Summary: A sermon for Pentecost 12B preached 8/31/2003 at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Garner, Iowa (LCMS).
I think that it may be a safe assumption to make that when you all came here this evening, you didn’t expect to hear a sermon about grumbling. If you did, boy, someone must have let my secret out of the bag or you hacked into my computer or something……But, in all seriousness, we are confronted with grumbling in our text. Did you happen to notice how today’s Gospel lesson begins? It starts with these words: "At this the Jews began to grumble against Jesus." That’s right, they were grumbling. This verb in the Greek can also be translated murmuring, (which is how some English translations choose to translate this verb). Either way, it means to talk softly against or complain about someone. Why were these Jews grumbling about Jesus? Because of what He had said. They murmured because Jesus said He was "the bread of life which came down from heaven." Their contention was this: "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ’I have come down from heaven.’" These people grumbled because Jesus was making a divine claim for Himself, and they didn’t like it. They didn’t believe it. After all, this was just Jesus. These people knew His father and mother. How could He possible be divine? How could He possibly be God? They just couldn’t see beyond the humanity of Jesus to see the divine nature of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
But we wouldn’t act like that, would we? We wouldn’t murmur over claims that Jesus is the Son of God, would we? We wouldn’t grumble about the claims that Jesus makes, would we? No, we wouldn’t. We absolutely wouldn’t! After all, we have heard and learned what the Bible has to say about Jesus. We know of the Virgin Birth of Jesus. We know of His suffering and death. We know about His resurrection and ascension. And not only do we know about those things - we believe them to be true. No, we would not murmur against Jesus as did these people - murmur as if Jesus were a nobody.
But what if we turn this idea on its head. What about if instead of murmuring against Jesus, we think about murmuring for ourselves? What if instead of saying that Jesus is a nobody, we contend that we are somebodies? It’s really the same thing. The people contending against Jesus did so because they considered themselves significant - important. After all, didn’t they know Jesus parents? And didn’t that knowledge by itself indicate that Jesus couldn’t possibly be what He claimed to be?
And, really, when we contend for ourselves we are also speaking against Jesus. But how do we do that, you might ask? How could I speak in favor of myself, and thereby speak against Jesus? Well, it happens every time we insist on having our way in opposition to God’s way.
Satan has duped you. He has convinced you that you have to take care of yourselves. He has persuaded you that no one will see to your needs if you don’t. And, even beyond that, Satan has even convinced you of what your needs are. That’s why we’re never satisfied with what we have. Why we are always insisting on more and newer.
You see, according to Satan’s line, God can’t be trusted. Perhaps God is busy and has no time for you Satan says. Or, worse yet, perhaps you have so angered God by your disobedience that He is ignoring you. Maybe God has turned His back on you and left you. Maybe God doesn’t care about you. Satan doesn’t care what approach he uses. Whatever works is fine with him. If he can convince you that you’re too insignificant for God to pay attention to, fine. If, instead, it’s the specter of God’s anger over your sins that works - that’s fine, too.
It’s here that this business of speaking against Jesus comes in. Jesus didn’t fit these people’s image of God. "His father is right here, for crying out loud! How can He say that He has come down from heaven." You see the lowliness of God in human flesh offended these people. The same happens very often yet today. What are some of the popular pictures that seemingly pious people have of God? "Oh, He’s an awesome God," they will say. Awesome. This is such a popular notion of who God is that there is a very popular contemporary song out there sung in a lot of churches today called “Awesome God”, perhaps it is a song you are familiar with. In the "He-can-do-anything-He-wants-anytime-He-wants" sense of the word, yes, it is indeed true, God is awesome. God is all-powerful. Omnipotent is the theological term, perhaps its one you learned in confirmation class like I did.