daily biblical sermons

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, Third Week of Easter, April 22, 2021
Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 65, John 6:44-51

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:44-51).



Jesus makes a truly remarkable statement in this reading, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47). Jesus will soon begin to speak about the Eucharist, where he gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, but before he does, he tells us that if we believe in him we have eternal life.



When he speaks of eternal life, he means all the benefits that come to us with eternal life, not only the fact that it lasts forever. These benefits are that we are completely forgiven for our sins, totally accepted by God, and justified, which means that we are declared and thereby made righteous by God. Included among these gifts of eternal life is the fact that we are no longer condemned by God for our sins, no longer have a debt of eternal death in hell to pay in punishment for them, and have heavenly peace and divine love within our hearts, without the pain of guilt for our past sins, which is lifted from us.



Many erroneously think that this blessed state comes only at the end of a good and holy life, whereby we earn God’s love, forgiveness, and peace by our good works. This is a completely mistaken notion. Jesus tells us today that all of these wonderful gifts come to us in a split second, when we put our trusting faith in him and genuinely repent of our sins, firmly intending to amend our life.



When we do this, God declares and thereby makes us ungodly sinners righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness, for we lack a righteousness of our own that we have earned by our good works, because we are coming to him as ungodly sinners unable to reconcile ourselves with him, because we are unable to pay the just penalty required by God’s law for our sins. We are therefore alienated from God, since we owe him a debt of eternal death in hell in punishment for our sins.



Therefore, God justifies us with his own righteousness, which he reckons to us (Romans 4:5) when he sees that we have put our faith in his Son. Seeing that his Son has paid on the cross our debt of suffering and death that we owe God in punishment for our sins and that we therefore no longer have any alienating sins that still need to be punished, God therefore declares and thereby makes us righteous and reckons to us his own righteousness. This righteousness is an alien righteousness for us, not a righteousness that we merited, earned, or deserved by our good works, for we were ungodly sinners.



This righteousness of God that he reckons to us comes to us because of our faith, not because of our good works, which we lacked as ungodly sinners. All these gifts come to us immediately, when we put our faith in Christ. They come to us now in the middle of our life so that we can live the rest of our days reconciled to God, with his divine love and heavenly peace in our hearts.



“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47). “How many seem to think that forgiveness and acceptance with God are things which we cannot attain in this life – that they are things which are to be earned by a long course of repentance and faith and holiness – things which we may receive at the bar of God at last, but must never pretend to touch while we are in this world! It is a complete mistake to think so. The very moment a sinner believes on Christ he is justified and accepted. There is no condemnation for him. He has peace with God, and that immediately and without delay. His name is in the book of life, however little he may be aware of it. He has a title to heaven, which death and hell and Satan can not overthrow. Happy are those who know this truth! It is an essential part of the good news of the gospel” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).



“He who believes [in me] has eternal life” (John 6:47). “This is one of many verses in the New Testament that teaches that salvation [from our sins] is not by works, not by law-keeping, not by church membership, not by obeying the Golden Rule, but simply by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ” (William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1989), page 1504).



Then Jesus says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). Jesus is clearly speaking of the Eucharist in this verse, of giving us his flesh to eat for the life of the world. His flesh will give us eternal life.



Some think that Jesus was only speaking in a symbolic sense here, but the Jews who were listening to him understood perfectly well that he was speaking about eating his flesh, for “the Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52). Jesus had a perfect opportunity right then and there to tell them that he was only speaking in a symbolic way if that was what he was really doing. He could have kept all these disciples that left him because they could not accept eating his flesh.



But Jesus did not say that he was only speaking symbolically for the simple reason that he was not speaking symbolically, but really. They actually would eat his flesh and drink his blood sacramentally, but really, for he would transform bread and wine into his body and blood. So finally, “many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (John 6:60). “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66).



This is the best Jesus could explain it at that time. It was only at the Last Supper and with his death on Calvary, his resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit that his disciples finally put it all together and realized that Jesus was going to give them a sacred meal, the Eucharist, in which his disciples would eat his flesh and drink his blood, because he would sacramentalize his body and blood in the form of bread and wine, while they still appeared to be bread and wine, so that they could eat his flesh and drink blood with faith for the nourishment of their souls. Jesus’ flesh and blood contained his divine person with his divine nature. Jesus sacramentalized his flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine so that we could eat and drink them in the Eucharist with faith and have his divine person with his divine nature dwelling sacramentally within us.



There is no indication anywhere in this chapter that either Jesus intended to speak or the people understood him as speaking in a symbolic way about bread and wine symbolizing his body and blood. The understanding that both Jesus and the people had was that he really was going to give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. This is why so many abandoned him and stopped following him after this discourse. Furthermore, this is what the Church has believed from the beginning about the Eucharist, namely that it is Jesus’ real but sacramental flesh and blood that we offer with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit for the honor and glory of God and the salvation of the world.



The flesh and blood that Jesus gave us for our nourishment in Holy Communion was the same flesh and blood that he offered in sacrifice to the Father on Calvary to reconcile us with God. Jesus says here that he will give his flesh “for the life of the world” (John 6:51). “He did [this] by the offering up of his body, and making his soul, or giving himself [as] an offering, a propitiatory sacrifice for sin; which was done in the most free and voluntary manner, in the room [place] and stead of his people, to procure eternal life for them, even for the whole world of his elect; whether among Jews or Gentiles, particularly the latter are here meant” (John Gill, 1697-1771).



The gift of righteousness that God gives us comes from God the Father, but it comes to us through the flesh of Christ by his sacrifice of himself on the cross that atoned for our sins, reconciled us with God, and enabled the Father to justify all that put our faith in him.



“Though righteousness flows from God alone, still we shall not attain the full manifestation of it any where else than in the flesh of Christ; for in it was accomplished the redemption of man, in it a sacrifice was offered to atone for sins, and an obedience yielded to God [was done in his flesh] to reconcile him to us” (John Calvin, 1509-1564).



Christ offered his flesh on the cross which atoned for our sins, accomplished our redemption, and reconciled us to God. This sacrifice is commemorated and made present for us in the sacrifice of the Mass so that we might offer to the Father together with Christ his body and blood in the Holy Spirit for his honor and glory and the salvation of the world.



Once the sacrifice has been offered in the Mass, we receive Holy Communion, as the Jews did after many of their sacrifices, where they ate the flesh of the victim that they offered in sacrifice. So, in Holy Communion we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, the victim whose sacrifice of himself paid our debt of suffering and death that we owed God in punishment for our sins and so reconciled us with him. We eat and drink his flesh and blood in the Eucharist for the life of our spirit. This is the great gift that Jesus Christ has left his Church.

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