John 6.25-27, 31-32, 38-40, 44, 50, and 55-56 August 06, 2017
Eating Flesh and Drinking Blood
Introduction: Of the four Gospels, John’s Gospel does not include the words of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room. It is not that John does not record much of what happened in the Upper Room and later that evening. John’s chapters 13 through 17 contain a lot of additional material that the Synoptic writers omit, the washing of the disciples’ feet, the new commandment to love one another, the word about the mansions in heaven, teaching about the Holy Spirit, the parable of the true vine, and Jesus’ high priestly prayer! Actually, all three of the other Gospels plus I Corinthians were already circulating in the early church. Perhaps, writing some 30 years after that, John felt it would be more helpful to pass on to us something of the meaning of those powerful symbols: the flesh and blood of Jesus. After all Mark in 6.52 had already indicated that the disciples had missed the message “about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
The occasion of John’s teaching was immediately after Jesus had fed the 5,000 on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Immediately afterword Jesus and his disciples sailed over to the other side of the lake, near Capernaum. The multitude immediately followed him, and as soon as they had gathered around Jesus, he diagnosed their agenda: simply to get another free meal, and perhaps even to make him some kind of political leader to guarantee them perpetual free food! (John 6.15). But, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter: What is Jesus’ meaning and purpose of Bread? And, that the multiplication of the bread and fish was a Sign! Now, John’s Gospel always calls Jesus’ miracles “Signs”. If they did not recognize it as a sign, they would never even have the curiosity to even look to see for what the sign was pointing to!
The question focuses on “bread”. The Jews immediately remembered how Moses had provided manna in the desert to keep the children of Israel alive during their 40-year trek through the desert. Jesus reminds them that every one of those who ate the manna in the desert (except two, Joshua and Caleb) died in the desert! In contrast to the manna which spoiled and perished in the desert, Jesus offers the Bread of Life. Jesus himself is the Bread of Life, on whom rests the “seal of approval of the Father” (v. 27). And, in four places Jesus affirms that He is the Bread of Life that came down from Heaven (vs. 32, 33, 38 and 41). There is no better way to summarize these benefits than to quote the very words of Jesus:
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty… All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6.35 and 37).
An added benefit to this Bread is that He, Jesus, the Bread of Life will raise us up on the last day – repeated three times in this passage (John 6.40, 44 and 54)!
This is very similar to what Jesus told the woman at the well about being the living water of life in John 4. At first, she took him literally, as if Jesus had some mysterious source of physical water to keep her from ever being thirsty again. But this is a metaphor of Jesus comparing himself to a physical object to communicate a spiritual truth, such as is expressed in Psalm 42.1-2:
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
So, in the same manner, the metaphor of Jesus identifying himself as the bread of life, how do we nourish our spiritual lives with the bread of life as physical bread nourishes our physical lives? Sometimes we use the same kind of metaphor when we try to understand a strange or difficult idea. We say, “I am trying to digest that idea”. This is how the Prophet Ezekiel expresses the same idea in a figure of speech as we find it in Ezek. 3.1-3 in The Message:
“He [God] told me, ‘Son of man, eat what you see. Eat this book. Then go and speak to the family of Israel.’ As I opened my mouth, he gave me the scroll to eat, saying, ‘Son of man, eat this book that I am giving you. Make a full meal of it!’ So I ate it. It tasted good – just like honey.”
Now, when it comes to “digesting” the Bread of Life; a few weeks ago, we sang a hymn about Jesus being both the living Word of God as well as the written Word of God. When we ask ourselves, how do we nourish ourselves on this bread of life, or as Jesus himself says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6.56), the words of this hymn may be helpful. Let me read to you again, the first verse of this hymn (#321), “Break Thou the Bread of Life”:
“Break Thou the Bread of Life, Dear Lord to me, as Thou did break the loaves beside the sea. Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord; my spirit pants for Thee, O Living Word.”
Now the subject shifts to the Blood of Christ. As we saw in today’s first Scripture reading, the Jews had serious reservations about drinking blood. The reason was that from the O.T. point of view, the life of the body is in the blood. That truth is evident from simple observation. When an animal or person lost enough blood, they died. It was as simple as that. But we also know that from the high priority that hospitals and clinics place on maintaining blood transfusions: to defend the life of a patient from imminent death!
The Jews for millennia have honored this prohibition so that Kosher meat has to have all the blood drained out of it, and it is fully understandable the original reticence and disgust that Jesus’ hearers expressed when He suggested that they drink his own blood! But here again we have a metaphor, comparing our willingness to identify with, or “digest” and “comprehend” the meaning of blood, as life and shed blood as life poured out or sacrificed.
We see this first way back in the book of Exodus in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 24.3-8). When Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed young bulls on the altar, he was identifying the sacrificial poured-out life-blood of the bull with God. When he sprinkled it on the people, he was identifying the people with the same poured-out life-blood of the sacrificed animal. That blood was called the “blood of the covenant”, the covenant that Israel had just finished ratifying with their promise.
We have seen that in our own lifetime. Remember when President Kennedy was murdered in Dallas in November, 1963? In the chaotic hours that followed, culminating in the swearing in of Vice President Johnson, friends of Jackie tried to get her to change her bloodied dress for the ceremony. She refused, choosing to wear on her person the blood off her dead husband. To her, it was unthinkable to separate herself from the shed blood of her fallen husband.
The best example of a follower of Jesus identifying with the death of his Lord from the N.T. is the life and ministry of Paul of Tarsis. Here is what he said, first from Col. 1.24:
“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body which is the church.”
Again, in Phil. 3.10: “I want to know Christ in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Now, in Rom. 6.3 & 5: “…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? … If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
And, finally from Gal. 2.20; 6.14 & 17: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me.”
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world….Finally, let no one cause me trouble because I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.”
Of course a quote from the N.T. seems to be a long time ago and far away. But we need not limit ourselves to ancient examples of being identified with the blood of Christ. Right now, today! Our brother Andrew Brunson is participating in the afflictions of Jesus in a Turkish prison cell where in the summer time temperatures reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit, designed for eight prisoners, but with 22 Muslim cell-mates for just five days short of nine months.
So, in the light of this, it is always helpful for us to remind ourselves of the meaning of the word “Sacrament”. It is not a biblical word. It is derived from an ancient Latin word, sacramentum, a military word meaning, the oath of allegiance between a soldier and the Imperial Roman army he served in. To the Roman legions, it was a serious commitment which often involved the willingness to suffer and die for the Empire. It is significant that that word and concept came to be applied to what we now call the “sacraments” of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When we see what it meant to the Apostle Paul and countless others who today are laying down their lives for Jesus Christ, we need to ask ourselves, “Is that what the ‘sacrament’ of the Lord’s Supper means to me?”