A Hard Saying
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became flesh for us. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Words are amazing. Words are powerful. They don’t seem like much when you stop and think about them. Sound waves travel through the air, they enter our ear, and in our mind we hear words. Little marks in the shape of letters on a piece of paper are seen by our eyes and in our mind we see words.
As we use words, speak them, and hear them, they have meaning. Combining words with other words gives us additional meanings. As we use words to communicate we see how powerful they can be.
There are two kinds of words. You might ask someone to put in a “good word” for you with a perspective employer. You might ask a friend to put in a “good word” for you with that cute looking guy or that beautiful looking gal.
If we can talk about “good words,” then we are acknowledging the fact that there are such things as “bad words.” When young children all of a sudden use “a four letter word” parents are quick to teach their children that that word is a “bad word.”
“Bad words” include lies, gossip, hurtful remarks, and bullying. Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. That’s a popular saying, but words can and do hurt us. A bad credit report, a bad job reference, words spoken in anger can be words that hurt us in one way or another.
A “good word” at the right time can bring great comfort to someone in distress. A “bad word” at the wrong time can bring sorrow. With our words we make promises, we marry, we encourage, we hurt, we build up, we tear down, we destroy, we show love.
Martin Luther in his explanation to the Eight Commandment gave a summary of good words and bad words as they affect our neighbor. The commandment says “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” When Luther asked himself what does this mean, he searched God’s Word of the answer. He wrote these words as a summary of what he found:
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Luther reminds us that obeying the eight commandment means more than avoiding using “bad words.” Obeying God’s commandment means using “good words” that support, encourage, and show love toward others.
We often read the commandments as things we should avoid doing like lying, stealing, and murdering. But when Jesus summarized the commandments he used the word “Love” – Love the Lord and Love your neighbor. God’s will is that we use our words to build each other up, that we protect each others goods, and that we minister to those who have been hurt.
God’s written word is a love story, a story about God’s love for a fallen people – a love story that tells us about God’s desire to take away our sins, to remove them from us, and to remember them no more. His word is a word of comfort and hope for people who know that they can not be God’s children without his gift of adoption.
God’s love for a fallen people was so great that he not only gave us his written word, but he sent his Son into the world as his living word. Saint John tells us in the first chapter of his gospel that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jn. 1:14
As Jesus said, “I came down from heaven.” Jesus came not only to speak about God’s love for fallen sinful people. He came shown God’s compassion and finally showing God’s love by giving his life as a ransom for all.
When Jesus began his ministry, people listened to his words. People were amazed at the authority with which Jesus spoke. They listened in synagogues, on hillsides, and by the sea shore as Jesus explained what it meant to love your neighbor as yourself. With his words he turned water into wine and healed a sick child some twenty five miles away.
With his words he told a paralyzed man to “rise, take up your bed, and walk” and the man did as Jesus said he should. Jesus spoke at the tomb of Lazarus saying “come out” and Lazarus came out of the tomb alive.
Jesus words and his actions told the people that God loved sinners and wanted them to be part of his kingdom. Jesus proclaimed that he had come down from heaven to cleanse them from all unrighteousness.
The words of Jesus were amazing and powerful, but sometimes they were “hard words” to understand. In today’s gospel reading, we hear Jesus speaking “hard words” to understand. He said, “I am the living Bread come down from heaven, and One sent by the Father in order to bring life to the world.” Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Just like the Jews in the wilderness who grumbled with what God had provided, so John tells us that “the Jews grumbled about [Jesus], because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.””
They were not willing to accept that Jesus had come from God to give them eternal life. They understood bread made of wheat nourishing and giving life to their bodies. Their minds and hearts, however, were closed to the idea that the one calling himself the Bread of Life would sacrifice his body and blood so that they could have life eternal
Many of the people around Jesus who heard these words said to each other, “These are hard words; who can listen to them?” With these “hard words” Jesus brought his hearers to the point of believing or not believing. They had to throw away their human reason at this point and trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about.
There were no alternatives. They had to believe that Jesus was the Bread of Live who came down from heaven to give his life as a sacrifice on the cross or that he was the son of a carpenter. They had to believe in Jesus as their Savior or believe in themselves.
What About You?
As many people left Jesus, because they could not believe in him, he asked his twelve disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” “Peter answered [Jesus], “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.”
In Divine Service One that we often use on Sunday mornings we too use these words. As the Gospel is about to be read, we stand up and sing, “Allleluia, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Each week the Gospel reading reveals to us this Jesus who sometimes spoke “hard word,” words hard to understand and hard to believe.
It‘s a “hard word” to believe that we are helpless in coming to God and pleasing him with our life. Why would God take away your sins and give them to his Son to deal with? How could one man dying on a cross pay the penalty for those sins of yours and the sins of the whole world?
It’s a “hard word” to believe that when you were baptized God washed away your sins and gave you the Holy Spirit. How can you possibly be connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus by such a simple act that is done totally by God?
But Jesus has the words of eternal life. Jesus said, “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the † Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is by his command that we baptize. We trust in his words that “all who believe and are baptized shall be saved.” We have faith in the Lord’s words that “baptism now saves you.”
It’s a “hard word” to believe that when you receive the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper that you are also receiving the body and blood of Jesus. How can Jesus really be there in, with, and under the bread and wine?
But Jesus has the words of eternal life. Jesus said, “This is my body, this is my blood.” In his supper he connects us with the body and blood that was given and shed for us on the cross. His supper is not a good work that we do for him, not a sacrifice we offer to him. Christ died once for the sins of all. This meal is given to us for the assurance that our sins are forgiven and for the strengthening of our faith.
It’s a “hard word” to believe that when we hear the good news about Jesus Christ living and dying and rising again for us, that the Holy Spirit can somehow give and strengthen faith simply by our hearing these “good words.”
Jesus has the words of eternal life. We believe God’s word when he tells us “Faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Rom. 19:17 He tells us that we are saved by grace as a free gift. Jesus tell you that he die for you.
The Lord gathers us together, Sunday after Sunday, because he has “good words” for us to hear. We bring to him our sins; he brings to us his “good words.” His words are not meant to entertain us. They will not satisfy our desire for something “new” every week.
But remember why the apostles stayed with Jesus when so many others left. Remember, when it comes to life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is the hands down expert in the field. No one does life, death, and resurrection like Jesus. In fact, no one else does life, death, and resurrection. No one else has the words of eternal life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria