In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.  … Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. … This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died.  Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51, 54, 58). What powerful words from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ! The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is dominated by teaching on bread: Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand with a few loaves and two small fish; His dismissal of the crowds when He perceived that they wanted to make Him their “bread king,” who would keep their tummies filled; and then what is called the Bread of Life Discourse, the last part of which we heard today.

To this Bread of Life Discourse, we heard two responses from Jesus’ disciples.  There was Peter’s: “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” (vv. 68–69).  We sang part of that as the Alleluia and Verse in preparation for the reading of the Holy Gospel. And there was the earlier response: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Did you catch that about the first response? These weren’t unbelievers or the crowds, nor were they opponents of Jesus. It was said by “many of His disciples”!  

We want to believe that, if we had been there, why, we would be with Peter and the Twelve.  We wouldn’t walk out on Jesus; we would stay!  Maybe you’ve had moments, though, when you found it very easy to identify with those who said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Maybe you’ve had many such moments. Those who said this were disciples of Jesus. They had given up much to follow Him. They waited and watched, wondered and worried.  They had heard Jesus early on, and when He called them, they stopped what they were doing and followed Him. After all this time, after all their waiting and watching and wondering, they have grown tired, for they no longer see in Jesus what they first saw, what first drew them to Him.  So these disciples “no longer walked with Him” (v. 60).

As we follow along with Jesus’ teaching here, we can see the tension escalating, and also the confrontations.  First with the crowds, asking “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28), and Jesus answering, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (v. 29), then they ask for a sign, like the manna their fathers ate in the wilderness, and His answer that the Father gives Him who is the true bread from heaven for the life of the world, and their request, “Sir, give us this bread always” (v. 34), and His answer, “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.  But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe” (vv. 35–36). Then the Jews (the Pharisees and scribes and their disciples) grumble against Him for saying He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven, {for they know who His parents are,} and then their dispute in today’s Gospel Reading. Finally, it’s many of His disciples who complain about Jesus’ teaching here. As each group asks its questions of Jesus, registering complaints along the way, Jesus seems to “up the ante” as He answers, and as He asks questions in return. Jesus had said nothing about people eating His flesh; yet, when the Jews argue with each other, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”  He answers, “[Amen, amen] 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.”  See what I mean? Jesus adopts their “talking point,” as it were, and then “ups the ante” with talk about drinking His blood.  When many of His disciples start to take offense, He says, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?  … But there are some of you who do not believe. This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father” (vv. 60–65).

Luther hit the nail on the head with his image of the scene.  After many disciples walk out on Jesus, the Lord sits, His head in His hands.  Then He looks up and sees the Twelve … just the Twelve. “Do you want to go away as well?”  It almost sounds like an invitation for them to leave. Then we hear Peter’s beautiful confession.  “Lord, to whom shall we go? Your Word is eternal life, and we believe and know who You are, the Holy One of God, the Son of God, the God-Man.”  Having just lost perhaps eighty percent of His congregation, Jesus has to bring yet one more negative as He answers them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve?  And yet one of you is a devil” (v. 70), meaning Judas Iscariot. In the midst of this beautiful, life-giving teaching on Jesus’ purpose in coming, and our need to believe in Him for eternal life, Jesus isn’t exactly showing us “how to win friends and influence people.”  Going from feeding five thousand to only the Twelve remaining, this chapter is not a how-to on increasing church membership, is it?

That Word of life, the Word of God, is so important for people to hear, so that they may believe, and believing they may have a share in eternal life, the life of God.  Why does Jesus make it so hard to listen to Him? Why does He seem to go out of His way to shock and offend not only the crowds or the religious leaders, but His own disciples?  It’s not the only time, either. Remember the Syrophoenician woman who begged Jesus to heal her demon-oppressed daughter? Jesus said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mk 7:27).  He called her a dog! Would you take that? She did, for she knew two truths: one, “I am but a dog, unclean, unworthy”; and two, Jesus is Lord, God Almighty, and He takes care of His creatures, including dogs.  Jesus healed her daughter.

Why then does Jesus speak like this?  He doesn’t always. Many times He speaks kindly, invitingly, gently, words that heal and soothe, words that make the wounded whole, forgive sins, and raise the dead.  Look at all the words in today’s Scripture readings that speak of our Lord’s invitation and His blessed gifts of His Word: Wisdom invites the simple to her table, {to eat the meat, the flesh, she has prepared,} to eat her bread and drink her wine.  {“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” says the Psalmist (34:8).}  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prv 9:10).  “You are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph 6:8b–9).  “I AM the Living Bread coming down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”  “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”  “You have the words of eternal life.”  St. John begins his Gospel account with similar words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1–5, 14).  “Word” here is the Greek word Logos.  It means Word—and so much more!  Logos also signifies Wisdom, Knowledge, Truth, Reason, Insight, Illumination, {Thought, Intelligence,} the Creative Power that brought the cosmos and life and all things into existence, and keeps them running.  Who else can this be but Jesus, the Power of God and the Wisdom of God, the Light of Life and the Bread of Life! Bread gives energy {to the eater}, and it takes energy to make bread. Light is energy. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, and He gives us His Divine Energy, which is another name for the Holy Spirit.

So why does Jesus speak harshly?  If you had a steady diet of {only} such “bread” from Jesus, it could grow wearisome.  Yet He does feed us this hard Word because we need it. How many of you like to eat dessert?  How long could you live on desserts? How many of you like {to eat} all your vegetables? How long can you live on them?  With His hard Word our Lord Jesus is testing and exercising our faith in Him, in order to strengthen {and nourish} it. If you want nothing but seemingly kind, caring, sweet words that tell you everything’s fine with you, here’s how to have success in life, there are plenty of self-help gurus out there ready to tell you what your itching ears want to hear.  Some are even in the guise of Christians. They will lead you to death and hell with their sweet, soothing lies. Jesus speaks the Truth, and it’s not easy. The Truth of the Law: You need to keep it perfectly—but you’re a born sinner. Sorry, too late. So here’s another version of the Law: You need Jesus. The Gospel says: Here He is! And He comes as the Crucified One, offering Himself as The Sacrifice for sin, for you, giving His flesh and His blood for the life of the world.  If you eat and drink that Truth, if His sacrifice becomes part of you, becomes the very center of your life, then you have faith in Christ, which is eternal life.  That is the Truth of the Gospel. Jesus suffered the bloody sweat, betrayal, false arrest, abandonment, phony trials, the whip, the mockery, the pulling out of the beard, the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross, the agony.  The Word made flesh endured unimaginable harshness, at the hands of men and by the will of His Father, all for you, out of His great love for you, to pay the penalty for all your sins, to win life eternal for you.  And in His Word of Scripture and preaching, in His Word of Absolution, in the water and the Word, in the bread and wine become His body and blood by His Word, He is here for you.  As Luther said, “Although [God] is present in all creatures … yet He does not wish that I seek Him [in them] apart from the Word … He is present everywhere, but does not wish that you grope for Him everywhere.  Grope, rather, where the Word is, and there you will lay hold of Him in the right way” (LW 36:342).

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.