Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 7, 2009

Sermon on John 6:60-69

A JESUS WHO DOESN’T OFFEND ISN’T JESUS

  1. He says what needs to be said despite potential rejection
  2. He says what needs to be said for our eternal salvation

Text: John 6:60-69

Introduction

Last week I learned that a new edition of Luther’s “Table Talk” was recently published.  In case you’re not aware, “Table Talk” is the name of a collection of comments that Martin Luther said around his home and other casual situations.  Those who were with Luther often recorded what he said, even if it wasn’t in a formal academic or church setting.  “Table Talk” provides a picture of Luther that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to capture from his scholarly writings and his sermons.  And one of the things we can sense from Luther in “Table Talk” is his bluntness and earthiness.  Let’s face it – if your life had been put on the line because of your confession of faith, you’d be a little skeptical and cynical about those who run the church, just like Luther.  Given Luther’s history, we’re not too surprised to read that he had some choice words about the church of his day and about many other topics of his day.

Luther lived in a day and age when polemics was just another way of communication.  Some of the excerpts from Luther’s “Table Talk” surprise modern readers, because Luther doesn’t come anything close to pulling his punches against his opponents.  We might say that Luther practiced the opposite of “political correctness.”  He wasn’t worried about avoiding offense.  If what he said was going to offend you, too bad, because he was going to call it exactly as he saw it, regardless of who was in the audience.

 Our modern society isn’t very font of polemics.  Sometimes it seems that we encounter people who will be offended no matter what we do.  In the church today, we should not be so careless as to think that we can act however we want and not be concerned about needlessly giving offense.  But we should not be so naïve as to think that we can preach the Word of God faithfully and never offend someone.  If you think that Christianity is not offensive, take a look at the Gospel for today.  At the end of John chapter six, we see that Jesus, who was so popular at the start of the chapter, now finds himself before a crowd that is offended at what he has to say.  But what Jesus has to say is so important that he does not even consider changing his message to please the people.  In fact, we can accurately say that a “Jesus” who doesn’t offend isn’t the real Jesus.  In today’s Gospel, the real Jesus says what needs to be said despite potential rejection.  That’s because the real Jesus says what needs to be said for our eternal salvation.

I.

We have heard excerpts from John chapter six in the Gospel reading for the past several weeks.  Today is the last selection in that series.  If you remember the sequence of lessons up to this point, there was a crowd of people who followed him after he miraculously fed them.  They wanted a “bread king,” but Jesus explains that he is really the “Bread of life” and that they should feed on him by believing in him and his Word.  And that’s when Jesus started to feel major opposition from the crowd.  The opposition came from many of his fellow countrymen.  But did you notice who the opposition was here at the end of the chapter?  “On hearing [Jesus’ words], many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?’”

The people in the crowd who just wanted a free lunch were out of the picture at this point.  Jesus had a following beyond his 12 apostles, and it was some of those other disciples who now turned their backs on Jesus.  Think about that – not enemies, but disciples!  And they don’t exactly walk away politely.  They said, “This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?”  Literally they say, “Who can hear it?”  Maybe there are certain topics that you just can’t bear to listen to as they are discussed.  Maybe there are certain sounds that you just can’t bear to hear because they have the effect of fingernails on a chalkboard.  That appears to be the attitude these fair-weather disciples had.  They saw Jesus’ popularity tank, and then they listened to his challenging message, and they said, “Who can even tolerate listening to this?”

So what does Jesus do?  Does he circle the wagons and do damage control?  Does he say, “Oh, I’m sorry that what I said was so hard to take.  Maybe it was a little offensive.  Okay, we can compromise a little bit on some of these items.”  No, not at all!  Jesus does not let human opinion sway his proclamation of divine truth.  Jesus says what needs to be said despite potential rejection.  “Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?  What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.  Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”

Jesus spoke to them in metaphorical language.  He called himself the “Bread of Life.”  He said that only by “eating” him, only by consuming the message of the gospel with their souls, would they come to faith in him and keep that faith sustained.  But this was too much for them!  And if that was too much for so-called disciples, how would they handle it if they saw something miraculous?  If they could not handle Jesus’ simple spiritual message, how could they handle the future display of his divinity that would take place at his Ascension?  Here was the Bread of Life proclaiming to them the Word of life, and they would have nothing to do with it.  Here was Jesus, God incarnate, proclaiming the only message that the Spirit uses to bring people to faith and spiritual life, and instead they followed their stubborn sinful flesh and took offense at the gospel message that God himself had given them.

I bet that, when most of us heard the Gospel reading earlier, it didn’t strike us that the people who deserted Jesus were called his disciples.  We probably assumed that if Jesus’ teaching offended someone, it would be someone outside his circle of followers.  Surely Jesus says what needs to be said despite potential rejection from his opponents and from the indifferent, but Jesus also doesn’t withhold his words from his own disciples even if it has the potential to offend.

Hasn’t that been the history of the church?  Jesus proclaims himself to be the Son of God and his own people charge him with blasphemy.  St. John proclaims the gospel message handed down to him by Jesus and he ends up living in exile on an island.  Luther proclaims the no-strings-attached gospel lacking in the church of his day, and the church of his day declares him an outlaw worthy of death.  Within the last month, a church body that claims to be Lutheran decides that the will of God for human sexuality not only doesn’t apply to Christians, but it doesn’t apply to their own clergy—but if you are opposed, you ought not judge lest you yourself be judged (a gross misuse of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1).

And hasn’t that been our own history?  I know that we take pride in the fact that our church stands on a faithful and scriptural confession, but does that pride turn to resentment when Scripture points an accusing finger at the preferences of our sinful flesh?  Does Jesus offend us when his Word says that our best actions are like filthy rags?  Does Jesus offend us when his Word says that we are natural-born enemies of God and that one act of sin is enough to break his whole law and condemn us to eternal death?  Does Jesus offend us when his law hits too close to home, when he condemns our egotistical assumptions, our arrogant manipulation of others, our inflated pride and our unjust criticism of others?  We would rather not hear Jesus offend our sinful nature, but Jesus says what needs to be said despite our sinful nature’s natural and instant rejection of his message.

II.

Can you imagine the stunned silence the 12 apostles must have felt as they saw the crowds turn their backs on Jesus?  Verse 66 of today’s Gospel says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  Jesus went from fame and fortune to distain and disgust in what must have felt like the blink of an eye.  And with a saddened heart, Jesus looks at his ex-disciples leave him, and says to his inner circle of twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

Good ol’ Peter spoke up, just like he usually did.  Sometimes when Peter spoke up, we wish he hadn’t.  We’ll see one of those instances in the Gospel reading that comes up three Sundays from today (Mark 8:27-35).  But in this instance, Peter spoke up, and he couldn’t have been more right.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  If the apostles had followed suit with the wayward disciples, where would they go?  If they turned away from Jesus, two whom would they turn?  If they took offense at his Word, where else could they find forgiveness for their offenses against God?  Peter knew there was nowhere else to turn and that there was no reason to turn somewhere else.  Jesus was the Bread of life for their souls.  Jesus gave them eternal life.  They knew and trusted with all their heart that the man who stood among them was the holy and incarnate Son of God who was sent by the Father.

You know that as well.  But the reason you know that is because Jesus was not afraid to offend you.  Jesus is not afraid to offend your sinful nature in his Word.  In fact, he wants to kill your sinful nature and raise you up to be a new person of faith.  He says what needs to be said, even though it offends our sinful nature, because what he says is meant for our eternal salvation.

Jesus said that he is the Bread of Life, and that by feeding on him we have eternal life.  And Jesus says those words so that we will not feed our souls on the poison of sin but on the nourishment of the gospel.  Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with us.  And Jesus makes that claim so that we may know and believe that he fulfilled his promise to become our brother so that he could also be our divine substitute under the law.  Jesus said that he must go to the cross and suffer many things.  And Jesus spoke about those key events of our salvation so that we would know and believe that he went to Calvary’s cross and endured hell not just for nameless, faceless people, but for you, dear Christian friend.  Jesus said that on the third day he would rise again.  And Jesus predicted his resurrection and fulfilled his words so that we may know and believe that sin and death is truly destroyed and that our victory over death is already guaranteed.

If Jesus were worried about offending us, perhaps he wouldn’t tell us why we need him and his forgiveness so desperately.  But Jesus does not worry about offending our sinful flesh.  He says what needs to be said for our eternal salvation.  He called you at the font so that he could hand you eternal life with him.  He calls you in the pages of his Word so that you hear and know his voice as your Good Shepherd and great Savior.  He calls you to this altar to feed on himself in a real and miraculous way to strengthen you for the journey home.  And when our Christian nature hears the words of Jesus, it doesn’t turn away offended, but stands up and rejoices that God would love us so much and go to such great lengths to save us and then to bring that salvation straight to our hearts.

Conclusion

Sometimes, someone speaks to us and tells us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear.  Parents tell their children what they need to hear even though they don’t always want to hear it.  Teachers tell their students what they need to learn even though they don’t always want to learn it.  And Jesus tells us what we need to know and believe even though our sinful flesh doesn’t want to hear about the need for rescue and redemption from sin.  But eventually children come to appreciate the advice their parents gave them.  Eventually students come to recognize that the toughest teachers they had actually taught them the most.  And though our sinful nature will never delight in the Word of God, the Spirit has brought you to faith in Jesus and into the Father’s family, so that your new nature may know the joy of the redeemed, the peace of forgiveness, and the sure promise of a perfect paradise with your God for all eternity.  Thank God that Jesus has told us exactly what we need to hear!  Amen.

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: