The gospel of Jesus Christ does not conform to human reason and senses. The four authentic records of Jesus’ life and teaching—the gospels—together with the writings of his apostles that accompany those records breathe the spirit of authentic witnesses. They wrote about what they saw and heard rather than what they began to think and believe through the passage of time. All of these are so clear and natural. But human reason and scientific methodology wreak havoc with the gospel and put the lie to whatever stupendous claims Jesus made about himself. The words Jesus spoke of himself no other great religious teacher in all history ever spoke. INDEED, NO MAN EVER SPOKE LIKE THIS MAN.
Theodore J. Hartwig
“TRULY, TRULY, I SAY TO YOU, UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU HAVE NO LIFE IN YOU.”
After Jesus had fed the five thousand, the crowds tried to make him their king. He resisted and withdrew into the hills. The disciples headed to Capernaum by boat. During the night, Jesus walked on the water and joined them in their boat. Together they all returned to Capernaum. But the people were determined to keep on trying to make him king. They took to their own boats, made their way across the sea, and found Jesus in Capernaum.
Jesus reproached them for seeking him to feed them with a free lunch and not seeking him for the more important food he could give them that endures to eternal life. They were still thinking of the bread they ate the day before and somehow thought that Jesus would supply them with bread like Moses gave their ancestors manna in the wilderness. They grumbled when Jesus claimed to be the bread of life. He told them clearly, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51 ESV).
Reason and senses closed their minds to the words Jesus spoke. They could see only a human being of flesh and blood talking with them. Then Jesus made a more profound statement about himself. “Truly, truly, I say to you, 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” (John 6:54 ESV).
Jesus claimed he was greater than Moses and greater than the bread Moses gave in the desert. Manna sustained the Israelites’ lives; Jesus gives eternal life. They did not understand.
What was so difficult? Faith in Jesus never makes sense to the human heart. Jesus chose his words very carefully to break down that opposition and pierce their hearts with the knowledge of the truth. Therefore he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. His flesh and blood are not phantom or spiritual; they are real flesh and real blood. Yet this man, contrary to what they saw, came down from heaven; he is also true God. The gospel of Jesus Christ is gospel only with this truth that he is both God and man. And this alone has the power to bring human hearts, without their cooperation, to saving faith.
Jesus, with his message of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, powerfully proclaims that believing in him means belonging to him completely. It means that he is ours and we are his. It means that he dwells in us and we in him. And so it assures believers that Jesus will be with them and will raise them from the dead to live with him forever. Just as he said, “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40 ESV).
“ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO ME”
When Jesus says that all authority in heaven and earth has been given him, a person may wonder whether Jesus did not always have this authority. Surely, as the Son of God he had all authority from eternity. This brings us face to face with the second great mystery of our Christian faith. Its first mystery is that we believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, yet one God. We call it the article of the Trinity.
The second great mystery is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God fully divine and the son of Mary fully human, yet a single person, not two Christs but one Christ. Because he is a single person, we confess that wherever he is as the Son of God, he is also naturally there as the son of Mary. Therefore we also believe, teach, and confess that when he suffered and died on the cross, the single person of Jesus Christ, God and man, suffered and died.
There is one more truth to this mystery. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
He possessed the authority of God’s Son from eternity. Then throughout his short life on earth, he retained all authority as God’s Son, but he kept it hidden and used it only when he wanted to use it. But all of this changed with his resurrection. Then his glory was evident, not only as the Son of God but also as Mary’s son. Though his appearance as a human being remained unchanged, he revealed the full glory and majesty of God because he was one person.
Because these truths about the person of Jesus Christ are mysteries, they may seem far removed from living our normal Christian lives as his disciples. We have read and heard these truths in Bible passages and have heard and spoken them in our Christian worship, but perhaps we weren’t fully aware of their far-ranging significance and comfort.
Because Jesus Christ, God and man, remains one person, he spoke of all authority in heaven and on earth being given to him. He spoke to his disciples of all times, “to the end of the age” of his constant presence as they always knew him. He will be with them not only as God but also as a human being, who had spoken to them, who had tasted their griefs and sorrows, and who sympathizes with his followers because he is still our flesh-and-blood brother.
This man who in his hidden divine majesty fed over five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes can also do what he promises in the Supper he gave us. In, with, and under real bread and wine he can give us his real body and blood. This is as certain and true as his Word, his promises, and his resurrection from the dead are true. As with all that Jesus is and taught, the mystery that he is God and man in one person has the goal of comforting his disciples.
Theodore Hartwig, professor emeritus at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
This is the third article in a four-part series about how Jesus describes himself.
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Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 2014
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