EXCEPTional Bible Verses, Part 6

wine and bread 

John 6:52—59

 

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  (John 6:53  KJV)

One of the most quoted and oft discussed passages of Scripture was really the result of confusion.  Jesus had been teaching some Jews about His divinity. 

“What?” they exclaimed. “Why, he is merely Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know. What is this he is saying, that he came down from heaven?”  (John 6:42  TLB)

These Jews were befuddled by things Jesus had been saying to them.   This was the group that had been miraculously fed by Jesus previously, and this day they had tracked Him down looking for more free food.  Jesus saw the vast crowd following Him and He knew their hearts; He knew they were only following Him around for what they could get out of Him—things like a piece of toast!  To this attitude, Jesus said:

Yes, I am the Bread of Life! When your fathers in the wilderness ate bread from the skies, they all died. But the Bread from heaven gives eternal life to everyone who eats it. I am that Living Bread that came down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread shall live forever; this Bread is my flesh given to redeem humanity.  (John 6:48—51  TLB)

This statement of our Lord’s didn’t help their confusion at all.  These Jews were unspiritual people; their faith revolved around laws and regulations, and the things of the Spirit were completely lost on them.  To them, it sounded a lot like Jesus was teaching that men should literally eat His flesh, as though they were cannibals. 

Then the Jews began arguing with each other about what he meant. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked.  (John 6:52  TLB)

Now, of course, Jesus was not speaking literally but figuratively of His atonement.  But like most people, they stumbled over Jesus’ teaching concerning the Cross.  The apostle Paul noticed this and wrote about it:

So when we preach about Christ dying to save them, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.  (1 Corinthians 1:23  TLB)

If we look at their question closely, we notice how insidious it really was.  Their question was not, “How are we supposed to eat…” but rather, “How is God able…”  In other words, these Jews did not question their ability to eat Christ’s flesh, but Christ’s ability save them through His work.  Imagine questioning God’s ability to save!  Well, that’s what these people were really doing. 

Jesus has one more go with these dense people, and He certainly doesn’t tone it down one bit!  In fact, Jesus goes even further.  If they were befuddled before, now they’re truly “lost in space!”  And this takes us to our sixth EXCEPTional Bible verse:

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  (John 6:53  KJV)

First cannibalism, now vampirism!   We can only imagine what these people thought about our Lord this day.

1.  Christianity:  Exclusive

In 21st century America we are supposed to be “inclusive.”  It’s the word-of-the-day these days, yet it does not and never has applied to Christianity.  Only in the minds of the most liberal, progressive “Christian” is the church “a big tent.”  It is not.  Jesus’ answer to this group of Jews illustrates just how exclusive true Christianity is.  Only those who eaten the flesh of Jesus and drank His blood have His life in them.  Period.

Well, this must have disgusted the Jews, but not for the reason you may be thinking.  Our Lord had not set out to shock or offend these people this day.  When people, like these Jews, get offended with the words of Christ, it is completely without cause.  Unbelief always takes offense when it hears the truth.  We may understand their befuddlement with “eating Christ’s flesh,” but  now “drinking His blood” has been added to the mix.  At this point, the truth probably began to dawn on them; now they began to grasp what Jesus had been saying.  His words finally began to make sense, and they didn’t like what they heard one bit.  At the mention of “blood,” their Jewish  minds would have flashed back to this verse:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given you the blood to sprinkle upon the altar as an atonement for your souls; it is the blood that makes atonement because it is the life.  (Leviticus 17:11  TLB)

The symbolism of what our Lord was teaching was dawning on them.  To these Jews, blood was the seat of life; it represented life and it cleansed the soul from sin.  By adding “my blood,” the mind shifted from cannibalism to atonement; the nature of Christ’s sacrifice came to the fore:  He was going to offer His life.  He will shed His blood and salvation was by accepting and receiving Him in a most intimate way.

That is exclusive!  Salvation is not a matter of memorizing a list of rules and regulations.  Eternal life is not found in any man’s teaching or by joining some organization.  Only by accepting Christ’s sacrifice for your sins and appropriating His work for you on the Cross by faith can you gain eternal life. 

2.  Communion

This teaching of Jesus forms the basis for what we call “the Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion.”   Some churches—primarily the Roman Catholic Church and a few Protestant denominations—refer to this ceremony as a “sacrament,” while most evangelical/Protestant churches call it an “ordinance.”  Which is it?  And what’s the difference?  A “sacrament” is defined as “a sign or a rite which results in God’s grace being conveyed to the individual.”  This, of course, goes against what the Bible actually teaches:  that grace is not given through outward symbols and no ritual is “necessary for salvation.” Grace is free—it is offered by God.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4—7  HCSB)

An “ordinance,” on the other hand, is a symbolic reenactment of the gospel message that Christ lived, died, was raised from the dead, ascended to heaven, and will someday return. Rather than requirements for salvation, ordinances are visual aids to help us better understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ accomplished for us in His redemptive work. Ordinances are determined by three factors: they were instituted by Christ, they were taught by the apostles, and they were practiced by the early church.  (S. Michael Houdmann)  This is why virtually all evangelical/Protestant churches call “Holy Communion” an ordinance.

Zwingli, the great Swiss Reformer, arguably came closest to pure Biblical theology when he taught that what Jesus is talking about in these verses, and what we celebrate once a month in our church, is wholly a spiritual and commemorative exercise; that grace is not given or received.  In celebrating Communion, believers remember, celebrate, and commemorate Christ’s work for them on the Cross.  The “bread and the wine” are elements that represent the Body and blood of Christ and the bread and the wine of what we have come to call the Last Supper.  As we eat together, we are really doing two things.  First, we are doing something Jesus asked us to do:

Do this in remembrance of me whenever you drink it.  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are retelling the message of the Lord’s death, that he has died for you. Do this until he comes again.  (1 Corinthians 11:25b, 26  TLB)

And, second, as we eat the bread and drink the juice (or wine), we are showing actually what has happened spiritually: we have accepted what Christ’s sacrifice did for us and we have received His life.

Everyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood is in me, and I in him.  (John 6:56  TLB)

How important is “eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus?”  Jesus tells us in verse 54—

But anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him at the Last Day.   (John 6:54  TLB)

Lenki said it best:

As eating and drinking receives food to be assimilated in the body, so believing receives Christ with the atonement made through his sacrificial flesh and blood.

As food and drink nourishes and sustains our physical body, so Holy Communion nourishes and sustains our spiritual life.

3.  Joined to Christ

I live by the power of the living Father who sent me, and in the same way those who partake of me shall live because of me!   (John 6:57  TLB)

The symbolic eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood shows the kind of intimate relationship He wants with us.  To “eat and drink” means to be spiritually joined to Christ.  He is in us and we are in Him.  This, of course, takes faith on our part.  Our union with and to Christ must be taken by faith; the life we receive from our relationship with Christ is received by faith and can be traced right back to its source:  God the Father.  This was the life in Jesus, and it is the life in  us through Jesus.

This is why celebrating Communion is so important and far more than just a mindless ritual.  Christians need to be reminded often what Jesus did for them and in them, and our Lord in His wisdom, gave the church the means to make this happen. 

For I [Paul] received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:23—26  NIV)

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