To Keep Hearing The Word
February 24, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
It Is "The Spirit" That Gives Life
1. Jesus said, "It is 'the spirit' that gives life. The flesh is good for nothing," (verse sixty-three). What is meant by "the spirit" is the invisible Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. What is meant by "the flesh" is, of course, neither meat nor the physical body. Since it is being contrasted with the invisible Spirit of God, it is pointing to that which belongs to the visible on earth.
2. Near the beginning of this chapter a part appears where the people were wanting to make Jesus the king. Why did they want to make him king? It's because Jesus had power. The people seemed to be wishing for liberation from Roman rule. They seemed to be wishing for a steady and prosperous living. Whatever though, they did view Jesus as the one who could satisfy the specific needs of the people. I could put it this way, he looked like someone who could give them "flesh." Yet, Jesus says, "It is 'the spirit' that gives life. The flesh is good for nothing."
3. When he spoke like that, some [people] who stumbled over [his words] can be found in the text. Actually, [even some of his] disciples had already begun to stumble. In verse sixty-six it is written that "Many of the disciples had lost interest in him and no longer walked with Jesus." They were "disciples," the people who had believed on Jesus. These guys had left Jesus. So when [he] says, "The flesh is good for nothing," [he] means that those kinds of things can come out of it.
4. Actually this passage of scripture brings back a whole load of memories for me. I have preached from this same passage just once before. It was Sunday, January 29, 1995. Do you remember what happened in January 1995? It was the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, (affecting Kobe, Osaka, and Awaji Island). I was living in Osaka at the time. On the day the earthquake hit, I was in Takarazuka. I still remember struggling to get home while frantically evading breaks in the road in between collapsed buildings. During that time the words I heard daily were "emergency supplies" and "utility lines." These [terms] are truly connected to life. And so when utility lines were cut to pieces, many worked as hard as they could right through the night to furnish water, electric, gas, and then some because these things are absolutely essential. Yet, going by what Jesus says, they are all no more than "flesh." During that state of emergency I was reading the words, "The flesh is good for nothing."
5. There is no reason why I shouldn't feel resistant to this as I read it. Among church members and family members there was no small number of persons who were living in the disaster area directly hit by the quake. My people were demanding me to make sense out of it. I complained to Jesus myself. "Jesus, isn't this a bit too much? Since [people] are talking like this, they are speaking badly about Christianity, that it is isolated from the world we live in. They are saying things like Christianity has no power in regard to present suffering. They are saying it is a religion above the clouds, for an ivory tower society.
6. But when we were reading it as we thought that way and complained mumbling about it, one fact came through vividly. It is the figure of Jesus focused on the people's suffering and pain, it is the figure of Jesus caring for the reality of humankind in need of "the flesh." Chapter six of The Gospel According To John which we read today starts off with a miracle story of Jesus. It starts off with the story of Jesus giving food to a great crowd. Jesus was the one who showed the most concern for the hungry people. It was Jesus who had said to Philip, "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" The disciples could care less about the crowd being hungry or for anything for that matter. They were thinking they should let them disperse early. But, Jesus thought differently on the matter. He was thinking that [they] could feed the crowd. It was that way in another scene. Jesus was in the midst of people needing help in the visible physical world, they were always in need of "flesh." Jesus was not in the clouds, in some ivory tower somewhere.
7. I was ashamed that I was mumbling and complaining. Jesus understood. Instead, wasn't I the one who was indifferent to the fact that the people really had need of "flesh?" That's how I thought. Jesus understood. [He understood] that we need "the flesh," that at times we are crazy to death, we are helpless but to pursue after that which is visible, that we need specific visible help, and also that when we get it, how happy we are.
8. That's how [we are]. Jesus was fully aware of this and so he went on to say, "It is 'the spirit' that gives life. The flesh is good for nothing." So then, what does he mean by this? He is saying that to that degree I want you to turn your eyes on "the spirit' that gives life. He seems to be saying that to that degree I want to give you the true life that comes by the Spirit of God.
9. When you think about it, the reason Jesus had gone on to say, "The flesh is good for nothing," was for our benefit. For, it means that our seeking "the flesh" does have an end to it, and it is in us. Though we embrace the real issues of life and seek God and Christ frantically at the times we need specific help, but once having gotten the necessary "flesh" the heart will distance itself from God and from Christ. That's what happens. There's something important from that point. I think it's from that point from where we must begin a life that truly walks with God. It is saying that we have failed to receive the most important thing, as seen from Jesus' view, even though we have gotten "the flesh," unless we walk by faith, [unless we] obtain the life that lives with God in a true sense, and [unless we] obtain the practical lifestyle that is filled with the life that comes from "the spirit."
10. Jesus declared as much that "The flesh is good for nothing," but he was understanding the greater importance of the fact that "It is 'the spirit' that gives life." And indeed it wasn't only Jesus. The people alive after him, even the many believers who once ago had been living in difficulty and distress could see it. For, as a matter of fact, the people who had lived in the age of persecution used to feel no regrets even though they were completely robbed of that which belonged to the flesh, which is to say that they could see that "It is 'the spirit' that gives life" to them to that degree.
My Words Are Spirit And Are Life
11. Put the opposite way, it could be that we still are only seeing in part the highly tremendous value of it. Let's have [the Lord] cause us to see as well. Let's have [the Lord] cause us to experience the greater importance of the statement, "It is 'the spirit' that gives life." Fleshly things are certainly necessary. The Lord knows our specific needs. The Lord meets [our] different needs that involve every day living on this visible earth. The Lord has mercy on us. So, I think we should seek for what we need. But, the time is coming for everyone at the end of life when he or she will no longer require the things of the flesh. For, the time is coming when the fact that "The flesh is good for nothing" will become visibly apparent for sure.
12. As reported in the weekly bulletin, a person received baptism upon the sick bed on Wednesday from the week before. This person is suffering from a serious illness. It is a fact that the life of this individual upon earth is being sustained at the fleshly level at a medical treatment facility. However, on a most serious level, we understand that this same person will ultimately not need the fleshly level. Upon communicating to this person that I baptize you, tears were running out of this person's eyes so much that the eyes could hardly even open. Those beautiful tears told the story eloquently. What this individual truly needs was God himself, the true life that comes from the Spirit of God, the life that can absolutely never be stolen away. And "the spirit" that gives life did give this person true life.
13. Of course, in order to know "the spirit" that gives life, in order to experience the life which "the spirit" gives, nobody needs to wait until he or she is lying down upon a sick bed. Now, as we are thus assembled here in this place, we ought to earnestly seek for it. Let's have the Lord make us to be people who know the life that "the spirit" gives. Let's have the Lord allow us to experience the abundance of the eternal life that comes from the Holy Spirit, to the point that we will feel that even if everything pertaining to the flesh is stolen, it will be all right, even if our life is stolen away we won't have any regrets.
14. What will be important to that purpose? Jesus continued speaking and said, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." The important thing is that we are to hear the words of Christ. We could change this around and say, we ought to hear the word of God. In John chapter three and verse thirty-four it has, "The one whom God has sent speaks the word of God; for, God is boundlessly giving 'the spirit'," (John 3:34). Apart from the word of Christ, [or] the word of God which Christ speaks, there is no life that the "spirit" gives.
15. Well, every week in this place the scriptures are read aloud and preached. In what way are you all listening to these [readings and sermons]? Setting aside the scripture readings given out loud, in regard to the sermons, you must leave with some kind of thoughts and impressions each week. Some may think, "Today's sermon was boring." "I didn't understand today's sermon very well." Or some may even leave thinking, "Today's sermon was good." However, even if I had preached a deeply moving sermon or I gave a sermon rich with tips and very "informative and helpful," when it's just the words of a human like Kiyohiro, going by what Jesus says, it would all be no more than "flesh." And Jesus would say, "The flesh is good for nothing."
16. But it is a whole other story if the church is truly the body of Christ and the Spirit of God is at work here, and if Christ is actually speaking, if God is speaking. Both the words from the scriptures that were read loud and clear here and the sermon as the explanation of it are not flesh that is good for nothing . Since the word of God is being spoken, then the act of people "being granted life" by the Spirit of God is taking place. People are coming to experience eternal life. By believing this there is meaning, too, in that I am standing here. By believing this there is meaning, too, in that we are assembled together here.
17. Many of the disciples left, and when they no longer followed Jesus, the Lord questioned his disciples as follows, "Do you want to leave as well?" This does not mean, "Do you want to leave as well? If you do, then you should go." It doesn't [mean] that, but rather an expression is used with the nuance of "Do you want to leave as well? But, no you will never leave." Jesus is stating with confidence, "You will not leave. You ought surely to stay." In relay to that statement, Simon Peter completely accepts the previous words from Jesus and answers as follows. "Oh Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," (verse sixty-eight).
18. Also, when Christ speaks messages to us through the church, he states with confidence, that "You ought to remain in my word." Thus, he speaks words of life to us. Therefore, we, too, want to express [our] faith along with Peter, "Oh Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." And we will abide in the word of God. We will keep listening to the word of God. Until the hour when everything which is flesh is eliminated from its not-good-for-anything value, we want to keep listening to the word of God, believing that it is "the spirit" that gives life.