John 6:35-55 (Holy Thursday)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 5, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in John 6:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “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 has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
Jesus’ teaching here in John 6 is one of the most beautiful texts in God’s Word. But it is not a text about Holy Communion (there are no words of institution, there is no wine present) so it might seem a little odd to have it as a sermon text for Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. There are four accounts of the Lord’s Supper in the Bible, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1 Corinthians. John’s Gospel doesn’t have the account of the Lord’s Supper even though his Gospel has 5 chapters devoted to the words Jesus’ spoke during the Last Supper. Even though John 6 isn’t about Holy Communion, we certainly do find images of the Lord’s Supper present. In John 6, then, Jesus is anticipating, looking forward to, the blessings of the Sacrament of Holy Communion that He would set up on the night in which He was betrayed.
Jesus begins by stating, “I Am the bread of life.” This is one of the “I Am statements of Jesus. The name of God that He revealed to Moses at the burning bush was Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am.” Each time Jesus’ speaks one of these sentences, for example, “I Am the Good Shepherd,” or “I Am the Light of the World,” He invites us to believe and trust in Him as true God, Yahweh Himself in human flesh.
In John 6 Jesus calls Himself “the Bread of Life.” He describes Himself as “the Living Bread that came down from heaven.” The Jews to whom He was speaking were perhaps a little grossed out, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” They were also quite upset that Jesus claimed to “come down from heaven,” saying, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” Remember, Jesus is inviting us to trust in Him as God-made-flesh, the incarnate Son of God who has come into the world to be the Savior. But unbelief prevents us from doing so, just as it did the Jews in Jesus’ day.
Unbelief says that Jesus is just another human person, another teacher, another prophet. Unbelief says that there is nothing divine about Jesus because “we know His parents.” Unbelief says, “Yes, Jesus can feed 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, because we saw it happen, but to enable us never to hunger or thirst anymore? To give eternal life? To give His flesh for us to eat and His blood for us to drink so that we will be raised on the last day and live forever? That’s just crazy. It’s outside the realm of possibility.
It’s not so much different today, is it? Do you and I really expect that people will believe what Jesus says about Himself in the Bible—that He is the only Son of God who came down from heaven to save people from their sins? According to the most recent Barna survey I could find from 2009, out of 1,871 self-described Christians, 22% strongly agreed that Jesus sinned when He lived on earth with another 17% somewhat agreeing. That’s a little over 1/3! If Jesus sinned, He’s not true God nor can He be our Savior!
And look at the divisions in the Church on earth over the Lord’s Supper itself! You have denominations that teach that Christ’s true Body and Blood are not really present when you eat the bread and drink the wine. Christ, they say, is only spiritually present or represented by the bread and wine. It’s a symbolic thing to do to remember Jesus. It doesn’t give forgiveness of sins, eternal life, or salvation. Roman Catholics on the other hand teach that the bread ceases to be bread and the wine ceases to be wine, that both are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. At least they believe Jesus’ true Body and Blood are present and that the Sacrament does offer the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
At its core, both groups seek the answer to the issue found in John 6, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat” and His blood to drink? The answer to that question is tied up in the answer to the real question of the day, “Do you believe that Jesus is true God, the Savior of the world?” If Jesus is not God, then He cannot be Savior. If Jesus is not God, there is no way possible, except considerations of cannibalism, that He can be the Bread of Life and give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink for eternal life and so raise us up on the last day. If Jesus is not God, then John 6 surely paints a picture of Jesus as a delusional lunatic. But let’s look at things starting with the institution of the Lord’s Supper and work back to the Bread of Life in John 6.
We read from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-30)
Jesus said of the bread, “This is my body.” Jesus said of the wine, “This is my blood.” If Jesus was only a man, then we might be okay in suggesting that Jesus wants us to understand this symbolically. Yet, God the Holy Spirit Himself speaking through the pen of St. Paul says that people misusing the Sacrament sin not against bread and wine, but against the real Body and Blood of Jesus! In fact, that’s why some of the Corinthians were weak, ill, and died! If Jesus Words of Institution mean symbols or representations, then this illness and death would not happen. So Jesus must mean what He says, that the bread is His Body and the wine is His blood, given and shed for you by the Son of God-Made-Flesh for the forgiveness of all your sins!
How then do we receive this Sacrament of Christ, this divine mystery in which Jesus gives His own Body for us to eat and His own Blood for us to drink, in, with, and under bread and wine? Through faith in His Words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Christ’s
Words of promise have put His gifts—forgiveness, life, and salvation—into the Sacrament. The believer receives them there through faith. Through the grace of God by the working of the Holy Spirit in the water and Word of Baptism we have been given saving faith that trusts in Jesus Christ alone as our God and Savior. In this Christian faith we then receive Jesus’ Words of Institution as the words of His testament and we take them at face value. Faith hears the words, believes the words, and so receives the gifts that Jesus gives when we bodily eat and drink the bread and wine, His Body and Blood. So in this way, we truly do eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of His blood and have eternal life through the forgiveness of sins! Jesus’ flesh is true food and His blood is true drink because Christ Himself is received by faith as God and Savior.
Consider again Jesus’ words in John 6, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And so He did. Tomorrow on Good Friday we will ponder anew the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh upon the tree of the cross to win the very forgiveness and eternal life which He gives us tonight in Holy Communion. Jesus gave up His body into death and shed His holy, precious blood so that we might eat and drink and live forever. This eating and drinking of Christ we do by faith. We hear God’s Word in which Christ, true God and man, is presented to us, together with all benefits that He has purchased for us by His flesh given into death for us and by His blood shed for us. We receive God’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life by faith. And in all troubles and temptations we firmly rely—with sure confidence and trust—and abide in this consolation: we have a gracious God and eternal salvation because of the Lord Jesus Christ. (FC SC VII, 62)
Feed us, dear Father, with the Bread of Life. Feed us in faith with flesh and blood of Jesus so that we may abide in Him, and He in us. And raise us up with Him on the last day. Amen.