Offended by Jesus

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on John 6:51-69

Dear followers of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We live in days when pretty much everyone is pretty much always offended. Everyone is so self-centred that they cannot even tolerate hearing a point of view different from their own. People are offended by natural marriage and families. People are offended by those who want to protect the lives of the unborn. People are offended because everyone doesn’t bow down to their newly fangled ideologies and perversions.

As the morals of society change, what is offensive changes. This is certainly reflected in the media. Things that used to be offensive to society and would never have been seen in television and movies are now common in most media. Yet things that used to be common in older movies and shows are now deemed offensive.

What has not changed and will not change is that the world will be offended by Jesus. Jesus has not changed. His Word is the same as it has always been. When people are offended by what Jesus says, they either twist it or stop listening to it.

In our Gospel lesson, many of Jesus’ disciples were offended by Jesus. They had been following Jesus, but then He said something that offended them, and they turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. They said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They said that Jesus’ Word was difficult to accept, intolerable, and offensive. They did not want to listen to Jesus’ Word. They didn’t want to listen to Jesus.

Jesus was teaching them about the manna God’s people of old received from heaven, and said about Himself that He is the bread that came down from heaven; that He is the bread of life. Those who ate the bread in the wilderness died, but those who eat the bread of life will live forever. Whoever feeds on Jesus’ flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.

Many of Jesus’ disciples didn’t like Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures as He taught them in the synagogue that day. They thought they could be disciples of Moses and followers of the Scriptures and faithfully attend the synagogue, but reject Jesus. They neglected to understand that the Scriptures speak about Jesus; that Moses spoke about Jesus; that the synagogue was the place to hear about Jesus.

Jesus had earlier said to the Jews seeking to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Jn. 5:39-40)

The Scriptures all speak of and point to Jesus for eternal life. He was there before their eyes and they were offended, and they rejected Him and refused to hear Him teach anymore. The words that Jesus said are spirit and life to them, they did not want to hear.

We too can be offended by Jesus’ words. We too have been so influenced by the rapid demoralization of the world around us that Jesus’ words can offend us. Jesus tells us to purge the unrepentant person from the church (I Cor. 5:13), but that sounds offensive and unloving to world-influenced ears. Jesus tells us to practice closed communion (I Cor. 11:17-32), but that too sounds offensive to world-influenced ears. Next week’s Epistle lesson tells wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). There’s not much that will more offend this feministic society we live in and those influenced by it.

However, the reality is that the Law of God is not what causes people to stop walking with Jesus. That God gives rules and has standards for behaviour does not cause people to part from Him. Everyone expects that God should have standards and rules.

Look at what happened to the disciples in our Gospel lesson. Jesus didn’t give them an extra commandment, causing them to say, “Hold on, that’s one too many. We’ll take the Ten Commandments, but we can’t handle eleven.” They didn’t fall away because Jesus told them to work for their daily bread. They fell away from Him because He said that He is the living bread that will cause all those eating His flesh to live forever.

Instead of giving them more rules, He was giving them Himself and thus promising them eternal life; promising to raise them on the last day.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Many of Jesus’ disciples found this offensive.

What we have to understand is that when we find God’s Word offensive, that is our sinful nature rebelling against God. It’s our sinful heart saying, “I know better than God.”

When we find God’s Word offensive, we need to drown the Old Adam is us by contrition and repentance. We may not understand why God says what He says, but we must cling to His Word as the truth, because it is the truth.

The cross is a scandal and an offence because we don’t want to admit that we are sinful. We don’t want to admit that it was for our sin that Jesus suffered and died. We don’t want to admit that we need God’s forgiveness every day.

Yet, Jesus gives us the forgiveness of our sins. He gives us the gift of faith. He gives us His true body and blood. We feed on His flesh and drink His blood, so Jesus promises us that He is in us and we are in Him. He promises us that we will live because of Him. He promises us that He will raise us on the last day and we will live forever.

Do we understand this perfectly? No, but we still trust Jesus’ word.

Do you want to go away from Jesus and hearing His Word along with those who are offended by His Word? No, you don’t. We answer with Peter, “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.”

You trust Jesus, because you know He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. You trust Jesus because He is the one who took all your sins onto Himself and suffered and died for you, taking the punishment you deserve because of your sins. You trust in Jesus because He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink so that you believe and have come to know that all your sins are forgiven and you will live forever.

There will always be those who are offended by Jesus and thus turn away from following Him. We however will follow Him, because God the Father has granted to us to come to Jesus. We follow Him because He paid the price of our sins. We follow Jesus because He alone has the words of eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Scandal of the Cross

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:1-13

Dear people with miraculous faith: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What is it about Christianity that turns people off? If you ask a million unbelievers, you may hear a million different reasons. The music is not exciting enough. The church building is too old. The people in church are too old. The pastor is too odd. Certainly, when scandals appear because a pastor or congregation has fallen into some sin which even the world finds distasteful, that is used as a reason why Christianity turns people off.

However, these are all excuses. They are not the real reason people are not interesting in being Christians. They real reason in Christ. They are offended by Christ, His Word, and what He has done.

Accusations can be made that a particular pastor was not winsome enough, friendly enough, or pleasant enough. He didn’t use the right words or say them in the right ways. That accusation cannot be made against Jesus, however. Yet, Jesus offended people. The people recognized His mighty works and His wisdom. They said, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?” They still took offense at Him because He just appeared as an ordinary man, and from their own hometown and even household. Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

Jesus is no god dreamed up by men. The gods dreamed up by men are superheroes with superpowers who cannot die. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades the ruler of the underworld, and Athena the goddess of wisdom and courage. Men dream up gods in their own image encumbered with their own desires. Indeed, one Greek philosopher wrote in the 6th century B.C. that such writers attributed to their gods “all that is shameful and disgraceful among men; they steal, commit adultery, and deceive one another.” (Xenophanes of Colophon)

The gods invented by men do not die. The true God, Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and did die.

There is no greater scandal to the world. First Corinthians calls Christ crucified a stumbling block and folly; it is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Cor. 1:18, 23). The world doesn’t want a God who suffers and dies, so they are scandalized by Jesus. The world wants a god who fosters and encourages them to follow and fulfil the shameful and disgraceful desires of their hearts, so they are scandalized by Jesus.

It’s not like churches haven’t tried to remove the reasons people give for being turned off Christianity. They’ve thrown away the ancient liturgy and hymns and moved to music that entertains. They’ve built multi-million-dollar buildings, attracted young people, hired charismatic pastors, and hidden their sinful scandals.

Do you know what they’ve thrown away in the process? The scandal of the cross. The scandal of Christ crucified. You could sit through their services and never hear of Christ crucified, which is the very centre of our faith. Nor will you hear the other Scriptural truths that accompany the message of Christ crucified. You won’t hear that Baptism saves – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ absolves sinners through Absolution spoken by pastors – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ gives forgiveness of sins with His true body and blood to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper – that too is a scandal to the world.

Christ’s message of truth will always be rejected by many. Jesus Himself taught in Nazareth and even performed miracles there, but they rejected Him, and Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

When Jesus sent out His ministers two by two to bring to other towns the same message He Himself was preaching, Jesus knew that not everyone would receive the message. Thus, Jesus told them, “if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Jesus prepared them to accept the fact that their preaching of repentance would be rejected; that their preaching of Christ would be rejected; that God’s Word would offend many.

Jesus doesn’t instruct His ministers to cater to what the people want to hear. He doesn’t tell them to be friendlier if their preaching is rejected. He doesn’t tell them to water down the preaching so that it will be palatable to the populace. He doesn’t tell them to be more exciting or entertaining if the people don’t hear. No, Jesus says that if they don’t listen, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. Matthew records that Jesus continues by saying, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (Matt. 10:15)

Watering down the message of the cross will not save anyone. Entertainment and catering to people’s desires will not save anyone. Preaching about Jesus as if He’s a god dreamed up by man will not save anyone. That is why Jesus sends His ministers with the task of preaching the cross.

Only the preaching of the cross of Christ saves. That God took on human flesh and became man is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true. That God the Son died on the cross for the sins of men whom He created is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true.

And yes, the forgiveness that was earned on the cross is given to us in the ordinary water used in Baptism, in the words of Absolution spoken by a sinful man, and in underwhelming bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

God intentionally chooses ways and means to save us that are scandalous to human reason so that we would realize that our salvation is a miracle. It is not something that we do, but something that God has done for us.

God has given us the gift of faith. We didn’t discover the faith by our own efforts or in-depth studies. All our efforts would only lead us to see the cross as a scandal. However, God has miraculously opened our eyes to the truth of the cross.

God initially gave us faith in Baptism. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God continues to strengthen and nourish our faith through Absolution and Holy Communion. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God became man and died for our sins. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us.

Christians don’t let the imperfections of their congregations keep them from hearing the Word of Christ. If there are imperfections with the music, the building, the people, or the pastor (which I assure you is always the case), Christians still come to hear the word of the cross. Foolishness to unbelievers, but for us who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God that saves us and brings us to life everlasting. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.