Travel food shows are popular. In these shows a celebrity chef travels the USA and all over the world. Sometimes the chefs go to strange places and eat unusual food. The king of strange food is Andrew Zimmern. He hosts a show called, “Bizarre Food.” That’s an appropriate title. For example, he has traveled to Iceland. There he ate hákarl. Hákarl is fermented shark meat, cured for five months, and smells like ammonia. In Peru he ate char-broiled tree grubs. In Cambodia he ate deep-fried tarantulas.
When you hear about bizarre foods like that, you might think, Who could ever eat such stuff? And if someone offered you that food you might think, You want me to eat WHAT?
Well, that’s how many of the Jews were thinking in our text. Jesus had just told them, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (v 51) When the Jews heard that Jesus wanted them to eat his flesh, our text tells us: "the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" (v 52) The Jews reacted as if someone had just told them to eat deep fried tarantulas, char-broiled tree grubs, or fermented shark meat.
The Jews’ reaction is actually understandable. Jesus also said, "my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him." (v 55-56) It sounds like Jesus is talking about cannibalism. That is truly shocking and offensive.
But Jesus is not telling the Jews to chomp down on his arm. He is not commanding them to sink their teeth into his leg. Jesus is talking about faith. He is telling them to believe in him, firmly trust him, and depend completely on him as their only Savior from sin, death, and damnation in hell. That’s why Jesus also says, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. … the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." (v 55-56, 58)
Jesus came from heaven to earth to give eternal life to sinners. You get eternal life from Jesus by believing in him as your Savior. But Jesus describes faith as it really is. Faith is not just saying, “Yup. Jesus is the Savior. He died to pay for my sins.” Faith is more than just showing up for church once in a while. No, faith is consuming Jesus—all of Jesus. Faith means receiving Jesus on a deeply personal level. Faith means taking Christ’s life and death as your very own.
To use another expression from the world of nutrition— You are what you eat. But when it comes to your faith, your life, and your salvation, you are whom you eat. Faith in Jesus means Jesus is the reason for your life. Faith means Jesus is the power of your spiritual health. Faith means Jesus is your eternity.
But such an intense faith is not so easily digested, especially for sinners who prefer the fast-food, junk-food, white-bread diet of worldly existence. Just look at the Jews in our text. They wanted Jesus to keep performing miracles like the feeding of the five thousand. They wanted Jesus to make their life comfortable, abundant, and focused on getting the most out this world. But when Jesus started talking about heaven and eternal life, they took offense at him. They didn’t want Jesus to talk about all that spiritual stuff.
The same can happen to you and me. We can get absorbed in this life. We can think, Sure, I know that Jesus is my Savior. I know that he will take me to heaven. But I like life on this earth, too. I like nice clothes. I work hard to make my home comfortable and stylish. I enjoy driving a new vehicle with all the options. I like eating at nice restaurants. I love cheering for my favorite team. I really get into my hobbies, hanging out with my friends, and spending quality time with my family.
Well, certainly, it is not a sin to have a comfortable life. And you certainly need to know that Jesus is your Savior. But so often we focus all our time and energy on this life instead of the life to come. And so often our faith in Jesus stays in our head and goes nowhere else.
But a faith that is just an exercise of the mind is no faith at all. Just listening to a few Jesus stories is also no faith at all. Yes, you have to hear the Word of God. But, as one of our old prayers said, you also need to "hear [the Holy Scriptures], read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of [God’s] Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which [God has] given us in our Savior, Jesus Christ." (The Lutheran Hymnal, p 14)
That’s exactly what Jesus tells us in our Gospel Lesson. He says, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever 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." (v 54-57)
So, do what Jesus says. Eat his flesh. Drink his blood. Hear about how the one true God humbled himself and took on our human flesh. Read about how Jesus became a powerless baby to destroy the power of Satan. Mark well the story of how Christ hungered and thirsted in the desert for forty days so that you and I can feast and celebrate at the banquet of heaven. Inwardly digest in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul how Jesus endured Roman whips and a torturous cross to suffer the penalty for your sins. Trust completely in Jesus to conquer your own grave because he rose victorious from his grave.
Yes, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the spiritually nutritious truths of Christ’s life, his death, and his resurrection. Then embrace Christ. Devour the good news of his love and his forgiveness. Hold fast to Jesus as your only Savior. Grab onto Jesus the way a stranded person holds onto a lifejacket on a stormy sea. Hang onto Jesus for dear life—for dear eternal life.
That’s what it means to eat the flesh of Christ and to drink his blood. It means to believe in, trust in, and rely on Jesus as your only hope for eternal life in heaven. So, yes, you need to have a “head” faith. That is, you need to know the facts about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. But you also need to have a “stomach” faith. You need feel the love of Christ filling your whole existence. You need to experience the satisfaction of a Savior who gives you his whole life for you so you can have eternal life in heaven.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what Christ does. That’s exactly who Christ is. He is the only food that gives you eternal life. So, eat Christ’s flesh—the flesh of the God-Man that died and rose again. Drink Christ’s blood—the blood of the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Believe in Jesus. Live forever with Jesus. After all, you are whom you eat. By faith you are in Christ and Christ is in you, now and forever.