By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 15, 2021
John 6:51–58 (ESV)
51 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.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 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. 58 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.”
Last week I encouraged us all to look at the study of scripture not as a task, but as an adventure. A journey of exploration and discovery. When I think of this sort of thing my mind is often filled with images from various stories, I have either read or watched on a screen. It is a journey of exploration or a quest. When I think of it as a quest my mind is immediately drawn to the story of King Arthur and the knights of Camelot. I am not a great scholar in the matters of the Arthurian lore, if I want to be totally honest most of my knowledge of Arthur comes from Monty Python, but there is a quest. A quest is more than a simple journey of exploration, when you are sent on a quest your intention is to find or achieve the task set before you. In the case of the Arthurian legends the quest was for the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ, the cup that brings life.
The quest image is what I want us to consider today. Those individuals that are on a quest will not stop for any reason. They are driven to obtain the completion of the quest or to die trying. The reason behind this drive is the understanding that the completion of the quest has great benefit. We have heard of medical researchers that have been pursued their research with a quest type of fervor. They do this because they once knew someone or were possibly related to someone that contracted a disease. That individual they knew either lived in constant pain or suffering, or perhaps they died because the doctors did not know what to do. These researchers saw this happen and something inside of them flipped a switch and everything in their lives changed. They were almost duty bound to find the cure, and they would give their lives to achieve that goal.
That is the type of drive I want us to have when we approach scripture. I want us to look at the words on the page and see them not as good words, but as the words that give life.
There is a problem with this. The words of scripture were not written in English or Swahili. They were written in a language that very few of us really know. And we all know that sometimes things can be lost in translation. At times there are not good words in one language that can fully express what we would like to say so we use the next best thing, but when we use that word, we lose something. We will often see the word love in English, but that word could be several different words in the biblical Greek text. It could be one of four different words that convey a deep affinity but are acted out in a different manner. If we do not take that into account, we risk misinterpreting or misunderstanding how this exceedingly important word should be expressed in our lives.
We are on a quest. Our quest is to know what scripture says because these are the words revealed by the Spirit to teach us of the Word. They are the words given to us to convey the knowledge or wisdom of God. What is said in this book shows us what life with God is and reveals to us how we fit into that life. We are, just like King Arthur, given the quest to find the holy grail, the cup or the vessel that brings life.
We are called to this quest but often we are met with challenges. Many of us have started to read scripture, but we often get to a point where we do not understand what we are reading and we are discouraged and we stop. We look at the pages and it no longer appears to be the grail we seek, but instead it becomes a chamber of secrets. We do not understand so we step back in fear that we might unleash some terrible heresy that will condemn us and entrap those we care for. We stop pursuing the quest we once began and we leave it to those that are stronger or wiser. We then put our trust into those stronger and wiser individuals. This is not entirely bad. Even Arthur that legendary king had companions that assisted him on his quest. The key there is that we assist, we do not walk the path for you. Each of us must walk our own pathway, we each must take that journey ourselves, but the journey is more enjoyable when we have friends to walk with.
Today, as we walk the pathway toward that vessel of life, we come to one of those areas that will often cause people to stumble and stop their journey. It is not surprising even during the days of Jesus many struggled with the words Jesus spoke. John chapter six is a turning point for the ministry of Jesus. Prior to this the questions were largely to determine if they should embrace the teachings of Jesus. Yes, there were times that there were misunderstanding, but by in large those that asked questions were seeking clarification. They were not thrilled with Jesus’ approach, but they could not outright reject what he had to say. But somewhere within this chapter things change.
On the surface we may not really notice what changed. We might simply see some people following Jesus because he has the power to make bread. We can understand this. Who would not want to follow someone that could provide for their basic needs of life? I will be totally honest, if I was offered a job where housing and meals were included with my salary, I would probably take the job. The rule of thumb we are often taught in our society is that we should not spend more than thirty percent of our income on housing. Thirty percent. That is basically one third of our paycheck goes toward keeping rain from our heads while we sleep. The next largest expense in our life is food. In the United States we spend on average six percent of our income on food. On average in the United States right from the start we thirty-six percent of our income is spent on just keeping our immediate needs covered. This ratio unfortunately is not static. The less you make the greater the percentages are and the more income you have the smaller the percentages are. If we were to look at the value of the home of the wealthiest individual in America, the amount spent on their housing each month would be far below thirty percent, where it would be common for many low-income families to be spending over half of their income on rent alone. For many Americans they are required to spend most of their income on supplying the basic needs of life. If I were to be offered a job where these basics of life were provided along with a salary, I would most likely take the position because likely the salary offered would be greater than the amount left over after I paid for the basics of life.
The people were following Jesus because they sought the benefits. That is not faith it is survival. And there is nothing wrong with survival, many of us trust God because we live in a survival mode, we have needs and we do not know where to get them so we have no other option but to trust that God will provide. But what happens when we can provide for ourselves?
The tribes of Israel wondering through the desert were provided with manna from heaven. Their needs were provided for, but as soon as they entered the land of promise that manna stopped coming from the sky and they were required to survive off the produce of the land. In the desert once the grumbling generation had died, all that were left were those that only knew the provision of God. They entered the land with faith, but gradually over time the faith of Israel diminished as they saw themselves as their own provision.
This brings us to today’s passage. Again, we begin this week where we ended last week. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus says. “If anyone east of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This is where contention emerges. This is where most of us become confused as well. We have a basic understanding of bread. We even understand that Jesus by connecting himself with the manna from heaven is telling us that God is the true source of our provision. But we struggle with the last phrase of that verse. “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The religious leaders disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” In their mind Jesus has just presented something profoundly vile. Cannibalism? Yet, Jesus lets them continue in this line of thinking, even though they have misunderstood the words he has spoken. What is the flesh that Jesus gives?
Last week I mentioned the peace offering. I mentioned that this is the one type of offering where the people giving the offering were invited to participate in it. The offering included bread and flesh. A portion of the bread was given to God to be burned on the altar, and the remaining bread was to be eaten by the worshipers. Then the animal was ritualistically slaughtered and choice pieces of the body were given to God on the altar, and the remaining meat was given back to the worshiper to be eaten and shared in a celebration of peace with God. This offering represented intimacy between God and the people. It represented God sharing a meal with his people. And when we share a meal together there is peace and friendship.
Jesus says that he is the bread, but changes the wording a bit, morphing the bread away from bread the basic staple of life, into flesh the more luxurious aspect of the meal. In the United States, we have a skewed understanding of nutrition. We, by in large, have access to a balanced diet. We do not always take advantage of this access but it is there. We may not have a high protein source of food at every meal but we will most likely have at least one meat a day. In many areas of the world the availability of meat is scarce. To have meat at a meal in this ancient time was a celebration, it was a sign that the worshiper trusted God enough to share the meat.
Jesus turns from the bread to the flesh of the meal. We can look at the Olympic metal counts and see how important the availability of meat is to the physical success and well being of a culture. But I want us to keep in mind the sacrifice or the offering image. The worshiper is bringing the bread and the flesh. In our minds we are the ones that offer worship, we are the ones that come to God with our petitions and our praise. This is no different from the teachings of those ancients in Israel. Many of them believed that if only we were more righteous Messiah would come. They would dedicate their lives and lifestyles merit God’s favor, with the hopes that the kingdom of God would come.
Jesus says that I am the living bread, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Remember that the bread of worship was a symbol of the wisdom from God, Jesus is saying that he is the source of that wisdom when he is saying that he is the bread of life. He is the source of wisdom. But there is more, John begins his gospel account with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word being spoken of is the term logos. Logos is knowledge or wisdom. This term logos was symbolized in the bread of worship. John goes on to say that through this divine wisdom, logos, everything was created, and nothing was created without this wisdom. Then in verse 1:14 John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The wisdom of God became flesh. The bread of God became the flesh of God. And that flesh became the peace offering that brings mankind and the divine back into the right relationship. Jesus is the peace offering.
Jesus by speaking those words were telling the religious leaders that their righteous labors were empty. They were rituals performed with empty hopes because the focus was not on the proper place. They were providing offerings from the economy of mankind. The things that we can do and create. What are the deeds of men in relation to the creator of the universe? What is our gold and currency to a being that in a breath can speak the entire world and everything within into existence? Their rituals were empty because they were focused on themselves. We are good enough and God should want to eat with us. The reality is God provides the bread and the meat. God became flesh and lived among us, not because we were good enough but because he loved us anyway. He came full of grace and truth.
Jesus loves us anyway. If we were to look at all the sacrifices, all the rules, and all the laws we can see one thing. We are completely unable to stand before God. The sacrifices were not there to take away the sins, but they were there to keep the impurity of humanity from infecting the places set aside for God. The things labeled unclean many times were things that we have absolutely no control over, and in many cases were human functions that God created within us. Is a child born with a deformity destined for hell? No, but they were not able to come into the sanctuary of God because they were a symbol of the imperfection of humanity brought about from the sin of our first parents. Jesus loves us anyway. We are imperfect, and God knows this so God provides what we cannot give ourselves. We cannot make peace so he does it for us.
The religious leaders still grumble, because Jesus tells them that those that ate the bread of the sacrifices still died. But those that eat the flesh of Christ, the bread that came down from heaven, will live forever. Those that rely of themselves will remain in the same state that they have always been in. But what if we turn? What if we were to take on or eat the flesh of Christ. What if we become like Christ and begin to live within his wisdom? That is what it means to eat the flesh of Christ. It is not necessarily eating but becoming putting on his lifestyle or armor as Paul tells us. When we put on Christ or partake of his life he stands where we cannot for us. His perfection redeems our imperfection. And our imperfection and weakness become his strength. I stand here not in my own strength; this is the last place I want to stand in myself. I know who I am. But I stand because I know that of Christ overcomes. I was once dead, I once lived without a relationship with God, but through Christ I have been changed. I now have peace with God. In Christ I now have friendship with God. And God has sent me on a quest to explore the wonders of who He is.
Will you join the quest and sit at the table he is calling you to? We do not bring anything to the table, but there we do have to respond. God has made peace with us through Christ but we must accept the gift of grace and turn to him. Will you?
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