14th Pentecost Sunday
August 26, 2018
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you — they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
“To Whom Shall We Go? … Jesus has the Words of Eternal Life”
1) Difficult Doctrines Disperse Jesus’ Followers
2) Peter Clarifies the Fact Jesus is Only Source of Salvation
Dear children of God,
‘Let us see Jesus.’ A former vicar, as he started studying a text, preparing an outline; writing a sermon, always prayed, ‘Let us see Jesus,’ reminding himself the primary purpose of God’s written Word is to show us ‘Jesus is Christ – the Messiah – Jesus is the promised Savior,’ so, ‘believing in Jesus, we may have life (eternal life) in his name.’[JN 20] As I expect to worship at Pastor Hacker’s church in Waukesha any number of times these next years, I expect his focus will still be to show us our Savior. I pray you have consistently seen & heard Christ in my ministry. I confidently pray your next pastor’s emphasis will also be; I pray every pastor’s aim is to always show people our Savior Jesus – the one; the only Savior of the world.
Unfortunately – as we observe when Jesus labels himself ‘the bread of life … the living bread coming down from heaven … bread people can eat to live forever,’ some who see Jesus do not want to see our soul’s Savior. ‘Many of his disciples say, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’’ Not that Jesus picturing himself as bread people eat to sustain life is impossible to understand! People can see what he means easily enough. If we will eat up Jesus’ teachings – if we will listen as his commandments convict us sinners; if we trust his promise to freely forgive every individual who repents because Jesus already paid our sin’s death penalty by suffering our hell on his cross – if we believe in Jesus, as his Word feeds our faith, we Christians will live forever.
Not too hard to understand, Jesus’ teachings are tough for some to swallow. People who want a Savior/King to feed their body every day – just as Jesus fed 5,000 men on this mountainside by miraculously multiplying ‘five small barley loaves & two small fish’ until everyone eats as much as they want – people who expect a promised Savior to get rid of their Roman rulers so Jews could rule the world like they did when David & Solomon were king; people who naturally think God will only award heaven to believers behaving well enough to earn our Lord’s favor cannot swallow Jesus’ focus on life after death, Jesus’ promise of free forgiveness; Jesus’ emphasis on spiritual rather than physical blessings. ‘From this time many of his disciples turn back & no longer follow Jesus.’ Sadly, we see a good portion of the crowd around Jesus walk away disappointed.
Is anything different today? While the ‘crowd’ coming here to worship our Savior is, on average, twice as large as it was thirty-five years ago, some who once worshipped Jesus with us every week are not here this morning because they have been taken into heaven. Thank God for Christian funerals! Yes, we can thank God for his gift of earthly death delivering heavenly life. Others who regularly worshipped our Savior with us are not in these pews this morning because life in our increasingly mobile world moved them to other cities where they are singing Christ’s praises in other congregations. Thank God! Yes, we can thank God for proclaiming Jesus’ eternal life-giving truth through more than one preacher in more than one church. Sadly, a parallel to people walking away from Jesus on this mountainside, some souls who once worshipped the Savior with us are not here this morning because their heart could not – to put it more correctly, their proud mind would not – swallow our Lord’s truth. In some instances, souls walk away today because they will not let God’s commandments guide their life — will not let Jesus’ saving love move us to serve our Lord & serve our Lord’s people instead of serving our self – although God’s commands are designed to ultimately bring us blessings. Other souls walk away today because they will not let Jesus’ life be counted as our righteousness; will not let Jesus’ death totally absorb our sin’s punishment. Insisting on doing something to save themselves, they walk away from Jesus. Finally – refuting Jesus’ priority, ‘the Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing,’ — some souls turn away from Jesus because they expect God to bless them with success, to shower them with health & happiness in this world rather than focus on spiritual health & heavenly happiness.
Souls walking away from our Savior are not a surprise – at least, not to Jesus, who ‘knew from the beginning which of them did not believe;’ in fact, Jesus ‘knew who would betray him.’ Not possessing godly omniscience; not being able to look into anyone’s heart other than my own, we are saddened (if not necessarily surprised) when a soul we instructed & confirmed stops worshipping with us. Our heart aches when an apparently faithful Christian no longer listens to God’s truth; outwardly at least rejects Jesus. Not able to look into your heart, Jesus asks me to look into my own heart – Jesus asks you to examine your own soul – as he questions us saints, ‘Does this offend you?’ ‘What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?’ As we see Jesus lifted up onto a cross to be crucified; when we watch Jesus ascend into heaven, will our faith disappear because he is obviously not going to our all-powerful earthly leader? Or will we rejoice as we remember Jesus promising, ‘I am going to my Father’s house to prepare a place for you. If I prepare a place for you, I will come back to take you to be with me, so you also may be where I am?’[JN 14]
Addressing the twelve, Jesus asks us a critical question, ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Will you walk away from Jesus just because a pastor who possibly baptized or confirmed you will no longer be preaching in this pulpit? A critical question people must answer any time a pastor accepts a call to serve in a different city or moves into retirement in a different state is the question, ‘Will we walk away – will we walk away from Good Shepherd Lutheran church — because a pastor we personally connected with no longer serves here?’ In churches where pastors come & go more often, the question can become routine, but the Lord has blessed Good Shepherd with a somewhat unusual measure of continuity in our preaching & teaching ministry. So we now ask ourselves, ‘Will I walk away from Good Shepherd as we anticipate a new pastor arriving (prayerfully) soon?’
Can we clarify the question? Jesus is not asking about our connection with an earthly congregation. Jesus questions faith’s connection to our Savior. Posing his inquiry in a way showing he expects a negative response, Jesus asks, ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Do I want to walk away from Jesus with a fairly large crowd still turning their back on our Savior today? Forget your personal preference for any earthly pastor. I pray with apostle Paul that you never followed me, but prayerfully followed the Savior God may have revealed to you while I was preaching & teaching God’s truth.
Peter’s response perfectly frames life’s possibilities, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe & to know that you are the Holy One of God.’ If I want to live with God in heavenly glory forever – knowing the only other option is eternal, immeasurable suffering in hell, we safely assume eternal life, not death, is our desire – if I want to live forever in heaven, there is only one option: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus; you will be saved, you & your household,’[ACTS 1] Paul assures the jailor in Philippi. ‘Salvation is found in no one other than Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead,’[ACTS 4] Peter announces to his Jewish judges. ‘God so loved the world he gave his one & only Son,’ Jesus declares too clearly to be misunderstood, as he tells Nicodemus he ‘the Son of Man, must be lifted up (on a cross) just as Moses lifted up a bronze snake in the wilderness so that everyone who believes (God’s promise of life through the snake; God’s promise of life through his Son) — ‘whoever believes in (the crucified but risen Jesus Christ) — will not perish but will have everlasting life.’ Only one option delivers eternal life – ‘Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one & only Son.’[JN 3]
A closing question as we look into the future: Will you walk away from Jesus? Will I walk away from Jesus? Looking beyond this world where faithful souls can expect opposition; even persecution as Christ lives in us, if we want to live forever in heaven – I do; I pray you do too – I will listen to Jesus’ eternal life producing words. Changing preachers as he will in our world, God’s gospel truth will never change. Jesus – God the Son, born the Son of Man — was sent into our world to save us. Perfectly living our righteous life as our God-given Substitute, Jesus died as the innocent atoning sacrifice for every one of us sinners.
In our different places in the years to come, I pray you & I will listen as faithful preachers, quoting John’s gospel, repeat Jesus’ promises: ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me & drink. Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him.’[JN 7] ‘I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth; the truth will set you free.’[JN 8] ‘I am the Good Shepherd; I lay down my life for the sheep, only to take it up again…My sheep listen to my voice; I give them eternal life.’[JN 10] ‘I am the resurrection & the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; whoever lives & believes in me will never die.’[JN 11] ‘I am the way, the truth & the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’[JN 14] ‘My kingdom is not of this world…everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’[JN 18] ‘It is finished.’[JN 19] ‘Peace be with you! If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.’ [JN 20]
As Jesus asks, ‘You do not want to leave me too, do you,’ I pray God guides us to repeatedly respond, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We know; we believe you are the holy one of God’… Jesus, you are my Savior.