Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Flesh is of No Avail?

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:60-65 (ESV)
“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The people took offense. It is what people do to God’s word, they take offense to it. They take offense to the idea that they are sinners. They take offense to the idea that their law is not better than God’s law. They take offense to the prophets and stone them for using uncouth language and graphic imagery, malign them for being crazy, ridicule them for speaking the word of God when no one else will. And then they set up monuments in their honor when they pass. Build a monument because no one fears a dead lion’s roar.
Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” Do you take offense at this. Never mind the world, you can’t let man make your mind up for you. This is what Jesus means here by flesh. He has moved on from talking about the Lord’s Supper here. He is no longer talking of his flesh, but the flesh of man. Man’s flesh, his sinful nature is of no avail, not help at all. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him.” Man’s flesh, the flesh, this sinful corrupted reason and strength of man is of no use here, it takes offence. “But the Holy Spirit has called my by the gospel.” The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. These include the words that Jesus had just finished speaking to the congregation in Capernaum, the words concerning his body as the bread come down from heaven which we must eat and drink if we are to have salvation. Those words are spirit and life, and the spirit gives life. Or as it says in Rom. 10, How can they believe if they have not heard? Faith comes from hearing. When Jesus speaks the gospel some will believe and others will not. Woe to me then if I do not preach the gospel, because only with this can there be imparted spirit and life.
But it is hard. It isn’t easy. People haven’t changed since the days of Jesus. You play a dirge and they refuse to mourn, you play a flute and they refuse to dance. John comes neither eating nor drinking and they say he has a demon. The Son of Man comes eating and drinking and they say he is a glutton and a drunkard. The church wants to grow, but they look askance if anyone darkens the door that isn’t of the same background as them. Let’s not even consider having a second service in a different language. No, nothing has changed. People want God on their terms. They take offense to God on his terms. His law is too harsh, his Gospel too lax. We want to be considered good little boys and girls worthy of salvation for following the norms society has set up for us, and dropping twenty dollars in the plate after we spent Saturday night wooing a girl on the town, spending $50 at the restaurant and another $60 in the theater, and that probably on the cheap end of things. I’m not one to preach that a person needs to tithe. But I will tell you, “God is not mocked.” If that is your giving, then don’t blame the pastor for not “growing the congregation,” and making everything happen. All he can do is preach the gospel. When the message is ridiculed and despised by the congregation, what is the community at large to make of it? Are they really to believe it is such a great treasure that even they are not able to do without it?
Yes, and we take offense. Jesus asked because he knew that even if the disciples were inclined to believe him, he had just given them a hard pill to swallow. What if you see the Son of Man returning to where he came from? It can be taken two ways.
What if he were just to abandon them? This would be the effect of Jesus leaving now without the cross, without his death and resurrection. He could just go. Then what? Would the disciples be happy about that? This does happen. Even today Jesus shakes the dust off his feet and leaves a community that takes offense at his presence and his word. I mean, I’m not saying every pastor out there does the best job of communicating the word of God, of preaching the best sermons that rightly divide the word of God. But if you take umbrage to something your pastor says, do yourself two favors, first investigate what your pastor said according to scripture, and make sure you aren’t holding him to a standard that isn’t there. Second, approach the pastor about it, in the manner of Matthew 18. He deserves that much respect at least. Try to reconcile your complaint with him one on one. And never think he is too busy to talk to you. Be careful that you do not despise the word of God, and take offense.
But there is another way in which this all can be taken. The disciples would see the Son of Man ascend to where he came from. And when they saw this they would understand the harsh word in another light altogether. This only because they saw it after Jesus died as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. This because they saw him ascend only after they saw him rise from the dead for their justification. Now they might be hard words, but they in light of Christ’s death and resurrection they are words full of spirit and life. Now they understand that Christ’s death was a sacrifice as the Passover lamb, and that the Passover lamb must be eaten. Now they understand that his blood is the life of the world, for the life is in the blood. Now they understand that his body is the bread that has come down from heaven and gives eternal life. This man died for their sins. This man rose from the dead. This man is God who has descended to take on our life. When he returns from whence he came, then it is understood that his man is God, and his words are not taken lightly.

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