Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.
So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established. 1 Kings 2:10 - 12 (NRSV)
Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
1 Kings 3:3 - 14 (NRSV)
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
John 6:51 - 58 (NRSV)
The Olympic Games are in the books for another four years! The buildup to the games always includes the runners carrying, and passing the torch. Our three texts have something of that. David passed the torch of leadership to Solomon; the Psalmist passed the torch of praise and worship to the community of faith; the beloved apostle John passed the torch of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Today I would love to fully develop all three texts, but, for the sake of time we will dwell on that last torch; it is the most critical. We must pass on the gift of eternal life to the next generation. Someone once said that the church is only one generation from extinction. This is true because the church is not monuments or buildings – it is passed on in transformed lives. If we drop that ball in this generation, Christ will be lost in the next.
We normally speak of eternal life as that which happens after a man dies. Someone has said Man's life is made up of 20 years of his mother asking him where he is going, 40 years of his wife asking him where he has been and one hour at his funeral when everyone wonders where he is going. Jesus maintained you don’t have to wonder!
Notice the progression of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” John 6:48-52 (NRSV)
What you do with bread, of course, is eat it. The Jews were thinking only in literal terms. Jesus tried to talk their language, but they missed the point. He spoke of the manna the children of Israel ate in the wilderness, while they followed Moses around. That bread sustained physical life.
But Jesus was speaking of spiritual life and the identity He came to establish with us. This bread speaks of the humanity of Christ. He was fully God, but He was also fully human. The Bible declares He was incarnated [literally put on flesh]. When you go through difficult times, Christ understands, because he shares the same flesh with which you contend. For those who will identify with Christ, saying I belong to Christ; I will follow Him, our grumbling ends, and our identity begins as His believers. Then…
So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. John 6:53 (NRSV)
Identifying with Christ brings the new birth, the incarnation of Jesus, not just in Bethlehem’s manger, but in the Believer’s heart and life. One interpreter’s comment about this is worth noting...
What does that mean? Think of it this way. Here in a bookcase is a book which a man has never read. It may be the glory and the wonder of the tragedies of Shakespeare; but so long as it remains unread upon his bookshelves it is external to him. One day he takes it down and reads it. He is thrilled and fascinated and moved. The story sticks to him; the great lines remain in his memory; now when he wants to, he can take that wonder out from inside himself and remember it and think about it and feed his mind and his heart upon it. Once the book was outside him. Now it is inside him and he can feed upon it. It is that way with any great experience in life. It remains external until we take it within ourselves.
Jesus wants to be our internal companion in that way; not a theological subject for debate. He told us to abide in Him and He would abide in us. That means Jesus takes up residence. Identity with Christ leads to Incarnation of the Christ in us. He becomes the very bread of life that feeds us internally.
From identity to incarnation, and...
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:51 - 58 (NRSV)
Everything associated with Jesus is life. His flesh and blood give life; are life! The Father is living; Jesus himself lives by the Father’s vitality. Compared to the physical manna of the Old Testament Israelites, who died in the barren wasteland, the life provided by Christ is eternal, in that it has no end in any direction.
Chronologically, something that is eternal has no beginning, nor an ending. Dimensionally it is also without barriers. Our life in Christ is not contained in a church building. It is not confined to the Lord’s Supper Table, or some religious ceremony. Life in Christ doesn’t just extend to places; it governs and inhabits all creation. When you leave here today, you will not leave your life in Christ hanging on a peg in the foyer wall. Rather it takes you out into the mission field to carry life everywhere; eternal life has no boundary.
A number of years ago my doctor scribbled something impossible to interpret on a white pad. He handed me the note and said, Take this – you’ll feel better soon. Considering that I was so sick I imagined I’d have to get much better to die, I did what so many of us have done - I followed the instructions. I took the prescription to the pharmacy, holding it like precious treasure. I carried the bottle home, eyeing it on the seat of my car like a miracle in the making.
This is gonna make me feel so much better!
After I started to feel a little better it just did not seem quite so urgent to take the pills. I stopped taking them regularly – quit altogether with six or eight left in the bottle. The relapse was the worst feeling in my life.
Many people treat Christianity the same way. A small dose of religion will act like any other immunization; it will keep you from getting the real thing. In the long run, if you are going to drink this cup with Christ at all, you’d better empty it down to the dregs. Part time Christianity is miserable Christianity!
We blessed the backpacks today, and our prayer is that these children, the next generation to which we’re charged to pass the torch of eternal life, will get it, hold it high and pass it on again.
That is too important for “part-time, misery religion”.
So how will we do it?
An old wooden church was being moved through the little town to preserve the building for the future. As it passed Main Street the steeple brushed the power lines; in a second the white clapboard church was blazing. A crowd gathered – including “Bad Buster” who had never darkened the church doorstep since he was baptized as a babe. The preacher was furiously carrying water buckets and noticed Buster. What are you doin’ here Buster? You’ve never been interested in church before. Buster replied, That’s true, preacher; but I also ain’t never seen no church on fire before either!
How do you pass the torch? Bring it close, get warmed – let the fire of God’s Holy Spirit set you on fire; you won’t have to worry about the next generation – they’ll stand in line to catch that kind of fire!