John 6 60-69
Sept. 14, 2003 (Holy Cross Day) not celebrated)
John 6: 60-69
“This is a Hard Teaching, Who Can Accept It?”
Introduction: Two young parents take their ailing child to the Doctor. He in turn recommends test to determine what is causing the sickness. Months go by. Test after test is given until finally the doctor calls the parents into his office. The results clearly and definitely determine that their child has an incurable disease and only a few short months to live. The mother, shocked by the news turns away from the doctor and cries out, “no, I cannot accept it, my child is not sick and my child will not die.” She leaves the room, clearly understanding what the doctor had said but refusing to accept it. The child died in the mother’s arms a short time later. What the doctor had said was hard to accept, but his words were true.
Our gospel lesson for today is connected to last weeks reading where Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood; you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink - Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” This week’s text continues, recording for us, the reaction of the disciples, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe - for Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” It wasn’t hard to understand what Jesus was teaching. To be sure, the disciples may not have understood it completely but they understood it well enough. The disciples were right: Jesus teaching was hard and it simply was hard to accept. And Jesus response to their complaint was just as hard. What Jesus had to say offended those who heard it. But as hard as His Words were to hear and accept, His Words were Spirit and they were life. His words were the last straw for many of those who followed Jesus as disciples. Easy enough to understand but hard to accept, the truth was too much to take and they turned and walked away.
What was it that Jesus said that they clearly understood but could not accept? They could not accept Christ’s incarnation, that the Son of God, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was made man, born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died. God becoming man, this is hard to accept. And even harder to accept, as part of this incarnational reality, Jesus Christ offers His very real body and blood to eat and to drink for the life of the world. This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?
We Lutherans pride ourselves in that we hold fast to the Words of our Lord’s teaching; that in His holy supper we indeed eat His true body and blood, not only according to His divinity, but also according to His humanity. For this reason, Lutherans, early in our history, were called cannibals. While we do not hold that we grossly eat human flesh, actually tearing Christ’s body with our teeth, we maintain, according to His word, that it is His true body even according to his human nature, that we do indeed take it into our mouths, and that we eat Christ in a sacramental and mysterious way, receiving from Him, forgiveness and life. Most protestants understand what Jesus said, but do not accept His words. For them it is not reasonable to believe that what is received is true body and true blood, and that Christ’s flesh is real food that gives immortality. Thus they understand but do not accept the hard teaching of our Lord, and they turn away.
As Jesus’ disciples turned to walk away His response was just as hard. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life…This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled him.” These words echo our Lord when He said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” As Lutherans we confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason and strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” In other words, “the flesh counts for nothing.” And we continue, “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel”…in other words, the Words that Jesus spoke and His Holy Spirit, they create and sustain our faith. Yet many Protestants, though they clearly understanding what Jesus has said, do not accept it. They turn away from out Lord and falsely teach that man is freely able to choose Jesus Christ as Savior. They teach that people are not hog tied by sin, death and the devil. They teach that people are free agents and are able to make free choices. But the Bible teaches that mans will has been made captive to sin death and the devil through the fall into sin, thus, like prisoners have no freedom to make decisions. God has made the decision for us, and he chose to send His Son into the world to save the world. He sent His Son to save us from our sin. This He chose to save the world even before it was plunged into the darkness of sin. Salvation would come through God’s grace alone. For many people, this is a hard teaching and they find it difficult to accept. They want to hold man accountable for his own salvation. Man contributes nothing to his salvation. Man alone is held accountable for his own sin. It is God alone that saves. For this we glorify God alone.
Lutherans also face a challenge. We clearly understanding what God says, but we too have difficulty accepting it. How is it that if God clearly wants all people to be saved and He alone can create and sustain faith, why then is it that some people will be damned. Why is it that some are saved and not others. We would wrongly jump to the conclusion that it must be some favorable disposition within a person. This goes against what the Lord has said. The Lord alone saves. Man does not turn towards God; God turns man towards himself and creates faith. Even Luther could not peer behind this door. He had to say that we must leave some things to the inscrutable or impenetrable mind of God. Some things must be taken in faith. This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?
As modern day Christians, all too often we understand what the Lord has said and what he wants in our lives. All too often we find his word hard to accept. We know His Word and will for us is true but we too walk away in unbelief. We are called upon to obey the laws of our government but how often do we go a few more miles over the speed limit, because everybody is doing it. How often do we bend our own consciences and break the law, as long as nobody sees what were doing, after all the government doesn’t know what it’s doing, were right and they are wrong. Within the church, where we supposedly understand the forgiveness of sins, how often do we want to beat the sinner up? Hey pastor, look at what that person did, they shouldn’t get away with that. Pastor, you’re not going to let that person come to communion are you. In our dark hearts we want to make sinners pay for their sin instead of bringing them to Christ and letting Him do it. Forgiveness too, is easy to understand but hard for us to accept.
Each one of us comes to a place before the Lord where we say, “Lord this is a hard teaching. How can I accept it? Each one of us faces a different challenge to our faith and Christian life. When we meet that challenge we are like Joshua in our Old Testament lesson, where he calls to the people of Israel, “Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the Gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the river in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” When we are faced by challenges to our faith the Lord calls us to follow Him.
Our lord understands us though. He gave His life for us on the cross. Though He was rejected on the cross He opened His arms in acceptance of all people. Through His death on the cross we have life, graciously given to us through faith, which itself is a gift from God. Our Lord accepts us though we often fail Him. That is why He continues to come to us today, giving Himself to us in this Holy meal. He understands that we, on our own, cannot accept His Word or will or live it out in this life. Yet He gives us a new Spirit, His Holy Spirit, that enables us to believe and love Him as well as to love and forgiver the people around us. We sing, “Create in me a clean heart O lord and renew aright spirit within me. And He does. His Spirit brings us to our knees, recognizing our own sin, and understanding the forgiveness that we have received.
Conclusion: As the people were leaving Jesus, Jesus asked the twelve disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you? Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe that You are the Holy One of God. This is our confession of faith because we know that the Words of our Lord are Spirit and Life. Though we don’t always understand Him He understands us. And though we don’t always accept Him, He unconditionally accepts us, forgives us, and gives us eternal life. Amen