Summary: What does it mean to feed on Christ? Why doesn't everyone respond positively to the gospel?
Today’s passage is challenging. The passage is difficult in two ways; first, it is difficult to understand, as it requires unpacking a figure of speech, a metaphor. What does it mean, really, to “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” of Christ? So it’s difficult to understand. And perhaps more significantly, it’s difficult to accept. Which in turn makes it more difficult to understand, because when we want to avoid accepting what the text teaches, we come up with convoluted interpretations to persuade ourselves that it must mean something different. So this text challenges not only our mind, but our faith and our strength, the strength of our commitment to believe and obey what God has told us in his word, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
That’s not just my assessment, by the way. It’s the reaction of those who heard these words for the first time, from Jesus himself:
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”
– John 6:60, 66
There is always a risk, when you speak difficult truths clearly and unapologetically, of both the message and the messenger being rejected. Jesus, knew that, and he did it anyway. He wanted to make sure that people understood what they were either embracing or rejecting.
But you didn’t come here this morning for “easy”, did you? No. I didn’t think so. Let’s dig in then. To set the stage, Jesus has just performed a miracle. Two actually. One was witnessed by multitudes of his followers, as he transformed five loaves and two fish into an amazing quantity of food, enough to fully satisfy five thousand people, with baskets full of leftovers. As they say in the South, they had “all day preachin’ and dinner on the grounds”. The second miracle was witnessed only by a few: later that same night Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee to join the Twelve as they were rowing their boat to Capernaum. The following morning, the crowd, who had apparently camped out for the night, looked for Jesus and couldn’t find him. They knew that the Twelve had taken the only boat, and that Jesus hadn’t been in it when they departed. He wasn’t anywhere in the crowd. So where had he gone? They got in some other boats that had recently arrived, and went to Capernaum, “seeking Jesus”.
When they arrived, they got more than they bargained for. They asked Jesus, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” and how did you get here, I think is the unspoken second question. But Jesus doesn’t answer them directly. He doesn’t explain that he had walked across the Sea of Galilee to join the Twelve in their boat. Why not? Wouldn’t that have been impressive? Yes it would. But their response to his first miracle was already inappropriate, and he didn’t want to give them another reason to go off course. Here’s the problem, as stated by Jesus:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” – John 6:26-27
In other words, Jesus intended for the miracle of the loaves and fishes to be a sign, not just an act of compassion that met their need for physical nourishment, but a sign that pointed to him as the source of life. As he states a few verses later,
32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” -- John 6:32-33
The fact that the loaves and fishes Jesus provided never ran out, but fed five thousand people with baskets full of leftovers, was intended to demonstrate that Jesus was the divine source of spiritual nourishment that never runs out, never fails, but sustains his people eternally.
“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. . . .40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:35, 40
As he put it to the woman at the well, earlier in John: