This Is a Hard Saying

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When many of His disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” But Jesus knowing in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” (John 6:60-62).

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

The Bible has two basic, primary doctrines—the teaching of the Law and the teaching of the Gospel. The Law is Lord God Almighty’s holy will. The Law demands what we do and not do, what we say and not say, and what we think and not think. The Law is directed to the activities of man. The Law always accuses our old sinful self. Even one violation of one commandment condemns to everlasting separation from God and Paradise, “for whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Each of us has broken God’s Law. You know it. I know it. You and I deserve nothing less than God’s punishment and banishment, both now in time and also later in eternity.

The other doctrine of the Holy Scriptures is the Gospel. This is the Good News of God in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of all sins. This is God’s gracious gift of salvation because of what Jesus did when He suffered and died for the sins of the whole world and when He rose again from the dead. The Gospel makes no threats, issues no demands, and forces no obedience. It is God’s sweet, comforting, soothing message of complete pardon, full forgiveness of sin, giving of eternal life and bestowing of salvation by and through His Word. Given through Baptism, the forgiving Word, and the Lord’s Supper it bestows grace, mercy, peace, and life.

Our Gospel Reading begins just after Jesus finished teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. His teachings were about those two eternal truths—the Law and the Gospel—the consequences of sin and about salvation and the way to be with God in heaven. These doctrines, though simple to know in terms of what He said, were not at all easy to understand and accept. Many were offended by what Jesus said about Himself and why He had come into this world.

So what causes people to be offended at Jesus? What is the scandal of Christianity—the Law or the Gospel?

The offense is not the Law for we find forms of Law outside of Christianity. Human nature, as it relates to God, seeks to earn God’s favor by doing something and by being “good.” Cain sought God’s favor by making an offering. It didn’t get the job done and he utterly failed. Judas sought to undo his sin by an offering in the Temple. It seemed like the right thing to do but the faithless act only condemned him further and led the betrayer to die in sin and suffer eternal death.

Even for those within Christendom it is the natural inclination to try to earn one’s salvation, to merit heaven. Entire religious systems are built around a form of the Law… of manageable law. Many demand that a God-pleasing decision be made. There are those who connect and condition one’s faith to a faith-offering. Adherents of one religious group are obligated to do penance in life in order to earn absolution and to suffer after death in order to earn paradise. Others must conform their wills, words, and actions to the merciful one’s unmerciful justice. Still others slave under the ladder-climbing litany of reincarnations and progressions. In the midst of all this, the individual soul—people just like you—one whose days of this life are ticking off, ponders what eternal place will be your abode when the last day is at hand and checked off.

The natural questions surface: How much does God’s gift “cost me?” What must “I do to earn” God’s grace? In other words, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Just tell me what I must do to be right with God. What are the hoops I must jump through? You see, people are not offended by a system of laws. We’re used to laws. What astonishes them is that they can’t do it… can’t earn it… can’t get the job done. Why? Because if eternal life and salvation are to be earned then God demands perfection from day one to the last breath in this world. Man’s reply is swift, “No one is perfect.” Scripture replies: “If a Law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the Law” (Galatians 3:21), but “by works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

No, friends, the scandal of Christianity is not the Law, it is the Gospel. In our text for today, this truth is demonstrated. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and hearing it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Consider what had scandalized these people who had followed Jesus.

First is the scandal of who Jesus is. This is the offense of the Incarnation of the Son of God; namely, that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus said that He is the Bread of Life who is come down from heaven (John 6:38). Jesus declares the Good News that He is the Messiah… the eternal Son of God “incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” (Apostles’ Creed). Jesus the Christ is the Savior, “God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father… Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven” (Nicene Creed). This is the Gospel, and it is offensive to many in this fallen world. “When many of [Jesus’] disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”

Second is the scandal of the work of Jesus. This is the offense of what Jesus has come into this world to do. Many want Jesus to be a new Moses handing out more commandments and showing us how to accomplish our own salvation. But that is not what the Messiah was born to do. The Son of God came, not to be a Law-Giver, but to be the Sin-Bearer. The Good News is that Jesus kept His own Law perfectly, never once sinning… always doing, saying, and thinking what was, is, and will be absolutely perfect. In other words, Jesus kept the Law perfectly, and He did this in your place, crediting His righteousness to you.

In addition, Jesus paid the eternal price under the wrath of God for every sin and therefore, for all your sins. He shed His blood for all and therefore, for you. On the altar of the cross, God gave His body for you in order that you might believe in and be fed on Him who is the Bread of Life. Jesus gave His Spirit for you in order that you might be refreshed and not thirst in your soul. The Son of God suffered hell that you might not spend one second in that God-forsaken place. This is the Gospel, and it is offensive to many in this fallen world. When many of His disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Third is the scandal of the resurrection. This is the offense that many take at Jesus being raised from the dead. Jesus experienced death at the separation of His Body and Soul—when His Spirit was received by the Father and His lifeless Body was suspended from the cross. His Body was placed in a tomb but three days later, Jesus physically rose from the dead and He told those who heard Him that on the last day He would raise up the dead. This is the Gospel, and it is offensive to many. While the crucifixion and the resurrection were still ahead of Him on the day Jesus spoke these words, He did speak of giving His Flesh and Blood for the world and of His return to heaven, for “Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?’”

Fourth is the scandal of the Word of God. This is the offense that God works through His Word to bestow faith and grant His blessings of forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, and salvation. He does this by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. Jesus said it this way, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

The Gospel—the Good News—is that salvation is not by or because of our works, but only by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone—in His Person, in His Work—given to us and coming to us by means of His Word that the Holy Spirit uses to give life.

There is the Word of Christ in the water that is a Christian Baptism, for “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4–7).

There is the Word of Christ in the announcement of forgiveness, whether of one Christian forgiving another… or of the pastor announcing forgiveness during private confession… or of the called servant of the Word publicly standing in the stead and speaking the words of Jesus to His congregation by absolving the penitent in the Name of the Triune God.

There is the Word of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. For, on the night when Jesus was betrayed by the one whom He knew would betray Him, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26–28).

This is the Gospel and it offensive to many in this fallen world, and sadly, this occurs within the congregation of those who are called disciples. How they leave the Lord when they depart from Baptism by changing it from a Gospel gift given from God above to a Law fulfillment by man below! How they howl at the forgiveness of sins announced and utter the words of the unbelieving scribes who asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7)! How they neglect the true, clear Word of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, departing from the Presence of the Lord and denying Christ’s Body and Blood that grants forgiveness, bestows salvation, and gives eternal life, hope, peace, and joy!

This is really no different with many today as it was when Jesus said that His words are Spirit and life, as well as when He told them the truth that “no one can come to [Christ] unless it is granted him by the Father.” We behold the reality today of what the Bible states, namely, that “after this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” Look at the Church today and you see the reality of this taking place because people are scandalized by the Gospel. Lonely pews bear witness to many who have gone away.

And what of those who have not left but still believe in the Lord Jesus and follow Him? What of you? Listen, for Jesus is speaking. He asks a question to be asked even of the faithful as they behold so many others leaving the Presence of the Lord and abandoning the Body of Christ. It’s a question for you, dear faithful, for “Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’”

Are you going to be offended by the Gospel and go away? Are you going to be scandalized because Christ’s Word is proclaimed to you that you are baptized in and you are forgiven of all your sins in Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? Do you desire to depart because of the hard saying, “This is My Body; this is My Blood”?

Listen, for Simon Peter is answering. He speaks the confession of the faithful in response to the hearing of the words of Jesus that are Spirit and Life. “Lord, to whom shall we go; You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.’” Amen

 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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