Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
A few years ago, there was a Christian pastor who became an almost instant success. He was a second-career guy. He had spent his twenties as a tradesman, working with his hands, got into ministry in his early thirties, and it didn’t take long for people to realize there was something special about this guy. People came from miles around just to hear him preach. Even though they had plenty of weekend worship options right near their houses, when the opportunity came, those folks dropped everything and headed out to hear this sensational pastor. Those people had heard preachers in the past, but not like this guy! He spoke with such authority and the stuff he said resonated in a way that they’d never thought possible. The stunned congregations who heard him had to ask themselves in disbelief, “Where did this guy get this stuff?!” It didn’t take much longer before he had amassed a following of thousands who hung on his every word. Everything seemed to be going great, but then he preached that sermon. You know the one – the one when people hear it, it rubs some the wrong way, it confuses others, and makes still others angry that someone who claimed to preach love would ever say such a thing. Everything had been going so well, until he preached that sermon. Confused, frustrated, downright angry, people left…and not just a few. Hundreds of families, thousands of people walked off, and turned their backs on this pastor they had come to appreciate so much. His once copious congregants dwindled to a fledgling few. Obviously saddened by this mass exodus, the young second-career pastor turned to his core group, the ones who had been with him since the beginning and asked them, You don’t want to leave, too, do you? One of those men chimed in, Where will we go? You have the words of eternal life! Do you know that young pastor’s name? Jesus.
In our gospel lessons recently, we’ve been camped out in John 6, following Jesus as he preaches his way through Galilee. With five barley buns and two snack fish, faced with an impossible situation, Jesus did the impossible and fed over 5,000. With stomachs satisfied, the people started thinking – this Jesus is a good teacher, but he’d make a fantastic king. Knowing their intentions, Jesus slipped away, took a watery walk across the sea, and ended up meeting those same crowds of people on the other side. Jesus didn’t miss his opportunity to make the connection between the physical loaves of bread they all ate and the living, life-giving, Bread of Life who came down from heaven to satisfy their needs for eternity. And that’s when the trouble started. “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.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
The crowds had gone from gratitude to grumbling, from satisfaction to skepticism, because Jesus was making a pretty big claim, in fact, it was a divine claim. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. Through Moses, my Father in heaven fed a nation in the wilderness. But now one greater than Moses is here, standing right in front of you, the Son of God himself. Feed on this bread and I will raise you up on the last day – eternal life with God is yours. Eat my flesh, drink my blood. Jesus’ provocative sounding statement had a really clear point - Jesus was telling them that the only way to eternal satisfaction is to feed on the Bread of Life, in other words, to believe in Jesus and his word. He speaks of his flesh and blood – things he can’t live without – to drive home the point that he wants each of you to be a complete partaker in all that he is and all that he’s done on Calvary’s cross and Easter’s empty tomb. Believing in Jesus as Savior means receiving all his gifts – forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is the point Jesus is making. It’s the beautiful simplicity of the gospel – you can’t save yourself; but Jesus has!
Sometimes the clearest and simplest point can cause the biggest confusion. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”…From that time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Did you catch that? Who was it who turned back and no longer followed Jesus? Sure, there may have been some Pharisees and teachers of the law in the crowd, and they were more than happy to go their own way. But it wasn’t just them. Sure, there were maybe a few of the free-lunch/let’s make Jesus our bread king freeloaders around but it wasn’t just them either. From that time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Jesus. The people who had been at least somewhat devoted followers of Jesus and hung on his every word now turned tail and headed home. Why? This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? What Jesus taught in his whole bread of life discourse really distills down to just a couple key truths: God loves you, and since God loves you he’s sent me to take away all of your sins and give you eternal life. What’s so hard about that?
It was a hard teaching and it still is, because it forces people to reevaluate who this Jesus is. Even non-Christians will admit gladly that Jesus was a great teacher, and he said a lot of helpful things about loving the neighbor and caring for the down and out. But when he says, I am the way and the truth and the life…whoa, whoa, not so fast Jesus! Our world, our culture, and sometimes even our families are awash in a sea of religious relativism and spiritual pluralism. You’ve got your truth and I’ve got mine! All those faiths are really the same, if you just do more good than bad, you’ll probably be OK. Isn’t it kind of arrogant to speak so definitively about God? Who can really say who God is and what he wants? In John 6, Jesus took a stab at it, and his words don’t leave any room for such a diversity of opinion. 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. No Jesus, no life. “Be good” is a generic religious cliché that anyone can get on board with. “Believe in Jesus as the only Savior,” immediately raises red religious flags. This is a hard teaching. It shows me the truth about Jesus, and it also reveals the unvarnished ugliness about me. If Jesus is claiming himself as the only Savior, then I am a sinner in need of saving. I’m powerless to come to God, so he came to me in Christ. Maybe I’m not the master of my fate, after all. What about all those people who don’t believe in Jesus? So the truth claims of Jesus still challenge and offend today. This is a hard teaching.
So notice what Jesus does next. He doesn’t back off. He doesn’t try to talk around the tough points or gloss over what so obviously shocked his audience. Instead, he doubled down! “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” What more do you need? Another miracle? Another prophetic promise of God perfectly fulfilled in me? A glimpse at me ascending into heaven? Because that day is coming! The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life…your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. And they walked away offended.
But not us, right? We know this Jesus as our Savior, but are you ever tempted to walk away offended? When what Jesus says doesn’t coincide with what I think? Does it offend you when Jesus says something that hits a little too close to home? This is a hard teaching…I just don’t like it. I don’t think Jesus would ever say something like that – this Jesus of my own making. When God’s word condemns the sins you love the most or tells you to forgive and love those who treat you the worst? This is a hard teaching! When the holy law of God stabs you in the heart and doesn’t leave you any wiggle room – making it abundantly clear that every righteous act you think you’ve done is really a filthy rag in the sight of a holy God. This is a hard teaching! Does it offend you to hear that the pride or the lust lurking in your heart is just as damnable as the sins that make newspaper headlines? And realize what this means – if I have a problem with what the word of God says, there really isn’t a difference - I have a problem with God. Even though we know this Jesus as our Savior, we still try to judge his word with our sinful nature, rather than to receive it gladly through his gift of faith. Does this offend you?
As you read through the gospels, something becomes abundantly clear. Jesus doesn’t care about offending you. He cares about saving you! In his word, Jesus speaks the truth and that truth is downright offensive to our old, sinful nature, and that’s the point. Jesus didn’t give us his word to coddle and console our sinful nature. His word destroys our self-made notions about God and puts to death our sinful nature, only to raise us to new life in him. Jesus doesn’t care about offending your sinful nature. In fact, he does it often because he cares about saving you. He makes no bones about it; he shows your sin in all its damnable reality only to show you what he’s done to take away every one of them on the cross. So when Jesus says things like, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you, or I am the way and the truth and the life, doesn’t that sound kind of exclusive? You bet it is, but please don’t miss the beating heart of the gospel behind those statements. He doesn’t say those things just to be provocative or offensive. He says those things because his ultimate concern is your eternal salvation. Rather than let you and me and every person in history flounder in a sea of uncertainty, Jesus puts a laser focus on the question of truth in our hearts and points the scope directly at himself, leaving us no doubt that he is our only Savior from every sin.
The young pastor turned to his core group and asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus, where else are we going to go? Where else could I ever find forgiveness for my sin, hope for my eternity, joy for my right now, and peace with God forever? Who else loves like you, Jesus? Who else justifies the wicked and keeps reaching out to seek and save the lost who’d just assume stay lost? No one, Jesus! You have the words of eternal life, and that’s the word he’s preached into your ears and planted into your hearts. So feed on the Bread of Life by finding Jesus in his word, because his words are spirit and they are life. Feed on the Bread of Life by yourself, reading your Bible. Feed on the Bread of Life with your brothers and sisters here in worship and Bible study. Find Jesus in his word with your spouse and your kids and hear over and over again the words of eternal life he loves and longs to speak directly to you – that he has chosen you to be his own; that he has washed away all your sins; and that nothing can pluck you out of his hands. And when you hear the voice of your Savior in his word, you have only one answer to his probing question: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.