Jesus spoke words that are still spirit and life today, but they also offend people now as they did then.
How can mere words be spirit and life? What does that mean?
We will discuss why Jesus’ words which are spirit and life also cause offense using John 6:56-69.1
John 6:56 Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” 61 Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? 63 The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) 65 Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” 66 At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”
Background Scriptures on Offense
We offend God (Leviticus 5:19). He forgives (Isaiah 44:22). Love God’s instructions; don’t be easily offended (Psalm 119:165). God hates discord (Proverbs 6:16-19) and revenge (Leviticus 19:18). Haters quarrel. Lovers pardon (Proverbs 10:12; 18:19). Offended friends are hard to regain (Proverbs 18:19). Friendly wounds are better than backbiters kisses (Proverbs 27:5-6). Do not judge a speck in someone’s eye with a log in your own (Matthew 7:1-5). Discuss offenses privately then with witnesses, before involving the church (Matthew 18:15-17). Rebuke and forgive (Luke 17:3-4). Preaching Christ offends and is ridiculed (1 Corinthians 1:23). If I quit preaching, nobody would be offended (Galatians 5:11). Tolerate faults. Be united in peace. God forgives, so forgive (Ephesians 4:2-3; Colossians 3:13). Be slow to anger (James 1:19).
Remain in Jesus
In John 6:56-57 the word for eating Jesus can also be translated as munching, crunching or gnawing on Jesus. Perhaps now we understand why it was so offensive to many of the early disciples and they left. Yet Jesus said that those who do gnaw on him remain in him, and twelve disciples did. Do we stubbornly cling to the ideas of people and when they prove wrong we lose faith? A local church building is not the church. It will someday die or be sold. Would our faithfulness to God die too? Do we remain stuck in a particular style of church liturgy and if it changes then we decide to quit the church? Theories, camaraderie and music are not the whole meal. They taste good for a while, but the real food is in munching on Jesus.
Murmuring and grumbling are common to our human experience. We have all done it and are all just as guilty as the disciples who left Jesus in John 6:61. We murmur about positions in the church, the kitchen, the music, the preacher, the upkeep, local organization, the conference and the bishop. Yet, despite our continual complaining, some few are remarkably silent. Could it be that they have a secret? What could be the secret to not grumbling? How can we be a part of those who do not murmur and seem to be absent when gossip is on the menu? Perhaps these verses give a clue. Perhaps we should learn the lesson my grandmother and mother taught me, we can’t talk with our mouths full. Perhaps those who continually feast on Jesus are satisfied and have no desire to complain.
What does it mean words that are spirit?
In John 6:63 Jesus said, “the words that I speak to you, they are spirit”. What does it mean that words are spirit? It means that his words were spiritual. His words were not just to be received in heavenly terms, as opposed to worldly, but they were spirit. The natural mind cannot understand the things of God, so words that are spirit can only be received in spirit. We who did not live at that time and never met him in the flesh can nevertheless receive his words today, because they are still spirit and therefore not limited to time and place. Without the words of Jesus, baptism, communion, Bible study and prayer become empty rituals. It is not the physical trappings of our tradition that bless us today, but the words of Jesus Christ which are spirit.
Will You Desert?
Does Jesus offend us? The same words that are spirit and are life (John 6:66) offended many of his own disciples 2,000 years ago. Do they offend us today? Those followers of Jesus were offended because he downplayed their own religious traditions regarding manna. What offense would cause us to leave the church? When people leave they often point a finger at other people, but that also points at Jesus. We are really saying, “How could Jesus show grace to those people in that church?” Jesus’ mercy offends us because he allows fools to preach and sinners to lead. Church life is a constant winnowing process. The chaff is driven away and the wheat stays. What about us? Will we leave because the words of life offend, which demand grace and mercy towards others, or will we stay?
To Whom Would We Go?
In John 6:68 when Jesus asked the disciples if they would leave him, they replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Yet, so often we want people to come to our church, rather than Jesus Christ. I believe with all my heart that the more we promote ourselves, our denominational "distinctives" and our man-made system, the less blessed we will become. The more we promote Jesus Christ as the answer, the more he will bless us and our denomination. Did not Jesus say, "I will build my church"? Why do we try everything but Jesus? I would love to be able to say that our denominational distinctive is that we promote Jesus Christ more than anyone else does. Then, I believe that the blessings from heaven would be poured out in abundance.
What does it mean words that Give Eternal Life?
In John 6:68 Jesus’ disciples said, “You have the words that give eternal life.” How can words be life? We may remember a childhood myth: sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me. The truth is that words can hurt or heal. Words can kill or give life. Words are powerful. The words that Jesus spoke to his disciples then, he speaks to us today. If we listen to the words of Jesus, they give us life eternal. The words of the Old Testament are profitable, but that was a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3:6-8), preparing for the ministry of the spirit. The spirit gives life. A preacher’s words do not give life either, unless they incorporate the words that do give life, the words of Jesus.
Words of eternal life
What is a real good reason to keep attending church? Do we find there the words of eternal life (John 6:68)? It doesn’t matter what denomination we attend, if we see past all the customs, failures and other human activities, many churches have preachers who teach the words of Jesus, the words of eternal life. Are we proud to be the stewards of the words of life? The word pride in today’s English can be either the good trait of pleasure and joy, such as a parent who is proud of a child. It can also be the wrong kind of pride, arrogance and vainglory. Denominational pride can be good or evil too. The most important thing that we possess, of which we can be rightly proud, is that in Jesus Christ we have the words of eternal life.
Jesus’ words are the lifeblood of Christianity. They still offend some people and others still call them nonsense, but the words of Jesus are also spirit and life.
1 Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.