Questions from the Disciples
Focus: God is the only god.
Function: that the hearers go to God for true food.
So far we have been following the questions of the crowd, and the questions of the Jews, and today we look to the questions of the disciples. But before we get there, notice this one feature: our circle is getting tighter.
You can first picture the whole crowd, with the disciples and the Jews, around Jesus, thousands pushing in saying, Hey Jesus, come on, give us bread.
And after he answers their questions, they turn aside so that the more theologically minded Jews can ask their questions, which we heard in last week’s sermon. But finally today, we see the circle tighten even more when these Jews fade off into the distance and we see Jesus standing with his disciples.
Notice in our text a little bit of distance here. You probably heard it when I read verse fifty-nine forces us to pause a little when we read it. There’s a distance of perhaps time or space in fifty-nine and then, then verse sixty takes ahold.
There are four questions in our text today: First, the disciples ask, “Who can listen to your teachings?” To that Jesus answers “Do you take offense at this?” Third, Jesus turns to the twelve, to the closest ring of disciples, and asks “Do you want to go away as well?” And Simon Peter replies “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
First, Who can listen to this? This is the question that his disciples ask – not just the twelve but also the over 120 folk that had been sent out on mission journeys and taken up to follow Jesus in a consistent kind of a way. His disciples have been around for the whole conversation, where Jesus has turned the crowd and the Jews on their own head. Those who came seeking unlimited bread, he has corrected. Those who would just make Jesus into a great man, a great moral teacher, he has corrected. Just before this question, these disciples, who’ve heard the whole conversation, they say, “This is a hard saying, a difficult teaching to hear.”
Now, we can think of some instances in Jesus’ ministry where his teaching was difficult because it didn’t make any sense. It was hard to understand, like when he says, “Where the corpse is, the vultures will gather,” or “Let the dead bury their own dead.” That isn’t the case here. The Greek implies that they understood his teaching; it wasn’t a difficult teaching because it was hard to understand. It was difficult because it was harsh, unpleasant and strict. Jesus says, if you believe that I am the true bread from heaven then you would look for, you will long for, you will ache for me and my word more than you do for meals at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and (at least in the case of Pastor Griffin) the midnight snack table. That is a hard teaching, to be satisfied in Christ before you are satisfied in the filling of your physical needs. Do we do that? How do you do that?
For me, it makes worship easier, not harder, when I don’t have a grumbling stomach, right? I’m sure it’s never happened to you, but I have, on occasion, had a bible study before lunch and in the little times of quiet when people are thinking, my stomach makes those noises that tell you you’re hungry. It makes worship easier and not harder when I’m not sleep deprived. It makes worship easier, not harder when God meets all of our needs and we can worship comfortably.
False. The first lesson of our text is to be satisfied in Christ before all others. And that is a hard lesson.
The kingdom of heaven was like a couple whose tongues were sharp and their complaints were loud. They loved each other, but that love kept getting overshadowed by their disappointments. Until one day when health troubles took them to the hospital. Deprived of their daily routine, first for a week, then for months, then for years, it was, frankly, the best thing that ever happened for their faith and for their family.
And Jesus senses his disciples’ grumbling – their grumbling, their murmuring. They have the same quiet air of unease around them that the Jews were had in last week’s text, and the same thing that the Israelites did in the desert when they first received bread from heaven. It’s the same thing that Adam and Eve did when they hid their sin from their God – a discontent that’s below the surface, that they don’t want to express.
And so Jesus does here what we would give as advice to premarital couples, exactly what God did with Adam and Eve, exactly what Moses did with the Israelites. Just because you hide your grumbling doesn’t mean it goes away. The only way to resolve conflict is to first, unearth it. Bring it out into the open.
So Jesus does just that. He asks them, “Do you take offense at this?” If you take offense at this, then what will you do when you see me in all my glory? He’s talking to people who are on the edge of trusting him. They see their physical needs. They’re at the top of the cliff looking down. Right? That’s what I felt when I went cliff jumping. You stand up there forty feet above the water, just standing, just standing. You know you can do it, you know the water’s deep. But still you haven’t jumped.
He asks them, “Will you be shocked? Are you scandalized that as Lord, I rule your whole life? Will you follow me when I am humbled, so that you can follow me when I’m glorified? Or do you fall away from me when public opinion is against me?” It seems foolish to follow a dying man to his death. It seems foolish to believe that Jesus is Lord. It seems foolish to think that one man’s death should pay for all. And many would tell you that, and they’d be right.
But the second lesson of our text is on the scandalous nature of God’s love. As one author writes, “Grace is uncivilized, vulgar, rebellious. We make rules for it and it breaks them. Grace is a constant embarrassment to the prim and proper religiosity of the squeaky clean.
Grace doesn’t give a rip if you’re a high school dropout or a Ph.D., a felon or a cop, a virgin or a porn star. You’re all guilty of leading lives of rebellion in which every intent of the thoughts of your heart is only evil continually. You’re all equally dead in transgressions and sins. You’re all equally condemned by the law of God and sentenced to life in the prison of death. Yet there stands Grace, the anti-Santa, doling out gifts to bad boys and girls. It throws open its door to holler, “Come one, come all. Fools and wise men, penniless and powerful, Pharisees and publicans. You’ve all got a seat at my table.”
Grace is the God who was born in a barn, swaddled in rags, in the cold darkness of a world too lost even to know it needed finding. Grace is the God with a motley crew of former tax-gougers, terrorists, and blue-collar fishermen at his heels. Grace is the God with such poor taste in friends that his detractors labeled him a glutton and a drunkard, a sidekick of sinners. Grace is the God who loved them all, loved them unto death, even death on a cross.”
And so we get to one of major sea-changes in the Gospel of John. The Jews had started to look for ways to kill him in chapter five, and they continue to do so here. Up until this point Jesus was rising in popularity. Now, he diminishes. As some in his outer ring of disciples walk away from him, Jesus does something unique in our little narrative of chapter 6. Up until this point in the conversation, the people would ask Jesus questions and Jesus would respond, sometimes in conventional ways, but mostly in ways that turned them on their heads. For the first time, he initiates conversation with a question, and he talks to the Twelve. He asks the closest disciples, those in whom he had poured time and life and energy and love, “Do you want to go away as well?”
And here is our third point and, as well, the crux of our chapter. Third, we see Jesus ask the perfect question, which leads to the perfect response. So long we’ve seen imperfect people ask imperfect questions, to which Jesus in his kind, gentle and strong way corrects their questions and gives them the answers that answer the questions that should have been asked. But here, notice that this is different. Right here, the perfect man asks the perfect question, and get this: Peter gets it right. He replies, 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.
The wise man becomes wiser when he returns to the beginning, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Paul tells us not to be empty but to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Even Peter gets it right when Christ is the one asking the question. So finally we turn to Peter’s question. What better question could we ask than that of Peter? It is a wondering, sincere, helpful and helpless kind of a question.
I can’t get over the helpless kind of simplicity that comes from this question. Where else would we go? In asking the perfect question, Jesus allows Peter to show us the false choice - there is no other place to go; there is only one God and you are it. There’s only one basket, so the only choice we have is to put our eggs in it, or let them fall on the ground. Psalm 73 says, whom have I in heaven but you? There’s nothing on earth that I could desire besides you. My heart and my flesh they may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion.” You are my portion, Lord, because you own the whole pie.
This is the helplessness of Stephen, the martyr, and the apostles. In Acts as the apostles are brought again and again to the Sanhedrin and told to stop preaching, they say, how could we stop speaking about that which changes our life? If the Word of God would lead us in smooth sailing or rougher waters, what choice do we have?
Who else could we go to? This question, asked by a man whose god is his enemy, whose God is a cruel tyrant and a miser, this question is a word of terror and famine and hardship. But to us, whose God is our father, where we are bought and delivered beloved children, these words are like a feast set before us, without end and ever lasting.
The kingdom of heaven is like a big church in a small town where the rich often look out for the poor, the strong often look out for the weak, and the young often look out for the old. Where their own helplessness, their own loss and their own weakness sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly turns into a time and a place to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness. Where we know that the one we run to is the one who has already run to us. Amen and amen.
Funeral Sermon for Beatrice Gekeler
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
About a week ago, a school teacher friend of mine had the brakes on his car go out in my next door neighbor’s drive way. A day later, on one of the hottest days of the summer, I drove into my driveway only to see him underneath his car, sweating up a storm, working on his car with the help of his dad. I rolled down my window and hollered out, “Hey, there’s people that can do that for you, you know!” We talked smart for a bit and I went off to relax in the shade on my patio while he finished the job. Or so I thought. A few days later, when I asked Eiden how it all worked out, he admitted that in the process of fixing one of the brakes, one of the other brakes was damaged and in reality, he caused more damage than he fixed! When it comes to car repair, there are two kinds of people – the do-it-yourself kind of a person and the take it to the repairman kind of a person.
So also when it comes time for soul repair, it seems as though there are two kinds of folks – those who go running with their questions to the lover of their souls, Jesus Christ, and those who try to slug their own way through their own days of trouble. Our text for today is a portion of the Gospel lesson appointed for yesterday, the 12th Sunday of the Pentecost season. Jesus was teaching the people how vitally important it was to believe in Him and follow Him. Again and again, He declared Himself to be the living bread that came down from heaven. Again and again, He pleaded with people to know that if they eat of this bread, they would live forever. Again and again, He taught them that blessed would be the folks who would hear His Word and blessed would be the folks who would hold on for dear life to His promises and blessed would be the folks who would keep on running to God for refuge and for strength.
But on the other hand, cursed would be the folks who would try to answer their own questions and handle their own troubles. Weak and burdened would be the folks who would try to carry their own loads and solve their own conflicts. Confused and injured would be the folks who would try to fix their own messed up lives and blaze their own trails.
In John 6, Jesus had proclaimed these realities of sin and grace so clearly that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. Perhaps it was with tears of sadness in His eyes that Jesus asked the Twelve Disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” And then the outspoken Peter, the one who often got it wrong, actually got it right. He answers, “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.”
Beatrice Gekeler got it right every time she ate the living bread that came down from heaven, every time she sat still and knew that God was God. She got it right every time she made her way slowly and surely into the house of God and used her ears to hear. She got it right every time she admitted that she was a sinner and threw herself on the mercy of Almighty God. She got it right every time one of her pastors asked her if she would like Holy Communion and with tears in her eyes she said yes. Of course she wanted to receive the very body and blood of her Savior. Of course she knew that she couldn’t make it through the trials of life on her own strength and with her own ingenuity. Of course she couldn’t fix her own troubled heart and struggling soul. Where else would she go?
We all know where to go if we have medical concerns – to the doctor. If our problems are financial, we go to an accountant. If we have serious legal difficulties, we are wise to consult a lawyer. But what about days like this, when we spend a few hours following caskets into and out of the church and over to the cemetery? Where shall we go after the dust has settled and the casket is buried? If we really want to get it right in the quietness of tonight, where shall we go? Specifically, where shall we go with our questions?
In Jesus’ day, people could walk up to Jesus and ask Him the questions that they had. They would , and He would answer them. Frequently He answered their questions with another question. Often He answered them with a story or a parable that seemed unrelated. On more than a few occasions, Jesus answered the questions people should have been asking instead of the ones they actually did?
This morning, there are a few questions that really matter and all kinds of questions that matter not very much at all. Rather than asking if Beatrice believed enough, we ask, was she baptized? Yes, she was. Rather than asking if she did enough good, we ask Was and is God faithful to His promises? Yes. Rather than asking if questions about her decisions and her character, we ask, Was she instructed in the faith and did she confess that faith publicly? Yes she did. Did her Good Shepherd follow her around in all the chapters of life with goodness and mercy? Yes He did. When she cried out in her days of trouble, did God answer in a way that was perfectly thought through and for her benefit? Yes. When her believing heart pumped for the last time, and as she breathed her final air, did the angels of God take her soul into the very presence of Jesus? Absolutely. On the last day, will this cold and lifeless body be resurrected and reunited with her soul and will she see Jesus face to face and is it true that in heaven there is no more pain and no more falls and no more fractures and no more tears of frustration and no more fears of failure. Yes, yes, and yes, this is all as certain and valid as the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The final questions are for all of you, dear friends and family of Beatrice. Where are you going these days for your refuge and for your strength in time of trouble? Where are you going with the wrong that you have done and the good you have failed to do? Where are you going with your fears and your doubts, your worries and your failures? Is the Holy Spirit of God drawing you closer and closer to your Lord Jesus Christ through the ups and down and the zigs and the zags of life, or have you grasped for the straw, the idea that you could make it through all of that with your own good effort and honest toil?
Research from George Barna suggests that between high school and turning 30, that 43% of once active millennials have dropped out of regular church attendance. That’s 8 million twentysomethings who for various reasons have become spiritual do-it-themselfers.
Dear friends, wherever you are at in your own spiritual journey, it’s a beautiful sight for Beatrice’s pastors to see you all here today. Oh my goodness, how the tears of joy would flow from her eyes if she could see so many of her 6 children, her 18 grandchildren, her 49 great grandchildren, her 5 or 6 great grandchildren sitting still and knowing that God is God. You should know that from this day forward, every time you eat the bread and drink the wine, every time you receive the very body and blood of your Savior into your souls, you are getting it right. More than that, the very angels and archangels of heaven and the communion of saints who have gone on before you are celebrating with and for you. If you want to fix your own cars or tear apart your own lawn mowers or sheetrock your own basements, go ahead and knock yourselves out. But for heaven’s sake, when it comes to getting your hearts mended and your minds corrected and your souls repaired, do come running to the One Who has already gone on before you, all the way to the cross. Come running to me, Jesus would say, with all of your faults, your failures, and your fears. Come running with your burdens, your brokenness, and your bruises. Come running with all that needs to be fixed, and as often as you do so, know that the words of eternal life will sweep over your soul as a cup of water quenches the thirsty, as a piece of bread satisfies the hungry, and as a word of forgiveness heals the broken. God grant that the children and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and the generations to come would always know how beautiful are the words of eternal life, that they would spend their days holding onto those words and cherishing those words and being changed by those words and sharing with other those words, and may Beatrice Gekeler rest in eternal peace.
(Second in a Series of Three Sermons)
John 6:35-51 – I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a teenage son who says to his mom, “Hey Mom, what’s for supper?” To which mom replies, “Your room is a pigpen. I can’t stand it anymore. You need to clean it up or I’m just going to put it all in boxes and give it to Salvation Army. Do you hear me?” To which he says, “ok, ah mom, did you see that $20 bill I left on the table?” To which mom says, “And that’s another thing. Money doesn’t grow on trees you know. Back in the good old days, kids knew the value of money and they appreciated all that their parents did for them. No such thing as credit cards back then. You saved up for rainy days and you paid cash. Are you listening to me?” “Ah ok, mom, yes, could I just ask you one more question? What time will supper be?” I’ll tell you one more thing, buster brown. You better start getting up and going to church on Sunday mornings. If you’re going to live under this roof, there’s some rules you’re going to have to follow. Back in my day, we kids went to church, no questions asked. We knew that Jesus loved us and we would sit still and be quiet if we knew what was good for us!
The teenager must have felt like the Jews in our text for today. His mom kept answering questions different than the ones he was asking. So also with Jesus. He rarely answers the questions people asked; He instead answers the questions they should have been asking. The outline of today’s sermon includes ten questions. First, the questions the Jews asked, and secondly, the questions Jesus answered.
The Questions the Jews Asked
The first question the Jews asked in our text for today was, “Isn’t this that little (Galilean) boy whose parents we know by name?” For some time now, their hearts had been hardened against Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee. They wondered if anything good could come out of such a small and insignificant town. They had seen with their own eyes this Jesus feeding 5000 men plus women and children with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish, but they would not believe. They had heard reports of Jesus healing the sick and giving sight to the blind and raising the dead, but they would not accept Him as the long promised Messiah. Like the mom in the opening story who was blasting forward with her own agenda instead of responding to simple questions, the Jews were in a foul mood. Their only comeback to Jesus offer to satisfy their deepest and spiritual needs was to scoff at the idea that the son of Joseph the carpenter could be anybody special. Even though Jesus’ great desire was to gather them as a mother hen would gather her chicks, they would not be gathered.
Their second question was much like the first, “How dare he say that he came down (out of heaven?)” Jesus had been spending His days fulfilling prophecy after prophecy, and yet these religious leaders kept on preferring the status quo. Jesus was all about mercy and they were all about tradition. He was all about second chances and new beginnings and they were all about doing things the way they had always been done. He was all about the forgiveness of sins and they were all about keeping a record of wrongs. Even though their Father in heaven wanted to draw them near as a nursing mom draws her precious child near, they would not be drawn.
Their third question is actually in next week’s Gospel lesson, and is another example of the enemies of Jesus blasting forth with their own hostile agenda instead of listening with humble hearts. Does he think we’re a bunch of (cannibals?) Or to say it another way, “How is this one able to give us his flesh to eat?” By this time, the Jews weren’t just muttering among themselves. They were crying out in loud voices their ideas. The language indicates they were divided. They knew they were against Jesus, but they differed on exactly what their objections were. They were together in their scorn for this man, this son of Joseph, but they couldn’t really come together in terms of how to express that scorn. Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms, and they kept on speaking in physical language. Jesus was inviting them to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, and they would do nothing of the sort. Even though the Holy Spirit would in that moment have called, gathered, and enlightened them with His gifts, they would not be called nor gathered. Darkness was to be preferred.
In the first part of our sermon today, we focused on the questions the Jews asked with hostile hearts. In the second part, we focus on The Questions Jesus Answered. In our text for today, we can find at least seven answers to questions they should have been asking. It’s almost like the popular TV game Jeopardy, where the answers are provided, and contestants try to come up with the questions that match the answers.
The first question -Who are you? The answer “The Bread of Life.” When Jesus identified Himself as the Bread of Life, He was saying He was essential for life. He was trying to get the Jews thinking off the physical realm and into the spiritual real. He was contrasting what He brought as their Messiah with the bread He miraculously created the day before. That was physical bread that perishes. He was the spiritual bread that brought eternal life. Jesus was making yet another claim to deity. This statement was the first of the “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel the phrase I AM was the covenant name of Yahweh God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jews who were listening would have automatically understood this as a claim to deity.
The second question that should have been asked- Where should we go with our hunger? Answer #2 is ME. It is of our very nature to take our hunger to the breakfast table and to the lunch table and to the supper table and even to the late night snack table. To take our hunger to the places where we work and are entertained and you fill in the blank. In reply Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” He would teach us today simply to come to Him. To come just as we are, to come without one plea, to come hungry and to come often to His Table, His promises, His Word. It is of our very nature to think that we can satisfy our deepest desires in life by running fast and working hard and aiming for perfection and getting as close to perfection as is humanly possible. Jesus would have us keep it simple this morning. To simply believe that He is Who He said He was and that He has done everything He said He would do. To believe that He has lived the perfect life that none of us can even get close to living, that He has suffered all that He was appointed to suffer, and that because He did in fact die on a Friday and rise up on a Sunday morning and make appearances all over the countryside the next 40 days, because all of that is true beyond the shadow of a doubt, there is no more hunger, heaven is ours, sins are forgiven, all is well.
Question #3 - Where should we go with our thirst? Answer – Me. It is of our very nature to think that we can satisfy our thirst with a few beers or maybe it’s rum and cokes, or maybe it’s financial success or maybe it’s position or popularity or power or you fill in the blank. In reply, Jesus says, whoever believes in me shall never thirst. We are inclined to chase after all these other things in life and think that human happiness is complicated and dependent on all kinds of factors, some which we control and many which we cannot. Jesus would have us keep it simple this morning. To simply believe that as often as we come to Christ, there is no more thirst, heaven is ours, sins are forgiven, all is well.
Question #4- “Will you be casting us away?” Answer – Not if you come to me. It is of our nature to think that the nastiness of our sins and the bad habits that we can’t quite overcome will disqualify us from God’s presence. For many of us who have had so many advantages that we have taken for granted and we have had so many opportunities that we have wasted and we have had so many privileges that we have abused, we are tempted to stop coming, to stop asking, and to give up trying. In reply, all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” As the waiting father looks down the road for his son and does not cast him out but runs down the road to meet with him, embraces him with tears of joy and issues the order for the homecoming to be celebrated…..so also do the angels and archangels of heaven stand on tiptoe yearning for us to repent this morning, that our repentance might be celebrated. As a mother of a toddler cries for joy when that child steps forward with an apology and a desire to be loved, so also does our Lord Jesus Christ cry for joy every time we stumble forward admitting that we have messed up again and wondering if we could still be loved.
Question #5 to Jesus, Who gives you your marching orders? Answer - (My Father)”For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.
Question #6 to Jesus, What are your marching orders? (Not to lose you)And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
Question # 7 to Jesus - How do we come to you? (Use your ears) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. 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 kingdom of God is like a man who was brought up to believe that if a man will not work, neither shall he eat. It is in his very nature to work hard so that he might eat well. To eat well so that he might work hard. To work even harder so that he might eat even better. And so the cycle goes faster and faster until He starts to get more and more exhausted in a regular sort of way. And then more and more he finds that he is sitting still. And the more he sits still the more he is drawn to this familiar voice that speaks in such a way as to keep it simple. And the more he listens to this gentle and ever so reassuring voice, his hunger is gone, his thirst has been quenched, heaven is his, sins are forgiven, all is well. In Christ. Amen.
Focus: Jesus is the bread of life.
Function: that the hearers would ask the right questions, to get right answers.
Questions, questions questions. Does anyone have any questions? One of my undergraduate professors, Kermit Radcliffe, would start every lecture that same way. Because, he taught, “The Bible” a class where you had to read through vast swaths of scripture and come to class for discussion. He said, “The more you read the Bible, the more questions you’re gonna have.”
Today and for the next three weeks, we will be jumping from the gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John. From the feeding of the five thousand and the calming of the storm as Jesus walks on the water, we’re on the far side of the sea of Galilee where the same crowd that Jesus just had compassion on has pursued Jesus across the lake, and here Jesus has an extended dialog with them. We study together the questions of the crowd, then from the Jews, and finally from the disciples. Today, we look at three questions that the crowd asked Jesus, and how (if at all) Jesus answered them.
But first, let me tell you of one of the manliest things I’ve ever done. I dry-walled a room in my house. You see, when the house was first built almost a hundred years ago, the style was nail strips of wood between joists and then cover that wood with plaster. Over the years… the plaster, coming apart, would separate from the lathe, and our trustees had done their faithful job of patching up cracked plaster. But, as the years lengthened, the problems got worse and the cracks that had been spackled would crack again until I have a two foot crack in my wall that’s held apart by the weight of the spackle. And the only solution was to take out the plaster and to re-dry wall the room… Here’s the point of the story: now the spackle makes it worse and the problem needed to be taken down to its core.
Question #1 from the crowd: When did you get here? The crowds, breathless from scooting across the lake they look a little bit like the guy who’s waiting for a girl. You know, he’s waiting in the same spot at the same time every day, just so that he can “casually” bump into her and ask her, “Oh, hi, do you come here often.” You can see the crowd huffing and puffing, and then casually coming up to Jesus and saying, “Oh Hi, Jesus how’s it going today?”
Notice what Jesus says to them. He doesn’t answer their question; he answers the question they should have asked. As William Barclay writes, Jesus cuts through all the niceties, to get to the heart of their problem. He reveals to them their inner motivations. He says, “You are here, not even because I did a miracle, but just because you filled your bellies.” As John Piper would say, “You are fixated on the product, not the person.”
It’s like those who come to our church only to be married, like those who come to church only for baptisms, only for funeral service, only for the food shelf, only to rent this space. But it isn’t just for those out there. I find myself falling into this trap. It has been proven that meditation and prayer have positive physiological effects. It is well known that when you have a stable routine that includes quiet time in church that toddlers do their toddling better. It weekly improves my marriage for me to confess my sins publicly to someone other than my wife. Those are all good things, yes… But the real reason to go to church, to read your bible, to be a Christian, isn’t the bread we reap in this world, it isn’t the physiological,, psychological, social, or relational advice we reap, it is that we get to know our savior. … Jesus gives the right answers even when we ask the wrong questions. He says, “Work for food that endures. All the other stuff will perish. But the food that endures, the Son of man gives it to you from the Father.”
So then, we get to question #2. The crowd asks, What must we do? If we’re supposed to work, then what work are we supposed to do?
This question seems to come from a sincere place in the crowd’s heart. If this is true, then what do we do?!? It’s the same question of the Rich young ruler, to who Jesus said, and you remember, sell everything that you own and follow me, and the rich young ruler. It’s the same question that would burn in my heart as a college student when I heard sermons that touched my heart. Yeah, but what am I supposed to do? But first, notice that the only word from Jesus’ response they catch on to is “work.”
And then notice Jesus’ response. He says, “Believe.” That is to say, the works of God are in fact the works that God does. The way to be saved is for someone else to save you. Pastor Griffin put it this way: “The one work that God requires you to do is actually a work of God.” As Paul says in Romans chapter four, you are saved the same way that our Father Abraham was saved – by faith in the coming savior Jesus. The only thing you “have to do” - and the words “have to do” even break our English language – is believe that God has done it already.
C.S. Lewis writes like this in his book The Last Battle. After Narnia is destroyed, those who are left are visited by the Lion Aslan, in whom some believe and others do not. Some look around and see the world that Aslan was re-creating, and others see only the remnants of a destroyed world and thus they cannot see the riches that Aslan put before them. “You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” They are in prison, yes, and their prison is their own mind.
In this, Lewis restates much the same truth of Jesus in our text: to have salvation, we must only believe that we are already saved, that God has already saved us. That is the salvation won on the cross 2,000 years ago. Your sins today and for your lifetime were paid for once and for all on the cross of Christ. Your sins were washed away in the baptism that happened before you could understand it. In the real and mysterious presence of the Lord, the sins you admit to and the sins that you have not uncovered are stolen from your soul in the proclamation of absolution. To have salvation, we must only believe that works of God are in fact, God’s work.
Question #3: What sign would you give? How can we prove you? The crowd challenges Jesus again, revisiting and refining its first question and Jesus says, “Look, the bread your fathers received wasn’t from Moses, but from God. It was God gave that bread, and it is God who gives the true bread from heaven. I am that true bread.”
The true bread from heaven is the person of Jesus, God incarnate, walking among them. The living water goes thirsty on the cross. The strong man of the universe hangs weak on the cross. And yet it isn’t the cruel callousness of Roman execution that makes him cry out in pain; it isn’t lack of food and water that make him stumble on the path to Golgotha; it is instead the deep loneliness of separation from God, the deep cracks of loneliness that we would spackle over with so much of this world’s bread. This is what he took from you. This is what makes him cry out.
As often as I preach the word of God, that often do I hear God speaking to me in this place. As often as broken men and women hear the words of Institution and eat bread and drink wine, so often does the true bread from heaven come down into our midst. As often as the great and many benefits of this place attract others for the wrong reasons, so often do we have the opportunity to see the word of God do what the word of God did on the edge of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum: change questions, break barriers, and walk among us. As often as the people of God come back to the altar of God so often does God do what they do not deserve. He heals them. He saves them. And on top of that he gives them heaps and piles and loads of blessings, not only for the next life but for this also.
Today and this weekend, we celebrate the life of a man among us who has shepherded God’s flock here at Trinity for 25 years, and that is something worth celebrating. But know this: the reason it is worth celebrating is because as much as Pastor Griffin might know your names, that is the corner of how God in heaven knows you utterly and intimately. As much as Pastor Griffin has cried with you over the years, that is a taste of how much more God has suffered with you in your grief. For as much as Pastor Griffin has faithfully and humbly led this church, let know that God would turn our eyes to how much more faithful and humble and strong and kind and gentle is our Savior in heaven. If we would give thanks for this man, let us give thanks at how small of a picture this would give us of a God who can fill our ever need in his time.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther