Defensive About Being Offensive
What is going on in our text we have witnessed firsthand. People come to Jesus. Join the Church. Get involved. Then they turn away. They are offended. Christians aren't suppose to be offensive, are they? So we agonize over what we might have done to offend them. Here in our text we read that "His disciples were grumbling about" Jesus being the Bread of life, about His flesh being real food and His blood being real drink" Finally, "many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him." What did Jesus do about it? He got defensive about being offensive.
Look at the text. When many of his disciples say it is hard to accept that Jesus' flesh is the life of the world, that whoever eats His body and drinks His blood would live forever, when they keep on grumbling because they don't understand this, what does Jesus do? Does He back away from what He said? Does He apologize for upsetting them? No, He makes the offense all the worse saying, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before?" To those who were offended at His flesh being life giving, His flesh being food, His flesh being salvation, He says, "If you can't believe I'm these things when I'm before your eyes, what will happen if you see me ascend to My rightful place in heaven?"
Jesus is illustrating that the real problem isn't what He has said, but them. Jesus says, "The flesh counts for nothing." They're not going to be able to reason their way into understanding how Jesus' flesh can be life giving, how His flesh and blood can be real food and drink, how the person who eats and drinks Him will live forever. All the powers of human flesh can only stumble over such teachings. Flesh, human reason and intellect can make no more sense of Jesus' body and blood being food then it can of Jesus' body and blood ascending into heaven.
Let me put this in a way so you can hear it the way the disciples would have. No good thing dwells in your flesh. There is nothing about you that you can offer to God and He would be pleased. Even your best, most holiest works stink in His nostrils. However, not just your moral ability is useless, so is every other ability you have. Our thoughts are childish; our reasoning stupid; our artwork ugly, our writing dull, our craftsmanship worthless. The flesh counts for nothing, absolutely nothing, zero, zilch, nada. Your best thoughts about God are wrong. They are worse than wrong; they can only lead you away from God, from Christ, from salvation.
This teaching that our flesh is worthless is the most offensive teaching in the Bible. This remark is what caused the disciples of Jesus to turn back away from Him. The bulletin translation says, "From this time many of His disciples turned back," but the word time is not there. It was from this, from Jesus remarks about the flesh counting for nothing and from Him telling them that no one can come to Him unless the Father has enabled him, that they turned back.
Think they overreacted? Imagine Jesus at the Olympics. The gymnast gives an amazing performance, but Jesus says, "That's worthless." Jesus stands before the space shuttle and says, "This technology is laughable." He stands in the operating room and laughs at the latest medical advance. He looks at the projects we are so proud of, the accomplishments we've been rewarded for, our abilities that our much praised by the world and He says, "They count for nothing." Doesn't this offend you even a little? It does me.
The most offensive thing you can do is to criticize human nature, the flesh. Calvin said that the one who praises human nature always wins. Listen to the political candidates. They're always telling people how smart, how strong, how dedicated they are. Not to do so offends people. To this day, people are so offended at Jesus' statement that the flesh counts for nothing that they apply it not to our flesh but His flesh. They understand Jesus to say, "My flesh counts for nothing." They can't bear to hear that their flesh is worthless, so they make Jesus' say His is even though Jesus said the direct opposite 6 verses earlier. Jesus said that His flesh is real food and real drink and that he who eats His flesh lives forever. Jesus' flesh is eternally profitable. Ours is worthless. It counts for nothing.
Why is Jesus being so offensive? Moreover, why doesn't He care that He is? These questions can be answered by following what Jesus goes on to say. After Jesus shows how worthless our flesh is, He shows how powerful His Father is saying, "No one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled Him." Earlier in John 6 Jesus had said, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him." The word draws is literally "drag." It's specifically used for dragging dead weight. A fitting word to describe what the Father must do to get our worthless, no count flesh to Jesus.
Coming to Jesus is 100% a miracle. Dead weight can't drag itself. The flesh that counts for nothing surely can't count for something in matters of salvation. No one is saved unless the Father enables him or her, drags him or her. Or as Jesus says, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing." Our flesh can only wither to bones and decay to dust. Only the Spirit of God can make dry bones live and make men out of dust.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is taking the matter of salvation totally out of the realm of being nice, totally out of the realm of meeting people's felt needs, totally out of the realm of not offending people. The only people ever saved are those enabled by the Father, dragged to the cross by the Father, or made alive by the Spirit. In fact, being nice, meeting people's felt needs, and removing the offense of the Law or the Gospel, can draw people that the Father never intended to. Being nice, meeting people's felt needs, and removing the offense of the Law or Gospel, all appeal to the flesh. Jesus, on the other hand, insults it.
Do you see what a burden Jesus lifts off us? Jesus doesn't accept the burden of people who reject His Law and Gospel. He will not let them say, "You offended me. Your Church wasn't friendly enough. It did not meet my felt needs." Jesus in response to those who were offended and who stumbled over His hard words said, "This is why I told you no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled Him." Jesus did not wring is hands over what He was doing wrong. He laid the burden on those who turned away from Him.
Friends, we have all that we need to save people for all eternity when we have the Words of Christ. We may or may not meet their felt needs or make them think we're their best friends, but we will always have what it takes to save souls as long as we have the Words of Christ.
Jesus says, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing." The only way sinners dead in their flesh can live is if the Spirit gives them life. Now where does Jesus say this Spirit is? In our warm hearts? In our firm faith? In meeting people's felt needs? No, He says, "My words are Spirit." The Spirit is not in our thinking, not in our believing, not in our planning but in the Words of Christ. You come in contact with the Spirit of God not when you think pious thoughts, not when you are feeling real spiritual, but when you come in contact with the Words of Christ. Friends, Christ hereby rescues you from trying to find the Spirit in your flesh, in your conflicting thoughts, in your up and down emotions. The Spirit of God that saves, that makes alive is outside of you in the Words of Christ.
And Christ says not only that His Words are Spirit but that they are life too. When Christ Baptized you He applied His Word to your body dead in sins and made it live. In Baptism the Word of Christ buried your worthless flesh and made you a new creation. In Absolution, which is the forgiving words of Christ in the mouth of a human being, Christ sent your sins away from you really and actually. In Holy Communion, Christ's Words, "This is My Body; this is My Blood given and shed for your sins," give you His body and blood for forgiveness. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
All that you need for all eternity, the Spirit of God and life everlasting, come to you through the Words Christ speaks into your ears in Absolution, pours over your bodies in Baptism, or places into your body in Holy Communion. So what if everyone is not nice to you? So what if not all your felt needs are met? So what if your flesh is offended somehow? Do you think on your deathbed any of that will matter in any way, shape or form? All that will matter is if you have the Words of eternal life. And you do: they are in your ears, on your body, and in your very mouth, so much do you have them.
However, when God works in our lives through means, when God doesn't come storming into our lives with His mighty power, when God hides Himself in Water, Words, Bread and Wine, people can and do resist Him. But on the Last Day when Christ comes in glory and He isn't hidden any longer in the lips of a sinful pastor, in the ordinary looking waters of Baptism, or in plain-looking Bread and Wine, no one will be able to resist Him. Then every knee will bow whether on the earth, above the earth, or under the earth, and every tongue will confess Him to be God and Lord. Yes, St. Paul says in Philippians that even those in hell will bow, not out of faith but out of power. When Christ works without means, no one rejects Him. But when He works with means, He can be and is rejected.
Dear friends, Christ lives with this reality, and we should too. Christ didn't conclude that something else aside from or in addition to His Word was needed even though many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. He plainly said that although His Words are Spirit and Life, some of the disciples did not believe it. Actually it was worse than that, not just disciples did not believe it, even one of the apostles did not. Our text stops at verse 69. In verses 70 and 71, Jesus goes on to say, "One of the twelve is a devil" referring to Judas. Yes, Judas heard Christ's Word. The Spirit and Life were right there, yet Judas was a devil.
Christ lived with the fact that His Words which are Spirit and Life would fail sometimes, not because they lacked power but because people turned away. He did not respond by tinkering with His Word; He didn't try to make it more exciting or more relevant. What could be more exciting than salvation? What could be more relevant than forgiving the sins of sinners? We must live with the same fact. Some won't be dragged or enabled by the Father. Some will resist the Holy Spirit. Some will grumble at the Gospel and be offended by the Law. What are we to do about it? Nothing. Like the 11 apostles, we will go on gathering around Jesus in Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion because He has the Words of eternal life. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIV (9-17-00) John 6: 60-68