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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Flesh and Blood (John 6.41-58)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
July 17, 2011
Some Music Used 

 Service Music: Jazz piano by Rick Bean
Hymn of Praise: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (LOBE DEN HERREN)
Song of Praise: "Become to Us the Living Bread" (Music Anonymous)
The Word in Music: "Bread of Heaven" (Arr. Jim Terrell)
Song of Sending: "In Christ Alone" (Getty/Townend)

Flesh and Blood
Text: John 6:41-58

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

We are continuing the story of the “Feeding of the 5,000” today. That story – that miraculous event – did not end when Jesus withdrew from the crowd. They followed the disciples around the lake and met Jesus on the other side. And there he spoke, taught, answered questions, and explained the power and the person behind the miraculous event.

Last week we talked about the pursuit of the miraculous, the spiritual, the experiential; and we heard Jesus’ invitation, “Come to ME; believe in ME; I AM the Bread of Life.” Christian faith and salvation, knowledge of and life with God, come through the person and power of Jesus, the Son of God, not through retreats, miracles, service projects, intimate worship experiences, or a voice from Heaven. Those things exist and can encourage our faith and the faith of others, but if we miss Jesus, we’ve missed it all.

The text we are looking at today is a continuation of last week’s text. Jesus is still talking along this theme of being the one sent from God. And we pick up with the people grumbling. They are grumbling precisely because of what he claims. Today we will look at why they were grumbling, see how Jesus responds, and hear Jesus’ repeated claim to be the only way to know the Father.


The crowd – the one that followed Jesus around the sea – was grumbling. Jesus was apparently not going to do another miracle and now he had started talking crazy talk. They wanted to see another sign – maybe some bread from Heaven this time – and then he claimed TO BE the bread come from Heaven.

And they started grumbling at that, because they knew where he came from. They knew Joseph and Mary and Nazareth and the carpenter’s shop. How could this son of a country couple claim to be someone special? Never mind that it was already a stretch to talk about him being the Messiah – they had already contemplated that. But Jesus wasn’t talking Messiah talk – he said that he had COME DOWN OUT OF HEAVEN!

A little bit later, after he responds to that, they get even more upset because it sounds like he is telling them to eat his flesh. That sounds strange enough to our modern ears; but to an ancient Jew that would have been shockingly obscene. With all the dietary and purity laws, that kind of talk just sounded crazy.

What started out with misplaced interest – remember last week? – turned to anger. That’s worth pondering in relation to last week. Remember? We go looking for an experience of God and can miss Jesus in the midst of it all. And if we miss Jesus, we miss everything. And it’s not hard to imagine that after we’ve been on the 4th mission trip, the 15th conference or church retreat, or the umpteenth time coming to church looking for a God-experience, and not feeling it, that our expectation can turn to anger. And yet, all along, Jesus is right there saying, “It’s not about experiences; it’s about knowing and trusting me.”

It’s not hard to put ourselves in the crowd’s place, grumbling and even getting angry when God doesn’t deliver on our terms.

Jesus’ Response

Jesus responds twice to their grumbling. The first time, at the grumbling over him saying, “I am the bread that came down out of Heaven,” he responds, “Do not grumble among yourselves.” (v. 43) He continues, explaining why he is the bread from Heaven. It’s there in vv. 44-46:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him… it is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; he has seen the Father.”
Let me put that in words that may be easier to understand. No one can find or know God on their own. The only way to know God is through the One God sent, namely Jesus. This much Jesus already said in the text we looked at last week. But here it is again. And to that, Jesus adds here that no one can come to him (Jesus) unless God the Father draws them. This is why God sent him as bread out of Heaven – that the world might know him and know God.

Said yet another way, God must come to us, and God has come to us through Jesus and Jesus alone.

This is one of the realities that becomes clear in infant baptism, where it is plain that the infant has not and cannot initiate faith or movement toward God. While that baptism does not mean the infant is a believer, it does signal God’s initiative in sending Jesus to the world for sin. Baptism is a declaration of God come to us through Jesus. The parents’ hope and faith is that God will indeed draw the little one to Himself through the person and work of Jesus, and one day, in faith, this child of the covenant will recognize God’s work in his life.

This first response about Jesus being the one sent from God culminates in verse 48, where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He continues by insisting that this is not metaphorical or one more sign, but MORE THAN the manna that God provided in Exodus. He is God’s flesh-and-blood salvation for His people.

And that insistence triggers the second round of grumbling, to which Jesus just insists all the more that he is the flesh-and-blood gift of God, and necessary if anyone is to know God and His salvation. And to that, as we will see next week, most of the crowd flips out and leaves. As the Apostle Paul would later write, Jesus was a “stumbling block – a stone of offense” to the Jews, and this is seen nowhere as clearly as in this extended scene.

Good News: God Has Done What We Cannot

I feel for the crowd that day, struggling to understand what Jesus was saying. And I feel for us as modern counterparts, who similarly struggle to locate salvation and knowledge of God in the person of Jesus. I’ve heard more than a few adults profess, “I went to church all my life, but didn’t understand what it means to be a Christian until I came to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior.” I’ve struggled and I’ve known many to struggle with the ups and downs of experiential Christianity, seeking highs and avoiding lows as if Christianity were a drug. I’ve wept with people who so locate their Christianity in volunteering and serving others and who, from time to time, are simply overwhelmed and crushed by the aching needs in the world.

And again – to be clear – there is nothing wrong, and in fact everything right about going to church, having a meaningful experience of faith, and loving our neighbors through service and helps – unless those very things become our sign and savior and we miss Jesus, the Savior.

There is good news in the middle of this story and text – and not just some good news, but THE Good News, the Gospel. But we and any who would consider Christ must get through and beyond our grumbling, disappointment, misplaced hopes, and anger. That Good News is that though there is no way for us to find God, know God, reach God, or save ourselves, God has come to us! God has come all the way down among us… bread from Heaven, salvation from on high. As the same John who records this story wrote at the beginning of his Gospel, “The Word (Jesus) was with God, the Word was God… and the Word came and lived among us, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus is one with the Father, come to live among us to show us God the Father. He is the bread of life. He is God’s outstretched arm, drawing all who would hear to Himself.

The heart of the Good News is right there in the middle of the story, in vv. 47-48. Hear the Good News:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.”
Listen, believe, and trust in the One God has sent: Jesus, God’s own Son, the Savior. Amen.

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