I may sound like the con man Bernie Madoff today, but this is no pyramid scheme, get rich quick plan, too good to be true proposal. There's tremendous profit available to you today. It's beyond what you've ever seen, heard, or imagined. Will you profit today?
I can tell you for sure how you won't profit today. The flesh without the Spirit profits nothing. The flesh without the Spirit of God hears but doesn't hear. Parents say things like, "You're hearing me but you're not listening." Our text doesn't use two different words for hearing, and it doesn't use the word "accept' as the insert translates. John says, "On hearing it, many of Jesus' disciples said, This is a hard teaching. Who can hear it?'" They heard Jesus saying, "He who eats and drinks Me lives forever." They heard Jesus saying, "The one who believes has life eternal." They heard all these words with their ears of flesh but without the Spirit of God they didn't, they couldn't hear any of them.
The fallen flesh of men without the Spirit of God get's caught in a trap. The insert translates "offend." Other translations have "scandalize" or "stumble." But this is the Greek word for the bait stick which triggered a trap when an animal touched it (Morris, 383, fn. 139). Such an animal was trapped and if not killed by the action of the trap it would be by the trapper. So the flesh without the Spirit of God isn't merely offended at salvation only being by and through the flesh and blood of Jesus; it doesn't merely stumble over the idea; it isn't merely scandalized at the Man Jesus being the only object of saving faith. The flesh without the Spirit is trapped and will die eternally rather than believe in a Man for salvation.
Sinful, fallen humanity, the flesh without the Holy Spirit doesn't walk with Jesus. The insert has "follow," but this is interpreting not translating. It's not that the disciples no longer followed Jesus physically. They probably stayed around even as Judas did, even as many today hang on to the visible church though they really don't believe. Listen to how the Spirit uses walk in the rest of the New Testament. Romans 6 says we were buried with Christ in Baptism so we might walk in new life. Galatians 5 says walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the deeds of the flesh. Ephesians 5 says as children of light walk about. Colossians 2 says as you received Jesus in Him walk. And 1 John 1:7 says if we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins.
See what a terrible thing is being said when it says, "From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him"? That's all the flesh without God's Spirit can do. All any of us can do without the Spirit of God is step out of our Baptism, pursue the deeds of the flesh, stumble in the darkness without Jesus and His blood cleansing us from our sins.
I want you to profit today wildly. I want you to profit so much that you say, "I walked with God today; I'm gonna live forever; I'm glad I came to church today." But your flesh without God's Spirit profits you nothing, and the Spirit of God without human flesh doesn't profit you either.
Jesus in John 4 says, "God is Spirit." God the Spirit is not under any laws of any kind. If God wanted up to be down and down to be up it would be. If God wanted grass blue and the sky green it would be. If God decided blue-eyed people could be killed by brown-eyed that would be moral, legal, right. So God as Spirit wasn't obligated wasn't under any laws not even the 10 Commandments, and that was absolutely no profit to us.
But what does Galatians 4 tell us? "God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." The Spirit with the flesh profits us big time. Taking on our flesh God the Son who was Spirit also became flesh, and so born into the world in the usual way He was born under the laws of God. God as Spirit couldn't be our substitute. He couldn't enter the game of life in our place to play our position, to fulfill our role, to do all the law required of us in our place. God as Spirit could sit on the sidelines and cheer. He could coach. But He couldn't play for us. And that's what I need. Cheering and coaching don't help me. I need a substitute to play the game of life for me perfectly.
Why? Because if you don't play the game of life perfectly, you're dead, and not only dead, you're damned, and not only forever but today. Spirit without flesh profits me nothing, but God the Son took on my flesh and scored all the points needed for me to go to heaven, but there's still the matter of the mess I have made of my life and in the lives of others. Someone has to pay that bill. God is a Spirit and so couldn't be a sacrifice in place of sinners in the flesh. God as Spirit has no flesh to bruise, to beat, to whip, to nail, to damn, to spear, to bury. But in Jesus the Spirit of God has flesh. In Jesus God could and did pay my bill, yours too, the bills of all the world. The Spirit in my flesh profits me eternally.
The Spirit without the flesh could only go back to heaven without us, but Jesus said that didn't happen. He said that the Son of Man will ascend where He was before. Catch that? He didn't say the Son of God, emphasizing His divine nature but the Son of Man emphasizing His human. This was to be a supreme comfort. Flesh like ours can go to heaven. It isn't so fallen as to be irredeemable. It isn't so dirty that it can't be cleansed for heaven. It isn't so dead even when buried and decayed to dust that it can't be raised to heaven.
The Spirit of God in the flesh of Jesus would so defeat sin, death, and the devil that He would win the right for flesh, your flesh, to go to heaven. It's not wrinkled, frail, diseased, dead, decayed flesh for you forever. No the Spirit with your flesh profits you with resurrection, ascension into heaven, and everlasting life for your flesh today. Don't be like the crowds who without the Spirit of God in their flesh could only be trapped to death by the thought of the man Jesus ascending into heaven. They couldn't profit at all from this supreme comfort. Can you? Will you?
That depends. That depends on the Words of Jesus. They profit eternally. The meeting point today of flesh and Spirit are the Words of Jesus. Out of His mouth of flesh to our ears of flesh come Jesus' Words and He declares that these Words are Spirit. When the elder read the lessons, out of his mouth came the Spirit of God. When you sang the Gloria in Excelsis, you were singing into each other's ears the Holy Spirit of God. And not just the audible Words are Spirit so are the visible ones. The Words added to Baptism make Baptism what Paul calls it a renewal by the Holy Spirit. The Words spoken by Jesus in Communion make that Bread and Wine His Body and Blood and His Body and Blood have the Spirit of God beyond measure.
If you want to obtain the Holy Spirit you must cling to the Words of Jesus. He binds us to His Word declaring that they, and only they, are Spirit and Life. If you're going to have the Spirit you can only have Him via Jesus' Words. If you're going to have Life, not 80 odd years of it, not fallen, ill, afflicted life but real Life, you can have it in no other way than by Jesus' Words.
And yet what do we do? And note well I said what to do we do not what do you do. We try to find Spirit and Life in the words of men. Whether in the promises of politicians, the advice of physicians, or our own opinions we seek God's Spirit and Life in them. We especially think we've found them when we've reasoned our way to some sort of spiritual conclusion. We weave feelings, thoughts, events together and slap a Made by the Holy Spirit sign on it. This is what Martin Luther said of doing that: "Whenever you hear anyone boast that he has something by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it has no basis in God's Word, no matter what it may be, tell him that this is the work of the devil" (LW, 23, 173).
All the while we're boasting of how our flesh has reasoned its way to the Spirit, the Words of Jesus which really are Spirit and Life are ignored. Our Baptism sets in the font unused as if it never did touch our flesh and give us the Spirit. The Body and Blood of Jesus which are overflowing with Spirit and Life are seldom appealed to, relied on, or even looked to by us. And as for the Word preached, taught, or in the Bible in every one of your homes: it goes in one ear and out the other. No help at all against evil spirits or the Death that stalks us. No we marshal our thoughts, feelings, and opinions against our fears, worries, and troubles. Rather than entering into battle with God's good gifts and Sprit that we have in His Word we enter into battle with flesh: weak, frail, dying flesh.
O that we would all profit today. O that we would count of little value what we can reason, what we have experienced, what we can figure. There is no profit in these. One minute you can reason there's no cause to be afraid only to be terrified the next. One moment your experience tells you that this lump is benign and the next you're sure you're dying. One second you figure that since you have your retirement plans all in order you're set for life and the next you're moaning about the poor house.
Our reasoning, our experience, our figuring are all of the flesh, so why O why do we constantly go back to them? There is no profit in them not today, not any day, and certainly not in eternity. Why O why do the Words of Jesus go begging? Unheard, unused, un-relied on? These Words are the very Spirit of God and the eternal, everlasting, unending Life of God. They are profitable today, tomorrow, and in eternity. The Words of Jesus don't return 10%, or 100% or even 1000% they return more than you have ever seen, heard, or imagined. Invest today. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20120902); John 6: 60-69