Read This Page in My Language
If I were to ask you, as a believing Christian, “Who knows more? You or God?”, I have no doubt that all of you would answer, “God”. That is such a no-brainer for the Christian that even my youngest daughter, Eva, has it clear in her mind. She often says, “God knows everything, even more than Daddy.” Indeed, it is for this reason that Jesus holds up little children as the greatest example of faith. Little children have no difficulty believing that God knows more than them.
But somewhere along the maturation process things change. I think it starts in junior high. Then it increases in high school. It solidifies itself at the university. And by the time we’re thirty, we are not as quick to believe everything that God says.
Of course, Christians will say they do outwardly. We may even fool ourselves into thinking that we actually do. But the many years of sinful behavior and sinful decision making betray our confession. Is it really easy for us to believe everything that God says? Then why is the divorce rate so high even among Christians? Why is it that the percentage between believers and non-believers is equal when it comes to premarital sex? If we believed that the reason God gave us his commandments is to keep us from hurting ourselves and others, we wouldn’t disobey the commandments. But it goes back to that fundamental and first sin of Adam and Eve—they thought they knew better than God. And so do you. And so do I.
Now, this mindset of skepticism is the mindset of the people in the verses before us today. Notice how they have such a difficult time believing what Jesus says to them. Verse 41 says, Therefore the Jews started grumbling about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Verse 52 reads, At that, the Jews argued among themselves, “How can this man gives us his flesh to eat?” Verse 60 reads, Therefore, when many of his disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is hard. Who can accept it?” With the result that verses 66 tells us, From that moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer accompanied him.
Well, what was it about this teaching that was so difficult for the people to believe? It was the teaching that Jesus himself was what the people needed most in life. That Jesus came from God, and therefore, only he could give them life. That it was only by believing in him that one would ever experience the life that is truly life.
Bread could give them physical life. But how many of you that have physical life right now would say that you are living the life that is truly life? No. If this world and the physical things that belong to it (i.e., bread) can give us true life, then why are we so restless inside? Why is it that we are always reaching out for more? Why is it so difficult for us to believe?
The truth is the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to believe. Sin matures as we mature. And since the sin inside of us touches even our thinking, the older we become, the more corrupt our thinking becomes. Just think of the movies that adults watch as “entertainment”. Or the lyrics that most people sing along to. There is a reason that people say, “Children are innocent.” They’re not innocent. They are born with a sinful nature. But the reason people see children as innocent is because they are comparing them to adults. And adults don’t think straight. Even Christian adults don’t always think straight—sin still influences our thinking. And so, I’m going to go off on a slight tangent here, but I do so because it highlights the difficulty adults have in believing what God says.
At the time of the Reformation, a substantial debate arose about what a believer receives in Holy Communion. Luther taught we receive four things: bread and wine but also the body and blood of Christ. Zwingli and Calvin (two other major reformers) insisted, “No. The body and blood of Christ are not present. All the person receives is bread and wine.”
Now, all three of these men were mature Christians. They were the leaders of the Christian church at that time. And yet, they disagreed on this fundamental issue. And because of their disagreement, the disagreement has continued to the present day. That is why there are so many Christian denominations and churches. Jesus speaks. Humans listen to what he says. Humans then grumble and argue amongst themselves over what he says. It is very difficult to believe the simple and plain words of Christ.
Allow me to read the text once again. [Read John 6:51-58]
So, why do some get it right and others don’t? I’m not saying that some have no difficulty believing while others do. Since the sinful mind resists what God says, everyone has difficulty. But Jesus promised that his teaching would never pass away—that heaven and earth would pass away but that his words and teachings would never pass away. Clearly then some Christians throughout the world will get it right until the Last Day.
What Luther told his counterparts, who like the people of John 6 said, “This teaching is hard. Who can accept it?”, Luther said this regarding Christ’s Real Presence in the Lord’s Supper (and I’m paraphrasing). “When I come across a part of Scripture that clearly says what it says (i.e., this is my body; this is my blood), and when I have difficulty making sense of how it is so, then I, a doctor of theology, must simply doff my doctor’s cap and realize that the Holy Spirit is smarter than I am.”
God knows what he is saying when he says it in the Bible. He’s not like the politicians who often say something and then there is all sorts of fallout because they hadn’t first thought everything though. Every word of Scripture has been chosen personally and specifically by God himself. He says what he means, and he means what he says. And that is why we can believe what he says.
You see, the truth is that no one can believe anything God says in Scripture apart from the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This was true for the Apostle Paul. It was true for Martin Luther. And it is true for Christians such as you and me today.
Think of the Apostle Paul before his conversion. He hated Jesus. He persecuted Christians. He thought the message of Jesus was the daftest thing he ever heard. And so, he did everything in his power to discredit the message and to cancel those who believed it.
Until he was converted. Until God opened his eyes so that he could see Jesus truly. All at once everything was different. Does that mean he didn’t have any questions afterwards? Does that mean there were no doctrines that he had to think through and that caused him difficulty? No. But through God’s overwhelming power displayed in the person of Jesus Christ, God convinced Paul, “I know more than you.” And Paul agreed, “He knows better than I.”
Listen to Paul’s own words from 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.” Again, verses 23 and 24 of the same chapter: “… but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
There is nothing wiser than being saved from death and hell. And so, the next time you think you only need the message of the cross once in a while and that you can skip out on church, humble yourself and realize, “God knows better than I.” He knows what he is saying when he tells us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
And for those Christians who, in increasing numbers in this pre-vaccinated/post-vaccinated world, tell themselves, “I don’t need to worship God in person. I can just watch on the internet.” Remember, you can’t take Holy Communion through the internet. You can’t feed on the Bread of Life that is present in Holy Communion. Which is the very reason God says what he says. He knows what our souls need better than we do. And he knows that only he can give it to us.
And graciously, he does give it to us! Isn’t that what Jesus is saying over and over in John 6. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
That’s what he says. There is no ambiguity in it. Physical bread gives physical life. Jesus, the living bread from heaven—never forget that he rose again—this Jesus gives eternal life. And that’s a promise. So, let’s not argue amongst ourselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” He’s God, that’s how. And he says that he has given his own life for the sins of the world. So, believe it! And then believe everything else he says in all of his Word.
Loved ones, let us not say, “But he doesn’t really mean that.” Or, “I think differently on that point.” Let us never say, “That’s just what the church thinks. It doesn’t really matter.” Let us not say, “Pastor, I’m fine” when God’s Word clearly says, “No, you’re not fine.” But like the true disciples of Jesus, let us sacrifice our intellect in favor of what Jesus says.
No one goes to heaven because he is smarter than another. It is entirely by faith in what God says. That is why there are going to be a lot of children in heaven. They know that God knows more than they do. And so, when he says, “I died for you. And then I rose to life for you. I have conquered death for you. I have forgiven your sins”, children believe it. May we adults also believe it.
Hear then the words of Jesus with believing hearts. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven … the one who eats this bread will live forever.” Amen.