Listen to a recording of the sermon HERE.
Greetings on this last Sunday of our series Bread of Life. I have thoroughly enjoyed diving into this highly Christological text. A text that gives us a glimpse of who Jesus is. What is his nature, and how we relate to him?
The last three weeks have been highly theological messages, messages that have sought to reveal, at least a little bit, Christ’s nature to us.
We’ve been able to see that who Jesus is has implications for how we are to live.
We’ve seen that theology is not disconnected with real life, but that, in fact, theology, in this case Christology, has HUGE ramifications on your and my life!
Because of who Jesus is, we live a particular way.
We began 3 weeks ago, opening the Bread of Life series, by seeing that Jesus is I AM. We saw that Jesus uses YHWH’s title for himself. He says that he is God!
We saw that the implication was that we believe in him because he is I AM. We don’t believe because he performs really cool or extravagant acts. We aren’t to suffer from “America’s Got Talent-itis.”
He is, therefore we believe.
Then 2 weeks ago we looked at how this one who has called himself God says that if we partake of the Bread of Life, if we eat the Living Bread, he offers us eternal life.
We saw that the eternal life Jesus gives is offered through his death; his crucifixion.
The “Whole New World” Jesus offers isn’t through his self-exaltation, but his self-emptying.
And we saw that we share in this eternal life right here and right now by doing the same; through sacrifice.
In our text last week Jesus told his followers that his flesh truly was food and that his blood truly was drink.
We recognized last week that there is great mystery in Jesus’ words. That he is true food and true drink is a great mystery. And it is a mystery into which we will live until the Kingdom is fully realized.
But this Sunday, everything comes together. Our text this morning is the culmination of the Bread of Life discourse.
As we’ll see, it may be a rather anticlimactic and even depressing conclusion. It doesn’t end like our reality TV shows or our Disney movies.
So, friends, have any of you ever been on a blind date? Have you ever been set up by a friend with someone you’ve never met?
I was thinking, and I’ve never been on a blind date, but I imagine it being a pretty nerve racking experience.
You hear about this person from your friend, but the perspective you get is only what this friend wants to share with you.
It is not an unbiased perspective.
But anymore we can get to know someone before we meet them, or at lease we think we can, due to social media.
Today’s equivalent of a blind date might be online dating or Facebook stalking before meeting them.
Has anyone done online dating?
When we get to know someone online we think that we have a very good picture of who that person is, right?
Even if it’s not dating, getting to know someone online gives us the idea that we know them.
But aren’t things different when you get to see them face to face, when you get to hear the inflection in their voice, when you get to see the expression as they talk, and when you get to touch them; putting your hand on their arm as you chat, when you hold hands for the first time.
There is something so REAL about going on a walk with someone. There is something so much more genuine when you sit across from one another over a meal to have a conversation rather than talking on the phone, texting, or even talking over FaceTime.
Things just seem to make more sense when we see them face to face, don’t they?
Whether it is a physical location or a physical person.
Have you ever had the experience of seeing a location for the first time and having your eyes opened.
When you see the Eiffel Tower, Victoria Falls, the Nile river, or the Gaza Pyramids with your own eyes, you’re really get a sense of awe that you don’t from a picture or film.
Even this last week, when touring our house, my sister-in-law told Kayla, “OH! I’ve talked with you when you were sitting on that couch!”
Seeing a space face to face can be illuminating.
This is even more true when it comes to people, though. Right?
When we can see someone’s expression, hear their inflection, and touch them, we have a greater understanding of their intent and their meaning.
You get this, right? You’ve had experiences like these, yes?
Have you ever wished to have this illuminating experience with Jesus? Have you ever said, have you ever thought, or have you ever heard some one say something like “Boy, wouldn’t it be easier if we could just SEE Jesus? If we could just touch him and hear his voice, we would understand more!”
Have you ever felt this before?
Of course you have. I think we all have…
Well, when we look at our chapter as a whole, we see a progression, a movement, of Jesus’ followers. It progresses from those who don’t know Jesus, who haven’t spent time with him, who haven’t seen him face to face, for very long to those who have spent the better part of a few years with him.
The chapter progresses from those who aren’t that close to Jesus to those that are VERY close to him.
With this progression we see a greater depth of understanding.
The closer people are with Jesus, the more they understand him and his teaching.
John 6 begins with Jesus feeding the 5,000 families. People that didn’t know him all too well. And it ends with Jesus’ disciples, those closest to Jesus.
The chapter progresses inward from the outer circles to Jesus’ inner circles.
We see at the beginning Jesus gains a massive following! 5,000 are all highly impressed by Jesus’ miraculous work. They start following him, even though he runs away.
This would look good on Jesus’ annual report, right? Wouldn’t this be really cool to experience? An almost instantaneous massive following?
This is something we’d like to see, right?
The DS would be SUPER happy about that!
If we saw this happen we’d likely be written about in Nazarene publications for other churches to model so that they could gain a following like this too.
But it gets troubling because as the chapter progresses it’s basically Jesus purging his followers…
The rest of the chapter is basically an exodus away from Jesus! The more he speaks the more people are offended and the more people leave!
First, the massive crowd of 5,000 families. This crowd experienced Jesus miraculous feeding but when Jesus refuses to give in to their “America’s Got Talent-itis” they leave him…
When he tells them belief shouldn’t be contractual or conditional thy struggle… They have a particular notion of what Messiah is supposed to be and do.
They want a performance driven Messiah, a “showy” savior.
Jesus doesn’t fit their imagination, Jesus isn’t in the business of performance or “show,” so they end up deserting him.
Then the story moves on to those would understand Jesus a little bit more; who John calls the “Jews.” Likely, a religious elite.
These would likely have had greater understanding, probably spent more time with him.
They’re down with the whole not performing thing. They don’t seek a “showy” Messiah, but they just can’t get behind Jesus saying that he has come from heaven and that he grants eternal life through the chomping on his flesh and slurping his blood.
This is a problem for the very religious folk. And it’s just plain gross…
“We’re to eat Jesus’ flesh like a cow chews her cud?!”
The truth is, for the intellectually and religiously elite, the mystery was too much for them.
These “Jews” also end up deserting Jesus
So our text today moves even closer to Jesus; from the crowd, to the Jews, now to his disciples.
It’s important to recognize that at this time Jesus had many more disciples than just the 12. His following would have been fairly expansive.
We don’t know how many disciples he had, but it had to be a fairly large group because they were the ones who collected up the baskets from the 5,000 families.
This would have been quite the task and would have required many hands.
His disciples tell him that his teaching is difficult. Literally, “This word is difficult.”
What exactly is difficult we’re not sure. It could be that Jesus calls himself I AM, it could be that Jesus says to participate in eternal life means to chew on his flesh and drink his blood, it could be a combination of everything that has just happened.
Nonetheless, they struggle.
They might not be looking to desert him, they may simply be asking for clarification or an explanation, but Jesus doesn’t help them out…
Instead of saying, “OK, let me spell it out for you,” he says, “Are you offended?”
As you read in the Weekly Words this weekend, the Greek word here is “skandalizo.” Sound familiar?
Jesus is asking if they feel scandalized! Jesus is asking them if his words are scandalous.
Jesus has said that he is the way to eternal life.
For pluralists, the exclusivity of this claim is scandalous. How can new life be given everyone through the act of this one man?
Yet he offers this new life to everyone; to all who would believe. For the legalist this radical inclusivity is scandalous. How can new life be given to everyone through the act of this one man?
As we see, in their curiosity, Jesus doesn’t help them out. He says, “Are you scandalized? What are you going to do when you see me ascending to where I was before?”
Do you know to what Jesus is alluding?
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus is “lifted up” or when Jesus “ascends” it is a reference to his being lifted up on a tree, to his crucifixion!
In order to go back to the Father’s presence, Jesus “ascends” on a tree.
“If you think what I’m telling you today is scandalous, what are you going to do when I’m hanging lifeless on the cross?!”
Jesus doesn’t seek to domesticate or sugar coat his message, he actually makes it MORE scandalous!
Because of this, Jesus ends up losing most of his disciples…
What was once a great ministry technique – gaining thousands of followers in a matter of hours – has resulted in only the 12 remaining! And one of them is going to betray Jesus!
I had a pastor friend post on Facebook, “If Jesus were on twitter he would be so lame, only 11 followers…”
And for us, this might NOT look so good on the annual report.
“Yeah, we dropped from over 5,000 families to 12 guys…”
We might have something written up about what NOT to do if this were our ministry, right?
In a matter of days Jesus has scandalized thousands of people and has lost not only them, but also the majority of his personal following.
I think we’d be hard pressed to call this “effective ministry.”
So, church, would it really be easier to understand if we were able to walk and talk with Jesus?
We get a clearer picture of what someone means or what they’re like when we see them face to face.
Is that true with Christ as well?
Do we understand more, the closer we are?
Well, maybe! In fact, I think so. Were we to see Jesus face to face, were we to talk with him and walk with him, we might just understand a little more.
And it should be noted that we CAN see Jesus face to face. We CAN see him, physically.
We do so by sharing in the life of the Church! The church is the corporate presence of Christ in this world, and we see his face by sharing in the life of the church. The Church is Christ’s body. Physically…
If you want to see Jesus, share in the church, for we are his body.
Do we understand Jesus more by being in proximity to him? Certainly!
There is just one problem… It seems that knowing what Jesus is talking about, that understanding him, doesn’t make it easier to believe!
It’d be nice if it did, but the passage today says that those who knew what Jesus was saying, those really close to him, those who understood him, ended up deserting him because they couldn’t believe.
Even his disciples are scandalized! These disciples understand what he’s saying. They get it!
What they get, though, is that he’s speaking a scandalous word…
In truth, it is precisely BECAUSE they understand the great scandal here that the no longer go about with him.
Those who spent more time with Jesus understood what he was actually meaning; they had a clearer picture. But that clearer picture might not make it easier to believe.
Seeing Jesus face to face may allow us to understand him more, but we would also have a keen sense of the scandal.
Would you believe me if I said that being closer to Jesus made it harder or his disciples to believe?
Because, being closer to Jesus, they couldn’t claim ignorance. They really understood that Jesus was speaking a scandalous word.
Because, Jesus told them that the way in which he ascends to the place from where he came is by being lifted on a cross.
He says that the way to eternal life is through self-sacrifice and self-emptying.
To eat Jesus’ flesh and to drink Jesus’ blood is to participate in self-denial, looking not to our own interest. It is not self-preservation or self-promotion.
They understand. They get it.
But what do they say? “This word is difficult…”
Because, Church, it is! It is a difficult word! Jesus is not offering any small thing here. He is offering them the Kingdom of God. And he says that the way in which we participate in the Kingdom is no small thing, either.
We share in the life of the Kingdom through the daily laying down of our own lives; living not for our own gain, but for the sake of others.
By saying that his disciples are to eat his flesh and drink his blood he is not asking for a little bit of them.
He is asking that they surrender everything, withholding nothing. To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to share in his life; his self-emptying, sacrificial, cruciform life.
And then, what does Jesus ask the 12?
“What about you? Are you going to leave me as well? You understand what I’m saying, right? How then will you respond”
Church, hear this question as if Jesus were speaking it to you!
First, will we seek understanding? Will we pursue growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior?
Will we pursue knowing him more? (which we learn through the shared life of the church…)
Will we understand the great scandal Jesus is talking about? A difficult teaching, a hard word!
Friends, we must not seek to avoid the difficult, and even scandalous, teachings of Jesus, for if we choose to live in ignorance we aren’t believing in Jesus, we’re believing in our own imagination of Jesus.
Will we pursue understanding?
But as understanding leads us to difficult questions and hard situations we have to ask how we will respond. What about us? What about me? What about you?
Do you hear Jesus asking you what he asked the 12?
“What about you? Are you going to leave me as well? Do you also with to go away?”
Church, when things get hard, when our understanding leads to difficulty, will we be like those disciples?
How will we respond?
How do you respond?
Because, Church, Jesus is asking us this morning, “Are you with me? Even though it may be hard, are you in?”
Will we confess with Peter, “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy one of God!”
HCN, do you believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God?
Jesus isn’t looking for half-hearted followers. He’s looking for those who will give their whole lives-their own flesh and blood-to him as he has for us.
We can’t only follow Jesus a little bit…
Do you confess that Jesus is Lord? And do we commit to following Christ even though he takes us to the cross, or will we, like his other disciples leave him because this is a difficult thing to swallow?
Do you believe? Understanding the difficulty, recognizing that we might be considered scandalous, will you follow Christ?
Wholly, fully, entirely! Will we follow him even to the cross?