Can You Hear Him Now?
Verizon had an ad campaign from 2001-2011 featuring a guy on a cellphone asking, "Can you hear me now?" He was paid 6,000 per ad for that one line. All these years later the most common things I overhear people saying on their cell phone is: "Can you hear me now?" Or, "I can hear you now." Today is our 5th Sunday in a row feeding on John 6, Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse, and the question we're asked is, "Can you hear Him now?"
The answer is, "Plain as day." O sure in the words of those first hearing it, "Skla-ros is this word." Arteriosclerosis is a hardening of the walls of the arteries. The listening crowd said, "This word is hard, skla-ros." Jesus word that food for the soul is more important than food for the body, that food for the soul comes from God in heaven, that the bread of God is a Person, and that Jesus is the Bread of Life come down from heaven are all clear words. But they are skla-ros, hard. In fact they can be a deathtrap.
Remember the Yugo? This Yugoslavian car made in the mid-1980's was often called a deathtrap, but so was the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega of the 1970's. You know what it means to say a car is deathtrap. You get into that thing and you're taking your life in your hands. Well, Jesus' hard word is a deathtrap. Jesus Himself says so. The insert translates Him asking, "Does this offend you?" Others have stumble, trouble, bother, or scandalize. The Complete Jewish Bible is closer with "This is a trap for you?" And God's Word captures the seriousness of the word with "Did what I say make you lose faith?"
Jesus is not concerned that they might have stumbled. You recover from a stumble. He's not concerned that they're troubled. A troubled person can be soothed as can a bothered one. Neither is Jesus concerned that they might be scandalized. A scandalized person can be assuaged. The word Jesus uses comes from the noun trap". The picture here is a trap with a crooked stick, a skandalon, to which the bait is attached. When it's touched the trap springs and the animal killed. The verb Jesus uses here scandalizo you can see why some translate scandalize' indicates a fatal trap (Lenski, Luke, 407).
Are Jesus' words here a Yugo to you? In a sense all Jesus' words are. Jesus says elsewhere in coming to Him you lose your soul, life, self. In the words of Paul, "It is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me." Christianity is picking up the cross on which me, myself, and I die and following Christ. But this is not they dying Jesus refers to here. This is not the dying and being buried with Christ in Baptism that lead to rising and living forever. This is the dying that Judas did when he couldn't believe he could be forgiven for betraying Jesus. This is the dying Peter did when he declared, "I know not the man." This is the dying many of the hundreds maybe thousands who heard Jesus' words did when our text says "many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him."
The text says these were "His disciples." This should frighten you. I've heard many people outright reject the Gospel over the years. They say, "I want no part of this talk about sin, forgiveness, Jesus, hell, and believing." But far more quietly choose sin over Jesus. Jesus doesn't remain in a heart ruled by sin. You can have your sins or you can have Jesus. You cannot have both. You can defend your sins or you can have Jesus defend you from the Law, Devil and Death. If you protect your sin, your sinfulness, or your sinning, try to excuse it, try to defend it, then Jesus has become a Yugo, a deathtrap for you. He has the Words of eternal life, but you want your sins more, and you can have them and the judgment that falls on them this very day and forever in eternity.
Jesus' words get harder. Jesus enlarges the deathtrap. You're like a cat on a counter top with many mousetraps. Jesus says that His flesh and blood are the wrath removing sacrifice for the life of the world; He says that there is no life apart from partaking of His holy flesh and blood through faith. These words are impossible for ordinary flesh and blood to say. If Jesus is only a son of man, how do you process His bodily ascension into heaven? You can't. Apart from the Holy Spirit imparting spiritual life, your flesh will choke to eternal death on who Jesus is and what He came to do. Jesus does not say as the Calvinist teach, "My flesh counts for nothing." This would contradict Jesus' words earlier, "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh." No, it's ordinary flesh that counts for nothing. If Jesus flesh was just that of an ordinary woman-born man and not also True God, He couldn't use it to pay for the sins of the world, appease the wrath of God, forgive sins, or ascend to heaven.
Ordinary flesh and blood could not speak these words and ordinary flesh and blood can't believe them. When someone walks away from the church because of a Biblical teaching like there is no salvation apart from Jesus or babies are to be baptized or what is more likely in our day a Biblical teaching that conflicts with society living together is fornication, Communion is only to be shared among those of the same faith, or God created everything in 6 twenty-four hour days what does the modern church do? Wring their hands, modify their teaching, conclude they have done something wrong weren't winsome enough, loving enough, friendly enough. What does Jesus say? My words have all the Holy Spirit and Life in them for anyone and everyone to believe for salvation. But no one can come to Him then or now "Unless the Father has enabled him." Jesus looks unbelief square in the eye, and is not surprised. Unbelief, rejection of Him, choking on His body and blood is the natural, expected result: unless the Father literally has forever given a person the ability to come to Jesus.
Sorry, we've got to leave those words right where they are. Hard words of Jesus aren't to be explained away or made easier. They are to be heard. Can you hear Him now? Plain as day. But there is more here than meets the ear. Jesus doesn't use the ordinary word for word' in the sentence, "The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life." He doesn't use logos. He uses rha'-ma. The word logos lays stress on the thought expressed. The word rha'-ma on the fact that God spoke (Lenski, Hebrews, 183) and that God's word actually does something. This is Psalm 29: the voice of the Lord, Yahweh, Jesus is powerful, majestic; it breaks the cedars, shakes the wilderness, and strips the forest bare. This is Hebrews 4: "The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow."
The Words of Jesus impart the Holy Spirit and Life. They kill but they also make alive. They bring a crushing load of guilt down on the heads and hearts of sinners, but they relieve that guilt not by giving you another chance to do better or letting you explain your sins away but by forgiving those sins. By placing them on the back of Jesus and showing you that He carried them away from you forever and paid for them for good on the cross. Apologetic words, words that make a defense for the Christian faith, are emphasized by the Reformed, but such words appeal to the reason. Rha'-ma words cut to the quick, gets to the heart, have their way with you barreling past all your defenses. The words of the liturgy are rha'-ma. Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. We do confess our transgressions and He does forgive all our sins. His rha'-ma invite us to lift up our hearts, and they lift them up to the Lord. The rha'-ma of the Lord invite us to give Him thanks and teach us that He is good and His mercy endures forever.
The words of the liturgy aren't apologetic. They don't argue the faith; they confess the faith. They root you each week in the faith. That's because they are Spirit and Life. Capitalize both words in English because Jesus is talking about the Spirit not of this world and the Life that transcends this dying world. His Words, these Words of His I am speaking right now, bring from the realm of the Holy Spirit into the realm of flesh and blood all the forgiveness, life, and salvation Jesus won for all mankind using His flesh and blood.
Years ago one of the older couples was having their 65th wedding anniversary here. The congregation was invited. The woman said to the then college folks, "You know with your emails and texting you probably have a lot more communication with your boy or girlfriend, but you lack the physical comfort and connection of a letter." This is true. I have letters that I wrote 40 years ago. They evoke a physical feeling that I don't get when reading past emails. They are from a different time and place and they take me back.
Jesus says His rha'-ma are Spirit and Life; they are His Spirit and His Life in this realm of unholy spirits and death. Peter gets that so he says, "You have the rha'-ma of eternal life." Jesus is God's Word incarnated in flesh and blood to cover you in Baptism, to forgiven you in Absolution, and for you to eat and drink in Communion. Jesus is God's Word not in an email, a text, or one of those electronic communications that disappear. Now you see it, now you don't. Jesus is God's Word written in flesh and blood to you, but it's not only incarnated, it's inscripturated in your Bible, and it's "in-breaded" in Bread that is His Body.
You want words that are intellectually stimulating? Read philosophy; you want words that are emotionally satisfying? Read poetry; you want words that make your feel good about yourself? Read self-help books; you want words that forgive your body and soul today, that bring redemption to your body and soul from sin, death and the devil forever, that save your body and soul for eternity? Open your mouth at this rail; open your eyes at that font; open your ears and believe that the Father through the Son has dragged you to this, given you to this, enabled you to do this. You do hear Him now. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20180826); John 6: 60-69