Thursday, August 16, 2018

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 14)
August 12, 2018
Text: John 6:35-51

            Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He is the true Manna, the Bread come down from heaven.  As God sustained the bodies of the Israelites in the wilderness by sending them manna every morning, and quail every evening, and as He sustains our own bodies by giving us each day our daily bread, so our Father in heaven sustains our souls with the true Bread that comes down from heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Father gives us the Bread of Life in the Person of our Savior.  What this means, our Lord Himself tells us in the last verse of our Holy Gospel: “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” (John 6:51; ESV). 
            Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He gives it on the cross.   There His body is given into death for you and for the world, for the forgiveness of sins.  And in so forgiving your sins, Jesus erases the wages of sin, which is death.  He pays the wages.  He dies.  Your death.  In your place.  And the result is that you live.  Jesus is the Bread of Life that bakes in the hellfire of crucifixion, that when you eat of it, you never perish, never die.  You live.  Forever.  And you live whence He came.  In heaven.  The very Kingdom of Heaven is yours in this Bread.  And no less than three times in our text alone Jesus promises that He will raise you up on the Last Day (vv. 39, 40, 44).  That means in your body, a glorified body, to be sure, like unto the risen Christ’s glorified body, but your body, the very one put into the grave when you die.  Jesus will raise that body up and reunite it with your soul to live forever, perfect, happy, whole, with Him in the new heavens and the new earth.
            That’s pretty good Bread.  So good, in fact, that Jesus promises that as the Bread of Life, whoever comes to Him shall never hunger, and whoever believes in Him shall never thirst (v. 35).  That is to say, Jesus is finally and fully the answer to your every need.  You hunger and you thirst… physically.  Daily you need food and water.  These are the basic necessities of life.  These hydrate and nourish your body to make it strong and keep it functioning.  Don’t miss what is going on here in our text.  This Jesus who calls Himself the Bread of Life says here, “I AM.”  That is to say, “YHWH.”  The God who sustained His people in the wilderness with manna and quail and water from the rock?  That is the very God standing before you in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.  So He is more than capable of providing you with food for your belly, a roof over your head, clothing, shoes, family, friends, good weather, good government, and all that you need to support this body and life.  Not only capable, it is His will.  He does it.  So when Jesus claims to be the final and full answer to your every need, He even means those bodily needs.  Are you sick?  He is the Great Physician.  Look at how many He healed.  He will heal you, too.  Perhaps in this life.  Certainly in the life to come.  Are you unemployed, or underemployed?  Are you worried about money?  Are you worried you won’t have enough at the end of the month, the end of the day?  Jesus fed 5,000 men plus women and children from five loaves of bread and two fish.  He is more than capable of feeding you, O you of little faith.  See how He fed Elijah by the broom tree with the miraculous cake and jar of water, and the prophet went forty days and forty nights on the strength of that food (1 Kings 19:1-8).  That God is your God.  Don’t you know He loves you?  Have you never cast your eyes upon a crucifix?  Look what He did for you!  He died for you.  Willingly!  So greatly does He love you.  And He is risen from the dead.  If He did all that for you, how can He fail to provide for you now?  He has sustained you thus far.  He will never forsake you. 
            But really, beloved, you are thinking too small.  You are so wound up in your day to day needs and desires that you fail to see how Jesus satisfies your greatest need.  You hunger and thirst for righteousness.  That is to say, you hunger and thirst to be justified before God, declared innocent, nay, righteous, perfect, holy in the Diving tribunal.  We all do.  Even unbelievers do.  The question is where you seek your justification.  Our fallen human nature always seeks to justify itself.  We’re always making excuses or claiming innocence.  We insist that we are right.  That’s why kids fight about whether the car was blue or purple like it’s the most important question in the history of mankind.  They start early.  They’re practicing the art of self-justification.  This is why, when you talk to people (even all too many Christians!) about what they think will happen to them when they die, they say something along the lines of, “I certainly think I’ll go to heaven.  I mean, I’m not perfect, and I have my regrets, but I’m basically a good person.  And I’m certainly no Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden.  God could do a lot worse than me.”  But good luck pleading that case when you stand before your Maker.  It won’t get you to heaven.  It will get you a one way ticket to hell.  Those who eat the bread of self-justification may be satisfied for a while.  They may be able to deceive themselves and other people that they’re righteous.  But like a steady diet of Coca-Cola and cotton candy, it may go down sweet and it may fill your belly, but in the end, it cannot satisfy.  In fact, in the end, it will kill you.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness,” Jesus says to the Jews in our text, “and they died.  This,” Jesus, “is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:49-50). 
            Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).  Why are they blessed?  Why are you blessed?  Because Jesus Christ is your righteousness, readily accessible as the Bread of Life, fully satisfying your hunger and thirst.  Your righteousness is not in your works.  It’s not in your perfectly obeying the Law, God’s or man’s.  It’s not in your ability to cover your tracks, be right about your stupid arguments, or be a basically good person, not as bad as the other guy.  None of those things make you righteous before God.  Nothing within you or about you or from you makes you righteous before God.  Jesus is your righteousness before God.  And that drive to always justify yourself is finally satisfied when Jesus alone justifies you. 
            And here’s how it works.  The Father sends Jesus to be your Savior.  Jesus is the revelation of the Father’s love and the Father’s plan for your salvation in action.  Jesus is how we know the Father.  The Father draws you to Jesus, which is to say, gives you faith in Jesus.  Implied here, but not specifically mentioned in our particular text, is the Holy Spirit’s work as the Agent by which the Father draws you to Jesus and gives you faith in Him.  Now, when you have faith, which is simply trust in Jesus, you have Jesus Himself.  And having Jesus, you have eternal life, and He will raise you up on the Last Day.  Having Jesus, you have the Father.  Hearing Jesus, you hear the Father, for Jesus speaks what He hears from the Father.  And the Father declares in Jesus that you are His dear child, forgiven of all sin and free from death and the devil.  You belong to God.  This is what it means to receive Jesus as the Bread of Life. 
            And you don’t have to wonder how to go about getting this Bread.  He comes to you.  He comes in the way that He has promised to come.  In Baptism.  In the hearing of His Word.  And, of course, in the Holy Supper of His body and blood.  But more on that last one next week.  There is more than one way to feast on the Bread of Life.  Our Confessions are very helpful here (Here I’m quoting from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VII): “There is a twofold eating of Christ’s flesh.  One is spiritual…  This spiritual eating is nothing other than faith.  It means to hear God’s Word (in which Christ, true God and man, is presented to us, together with all benefits that He has purchased by His flesh given into death for us, and by His blood shed for us, namely, God’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life).  It means to receive it with faith and keep it for ourselves.  It means that in all troubles and temptations we firmly rely—with sure confidence and trust—and abide in this consolation: we have a gracious God and eternal salvation because of the Lord Jesus Christ.
            “The other eating of Christ’s body is oral or sacramental, when Christ’s true, essential body and blood are orally received and partaken of in the Holy Supper by all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper.  This is done by the believing as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are surely forgiven them and that Christ dwells in them and is at work in them.  This supper is received by the unbelieving for their judgment and condemnation” (FC SD VII:61-63).[1]  In other words, you eat the Bread of Life by faith in all the Means of Grace.  You eat the Bread of Life in the Supper whether you believe or not; if you believe, to your eternal benefit and life, if you do not believe, to your judgment and spiritual and bodily harm.  We’ll address this second eating more thoroughly next week in our continued mediation on John 6.
            But here is the great joy and promise for you this day, and every day: As the Father sent His Son to be your Savior, who gave His flesh into death on the cross for the life of the world, even so now He sends Jesus to you in the Holy Gospel as it is read, preached, applied to you in water, placed on your tongue and poured down your throat in the Holy Supper.  He sends Jesus as the Bread of Life for you.  Receiving Him, eating Him, you are satisfied.  He is your righteousness.  He is your life.  He is the answer to your every need.  He feeds your body.  He feeds your soul.  Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He is enough.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] McCain, pp. 572-73.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 5, 2018
Text: John 6:22-35

Guest Pastor: The Rev. Tom Wolbrecht