Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 31:10 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“For this is the will of My Father,” Jesus says, “that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). This is eternal life, here and now: you entered it when you were born of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism (John 3:5), and that free gift of life will be brought to its fulfillment when Jesus raises your body from the grave on the last day of this world.
Our hope and peace are in this Jesus, who gives His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51). God’s will is to grant you this faith through His Word. If the Father did not call you, you could not and would not come to Jesus. That, in fact, is the whole purpose of John’s Gospel: “Indeed, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which have not been written in this book. But these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in His Name” (John 20:30-31). In the words of the Scriptures, which are the words of Jesus, the Father calls sinners to His Son. And from before the foundation of the world, God chose you and me in Jesus Christ, that we would be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4). And He intends to finish what He started: when the days are complete, Jesus will raise you up.
But the days between your resurrection at baptism and your resurrection on the last day are not yet complete, and in this life, between those resurrections, we face worse enemies than Jezebel, who vowed the death of Elijah. We face our own flesh, which daily has many opportunities to give in to temptation; we face the world, which is fundamentally opposed to Christ’s Church; and we face the devil, who has been in rebellion against his Creator since nearly the beginning. “Every Christian must endure such great, grievous perils and attacks—grievous enough even if they come one at a time. As long as we remain in this vile life, where we are attacked, hunted, and harried on all sides, we are constrained to cry out and pray every hour that God may not allow us to become faint and weary and to fall back into sin, shame, and unbelief. Otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the smallest attack…Accordingly we Christians must be armed and expect every day to be under continuous attack. Then we will not go about securely and heedlessly as if the devil were far from us, but will at all times expect his blows and fend them off…for he is an enemy who never lets up or becomes weary; when one attack ceases, new ones always arise. …[When we pray ‘deliver us from evil,’ it] includes all the evil that may befall us under the devil’s kingdom: poverty, disgrace, death, and, in short, all the tragic misery and heartache, of which there is so incalculably much on earth. For because the devil is not only a liar but a murderer as well, he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He crushes some and drives others to insanity; some he drowns in water, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes. Therefore, there is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray without ceasing against this archenemy. For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour” (Large Catechism, Kolb/Wengert, 454-456).
Now, we are not Elijah; we have no pagan queen pursuing our lives because we put her false prophets to the sword. But we can just as easily be driven to despair as Elijah was. We can doubt that there is any good future for us at all. Perhaps some of you feel today as Elijah did, who cried out to God, “Enough now, Yahweh! Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah had simply had enough of everything that goes along with being a servant of Yahweh. It is a great gift of God to be called to His service in every vocation, including into the Office of speaking God’s Word publicly, but in all vocations the gift is the cross. And Elijah was tired of holding to the Word of God; he was tired of speaking when God spoke, tired of being silent when God was silent; he was tired of the ridicule, and the unbelief, and the persecution; tired of wondering whether he was the last faithful prophet in Israel. “Enough now, Yahweh!” I can’t take any more, so take my life.
Even if you do not feel like Elijah now, it is likely you have in the past or you will in the future. The gift of following Jesus is His cross in your life. It will and must be there, publicly or privately. The cross is the very shape of the Christian’s life, and it is unavoidable. Elijah, very understandably, tried to escape the cross by praying for death. He figured he was dead already; the only question was whether it would be by Jezebel’s hand or God’s.
“But look at this! An Angel touched him and said to him, ‘Rise, eat.’ And he looked; and see!: a cake [from] glowing coals and a jug of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down [to sleep] again. And the Angel of Yahweh returned a second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Rise, eat; the journey is certainly too much for you.’ And he rose, and ate and drank, and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights until [he reached] the mountain of God, Horeb” (1 Kings 19:5-8). Brothers and sisters, whether you cry out with Elijah or not, whether you know it or not, the journey is too much for you. Elijah says, “It’s too much,” (v. 4) and Yahweh says, “The journey is certainly too much for you” (v. 7). Yahweh knows, far better than Elijah, that Elijah can never stand up against all the enemies of God. Elijah says, I can’t take any more, and Yahweh says, you’re right. So the Angel, the Messenger, of Yahweh feeds Elijah so that he has enough strength to go forty more days without food.
This is God’s Word to you: it is too much for you. This life, your flesh; they are too much for you. The devil is too much for you; he doesn’t take summers off. God says: You will not survive unless you eat the Bread I give you to eat. Your thirst will never be quenched unless you drink what I give you to drink. You will never make it to the last day, to the resurrection, unless you eat the living Bread that comes down from heaven. Not only is your flesh weak, but your spirit is, too. Repent. You have taken His gifts for granted, just as I have, not seeing that the journey is too much for us. Or you have thought, as I have, that the journey is too much and Jesus is not enough.
Exactly because of that, Jesus has come to do the will of His Father. Because of our deficiency, He gives His sufficiency. He gave His life for your life. He knew you could not take the wrath of your enemies—sin, death, and the devil—so He allowed them to take His life instead. God would not take Elijah’s life, but He took His Son’s. And He accepted that sinless life, that obedient offering, as the eternal payment for your eternal sin.
And look at this! The Messenger of Yahweh, Jesus, is here—because resurrection flows out from His cross. And He is pointing you to Himself. Rise and eat, the journey is certainly too much for you. “The one who comes to Me will surely never hunger, and the one believing in Me will surely never thirst again” (John 6:35). “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48). I give living water. Everyone who eats the perishable bread of this life will die like the Israelites in the wilderness, but everyone who eats the bread of heaven will never die (John 6:49-50). Have you had enough of this world? Do you want rest? Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
There is rest here, not in some vague sense of a spiritual vacation, some sort of spiritual relaxation, but rest in His blessed Word and His holy Supper. These are as concrete and physical as the food Elijah ate. Elijah ate a cake from glowing coals; Isaiah’s lips were touched with a glowing coal from the altar; we eat bread from the altar of the cross by which Jesus gives us His own flesh. We who eat Him by faith as He comes to us in the Word eat Him by faith also in the bread and the wine. In the simplicity of bread and water, Elijah was strengthened for a forty-day journey to the mountain of God, Horeb. In the simplicity of bread and wine, we are strengthened for a life-long journey to the mountain of God, the New Jerusalem. It looks like nothing, but it is Jesus’ own, never-dying life for you!
“Dark the way, yet Christ precedes us, past the scowl of death He leads us; spreads a table where He feeds us with His body and His blood” (LSB 597:3). Beloved, Jesus says to us often: rise and eat; the journey under the cross is too much for you. But in the strength of His divine Food, Jesus will raise us up on the last day.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/7/21