“You go to a Wisconsin Synod church. Why? Don’t you know the Wisconsin Synod is against women? They teach that wives aren’t equal to their husbands. They forbid women pastors. They don’t even let women vote at meetings. Besides that, the Wisconsin Synod is homophobic, bigoted, and filled with hate. You WELS people don’t let anyone else take Communion at your church. You won’t even say a prayer with somebody from another denomination. You guys are so self-righteous and holier-than-thou. Your church ignores Christ’s command to love one another. So, how can you? How can you belong to such a hateful, bigoted, backward church?”
Maybe you have never suffered such a blistering attack. But, more likely than not, you have had a friend or relative challenge you because of those “difficult” teachings of our Wisconsin Synod.
Maybe you have even thought to yourself, Our church does have some difficult rules. And why are we so stubborn on issues that aren’t a big deal? Can’t we compromise a little? Well, compromise can be tempting. But compromise is never a good idea when it comes to the Word of God, even when it comes to difficult and unpopular teachings.
But the difficulty of those teachings I mentioned earlier pales in comparison to difficulty of the teaching Jesus gives us in our Gospel Lesson. Jesus says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing… no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (v 63)
With a few short words, Jesus smashes every human ego. Jesus pulverizes the thought, Everybody has a little bit of spiritual good inside them. Jesus destroys the idea, I deserve to be a Christian because I do such a good job of following Jesus. Again, Jesus says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing… no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (v 63)
So what does Jesus say about every single human being? He says that we have nothing to offer God. Our natural human flesh scores a big fat zero on any test God would give us. We have no power on our own to know Jesus. We have no power to care about Jesus. We have no inclination to follow Jesus. We have no desire to love Jesus, believe in Jesus, or imitate Jesus.
Since no human has any power to come to Jesus or believe in Jesus, that also means that every human is headed to hell. Every human—you, your friends, your neighbors, your children, even your sweet little granny—every human deserves nothing but God’s anger, nothing but God’s verdict of damnation in hell.
That’s a hard teaching. It’s hard because it offends our idea that we can do at least a little bit to contribute to our salvation. It’s a hard teaching because it slams the door in the face of our own spirituality. It’s a hard teaching because it enforces God’s unbendable law with no exceptions.
But there is a solution to God’s anger and his law. There is a solution to humanity’s damnation. Jesus is that solution. In our Gospel Lesson Jesus says, "What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." (v 62-63)
Jesus is the Son of Man. That is, he is the promised Messiah. Jesus came in human flesh and blood to rescue flesh and blood humans from damnation. Jesus can rescue us from sin and damnation because he has ascended to heaven where he was before. He was in heaven before because he is the one, true, almighty, God. Now, Jesus, the God-Man, sends the Holy Spirit to create true spiritual life in sinful humans. The Holy Spirit creates this life through the words that Jesus speaks to us.
These words of life are the good news of Christ’s sacrifice of his life to pay for our sins. These words are the good news of Christ’s victory over death. These words are the good news of Christ’s ascension to prepare a place in heaven for us. These words proclaim that, from first to last, from A to Z, from beginning to end and everything in between, Jesus, and only Jesus, is our Savior. So, the only way we sinners get to heaven is by faith in Jesus and only Jesus.
But that is a hard teaching, too. Yes, on the one hand, it is an easy teaching. It tells you, "You don’t have to work for your salvation. You don’t have to say a million prayers, donate all your money, or sit for endless hours in church in order to increase your odds of going to heaven. No, there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing you have to do. God gives you faith in Jesus by his Word. Jesus gives you free forgiveness of all your sins by his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. Nothing more needs to be done. Jesus has already done it all to save you for eternal life in heaven.”
Yes, on the one hand, that’s a wonderful, comforting teaching. It means what it says—Jesus has done everything for your salvation. However, on the other hand, the fact that Jesus does everything for your salvation and you don’t do a thing to save yourself—well, that reinforces the fact that sinners cannot do anything to contribute their salvation. That bruises our spiritual egos. That deflates our sense of spiritual self-worth. That’s what many followers of Jesus realized. That’s why our text says, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (v 60) From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (v 66)
So, Christ’s teaching of his free gift of eternal life is a hard teaching. It was hard for some disciples to accept it. It was also hard on Jesus. First, it was hard on Jesus because so many people rejected that good news of his love and his free forgiveness. But it was really hard on Jesus because it meant he had to pay for the sins of the world by his innocent suffering and death on the cross. But what really stuck a dagger in his heart was how one of his own disciples betrayed him. Our text says, "Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him." (v 64) Jesus even says in our text, “'Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!' (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)" (v 70-71)
As much as God’s plan of salvation is hard on our human ego, it was even harder on Jesus. Being our Savior cost Jesus popularity among his people. It cost Jesus a betrayal of one of his own disciples. Ultimately, it cost Jesus his life in a most cruel, painful, and shameful way—death on a cross.
So yes, the Word of eternal life is hard. It is hard on our human pride. It was hard on Christ’s body and life. But it is also hard in another way. The word “hard” means, “sturdy, tough, stubborn, unyielding.” In other words, this teaching of Christ is not going to go away. Your doubts cannot put a dent in God’s plan of salvation. This world, with all its political correctness and all its vicious attacks, cannot even scratch Christ’s power to forgive your sins. Satan and all his demons cannot chip away even one little piece of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Nothing can overcome Christ and his Word of eternal life. The Word of Christ is here to stay and it is harder than diamonds. Our one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary theme puts it so well: The Word of the Lord endures forever. Jesus himself said the same thing in the Gospel of Matthew: "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of [hell] will not overcome it." (Matt. 16:18)
So praise Jesus Christ for his hard teaching about eternal life. The good news that Jesus is the only Savior you need—that good news is sturdy. It is strong. It is stubborn and unyielding. That news of Christ’s love, his forgiveness, and his salvation is indestructible. That means you will never be destroyed by your sins or even by death itself. That good news means you will live forever with Jesus in everlasting glory. Nothing can change Christ’s Word and promise of eternal life. To Christ be the glory forever and ever.