August 19, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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.’”
The crowds had flocked to Jesus’ presence. They had sought Him out “near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” They had gone “into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.” They heard Jesus speak about “the living bread that came down from heaven” while He was “in the synagogue, as He taught at Capernaum.”
But how do the crowds react when Jesus speaks to them about His flesh as the bread that He gives for the life of the world? The Gospel Writer tells us: “The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’” After Jesus gives them more testimony about Himself—“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.”—He gets a completely negative reaction: “When many of His disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen it?’” The crowds who flocked to Jesus became the crowds that fled from Jesus: “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”
This is the Jesus Movement at a crossroads. Who will follow the Man who says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”? Who will listen to His statement and receive it as true: “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.”? Who will not take offense at what Jesus says, but rather take joy when they “see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before”? Who will accept the invitation to eat and drink: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”? The crowds of Capernaum will not. But will there be any who do?
These are the questions directed toward the Twelve who were with Jesus. They are wrapped up in the pointed inquiry that Jesus speaks: “Do you want to go away as well?” It is as if Jesus said: “Everyone else is leaving. No one else can bear to hear what I say. My truth is rejected as lies, deception, fraud, and folly. Now’s your chance to leave with the rest, should you desire. For if you cannot accept what I have said about Myself and My work now, you will not be able to accept what I will say to you later.”
But what does Peter say? How does he react to Jesus’ pointed inquiry, “Do you want to go away as well?” John records his reply: ”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.’” His reaction is not negative, but positive. It is a confession of faith in Jesus, Jesus’ identity, Jesus’ words, Jesus’ works. Peter’s answer shows a conviction that has been given to him: “We believe You, Jesus. We’re staying with You. We want what only You can offer.”
Peter’s answer to Jesus is foretold in the Old Testament Reading for today. The Teacher writes about Wisdom personified: “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’” The invitation is given for people to partake of what Wisdom has to offer. In the same way, Jesus invites people to partake of the true food and true drink that leads to eternal life. Peter says to Jesus: “I’ve entered Your house. I want the banquet that You are serving. I’ve left the simple ways and am walking in the way of insight that You have given.”
This same invitation is extended to you. Wisdom offers you a place at her table. The Logos, the Incarnate Word of God, invites you to eat and drink, so that you would be raised up at the Last Day. But how will you respond to the invitation? Left to your own devices, your own reason and strength, you would act the same way as the crowds in Capernaum’s synagogue. The question would flow out of your mouth: “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” You would react the same way as many of Jesus’ disciples: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” You would say: “I’m out of here. This is too much. It is fraud or folly.” And you would be left in your simple ways and lack of sense.
In fact, there is the hazard of this still happening to you. Any time that you rely on your own knowledge, your own reason and strength, when it comes to salvation, the same negative reaction to Divine Truth is found. Jesus’ words set that before you: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you ho do not believe…. This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” The natural reaction is to reject what Jesus says—even to chase after other teachers and their wisdom—no matter if He prefaces it by saying: “Truly, truly I say to you….”
This is why the apostle Paul warns his audience in Ephesus: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of darkness.” He exhorts them: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs….” Such statements align with what Jesus says: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.” Trusting in the words not from heaven and relying on your own reason will lead you away from the gift that Jesus provides for you. There will be the walking away, the refusal to receive what Jesus says, the rejection of His invitation to feed you with the food that leads to eternal life. And His statement about such is grave: “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.”
But something greater than your reason and strength is granted to you. The Father has granted you the opportunity to receive what His Son brings you. You have heard Jesus’ words, the words that are spirit and life. The Spirit has given you life—calling you by the gospel, enlightening you with His gifts, sanctifying and keeping you in the true faith, along with the whole Christian Church on earth. There is an entire group of people who make the same statement as Peter: “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 belong to that group. You belong, not because you demanded entry, but because the Father has willed it and drawn you into fellowship with His Son through the Holy Spirit.
So what happens now when you hear the invitation given by Jesus? He says: “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.” Instead of fleeing from Jesus, you come to His presence. You come to the pews and say to Him: “Let me hear the words of eternal life that only You can speak.” You come to the altar and say to Him: “Give me that true food and true drink that only You can offer.” Then you leave this place and say to Him: “Guide me to live and walk in the way of insight, not as unwise but as wise.” Finally you await Jesus’ return, saying to Him: “Grant that I may see You where You are ascended. Wake me from death, so that You shine on me.”
That is why you are here. You are present to receive what Wisdom has prepared for you, the bread she has set on her table and the wine she has mixed and poured out. You are here because wisdom and insight have been granted to you: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” You have been given the fear of the Lord, receiving His words as true and giving eternal life. You have been given knowledge of the Holy One, recognizing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who was sent to give life to you.
So your response is the same as Peter’s and those who have gone before you in the Church: “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.” That confession is what Jesus’ words—the words that are spirit and life—first brought to you, as the Father granted it. Jesus’ words again create that same confession in you this day. Heed His words, as they invite you to partake of the true food and drink that He offers. Abide in His words, as you walk in the way of insight that He gives to you. Trust His words, as they extend the divine promise to you: “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.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.