Confirmation day—for three years, we’ve been learning about Jesus, learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to be a part of His Body. We’ve studied the catechism and the Bible and we’re spent a lot of time talking about how to live as a follower of Jesus.
But really, when it comes down to it, we discover what’s most important in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel.
John 6:28-29 “They said to Jesus, ‘What must we do, to be doing the words of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
What must we do? The crowd surrounding Jesus on that day had come because they wanted more of the free bread that they had received the day before when Jesus provided an all-you-can eat meal for 5000 men from five barley loaves and two fish.
They want to know, “What must we do to get more free food?”
John 6:35 “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”
They want to know, “What must we do to get more free food?”
They’re asking the wrong question. What they should be asking, Jesus says, is, “What must we do to get the bread of life?”
Jesus said: “’Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘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. 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. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’ Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.”
Four times Jesus says that He is the bread of life.
This is a shocking thing to the Jews who are listening to Him. They immediately think of cannibalism, which both disgusted and horrified them. To eat human flesh or to consume any blood was totally forbidden under their law. Surely Jesus knew how shocked they would be.
We’re not shocked because we know the rest of the story. We understand that Jesus is talking about the sacrament of Holy Communion, the sacrament that the other gospels describe at the Last Supper, where Jesus blessed bread and wine, telling His disciples that the bread is His body and the wine His blood.
But the crowd listening to Jesus doesn’t know this—and Jesus makes no effort to explain. They’re horrified—and He knows it. Were it not for His words in v 37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out,” we might almost think that He’s trying to drive them away. Certainly He’s once again putting them to the test.
They want to know, “What must we do to get more free food?” And Jesus is saying, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking in the wrong direction.”
John’s gospel begins with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”
Nothing was made without Him. Not bread. Not water. Not human life.
We know that all inanimate objects are made from basic building blocks that we call atoms. And we know that all living things are made from basic building blocks that we call cells.
So John gives us the wedding at Cana, where Jesus transformed the ordinary water that was contained in six stone pots into fine wine. The water was changed, but the pots that held the water remained completely unchanged. Jesus rearranged the atoms that were water into atoms that were wine. The atoms that were the stone pots, however, He left unchanged.
Right from the very beginning of this gospel, John wants us to understand that we don’t need to wait until heaven to be changed—we can be transformed right here and right now. Because if Jesus could transform ordinary water into the best wine, surely He can also transform ordinary men and women into something new and better—into new creations.
Then Jesus meets with Nicodemus and talks about the need for new life, the need to be born again. Talks about it but doesn’t explain how it could happen. Then He meets a Samaritan woman and tells her about living water—living water that He says is available through Him.
Available to anyone who will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.
What must we do? We must worship the Father in Spirit and truth.
Then Jesus heals a man who’s been an invalid for 38 years, rearranging or repairing or changing the cells in His body. He walks on water, demonstrating His control over nature. And He feeds 5000 men by simply speaking over five small loaves and two fish, causing them to multiply into huge quantities of food.
Now the crowd has come back asking “What must we do?”
They’re asking for more bread, not recognizing that Jesus is the bread. They ask for a new miracle, not realizing that He is the miracle. Not realizing that the bread they received the day before was, like the Old Testament manna, simply a foretaste of the real bread from heaven. A sign pointing them toward the bread of life.
Over and over again, Jesus is showing them that the divine is now in their very midst. The One without whom nothing has ever been made is now speaking to them in the synagogue in Capernaum.
The incarnate Jesus is the supreme example of matter as spirit-bearing.
It’s more than they can comprehend—and so they refuse to listen. Jesus, the source of all life, is right there offering eternal life to the crowd. And all they can do is grumble—they’re hungry. They’re far more interested in their bodily welfare than they are in their spiritual welfare.
Jesus is telling them, and us, that whether we live in the first century or the twenty-first century, that what we need most isn’t what He can give us—it’s not food to eat or physical healing or more or better stuff. What we need most is Jesus Himself.
That’s what the Twelve learned when Jesus came to them on the water as the strong wind blew them around on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came and they were safe—despite the fact that nothing is said about the wind ceasing.
Jesus is all we need—in every circumstance.
“What must we do?”
Jesus tells the crowd that they must eat His body and drink His blood. They must consume Him. They must take Jesus into their innermost being.
They don’t understand. They’re shocked and disgusted.
Perhaps what’s most shocking to us, however, are Jesus’ words, “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.”
“What must we do?”
Jesus seems to be saying that participation in the communion meal is not just a good thing to do—it’s essential for eternal life. And because the communion meal is shared as a part of worship in the church, it appears that He’s saying that it’s also necessary to be a part of the Body of Christ, the church.
Many of us like to think that we can be Christians independent of the church; we like to think that the sacraments are nice, they’re good things, but certainly not essential. But in this teaching by Jesus, as well as the teachings that we will find in the rest of this central section of John’s gospel, there is much emphasis placed on the need to be a part of the community of God’s people.
John 6:47 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” Jesus is saying that faith is what’s necessary for eternal life.
John 6:51 says, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
So apparently both faith and this eating and drinking are necessary for eternal life. It is belief, however, that is primary. It is only through faith that we can receive the benefits of the communion meal. God’s life is available in the sacrament because He promises to be present. We don’t make Him present by our faith. He’s present wherever and whenever people gather to receive Holy Communion. But if we don’t come to the communion table by faith, it may do us no good and might actually do us harm, as Paul tells the Corinthian church. He says that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. … That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (I Corinthians 11:27, 30).
What must we do?
Jesus is clearly saying that we must partake of the communion meal and Paul is saying that we must come properly prepared. Now in the very strictest sense of the word, very little is absolutely essential for our salvation, as demonstrated by the thief on the cross. All he had was faith in Jesus as King of the Jews and a desire to be with Him. So in this passage, Jesus is talking about that which is generally necessary. We are commanded to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the sacrament, but it is the communion alone, the indwelling, that is absolutely necessary—abiding in Jesus on the basis of His sacrificial death on the cross.
The communion meal is a covenant. Through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, the sacrificial Passover Lamb, it is now possible for Jews and Greeks, rich and poor, men and women to know the glorious freedom of forgiveness and to have personal knowledge of God. Those who enter into this personal relationship, this covenant relationship, with our Lord Jesus at the same time enter into a covenant relationship with one another. Thus, the covenant community is established.
And we discover that eternal life is not a reward for doing good. Instead, it is a gift purchased by Jesus and offered to us—if we are willing to “feed on His flesh and drink His blood.”
The deacons and I have been having conversation about the communion meal; we’ve had some discussion with the church council also. We’re not sure everyone understands just what this sacrament is and what it means. And as we see in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, it’s not just about participating—it’s about participating in a manner that is worthy.
But today, what I think is most important for you to take away with you is that Jesus commands us to regularly receive His flesh and blood in the bread and wine of the communion meal.
It’s not unusual for young people—and even their parents—to think of confirmation as graduation. To think that now you’ve done all that you need to do to be assured of salvation. But what Jesus is saying here is that to receive eternal life, we must literally consume Him, we must take Him into our very being. We must be in communion with Him and also with the rest of His Body.
I Corinthians 10:16-17 “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
Author and restaurant cook Sara Miles was raised as an atheist and had never had the slightest desire to become a Christian, or as she describes it, “a religious nut.” In her book, Take This Bread, she tells of her unexpected and “terribly inconvenient” conversion to Christianity. She writes:
“One early, cloudy morning, when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans—except that up until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.
Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned. …. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not as symbolic wafer but actual food—indeed, the bread of life.”
What must we do? We must take Jesus into our very being. We do this by reading His Word and allowing it to change us. We do this by taking the sacrament of Holy Communion. And we do this by being in communion with the rest of God’s people.