Sunday, May 20, 2012

Digesting Jesus

John 6
Preached at 2nd Street Community Church (Friends)

Jesus feeds 5,000 men plus women and children, with 12 baskets of leftovers. “Surely this is the Prophet,” says the crowd. Jesus avoids the crowd because they want to seize him in order to make him king by force. Jesus crosses the lake partly on foot.

The crowd crosses the lake in boats looking for him.

Jesus says to them, “Honestly, all you want from me is plenty of bread; you have no understanding of what I’ve been doing.  The lesson is to work for eternal food, not for food that spoils.  I will give you that eternal food.”

They ask, “What can we do to obey what God wants us to do (to work for eternal food, see above)?”

Jesus says, “God wants you to believe in me because God has sent me.”

They say, amazingly, “We think you need to do a miracle so that we can believe you.  Moses gave our ancestors 40 years of manna in the desert. That feeding 5000+ was yesterday.”

Jesus says, “Moses gave you ‘bread’ but not the real bread from heaven.  My Father gives you the real bread—which, I will mention this again, is the one who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They say, “Ok, sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  I told you that you don’t believe in me.  Everyone who comes to me is welcome; I will never turn away anyone who comes to me because I am here to do only the will of God. And God’s will is to lose no one God has given me.  And my Father wants everyone to see me, his Son, and believe so that everyone can have eternal life."

“Hmm,” the crowd mutters, “this guy is not from heaven.  We know his parents.”

Jesus says, “Stop muttering.  The only people who can come to me are the ones God, my father, who sent me, pulls or pushes to me.  Those are the ones who are chosen: those who are taught by God, who hear and learn what the Father has to say.   Your 'chosen' ancestors ate manna in the desert and died; but the bread from heaven makes people live forever.  I am that living bread; whoever eats this bread will live forever; the bread is my flesh which I give so that the world may live.”

“That’s appalling,” they say to each other; “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”

“I am telling you the truth,” Jesus says; “if you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are dead.  You have no life in yourselves.  But all who eat my flesh and drink my blood will live forever. My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. All who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.  My Father, the Father of life, sent me, and therefore I live; when you eat me, you will live because of me.  The 'chosen' ones who ate manna died; the ones who eat me will live forever.”

When I decided on a title, I chose “Digesting Jesus,” but the first phrase that came to mind for me was “Drinking Blood.”  You can see why I might have balked at using that title; it kind of grossed me out, to be honest.  I grew up in Central Africa, but when I was a teenager I heard about the Masai tribe in East Africa who regularly drink a mixture of blood and milk from their cows.  This is crucial to their diet, and who am I to quibble because I can’t drink it. 

But Jesus used just this phrase to describe how intimate those who want to follow him must be with him.  You have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  What does this mean to us?

Blood is a dominant image in the Bible, from the murder of Abel in Genesis, when his blood cried to God from the ground to the image of Jesus in Revelation as “the Word of God” whose garment is dipped in blood.  Blood is typically identified as the life of the body; the Bible typically treats life as sacred to God.  The Hebrews exiting Egypt were specifically prohibited from eating or drinking any blood at all; if they did, the penalty was exile from God’s people.  The priests sprinkled the blood of offerings on the ground or poured it on the altar as part of the ritual of sacrifice. Moses sprinkled the blood of an offering on the priests to set them apart as holy.  So blood is a big deal in the Jewish religion, and drinking ANY blood is unthinkable.

This is the culture into which Jesus spoke the words, “Unless you drink my blood…”  Small wonder many of them could neither understand nor accept his words.  But if we understand that the blood of Jesus is his very life, it begins to challenge us where we live.

Other places where the phrase “drink blood” occurs in the Bible help us understand even more of what Jesus is saying to us.

First, there is a story of King David in 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11.  David and his soldiers were on a fortified hill, and the enemy Philistines had occupied Bethlehem, David’s hometown.  David said, “How I wish someone would bring me a drink from the well of Bethlehem.”  Three of his soldiers fought their way through the Philistines, filled a canteen with water from the well, and brought it back to David. Here’s the interesting part—David would not drink the water.  He said, “I could never drink this! It would be like drinking the blood of these men who risked their lives!”  And he poured it out on the ground instead, just the way the priests poured out the blood of sacrifices.  It was a gallant gesture, one a king does to value the people who fight for him.  It may also have annoyed the soldiers who risked their lives….

Jesus reverses the expectations we have for a king. Instead of us risking life and limb to bring Jesus water, he risks life and limb to bring it to us. We are cut off from our true home, and we thirst for its water. Jesus, a descendant of King David, fights his way through our enemies, fills the canteen, and brings water to us. Drink, he says, so you can live.  Because Jesus is the king and we are not, we need to drink what the king says to drink.  With great courage, He offers his own blood. “For my blood is the true drink; You thirst for home. My life in you is what you really thirst for. I am your true home.”

In the prophecy of Ezekiel, chapter 39, God tells Ezekiel how God will defeat the enemies of Israel, how their armies will be decimated and their bones will be scattered over the land.  In verses 17-19, God says, “Call all the birds and animals to come eat the sacrifice I am preparing for them.  They will eat meat and drink blood, until they are full of fat and drunk with blood.”  This will show the nations the power of God and how though God has first punished the nation of Israel for their sin and idolatry, God then will restore them to their independence and their homeland.

This again shows how Jesus turns things upside down.  Instead of telling his fans that God will destroy their enemies, the Romans, and restore Israel as a sovereign nation, Jesus says that he himself, their hope for political revolution, will be slaughtered.  They want to force him to be king.  Instead, he tells them, “I will be killed on a hill outside Jerusalem. You, like the birds in Ezekiel, must come and drink my blood. For my blood is the true drink; you thirst for restoration, and My blood, my life in you, is the only way to satisfy that thirst. I am your true restoration.”

The gospel passages that tell of what we call the Last Supper help us further understand the significance of what Jesus says here in John 6.  In Matthew 26:28, Jesus says that his blood is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins, sealing God’s covenant with human beings.  Luke’s version makes this personal:  “This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.”  When Jesus says, “You must drink my blood,” he tells us that we have a God who wants a new relationship with us, one in which we carry Jesus’s life inside us.  Once we have taken food and drink into our bodies, they become part of our cells.  We can’t purge every trace of them out of our systems.  The hopeful truth here is that once Jesus’s life is in us, we are permanently marked by the traces of digesting Jesus.  Everywhere we go, Jesus goes in us.  Jesus is always closer than the air we breathe, as Dallas Willard says.  That’s what it means that God has this covenant with us.

John 13 tells us how to prepare for this supper; just as Jesus humbled himself and washed his disciples’ feet, we also need to act as servants who help the guests feel comfortable and welcomed. Jesus says to them, “Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice.” After the supper, in John, Jesus expands his vision of hospitality at the table of God, and says, “my commandment is this, love one another, just as I love you; lay down your lives for each other; this is what my friends at my table who have taken my life into them do.” 

When we are taking Jesus into ourselves, we know we are home, we know we are being restored, we know we are loved by a constant companion.  From that place, we welcome other wanderers home, we recognize that Jesus is restoring them, we acknowledge that Jesus lives in them, and we lay down our own lives because we love them and we love Jesus.

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