Monday, August 17, 2015

Jesus is the True Bread of Life

by Pastor Paul Wolff

Not all who heard Jesus teach believed in Him

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “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.”
(John 6:66-69)

In our culture it is commonly accepted that in order to win someone to your point of view that you must convince them in some way, and whatever you do – you must not offend them. Offense seems to be the considered the great “sin” in our society, and yet people have such thin skin that they take offense as often as they take a breath. This is because from a young age we have been influenced by the television and its advertisements. The purpose of ads is to motivate you to spend your money on a certain product or service, but the way they do this is often through the use of deception, manipulation, and lies. We are bombarded with these messages from a young age, so that we don’t even question it after a while. Because of this we are familiar with lies, and offended by the truth.

Jesus doesn’t work this way. Jesus gives a hard teaching to His followers, and they take offense, and they start to leave Him. But Jesus doesn’t try to stop them. He doesn’t try to convince them. He doesn’t say, “No, you misunderstand me, this is what I really meant …” Instead, he piles it on. He gives them more reason to take offense so that many who had been following Him turned back and no longer followed Him. Jesus wasn’t being mean in doing this, nor was He na├»ve or foolish. He was teaching the truth, but the truth can be hard to accept at times, but the truth is always better than a lie. After many people left Him Jesus then turned to His twelve disciples and said to them, “Do you want to go away as well?” Jesus wasn’t going to compromise the truth even for His closest disciples. If they found it too hard to accept then Jesus would drive them away, too.

Peter spoke for the disciples and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” The teaching of God’s Word is difficult, and it offends all of us at one time or another, because we are all sinners, and God’s Law condemns us for our sin – so we are offended. But God’s Word also teaches the Gospel which brings us salvation from our sin through the redemption which Jesus won for us. God’s word gives us eternal life! Are we going to take offense and turn away and run after something else which doesn’t give eternal life, or are we going to repent and trust in Jesus to save us?

What Jesus was teaching about which caused the people to take offense was food. Now you would not normally think that food would be a divisive topic, but you should remember that ever since the days of Moses the Israelites had lived under God’s ceremonial laws, which placed certain limits on the kinds of food that the people ate. For over a thousand years food was very much on the minds of the people, and what Jesus was teaching seemed to contradict that. Jesus was actually not contradicting the Old Testament dietary laws, He was fulfilling them!

Daily bread is a gift from God - even to all evil people

I assume that most of you have experience with food. Even if you were born yesterday you would still have one day’s experience with food. Food sustains life. It doesn’t give life, but food gives us the energy and nourishment to keep on living and to grow. Food is a necessity for us every day – or if you are like me, you may have stored up some extra food so that you can survive a day or two (or ten) without food.  

It is also a bonus that much of the food we eat also gives us pleasure. God has blessed us so that we can enjoy the food which sustains our life. It is a joy to eat a good meal. Though sometimes we can enjoy our food too much, so we must take our pleasure with food in moderation. If we use the pleasure we get from food to try to make up for some pain or sadness, then we can overindulge and then the food which ought to sustain our life can also damage it. Good food is a gracious gift from God, so enjoy your food, and thank God for it, but be careful not to overdo it.

But we need to remember that the food we eat does not give life, it only preserves it. No earthly food can keep you alive forever. There is no “fountain of youth”. If you watch the advertisements on TV without a discerning eye you might be led to believe that there is a certain food or medicine which can prolong your life indefinitely, if not make you live forever. However, it is not true. Even if there was a perfect food which provided all your needs and did not poison you, you would still die. Death comes as a result of sin, and sin is a disease which affects us all. You can have the perfect diet and exercise habits, and you will still die. That is our greatest problem.

Jesus is the True Bread from heaven

But, Jesus is the solution to our problem of sin and death. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) Jesus is the bread of life, and He doesn’t just sustain our life of sin, instead Jesus gives us life without sin and death. Christ’s flesh is the bread of life because He sacrificed His flesh and blood to pay the price for our sin so that He could redeem us and give is eternal life. Jesus also said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:53-54)

Well, maybe you can begin to see why the Jews were upset about Christ’s teaching. Jesus had not yet instituted the Lord’s supper, so they didn’t know what the Sacrament was all about, but then even today when we have the clear teaching of Scripture, many Christians still don’t understand (or don’t believe) what the Lord’s Supper is all about. Eating a man’s body sounds like cannibalism, which God has always forbidden. Jesus was not talking about cannibalism, but He does give us His flesh and blood for eternal life. When a cannibal eats a person he cannot do it without causing great bodily harm to his victim, and he doesn’t receive the whole person, but only a part; and it doesn’t give him life any more than eating an animal, so he treats his neighbor no better than an animal. These are all reasons why God forbids cannibalism, and condemns it as a terrible sin.

However, when Jesus gives us His body and blood to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper it is not like cannibalism – but not for the reasons you may have heard. Some unbelievers say that the Lord’s Supper is just a symbolic act – that the communicants don’t really receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. That is not true. Jesus said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood”. That is what He gives to us in the Lord’s Supper. But in the Sacrament we don’t just get a part of Jesus – we get all of Him. And though we eat His body and drink His blood, He is not harmed by this at all. Yet we get blessings far greater than any other food we may eat.

Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread
and 2 fish with 12 full baskets left over
after everyone had eaten their fill.

The Jews asked themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”, but this is the wrong question. Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and when everyone had eaten their fill collected 12 baskets of leftovers. If Jesus desires to give His whole body and blood to each of the two billion Christians in the world who each only eat a small morsel of unleavened bread and drink a small sip of wine, then He can do it. Are we going to doubt Jesus – who died and rose to life again? “To whom shall we go? {Jesus} is the Word which gives us eternal life!”

If you find this hard to understand you should take comfort in knowing that no one can really understand this fully. It is a miracle from God – who can understand it? Yet though we do not understand it, we trust the clear words of Jesus that He gives us this great gift for our blessing. For our forgiveness and eternal life.

However, although everyone who eats the Lord’s Supper receives the Body and Blood of Jesus in the bread and wine, not all receive the blessings. Only those who believe the words of Jesus receive the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life. How this works is that those who believe receive the gift of Jesus and hold on to Him by faith, and never let Him go, and so receive the blessings. But when an unbeliever receives the Body and Blood of Jesus he denies the truth of what he has received and he rejects it and throws it away as if it were no more than a small piece of bread and a sip of wine.

This is one reason why the vast majority of Christian churches throughout history and even now throughout the world practice closed communion. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 St. Paul instructs the Corinthians saying,
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
Jesus gives us His body and blood
in the bread and wine of the Sacrament
for our forgiveness and eternal life.

We eat and drink unworthily if we do not believe. The Lord’s supper is for sinners, but only for those who believe, and those who share a common confession. We don’t commune with Baptists, or Roman Catholics, or heretical Lutherans, (for example) because we do not agree with their false teachings – even though there may be true Christian believers in all these churches. But we don’t want to give people the impression that we agree with false teaching.

The Reformed churches (Calvinist and Arminian) practice open communion because they do not believe the words of Jesus, and they also ignore Saint Paul’s warnings that “anyone who eats and drinks (the Lord’s Supper) without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

These are hard teachings. Perhaps you who are reading this doubt the clear teachings of Scripture because you think they are too hard to believe. Are you considering turning away and going somewhere else? To whom shall you go? These are the teachings of Jesus which bring eternal life. You may find teachers which are easier to hear, but they will not give you eternal life which is the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ.

If you do not believe the words of Jesus you should refrain from receiving the Sacrament – at least until you can study the Scriptures and see that this is the true teaching of Christ for your salvation.

It is hard to trust the words of Jesus. No one can believe unless the Holy Spirit gives faith, but He works through the Word to give you that faith so that you may believe and that you may find your salvation in Jesus Christ. Only Jesus gave His life as a payment for your sins. Only Jesus comes to you in His sacraments to forgive your sins and give you eternal life. May God, the Holy Spirit, strengthen your faith so that you may say with St. Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

For more on a similar topic see: Was Jesus Unloving?

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