Flesh and Blood

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
19 June 2016 / Ordinary Time
John 6:41-59

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May the grace and truth of Christ be with you!

Over the past two weeks I have tried to show you how echoes of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt and the sojourner in the wilderness are reverberating in the background of this story.

Here, Jesus is portrayed as the true and better Moses.

Like Moses, Jesus feeds a crowd of people a Passover meal of bread, and he then leads them on a new exodus — against the wind and across the sea.

Like Moses, Jesus confronts the people with their sin and he challenges their unbelief.

Like Moses, Jesus performs signs and points the people to look up to heaven and believe the Lord God and obey his word as they travel through the wasteland.

Two weeks ago we looked at the story of the sign of Jesus multiplying the bread and fish to feed a crowd. This week we will look at the meaning of the sign. Next week we will come to the crossroads of decision.

Our sermon text for today is John 6:41-59. You can find it in your Bible — or in your worship order — if you would like to follow along.

Now, if you are willing and able, I invite you to stand and pay close attention to God’s Holy Word.

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 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. 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. (John 6:41-59 ESV)

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.

GRUMBLING AND GRATITUDE

One of my fb friends (Gavin Ortlund) is a relatively new dad. This week he posted something that relates to this story. He said:

I have discovered my kids’ eating philosophy:

Step 1: demand a certain food item that is not currently on their plate (and probably not in the house).
Step 2: as soon as said food item is placed on their plate, immediately chuck it on the floor.
Step 3: wail despondently. 
Step 4: repeat step 1.

This is exactly what the Jewish community did in the wilderness, and it is what the Jewish crowd did at Capernaum. They grumbled when there was no bread; and they grumbled when there was plenty of bread.

The crowd grumbled because they did not like Jesus’s truth claim that he was the bread of life. Instead of dealing the truth claim directly, they changed the subject and looked for natural reasons why Jesus cannot be the Son of God who came from heaven. They said,

“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

The point is clear. Since Jesus is the son of Joseph and Mary, and since he comes from a family well-known by many Galileans, he simply cannot be the Son of God, or the bread of life, who came down from heaven.

This is a backhanded way of saying, We don’t believe you; we think you’r crazy.

Now is a good time to remind you of something we heard a few weeks ago when Jesus left Samaria and went to Galilee. Jesus testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown. When he first came to Galilee, they received him with lots of fanfare. But now, after seeing him and hearing him some more, they are rejecting him.

They are dishonoring the Prophet who was come into the world, deposing the man the wanted to make King by force, and dissing an ordained Rabbi. (John 4:43-45 ESV)

They gathered some flimsy empirical evidences in order to make a case for not believing Jesus’s truth claims. From one angle, their case against Jesus’s claim seemed scientifically irrefutable, except for one thing: they did not have all the facts.

Jesus was not the son of Joseph — he was the son of Father God and Mary by the Holy Spirit. He was the seed of the woman, the Word made flesh for the life of the world.

They assumed that Jesus was the son of Joseph, but we all know what happens when we assume.

In response, Jesus simply commands them to stop grumbling.

This seems like a nit-picky thing, but in the OT story God’s people got into more trouble for grumbling than just about anything else.

The Israelites grumbled about their hardships, their leadership, and their worship. Now the crowd is acting like their forefathers and grumbling about the same kinds of things.

You can almost see Jesus doing a face-palm and shake his head. They must have forgotten that God has a zero tolerance policy towards grumbling and complaining. Nothing stirs him to anger quite like grumbling. Why? Because it flows from an ungrateful, discontent, covetous, and unbelieving heart.

As Tim Keller says, “The way of hell is pettiness, jealousy, self-pity, harshness…always being unhappy … grumbling is a seed of something terribly poisonous and toxic.”

To grumble is to speak the curses of hell.

To give thanks is to sing the praises of heaven.

Sadly, for some of us, grumbling is the default mode, and gratitude is just an optional custom setting. It should be the other way around. We should be give thanks for all things, in all circumstances.

DRAWING AND DRAGGING

Once the crowd calms down a bit, Jesus teaches one of the most important truths he ever taught:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

That raises lots of questions, and lots of ink has been spilled by people trying to explain away what Jesus actually taught.

Last week we heard him say, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV)

This week we hear him say, “No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

So how are we to make sense of this apparent contradiction? It’s easier than you imagine.

Since no one is able to come to Jesus in and of themselves, the Father draws, hauls, pulls, drags them to Jesus with his cords of love. By his word and Spirit he draws sinners from danger to safety, from death to life, from the dragon to Jesus Christ.

In this way, the Father makes sure that everyone he has given to Jesus will actually come to Jesus by faith and so be saved.

By now, we have all heard of the tragic story out of Orlando. Not that one, but the other one about the father and son who were wading in the water at Disney. A gator came out of nowhere, grabbed the boy, dragged him into the water and killed him. The father grabbed his son and tried to drag him back to safety, but despite his valiant efforts he was not able to over-power the gator, and his son was not able to help himself, so he lost his son. That doesn’t make him a bad father; it makes him a human father. It is a terribly sad story and our hearts go out to that him.

But what is also sad to me is that so many people — even professing Christians — believe that the same inability and limitation holds true for Father God. As if the Father is not able to snatch his children from the dragon and drag them to safety.

Yet Jesus insists that the Father’s ability to draw us to his Son is greater than the dragon’s ability to drag us away from him.

And the Father’s ability to give us to Jesus is greater than our ability give ourselves to other things.

And the Son’s ability to keep us safe and secure is greater than our ability to keep ourselves safe — and greater than our inability to keep ourselves secure.

Think about it: So far in John’s Gospel we have seen that no one is able to do what Jesus can do. No one is able to change water into wine; no one is able to heal a servant; no one is able to make a lame man walk; no one is able to feed thousands with five loaves and two fish; no one except Jesus alone.

Now, Jesus emphasizes two things here: the total inability of any man to save himself and the total ability of God to save all his people.

The good news is that God does not help those who can help themselves; rather he helps those who cannot help themselves.

No one is able to save himself; but Jesus is able to save everyone who the Father gives him, and he is able to lose no one who the Father draws to him. So Jesus is able to save you and keep you saved — totally and completely and permanently.

The fact that we were drawn by the Father to come to Jesus, and that we will never be cast out by Jesus gives us assurance of salvation. It is all of grace, none of works. To God alone be all glory, praise, and honor!

Now, the million dollar question is this: How does the Father draw sinners to Christ who are being dragged away by the dragon?

According to Jesus, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

The Father draws them by teaching them. What does he teach them? He teaches them the grace and truth about his Son, Jesus. He teaches us to come to Jesus and live.

The word draw simply means drag, haul, or pull. It is used in John’s Gospel when Peter pulls out a sword; and when the disciples haul a net full of fish; and when Peter drags a net ashore.

I like the way Calvin explains it, “As to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant.”

All this talk of drawing and dragging reminds me of something my wife and I witnessed in Mexico City over 25 years ago.

One afternoon we were riding in a taxi near an infamous black market at the center of the city. The street was narrow and traffic was slow. On the sidewalk we saw an elderly man tugging on a fat rope and leaning forward as he tried to walk. We assumed he was pulling a heavy cart from the market. But he wasn’t. He was pulling an elderly woman down the side walk. She was lying on a pallet. Her arms were crossed on her chest, and the rope was tied around her ankles. She was dead. The man was grieving.

This serves as a graphic picture of what it looks like when the Father draws, hauls, and pulls people to Jesus.

Contrary to the straw-man caricatures of our critics, the Father does not drag living people to Jesus kicking and screaming against their will. Rather, the Father drags dead folks to Jesus so that they might live. As Jesus said, “I will raise them up in the last day.”

The Father overcomes our resistance and reluctance with the power of his love; he draws us to Jesus with cords of love and bands of kindness.

As it is written in the Book of Hosea:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke,
and I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:1-4)

In other words, the Father draws people to Jesus who are are so weak and wounded and wasted that they cannot drag themselves out of their own sin and death.

In love, the Father does for us what we cannot do for ourselves so that we may come to Jesus and live.

FAITH AND FOOD

How can we live with Jesus?

In this story, the synagogue at Capernaum is starting to look like a megachurch. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have come to Jesus for one reason or another, but not all of them have come to Jesus by faith.

Most have come to Jesus out of curiosity, or because it’s the trendy thing to do right now, or because they expect him to meet their felt-needs.

But at this point in the story very few people have come to Jesus because of the Father’s love in drawing them to him; very few have come to Jesus with a new heart and new spirit; very few have come to feast on the bread of life.

Like their forefathers, many of them ate bread and fish in the wilderness, but they will perish and die because they do not believe in Jesus. They are more satisfied by a crust of bread and dried fish than by the True Bread of Christ.

Now, it’s at this point in the story that Jesus says one of the strangest and creepiest things he ever said:

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.

The Jews reacted as if Jesus were calling on them to cannibalize him. They knew that God’s Law prohibited eating or drinking blood: As it says in Leviticus, “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. (Leviticus 19:26 ESV).

They also knew that cannibalism was a curse, and a sign of covenant-breaking. (See Deuteronomy 28:15; Deuteronomy 28:53-57; Leviticus 26:27-29; Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 4:10; 2 Kings 6:26-29; Ezekiel 5:10)

So they disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

The Greek word for dispute [μάχομαι] means fight with words. Their grumbling has turned into a grudge match. They’re fighting over the bread of life. So what we have here is a bread riot, a food fight.

If we could put ourselves in their sandals for five seconds we would understand their confusion and concern.

Eating flesh and drinking blood is the horrific kind of thing the Jews’ forefathers did when their cities were under siege or when they went into exile as slaves. (Click here.)

The image of God the Father taking hungry and thirsty people and drawing them to his Son Jesus and telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood so that they may have eternal life verges on the grotesque. It’s the stuff of zombie stories and vampire series.

So, how in the world could a man who claimed be from God encourage people to cannibalize him, to chew his flesh and sip his blood, and live?

A valid question from their point of view.

Now, we know that that‘s not at all what Jesus meant. Still, like them, we struggle to understand exactly what it is that he meant.

We hear the words “eat and drink” and think Jesus must have been talking about the eucharist, the Lord’s supper, and communion in this story.

While there are many similarities between this story and the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, Jesus seems to be pointing backward to something the crowd would have known, not forward to something only we could know.

Since there was no such as the Lord’s supper when Jesus said these things, Jesus did not mean “whoever takes communion has eternal life.”

Jesus meant whoever consumes the grace and truth of the Word made flesh by faith will live; whoever feasts their soul by faith on the Word of God will have eternal life. Why? Because man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Especially the Word made flesh.

SACRIFICE AND SAVIOR

Now, keep in mind what I said earlier. There are echoes of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt and the sojourner in the wilderness reverberating in the background of this story. The main reason God delivered Israel out of Egypt was so that his people could worship him.

When they worshiped God they offered many kinds of sacrifices to him, including grain offerings and drink offerings. The priests would take these food offerings and give a token to the Lord on the altar and keep the rest for themselves. So fresh breads and strong wine were offered up to the Lord as a way of giving thanks and praise, and as a way of providing life for the priests. (Numbers 28:1-8)

In this story, Jesus gave thanks to God (6:11) and promised to offer his flesh and blood for the life of the world. And he gives his flesh as true bread and his blood as true drink to all who draw near to him by faith. In other words, he gives the food of God and priests to the ones the Father gives him in order that they might live.

In his own mysterious way, the Spirit wants the world, the crowd, and us to know that

Jesus is the true and better passover lamb who will be slaughtered for the sins of the world; his flesh will be roasted in judgment and his blood will be smeared on the door frames of our hearts.

Jesus is the true and better atoning sacrifice that satisfies God and takes away the sins of the world — not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

Jesus is the true and better offering of bread and wine who gives his blood to gladden the heart of man and gives his flesh to strengthen man’s heart. (Psalm 104)

In the torn flesh and shed blood of Jesus, God gives back all the sacrifices, tithes, and offerings his people have ever offered him, for the life of the world.

MOTIONS AND MOTIVES

Now, in a few moments we who have come to Jesus by faith — we who were drawn to Jesus by the Father — will come to the Lord’s Table.

Physically, we will eat bread and drink wine, but it is not enough just to eat bread and drink wine with our mouths; we must eat and drink spiritually with our hearts. We must fix our eyes on Jesus crucified and resurrected, and we must feast our souls on the grace and truth of Christ by faith.

How do we do that?

We do it the same way we drink living water, eat heavenly bread, walk in the light, abide in the vine, and take up the cross.

We do it spiritually by faith in Christ.

“By faith in Christ we feed upon his body and blood, to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; we have our union and communion with him confirmed; we testify and renew our thankfulness, and our engagement to God, and our mutual love and fellowship each with one another, as members of the mystical body of Christ.” (WCF, Q168)

So I urge you will all your heart, not to chew bread and swallow wine with your mouth only, but to commune with the body and blood of Jesus Christ with your heart, soul, and mind.

Under the Law, when worshipers made offerings to God and said in effect “my life for yours.” But under the Gospel, Jesus lays down his life, his flesh and blood, and says in effect “No, my Life for yours.”

As we come to the Table today, let us remember Jesus. He offers himself to you. He makes promises for you: whoever comes to him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in him shall never thirst (6:35), for you will be sustained and satisfied by the sacrifice of his life; and whoever feeds on his flesh and drinks his blood becomes one with him and he becomes one with them, for you are who you eat and drink — you become what you consume.

PRAYER AND PLEA

As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. The same holds true for preaching. We have led you to the bread of life, but we can’t make you eat. We have led you to living water, but we can’t make you drink.

My hope and prayer for you as your pastor, brother, friend, and father, is that the Father will draw you to Jesus; and I pray that Spirit will give you an appetite for the flesh and blood of Jesus; that you will believe the grace and truth of Jesus, that you will crave the word of God, and desire the gospel, and hunger and thirst for Christ, sooner rather than later.

Prayer of Humble Access

O merciful Lord, we do not presume to come to your Table, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your Table. But you are the same Lord, whose special quality is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

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