"Them's fighting words," one cowpoke says to another who insulted his wife, dog, horse, or gun. Our text says, "The Jews began to argue sharply among themselves." "Argue sharply" translates a Greek word which can mean an actual physical fight. So what was the brouhaha about? Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever. This Bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." "The Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, How can this man give us His flesh to eat?'" Them's fighting words.
The Reformed, that's Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and any other church that's neither Catholic nor Lutheran, fight against an actual eating and drinking of Christ's Body and Blood. They say that Scripture says Jesus ascended bodily into heaven and He will return again visibly and bodily on the Last Day. Until then His body can only be in heaven at the right hand of God. It can't be on this altar or any other altar let alone on millions of altars every Sunday.
"How can Jesus give us His flesh to eat?" they ask. The only way is for our faith to ascend to heaven where Jesus is bodily and commune with Him there. We eat the flesh of Jesus only by faith. Jesus can only give us His flesh to eat in a symbolic manner because His flesh is only located in heaven right now. "Besides," the Reform go on, "it's disgusting to think of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking His blood." On some level it is, isn't it? Think of how it struck the Jews. The Jews were told by God that He abhorred human sacrifice and thou shalt not drink the blood of an animal or even eat meat with blood in it. Now Jesus says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you." Shocking, right?
"You must eat My Body and drink My Blood," aren't just shocking words; them's fighting words. Jesus fights in our text to be perfectly clear about what He's saying. He makes eating His flesh and drinking His blood and absolute necessity. Jesus says here: If you don't eat His flesh and drink His blood a) You have no life in you. b) You have no eternal life. c) You will not be raised up to live but to die eternally on the Last Day.
As if that's not enough Jesus says: Only those who eat His flesh and drink His blood remain in Him and He in them. Read John 15 to see how vital remaining in Him is. "Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you."
All the instances of the word "remain" are the same Greek word as in our text. Apart from eating Jesus' flesh and drinking Jesus' blood you can't remain in Him and so can't bear fruit; you're a cut off branch withering and ready for the fire. Apart from eating and drinking Jesus, your prayers won't be answered. Moreover, apart from the food of Jesus' flesh and blood there is no true food. I hear this all the time. Life's too short to eat cheap food, or drink cheap beer, etc, etc. Well there's no life at all apart from the true food of Jesus' flesh and blood.
Think about it. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were all sustained for 40 days and nights without food or drink. That's impossible. Unless of course it's true; man doesn't live by bread alone but rather by every Word coming out of the mouth of God. And the mouth of God says here, "My flesh and blood are life-giving to those who eat and drink it."
Jesus really emphasizes the eating here. The first 3 times Jesus refers to eating His flesh He uses the ordinary Greek word for that, but then He switches. The next 3 times He uses another Greek word not usually used for people eating but animals. It means to gnaw, nibble, munch, eat with audible noises. Think teenage boys here. In the last sentence Jesus switches back to the ordinary word for eat saying, "Your forefathers ate manna and died," and then back to munching, "He who munches on this bread will live forever." So to those who were fighting so hard against the words about eating His flesh Jesus says not only must you eat it but munch on it.
Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you," and them's fighting words. The Reformed fight against an actual eating and drinking of Christ's flesh and blood; Jesus fights to be perfectly clear about the necessity of eating and drinking Him, and we confessional Lutherans fight to make a distinction between two kinds of eating.
But before we do that we better establish why eating and drinking Jesus is absolutely necessary. You and I die not because there is not enough food in the world to eat, not because we lose our appetites, or because there is no food that is nutritious. All the food and drink in the world can't keep us alive because we're born dead. That's what Scripture says: As soon as we were conceived in the womb we were sinners. We were born dead in our trespasses and sins. As soon as Adam fell into sin, all in Adam, all descended from the lump of his clay died too. No amount of food, drink, medicine or exercise can keep the dead alive.
Since Adam and Eve were created no one was born without sin except Jesus who is the Seed of the woman not the man. God sent His eternal Son to be born of a woman. He was born without sin. He wasn't born dead or dying. He was born alive. Scripture says His actual flesh and blood are life giving. His actual flesh and blood are the flesh and blood of the eternal, invisible, holy God. Yet it's my flesh and blood; it's your flesh and blood; it's our flesh and blood. And in our flesh and blood, the eternal God did what He didn't have to do. He placed Himself under His own laws and kept them all in our place. Think about it. All those Commandments you break in deed, in words, in thoughts Jesus kept.
But only the Law of God was satisfied by that; the wrath of God was not. It still burned hot and bright against you and me, against flesh and blood men who had sinned so easily, so often, so sickeningly. Out shoots the wrath of God to strike us dead and damn us to eternal death and in jumps Jesus in our flesh and blood to absorb the blow, to take the punishment, to die our eternal death. And God's wrath is spent, is finished, is appeased by what Jesus suffered in our flesh and blood.
Jesus won for us in His flesh and blood forgiveness, life, and salvation. He distributes in His flesh and blood grace, mercy, and peace. Wherever His flesh and blood are, there all the blessings of God are. Baptism clothes people with the Body and Blood of Jesus. Absolution applies the Flesh and Blood of Jesus as salve to the sores of sinners. Communion is the Body and Blood of Jesus for sinners to eat and drink for forgiveness of all their sins.
You need to eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus for only in them, by them, through them is God reconciled to sinners, is God safe for sinners, is God on the side of sinners. But these are fighting words and we confessional Lutherans fight to make a distinction between 2 kinds of eating. One is spiritual which Christ describes here in John 6; this is absolutely necessary at all times for salvation (FC, SD, VII,61). The other eating is oral and is done only in the Lord's Supper (Ibid., 63).
The type of eating spoken of in John 6 is spiritual eating and is nothing other than faith (Ibid., 62). You can see this yourself if you go back in John 6 and see all the reference made to believing. Verse 29, "Believe in the One He has sent." Verse 35, "He who believes in Me will never be thirsty." Verse 40, "Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life." Verse 47, "He who believes has everlasting life." Verse 64, "There are some of you who do not believe."
For salvation, it is absolutely necessary that you believe on the flesh and blood of Jesus; that you internalize it as you do food and drink that you eat, and devour it as you do food and drink that you enjoy. For salvation, it is absolutely necessary that you regard Jesus' flesh as food for your body and His blood as drink for your soul.
As for eating and drinking the Body and Blood orally, by mouth, in Communion that is not absolutely necessary for salvation. The thief on the cross died without it. Babies die without it. Many imprisoned martyrs die without it. Think on this paradox which is significant theologically. For Lutherans there is such a thing as an emergency Baptism; that is why we teach that any Christian can and should baptize in an emergency. For the Reformed there is no such thing as an emergency Baptism. For Lutherans there is no such thing as an emergency Communion; that is why we make no provisions for layman to celebrate it. For the Reformed, who don't believe there is any oral eating and drinking of Jesus, there is oddly enough emergency Communion.
Finally, confessional Lutherans fight to make the link between the 2 kinds of eating. Without the spiritual eating in John 6, the oral eating in the Lord's Supper is not only not helpful but harmful and damning (Ibid., 61). Get that? You don't eat and drink Jesus by faith, don't you dare come forward to eat and drink Him by mouth. If you don't believe that your sins are forgiven and forgotten by God for Jesus' sake, and therefore, He's not the least bit angry with you, you can only receive Jesus' Body and Blood in your mouth unbelievingly, mechanically, superstitiously. But when you believe the flesh and blood of Jesus given and shed on the cross has made God your friend, then you can receive that same Body and Blood as a gift from a Friend.
"Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood you have no life in you" aren't really fighting words but inviting words to those who realize there is no life in their flesh and blood. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20120826); John 6: 51-58