Taught (A Seriously Theological Sermon)
August 15, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: John 6:41–51
It is my hope by publishing these "Seriously Theological Sermons" that they will receive wider circulation. They are that noteworthy. Each is a theological statement in itself; one from which pastors, as well as the laity, can learn much. They are the work of the Holy Spirit as given the church through the ministry of Rev. Peter Mills, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Akron, OH.
PROPER 14/B (2018): 1 Kg. 19:1-8; Eph. 4:17—5:2; Jn. 6:35-51.
Taught, So the Jews grumbled about [Jesus], because he said, “I AM the bread that came down from heaven”… Jesus answered them… “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”… “It is written in the prophets, ‘[T]hey will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—… “[W]hoever believes has eternal life… 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” (vv. 41, 43, 44a, 45, 47b, 51).
How do we now come to Jesus’ teaching from the Gospel of St. John? Ordinarily Gospel Readings in Cycle B focus on St. Mark. But something extraordinary occurred in Mark’s last account; a problem of magnitude among the Apostles; and until resolved, it is the church’s problem as well, so we pause for further instruction from Jesus in John.
Jesus and the Twelve retreated to a desert place; yet a crowd followed. Jesus, the Shepherd of Israel (Ps. 23), having compassion on the throng taught them, fed them if you will, true Torah word.
The day became late; Jesus arranged for the people to sit in formations on the green grass, reminiscent of ancient Israel’s march out of Egypt; he commanded his Apostles feed the outsized crowd. Jesus gave thanks over the bread providing miraculous multiplication of the available 5 loaves and 2 fish to everyone’s fill.
The Apostles gathered the excess bread and meat into twelve baskets, betokening a new ministry of feeding with new food, in contrast to the perishable manna of OT bread. Jesus sent the Twelve on a night sea journey; he remained behind. The boat encountered contrary winds, stuck in the middle of a tumultuous sea late in night.
Able to observe their distress, Jesus came to them, easily walking over the chaotic deep. Originally he intended to “passed-by” his disciples, much as YHWH passed-by Moses to glimpse his glory from the cleft of a rock. But this sight so unnerved the Apostles; they fell into terrorized error about their Lord; concluding him, not a man but a ghost.
To reassure his nascent church, Jesus halted his march; arose and entered their boat. And here is where St. Mark reports the problem, “[The Twelve] were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mk. 6:51, 52). Consider the tragedy of this biblical assessment!
Their earlier feeding, consisting of a Jew/Gentile crowd caused the Apostles to grumble about a mixed feeding (6:36), signaled a new feeding for a new Israel, Torah bread in the person of Jesus, enfleshed word of God.
From the world’s creation, the watery deep has represented pandemonium’s chaotic opposition to God, a dark lurking place of danger and death. The sight of Jesus, revealing himself to the Apostles, the divine Wave-Walker directly pointed to his water Baptism in the Jordan. By now his Apostles were expected to such discernment; and so today so are you.
In the Jordan Jesus was plunged into sin-laden water for hallowing of all water. Rising from the watery place of death, he received the descending HS to anoint him as God’s Paschal Lamb for the sin of the world.
Thus, by tandem miracles his Apostles were at a crux point in the glimpse of God’s glory, rivaled only by the Transfiguration and the Passion culminating in lifting Jesus on the cross for the sin of the world; yet the response of the Apostles, amazingly, was unbelief. For them, Jesus’ feeding in the desert and walking on the water made his not a flesh and blood man; he was, and is the tragedy of hardened-hearts toward the teaching of the Father, but a spirit, albeit from God. How sad!
IN The boat Jesus stood with unbelieving disciples, compared by Mark with recalcitrant to Pharaoh, flailing against the mighty works of God in his presence. Now Jesus’ elected Apostles refused to be “drawn” by the Father, to “hear” and “learn” through Jesus in their midst. For the moment, they remained mired in that which Jesus came to abolish, the sin of the world, unbelief; and so remained untaught “learners”.
“[U]nderstand[ing]… the loaves” is essential to the gospel salvation of grace; so the church today interrupts her Marcan Gospel journey in her lection through Cycle B, to hear Jesus’ clear words in the synagogue of Capernaum through St. John’s Gospel, the significance of the “misunderstood loaves”.
If we will not “listen” and “hear” Jesus through his gift to the church of catholic pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:7, 11, 12) we have little hope of understanding the plain meaning of Jesus’ words; in today’s case, the bread Jesus gives for the life of the world is his flesh, first on the cross and sacramentally in the resurrection. This is the Father’s communication; failure to receive it in these end times results in “grumbling” against Jesus, the Speech and Teacher of true Torah.
We turn now to our Epistle from St. Paul; he instructs the Ephesian congregation about Holy Baptism in much the same way as Jesus did about his coming death and the church’s Holy Supper. Using the language of discipleship, Paul especially addressed Gentile converts:
“But that is not the way you learned Christ— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him… to put off your old self, which belongs to your former [corrupt] manner of life… and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:20, 21, 22, 24).
In what does “putting off” the old man and “putting on” the new consist, but that it is the work of the HS in whom you were baptized and sealed for redemption (v. 30)?
You, the Baptized, have heard the voice of the Father by the word of Christ, and are taught from the voice of Christ by the gift of the HS. For your sins Jesus was stripped naked on the cross to bear your every sin and shame into Adam’s deserved death.
Jesus’ death on the cross, completed (“It is finished”, [Jn. 19:30]) his baptism begun in the Jordan. At the cross Jesus handed over the HS to the Father; and in the Resurrection the Spirit processed from Father and Son to the church for Jesus’ continued work for the life of the world.
We are baptized with the HS into Jesus’ death in which God strips off our old man, incapable of being reformed. Our Baptism is a death into Christ’s death and a putting on of Christ, the new man; it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20).
By our baptismal stripping of the old man, God kills us all the daylong (1 Sam. 2:6; cf. 2 Cor. 3:6; Rom. 8:36). He discards our adhering profligate and foul manner of life. Ultimately our death is not God’s condemnation of us in Christ; rather it is his radical solution to our sin. Of ourselves we are utterly corrupt; so to merely remove this vice or that accomplishes nothing. We must, with Christ, be crucified in Baptism; and in that death grasp hold the promise of resurrection in him.
Again by God’s word, he kills makes alive. God’s baptismal killing of our old man is pure grace, solely the work of God in Christ. Either we are drawn to the Father by the all-sufficient work of the crucified en-fleshed Word or we “grumble” over the manner of his salvation, rejecting him in word and sacrament. This was the tragic out-come of OT Israelites refusing to lift their eyes in faith on the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9).
Apart from God’s grace we, in every instance, would reject our deserved death; still God’s word draws us into his death. By Baptism into Jesus’ death we are not remodeled; rather we are transformed by the power of hallowed water made one with the church’s Wave Walking incarnate Word, Jesus. From a baptismal new begetting we are new creations seeking strength for faith to continue believing in so a great salvation (Heb. 2:3). For this faith new spiritual food is required to sustain us in the Way to our Father (1 Kings 19:8).
Jesus in his crucified and risen flesh and blood is that new food. He is new Bread, not OT manna from “angels” (Ps. 78:25) that sustained the body for a time. In Capernaum the synagogue grumbled, rejecting Jesus as “bread out of heaven”. Eventually the grumblers would crucify Jesus, in a last ditch attempt to prove his Flesh perishable, subject to the world’s rot, something extruded from the body of Israel.
In the NT church’s Holy Supper we eat Jesus’ crucified, resurrected, ascended, living and life giving flesh and blood. This is our new Food for the end times.
Unlike OT manna “bread from angels”, Baptism and Supper transforms body and spirit, into new men and women. We eat by faith, the gift of the HS, but it is not our faith that makes our eating spiritual; rather it is the character of the substance of our new Food and the HS that makes our eating “spiritual” of imperishable, incorruptible, and eternal Food. Amen.