Life is full of choices. We all make dozens of them every day. Most of them are pretty easy. We decide what we’re going to eat; what we’re going to wear; what TV show to watch; where we’re going to shop. But there are also times when we need to make big, life-changing decisions, decisions that have long-term consequences. What makes these decisions so difficult is that you can’t have it both ways; you must choose one or the other. Where you go to college, who will you marry, what career path will you choose, where will you decide to buy a house and raise a family? All of those situations are a crossroads where you can only choose one path.
Today, Martin, you have arrived at a major crossroads in your life. Years of hearing and learning God’s Word culminate today: in your confirmation. Until now, Christianity probably hasn’t felt like much of a choice. In large part you’ve been carried along by your mother, teachers, and church. You were baptized when you were still in diapers. Coming to worship, Sunday school, and confirmation wasn’t really up to you. After today, that changes a bit. After today, in the eyes of God and this congregation, the primary responsibility for your faith will no longer rest with your mom or your Sunday school teachers – but with you. Today you will publicly confess what you – not your mother, not your family, not even this church – believe. I understand that may sound like a lot to ask of an eighth grader – but it is nothing less than practice for Judgment Day – when it won’t matter what your mother or family or church or pastor believes, your eternity will hang on what you believe. So the question for you and for all of us here is: where will you go from here? The answer is found in the Word of God before us.
The day before Jesus spoke these words he had fed more than five thousand people with just a few fish and bread from a boy’s lunch. (John 6:1-15) By this miracle Jesus proved that he was the Son of God, the promised Savior. But most of them missed the point. Instead of receiving him as the Savior of their souls, they wanted to make him an earthly king – they wanted him to make their lives here on earth easier, more pleasant, and richer. But that’s not why Jesus came. He didn’t come to fill bellies or bank accounts but to fill sinners with forgiveness and faith – and he told them that. He forced them to make a decision: continue following Jesus and trust him for salvation or leave him and go back to their old way of life of trusting their own good works for salvation. John tells us what many decided: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Why? Because Jesus’ desire to give them forgiveness and salvation didn’t match up with what they wanted him to do. Jesus told them that the Father had sent him to earth to preach and teach God’s Word. He told them that on their own they were lost in sin and doomed to die eternally in hell and that there was nothing they could do to save themselves. He told them that their only hope was for him to die for their sins so that they could have eternal life in heaven. He pleaded with them to place their trust in him and not in themselves or their own good works. He taught them not to work for the things of this world that are passing away but to focus on the life to come in heaven. This was a hard teaching. It offended every fiber of their being.
What could possibly be offensive about the good news of free salvation through faith in Christ? Two things. One, Jesus had said I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53) This means that anyone who rejects Jesus will be doomed to die eternally in hell. We might naturally think of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons – who all reject Jesus’ claim as God and Savior. But what’s even more offensive is that all the good, moral, hardworking, upstanding people, people who may believe in God but don’t think they need Jesus – they are destined for hell, too.
Second, it’s offensive to our reason that spiritual, eternal life in heaven is connected to the material, flesh and blood of Jesus. That our salvation lies in the hands of a baby born of a virgin, the step-son of a lowly carpenter, who never became rich or successful, who was sold out by his own friend and murdered in the most horrific way: by being nailed to a cross. Most people won’t blink at talk about God’s plan or God’s blessings or some idea that America is God’s land in a generic way – but the moment you suggest that no one see or reach God apart from Jesus – people will still shake their heads and walk away because it’s offensive to reason to think that God had to become a man and suffer and die to save us from our sins.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Those disciples didn’t walk away from Jesus for the reasons that many people say they leave him. They didn’t leave because the 10 commandments were too restrictive. They weren’t offended by the doctrine of creation: that God created everything in six normal days using nothing but his Word. (Genesis 1) They weren’t offended by the Biblical roles of men and women; that God forbids women to exercise authority over men in the Church. (1 Timothy 2:12) They weren’t angry that God calls homosexuality and adultery and sex outside of marriage sins. (Matthew 19:9) They didn’t stumble over the Law, they stumbled over the Gospel. They simply couldn’t stomach the thought that they were such awful sinners, that their every thought, word and action was so offensive to God’s holiness that the only way they could escape his wrath was for God to sacrifice his own Son on a cross for them. And so they left. They had better things to do. Jesus was offering them something they didn’t think they needed: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
It still happens today. If and when people come to Jesus, come to church, they want to hear about a Jesus who will give them material blessings, or at least a Jesus who will appeal to their pride by showing them how to save themselves – and if they don’t, well, they will either find a different church or just abandon Jesus altogether. By their actions they prove that they don’t think God’s Word, forgiveness, and eternity are very important. They prove that all they care about is the stuff of this life: food, money, sex, popularity, happiness, health etc. Jesus gets in the way of what they want and so they reject him and stop hearing his Word. The sad reality is that those who reject Jesus now will get what they want for all eternity – they will be separated from him forever in hell. (Mark 16:16)
And it would be very easy for you, Martin, to go along with them. Today you join the ranks of Christians who will face the daily decision to follow the world to death or follow Jesus to life. Today, Jesus isn’t speaking to a crowd of disciples by the Sea of Galilee, he’s talking to us and especially to you, Martin. You know what Jesus says about you and about himself. Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe. Jesus makes the choice clear, doesn’t he? There is no middle ground. You can’t have it both ways. Will you choose your own flesh, your own reason and emotions and desires and the ways of the world – which count for nothing before God now and won’t count for anything at all on Judgment Day? Or, will you choose the way of the Spirit, the way of faith in Jesus and his Word, the one and only way that leads to life?
Now, don’t get the wrong idea. No one, on their own, can choose Jesus. [Jesus] went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” Jesus isn’t surprised when billions of people for whom he died stream away from him because we are natural born unbelievers, Jesus and his teaching are offensive to all of us. No one, not the apostles, not me, not one person here is capable of choosing to accept and believe in Jesus. (John 15:16) Only God himself can create and sustain faith. Which is why hearing the Word and receiving the sacrament are so important – those are the only tools God has promised to use to create and strengthen faith. There are some people here this morning, Martin, who are thinking about people they know and love who have stood right where you will and made those promises but now no longer attend worship, hear the Word, or receive the Sacrament. And they would like to know: how can we prevent young people from leaving the church once they’re confirmed? Here is the answer. We can’t. Certainly we can and will pray for you. But, the truth is that there is nothing any of us can do to keep you or others like you from turning your back on Jesus. God alone created faith in your heart and God alone can keep faith in your heart. Which naturally begs the question: How do you know if you have faith? Is it a feeling? Is it based on what you know and do or how often you pray? If you someday forget the six chief parts of the Catechism, does that mean you’re doomed? Many are mystified by that question – but not Lutherans. The only way to know that you have faith is to make faithful use of the means through which God creates and maintains faith: the means of grace. When you daily swim in the water of Baptism through repentance, when you hear and read the Word of God – which is spirit and life, when you regularly receive the body and blood of Jesus in Communion – you can be sure that your faith is alive and strengthened because God has attached his promise to those means of grace.
Today isn’t really about what you have done, Martin – it’s about what God has done for you. He has led you to confess the faith he has given you and swear that you will give up everything, your friends, job, home, family, even life rather than walk away from Jesus. That confession makes you the devil’s target and puts you at a crossroads. I can’t force you to come to worship, receive communion or continue your learning in Bible class. You’ve completed confirmation class so I can’t make you read your Bible or Catechism anymore. And soon enough, you mother won’t be able to either. As you get older, you will see many of your friends, your teachers, your coworkers, maybe, someday, a girl – all walking away from Jesus. You will see them walking away and part of you will want to join them. This day is meant to prepare you for that day. On those days, see your Savior standing before you with the nail marks in his hands and feet and side, saying: you do not want to leave too, do you? Remember what you have learned about your Savior, remember what he has done for you, remember the peace and forgiveness he died to give you and the home he has prepared for you in heaven. And remember Peter’s perfect answer: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. For the rest of your life people will be offering you words: words of wisdom, words of affection, words of guidance, words they say will lead to wealth and health and happiness. The devil and the people of this world will promise you the world – but it’s a promise they can’t keep. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.
When you stand at a crossroads in life – when you’re forced to make the decision to leave or follow Jesus – don’t think of me, don’t think of church or confirmation class, don’t think of your family – think of him. Where else will you find someone like him? Where else can you find someone who lived a perfect life and gives you credit for it? Where else can you find a friend suffered hell and died for you? Who else in the world would ever love you that much? What can the world offer you that is better than eternal life? When you are tempted to leave your Savior for something else, may the God who brought you to this point give you (and the rest of us) the faith and conviction to confess today and every day: “Lord, there’s nowhere else to go…only you have the words of eternal life.” Amen.