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It's All About the Sacrifice

August 19, 2018
By Pastor David French

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It’s All About the Sacrifice
John 6:51-69

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of Me.”  In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

These words are very familiar to us.  They’re words of promise that, when used according to Christ’s command, unite His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  We’re used to the idea that in this sacrament we literally eat Christ’s body and drink His blood, that this is a Means of Grace, that is, one of the ways the Lord has promised to deliver forgiveness of sins.

The thing is, while we know these words, at that time Jesus spoke them, He hadn’t yet instituted His Holy Supper.  In fact, what these people knew were the words from the Torah in the book of Leviticus where we read: If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.  Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.

So, when Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  It sounds to them as though Jesus is promoting a teaching not just contrary to God’s Word, but defying God with what sounds like some kind of cannibalism.  So, what does this mean?

To better understand what Jesus is saying, we need to go back three weeks to the beginning of John 6 where we hear about Jesus and the five loaves.  The main point of that lesson and, really, this chapter is as Jesus said, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Each week since, Jesus has expanded on that teaching until we come to today.

Now if we consider today’s reading in isolation, honestly it will always be a mystery.  On the other hand, if we look at the whole chapter, we come across (for example) these words from last week's Gospel reading: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  It’s with this definition that we learn when Jesus speaks, again in this pre-communion sermon, about eating and drinking,  He’s talking about coming to Him and believing in Him.  That is, Jesus is speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit who “… has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Believing Scriptures means we believe that Jesus lived and died in our place; that He has saved us from the punishment we deserve and gives us eternal life.  It means we believe that Jesus is not just a man teaching at Capernaum, but that He is our God and Savior, which is exactly what Jesus preached.

You see, at that time and place, bread was such a critical part of every meal that the word bread was often used to mean all the food on your plate.  We still talk about getting together to break bread, understanding that there will be more than bread on the menu.  So, when Jesus says that He is the living bread that came down from heaven, He’s saying that just as our bodies get all they need for life from what we eat, so our souls gets all they need for eternal life from Him.

From there Jesus goes on to teach about the mystery of our salvation, that is, what makes this living Bread from Heaven so valuable.  You see, while Jesus is the Bread of Life, His value is not found in His title, but in the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world.  And so, it is as the Holy Spirit brings us to faith that we begin to see and believe that Jesus doesn’t just give life, He is life.  That He alone is our salvation.

It’s in the last section of Jesus’s sermon that He begins to expand on the idea that He will give His flesh for the life of the world.  Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 

Three times Jesus speaks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  Again, He says that His flesh is real food and His blood is real drink.  And finally, He says this eating and drinking is eternal life.

So Jesus began to paint a picture of the price He’ll pay for our salvation.  Again, when Jesus speaks of eating His flesh, He is telling that pre-Maundy Thursday crowd that He will sacrifice His body and offer His blood for them and that they are to believe in Him because of that sacrifice.  He’s teaching that this eating and drinking both point to the same thing, that is, the sacrifice of Himself on the cross for the sins of the world.  He’s teaching that all who believe in Him will take part in a blessed resurrection into eternal life.

But, this teaching runs counter to everything anyone has ever experienced in life, which is why Jesus said earlier that no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  Without God’s miracle of conversion, we simply cannot believe Jesus’s words. 

Look at how those who rejected Jesus that day respond.  The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  They also said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Finally, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  That is, they rejected Jesus, His message, and His gift of salvation. 

My friends, the body and blood of Jesus are still stumbling blocks for many today, but it is there that God reveals His true essence as He takes on human flesh and pours out His blood on the cross as the payment demanded for sin, all sin.  It’s there that we see an expression of the innermost being of God … that is, we see pure love.  Still, there are many who bear the name Christian who are offended and reject this teaching about Christ’s body and blood, but that too is nothing new.

Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

All four Gospels tell us that, as time went on, Jesus’s followers became fewer and fewer.  At the end, one of the Twelve betrayed Him and the rest deserted Him.  Finally, He was forsaken by His heavenly Father, leaving Jesus to take our sin and its punishment completely alone.  That’s the price Jesus paid for you and for me.

Jesus’s hanging on the cross as His life’s blood is poured out is what has freed us from sin and eternal death.  Those who eat His body and drink His blood - that is, those who believe in this crucified Lord and Savior, will join Him in His resurrection on the Last Day.  Until then, as He will later teach, He has left us a Holy Meal and a place at His table where believers can literally eat and drink His body and blood for the strengthening of our faith and the forgiveness of all our sins. 

In His Name, Amen.