PENTECOST 11, B – August 16, 2015

 SCRIPTURES – Psalm 111; Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18; Eph. 5:6-21; John 6:51-69

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6)

 

 Last Tuesday afternoon a group of seven young people (late teens to mid 20’s) met me as I returned home from the day’s visits. After piling out of a minivan they told me they were in Norwalk to share the Gospel, and they then gave me some literature from their church, the New York Good News Church in Huntington, NY. “Ok, so why are you here talking to me?” I wondered. Well, they had no food, no money, and were looking to be put up for the night. When I asked them how their church could send them out with nothing, they said that this was their Pastor’s way of helping them to realize that God was real.

 

Now, there’s some validity to this. We must learn to trust and rely upon our Savior, and this often comes as we are humbled and helpless. But, self-chosen trials are nothing more than challenging God. They are a subtle way of putting yourself first by putting Him to the test. Know this: if you believe in and follow Jesus as the Holy One of God and your Savior you won’t need to come up with challenges to your faith. They will come of their own. God will even lay them upon you. You won’t need to invent any.

 

“We’re here to share the Gospel.” Well, ultimately, that is why we’re all here! But, those seven young people, who were very nice and very sincere, never really said much beyond that. What exactly was the Gospel that they wanted to share? Both their words and their literature were very general and didn’t define it.

 

What is the Gospel? What is the Christian faith? What is it that we’re all about as a church, as believers in Jesus? You must know this. Jesus cannot be taken lightly. You must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have His life, He declares.

 

Contrast what Paul says in the Epistle – “Let no one deceive you with empty words” (Eph. 5:6) – with Jesus’ words. The context of Ephesians 5 makes it clear that the empty words Paul was referring to were proclamations of peace and love from God while avoiding any mention of judgment or punishment – a general, undefined Gospel. This is the God you often hear proclaimed today. “God loves you just as you are, no matter what” – and so, there’s no fear of punishment for your sins and no need for repentance, for confessing your sins and turning away from them to Christ for the forgiveness He won for you by paying the penalty for your sins in His own flesh.

 

Jesus doesn’t proclaim such an easy Gospel. How hard are His words in John 6! First, He tells the Jews that His flesh is bread that must be eaten if one wishes to live forever. He says this to people who only eat kosher food! Boy, this is in your face! When they respond with a logical question – “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” – Jesus responds by doubling down: “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.” He will not quibble with them about how. “You must eat my flesh; and, you must drink my blood,” He insists. And notice: He spoke these hard words in the synagogue, their church. Offense would be guaranteed, for the most religious and pious Jews would be there.

 

This is a hard Gospel, as even Christ’s own disciples realized. Many left Him after He said this. This hard Gospel is what you must believe, however, if you wish to have Jesus’ life, which is eternal. You must realize and confess that you are nothing apart from Him. “You have no life in you,” Jesus bluntly says. Apart from Him you are dead and useless because of your sins. Eternal death in hell, and not eternal life in heaven, is before you! Life – eternal life, life with God and in God that is good and holy and never ends – is not in you but outside of you. It is found in the Triune God alone, and you who are sinful cannot go to Him. “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father,” Jesus says. The Father must want you. He must turn to you. The Holy Spirit must open your heart to Jesus and give you His life. But, see: the living Father has sent us His Son! His heart is open to you! His Holy Spirit is speaking to you now. Jesus offers Himself to you! Receive Him, and you have eternal life. Take Him in and trust Him so completely that, like food that is eaten and digested, He becomes part of you and changes you.

 

Only Jesus can give you eternal life. His flesh alone is true food and His blood alone is true drink. And, only the flesh and blood that He gives for the life of the world – the flesh that is nailed to a cross and the blood that flows from His wounded and broken body and stains the ground – gives eternal life. The Jesus who did great miracles and taught with great wisdom was an incredible man. Many were blessed as they followed Him, blessed by having their diseases banished and their flesh healed; blessed by being freed from seeing God as a critical Judge who could never be satisfied to knowing Him as a loving Father. But, Jesus had many followers. Some still endured bodily afflictions and diseases. Some suffered from the strain of hostility within their family because of their faith in Him. Some lived with the daily worry that poverty brings. Ultimately, they longed to be delivered into an eternal life of peace and joy in God’s presence. Do you not long for this, also? Only a crucified Jesus could bring them – and you – into this life.

 

This is why I prefer to wear a crucifix, by the way, and not an empty cross. Although both are only symbols – you can wear either, or none at all – the empty cross is a far less potent symbol. You can wear it and yet be seen as little different from anyone else, and so not face rejection or scorn. Even Madonna wears a cross! This could not happen in Jesus’ day, however. His followers could not hide behind an inoffensive symbol. Those who believed in Him followed Him: a man of flesh and blood who made extraordinary claims about Himself and caused much conflict, and who finally was rejected and crucified. I prefer to wear the crucified Christ because it is not the cross, you see, that delivers us from our sins but the Man who hung there: the Holy One, the eternal Son of God, who became flesh and had His holy flesh whipped and pierced with nails and bloodied, and finally rendered lifeless, to pay the penalty for my sins and cancel their judgment against me! The crucifix proclaims this; it is a far more potent, far more “in-your-face” symbol than the empty cross.

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You – the crucified One – have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you – the crucified One – are the Holy One of God.” This is the Gospel. Feast on this Jesus, and His life will fill you and raise you up on the last day! In His holy name. Amen.