What do you depend upon?
Jesus gives us two images in the passage we have just read:
and the Flesh
This morning, I described how Jesus speaks of being the Bread of Life. He is the one thing that we need to flourish during our lives….the one thing we need to fill our yearning for meaning to flourish today.
We need to depend upon the bread!
But Jesus also speaks of the Flesh.
This evening we are going to concentrate upon the Flesh!
What is needed for us to flourish not just for now while we live but for eternity?
Let’s try a little thought experiment: Let’s suppose tonight we die. As we pass from this world; down the tunnel which some who have died and been revived speak about, we find that we are wide eyed with wonder at the beauty and love arrayed in front of us. We are drawn towards a Being who knows us; who we realise has been with us every step of the way.
All our life is arrayed before us and that loving Being asks us:
On the basis of every episode of our life presented in front of us, why should you be admitted into his heavenly presence for eternity?
Please write down on the paper I have given out to you what you would say….. We will come back to that in a moment.
As many of you know, Lucy and I lived for five years in Japan. In many respects their culture is quite different from ours. At the weirdest end stand the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia.
If a Yakuza henchman fails in some way, if he commit some kind of sin, he pays for it by a rather gory ritual. A tourniquet is tied tightly round a finger. And then he cuts off the top of his finger down to the top knuckle. The finger end is then wrapped in a white cloth and given to the Yakuza boss.
The historical rationale for this gruesome ceremony is that reduced fingers make it more difficult to hold a sword and, in feudal times, which ended for Japan in the mid nineteenth century, a sword was essential for personal safety and dignity.
Thus through this action, the Yakuza henchman becomes more dependent upon his overlord….and dependency on the boss is the key which holds the whole of the gang together.
That is pretty gory isn’t it? But Jesus speaking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood was pretty gory as well. It sounds cannibalistic even now and the Jews didn’t take to it at all…
However there is one key element of Jesus’ analogy which is startlingly different to the painful repentance of the Japanese crook. An element which makes what Jesus is talking about as different from the grubby sadistic behaviour of the Yakuza as is the difference between night and day. Indeed it is the complete OPPOSITE!
In the example Jesus is giving, it is HIS blood and HIS flesh which is sacrificed and not that of the sinner: not our blood, not our flesh.
What we are required to do is to come to Jesus in dependency and believe in him. But, even though it is not what we sacrifice for him but rather what he sacrifices for us, that is the glue which sticks the relationship together, our sense of dependency on Jesus should be just as strong; much stronger actually, than the yakuza henchman’s dependency is on his boss.
Our relationship with Jesus is one of love not a relationship of fear.
But what is that sense dependency based upon?
Our dependency on Christ is built upon the sacrifice that he made; upon his flesh and blood; upon the pain that he suffered, that paid for our sinfulness.
We may think ‘well I am not sinful’ and if we think this we will find it difficult to understand all this.
As one preacher, Tim Keller, says: We are more sinful than we can possibly imagine, But we are more loved than we could possibly dare to hope.
Our dependency on Christ is thus based upon a sacrifice which should have been ours, pain that we should have gone through. So, unlike the hoodlum who pays for his crime, by losing his finger top, Jesus, although He is God in human flesh himself and is entirely innocent, entirely sinless, having nothing to repent for, Jesus pays for our crime by the pain of being crucified and by being separated from the Father in death until his glorious resurrection.
One of the dangers of the Christian faith is that until we are reminded by something like Mel Gibson’s gruesome film, the Passion of the Christ, we can get inured to the brutality and grossness of the Cross; of the flesh cut and the blood spilt on our behalf. We can forget the sacrifice, the pain, that God as Jesus Christ suffered on our behalf, because we symbolically eat His flesh and drink his blood, in the Eucharist: ‘Take eat this is my body…this is my blood of the new covenant’. And those little wafers and that sip of wine are a not disagreeable start to a Sunday, when, in fact, they should bring us crashing back to remembering what He has done for us.
And this is what is so arresting in John’s gospel, so shocking that many of the disciples fall away (verse 60).
What may be a surprise to you as it was to me…is that there is no reference, in St John’s telling of the story of the last supper, to the starting by Jesus of the sacrament of communion. This only appears in the synoptic gospels in Matthew, Mark and Luke, all of which have similar stories but not in John…
But many theologians have drawn parallels between Jesus saying, that you must ‘eat my flesh’ and ‘drink my blood’ in John’s gospel and the description of the first Holy Communion in the other gospels.
And it is easy to have a sense from the accounts of communion in the other gospels that it is the regular practice of taking communion which saves us for eternity. But here in John, it is absolutely clear, (verses 40 and 47) that eating the flesh and blood of Jesus and belief in Jesus are inextricably entwined.
From this I think we can conclude that taking communion without belief; that taking communion without a sense that we are sinners; that taking communionwithout a belief that he carried those sins for us on the cross without eating his flesh, without investing in Jesus’ death; without a sense of dependence upon it; taking communion like that is really nothing at all…….Just an empty ritual….
So now we return to our little thought experiment. What have we written down?
We may have written down on the piece of paper as justifications for Father God letting us into heaven: the kind things we have done for others; the money we have secretly given to support those in need; the children we have reared; the good neighbour we have been; the times we have been to church or I would guess, in many cases, that we have done our best…or anything like that
Remembering that truth and love are inextricably linked….1 Cor 13:6 what if Father God says as he surveys your life, my life ‘but what about…….was that really your best?’ ‘Well no…’
If we write down anything that we have done to justify ourselves then it probably means that we have not yet invested in the sacrifice that Jesus has made it may mean that we think we can get to heaven by our own efforts. We cannot…….our best is simply not good enough…
Now I have horrified you….but let me tell you why this is really really good news. Because what we write down on these papers can look pretty feeble even to us…
Because you see God knows us so well. He knows us and he loves us so much. He loves YOU so much; yes YOU! The creator of the universe knows you and loves you and cares about every aspect of your life, so he (in the bodily form of Jesus) paid the price himself for everything that we have done wrong, by suffering on the cross so that we might enter into that eternal paradise.
It is ONLY because of what Jesus did on the Cross only because of his flesh….that we can have eternal life, that we can enter into that eternal paradise.
So on our pieces of paper, to the question: Why YOU?
The answer is: ‘JESUS’; ‘Jesus’ Blood’ or ‘Jesus’ Flesh’; or just simply ‘Jesus’
And in understanding that dependence on him we recognise our gratefulness and our lives are transformed….
So, as we travel through life, we need to fill our empty hearts with the Bread that only he can give us and when we take communion, we need to be fully invested in the sacrifice he made on the Cross; we need to be fully dependent on his flesh to cross that barrier into that place of eternity which Jesus has reserved for us…
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.