“This Is a Hard Saying” (John 6:60-69)

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 22, 2021

“This Is a Hard Saying” (John 6:60-69)

For the last couple of weeks, the Holy Gospel has been Jesus’ famous “Bread of Life” discourse from John chapter 6.  And last week I preached on the appointed text, under the theme, “Eat This Bread and Live Forever.”  But last week I only got through the first half of that text.  What I didn’t get to was the reaction to what Jesus said.  And that’s what I want to take up this morning.  And so our sermon text today is what is printed in your bulletin, namely, John 6, verses 60 through 69, as follows:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)  And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So Jesus said to 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.”

This is our text.  Note especially the first reaction to Jesus’ words:  “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”  And Jesus knew that his disciples were grumbling about this.  So notice that the people doing this grumbling are called “disciples.”  In other words, these were people who had been following Jesus.  They had seen his miracles.  They had heard his teaching.  Now these were not the twelve disciples, but they were many in the outer ring of his followers.

So, it is possible for people who have some sort of outward attachment to Jesus to not accept what he has to say.  You know, Jesus speaks elsewhere, in the parable of the Sower and the seeds–Jesus speaks of those who receive his word at first with joy, but then when times get hard because of the word, their faith dries up and withers away.  That is similar to what happens here with this group of unbelieving, walking-away disciples.  And the danger is, this same sort of falling away can happen today among church members.

But let’s get back to what their complaint was.  They say:  “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Well, what was so hard about what Jesus had said?  After all, had he not made some beautiful promises?  He had.  Think of it:  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”  Live forever!  That’s a beautiful promise!  But who is this Jesus to claim that he has come down heaven?  And to say, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”?  Well, that seemed rather puzzling.  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus had given them plenty of beautiful promises.  For example:  “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  Beautiful promises of eternal life!  But they’re all tied to belief in Jesus, to partaking of him by faith.  Indeed, that it is only through faith in Jesus that one can have eternal life.  There’s no other way.  It is the exclusivity of this claim that people find so hard to accept.  “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.”

This is what people back then, this is what people today, find so hard to accept.  It is the idea that I am not pleasing enough to God on my own to merit eternal life.  If you ask most people, they will say, “I’m a pretty good person.  I’m not a bad person.  Oh, I’m not perfect; nobody is.  But I’m certainly not as bad as. . . .”  And then they rattle off their favorite bad guys that they’re better than–child molesters, mass murderers, tax collectors or prostitutes.  “If there is such a thing as everlasting life,” they think, “I’m just as good as the next guy to get in.”  Well, you may be just as good as the next guy, but guess what?  He’s not good enough, either.  Relative righteousness–righteousness by comparison–is not good enough.

So this is what people find most unacceptable about Jesus:  that he claims to be the only way to have the righteousness you need to gain eternal life.  Otherwise, you have no life in you.  This is indeed a hard saying for us sinners to swallow.  But it’s the truth.

“Do you take offense at this?” Jesus asked the people back then.  And many of them did take offense. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”  But Jesus’ question still holds true today:  “Do you take offense at this?”  Do you, 21st century America–do you take offense at this hard saying of Jesus?  And the answer is, in most cases, yes.  Most people today do take offense at Jesus.  That’s why they’re not coming to church.  They don’t think they need Jesus.  They don’t think they need what he has to offer.  They don’t think they need to keep hearing his voice and listening to what he has to say to them on a weekly basis.  “There are too many hard sayings.  And I’m a good enough person on my own.  So long, Jesus!  Goodbye, church!”

For the past 80 years, the Gallup organization has conducted a poll on church membership in the United States.  In 1940, 73% of Americans belonged to a church.  And it remained around 70% up until around the year 2000.  But since then, church membership has plummeted.  From 70% in 1999, to 61% in 2010, now down to a shocking 47% in 2020.  That is an extreme drop-off in just the last 20 years.  Only a minority of Americans now belong to a church.  Most people do take offense at Jesus, they don’t think they need him, and they have turned their back on him and are no longer walking with him.  Otherwise, we would see them here in church, here where Jesus meets with his disciples every Sunday.

So, others are walking away from Jesus.  How about you?  What will you do?  When Jesus tells you that the only way you will have eternal life is through him, that you are not good enough on your own–when he says those kinds of hard sayings, the question remains:  “Do you take offense at this?”  Or instead, do you realize that you are indeed a poor miserable sinner who has broken God’s commandments, that you deserve nothing from God, and that the only thing you have earned is death?  Do you know that Jesus is your only hope, your only way into God’s presence, that he is your only Savior?  If you do know these things, that is called repentance, that is called faith.  And this is evidence of God guiding you in the way of the truth.  “No one can come to me,” Jesus says, “unless it is granted him by the Father.”  Thank God for giving you the gift of faith!

After the others walked away, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked them, “Do you want to go away as well?”  That’s a relevant question today, isn’t it?  “Do you want to go away as well?”  I mean, that’s the trend these days, isn’t it?  More and more people in our society are not following Jesus.  Church membership continues to drop.  Don’t you want to follow the crowd?  Or will you instead continue to follow Jesus?

When Jesus asked that of the Twelve, Peter spoke up for the group.  He said:  “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.”  Dear friends, I hope Peter speaks for all of us here today.  We may have puzzlements about certain hard sayings of Jesus, or other hard sayings in the Bible, but we trust our Lord to make clear what we need to know.  And what we do know is that Jesus has the words of eternal life.  His promises are true.

And Jesus backed up his words with his actions.  He went to the cross and gave his flesh for us into death, to make the sacrifice that atones for the sins of the whole world, for your sins and mine.  This is what I need, this is what you need, this is what the whole world needs:  forgiveness for our sins.  And then Jesus rose from the dead, in victory over death and hell and the grave.  And now Jesus gives his life to us–his eternal life–in the very means of grace that we receive here in his church:  in the preaching of his gospel, in the blessed sacrament of his holy body and blood.  Like Peter said, we believe, and we have come to know, that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  Dear brothers and sisters, you have many options on where you can go these days.  Lots of your friends and neighbors and family members are opting to go elsewhere.  But I know, because Jesus says so, that this–this place right here–is the best place to go.  Because this is where Jesus speaks his living and live-giving words to us on a regular basis.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life.  And they do exactly what they say.

“Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.”

Published in: on August 21, 2021 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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