Texts, NIV (1999): John 6.51, 41-42, 52-58, 60, 66, 68
“There are two types of people in the world: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.” – Bob Wiley (Bill Murray, note 1)
We generally fall into the camps of those who like something and those who don’t. I like Church History, especially Early Church History for one reason or another, perhaps more than others.
Since this is Holy Week, Church History may help us look at John 6. Jesus uses very strong language about the bread and the body. In this passage, many people turn away from Him, and some stay with Him. People form a very distinct opinion of Him. It’s as if He draws a line in the sand.
Video: Jesus Leads Us into Mystery
It’s easy to look at our various opinions and practices of communion. We can discuss them because they are “in-house” Christian ways to have communion.
i. Let’s look at the major differences within Protestantism
In the Great Reformation, Zwingli and Luther meet, go through many points of doctrine, and this is the only point they disagree on. Zwingli has a “memorial” view, we remember what took place and honor God for it.
I don’t think we’d be so comfortable with Martin Luther’s language or his practices. He holds the view that there still may be something there, but something that might not be as strong as what the church believed before. In fact he uses the language of mystery. This sounds very much like the Early Church. One EC leader named Justin Martyr speaks of the mystery of communion (note 2).
ii. We call communion an “ordinance,” but it’s a blessed activity
It’s something that a sovereign or king blesses. By obeying the king, we receive favor. So there is still an element of mystery even in an ordinance.
There may be various views of communion, but the point is this. In this story, Jesus brings people to a decision point: whether you accept His offer or not. When it comes to our life in Christ, there are many points along the line (communion as an example) where we must accept the mysteries of Christ without fully understanding them. During Holy Week, may the mysteries of Christ draw you closer to Him.
iii. We see the conversation changes over a few verses
The leaders murmur because Jesus claims to come from above. In their minds, Jesus is getting close to blasphemy, making Himself equal with God. Little do they know, He’s just telling the truth. Jesus tells of everlasting life, tells of the relationship with the Father, and emphasizes bread from above (John 6.36-50).
iv. Then Jesus takes a turn that no one expects
Jesus uses familiar elements from their own story to mesmerize them. Then He leads them toward an enigma, a mystery, something that is really unsolved.
John 6:51a: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever . . .
If you don’t want to have a controversy, this is a good place to stop. Jesus could stop here, wrap things up, and make an altar call.He says, verse 51b: This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Up to now, Jesus its talking symbolically, but now His listener’s are in a quandary. Is He speaking literally or symbolically? He quite literally calls the bread His flesh.
Some are shocked, but Jesus continues, verses 53-58. He goes on to command us to eat the flesh and drink the blood. Today, we know what He is talking about, His sacrifice on the cross. Living bread is the body of Christ. His blood frees us from sin. We all partake of His body and blood. We receive everlasting life. We understand that John is painting a unique picture of communion. But let’s try to go back into their moment.
v. The leaders and some of Christ’s followers don’t understand
It doesn’t always happen with communion, but sometimes in other ways. The words of Christ become shrouded in mystery. It looks as if Jesus is doing this intentionally.
Those who follow Jesus from a distance, those coat-tail disciples, seem to turn away, verse 66.
Those who are close to Christ, we know as The Twelve, now become closer. They’re not so popular any more, but they still have to make a choice to follow Him. Simon says in verse 68:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
*adapted from JVI, Glimpses of Jesus: Hearing Christ in Flesh or Spirit, 08.02.15
note 1: Alvin Sargent, Laura Ziskin, and Tom Schulman, What About Bob?, directed by Frank Oz (Burbank, CA: Touchstone Pictures, 1991).
note 2: Both Martin Luther and Justin Martyr describe the mystery of communion in very similar terminology, referring to the “real presence” of our Lord.
Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 395.
Robert E. Webber, Worship Old and New: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Introduction, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 239.