The Words Of Jesus: Difficult To Accept, Yet They Are Eternal Life (John 6:51-68)

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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."  Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
There is no doubt about it that the previous verses are difficult to hear.  You may be saying to yourself right now, “Did I really hear those verses right? Did that verse actually say, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of Jesus and drink His blood, you will have no life?’”  I can certainly agree that these words are difficult to hear.  In fact, these verses are the kind that you simply want to skip over in a Bible Study or a sermon today.  They are words that you probably don’t pick for a new believer’s study.  They grab your attention and they are offensive.  It sounds like Jesus is promoting cannibalism.

These words were also offensive to the original hearers.  Keep in mind that some 2,000 years ago a crowd of 5,000 plus people had gathered around Jesus.  They were attracted to the miracles that he was performing and the food that He distributed by multiplying fish and bread.  The next day the crowd that remained actually hunted Him down for more food and more miracles.  They were seeking earthly bread from an earthly king and were disappointed with Jesus when they caught up to him.  The reason for the disappointment, He gave them no new miracles and no free food.  Instead Jesus used their curiosity to discuss spiritual matters with them.  “Unless you eat the flesh of Jesus and drink His blood, you will have no life?’”  These were difficult words for the crowd to hear.

I once heard a sermon that posed the question of, “Who was the world’s worst church planter and church growth individual the world has ever known?”  In other words, Ministers of the Gospel and church workers aspire to grow the church.  Even many of you have noble aspirations of seeing the church grow.  We marvel at the stories of spiritual reform that happened with Jonathan Edwards during the First Great Awakening that swept through the North East.  We can recall the stadiums that were full of people and the hundreds who came down the aisle when Billy Graham did his alter calls.  We have seen the pictures of literally 16,000 people gathering together in the Houston Compaq Center at Lakewood Church.  We have heard of the success stories of churches like Saddleback Church in California.  We even marvel at the larger churches located in Bismarck, Billings and so forth.  So, if these are pictures of success, who would be considered the “worst” church growth person the world has ever known?  In this sermon that I listened to, the Pastor stated that the answer was Jesus.  He stated that Jesus was the worst church growth and church planter the world has probably ever known.  Think about it for a moment.  Jesus had a crowd of 5,000 plus people following him.  The day after the multiplying of the bread and fish, He interacted with the remaining crowd and a large group of disciples which resulted in them getting offended and leaving Jesus.  All four Gospels tell us that Jesus’ followers became fewer and fewer as Jesus’ cross grew closer.  As you know, right before the crucifixion Judas, who was one of Jesus’ insiders, betrayed Him and the only people that were at the cross with Him were His mother, John and Mary.  Not only was Jesus abandoned by his followers, we see that God the Father forsook Jesus also while He hung on the cross.  Truly this was a numerical disaster.  Crowds of thousands to three!

The reason for the scattering of the people was that the words and teaching of Jesus were difficult for the people to accept.  The cross is difficult to swallow.  The people grumbled at His words because His radical claim ran counter to everything that they found to be reasonable.  Now, keep in mind it wasn’t as if Jesus didn’t make sense.  Jesus spoke plain words.  However they were words that were difficult for the people to embrace.  The teachings of Jesus sounded scandalous and the people left.  The group wanted nothing to do with such crazy foolish talk.

 Now, it is easy for us to think that those that left Jesus were just some immediate self-gratifying people looking only for free food and entertainment.  This is certainly true, however, as we look more closely in verses 60 and 66 we see that Jesus also had a large group of people called disciples.  This was not just the 12 disciples but a large group of disciples.  Certainly we would expect that this group is more mature.  However, scripture says that many from this group turned away from Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus said something that rattled their cage and offended them.  They left too.  Now, for you and I today, let’s be honest, do you think that this sort of thing still happens today? 

We live in a time where the customer is always right.  Before being a pastor I studied business, finance and economics.  In the field of business we are told that in order to make it in our capitalistic culture that one must bend over backwards to always please the customer for he is always right.  Don’t make the customer mad or else they will take their business somewhere else.  Unfortunately, the American church and even our church can fall prey to this mentality.  As a result there is a temptation to avoid topics in our culture and avoid passages in scripture that would offend the hearer.  It is all too easy in our day and age for people to jump from church to church to church.  Because of this, pastors and teachers will attempt to compromise the message, so that ears are not offended, so that people will come back to hear more.  Crosses have been removed from some churches in America; words like sin are no longer used and so forth in order not to offend.  This is my temptation as your pastor and this is the sin that I commit as a pastor.  The temptation for you as parishioners is to want to accumulate teaching and preachers that will affirm your ears, to gather messages around you that will tell you what you want to hear.  This is your sin. 

What I find amazing in this text is that Jesus confronted the group of people with a difficult teaching.  After they were offended though, remarkably Jesus doesn’t run after the offended group and apologize for offending their ears.  He doesn’t try to adjust His message in order to get His numbers back up. 

Jesus then looks to the 12 disciples and says, “Do you wish to go away?”  These are some very sobering words for us to think about today.  When we are faced with the difficult words of Jesus (i.e. words that offend us, words that challenge our conventional wisdom, words that make us feel uncomfortable, words and verses that we simply don’t want to swallow), we are faced with the question too, “Do you and I want to go away?”  That is the temptation.  When we don’t like what we hear from God’s word we step away! 

Peter’s words in verse 68 are so powerful and reveal to us the profound truth of Christ.  Peter says, “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  In other words, Peter’s answer shows us that we need to go somewhere for our spiritual needs.  He admits that we as humans can’t stand by ourselves.  However, Peter admits that he sees nobody else that can satisfy our spiritual needs.

Yes, there are teachings of Jesus that offend our reasoning.  There are teachings from the Bible that go counter intuitive.  There are teachings from the scriptures that go against our culture.  As a result of the Word disagreeing with our own worldview we react and want to reject the Word.  We get defensive and react to having an authority over top of us.  However, in rejecting the Word of God, in rejecting the difficult teachings of Jesus we can essentially reject Christ Himself.  Dangerous!  If this is the case, where on earth shall we go to obtain the forgiveness of sins?  Where shall we go to obtain eternal life?  Where shall we go to have the assurance that death, the devil and the world have been finished?  Where shall we go to be assured of the resurrection of the dead? 

The truth of the matter my friends is that the word of Jesus and the words of the Bible should cause us discomfort.  The word of the Bible should challenge our thinking.  It should expose our sinful nature.  It should forms us. This is good even though it is uncomfortable!  The reason being, we don’t stand over God but He stands over us.  We are the sheep, He is the shepherd.  We are the clay, He is the potter.  We are sinners, He is the Savior.  We are the created, He is the creator.  Through the Word the Holy Spirit works on you and me!  Praise God, we are not been left to ourselves.

My friends our small church continually comes together around the Word to be reformed by the Word.  If we merely gather together for social or fellowship reasons and the Word does not ever form and reform us, we then are no different than a common rotary club.  Pastor William Willimon shares that, “The story [of the Bible] caused offense when it was first preached in places like Nazareth; we should not be surprised that it continues to offend?”  He goes on to share that we should be troubled as a church when the handling of the Bible never offends us, if we are never offended the Bible, what kind of Bible are we reading? 

While the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God confront us, this very Word of God is also at work in you and me doing something profound and that is giving us saving faith.  The Word of God on the flip side is continually speaking forgiveness to us.  We who want to compromise the Word and want to accumulate teachings that appeal to our desires; we are forgiven in Jesus name.  The Word that challenges is also gathering you and me together so that we might be continually enlightened, sanctified by the Gospel.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit we are being continually resurrected into Christ.  Regardless, of age, race, IQ, health and finances we are continually gifted the news of eternal life.  The bread of heaven has come to you and me.  May God continually grant us faith as we are daily formed by the Word.

Homiletic Sources: Sermon Studies on the Gospels: Series B (NWP) ~ True Christian Wisdom (Pastor Zirbel) ~ 12th Sunday After Pentecost Sermon (Pastor Batchelor)