Nick at Night II


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The Gospel of John is unique. It is the only one of the 4 Gospels that does not record the institution of the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Yet, the Church has always seen Baptism in John 3 where Jesus talks to Nicodemus, and the Lord's Supper in John 6 where Jesus talks to the Jews. Parallel things are happening in these 2 chapters. Jesus deals with the Jews in our text much like He dealt with Nicodemus earlier.
Jesus is trying to shock the Jews in our text just as He wished to shock Nicodemus in John chapter 3. Remember at that time how Nick came to Jesus with patronizing words? "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." How warm, how winning, how winsome. Here too, in John 6, the Jews approached Jesus warmly, winningly, winsomely. They had followed Him across the Sea of Galilee. They acted like they wanted nothing more than to be students of His asking, "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?"
Both Nick in chapter 3 and the Jews in chapter 6 followed Jesus not for spiritual reasons but for physical ones. Nick came with open praise and flattery, yet he came at night. Jesus at the end of the conversation with him severely criticized him saying, "And this it the judgment, that the light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light; because there deeds were evil." Quite a sharp thing to say to someone who waited till dark to seek you out. Likewise with the Jews. They followed Jesus all the way across the Sea of Galilee not for high and lofty spiritual reasons but for base physical ones. Jesus said to them earlier in chapter 6, "You seek Me not because you saw signs but because you ate of the loaves and were filled."
In both the case of Nick at night and the Jews in the morning, Jesus did the same thing. He put a spiritual truth in such crass physical terms both Nick and the Jews choked on it. You remember how it was with Nick, don't you? Jesus said to him, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Old Nick was aghast at the thought of his aged body going back into his mother's womb. How in the world could that ever be?
Jesus does the same with the Jews in our text. Jesus speaks of Himself as the Bread of Life and then speaks of eating Him and then even of drinking His blood. Jesus gets pretty rude and crude here. Although our insert translates "eat" all the way through, there are really 2 different words. The first time Jesus uses the ordinary word for eating any food, "If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever." But the next time Jesus uses the word for "gnaw, nibble, munch, eat with audible noise" (think teenager eating cereal here). This word is used to describe how animals eat. "Ooh, gross," the crowd said, and "many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore." That's how John 6 closes.
Nick and the Jews in our text stumbled at a spiritual truth when it was put in raw physical form. Jesus did this a lot. Do you know why? Because following Jesus can't be a decision of your will or intellect like supporting a particular person in a political race. Following Jesus is a miracle. You don't choose Him; He chooses you, and He separates those whom He hasn't chosen from those He has by telling them things they can't swallow but by the power of the Holy Ghost.
You see, people are always trying to reduce the truths of Christianity to "nothing buts." The Gospel is nothing but the timeless truth of how the gods must intervene to save man. Faith is nothing but a decision to follow Jesus, asking Jesus into your heart, a personal relationship with Jesus. Baptism is nothing but an initiation into the Christian faith like all religions have. Communion is nothing but a religious meal where people eat together and celebrate what God has done for them. People are always casting the spiritual truths of Christianity into physical terms that they can get their heads and hearts around. Jesus goes the other way. He makes the spiritual truths of Christianity so crassly physical that it takes a miracle, that is the Spirit, for a person not to choke on them.
You know why Jesus does this here particularly? Because there's a greater miracle afoot than even the one their stumbling over. You can see this in both John 3 and John 6, but we'll look only at the situation here. The Jews say, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" You know that's not really impossible, is it? Don't cannibals eat the flesh of other men? Jesus could've lopped off a finger, an arm or even a leg and tossed it to them saying, "Dig in." Jesus could've right then and there given them His flesh to eat, but there's more to it than that. He would give them not just the flesh and blood of a man to eat and drink but the flesh and blood of God. Whoa! Now that's amazing.
Jesus says that He is God in flesh and blood when He says, "Just as the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so the One who feeds on Me will live because of Me." There is no life apart from God. All else is only death. "In God we live, move and have our being," says Paul in Titus. Or in the words of our Gradual, "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things." God is life; everything else derives whatever life it has from God and through God. God is the great life support machine. If you're not plugged into Him, you're dead, flatlining, without a pulse, and without hope in this world.
The life of God is found in the Man Jesus. In John 5 Jesus says, "Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes...For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself." It's a big thing that the Man Jesus is willing to be devoured by sinners; it's a much bigger thing that God the Son is willing to be devoured by sinners.
This is the real shocking thing in this text, but we miss this even as the Jews in the text did. "So what? God stoops, God condescends to save wretched, filthy, decomposing sinners like us." Don't you have a bit of the willies over dead things? Most people do. They feel the need to wash after touching dead things. Yet, we don't marvel at, gape at, fall on our knees in adoration at the fact that God who is Life is willing to bear our deadness and decayedness. We act as if it makes sense for Jesus to be here telling us, "Eat, drink, believe on Me and I will come and reside in you and you in Me." Friends, only kooks like being around dead bodies. Only weirdos don't mind being around decaying bodies, but God the Son says to lifeless, decomposing people like us, "I want to be here for you and with you."
As big of a deal as it was for Jesus to say, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." The facts behind this are far greater. There are physical and spiritual facts behind this startling invitation that are even more startling still.
To begin with, Jesus is saying He's the answer to the Old Testament Law. He must be saying that because the demands and punishments of the Law require death for sinners. The wages of sins is death. The soul that sins dies. Yet Jesus promises, "Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life." "The One who feeds on Me will live because of Me." I mentioned last week that no matter what you're eating it won't prevent you from dying. This week we find out that even those in the Old Testament who were fed by God with special food from heaven, i.e. manna, still died. There must be something mighty special about the flesh and blood of Jesus for people to eat and drink it and not die.
What is special about the flesh and blood of Jesus is that it is the answer to the demands and the punishments of the Law. The Flesh and Blood of Jesus bring life not death because He can do what our flesh and blood can't. He can keep the Law perfectly. The Law requires perfection or it identifies you as a sinner who must die. Jesus' flesh and blood is living and life giving because Jesus never sinned.
The answer to your sinfulness, that sinfulness that seethes in your heart and pollutes your flesh, your blood, your very soul is not trying harder, promising to do better, or disciplining yourself more. The answer is Jesus the Bread of Life. There is life for sinners in Jesus because Jesus kept the demands of the Law for them. The Law can't say to those in Jesus, "Do this or you die," because in Jesus it's already done.
Likewise the Law calling for your death, saying death has claim to you because you're a sinner is answered not in healthy lifestyles, taking medicine, or getting physicals. Death reaches through all of these and touches people with it's cold, clammy hand. But death can't feed on Jesus because Jesus is holy in word, in deed, in body. Death cannot feed on Him, and it cannot feed on those who have fed on Him whether by faith or by faith and mouth in the Lord's Supper. As death had to spit the holy Jesus out of the grave on Easter morning because it couldn't swallow Him, so death can't swallow those in whom Jesus dwells.
Lets go back to the beginning. I told you that John's Gospel has no institution of Baptism or the Lord's Supper unlike the other 3, but John has the curious incidents of Nick at night and the Jews in the morning arguing among themselves about eating and drinking Jesus. In both cases, Jesus uses shocking physical pictures to teach a spiritual truth. With Nick He makes him envision an old man going back into the womb and with the Jews He makes them envision physically munching on His Flesh and Blood. By these images, Jesus wishes to highlight for Nick the fact that you can't naturally see who He really is without the Spirit, and for the Jews He wishes to highlight that His flesh and blood is the answer to their sin and death.
But for us latter day New Testament Christians who know the whole story, there are yet more shocking truths in John. In John 3, there is a Baptism that does make us such new creatures it's as if we have been put back in our mother's womb to be reborn perfect and holy before God. And here in John 6 there is a Communion where Jesus really does give His Flesh for Food and His Blood for drink. The physical pictures that Jesus startled Nick at night and the Jews in the morning with have become glorious spiritual realities that we experience in our physical bodies. How awesome! Amen
Rev Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIII (9-7-03); John 6:51-58