Jason Free

Words Matter

by Jason Free on April 28th, 2024
John 6:60-69

It’s funny. I don’t believe we often think about it too much until it becomes a problem, but do you ever think about how we communicate, how you communicate? There are a lot of ways you can communicate with someone. For instance, if you want something how might you make that known? You could point. You could point and do what my kids often do: grunt or whine. If you really want something, you could do a lot of pointing and grunting. I suppose you could do that. In general, though, how do we communicate? We use words. We use language. 

God gave us words to communicate what’s in our brains to the outside world. And with the words we use we can do all sorts of things: build people up, cut people down, get things done – there is a lot you can do just with your words. What is perhaps most interesting about words, though, is the fact that you, the receiver, the hearer of those words, have the power to accept or reject the words you hear. That is completely on you. I might be the most trustworthy honest person you know, but you might not like what I have to say, so you reject my words! Someone else might be a real scoundrel and a liar, but you like their words, so you believe that person to your detriment. Either way, in the end, words matter. They mean something. Often a person’s words stay with us far longer than anything else. 

And I’m sure someone has spoken words to you that you’ve never forgotten. Maybe it was the first “I love you” or perhaps it was the last. Maybe it was a few words about your gifts that spurred you on to bigger and better things, maybe it was words that stopped you and made you rethink your choices in life. Words can do so much, and we see that here today in John.

If you had a Bible open in front of you, and you were looking at John chapter 6, just scanning through the verses, you’d find this chapter to be just bursting with miracles and masses of people following and surrounding Jesus. Jesus was popular. Jesus was powerful. Jesus was the person that people wanted to see. But then he started talking, he started teaching, and the people before him had to decide what to do with his words, and it didn’t take long for them to come to a not-so-great conclusion – look at verse 66 with me. “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” 

Jesus did miracles. He fed over five thousand. He walked on water – and people loved it! – but then he spoke…and people began to walk away. Which begs the question, what happened? What did Jesus say? It must have been something pretty scandalous, pretty offensive. So, what did he say? He spoke about himself, about who he really was, the Savior – their Savior! Jesus told them the truth, that the way to heaven was to believe in him. And, if any words matter, these are the ones! Yet, many walked away. “This is a hard teaching,” they said, “who can accept it?

That’s a good question. Who can accept this message. And Jesus had a fascinating answer to that question. Here is what he said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” Who can accept the teaching – the words! – of Jesus? “Not you.” That was Jesus’ answer. “On your own, without the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – you can’t.” This was the hard teaching. It was the teaching of faith alone. 

How do any of us come to know and believe in Jesus? By faith! And where does that faith come from? Through our preparation and sacrifice? Through our merits and success? Do we need to say the right words, confess the right creeds, have the right mindset or emotional state? Do you need to feel the Spirit, hear the Spirit? Is that how it works? No. You count for nothing. I count for nothing.  Let that sink in, and maybe think of it this way.

Say you’re at the hospital and one of your loved ones is in a life-threatening situation and their being prepped for surgery, and you go into that operation room, and you ask the doctor this question, “Is there anything I can do?” (Now, maybe some of you have medical qualifications, but say you don’t). What’s that doctor going to say to you. “No, you can’t do anything, just go sit outside. I need to do this.” It’s in this moment when the life of someone you love is in the balance that you realize just how helpless at times we must be in this life. You realize how much we must rely on others to do what we cannot. And, here is where this gets really hard, you have to accept that. 

Look, you might find success in this life. You might find joy and happiness and meaning here in the things of this world, and you can accomplish and achieve all those things – you have that ability! But when it comes to your eternity, that is God’s arena. We can’t grasp eternal joy and happiness with God. You can’t do that! It is “the Spirit who gives this life.” And he gives this life through the means of grace, the gospel in Word and Sacrament, through the word made flesh – through Jesus! Now, does that offend you? Is this hard for you? I’m guessing many here would say, “No. Believing in Jesus? That’s easy.” Except what kind of Jesus do you believe in? Often, we want any Jesus but the true One. 

We like the motherly Jesus, who loves us just the way we are and gives us a big spiritual hug when we are feeling down. We like the buddy Jesus who’s just that cool sidekick that laughs and is okay with our foibles. We want the Jesus who winks and nods, high fives, and never questions. The Jesus who speaks easy answers to doubt and not hard answers to faith. More than anything we want Jesus to fit our narrative, and we don’t like when he goes off script, even when it is for our good. We want to write the story of our lives, and we’re not overly interested in God’s suggestions for improvement. 

So, when Jesus stands there and says, “That’s now how any of this works. You need my Spirit, and you need me, difficult teachings – hard law and amazing gospel” – that’s hard…that’s hard to hear. I can’t save myself. I can’t convince God that I’m worthy. I can’t play the victim or accuse him of being unjust. I live in a world of sin and I myself sin. And where then does that leave you? Completely at his mercy. And that is hard to hear. That’s why so many in our lesson walked away from Jesus. And it’s hard to imagine that scene in my mind…all those people – I often wonder what was going through Jesus’ mind. And while we might expect Jesus to chase after those people, we don’t see that. He let them go. Now, I find it hard to believe that Jesus was just okay with that, all these people leaving him…in fact I know he wasn’t. You know why? Because after those crowds left, after they walked away, Jesus eventually turned and walked to the cross. 

You see words matter, and Jesus gave his Word that he would die. That he would be a Savior, not just for a few people but for all people, even those who, on that day, walked away from him. Don’t miss the power of this moment! The followers of Jesus doubting him, questioning his Word, walking away, and then Jesus, not backing down, not changing his mission, but remaining true to his Word. He would be their Savior, but not just theirs, also ours. And, I hope you see this, that’s the Word that matters here today. Jesus is your Savior and that means Jesus is saying you need him; you need to be saved. Build on this even more, that means we are sinners, who can’t save ourselves, who play no role in our own salvation. And that brings us to this very important question: Does this offend you? Have you ever felt like walking away? 

In our lesson, Jesus asked the twelve this very question, Listen to their answer, Peter spoke on their behalf,  “Lord, to whom shall we go? Jesus, you have the words of eternal life.” Where would you go without Jesus? What would you turn to? Power? Success? Money? Yourself? You do see what each of those thing’s lacks, don’t you? Eternal life. Only the words of Jesus can offer that. It’s the Holy Spirit that speaks life and salvation by the Word of Christ. Which means this: We don’t hunt for the Spirit so we can somehow make him fill us; rather, we are the ones relentlessly pursued by the Word of Christ. And in that Word, you discover that the Father has already chosen you, the Son has accomplished life eternal for you, and the Spirit continues to enlighten you through the word of Christ that surrounds you. So, the question again, “Does that word offend you? Do you want to leave?” 

What’s your answer?  And really give it some thought. Look at the world around you as it wanders away from Jesus. Feel your sinful flesh as it questions and disagrees with some of Jesus’ teachings. Consider the costs of following him. Do you want to go? Sometimes we do. It’s in our nature. We walk away. We sin and we enjoy it and God is far far away. Remember it was Peter who said those wonderful words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But it was also Peter who later said, “I don’t know the man.” He denied his Lord. 

But Jesus kept his Word. He didn’t deny Peter, but he died for him. He washed his sins. He saved him and did the same for you. He said he would. His words matter. And in moments of doubt or offense, when you want to walk away remember that Savior who kept his word in the most unthinkable ways: when he turned his face to that criminal on the cross and said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” When he, while dying, looked at those crucifying him and said, “Father, forgive them.” When he breathed his last, bowed his head, and said “It’s finished.” When he rose and showed himself to his disciples saying to them “Peace be with you!” Those are the true words of Jesus, and they matter more than any other words that will ever be spoken to you because they are the words of a God whose only desire is to have you with him forever in glory.

 Hear then these words of your Savior hardened in love and obstinate in grace. Treasure them, even when they seem perplexing. Rest in them, even when his answer to your prayers is hard, or slow in coming. Confess and believe with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life. We believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.” By the Spirit dwelling in you, you can say that, these words that matter, and by God’s grace you always will. Amen.

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