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LSB Proper 15B Sermon – John 6:51-69

August 31, 2015

August 16, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“After this many of [Jesus’] 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.’”

“You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” That is Peter’s great confession about Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel. Peter’s declaration testifies that Jesus is the source of eternal life for himself and the rest of the Twelve. It acknowledges Jesus’ identity as the Messiah who has come from the LORD. The apostle’s confession of faith is the result of seeing what Jesus had done and hearing what Jesus had said.

But as you heard the Gospel Reading, you should have noted that Peter’s confession of faith stands in great contrast to what many others thought about Jesus. During the past several weeks, you have been listening to Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse,” His teaching about Himself after His miraculous feeding of the thousands. Throughout that discourse, Jesus was revealing His identity and His purpose for being in earth. That included statements about coming down from heaven, about doing the Father’s will, about giving Himself for the life of the world. Those statements were meant to give the crowds the true understanding about the miracle’s significance, what it was meant to show about Jesus.

Jesus’ discourse reaches its pinnacle with what you heard this morning: “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. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.” That statement put the matter of salvation into the hearing of the crowds. Jesus presents Himself to the people as a food that leads to everlasting life. The life that Jesus has come to bring to the world is found in His flesh and blood that He will offer in atoning sacrifice. Those who would partake of that, who would be joined to it, will have the promise of resurrection.

But when Jesus makes that statement, the people do not receive it. The Gospel Writer records the exact opposite result of hearing and believing: “When many of His disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’… After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” This is the confession of doubt and unbelief. The people hear what Jesus says and want nothing to do with it. Perhaps some were just confused, but others were having this type of reaction throughout the conversation. Recall that the objections to Jesus did not only come at the end of His discourse. Remember how the crowds had said: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” When hearing about Jesus’ giving His flesh for the life of the world, they responded: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

When the people react this way to Jesus’ statements, they begin to cut themselves off from the life that He had brought to the world. They reject the One whom the Father had sent to bring redemption. They refuse His sacrifice that He will offer. They do not participate in the ways that He bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation. They had walked with Jesus, witnessing His miracles and majestic deeds, even benefitting from the physical gifts that He granted to them. But they miss the main thing: they do not receive the food that endures to eternal life which Jesus desired to give to them.

But Peter’s response to Jesus shows that some do receive. When Jesus raises the question whether Peter and the Twelve want to leave Him and go their own way, Peter’s response reveals what he has come to believe. Recall again his confession of faith: “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”

The phrase “the words of eternal life” is not just a fancy way for Peter to say that Jesus taught some very interesting things. No, it is a recognition that Jesus’ statement is true: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” And those words that Jesus had spoken are what you have heard during the past three Sundays: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on Him God the Father has set His seal…. This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent…. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst…. This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day….  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.”

Peter’s confession of faith testifies where he has put his faith and trust. He has heard what Jesus said and has believed it. Peter understands what the miracle was truly about. He wants the bread of life that comes down from heaven. He trusts that Jesus can and will give it to him. Unlike the crowds, Peter won’t go away. Unlike the crowds, Peter doesn’t object to Jesus’ statements about His identity and His work. Instead, he trusts that Jesus is the source of eternal life for him.

You make the same confession of faith alongside Peter and the rest of the apostles. For much of the year, you actually say the same thing that Peter did. In the Divine Service, just before the Gospel Reading, you say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia, alleluia.” That statement is an expression of what you believe. Your trust is placed in the One whom the LORD has sent. Your hope is found in the actions that He accomplished. In the Gospel Reading you hear again about this Jesus who came down from heaven and gave His flesh for the life of the world. That is where the testimony about Jesus is given. That is where you partake of the food that endures to eternal life. That is where you have the promise of resurrection spoken to you.

You hear the words of eternal life in the Gospel Reading because they aren’t worldly or secular. They do not have mankind as their source. Nor do they have their source from a false god who isn’t the Lord and Giver of Life. If that were so, they would be of no eternal aid at all. Instead, they are full of the Spirit. That is what Jesus revealed: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” That makes them different. That’s what causes them to be the way that eternal life is extended to you. That’s what allows them to convey the great promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

So what happens to you when you hear them? You believe in Jesus’ identity and work. And as you make the same confession about Jesus as Peter did, you also follow the words that Jesus spoke. That means you avail yourself of what Jesus instituted in the Gospels. You participate in the birth from above that comes from water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. You participate in the absolution that is proclaimed by those whom Jesus has assigned the task to speak it. You participate in the meal that places the flesh and blood of Jesus in front of you. For all of these have promises that Jesus attached to them, as He spoke the words of eternal life.

That is why you will participate in the Sacrament of the Altar today. As you do so, recall what Jesus said: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me. 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.” That benefit outlined by Jesus is made to be yours, when you eat and drink the Sacrament, believing who He is, relying on the sacrifice that He offered for your sins, and trusting His declarations and promises which are spirit and life. You abide in Him. He abides in you. You have life in Him. His life is placed in you. So you will have a place in eternity.

That is purpose for the Gospel accounts being spoken for you to hear and believe. You share in the life that Jesus brings to the world. You welcome the One whom the Father sent to redeem and reconcile the fallen world. You benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice that He offered for you. You participate in the ways that Jesus bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation. You receive the true bread from heaven which He freely gives to you. Unlike the crowds, you won’t go way. But like Peter, you will always walk with Jesus, trusting the words of eternal life that He speaks. And with the life of Jesus in you, He will raise you up on the Last Day.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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