got two kids of my own. And I don’t want to have them know what it feels like to know that their old man is in hell. So, I figured I better come back and keep learning about Jesus.”
That hard teaching had to cut away the scar tissue so this man could take in the true teachings of the Bible and not choke on them. See, Jesus does know what he is doing. And sometimes it does have a happy ending. Like with this man and his wife. Or with Jesus’ Disciples–remember their answer to Jesus’ question, “You do not want to leave, too, do you?” “Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That must have made our Lord happy. A happy ending.
Which brings us back to where we started, doesn’t it. To a happy ending at the end of the greatest sermon ever preached. May it always be so with you. May you always, by the power of the HS, be one of those people who comes to worship with hunger pangs in your soul for real, authentic food so you can live a real, authentic life now and forever. For our Lord says, “For my flesh (his Word) is real (authentic) food and my blood (his Word) is real (authentic) drink…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood (listens and digests his Word) has eternal life.” That’s as real and as happy as it gets. Amen.