Living Bread from Heaven

Text: John 6:35-51
Date: Pentecost XI + Proper 14B + 8/9/15

They followed Jesus who healed them, who miraculously fed them and who was teaching them many things. They followed Him but they would not believe Him. Last week in John 6 we learned that our true, real and deepest need is not as much for food, clothing, shelter and health for this life but for an answer to sin and death and our eternal destiny. Today Jesus tells us about His mission of salvation with the goal of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. But it’s not enough just to know about Him and His mission merely intellectually. A person must come to the point of believing in and trusting Him for Who He is and what He has done.

“I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” “So the Jews grumbled about him.” It’s a wonder why they were still following Him and listening to Him. At the heart of this second section of our Lord’s “Bread of Life” discourse is that precious insight of Martin Luther in his Small Catechism that we refer to so often. The explanation of the Third Article of the Creed is a perfect summary of today’s Gospel.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith….
On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true.

Today we hear God the Father inviting and drawing people to saving faith in Jesus. He invites and draws primarily because they cannot come to believe in Him by their own reason or strength. Still, we discover that they don’t get there even yet. God’s grace and God’s call can be resisted; rejected. So I’d like us to consider today if and how we have come to saving faith in a way that comforts our hearts and fills us with confidence.

As we heard last Sunday Jesus uses the metaphor of eating bread to reveal what we really need to know about faith in Him. You may have noticed that these people were making the same mistake as His hometown acquaintances saying, actually grumbling John says, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”

You can’t talk anyone into believing in God. Only God calling and breaking through a person’s resistance to Him can create the gift of faith. So Jesus doesn’t rationalize or explain their blindness and confusion. Rather He speaks that calling of the Gospel before us. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Believers are made so by God the Father Who gets us to get with Jesus. That applies equally to “all” and to each “whoever” individual. Jesus makes clear that it is the will and working of God the Father. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Again we have the clear teaching that Jesus is the Son of God who, by His incarnation and birth of the virgin Mary, “came down from heaven.” His mission, purpose and will is that of the Father who sent Him, namely, “that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” This is God’s will and goal, the resurrection to eternal life by faith in Jesus.

That’s great! That makes sense at least to those of us that believe. But “the Jews” (John emphasizes their unbelief and rejection of Jesus by using this word), “the Jews grumbled about him.” They still would not believe. “How does he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” they ask.

Again, instead of attempting to explain the doctrine of the incarnation or answer their unbelief He continues to put before them the invitation of the Gospel, saying, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Then He tells them how faith comes from hearing the Word of God. “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” That’s how you have or can come to faith. You have been taught by God Himself. Listen to a few of the prophets. Isaiah, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Is 54:13). Or that great passage in Jeremiah, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:33-34). The work is all God’s. Or that great passage from the prophet Joel which we hear on the feast of Pentecost, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). The point is saving faith comes as God the Father teaches us and draws us by His Word and Spirit.

Now He does so through means, channels, or instruments. But the ultimate “means” behind the preaching pastor, behind the Bible class leader, behind the Christian mother or father, behind the text of scripture is Jesus Himself. Jesus is the living bread from heaven. Speaking of faith He concludes today saying, “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.” Well, next Sunday we will see that the people, once again, refused to believe, instead disputing among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Instead of faith their reaction was like, “Oooooo! Gross!”

We will talk next week about the connection with the Eucharist, the sacrament of the altar. By mentioning His flesh, however, Jesus is first proclaiming His coming and crowning crucifixion. As the Church proclaims of the sacrament, “As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). In other words to eat His flesh is to believe in His atoning death and resurrection. This is the heart and center of the Gospel through which we are taught and drawn by God and brought to a proper, clear and complete saving faith, faith in the redemption from sin and death by means of our Lord’s sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross of Calvary. We will, of course, draw that connection with the sacrament of the altar next week. But for now let us remember these two things from John chapter six: first, our true, real and deepest need of the forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from sin, death and the devil, and, secondly, how this deliverance comes by way of faith, faith in the incarnate Son of God, who gave His human life for us in His active obedience of fulfilling God’s divine Law for us and His passive obedience of giving His flesh and blood as the one, all-atoning sacrifice for your eternal life and for the life of the world.