Listen to it:
“The Flesh and Blood of Christ”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Wherever the message is proclaimed that Christ gave His body into death and shed His blood for our sins, and wherever this is taken to heart, believed, and retained, there Christ’s body is eaten, and His blood is drunk” (LW 23:135). If that message is proclaimed here, you and I should rather die than give it up or let it go. May God grant it that my preaching and teaching always be as St. Paul’s: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2, ESV). Likewise, as with the Christians at Corinth, the purpose of the word of the cross is “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (2:5, ESV). To eat the flesh of Jesus and to drink His blood is to believe, first of all, the Gospel of life, of which Paul and we are not ashamed, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV). Beloved, it can never be said too often: Christ gave His body into death and shed His blood for your sins. As often as you hear those words and believe that they apply to you and to your sin, you eat that same flesh that died on the cross; you drink that same blood that was poured out from holes made by nails and thorns and spear. In fact, unless someone believes that, unless someone holds to those words and clings to the flesh and blood of the Son of God, he cannot be saved. “Unless you are eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking His blood, you do not have life in yourself” (John 6:53). There is no salvation—no life—outside of the God who took flesh and blood in the womb of a Virgin. If anyone claims otherwise, he contradicts Christ Himself. We cannot even know who God is except through Him who was crucified and rose and now lives in His glorified flesh and blood, uniting heaven and earth.
Our flesh and blood cannot understand or believe this. That’s why Jesus says, “The Spirit makes alive, the flesh has no value” (John 6:63). Only the Holy Spirit grants us the true faith that eats and drinks Christ’s flesh and blood, and we become one spirit with the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17). The Spirit does this only through the Word of Christ: “The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (ibid.). If anyone claims that some teaching or action or decision is of the Spirit, it must be compared to the Word of God. As Luther writes, “[Christ] binds us solely to His Word. He does not want to see the Holy Spirit divorced from His Word. Whenever you hear anyone boast that he has something by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and it has no basis in God’s Word, no matter what it may be, tell him that this is the work of the devil. Christ does not bind you to anything but His mouth and His Word” (LW 23:173). Even if Churchwide Assemblies or Synodical Conventions should declare some thing to be the movement of the Holy Spirit, if it has no basis in or contradicts the Word of God, it is of the devil. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is always working where the Word of God in Jesus is proclaimed. That is the promise Jesus Himself gives us: “The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” When Christ speaks His life-giving, Spirit-giving Word, faith is created. That faith feeds on Christ’s body, which alone gives real life. That faith drinks the blood of Christ, which pours His own life into us. There is no other way: apart from the faith created by the Spirit through the Word, the crucified flesh and blood of Christ stand against us as witness to our sin. The Word of Jesus gives life insofar as faith is living and real; the Word of Jesus judges and condemns insofar as faith is absent or dead. Because Jesus cannot be separated from His Word. He is what He says and He says what He is. To reject any of His Words is to reject Him. And to reject Jesus is to reject His flesh and His blood, which alone give life to the world.
Who rejects Jesus and His Word? The one who makes faith a work, rather than a gift. The one who says, “Jesus has done everything for you. All you have to do is accept Him.” That makes faith merely an intellectual assent to the facts of our redemption. But we are not able to accept Jesus simply because we are presented with historical facts. Jesus says, “I said to you that no one is able to come to Me except as it has been given to him from the Father” (John 6:65). “No one is able to come to Me except as the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). The Father draws otherwise unwilling men and women to the Son, who feeds them the bread of life in His Word. To say otherwise is to reject Jesus and His Word. Who rejects Jesus and His Word? The one who attaches himself to Jesus only superficially. Notice what happens to those disciples—not the Twelve, but others who followed and listened to Jesus—notice what happens when Jesus says something they cannot handle: “Many of the disciples, when they heard [this], said, ‘This is a harsh teaching. Who is able to hear it?’” (John 6:60). They could go with Jesus until He said something that did not fit how they understood God. Eat His flesh and drink His blood? I have to continue to feed on Jesus or I have no life in me? Following Jesus means submitting to everything He says? “Because of this many of the disciples went away from Him afterward and no longer traveled with Him” (John 6:66). But true disciples know that, no matter what, there simply is nowhere else to go. “Lord, to whom will we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:69). Whoever hears Jesus when it is convenient or when it fits nicely with what we already think rejects Him. Who rejects Jesus and His Word? Finally, it is the one who continues to hear Him without faith. Whoever eats His Body and Blood in the Word without believing, whoever eats His Body and Blood in the Supper without believing, rejects Jesus; “for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe” (Small Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar V).
“Wherever the message is proclaimed that Christ gave His body into death and shed His blood for our sins, and wherever this is taken to heart, believed, and retained, there Christ’s body is eaten, and His blood is drunk.” Whenever we believe and meditate on the Word from that lectern and this pulpit, we truly eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood. Whenever we eat His body and blood in the Supper, trusting that He gives them for the forgiveness of all sins and a new life, we truly eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood. “For My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). But whether or not we have faith, the Word and the Body and Blood are here. Whether or not we cherish and treasure the gifts of God in Jesus, they are here and they are real. Whether or not we are changed when we come here; whether or not we feel the hunger and thirst for Jesus which are satisfied only in His Word and Supper; even if we hate and reject Jesus by our words or actions, He is still here and He wants to feed you with Himself so that He might raise you up on the last day. Here is the Word, here is Christ, and here is the Spirit; beloved, this Word, this Christ, this Spirit are all given to you, so that you might confess with St. Peter, chosen by Christ Himself: “Lord, to whom will we go? You have words of eternal life; we have believed and we believe now; we have known and we know now, that you are the Holy One of God.” You gave Your body into death for us; You shed Your blood for our sins. You give us that same Body and Blood to be eaten in the Word and in the Supper, and they give us life because You are alive. We will hear You and worship You in Your flesh and blood, until You raise us up with all Your saints on the last day.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/11/09