Hunger and No Game
The Hunger Games is a series of novels set in a dark world where 12-18 year-old kids are chosen to fight to the death for the pleasure of the public. All of John 6 which began with Jesus feeding the hungry thousands is about hunger. The crowd has it; Jesus uses it; and this hunger is no game.
The crowd has hunger; we have hunger, but not for the right thing. Right now we're content with amortality. Time magazine in 2009 said amortality was the number 5 idea changing the world. Amortality is the belief that you can live in the same way, at the same intensity, doing and consuming the same things from the late teens till death (March 23, 2009, 53).
There is an 84 year old supermodel who is the cover woman it hardly seems right to call her girl on magazines today. She admits to having lots of plastic surgery. There is Cher and Jane Fonda who made a big deal about strutting their stuff when they were 70. That was 7 years ago. Even though they had the look of bad taxidermy pieces whose skin is stretched too tight as do men like Mick Jagger and Jerry Jones, their public image is to defy death, to act as if they are a-mortal. Not immortal, not able to die, but without mortality.
But we lust after that too. We don't go to the extremes they do, but we do all we can not to go into the dark night of age. We're not like St. Paul who viewed his body as an aged tent ready to be taken down, who groaned in this body longing to be clothed with a dwelling from heaven, who longed for this mortal to be swallowed up by life. See that's the point. This is not the life God meant for you to have. This is not what He sent His Son into flesh and blood to redeem you for. This all this - is not life at all. This is Neo waking up to find what he thought of as life was really him hooked up to a machine draining his life out of him. That which we crave, to have unending youthful days in this mortal body is impossible because Jesus says, "You have no life in yourself."
We don't need what Cher and Jerry have. We don't need death defying amortality; we need immortality. That's found in the flesh and blood of only one Man. Jesus says, "I live because of the Father." He is referring to the fact that He is begotten of the Father in eternity not made in time. As He says in John 5, "As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself." "You have no life in yourself," says Jesus in our text. You're not as young as you feel. Age is not a state of mind. 60 is not the new 40. You're forgetting the beginning of our VDMA Scripture motto. "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall."
The Man Jesus had the life of God coursing through His veins as He was conceived in the womb by the Holy Spirit, as He was born of the Virgin Mary. Go on; say the rest. The Man Jesus had life eternal in Him as He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. This is jarring and bothering if you bother to think about it. He was Life itself. He was perfection itself. He lived a perfect life. There was no reason for Him to die. He didn't owe God a death as we do because He never sinned. Yet He died. He who had immortality surging through His body died.
How come? Jesus tells in our text. He gives His flesh "for the life of the world." Let's be clear. Jesus says, "I give My flesh in place of,' instead of,' on behalf of,' the life of the world. Jesus gave His life, the life He got from His Father in eternity and the life He got from His mother in time, in place of the life of the world. Jesus stood in your shoes and what Sin, Death, and the Devil has a right to do to you they did to Jesus who didn't deserve it. All the fear, all the judgment, all the dying, sighing, and crying your guilty mortal life deserves, Jesus took on His sinless immortal life.
Doing this Jesus won something, not for Him because what on earth or in heaven could God the Son lack, but for you. Jesus won the authority, the power to promise and give life to mortal sinners. He took their sins upon His sinless body and soul and paid for them. He joined His immortality with our mortality so that we might live. And listen to the promises He makes to poor, dying sinners: "He will live forever." "He has eternal life."
This isn't living at 80 like your 40. This is living as 25 forever. This isn't only being as old as you feel; this is being forever young. This isn't living in defiance of the aging process; this isn't aging. This isn't dying and pretending you're living; this is living forever even while dying daily. This is not the life the goddess Eos got Zeus to give her human lover. She asked Zeus to make him immortal but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. One version ends this way: "but when loathsome old age pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs, this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in a room and put to the shining doors. There he babbles endlessly, and no more has strength at all" (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite).
I'm not hungry for that life are you? But I'm hungry for the life Jesus won on the cross, rose from the grave proclaiming, and gives. But where? In the Bread of Life. How can you get this Bread of Life? By eating. By eating with your heart and eating with your mouth. As weve worked through John 6 these past 3 weeks, your mind has gone to the Lord's Supper. Yet, I tip-toe around it. This is because for Reformed and Catholic John 6 is about the Lord Supper. Reformed say it proves that Body and Blood of Jesus are in Communion symbolically. Catholics say it proves they are there physically. Luther said John 6 "cannot be applied to the Sacrament" (LW, 23, 118).Our Confessions say John 6 is about the spiritual eating of Christ by faith as when the Gospel is preached "as well as in the Lord's Supper" (FC, SD, VII, 61).
Historically the Church has connected John 6 to the Lord's Supper. That's why 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish are still today a symbol of the Lord's Supper, but be careful. In John 6 the eating and drinking of Christ is only beneficial. Whoever eats Jesus will raise up, has eternal life, lives forever. That's not true of Communion. 1 Cor. 11 says eating and drinking Christ in Communion wrongly leads to weakness, sickness, and even death. There is no harmful way to believe that the flesh and blood of Jesus was given for your life and is life-giving to you. There is a harmful way to orally eat Jesus' body and drink His blood and that is eating without believing.
It's true; John 6 is not about the institution of the Lord's Supper. That won't happen for another year on Maundy Thursday. But John 6 is about the flesh and blood of Jesus. It's also true to say that here Jesus goes out of the way to emphasize that salvation, life, immortality is connected to participating in His actual flesh and blood.
But who in our text brings up eating His body? The crowd. They say, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus responds, "I tell you the truth unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Manyou have no life in you." Here Jesus uses the same word for eat that they did. But when He says, "Whoever eats My flesh.has eternal life," He doesn't. He uses the Greek word for "munch." It means to gnaw, nibble, munch, eat audibly. It is used first of animals. It's used 6 times in the New Testament. Five of the uses are by John and four of them are by Jesus in John 6.
Jesus is doing what He often does. When men stumble over something He has said, Jesus doesn't go out of His way like contemporary churches do to lower road blocks to faith. He doesn't say, "Hey, chill out; I'm using eating here as a figure of speech for believing. Just as the only way to receive food for nourishment is by eating, so the only way to receive My promise of life is by believing." No, Jesus doesn't remove stumbling blocks to belief. He raises them. He says not only must you eat My flesh; you must munch and gnaw on Me audibly. What? Doesn't Jesus want believers, want followers, want others to have His life? Yes, yes, and yes, but if you only believe the things Jesus says that make sense to you, you don't really believe in Jesus but yourself.
The picture in John 6 is opposite the one in the upper room. There, and at this altar here, Jesus says, "This Bread is My Body." In John 6 Jesus says, "This Body is Bread." Can you see how in the upper room the hunger of the apostles would be no game? A year earlier they had heard Jesus say His body is bread, and they knew that as they ate bread to live physically, so they were to believe His flesh and blood are life to believers. Now in the upper room Jesus takes bread and says this Bread is My Body. Eating by faith is joined to eating by mouth. Where John 6 left them feeding on Words of promise, the Lord's Supper leaves them feeding on Body-Bread and Blood-Wine. Where John 6 gave them promises about Jesus in their ears and heart, the Lord's Supper gave them Jesus in their mouth.
Don't forget where this all began several weeks ago. With the hostile crowd throwing the manna provided by Moses in Jesus' face. Our text ends with Jesus saying bluntly, "Your forefathers ate manna and died." Every one who thinks they are amortal is going to die. O the hunger they feel for life is real, but it is not a game you win by pretending you're not aging. That real hunger for life is to press from our hearts what we sing in the hymn, "Bread of heaven feed me till I want no more." Feed me with promises; feed me with Sacraments. Only feed me with Thee, not me. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20150823); John 6: 51-58