I remember an incident that took place in my home congregation when I was about six or seven years old. As we got ready to worship, a man walked into the church. He was dressed in a white robe with a rope around his waist. His hair was straight and long. His beard and mustache were trimmed just right, and he looked like just about every picture of Jesus I had ever seen! Needless to say, this stranger really got my attention.
On this particular Sunday, my congregation was holding its annual meeting. Of course, part of that meeting was the discussion of the budget. Now, I wasn’t paying attention to the discussion. At six or seven, you really don’t care about such matters, but I did begin to care when the stranger spoke. "You are all going to hell," he said, "for talking about money in church."
That frightened me. A lot.
The freak out really started after the meeting was over and everyone was congregating around outside. Folks were engaged in fellowship and drinking iced tea and lemonade. I think we even had some cookies out there. I was playing under the shade of a giant tree. The stranger walked outside the doors of the church, stood at the top of the steps and in a loud voice with arms upraised shouted, "The peace of God which passes all understanding be with you always!" And with that, he walked down the street and away from the church. My dad checked the visitor registration book in the back of the church that day, and he informed us at dinner that the guest signed in with "Jesus of Nazareth."
I remember well that night. I was laying in bed. My mom was tucking me in, and I said, "I’m scared. I don’t want to go to hell like Jesus said."
Mom paused only a moment before saying, "Kevin, that man wasn’t Jesus. He was crazy."
I trusted my mom, and I was no longer scared. Yet, the incident was forever burned into my synapses. As I have grown and hopefully matured a little, I think back on this incident. I think about the reality of this guy coming into our church. I think about what he did and what he said, and I realize this guy was either Jesus, as he believed he was, or indeed, he was a nutcase. There is no middle ground.
C.S. Lewis once wrote the same thing about Jesus in his book Mere Christianity. Lewis says, "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse."
Those words from Lewis might sound harsh or over the top, but really think a moment about our Gospel lesson this morning. Really think through some of those statements we just heard a few moments ago. Don’t just glaze over them as we are wont to do. Hear them. I mean really hear them. One of our problems in the church today is that we have so many layers of interpretation placed on top of Jesus’ teachings that we fail to actually allow the teachings to penetrate our hearts and minds. We’ve had so many people tell us what Jesus meant by those sayings, we oftentimes fail to actually hear the sayings themselves. Instead, we hear the interpretation. Don’t hear the interpretation this morning. Hear what Jesus says, and then you tell me what you would do if some guy walked into the congregation this morning and said these things to you.
How would you react if someone waltzed in here, stood before all of us and said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." What would you think if you heard a man stand in front of you and say, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day."? How would your brain process a guy lecturing you and saying, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." Think about those statements. Think about what Jesus says. Really hear those words and don’t let what you have been taught about what they mean interfere with what you are hearing. Take those words at face value. What would you think if someone came up to you and said such a thing? Would you think the person was playing with a full deck? Would you honestly think the person who spoke such things was the Son of God?
Probably not. You’d probably tell your kids or grandkids the same thing my mom told me, "That guy is crazy."
In fact, that’s exactly what people said about Jesus. Remember that C.S. Lewis commented that you would rank such a person right up there with someone who says, "I am a poached egg." or you would believe the person was the Devil of Hell? Remember Lewis’ words I read earlier. Well, they said the same thing about Jesus.
Listen to these few verses from the book of Mark chapter 3. Beginning with the end of verse 19, "Then Jesus went home; 20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’" In just four short verses, the Bible confirms exactly what C.S. Lewis says. People were saying Jesus was crazy and that he was the Devil from Hell.
So, our options are laid down on the table before us. Either we believe what Jesus said about himself is true–that indeed He is the Son of God, the bread of life which comes down from heaven and that the bread of life He offers the world is His flesh, or we believe that He is crazy or the Devil from Hell. That’s it. There’s no middle ground. C.S. Lewis concludes with these words, "You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God." Which will it be?
Today, Jesus invites us to trust in Him. Today, Jesus invites us to believe He is the bread of life–the only thing that can sustain us in this world today. Today, Jesus invites us to partake of Him and never hunger or thirst again. Today, Jesus invites us to believe that He is the living bread from heaven, and that if we partake of His flesh, we will live forever. These promises are quite astounding. In fact, these promises, if taken seriously, transform us. These promises, if taken seriously, change the way we operate in the world. They lead us to act and think differently even to the point where we might be called a nutcase. But if such a thing happens because we are following the Son of God, that’s not such a bad thing. We’re in good company. If they start to say the same things about us that they said about Jesus, we might just be on the right track. The track to abundant and eternal life. Amen.