Feasting with God #47
The Secret Elixir for Eternal Life
“Christ on the Cross,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)
Text: John 6:53-58
53So 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. 54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread that the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The Fountain of Youth. The Holy Grail. The Tree of Life. Legends abound in our human cultures about that secret magical fluid that, when drunk, grants the drinker immortality, eternal life. An immortal soul, a life that never ends—it’s natural for life to desire to continue. So to find the way to continue endlessly, that is the keenest desire of the living being.
But an earthly elixir does not exist. Yes, the Tree of Life was a real tree in the Garden of Eden, but since man’s expulsion from that Garden its location has been lost, and it will never again be found (perhaps it was even destroyed in the Deluge). Likewise the Holy Grail was a literal cup used by Jesus, but its holiness was not its own, rather the holiness of the blood of God that it contained.
Just notice, looking at these legends, how deeply connected they are to Christian tradition. Even the Fountain of Youth is frequently considered to be a pool at the base of the Tree of Life, drawing its powers from there. So-called Christians for centuries searched for the mythical granters of immortality. But where did we go so wrong?
The Jews of Jesus’ day were likewise misled by their personal blindness and preference. When Jesus was talking about giving his flesh and blood, they were astonished and “disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52). Even the disciples, the followers of Jesus, “they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’” (6:60-61). The Jews and the disciples certainly wanted the ability to live forever (for they said, “Sir, give us this bread always” [6:34], before Jesus revealed that he was talking about his flesh). But their minds were fixed on worldly things. They thought that Jesus meant an earthly immortality, the same way these Christians seeking the Fountain of Youth seek an earthly immortality. Having in mind carnal things, when Jesus tells them that the answer is “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” only disgust can follow.
But Jesus speaks in spiritual terms. At this time in the Gospels he isn’t even talking yet about the Lord’s Supper. He is talking entirely about faith. The true food that gives life to all who eat it, the true drink that sustains eternally those who drink it, is Jesus himself. If we abide in him by faith, he abides in us, and we are upheld by his life.
He draws the parallel: “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.” We confess the Triune God, in which relationship we believe “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds” (Nicene Creed). In the mystery of their relationship, we see the Son drawing life from the Father, in a similar way to how we who believe in Jesus draw life from him.
And in this it is essential to understand Jesus as true God and true Man—Man because he has flesh and blood, in which he died and paid the price for sins. This is what Jesus means by “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.” Believe in his flesh, and receive in faith the benefits he bought with his blood. And God, because through that flesh and blood he delivers to us divine life. It is because Jesus is true God that he can deliver what he promises to those who believe in him: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Dear Lord, you who sent your only-begotten Son, very God of very God, into the flesh in order to bear our sins upon his own body and to ransom our souls from hell with his blood, sustain us by that heavenly food, by your Holy Spirit instilling faith and your grace in our hearts, so that the eternal life that you have promised may indeed be ours, through the same, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.