Rev. Jeff Chapman, Faith Presbyterian Church
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’
61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’
For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
67So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’
68Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’
70Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ 71He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:60-71, NRSV)
I was flipping through the channels the other day and came across one of these infomercials trying to sell a brand new piece of exercise equipment. I’m sure you’ve seen these ads. They all include the same elements. It’s very seductive.
There’s the muscle-bound trainer who apparently has advanced degrees in physiology and engineering because he has developed this innovative new piece of exercise equipment that will do for you what no piece of equipment in the history of the world has ever been able to do before. There are the personal testimonies, complete with before and after photos. Dozens of people who used the Ab-grinder and were rapidly transformed from overweight, out of shape couch potatoes to Greek gods and goddesses. There is the once-in-a-lifetime, act-now-before-it’s-too-late, price of $39.99, plus shipping and handling. And of course, there’s always the money back guarantee. If you are not completely satisfied, if the Ab-grinder does not do everything we promised it would do, return it to us for a full refund, minus shipping and handling.
You watch these presentations and you have to admit that the initial attraction is extraordinarily appealing. $39.99 isn’t really that much money. Especially if this piece of equipment can really do for you all that they’re telling you it can do. Before you know it you’ve got your credit card out and you’re dialing the number on the screen. Even as you dial you can already feel the calories melting away.
But then the Ab-grinder shows up a week later and reality sets in. Apparently just owning the Ab-grinder isn’t enough. You have to actually take it out of the packaging. You have to get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning when you’d much rather stay in bed. You have to work and sweat. You have to put yourself through considerable pain and discomfort, and not just on days you feel like it, but day after day after day. And the results don’t happen overnight. Every pound is hard fought.
Before long, $39.99 actually seems like a lot of money. Before long, you wonder if that rock hard six-pack is really worth all the effort. Before long, the Ab-grinder is sitting on a card-table in your driveway at your next garage sale.
A lot of life is like this. First there is the initial attraction and it’s so appealing. Only later comes the hard reality.
When we first hear what Jesus is offering, all sorts of us initially sign up. Who doesn’t want what Jesus is offering? Grace. Forgiveness. Unconditional love. Life. And not just a better life, but abundant life. Eternal life! A living and lasting relationship with the Creator of the universe who calls us to join him in his mission to transform the world. Nobody will ever even come close to offering you what Jesus is offering you.
The problem comes when people who are initially attracted to Jesus begin to actually follow him and pay closer attention to his teaching. In time, they discover what it is, exactly, that Jesus is asking of them in return. Jesus promises us new life, but to receive his new life you have to first give him your old life and there’s more than a few things you like about your old life. Jesus invites us to follow him, but that means that we have to go where he is going and he doesn’t always go places we want to go. Jesus is willing and ready to be in charge of your life, but if you put him in charge that means that you can’t be in charge any longer. Jesus is offering to be our Savior, but only if he can also be our Lord. He loves you just the way you are, but he also loves you far too much to leave you that way.
John tells us here that when Jesus’ first disciples really began to understand what discipleship meant, many of them said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” It’s not that they didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching. On the contrary, they did understand it. That was the problem. They understood what Jesus was asking of them and didn’t much like it. And they weren’t the last ones to have this experience. This happens all the time with disciples. It still happens today.
Some years ago, when I was a youth pastor, a parent of one of the kids in our youth group came to meet with me one day to tell me that her daughter would no longer be taking part in our youth ministry. This came as a shock to me because her daughter, at the time, was very involved in our church and seemed to be growing in her faith in wonderful ways. She was a kid who seemed to be taking very seriously Jesus’ call on her life.
Naturally, I asked this parent what had happened. I was stunned by her answer. Even though this woman was herself a member of our church, she told me the problem was that there was simply too much focus on Jesus in our youth group. A little Jesus, she said, was a good thing. But her daughter was being exposed to, in her words, “too much Jesus”. And that had become a problem.
Years later I look back on that conversation and realize that, on one level, I respect that woman for her honesty. She had dreams and goals for her daughter’s life, things she wanted to see happen. And she knew enough about Jesus to know that if Jesus got a hold of her daughter’s life he was going to ruin all those dreams in favor of a whole new set of dreams. Because that’s what Jesus does. If you place your life in his hands, he isn’t just going to enhance your life. He’s going to give you a whole new life. And when it comes down to it, not everybody wants a whole new life. A little bit of Jesus is okay. Too much Jesus, well, that can be a problem.
Notice that the people in this passage who are thinking about cutting their losses with Jesus and putting him out at the next yard sale are not simply anonymous faces in the crowd. John tells us that these are his disciples. There are church people. These are people who have already invested their lives following after him. At some point they each were initially enthusiastic enough to sign up for the program. Now that they’re into it, however, they’re not sure they want to stick.
Again, this still happens all the time. Lots of people are initially attracted to Christ, to the Christian faith, to the church, for all sorts of reasons. But then somewhere along the way – and this may be years later – they begin to really understand the teachings of Christ and what it is, exactly, that he is asking of them. And they begin to have second thoughts. Sometimes they are even offended. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they go and find a different church, a church that doesn’t have too much Jesus.
Notice how Jesus responds to those who find his teaching too hard to accept. In verse 61 he says, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.”
There’s a lot here. Let me break it down. There are at least two important things Jesus says here.
First, Jesus makes clear that there will come a day when everybody will see that he is, in fact, who he has claimed to be. The Son of Man will ascend to the throne of the Father in heaven and those who denied his claim of lordship over all of life will, at that point, recognize their mistake.
Specifically, Jesus is pointing to his resurrection. When he died and then rose again from the dead, Christ demonstrated that he really is Lord. Furthermore, the resurrection is the guarantee that all that Christ said is true. That means that we must heed his message. To fail to do so is to deny reality and only a fool denies reality. You can deny the reality of gravity and jump out of an airplane without a parachute, but eventually the reality of gravity will have its way. You can deny the lordship of Christ, but eventually the risen Christ will come in glory and every knee will bow before him.
So, that’s the first thing Jesus teaches us here. He is Lord and in time it will be shown to all that he is Lord.
A second thing Jesus makes clear is that his words are spirit and life. In other words, because he is Lord, that means that when he speaks we are receiving the very Word of God which has the power to give life and transform life. If we trust Jesus as Lord, therefore, we will trust what he tells us, whatever he tells us.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul asks a very important question at one point. In Galatians 3:5, he asks the church of his day, “Does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” With his question, Paul is reminding the church that God does not come into our lives and work wonderful things because of our own moral striving or effort. Instead, God works in our lives simply because we trust his message. We believe his Word. We have faith in Jesus’ teachings, even when they are hard. And then through our faith God’s grace flows into our lives and transforms us.
There is power and life in God’s Word. There is power and life in Jesus’ teachings which have been passed down to us in the scriptures. That means that it is only when we boldly proclaim the message of the scriptures, trust them as God’s Word, uphold them, live under them, hang on to them for life, that they will deliver what they promised.
So, if we believe Jesus is Lord, then to follow him means that we trust and obey his teaching. Let me bring this down to earth with a couple of examples.
Jesus, for instance, taught us that he would give us treasure in heaven. He also taught us, however, that we would have to be ready and willing, with his help, to give up earthly treasure to receive his heavenly treasure. So the question is, do you trust his Word? I ask because many, even in the church, do not. Some are offended, actually, that Jesus might tell them one day that they are too rich, that they are using too much money on themselves and not giving enough of it away to those who have nothing.
Jesus taught us that he would give us forgiveness. He also taught us, however, that we must be ready and willing, with his help, to forgive others. He even taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” So the question is, again, do you trust his Word? Many, even in the church, do not. Some people say, “No, I will not forgive that person. Not after what they did to me.” They find the suggestion to do so, in fact, offensive. Who is Jesus to tell me that he will not be able to forgive me unless I also forgive others?
Jesus teaches us that sex is a precious and beautiful gift that can be a tremendous source of freedom and blessing and joy when it is used in the context of marriage. But many people in the church are offended that Jesus, as they see it, tries to restrict our lives in these ways. After all, what does Jesus know about sex? Especially these days.
Now, these are just a few examples of Jesus’ teaching which are consistently ignored or dismissed by many people in the church. But this shouldn’t surprise us. Because when you sit down and study and understand what Jesus actually taught, it’s not long before you realize that if you follow Jesus, he is going to ask you to go some places you’re not sure you want to go and do some things you’re pretty sure you don’t want to do and give up some things you’re not quite ready to give up.
We live in a materialistic, vengeful, sex-when-I-want-it, put-yourself-first, love-only-those-who-love-you-first, win-at-all-costs, live-for-the-moment, self-gratifying, gossiping, frantic, busy-all-the-time world and Jesus is calling us in the midst of it to become generous, pure, holy, gracious, patient, kind, self-controlled, sacrificial servants who strive to always put God first, people who seek to love everybody we come across along the way, people willing to adopt ways of life that are absolutely foreign to the worldly culture around us. It’s a radically different path Jesus is calling us to follow and for many people, even people in the church, it simply goes too far.
An Anglican bishop named N.T. Wright once said, “If you go to a meeting where someone demolishes the way you’ve been brought up to think, and offers you instead a way of looking at the world which, though convincing, will be extremely costly, you may well find good reasons to be somewhere else next time the preacher comes to town.”
Jesus’ message, when rightly understood, is always going to offend some people. Lots of people. Even people in church. Because central to his message is the proclamation that he alone is Savior and Lord. And that means two things. First, if Jesus is our Savior it means we all need saving. You will be lost in your life without Jesus. Second, if Jesus is Lord it means that he’s in charge. He can run your life better, far better, than you can run your life.
Now, on one hand, we can respond to Jesus’ claim to be Savior and Lord by saying, “Jesus, I trust you so much that, with your help, I will stick with you the rest of my life, no matter what you ask of me, no matter where you lead me. If you say it, I’ll do it. As long as you help me, I’ll do it.”
On the other hand, we can respond to Jesus’ claim to be Savior and Lord by saying, “Jesus, I will stick with you in my life as long as you lead me to the places I already want to go and ask me to do things I already want to do. If I like it, and you say it, I’ll do it.”
That is essentially what a whole lot of people said to Jesus way back then. So naturally, when they understood what discipleship would cost them, they weren’t interested any longer. And they walked away. And Jesus – don’t miss this – Jesus let them go. He didn’t hold them captive. He didn’t beg. He didn’t suggest a compromise. What he did instead was turn to the few disciples who hadn’t yet walked away, the twelve, and ask them, “Do you also wish to go away? Do you want to leave too?”
You see, Jesus is not a car salesman. A car salesman starts out with the hard sell. This is the price for the car and I can’t go any lower then this. But that’s not what you’re willing to pay so you walk away. You say you’ll take your business somewhere else as you head towards the parking lot. But then just as you’re backing your car out he rushes over to meet you. When you roll down the window he tells you that he’s just spoken with his manager and, as it turns out, he’s found a way to knock a couple thousand dollars off the sticker price. Just for you. Just this once. Because he doesn’t want to lose your business.
Jesus is not a car salesman. Read through the Gospels. Jesus never does this. Jesus never compromises. He’s letting people walk away all the time. Never once do you hear him run after someone saying, “Okay, listen. How about this? How about I just run this part of your life and you can keep on running that part? How about you obey me over here and I’ll look the other way over there? How about you let me be Lord on Sunday through Thursday, and then you can be in charge Friday and Saturday?”
No, Jesus never compromises with disciples. With him it’s all or nothing. When we follow him we have to be willing to follow him wherever he leads us. And for those who are not willing to do so, he lets them walk away. It breaks his heart, but he lets them go.
It makes me wonder if we, as Christ’s church, are we willing to do the same? Are we willing to hold uncompromisingly to the teachings of Christ here at Faith, so much so that even when Jesus wants to challenge and offend, we let Jesus challenge and offend? Are we? Many churches are not. Many congregations, many pastors, many Christians compromise Christ’s message for the sake of keeping people happy and conforming to the prevailing culture of the day.
Of course, we must always welcome all people into this community. Everyone. Always. Never are we to stand in self-righteous judgment over others, expecting of them things we do not expect of ourselves or suggesting that we know anything at all about their ultimate destiny or salvation. We do not. I am as in need of God’s grace as is anybody that walks through these doors. And so are you.
And even when people do walk away from the church, we are to go after them. Wherever they go, we are to love them, to serve them, to make great sacrifices for them because that’s what Jesus does. Though Jesus lets us walk away, he comes chasing after us. Jesus never stops pursing us. You can run from Jesus your whole life and he’ll chase after you to the very end. Not to cut a deal with you. He’s not chasing you to compromise with you; he’s chasing you to save you. He’s chasing you because he loves you. He’s chasing you because he hopes you’ll trust him enough to allow him to come into your life and transform it in ways you can never imagine. He wants to transform your life for eternity.
All this leads to the obvious question. Let me personalize it. Are you willing to let him? Are you willing to follow after Jesus wherever he leads you? If he helps you, will you obey Jesus no matter what he asks you to do? As others reconsider and walk away, Jesus will come to you and to me and he will ask us, “What about you? Do you also wish to go away?”
I love how Peter answers this question. I love it because he is so honest. “Lord, to whom can we go? The alternatives are not good. You alone have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter’s not going anywhere. Where else would he go?
Let me try and be as honest as Peter. There have been times in my life, even in recent years, when I have wondered whether giving my life to following Christ is what I really want to do. The Christian life is hard, at least it is for me. Following Jesus has not easy. I like running my life. There are things Jesus wants me to do that I simply do not want to do. I don’t always want to live a lifestyle that runs so counter to the culture around me? Sometimes it’s hard to trust in a God that is so often so silent so much of the time. Sometimes I genuinely entertain the idea of how things would be different if I stopped following Jesus though this life.
And yet, I’ll tell you this. During those times I always end up asking myself the same question. Along with Peter, I ask myself, “Where else would I go?” Every person on the planet is betting their life on something. Is there a better alternative than Jesus? I mean, is there? Every time I ask my self that question I come up with the same answer. It’s the same answer Peter gave. No. Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God. Jesus is reality. He’s the only hope I have. I have to follow him. I have to keep after him. There literally is no one else I know that can, in the end, lead me into life.
A writer named William Barclay once put it this way. I’ll close with this. “In the last analysis Christianity is not a philosophy which we accept; it is not a theory to which we give allegiance; it is not something which is thought out; it is not something which is intellectually arrived at. It is a personal response to Jesus Christ. It is the answer of the heart to the magnet of Christ. It is an allegiance and a love which [you] give because [your] heart will not allow [you] to do anything else.”
Do we wish also to go away? Lord, to whom can we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read John 6:60-71 again. Which part of this passage stands out to you?
What was so hard about Jesus’ teaching that it caused so many of his disciples to abandon him?
Is the Christian Gospel offensive? Is Jesus offensive?
Have you ever felt like junking your Christian faith and moving on to something else? What kept you from doing so?
Is there a part of Jesus’ teaching that you are willfully ignoring or disobeying in your life right now with no intention to change? Why?
When people reject Jesus’ teaching he lets them walk away. If he loves us all, how can he do this?
Should our church be unwilling to compromise the teachings of Jesus even when they become offensive to people and cause them to leave our church?
What do you think Peter means when he says to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: Matthew 13:1-23 – Some fall away
Tuesday: Matthew 24:1-14 – A hard, good road
Wednesday: Psalm 48 – Glory & strength
Thursday: Galatians 3:1-14 – Law or faith?
Friday: I Corinthians 10:23-11:1 – All for God’s glory
Saturday: In preparation for worship tomorrow, read John 7:1-9.