The Word Enfleshed Gives You His Flesh
Third Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2018
We see from the response of the people who witnessed Jesus’ miraculous action and who were witnesses of it that different people can interpret the same thing in two entirely different ways. Many of the people saw Jesus as one who would provide them with the desires of their heart. Later on it is shown that His twelve disciples see Him as the one who gives them the words of eternal life. Many people today will see the miraculous feeding of the five thousand as a powerful testimony to our Lord as God and Savior. There’s no doubt He is that. There’s no doubt His action shows that.
But is this what we are really being shown here? If the people who were there missed the point maybe we ought to step back so that we can see what they missed.
Being inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle John wastes no time in his Gospel account of telling that Jesus is God and that He is fully God. But something we cannot comprehend, He is God in the person of a human being. He became flesh and dwelt among us. There is something about God that is unavoidable when you encounter Jesus. God is not simply ‘up there’. He is not merely ‘spiritual’. He is enfleshed. He has skin and bones. He has a heart that beats and pumps blood through His veins. He was born as you and I were. He is a man, a human being as you and I are. Now, people can deny this of course. But if you are going to believe in God, or reject Him for that matter, you must do so on the basis of what John and the rest of Scripture say of Him—He has become flesh and dwelt among us.
Establishing that, John moves quickly to the next thing about this person, God in the flesh. He uses the words of John the Baptist to bring it out: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now here is a startling truth of God Himself, as He has come to us in the flesh. In His flesh He is the sacrifice to God. He is the one whose life is slaughtered on the altar of Calvary for the sin of the world.
Jesus is God, but He’s not spiritual. Those people were talking with Him face to face. He is God, but He doesn’t go around showing off His divine power. Those people were recipients of something greater than food to be fed with. Jesus came to save them from their sins.
This is who Jesus is, this is what He is doing in today’s Gospel reading. John sets the stage. Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and a crowd was following Him because they had seen the signs He had done on the sick. He went up a mountain and sat down with His disciples. Everything is set for Him to bring about this miraculous action of feeding thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish. But a detail John gives that seems out of place is that the feast of the Passover was near.
The more you read the Gospel according to John, though, the more you see that he connects Jesus’ miraculous actions with the festivals that God instituted in the Old Testament. John is making the connection that Jesus is not just displaying His power. He’s not even just showing that He is God. He is showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of those festivals of the Old Testament. John does not call these miraculous actions of Jesus miracles. He calls them signs. They point to something greater than themselves. In telling us that the Passover was near, John is pointing us to Jesus bringing about something greater than a miraculous feeding.
When Jesus sees the crowd He asks Phillip where they will buy bread for them to eat. But John tells us that Jesus was testing Phillip, He knew what He was about to do. However, it’s seeing only a little thing, and not the greater thing, to see that what Jesus knew He was about to do was simply feeding thousands of people with a little bread and fish. How does John show us that in the miraculous feeding, this sign, Jesus is pointing to something greater?
He connects it with the Passover. The Passover was the meal eaten the night before the great salvation event of the Old Testament, the Exodus. The Israelites were in bondage. They needed to be rescued. God instituted a meal in which a lamb would be slain and its blood put on the doorpost so that the Angel of Death would pass over their houses as he went around striking down the first-born of every household. The Israelites were spared this judgment because a lamb’s life was taken in their place. John the Baptist in pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” was pointing us to the once-for-all sacrifice that rescues us from our bondage to sin. The next day after the Passover the people were delivered through the Red Sea.
The people who were fed by Jesus were thinking that He would provide for them in this way from here on out. But this was a sign. He was pointing them to something greater. In telling us that the Passover was near, John is showing us that Jesus had in mind a greater meal, a feast that would surpass the Passover. And so John gives other indications that Jesus is pointing us to His meal He instituted while celebrating the Passover with His disciples and which in fact supersedes the Passover.
Many of the actions Jesus does here in feeding the five thousand parallel His actions at the Last Supper. He takes the bread, He breaks it, He gives thanks and blesses it, and He gives it to the people. But notice the overriding theme. Jesus knew what He was about to do. Jesus was in control. Jesus was the one who was bringing about this miraculous meal.
In the feeding of the five thousand it is a sign. It points to the greater bread He will give. Later on Jesus speaks clearly what this greater food is. It is Himself. He says He Himself is the Bread God has given from heaven. He says that He Himself is the Bread of Life. He says that the bread that I give for the life of the world is My flesh.
This is where we see that God is not just ‘God’. He’s not just ‘up there’. Not just a ‘spiritual being’. He is in the flesh and He gives you His flesh. He connects the giving of His flesh in the bread of the Last Supper with the giving of His flesh on the cross the next day. He connects the giving of the blood in the cup with the shedding of His blood on the cross the next day. In instituting His Holy Supper He said of the bread, Take eat, this is My body. In John 6 He says the same thing but reversed, My flesh is true food. In the same way, He said of the wine, Take drink, this is My blood. And so in John 6 He says, My blood is true drink.
In fact, no less than six times Jesus affirms what was so offensive to many of the people there who had been fed by Him. They were disgusted, How can this man give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink?
Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
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.
This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
Consider, then, what Jesus is doing. He is giving you Himself, and He is God! He entered into your humanity so that you could enter into His divinity. As He was in the womb of Mary for nine months, so in giving you His body and blood in His Sacrament, He is in you. And consider what this means for you in your life. It means you have life in you! Eternal life! God Himself! You are not your own. You are in Him in Baptism and He is in you in His Holy Supper. When you live, you don’t just live, you have life, eternal life! You are in the flesh and serving others in the flesh. You help them with the abilities God has given you and you use your time and possessions for their good.
God didn’t stay ‘up there’. He came down here. In the flesh. And the Word enfleshed gives you His flesh. To eternal life and for each day. Amen.