Ap*o*si*o*pe*sis is a Latin word that comes from the Greek word meaning "be silent." It can be a rhetorical or grammatical device. When you find it in direct quotation it indicates great emotion. Aposiopesis is when you leave a thought incomplete usually by a sudden breaking off. This happens in our text when Jesus says: "What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!" Notice the insert doesn't punctuate that as a question; that's because Jesus really says, "If therefore you should behold the Son Man ascending where He was before" and then stops. If they stumble at the Incarnation, what will they do with the Ascension? Aposiopesis in speech indicates emotion; in teaching it's a device where the teacher pauses to let the students finish the thought.
For example, if I say, "Now we're in the deep end of the." You should finish the thought with "pool" because that's where we certainly are. This is not the kiddy pool; this is the end deep enough to drown an elephant. The crowd calls it a "hard teaching." That's the word for when Scripture says someone's heart is hardened. The word sclerosis as in arteriosclerosis comes from this Greek word. And note it's the disciples of Jesus who are offended. Disciples not enemies. Disciples not unbelievers. You and I not those outside the church.
And what's the hard part, what's the offensive part? That there is salvation in no other way than through the flesh and blood of the Man Jesus. That apart from partaking of His flesh and blood that He gave for the life of the world a person goes to hell. This is offensive on two levels. First the millions of Hindus plunging themselves into the Ganges river each year to wash away their sins apart from Jesus are plunging themselves into hell. And the millions of Muslims who participate in the Hajj are really circling round and round hell as water going down a drain because Jesus is no more than a prophet to them.
Second it's offensive because spiritual, heavenly salvation is connected to the material, earthly flesh and blood of Jesus who was reputed to born out of an unwed pregnancy, who was a lowly carpenter, who had nowhere to lay His head. It's offensive because Jesus proclaims "God without flesh and blood profits nothing." Talk about God doing this or that; talk about God's will for you is so and so; talk about how God loves you, blesses you, helps you doesn't mean squat. There is no salvation, no hope, no help anywhere apart from God in Christ being in your flesh and blood keeping the Law in your place and dying the death you deserve.
This offends us. Our hearts become a bit harder when we hear Jesus saying billons of Hindus and Muslims are going to hell. When we hear Jesus say anyone whose confession is no more than "God bless America," "one nation under God," or "in God we trust" doesn't have saving faith, our hearts get a bit harder still. This leads to our second ap*o*si*o*pe*sis.
I say, "It's a parting of the," and you fill in "ways." The text says, "From that time" this is a year before Good Friday, "many of His disciples" not enemies, not Jewish leaders, "turned back and no longer followed Him." They went back to not believing in Jesus.
These disciples didn't stumble over the Law, did they? Jesus didn't add 5 more commandments and they said, "Hold on there; that's 5 too many." They stumbled over what Acts 13: 38-39 says, "Through Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimedthrough Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses." These are words of eternal life not eternal obligation. They fell away not because Jesus told them, "Thou shalt work for thy daily bread" but because Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life come down from heaven for everyone to eat freely of and live forever."
These disciples didn't stumble over how dinosaurs could be on the earth with men; how could God create the heavens and the earth in 6 twenty-four hour days; how could God allow slavery or tsunamis or wars or child abuse. They stumbled not over God but Jesus. How can this Man give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink? How can His flesh and blood be life-giving? How can this Man whose Father and MOTHER we know do this?
And let's be clear here. When we talk about a parting of the.ways, we're talking about them parting from Jesus not Jesus from them. Jesus didn't turn back from them because they were so unimaginably sinful, which they were. Jesus didn't turn back from them because He could hear their shameful thoughts, though He could. Jesus didn't turn back from them because their guilts were too heavy to carry, their punishments too frightful to bear, though they were. No, these disciples turned away from Him.
Right here is where we are everyday and especially on Sundays when Jesus invites us to hear Him teach and preach and feast on His Body and Blood. It's not the Law that keeps you away from hearing His Word but the Gospel. The Law makes sense to you. You can understand why you should do this and not do that because it's written in your heart. The Gospel though you can't get you head around, and the closer you get to it the more your head spins.
And though you think you stumble over God it's really Jesus for you too. No scientist makes you turn away from following Jesus, Jesus does. He will let you have no other God apart from Him. He will not let you think of God outside of Him. He says He who has seen Him has seen the Father. He says in My flesh and blood dwell all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and the mind you think so open explodes with a reality to big for it.
But with you too it's not a case that Jesus parted from you. Jesus didn't drop you because your sins were too hot. He didn't turn away from you because your guilt was too ugly. He didn't walk away from you because you haven't improved. No, we are the ones who turn back. This is that country song where the girl drives away in her car and the guy stands there in the rain as her car is nothing but taillights miles away "praying that I might see the glow of a brake light" (Dierks Bently, "Settle for a Slowdown"). We're driving the car; Jesus is the guy.
In this text we're in the deep end of the ---- pool and there is a parting of the ---- ways. The last ap*o*si*o*pe*sis is the only way out. Reason takes a --- vacation. That blank isn't easily filled in, but our reason on vacation is what this text needs. Luther said, "If these words are to be understood and to penetrate the heart then something more profound than the wisdom of all human beings must be added. We must give reason a vacation and enter a different school" (LW, 23, 167).
People get turned around here because Jesus says, "The flesh counts for nothing" and though Jesus doesn't say "My flesh counts for nothing" that is how many hear it. However, that would contradict Jesus' own words in this chapter. He says, "My flesh is food indeed." And, "He who eats My flesh has eternal life." What Jesus is doing here is contrasting Spirit and flesh. Flesh here mans the same as in Genesis 6:3, "My Spirit shall not strive with flesh," and in John 3:6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." Jesus is saying that sinful nature is not the proper thing for understanding His words which are Spirit and Life (Ibid. 166).
By saying His words are Spirit and life Jesus binds us to His words alone not fallen reason or sinful flesh. To these, dead is dead, but to Jesus the dead still live. To these, the ungodly are lost, but Jesus is the one who justifies the ungodly. To these Baptism is plain water; Communion is only bread and wine, and Absolution nothing more than words, but Jesus says Baptism is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit; Communion is His Body and Blood for sinners to eat and drink for salvation; and Absolution on earth by the mouth of a man is forgiveness before God in heaven.
Fallen reason and sinful flesh go only by what they see or can reason out. Jesus disses what can be seen saying, "The things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). And He dismisses our reasoning saying that His way of thinking is as far above ours as heaven is from earth (Is 55:9).
Reason must take a vacation. If not, you will be offended by this text, not by what Jesus leaves out but by what He plainly says. In the face of the majority leaving and not following him anymore, what does Jesus say? "No one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled him." "Enabled" is a poor translation. Check others. It's "given" or "granted." Jesus says He's not surprised as hundreds or thousands stream away from Him because everyone hardens their heart, everyone is offended unless they are given to come to Him by the Father.
Here is the ap*o*si*o*pe*sis that can lead to a gulp or gasp. Has the Father given me to come to Jesus or---not? According to the passage where Jesus calls all the burdened and heavy ladened, according to the passage saying God is not willing that any should perish, according to the passage where Jesus is set forth as a wrath removing sacrifice for the world, according to Baptism being for all nations, my being able to absolve the sins of anyone, and the Body and Blood of Jesus being given and shed for all, I can tell you confidently the Father has given to you to come to Jesus.
Though billions be streaming the other way, it's been given to you to come to Him. Though the Devil, the World, and your sinful Flesh are screaming at you that you can't come because of your sins, your failures, your doubts, your fears, the Father has given to you to come to Jesus in simple faith.
Even before Simon and Garfunkel told us, we knew there was a sound of silence. In the silence of Jesus breaking off His words about their fallen reason being offended at Him, I hear the sound of pity. Jesus would that in the silence of the deep end of the pool, all would part ways with reason so that they vacation with Him in everlasting life. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20150830); John 6: 60-69