Journey to Paradise
Pretty impressive that journey to Mars, isn't it? Jesus would have you journey to Paradise. He wants you to go on a journey with Him through this sinful life, through death, and into heaven with resurrected perfected bodies.
The journey is too much for you. That's what the angel told Elijah in the Old Testament reading. Elijah was fresh from winning a battle against the 450 false prophets of Baal where the true God vindicated His prophet by answering him with fire from heaven, and then the people at Elijah's direction slaughtered the false prophets of Baal. This earned Elijah the wrath of Queen Jezebel. She sent Elijah a note saying, "By this time tomorrow you'll be as dead as the prophets you killed."
So powerful, bold, faithful Elijah ran, but he couldn't outrun himself. He is fed up with the persecuted life of a prophet; he's fed up with his sinfulness. God should take his life; he is no better than his unbelieving, grumbling, idolatry loving forefathers. But after hearing his confession, God doesn't take his life but sends an angel with food. And some meal it was. In the strength of that food, which was no more than bread and water, Elijah was able to journey for 40 days and nights to the mountain of God.
The journey to Paradise was too much for Elijah and it was too much for the Jews in our text. Jesus said He would take them on the journey. Where Elijah was given bread and water to make the journey to God, the Jews were offered Jesus. He said I am the Bread of life. Eat Me and live forever. In the verse right before our text Jesus dropped the figure saying, "This is My Father's will that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day."
Whereas Elijah lacked the food to make the journey, the Jews rejected the food like petulant children. They slapped it out of Jesus' hands grumbling, "Isn't this Jesus the son of Joseph and Mary [wink, wink], the son she came back from visiting her cousin Elizabeth pregnant with? How can this guy of questionable birth claim to come down from heaven to feed us with everlasting food?"
The journey is too much for you too. Not one of you will make it to everlasting life, not one of you will go to heaven, not one of you will be saved. You're either Elijah's or your Jews. You either know your sinfulness has sapped your strength to take one more step towards heaven or you reject the weak, ordinary, even silly things God puts before you to get you to heaven. Either way, you ain't going. Either way, you're stuck. And you're either like Elijah in despair or like the Jews in self-righteousness.
You know what you need? You need to be dragged to Jesus. Did you see how unperturbed, nonchalant, unbothered Jesus was by the distain expressed by the Jews? He didn't wonder that they rejected Him. He said they should not waste their time on trying to get their head around His heavenly origins and what they thought they knew of His earthly life because, "No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him." The word translated draw' here means drawing or better dragging a dead weight. It's used for beaching a ship and for Peter dragging ashore a net full of fish. The object dragged isn't cooperating, helping, or wanting to go. There's another Greek word which means draw in the sense attract. It's never used of Jesus attracting men.
So if the Father isn't dragging you, you're not on the journey to Paradise. How do you know if you're being dragged? Don't look for a feeling, an inner glow, a quiet voice. Look for what Jesus says in our text. Those on the journey to Paradise are taught of God. Then Jesus goes on to define what that means. They hear and learn from the Father and so come to Jesus. Jesus says elsewhere those who hear and learn from the Father are the ones listening to Him and those listening to His pastors are the ones hearing Him.
You can probably see that if Elijah had slapped the bread and water away because it looked like nothing more than earthly food he would have never made the journey to the mountain of God. You can probably see that the Jews made a serious error in rejecting Jesus as their ticket to Paradise because of His lowly earthly upbringing. Yet you can't seem to see that you're doing the same thing when you refuse to hear and learn from me because it's boring, it's plain, it's too early. On the Last Day God is not going to ask me, "Why didn't your people hear and learn of Me through you?" No, He'll ask you that.
In order to journey to Paradise Elijah had to eat the food God set before him. In order for the Jews to make the journey they had to eat the food before them. Hear how Jesus moves from believing to the figure of eating. In verse 47 Jesus says, "He who believes in Me has everlasting life." Then there is a virtual avalanche of words for eating. Beginning in verse 49 and continuing in verses 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, and 59 Jesus speaks of eating Him. Verse 31, which we had last week, was the last time Jesus spoke of eating, but there it was of eating the manna in the wilderness. Our text is where Jesus starts talking about believing in Him in terms of eating.
Do you see how rich this figure is? You know it is a bad physical sign when you have no appetite for earthly food. So it is when you have no appetite for spiritual food. You know there are people who are visually oriented and won't eat physical food based on its outward looks. You know they miss delightful food. So it is with those who turn up their noses at the spiritual food of Bible classes, Baptismal water, and Communion. They're missing the Bread God provides for the journey to Paradise.
Talking about believing in Jesus in terms of eating has another advantage. You can use the idea of whetting the appetite. Say you are guilty, unlike Elijah, of having no appetite for the food God puts before you my means of His angel me. Say you are guilty, like the Jews, of rejecting the spiritual food of Jesus I put before you in Water, Words, Bread and Wine because it looks so ordinary, plain, and powerless. Give me one more chance to whet your appetite for the Bread you need for the journey to Paradise.
Jesus tells the grumbling Jews, "I'm the only Man to see the Father because I'm literally from the side of God." You just think you know what God is like. You just think you see His face in crop killing drought, in the sad situations in your home or work, in the sickness of your body, or the old age in your face. You just think you know what God is thinking in the strike of a lightening bolt or the tragedy of gun violence. You just think you know how God feels towards you based on your feelings toward God.
You couldn't be more wrong if you tried. The Man Jesus alone sees the true face of God, feels the real heart of God, knows the real mind of God. Haven't you been taught of God by the cantor who has chanted into your ears for 9 weeks every year for 12 years the truth of the Gradual? God's judgments are unsearchable and His paths are beyond tracing out. The one thing you can know with 100% certainty is only Jesus, not you, knows the face, heart, and mind of the true God.
This One who knows God so intimately, perfectly, and accurately says the Father sent Him down from heaven to save the world from death by giving His flesh for the life of the world. Make no mistakes. The world deserves to die and not just die by drought, disease, gunfire, or by sinful men. The world deserves to die eternally. Those who say, "How could God let this or that bad thing happen" live under the delusion that God has no reason to be wrathful or even upset with the world.
We put clean kids in a clean room and how angry we get when they mess up both. We do everything for a toddler and he stands there stamping his feet saying, "No" and we think we have good reason to be angry. And yet God has no reason to be angry at the world, at me, who blames Him for sins, who befoul His perfect world with lust, with greed, with thoughts too shameful to admit. God has no reason to be angry at us for rebelling against not only the hand that feeds us but made us and redeemed us.
God has white hot anger and justifiably so, but what does Jesus tell us? The Father sent Him down to bear that anger, to take that wrath, to appease it, to satisfy it, to remove it. So that the world may live before God the Father, the Son takes, bears, carries the heavy load of sins, all of them, even yours especially yours. Jesus gets death; you get life. Jesus gets hell on the cross; you get heaven forever. Jesus gets thrown out of the Garden of Eden; you get through the gates of Paradise.
Get Jesus; Get Paradise. Go to Palestine outside of Capernaum and you won't find Him. Go into deep, spiritual meditation and gaze at your belly button for hours and you won't find Him there either. Go to God's great outdoors and enjoy it, and you won't find the God of your salvation there either. Eat, drink, and be merry with God's good gifts but don't fool yourself, as our world does, that if you enjoy God's gifts you must be enjoying God. The only place, the only Person, where the true God can be seen, approached, and found is Jesus. And He is seen, approached, and found in the gifts He left you: His Word of life in a Book. His absolving Spirit in the mouth of man. His Body and Blood on an altar.
What are you people waiting for? What are you people staying away for? Eat, drink, munch your Jesus in the Water, Words, Bread and Wine He left you. In our text Jesus promises those eating the plain looking Food put before them the following: they will be raised on the Last Day, have eternal life right this very day, and they will live into the ages in resurrected bodies. In the strength of the bread and water God gave, Elijah could make a journey of 40 days and nights. In the strength of the Food Jesus gives you'll make the journey all the way to Paradise. Bon Appetite! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (20120819); John 6: 41-51