It's a Draw!
You know what a draw is: a tie, even-steven. But a draw can be an attraction, an allurement. A player can be an added draw for a sport’s team. A big business moving to an area can be a draw for attracting other businesses. Our text is about that kind of draw.
It’s a draw to the Living Bread from heaven. Jesus starts out identifying Himself as the Bread of Life (35). Thirteen verses later He reiterates, “I am the Bread of Life.” Then in our text Jesus switches it up a little bit: “I am the Living Bread.” And our text closes with an over the top, too big to believe, statement: “He who eats this Bread will live forever.” This is in contrast to the manna the OT church ate 40 years in the wilderness. They ate it and died. Jesus, in the 2 verses before our text, makes the same blunt point to them. “Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the Bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” What a miracle it was for manna to fall from heaven with the dew every night! But not to us who stores are filled with bread that they’ll even deliver. Not so the people of Jesus’ day. Go home read John 6. Note how fixated the people are on physical bread. We, or at least I, can’t imagine their poverty. Tens of thousands are in the wilderness with only a few fish and loaves between them. They were drawn to the prospect of free bread and full bellies.
Jesus puts before them the Bread that can provide not full bellies but full life and not for a time but forever. He says not as the insert translates that His flesh is real food but true food and His blood is not real drink but true drink. That means the food and drink the crowds craving is in some sense ‘false.’ They knew that; you know that. How? We eat and drink only to get hungry and thirsty again. And all the eating and drinking we do, I don’t care how healthy it is, doesn’t stop us from dying. Jesus says you eat His flesh and drink His blood and you’ll not only never hunger and thirst again but you’ll never die. That’s crazy talk. Or is it?
First, be sure you know what Jesus is talking about. He’s not inviting them to the Lord’s Supper. He’s not speaking about the Communion He’s a year a way from instituting. He’s talking about believing in His flesh and blood. We say in a 1577 Confession of Faith that there’s a two-fold eating of Jesus’ flesh, one spiritual, which Jesus speaks about in this text. This “eating” occurs by the Holy Spirit creating faith when we hear or read the Gospel, as well as in the Lord’s Supper. By itself spiritual eating, that is believing, is useful and necessary for salvation. Furthermore, without this spiritual eating, even the sacramental or oral eating in Communion is injurious even damning (FC, SD, VII, 61). In Communion Jesus says, “This Bread is My Body.” Here, Jesus says, “My Body is Bread.” Oral eating happens in both cases. But only when accompanied by believing is Jesus’ Bread-Body beneficial.
This text is a draw to the Living Bread come down from heaven to give His life for the world. There is no salvation outside Jesus’ Body and Blood. The Law is unkept, ever-accusing and convicting outside of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Your sins lay naked and exposed before God Almighty. Why do those dreams where we our naked in front of others bother us so? They’re just silly dreams. No, they’re reality outside of Christ. Nakedness was the first thing that convinced Adam and Eve there was something wrong between them and God. Apart from Jesus who gives His Body and His Blood for the life of the world, the naked truth is that all the world, God Himself, and us too see every pimple, every mole, every wart, every ugly birthmark we have. We’re like Mrs. Johnson in Pritchett’s short story “Blind Love.” A woman hides her neck to bellybutton scar from her husband till their wedding night. In utter disgust, he rejects her upon seeing it. But not just rejection by God is heading our way but His cup of wrath full, undrunk and boiling is.
But Jesus says, “This bread is My flesh which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus gave His flesh literally in place of on behalf of the world. This simple sentences has 2 of the most important doctrines of Scripture. That atonement is substitutionary and universal. The “for” in “for the life of the world” is the Greek Word “in place of” or “on behalf of.” You know this theme in fiction too. There’s Somersby where a kind and loving man takes the place of an abusive, unloving husband killed in the war. There’s Gattaca where a disabled man gives up his perfect DNA so a man with less than perfect can have a better life. There’s A Tale of Two Cities where the wretch Sydney Carton gives up his life for the noble Charles Damay. But closer to what Jesus did for us is the brother who didn’t commit the murder putting on the blood-stained clothes of his twin and giving himself up to police. There it is. Jesus takes the filthy rags that Isaiah says even our righteousness is and puts them on to go before the bar of God’s justice saying, “I’ll drink that cup of wrath for them.”
That’s the substitutionary part. The universal part is plain. Jesus says He gives His flesh “for the life of the world.” Greek has a word for inhabited world or all the world a Roman knew. This isn’t that word. This is the word k?smou, the cosmos. Jesus gives His flesh in place of the life of the cosmos. Anyone or anything not included in the cosmos? This is the same word for the world that God so loved that He gave up His only beloved Son. So place the world, place the universe, place all people of all times and their sins, on the scales of God’s Justice and place the God-Man Jesus on the other side and He is the one who sinks down to hell, judgment, and death while the cosmos rises to life.
Feel the draw? Like Jay and the American’s sang, like fresh backed bread and grilled steak draw? Our Lutheran Confessions refer to John 6 twenty times. Seven of the twenty are to the draw mentioned in verse 44: Jesus says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” But that doesn’t go so well with the crowd in John 6. He presents Himself as the Bread from heaven that to eat of is not to die ever, and this fries them. They go from murmuring against Jesus in v. 41 to all but coming to blows with each other in v. 52. And then what does Jesus do? You know. He makes things worse. He says, in effect, if you’re having trouble choking this truth down, then chew on this, and then makes His point all the more graphic. Here’s what the insert has Jesus saying: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me.”
You hear Jesus making the results of eating and drinking Him all the more palatable, beautiful, drawing: “I will raise Him up on the Last Day.” Eating His Body and drinking His Blood you remain in Jesus and He in you. And the one who feeds on Jesus will live absolutely. So, where’s the choking? Frist, Jesus goes from His flesh as bread to His blood as drink. Go to the OT and hear God’s stern prohibition of partaking of any animal blood. Second, Jesus makes it really hard to swallow by going from the ordinary word for eating He had used earlier to ‘munches.’ In the above verses read the two times Jesus says ‘eats’ and the one time He says the word ‘feeds’ as munch, gnaw, nibble. It means to eat audibly and is usually used of animals.
If you’re going to believe this, If you’re drawn to eat Jesus’ Body and Drink His Blood, it’s not because it makes sense. You’re not being drawn like Jay and the Americans to a beautiful woman or like an empty belly to baked bread or a growling stomach to a grilled steak. You’re being drawn in spite of yourself, actually to spite yourself, your fallen, dying, unbeliving, sinful self. Can you feel the pull?
Jesus says you don’t have true food, true drink, or even true life apart from Him. What we have apart from the Body and Blood He gave for the life of the world, for our life, is Plato’s shadows. If you never turn around and see outside the cave from the shadows to reality, you’re content with mere shadows. What do you want with a substitute to keep God’s Law and die your guilty death if you think “All Dogs go to Heaven” or God is a cosmic Santa able to ho, ho, ho your sins away? If the prospect of having your life laid bare before the eyes of God Almighty, doesn’t bother you, what do you care for a Substitute? If you think despite your aging, decaying, sickening body, you still have life in you, you’re not drawn by Jesus’ promise that true life is in His Body and Blood. If you think this 70-80-90 odd years is it and the best anyone gets, then you’ll never be dragged to salvation only being in Jesus’ Body being given for you and His Blood being shed for you.
Is it dragged or drawn? In earlier sermons, I point out that the word ‘draw’ is used for dragging a dead weight. That’s fitting. Anyone who is drawn by Jesus’ flesh and blood to His Church as opposed to a personality, an earthly benefit, prestige, or popularity is in some sense dragged contrary to reason. This is the oft quoted and often misunderstood comment of the 2nd century church father, Tertullian: “I believe because it is absurd.” He didn’t mean the Faith is silly but that it can’t be reasoned to. There is nothing about God becoming Man, keeping the Law in place of all sinners, and dying our death that commends itself to believing it. It’s not like a math problem where you say, “O, I see.” It’s more the moth to the flame; only in being drawn to Jesus we come to the light not burn up, live not die. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20210822); John 6:48-58