Isaiah 43:14-21, John 6:35-51, 60-68
July 1, 2012
“Do we follow Jesus?” That’s the question that was asked at our 9:00 service last week. Karen (Shablin) challenged us to think about that, and to consider how many things in our lives we might be putting ahead of our commitment to Jesus and his kingdom. I’ve thought a lot about that this week. And I’d like us all to consider that question. “Do we follow Jesus?”
Then this week, I’d like to take that one step further. It’s good to think about the priorities of our lives, and see where our commitment to Christ “fits into” all of that – or vice versa – to see where our lives fit into our commitment to Christ. That’s all good. But what I’d like us to consider today is that following Jesus is not always easy. And I don’t just mean because of all the other priorities of our lives.
The scripture I had us read today comes from John, chapter 6. And in this chapter, we find Jesus saying some difficult things. And by the way, this is the place I usually send people when I hear them say that Jesus was “just a good religious leader,” or that he was “just a good ethical teacher,” etc… So if you ever find yourself thinking or saying those things, my advice to you would be to read John 6!
I had us read just selected portions of this dialogue, because it’s quite long. (And of course I didn’t want to violate the “20 verse rule of thumb!”) But do take some time this week and read this whole chapter. It is one continuous account. (Do you really go back and read things when I say “go back and read them?” Maybe we should have a test next week!)
For today, I started with the part of this where Jesus says “I am the bread of heaven. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” Now, those words sounds wonderful to us, don’t they? They sound wonderful to us, because we have believed in Jesus all these years later. But think what that sounded like to those people! There was no mistaking what Jesus was talking about here! The “bread from heaven” was the Manna their ancestors ate in the wilderness after they exodus from Egypt. Jesus had the audacity to compare himself to that most sacred of stories! That was scandalous!
So the people questioned him. And it’s interesting how John puts this. He says “they murmured at him.” And the reason that’s interesting is because that’s what their ancestors had done to Moses! The people “murmured” at him, too! That was an important word in that story, and John’s readers would have picked up on that! They murmured, and they said, “How can this guy say this? We know his parents. We know his family. How can he make these claims about himself?” Well, Jesus hears their questions, and he comes back at them with even more audacity! He talks about God as being his father! I’m sure they were all now murmuring again, and this time they were probably using the “B” word. “Blasphemy!” That’s what they called it when a person equated themselves with God.
So then, Jesus talks more plainly. And again, imagine them hearing this for the first time! He says “I am the bread of heaven, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever, and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Well, can you imagine the reaction to that! Can you imagine the outrage?? “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?!” But Jesus presses the point. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of ‘the Son of Man’ and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Now, he’s a little ambiguous there, talking about himself in the third person, and using that term “Son of Man.” But very he quickly clears that up, saying, “But he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (I think there was an extra little dig there are the end. The words “raise him up at the last day” would have angered the Sadducees, because they didn’t believe in a resurrection.)
Now of course, we understand those words about flesh and blood from the standpoint of our sacrament of communion. But these people didn’t know any of that! To them, what Jesus was saying sounded wacko! (And I believe that is an official “biblical” term. Wacko?) And I hope you see what’s happening here. Usually, when Jesus had confrontations with people, it was the religious leadership. Usually he butted heads with the Pharisees or the Sadducees. But this time he pretty much had a confrontation with everybody! So much so that in verse 60 we read, “Many of his disciples, when they heard this, said ‘This is a hard saying! Who can listen to it?’”
John is trying to show us that this was too much for some of the people – even Jesus’ own people. In fact, in verse 66 he says, “After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” Remember there were many disciples, but there were only twelve “chosen” disciples, who would later be called Apostles. And at this point many of the other disciples stopped following him. But then those twelve were given the last word. And this is our focus for today. Jesus turned and asked them, “What about you? Will you too go away? And Peter answered him, (who else would you expect?) “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
Now, let me ask you. Do you think they were comfortable with what Jesus was saying? I don’t think so! In fact, I think that, at that moment, the disciples were torn. They too might have thought he was sounding “wacko.” But still they believed he had the words of life, and they chose to follow. And in that light, I would ask us, are we always completely comfortable with what Jesus was saying? Are we always comfortable with the claims he made about himself? I think if we were honest we’d say “no.” (I know I would!) So the question to us is the same that Jesus asked them, will we still follow?
That’s one thing. But then I want you to think about how that same Jesus is viewed outside those doors? Sometimes I think we make “spiritual assumptions.” We think that everything about the Christian faith is easy, and that “everyone will certainly see it that way.” The fact is, they will not. From time to time we may be called upon to answer some hard questions! When that time comes, we need to remember how Jesus said, “Don’t worry, when you are brought before councils and rulers and authorities and asked to give answer, the spirit will give you the words to say.” I was surprised to find out that all four Gospel writers recorded those words! I think that was a real concern in those days. So, do we rely on the spirit when we are called on to give answers? That’s not easy. And sometimes we don’t have answers. (Again, sometimes I don’t!) Sometimes I think Peter’s response is the best. Sometimes it’s best simply to remember that Jesus has the words of life!
When we think about this passage, we probably realize that there are many reasons today why people “draw back and no longer follow” Jesus. I think you’ll agree that the first concern we talked about is hard enough. Following Jesus as a priority is not easy when so many things pull us off in so many different directions. But there’s more. In our day Jesus has become a controversial figure. For many people it has become “politically incorrect” even to mention his name in public. We’re told that some people might be “offended” if we do. That seems hard to believe for many of us, expecially for those of us who have been hanging around on this planet the longest. We can’t imagine how Jesus could be offensive. But it’s true. And I think in our day we are called to figure out ways of following him and being the people he calls us to be – even “the light of the world” – and yet somehow presenting him in a favorable light.
For some people – and maybe even us – it’s difficult to deal with Jesus’ claims. And that’s something I think we need to revisit every once in a while – maybe more than every once in a while! Jesus was not just a “good teacher.” And he didn’t claim to be that. He claimed to be God incarnate. And that was something that was hard for the world to deal with in his day. And sometimes it’s still hard for us to deal with!
I know this is not easy stuff today! Maybe I’ve given you more questions than answers. And sometimes that’s ok! But I hope you see that there is a very real connection with this chapter of John and our own world. And I think we need to think about what we will say when Jesus turns to us and asks, “What about you? Will you too go away?”
Eternal God, help us to follow Jesus, even when it isn’t easy. Help us to know for certain that he has the words of life. Help us to feel your spirit moving in our hearts at all times, but especially when we are called on to answer the difficult questions. Help us to know your peace and to have your wisdom. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.