The Gospel text for this Sunday starts us back on that short and high-intensity road of Jesus to Jerusalem in the Gospel according to Mark (7:1-13). And the first verse of the text even mentions that famous city: ‘Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem….’
It is interesting that the word ‘gathered’ is basically the same as a synagogue. It is even more interesting that this eventually happens in every account—that some of the religious leaders of the day come from Jerusalem to see this ‘new’ thing that has to do with Jesus.
You might think that this would happen at approximately the same time in all the four accounts. If this story were a history lesson, then that might be true. But if this has to do with our salvation, then there could be different ways in which Jesus shows his authority … to those who had some authority while he was on earth.
Some of the ‘great crowds’ who followed him came from Jerusalem in Matthew 4:25 (that city being in the center, the third, of five places mentioned). But the first time we have some authorities coming from Jerusalem is Matthew 15:1. It is basically the same text as Mark 7:1, but it is interesting that the account in the Gospel according to Matthew mentions that the disciples came up to Jesus later and asked him if he knew that the Pharisees were offended by what he said! The Gospel according to Mark does not focus on that perspective at all. Jesus is much more difficult with them in the Gospel according to Mark.
Mark 1:5 also records people from Jerusalem coming to Jesus, this time saying that ‘all Jerusalem’ was going out to him—along with all the country of Judea! Another ‘great crowd’ follows him, with some from Jerusalem, in Mark 3:8. But the first time authorities from Jerusalem come to Jesus is in Mark 3:22: ‘And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul….”’ This is obviously a harsh statement, ‘fighting words’ you might say.
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus entered into a discussion with some of the religious leaders of Jerusalem when he was a boy of twelve, visiting the city (Luke 2:41ff). But, again, the first time authorities come from Jerusalem to Jesus is a totally different account. When Jesus healed the paralytic, the account starts in this way: ‘On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem (4:17).’ And there is a wonderful result after the miracle: ‘And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things [literally, ‘paradoxes’] today (5:26).”’ This is a much more positive text.
Just when you thought there was enough variety, there is also the Gospel according to John. Religious leaders in Jerusalem never come to Jesus in this account; he comes to them. But they do come to the one who was sent before him—John the Baptist. John 1:19 has this perspective: And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”’
How much variety would you expect from someone who is interested in saving ALL people? From the beginning of time, there have been many types of authority—even the sun, moon and stars ‘rule’ in a way (Genesis 1:16). Jesus responds to that manifold authority with a manifold, gospel-based answer. He gives what is needed for salvation.
This is the last of the three Sundays that we look at the Gospel according to John. These three weeks had a definite progression toward a significant event: Near the end of the text (John 6:51-69), some people continued to follow Jesus, and some people did not. That difference is reflected in today’s world.
In last week’s text I pointed out that Jesus, within his words, at first pointed people to believing in him, and then he progressed to pointing people to believe in his words. I should have pointed out last week that, in verse 47, typically the text said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life,” but a few manuscripts added a phrase so that the reference points more in the direction of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes IN ME has eternal life.”
In the text for this Sunday, there is another instance of a few copyists wanting to add something more to point to Jesus. In the text for this Sunday, in a few manuscripts, Peter’s response is no longer simply, “…you are the holy one of God (v. 69).” His confessions from the other accounts have influenced this account, and Peter, in a few manuscripts, also calls Jesus the Christ.
I believe that both these additions take away from the important emphasis on words. The structure of “Truly, truly, I say to you…” is a clear statement that Jesus’ words are important. And with the additional confession of Jesus as the Christ and not just the holy one of God, more importance is placed on those words than Peter’s first, clear, confessional statement: “You have the words of eternal life (v. 68).”
This last gospel account takes into account that, after Jesus ascended into heaven, there were fewer obvious miracles being performed. This makes an emphasis on words to be a critical factor. The purpose of the entire account is given in this way: “…these are WRITTEN so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).”
This important emphasis on words takes the reader or listener back to the beginning of time when God, with his words, brought everything into being. Jesus is called the Word. When words are spoken and then things happen, that is a wonderful thing; and it does not have to look like an obvious miracle.
Jesus “tabernacled” or tented for a while among us. But his words continue. And through his words, his blessings continue. (At the end of this gospel account, Jesus blesses those who have not seen and yet believe.)
You can tell Jesus was in trouble when the people asked the question “HOW can this man give us his flesh to eat (v. 52)?” (The word ‘his’ is not in a few manuscripts either.) Any ‘how’ question is a significant one. And Jesus could have answered it in a significantly powerful way.
He answers it in a significantly ‘worded’ way. He gives them another “Truly, truly, I say to you…” He makes the connection to his Father in heaven (of whom he spoke about earlier, and he will continue to speak about him). Jesus also makes a connection to the fathers or ancestors of the Jews and points out that they died after eating that other bread.
Jesus leaves them with a bunch of his words. That is not a bad gift to have, given the importance of words from Genesis to Revelation—and eternally.
People start coming to church for essentially two reasons; they either consider that something good happened to them, or they consider that something bad happened to them. Each option has a significantly different perspective. And either event can take people down significantly different paths.
The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 6:35-51] continues with the results of the feeding of the 5000, the details of which are only found in the Gospel according to John. The results are interesting after this extremely good thing happened to them—that they all were fed with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish.
On the previous Sunday, the gospel text focused on the bread that was given. On the following Sunday, the gospel text will focus on the action of eating that bread. In the middle, quite appropriately, Jesus is focusing on himself. He is bringing in language about what he does, who he is, where he comes from, and who sent him.
That is, admittedly, a great topic to preach about. But that is, admittedly, not always what people want to hear about. If they are coming to church because something good happened, maybe they are starting to think that they are relatively good, if they have tried really hard. Maybe they would like to hear about more good things that are coming their way—since they have been so good!
It is always good regularly to go over the basics, the essentials of what it means to be a Christian. The nice thing about the Divine Service is that it goes over the basics in the section sometimes titled ‘Preparation’. The Introit is actually the first part of the service (the word ‘Introit’ means ‘entrance’). The Confession and Absolution is part of the action which helps prepare the Christian—no matter what the previous week may have been like—to receive the Lord’s gifts. After Confession and Absolution, everyone starts over in the exact same place.
Jesus continues to feed the crowds who cannot stop following him. In verse 40 of this Sunday’s text, Jesus says, ‘…everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life….’ In verse 47, Jesus says, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.’ After you compare the two verses, you might ask, regarding the second one, ‘Believes in what, Jesus?’ It is more specific than that. Jesus starts that second verse with his extremely unique way of talking. Jesus wants people to believe in his WORDS.
In our world today, words can be mislabeled, misused, and greatly misunderstood. Words can also be very loving, caring, and upbuilding. With Jesus behind them, they are re-creating.
The Gospel text for this Sunday (John 6:22-35) starts a significant change, especially those who have been getting used to the Gospel according to Mark during this Pentecost season. For the next three Sundays, the text will be from the Gospel according to John.
Mark is a very short account. It has no resurrection appearances of Jesus, and Jesus does very little speaking throughout the work. During the church year, the Gospel according to Mark could use some ‘additional material’ along the way. And the Gospel according to John provides some wonderful insights.
As a reminder, I would encourage the reader NOT to think of the four accounts as a puzzle that you are trying to fit together, to make sure that all the perspectives come together into one story that you can understand. If you have lots of time (and do not have a problem with sin at all!), then that may be your perspective.
I have mentioned this before, but I believe the four accounts work together like the four sides of the throne where God is sitting and where, because of sin, we cannot approach. Only because of God the Father’s gracious action in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, may we approach that throne.
The four accounts work together wonderfully to show how Christ was made a king on the cross for us in four slightly different ways. At this point I would like to reference a book that supports this view. It is by the well-known theologian, N.T. Wright, and the title is How God Became King. The author particularly emphasizes that it is proper for the four gospel accounts to focus especially on that time BEFORE Jesus’ death and resurrection (and that this is something that is not emphasized in the Church’s Creeds).
Obviously, some Christians would like to emphasize the power that Jesus showed AFTER he rose from the dead. But that power is not shown in the Gospel according to Mark. That power has not always been obvious within the Christian Church. The PROMISE is there and is based on Jesus’ words, and that should be the proper focus.
When the word ‘Lord’ is used in the New Testament, it references a Jesus who already went through the suffering and death. As ‘Lord’ he is a king, the Lord over sin, death, and the devil.
The way the word ‘Lord’ is used in the gospel accounts BEFORE the resurrection is interesting. For example, its use in the Gospel according to Luke is helpful, especially when the early Christians are trying to decide what to do in Acts.
The use of the word ‘Lord’ in the Gospel according to John is comforting, especially within the context of the Christian Church.
Here are the uses (when it is used by the writer and not by someone who is being quoted; and I have given a significantly different translation than the ESV):
John 4:1 “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees heard Jesus was making more disciples and baptizing more than John….”
John 6:23 “Other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where the crowd ate the bread, when the Lord had ‘the Eucharist’.” [The word ‘Eucharist’ is an ancient word meaning to ‘give thanks’, and it often referred to the Lord’s Supper.]
John 11:2 “And it was Mary, the one anointing the Lord with ointment and wiping it off his feet with her hair….”
[John 21:7 & 12 These occurrences of ‘Lord’ are within a resurrection appearance.]
In John 6:23, note that it does not say that Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread. It says, literally, that he gave thanks. That was certainly a powerful prayer! But the text focuses on the hiddenness of it all. After the miracle, the crowds want to make him king, so he goes away. That was not the kind of king he wanted to be.
All these passages deal with responses in some way. Jesus is baptizing, and the Pharisees heard about it and respond, and so Jesus responds in turn. Jesus multiplied the fish and the loaves, and there certainly was a response to that! And Mary anoints Jesus, and she comes onto the scene again after Lazarus dies.
It is interesting that these three topics—baptism, the Eucharist, and anointing—also have to do with the actions within the Christian Church. Sometimes people can look at those actions which happen inside a church building and get turned off by them. But it is the Lord who is in charge; he is called the Lord for a reason! This is a good reminder to look to him; it is all about HIS gifts—his words AND his actions.