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I’m offended! That’s a cry that we hear all too often in our world today. Some claim to be offended over a word that is used to describe someone, for example if you use Indian instead of Native American, or white instead of Caucasian, or negro instead of African American, or pregnant woman instead of birthing person. In recent days some people claim to be offended if you do wear a mask, while others claim to be offended if you don’t wear a mask. It’s tempting to think that maybe you should just keep to yourself and not even talk to anyone so that you don’t offend anyone, but then someone might be offended because they think that you are ignoring them.
Did you ever notice that Jesus said a lot of things that offended people? The things Jesus said were not offensive in the sense that he intended to hurt people’s feelings. The things that Jesus said that were offensive were things that made people scratch their heads. They were hard teachings. They were things that made people ask, “how can this be?” They were things that confronted people with a truth that they either had to receive through faith, or that caused them to stumble, to say “that’s it, I can’t believe that. I’m done with the Jesus guy.”
One example that comes to mind is Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give to the poor and then come and follow him. We are told that he went away sorrowful. He was offended. He stumbled in his faith and didn’t follow Jesus.
Another time Jesus told the people that they had to hate their father, mother, wife, children, siblings, and even their own lives if they wanted to be his disciple. He told them that they had to take up their cross and follow him. Some were offended and stopped following him.
One that is really hard for some people today, especially those who want to see Jesus as just another prophet and a great example to follow is his claim that he did not come to bring peace but a sword. That offends people, causes them to stumble in their faith and stop following Jesus.
In addition to these hard sayings of Jesus, the Bible has many other teachings that are hard, that make us ask, “how can this be?” At the top of the list might be the doctrine of the Trinity. The fact that God reveals himself to us as one divine being, yet three distinct persons so that the father can say of Jesus coming out of the Jordan river, this is my son whom I love, with whom I am well pleased, and the Holy Spirit can descend in the form of a dove. Three distinct persons and yet there are not three gods, just one divine being. This is a truth of Scripture that offends many and causes them to stumble in their faith and give up on biblical Christianity.
As Jesus taught that he was the Bread of Life, the true bread that came down from heaven, people began to murmur. They weren’t offended yet, but it was heading that way. So, what did Jesus do? Did he begin to apologize? Did he change the subject? No. He doubled down. They were arguing among themselves, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them “Amen, Amen I tell you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.
That was a hard teaching. It still is today. Certainly, Jesus can’t mean we should become cannibals. But what does he mean? Like those people, our sinful nature says, “forget this. It’s too hard. It’s too deep. I don’t want to have to think about it. I just want something easy, some fluff, some milk-toast teaching, not meaty teachings I have to chew on.”
But isn’t that the purpose of the hard teachings of Jesus? Isn’t he challenging us to think, to ask “what does this mean”, to realize what it means to be his disciple and follow him, to count the cost?
Everyone knew then and knows now that Jesus wasn’t saying that in order to be saved we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. If that were the case, how many people could be saved. His flesh and blood would have run out a long time ago.
He had already explained the connection between the bread they were to eat and his flesh. He said that the bread he would give for the life of the world was his flesh. He was talking about his suffering and death on the cross. He was telling them that very soon they would see his flesh nailed to the cross. They would see his blood flowing from the wounds the whip had made on his back, from the nails in his hands and his feet, and finally from the spear the soldier plunged in his side. When they did, would they be offended? Would they stumble in their faith? Would they ask, “how can this crucified man possibly be the Messiah, our savior?”
They needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they needed to believe him, to be one with him, to trust him so completely that when they saw these things they would not be offended, they would not stumble, but continue to believe.
Jesus says, the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
As Jesus spoke to his disciples about his death and resurrection he said, On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. The Apostle Paul picks up on this hard teaching when he says, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Paul prays that we may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Through our baptism we are untied with Christ in his death and resurrection. We can say with Paul, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
Sometimes Jesus gives us easy teachings, like milk for babies. He tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. But in the next breath he may give us a hard teaching, like you must be born again, so that Nicodemus had to ask, “how is that possible, what are you talking about?” Or unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves.
As the writer to the Hebrews points out, when we are infants we need milk, easy teachings, but as we grow, we need solid food, some meaty teachings to chew on. Jesus provides us with solid food, hard teachings, not so that we will be offended and stumble in our faith and leave him, but so that we will realize that being his disciple is not easy. Not only will following him often bring us physical trouble and persecution in this world that hates Jesus and his followers but following him will also bring us spiritual struggles. Our sinful nature constantly rebels against hard teachings like eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, or the Trinity, or the fact that it took the bloody death of Jesus to pay for our sins, or the existence of Hell. Those hard teachings challenge us to take all our thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. They remind us that we need to take him and his teachings in so completely that it’s like eating them and digesting them. They remind us that when we feel like being offended by one of the teachings of Jesus, instead of giving up and leaving him, we need to stick with him and ask him to explain those teachings to us. We say, as one man said, Lord, I believe. Help me overcome by unbelief.
One of the more offensive teachings of the Bible and our church is the truth of Scripture that the Lord’s Supper is intended only for believers in Jesus who understand what Jesus gives us in his Supper and are in full agreement with each other. As we read John 6 and hear Jesus talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, we are tempted to think that he is talking about the Lord’s Supper because he tells us that the bread in the Supper is his body and the blood in his Supper is his blood. But there are a lot of problems with thinking that Jesus is talking about the Lord’s Supper in John 6. One of the biggest problems is that Jesus says that unless you eat the flesh (not body) of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. But Jesus does not teach that unless you eat the Lord’s Supper you do not have life in yourselves. If you equate the two you would seem to be excluding children and anyone who has never taken the Lord’s Supper.
Although we who live after Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper can’t help thinking about the Lord’s supper when we hear the words of John 6, Jesus was not talking about the Lord’s Supper. He was talking about faith, about trusting him completely, about not letting anything he says cause us to stumble in our faith but to bring all our thoughts into subjection to him.
Does this offend you? There are a lot of things Jesus says and the Bible teaches that are offensive to our sinful nature. We are offended when God tells us that we are sinners who deserve his wrath and punishment. But if we let that chase us away, we will never hear the rest of what God says, that he sent Jesus to save us. Because Jesus gave his flesh for the life of the world, we don’t get the wrath and punishment we deserve.
Jesus gives us hard teachings, not to offend us, not to scare us away. He gives us hard teachings so that we have something meaty to chew on, to challenge us to grow in faith, and so that we are reminded to submit all our thoughts to him because only he has the words of eternal life.