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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:To live forever, you must eat and drink Christ
Text:John 6:52-59 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 133

Psalm 25:3 (after the law)

Psalm 34:1-3

Hymn 79

Hymn 9

Scripture reading:  Leviticus 17:10-16

Text:  John 6:52-59

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The story took place in the early 1950s.  It’s described in Don Richardson’s book Peace Child.    Yae beached his canoe at the Sawi camp, along the shores of the Hanai River in Papua, Indonesia.  These Sawi were of the Kangae clan and Yae was from the Mauro.  The Kangae were angry at the Mauro for some reason that is no longer clear.  Yae had come to make things right.  As he got out of his canoe, he made it clear he’d come in peace.  He brought gifts for the Kangae and they were pleased.  They welcomed him as a friend and gave a feast for him.  It appeared they were on the way to being reconciled.  Over the next few months, Yae continued to visit the Kangae clan.  He wanted to keep things going in the right direction.  Each time he would return home, he would tell his fellow clansmen of the progress he was making.  One day, Yae came to the village just as he’d been doing for some time.  He was warmly welcomed and led into the man-house and a feast of toasted sago grubs was prepared.  As they talked about an upcoming feast, the Kangae men looked at one another and gave a non-verbal signal.  At just the right moment, they pounced on Yae with their spears and daggers.  As he ran bleeding out of the man-house, the village children shot their arrows at him and the women clubbed him.  Right before he died, Yae heard these words, “We have been fattening you with friendship for the slaughter!”  After he breathed his last, they chopped him up, roasted his body and ate him.    

When a human eats another human it’s called cannibalism.  Cannibalism is horrifying.  We hear about cannibalism in places like Papua in the 1950s and we cringe at how barbaric it is.  Sometimes you hear about criminals in western countries murdering people and then eating them too.  We all find it deeply troubling that a human would eat another human being no matter where it takes place.

So perhaps you can sympathize with the Jews in our text.  They’re in the synagogue in Capernaum and Jesus is there teaching.  He says some things that shock and confuse them.  He tells them he is the true bread come down from heaven.  If anyone eats this bread, eats his flesh, he will live forever.  Is he talking about cannibalism?  If not, what is he talking about?  If it’s cannibalism, the ancient Jews were like us.  They’d find that horrible.  They’d think that Jesus is too much.  So in verse 52 we find them wrangling among themselves.  They’re asking each other, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  First, that sounds like cannibalism and therefore unacceptable.  But then second, a man can’t give his flesh away as a meal for the crowds.  You’d be dead and if you’re dead, you can’t give your flesh for people to eat.  What Jesus says mystifies them.  They don’t understand.

So, in verses 53 to 58, Jesus explains further.  He’s not talking about cannibalism.  He’s not talking about literal, physical eating and drinking.  Rather, he’s teaching about how you need to have him as your Saviour.  I’ve summarized the message of God’s Word here in John 6 with this theme:  To live forever, you must eat and drink Christ.

We’ll see that Jesus teaches:

  1. Spiritual truth
  2. Universal truth
  3. Personal truth

Christ is fully aware his teaching has raised questions.  So he’s going to go further.  In verse 53, he starts by giving his solemn affirmation that he’s not messing with them.  Those two words in verse 53, “Truly, truly,” or “Amen, amen,” -- that’s telling them he’s not giving them funny riddles.  He’s deadly serious.  Then he puts it to them again, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” 

Notice a couple of things here:  now he actually says that they have to eat his flesh.  Before it was just a logical conclusion.  But now he says it straight up:  you have to eat his flesh. 

And it’s the flesh of the “Son of Man.”  It’s one of Jesus’ favourite ways of referring to himself.  You may remember that the expression refers back to the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.  Calling himself the “Son of Man” emphasizes his humanity, while at the same time pointing out that Jesus is one in whom God reveals himself.  Jesus is the Son of Man and that means he’s a real human being, but one in whom we uniquely learn about who God is.  In particular, we learn that God saves.

The last thing to notice here in verse 53 is that Jesus intensifies his teaching.  They drew the conclusion from what he said in verse 51 about eating his flesh.  He makes that part plain in verse 53, but then he adds something.  He says you also have to drink his blood.  Jesus had never mentioned anything about that before.  Now suddenly he introduces the drinking of blood – and this is even more horrifying to his Jewish listeners.  We read from Leviticus 17 and there it was clear that God’s people weren’t to eat or drink blood.  Blood was strictly off limits to the Jews.  In the pagan nations around them, people would drink the blood of animals to try and access the life and spiritual power of those animals.  So if you wanted the strength of a lion, you should drink the blood of a lion.  The lion’s strong spirit would come into you through the blood.  But God’s people were to have nothing to do with those pagan ideas.  So no drinking blood.  But now Jesus comes along and he’s saying you need to drink his blood and eat his flesh if you want to have life in you.  That’s shocking. 

Skipping ahead to verse 55, he insists that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink.  These are things that can really nourish you to life.  They’re good for you.  And in verse 56, he adds that feeding on his flesh and drinking his blood results in a person abiding in him, and vice-versa.  That’s also portrayed as a good and desirable outcome.  You see, eating his flesh and drinking his blood is good for eternity, for eternal life, but it’s also good for the here and now with you abiding in Christ and he abiding in you.  Eating his flesh and drinking his blood is also far better than what the ancestors of the Jews enjoyed in the wilderness.  During the Exodus, they had the manna.  But it had limited power.  It could only sustain their natural life on this earth, and then only for a while.  Everyone who ate the manna eventually died.  But everyone who eats Christ’s flesh and drinks his blood is going to experience life forever.  Not only will their souls go on living in God’s presence, but also their bodies will be raised by Christ at the last day to enjoy life in the new heavens and new earth.  Eating his flesh and drinking his blood results in glorious resurrection.      

So whatever it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood, it’s something good and to be desired.  What it means can be clearly seen if you put verse 54 next to verse 40.  These two verses are parallel.  One explains the other.  Both verses speak of a way to have eternal life and to be raised up at the last day.  In verse 54, that way is to feed on Christ’s flesh and drink his blood.  Verse 40 tells us what that means.  It means to “look on the Son and believe in him.”  Jesus is really speaking about faith.  He’s teaching us about the need to trust in him. 

So you see, eating his flesh and drinking his blood is a metaphor.  He’s using vivid symbolic language to teach us spiritual truths.  It’s all about the need for faith in Christ.  Eating and drinking Christ means believing in him as your Saviour.  If you’re going to live forever under God’s blessing, that’s what’s necessary.

But why does Jesus use this metaphor of eating flesh and drinking blood?  The image of flesh and blood points ahead to his sacrificial death on the cross.  In the Old Testament, the flesh of animals was offered as a sacrifice to atone for sin, pointing ahead to Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.  The blood of animals was sprinkled on the altar as part of all that as well.  Flesh and blood are all about death and sacrifice.  It’s about atonement.  It’s about having another die as a substitute for you, so you can be reconciled to God and live.  To eat that and drink that means it’s becoming part of who you are.  You’re taking in what Christ has done for you, absorbing it.  You’re appropriating it and making it your own.  That’s exactly what faith does. 

You may remember that true faith consists of three elements.  True faith includes knowledge.  You have to know the basics of biblical teaching.  You have to know the basics of the good news.  Knowledge is important for faith.  But true faith goes further because it also includes assent to biblical teaching – that means you not only know about it, you also acknowledge that it’s all true.  So true faith includes knowledge, assent, and then also personal confidence or appropriation.  True faith goes that last step too of acknowledging that it’s all true, not just for other people, but for you personally.  The image of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood ties into that last part.  True saving faith means taking in Christ, having him as your personal Saviour.

So Jesus is speaking here of spiritual truth.  He’s not saying that you literally, physically have to eat his human body and drink his human blood.  It’s symbolic and spiritual, similar to the way we eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper.  There may be an allusion to that here in our text.  Christ may well be here pointing ahead to the Lord’s Supper.  At the Lord’s Supper, we eat Christ’s body and drink his blood as well.  We partake in him.  We do that spiritually.  No, the bread doesn’t become his body and the wine doesn’t become his blood.  But they point to his body and blood.  And we truly eat and drink him through faith.  As we look to Christ in faith at the Lord’s Supper, we’re partaking in him, being nourished and strengthened by him. 

Jesus speaks here of spiritual truth.  And it’s also universal truth.  It’s something available to everyone.  It’s on offer to everyone who hears, including everyone here today. 

This is captured in our Bible translation with the repetition of a key word throughout our text.  It’s the word “whoever.”  Look and you’ll see it four times.  Verse 54, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood…”  Then in verse 56, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood…”  Then again in verse 57, “…so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”  Then finally one more in verse 58, “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  Four times.  You can’t miss it. 

Everyone is called to eat and drink Christ by trusting in him.  The gospel calls out to absolutely everyone.  Our Saviour spoke these words to the Jews in the synagogue, but it’s quite evident from Scripture that the call is also for non-Jews.  Christ later sends out his church to bring the gospel to all the nations.  Your ethnicity doesn’t factor in.  All that matters is that you have human DNA.  If you’ve got human DNA, you’re called to eat and drink Christ by trusting in him.  It’s a universal truth, a universal call.     

Furthermore, everyone needs to eat and drink Christ if they’re going to live forever.  There is spiritual life only in Christ.  He points that out in verse 57.  He says the living Father sent him, and he has life in him because of his relationship to the living Father.  Anyone can share in that spiritual life of God through feeding on Christ by faith.  Jesus is the only one sent by the Father for that very purpose.

Why does everyone need that life available in Christ?  Because apart from him there’s curse and death.  I wonder if we really understand what that means.  Let me try and get it across.  At the end of our morning worship we often hear the Aaronic benediction from Numbers 6:24-26:  “The LORD bless you and keep you...” and so on.  Perhaps we don’t think much about what we’re hearing or what’s happening.  But what if you were to hear it differently?  What if God said to you, “The LORD curse you and abandon you; the LORD turn his face away from you and give you what you deserve; the LORD lift up his wrath against you and give you condemnation.”  That’s what we have apart from Christ.  That’s it.  We have curse and death.  We face eternal punishment for our wicked rebellion against a holy God. 

Praise God that the gospel offers a way out.  Praise God that the gospel offers life in Christ to everyone.  Everyone is called to come eat and drink Christ and live forever – you too, no matter who you are.  We all need to find our life for now and forever in Jesus alone.

We also need to see from our text that Jesus is speaking of personal truth.  I don’t mean personal truth in the sense of you have your truth, I have mine.  But personal truth in the sense that every individual is called to do something with this.  It’s truth that applies to everyone, and to everyone as an individual.  In other words, no one can eat and drink Christ for you.  No one can believe for you.  It’s something you’re called to do, you personally as an individual. 

That can be seen throughout our passage.  Jesus uses the singular.  For example, in verse 54, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…”  That’s speaking in the singular, not the plural.  It’s the same with verse 56, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”  That’s all singular.  Jesus was telling people and he’s telling you too, that the call to faith in him is personal.  You need to eat and drink Christ for yourself.  You need to believe in Jesus Christ for yourself. 

So young brothers and sisters, children of the congregation, listen up.  Your parents believe in Jesus Christ.  You have to believe too.  You can’t tell yourself, “I don’t have to believe in Jesus, because my parents do it for me.”  No, even at your age, if you can listen to this sermon and hear what I’m saying, you need to believe that Jesus Christ is the one who saves you from your sins too. 

That goes for all of us gathered here.  For you.  No one can believe for you.  No one can offer up faith in your place.  The gospel calls everyone to believe for him- or herself.  The gospel calls everyone individually to a true and living faith. 

You know you have that true faith not only when you say Jesus is your Saviour, but also when it’s evident that your heart and life has been changed by him.  Jesus speaks in verse 56 about the one who believes.  He says that he will abide or remain with the believer, and vice-versa.  That’s about union with Christ.  If you’re united to Christ, he abides with you – his life is in you, you have taken in his life by faith and through the Holy Spirit.  If you’re united to Christ, you abide in him – your life begins to reflect his.  Jesus is holy, set apart from sin, and you start to appear holy too.  This abiding that he’s talking about here has practical implications for how you live. 

You can see this from a closely related passage in 1 John 3.  In 1 John 3:24, the Holy Spirit says, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.  And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”  The abiding of God in the believer through Christ and the Spirit is evident through obedience.  True, personal faith makes its presence known through a changed life, a life where the believer is seeking to walk in God’s ways.

Christ put it even more bluntly in Matthew 7:21-23 [read].  Just saying you’re a Christian isn’t enough.  There are plenty of fakers.  There are hypocrites.  Even in the church, there are those just along for the ride.  There’s no real commitment to Christ.  There’s no real evidence that they’ve eaten and drunk Christ by believing in him.  There’s no real evidence, because there’s no willingness to live like a Christian. 

But what about you?  Have you taken the truth of our text to heart for yourself personally?  Have you personally eaten the flesh of Christ?  Have you drunk his blood?  Have you really believed in the only Saviour so you can live forever?  I can’t answer that question for you.  It’s a question you need to answer for yourself.  It’s the most important question you’ll ever be faced with.  If you have appropriated Christ for yourself, I can tell you what he promises you.  Verse 53, he says you have life in you.  Verse 54, you have eternal life and he will raise you up at the last day.  Verse 57, you will live because of Christ.  Verse 58, you will live forever.  Eating and drinking Christ gives us the comfort of all that the gospel promises. 

In this passage we hear Jesus teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum (as verse 59 reminds us).  In the words of Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism, he was acting here as our chief Prophet and Teacher.  He was fully revealing to us “the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption.”  He laid it out for us so we might hear and believe.  Loved ones, let’s continue to listen to our chief Prophet and Teacher, learn from him, and above all place our trust in him for eternal life.  AMEN. 


Merciful God in heaven,

We thank you that you sent your Son so that whoever feeds on him in faith might live forever.  When we were under your curse, you provided a way of rescue and for that we praise you.  Thank you that there is salvation in the flesh and blood of Christ.  Thank you that we have rescue in Jesus, who hung on the cross in our place.  Thank you that he bore our curse and took our death.  Thank you that this salvation is available to us.  We pray that you would help us all with your Holy Spirit so that we eat and drink Christ in faith.  Please help those who don’t yet believe to do so.  Work in them with your Holy Spirit.  Please help those who do believe to keep believing and to grow in faith.  We pray for your ongoing work of salvation in our midst, for our good and for your glory.             


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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