There are a lot of things in life that are not as they first appear, or perhaps more than they appear. For example, when you receive a present that’s wrapped in a box, you know that the box itself is not the gift, it contains something. You don’t just sit and look at the wrapping, thinking that that is all there is to see; instead, you open it up to see what’s inside. So what your eyes perceive is not all that there is, your eyes can not see everything that there is to know; some things are taken on faith.
Take Elijah the prophet. In the Old Testament (1 Kings 19:1-8), he flees from the grasp of king Ahab of Israel and the queen Jezebel. They are out to get him, particularly Jezebel. You see, the king and queen of Israel had persecuted the priests and worshippers of the one true Lord God Yahweh. So, Elijah had challenged the prophets of Baal to a test of their respective Gods to see who was the true God. The king and queen of Israel and their great many prophets of Baal looked to be too much for Elijah. But, things are not always as they appear: Elijah and Yahweh won the contest, and as a result the prophets of Baal were killed. But, Elijah had to flee the land of Israel in order to escape the revenge of Ahab and Jezebel.
So, in 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah resting under a tree in the wilderness. He begs for death from the Lord. He says, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” The stresses of ministry have caused Elijah to prefer death. But, the Lord doesn’t give Elijah death. Instead, He sends an angel to him. This angel touches Elijah and tells him to eat a little cake of bread and drink a little jar of water. This probably didn’t look like much. How long could this possibly sustain Elijah? But, things are not always as they appear, they’re often much more. For, Elijah ”… ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” Veiled in that cake and in that jar was life that sustained Elijah.
And what about Jesus? In our Gospel reading for today (John 6:35-51), Jesus says to the people that he is the bread of life come down from heaven and that all who believe in him shall neither hunger nor thirst. How can this be, the people wonder? “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus appeared to be just a man – someone limited by his appearances. It didn’t look like he was anything more than the son of Joseph and Mary, born as a little helpless baby to poor parents in the stable in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth as a carpenter. How does he now say, “I have come down from heaven?” The people saw him with their own eyes, but did not believe, could not believe, that he was anything more than what their eyes perceived.
However, there’s more than meets the eye; there’s more to Jesus than appearances. There’s more to that baby of Bethlehem and carpenter of Nazareth. What the people could not see was that around that baby of Bethlehem gathered shepherds who worshipped their Lord as announced by angels and to whom even the Magi came to worship, and to whom the rest of the nations will gather. What the people could not see was the boy of Nazareth teaching in the temple when he was 12. What they could not see was that Jesus truly has come down from heaven.
He is the eternal Lord God, come in flesh and blood. He is the Son of God born to the Virgin Mary. He is more than he appears to be, because things are not always as they appear. Our eyes can not perceive all things; we can not see all truth for ourselves, some things must be revealed to us so that we see beyond the reflections of light to the truth behind. Some things must be beheld by faith.
In fact, in this Jesus Christ, God reveals Himself to us. God the Father draws Himself to us through the Son. It is through Jesus that God comes to us, because Jesus is God. He didn’t look like it to the unbelievers in his audience in the text for today. They saw Jesus as simply a man, limited by his appearances. But, in thinking this way, they were limited by what their eyes could see. They had no faith, because the limit of their thinking was defined by what they could see for themselves. They let the limitations of physics, biology, and chemistry define the bounds of their perceptions and understanding, rather than relying on the Word of God to bring them into full truth. How often are our eyes deceived, and yet we tend to state that “seeing is believing,” without realizing that there is more to life than what we see.
Likewise, in our own time, many people see Jesus as simply a man. They see him as a teacher, maybe even as a prophet, but they don’t see Jesus as God. These are the Dan Brown people, the Bart Ehrman people, the Elaine Pagels people, the Jesus Seminar people. These are people you may know; people who see Jesus and yet do not believe. And maybe even at times you wonder, like the rest of them: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
But, there is more than meets the eye; seeing is not always believing. A present in a box doesn’t seem to be anything more, and yet it is; the cake given to Elijah didn’t appear to be able to sustain Elijah for forty days and forty nights, and yet it did; Jesus didn’t appear to be God, and yet he is. And we know he is the Son of God not because we can see it with our eyes, but rather because God has revealed it to us through His Word and has brought us to faith in this Word through His Holy Spirit.
There are many other things that are more than they appear and that reach beyond what they look like to contain more than we could have hoped for. Baptism looks like just water, and yet it isn’t just plain water, it’s also God’s Word and promises by which He kills our old sinful nature and re-births us in Jesus Christ as new creations and as children of God. The Lord’s Supper looks to be just bread and wine, and yet it isn’t just plain bread and wine, it’s also Jesus Christ in flesh and blood, continuing to feast with his people. The Bible looks to be just a book of words printed on old text, but it’s also God’s Word in which He reveals Himself to us through Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ himself looked to be just flesh and blood, and yet he is also God who came in person to achieve our salvation and to draw us to him.
All these things have more within them than what we can perceive with our eyes. The reality of God is not limited by appearances or by physics or by chemistry or by biology – the Lord God created all these things and is beyond them, even as He is in and with them through the Sacraments, for our sake as created beings who deal with the world on the basis of what we can see and feel and touch.
Many other things are like this as well. The Church on earth doesn’t always appear to be God’s children. We still struggle with sin; we fight, we argue, we sometimes are anything but united. In fact, perhaps sometimes we appear to be all too childlike, engaging in the bickering and squabbles that earthly children engage in and thereby grieve their parents. But, yet we are God’s children, because He has made us His children through Christ; He has baptized us into Christ and into his family. How often do we grieve the Holy Spirit who has brought us to faith and gathered us together as a family? And yet, we remain God’s children, because we are more than we appear and we are who we are on the basis of God’s Word, not on the basis of how we appear or how we feel.
That brings up another thing that doesn’t appear to our eyes. We have God’s promise that Christ is returning to restore all things to perfection, but we can’t see it now. It doesn’t look like it’s true. We see in this world pain and death, and things seem to be going on each day as they went on the day before. But, there is a promise out there that will one day rise above the horizon; the day when Christ returns to raise the dead and bring you God’s children into your eternal life with him in the restored creation. This promise is not something that we behold through what we can see with our eyes; no, it’s something that we behold through faith on the strength of God’s Word. Christ is returning for you, because you have God’s promise.
And all this is possible because of something else that was more than it appeared to be. The cross on which Christ was crucified seemed to be the end; it seemed to be the death of God’s promises; it seemed to be the death of our hopes; it appeared to be a defeat for God. But, it wasn’t, because beyond the cross is the empty tomb – beyond the crucifixion is the resurrection. Beyond the wrappings of the cross is the present of the resurrection.
So, there is more to the cross than meets the eye; there is the empty tomb that came next. And through this cross and empty tomb Christ defeated sin, death, and the devil. These enemies still rage against you and all of God’s children on the earth, but when Christ returns they will be cast out forever.
So, there is more to this world than what we see. There is more than meets the eye. Beyond what we can see, there is a world of promises revealed to us by God. So, open your Bibles, read God’s Word and He will draw you to Him through the Word of Christ found throughout the Bible – from the Old Testament through the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation you will find Jesus Christ there throughout the Scriptures because all the Scriptures are centered around him and find their fulfillment in him, and God Himself will reveal Him to you.
And the day is coming when you will not have to behold Christ through faith, but will instead truly behold him face to face and see with your very eyes the fulfillment of your hopes and your faith. Amen.
(Image: “Consecration,” By Nashastudiya – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52463796 )