Text: John 6
The crowds were ecstatic. The energy was palpable. The expectations were high. I could be talking about the release day at any store that sells an Apple product. I know most of us in this room don’t have iPhones or iPods or iPads, but there is no mistaking that Apple’s iProducts have made a resounding impact on most people who live in our country today, whether that impact is negative or positive.
These products create massive interest from a lot of people whenever Apple releases new ones, like they did recently for iPads. People queue in line outside of the stores in some cases for days in advance. Think of the lines that people make for Black Friday, but magnify them and repeat them literally around the world. I enjoy following technology, and in the weeks and even months preceding what people anticipate will be a new iProduct launch, rumors will swarm making guesses as to what the next generation will have. For its part, Apple keeps a tight lid on all future products until they make an official announcement at a media event, so the rumors get pretty wild.
For the last few years, Apple has done well with keeping up with all of the excitement, anticipation, and expectations surrounding the release of their next product. By and large, critics and consumers have loved everything about what Apple has done.
But I’m not talking about Apple or any kind of i-Whatever this morning. Indeed, the crowds were ecstatic. The energy was palpable. The expectations were high. And, in fact, people did line up in eager anticipation. But they were not looking for the latest release of a culturally-mandated must-have gadget. Instead, they were waiting for a man riding on a donkey.
Today is Palm Sunday, so called because of the events that happened in a crowd gathering on the way to Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover some 2,000 years ago. What was the event? Jesus was coming to town! Yes, THAT Jesus! The one who did amazing miracles. The one who, rumors said, had even brought the dead back to life.
And this Jesus wasn’t coming to just any town, he was coming to Jerusalem. This evidenced-proven, miracle-working man of God was coming to the city of God’s kings. And he wasn’t just coming to the city of God’s kings, but he was coming to the city of God’s kings riding a donkey that had never before been ridden. Now, that doesn’t say a lot to you or to me today, but it did say a lot to the people then. Because they knew what it meant for a man so acclaimed to come into the city of kings riding on the back of a donkey that had never before been ridden. It meant that a king was coming to claim his throne.
You see, the energy was palpable. The expectations were high. The people were lined up in eager anticipation. Not because an exciting new product was on tap, but because they expected that a long-awaited coronation was about to happen. So they laid out their coats and jackets and palm branches on the road to welcome the one who they would choose to make their king.
Of course, the reality was that Jesus had other reasons for going to Jerusalem. Listen to Jesus, talking to his disciples on the way to Jericho in Luke 18:
31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise." 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
I don’t think being delivered to Gentiles, being mocked, spat upon, a flogging, and death were exactly what those excited, ecstatic crowds had in mind for their expected king.
This wasn’t the first time that the crowds followed Jesus for something he was not trying to deliver. Early on in his ministry, Jesus was preaching to a large crowd of people and had been healing the sick and others for most of the day. The disciples grew concerned and told Jesus he should send them on to the villages and towns around that vicinity so that they could eat and get a good night’s sleep. Jesus’ response: “You feed them.” The disciples were incredulous! How were they supposed to feed such a crowd – 5,000 men, not to mention the many women and children.
But Jesus accomplished it, using the five loaves of bread and two fish that one boy had brought along with him. Basketfuls were leftover after Jesus broke the pieces and everyone had their fill. Luke records it in chapter 9. John records it in John 6. It is interesting the further development that John makes of the events. In John’s account, the crowds determine then and there to make Jesus their king whether he wanted to be or not. Perceiving this, Jesus withdrew to a private place away from the crowds where he prayed well into the night. The disciples got on their one boat and headed across the sea to go back to their home in Capernaum. Jesus was not with them.
In the midst of the stormy sea, late into the night, Jesus walked across the water to join them on the boat right as the boat arrived where they were going. The well-fed crowds from the day before realized that Jesus was gone. They also knew that he had not gone on the boat with the disciples. So they also got onto some other boats that had come to that place in order to cross over to where Jesus was.
Listen to the exchange of the crowds and Jesus in Capernaum. Listen closely for the expectations of the crowds. I’m reading from John 6:25-35
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal."
28 Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
30 So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’"
32 Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
34 They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." 35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Jesus wasn’t there to feed them bread, not the literal kind anyway, just as he had not been in the desert to turn stones into bread when Satan tempted him to do so. Instead, Jesus was there to offer himself as the bread of life given directly from God for all the people. The crowds were looking for answers to their immediate problems, for provision of food so that they would no longer have to worry from day to day. Jesus was there to address a far greater problem they did not even recognize.
Then Jesus says something that is tamed by our long familiarity with Christian practice, but which was highly shocking to those crowds, and should still be highly shocking to us. Starting in verse 48.
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
53 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
John records that after Jesus said these things about eating flesh and blood, which the law forbade, the vast majority of those who had been following Jesus left him. Their expectations were shattered.
The same would happen to the crowds of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The excitement and thrill would give way to woes, temple cleansings, and harsh statements from Jesus to the religious leaders and crowds that week. By the end of the week, instead of looking for a coronation, the crowds would be easily stirred up to cry out not, “Crown him, crown him!” but “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Jesus doesn’t deliver to expectations. He doesn’t cater to our whims and appetites and desires. He doesn’t seek to give us bread that will leave us hungry and dying in just a little while. Instead, he delivers to the heart of our real need. Bread, even manna, will leave us in our broken and dead state, lost in our sin. Jesus aimed to fix that.
So he came to give us the bread which we can eat and then live forever. He came to give us the drink that we can drink and never thirst again. He came not to deliver our dreams and our hopes. He came not to meet our expectations. He came to deliver our deepest need, which apart from him we may have never known or recognized.
And so we come together as a church to gather around this table and to once again remind ourselves that our salvation is tied to his flesh and his blood. Our salvation is tied to his sacrifice of his own flesh and blood. Our salvation is tied to our willingly making his sacrifice part of our own identity, part our own lives. In the way in which the food we eat and the drink we drink become the body with which we breathe and move and do and talk and be, so we come to eat his flesh and to drink his blood. To partake of what he does offer us. To make him a real part of our daily, hourly, breath-by-breath life.
Jesus offers us real help for our real need. The King of all kings offers us real solutions to our real problem. The Lord over all lords gives to us real life in place of the sinful death we live in this world.
So let us come and eat of his flesh and drink of his blood.
We you pray with me as we make ready to partake of this meal?