Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

A member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

2688 North Park Drive
Lafayette, CO 80026
303-665-6105
» Get directions

August 19 – Pentecost 12 – John 6:51-69 – How The Church Grows

Introduction:  Grace be to you and peace, from God our Father, and from our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Our text is the Gospel Lesson just read, from John 6.  We begin with prayer.

Dear fellow disciples of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ:

  • The verses in our text contain some of the most objectionable and controversial statements that Jesus ever made.  Those who heard them were deeply disturbed by them.  First we read that “the Jews” argued amongst themselves as to what He was really saying.  Later, we read that His disciples considered it “a hard saying,” and grumbled about it, and “took offense,” and that in the end “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” 
  • The first difficulty about what Jesus said has to do with “cannibalistic” notions.  That this is not what Jesus meant is made quite clear – when He clarifies by saying “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. THE WORDS that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  So it is obvious that Jesus was using a metaphor for faith – faith in the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He provides for us by sacrificing His body and blood on the cross in His suffering and death. 
  • And while these verses remind us of the Sacrament of the Altar – wherein Jesus gives us His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, we must be careful not to become confused here.  For it is always faith which saves and gives eternal life; participating in the Sacrament does not, in itself, provide these blessings, except to those who have faith in Christ’s Words: “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The mere participation in His Supper, on the part of those who are unbelieving, certainly does not grant them eternal life, for as Jesus also taught:  “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” [Jn. 3:36] 
  • With these clarifications, we can consider what Jesus was really driving at – and this teaching is also repugnant to a good many people in the church today, some even in our own church body.  For He is talking about “HOW THE CHURCH GROWS,” and yet this His teaching produced a great reduction in the number of people who were following Him.  But He clearly asserts that:

 

I.  Only Those Eating the Bread From Heaven, The Lord Jesus Christ, By Faith, Come Into The Church

 

A.  Those Eating, Those With Faith, Live Forever

 

Text:  “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  . . . Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  . . .  whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me. . . . Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. . . .  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. THE WORDS that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”   

 

B.  Obversely, Those Without Faith Do Not Come Into The Church – Rather They Leave Off Following Jesus And Remain Under God’s Wrath And Condemnation’

 

Text:  “But there are some of you who do not believe. [Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him. . . . After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

         

C.  And This Matter Of Coming To Faith, Jesus Teaches Is The Work Of God

 

Text:  “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

 

John 6:29  “This is the work of God, that you believe Him whom He has sent.”

 

Statement:

  • So the church grows by the Father’s work, not our own.  Further, the church – the real church, not just the external, visible church institutions – grows when people come to faith in Christ, and this happens by means of “the words” that Jesus has spoken to us.  So the focus and concern, that which really matters is this faith, real and genuine faith in Jesus Christ, based upon His own Words – for this grants eternal life. 

 

Application:

  • So, while we are surely concerned about the welfare of the external church – paying our bills, preserving our property, being welcoming toward others, especially our guests and visitors, what we are truly concerned about, critically concerned about, is speaking the Words of Christ which are “spirit and life” so that all may come to believe in Him, to know God’s gracious love, mercy, and forgiveness, and by means of this faith receive eternal life.
  • Ironically, as we see in our text these two concerns are often counter to each other.  As Jesus pressed this message to His hearers, His numbers dropped.  On other occasions, Jesus drew great crowds – not by His preaching, but because of His miracles of compassion and mercy.  But these miracles didn’t grant anyone eternal life; only His preaching, His words, produced faith by the power of the Father and the Holy Spirit – so that those believing received eternal life. 

 

Transition:  We have the same dynamics today – and it has always been the same.  And just as in the past, so also today:

 

II.  Many People Find This Dynamic Of Church Growth To Be Contrary To Common Sense, Human Reason, And Conventional Wisdom – And Even Repugnant To Their Sensibilities

 

A.  Even Jesus’ Hearers Rejected Him – And Surely We Agree That Jesus Knows Better Than We How to Grow The Church, And That He Has Invested More In The Church Than Anyone Else Ever Could

 

B.  Even The Majority Of His “Disciples” Grumbled, Took Offense, And Quit Following Him

 

C.  But Only Jesus Has “THE WORDS” Of Eternal Life – The Words That Bring People To Faith And To Eternal Life

 

Text:  “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’  Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’”

 

Statement:

  • So the same words of Jesus produce two dramatically different effects:  they either bring people to faith and eternal life, OR they drive people away.  So, that which builds the church also stands in the way of the numerical growth of the external church.  Yet for those within the church who know Jesus, those who have faith in Lord Jesus Christ, they will desire nothing but the words of Christ, for He has the words of eternal life.

 

Excursus: 

The greatness of America and our allies before, during, and immediately after World War II, did not consist of “faith” in what we could accomplish, but consisted precisely of the knowledge of how dreadfully we could fail, and that only God could save us and do great things for us.  But strangely, following victory, all of this began changing and we began hearing things like “never have so many owed so much to so few,” and we began hearing talk about “the greatest generation.”  And so we set out to build and to enrich ourselves, and demonstrate how much we could do.

 

Do you want to see the final result of this?  Do not look at the skylines of our cities but rather at the shadows beneath them – at boarded up buildings, at the squalor of many neighborhoods, at the cities swimming in crime and debt.  How well we have fared in all of this should be evaluated by the state of our economy and our national debt and unemployment.  So, how well are we doing with this?

 

I’m going to venture one moment into politics – which I generally am completely loath to do from the pulpit, but it is necessary.  One party says: “Elect us, and we, the government will do great things for you and for America.” The other party says: “No, elect us and we will take the handcuffs off of all of the entrepreneurs, and we, all of us will do great things for ourselves and for America.”  What is strangely absent, what we never seem to hear today, is the humble admission of how greatly we have failed, and how much worse it could get for us.  Absent is any expression of humble faith and trust in God to do and accomplish great things for us and through us.  And why should we hear these things about God and His blessings when most of the “churches” have forgotten Who it is that builds the church, but have decided that what they build – whatever it is – is of greater importance?

 

Application: 

  • So we also have to keep these things in mind – lest we opt to be among those who are merely building external churches, splendid visible institutions and organizations, but who have forsaken Christ and no longer follow His Words. 
  • We must remember that it is God and Christ and the Holy Spirit Who builds the church – and not us.  We are privileged to participate in this great work of God by doing one thing – speaking, preaching, and teaching the words of Jesus to others.

 

Conclusion:  So we must remember that the real church, the kingdom of God, is an eternal matter.  What counts is that people come into possession of eternal life.  This happens by faith alone, and faith comes only by the Word of Christ.

The life of the external church, of the visible congregation, dare not be high-jacked for any other purpose – not even our own numerical successes and glory.  These things matter little in comparison to having Christ, and His Words, the words of eternal life!  May the Father grant such blessedness to each of us!  Amen.

Votum:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds in the true faith, which is in Christ Jesus, even unto life everlasting, Amen.