On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “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.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “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.” (John 6:60-69)
There are a few phrases used frequently by the average English speaking American that outwardly communicate one thing, but usually mean another. If someone utters the phrase, “I don’t mean to offend you, but...” What’s coming next? Something that will most likely offend you, right!? They might as well just say, “I hope you’re ready for this because I’m about to say something very, very offensive.” There may be a few people in this world bold enough to speak that way, but I think most people prefer to at least attempt to soften the blow.
But Jesus didn’t really do that. Did he? He didn’t try to soften the blow. For a little over a month now we’ve been slowly walking our way through John chapter 6 so you know Jesus didn’t sugar coat his message. He didn’t begin teaching with a “No offense, but...” or “I don’t mean to offend you, but...” Jesus just let it fly.
Here, we’re looking at the aftermath. We see a bunch of people who had been following Jesus and listening to him teach who are now saying, “This is a hard! This is abrasive! This is offensive!”
And it was. It was hard—abrasive—offensive. As you probably know, it’s still offensive today. Why is that? Well, let’s review a little. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus say “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) After that he says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away... For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life...” (John 6:37,40) but then he adds “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him...” (John 6:44) You can already hear the exclusivity to his message. Jesus wants the people to know that he offers something NO ONE else offers. But on top of that, NO ONE can even come to him to receive what he offers unless the Father draws him. And it gets even more exclusive, still. Last week we heard, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.... 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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51, 53-58)
Jesus’ message is clear and it is simple. You rely on him—and on him alone. If you choose to rely on someone other than him—perhaps even chose to rely on yourself—your own ideas—your own intellect—you will NOT enter heaven. That’s an offensive message. It’s a message that says “No, you CANNOT do it your way. Your way is NOT good enough. It’s MY way or the highway to hell.” It’s no wonder some of the people Jesus was teaching “turned back and no longer followed him!” It's no wonder so many people today turn away from Christianity and stop following Jesus!
But let’s not waste our time talking about the people who stopped following Jesus in our text today, and let’s not waste our time talking about “all the other people” who are offended by Christianity today. Let’s talk about you. And let’s talk about me. What offends you? What story found in this book—what teaching found in this book do YOU find offensive?
Are there some teachings that are hard for you to accept? Are there some that repulse you? Are there times when you are in a conversation about your faith and you think to yourself, “I really hope they don’t ask about that…” Do you ever wish God’s Word was more like a buffet, so you could pick and choose? Cause let’s be honest. There are some teachings in God’s Word that you don’t enjoy applying. Like Fellowship! Who enjoys telling Christian loved ones who belong to churches that teach things we disagree with, “Yeah, no thanks. I’d rather not pray with you because we don’t agree on what the Bible teaches.” Who’s jumping up and down for the opportunity to be the person who gets to explain why we practice close communion—which by definition is also closed communion? How about the Biblical roles of men and women? That one’s a little easier just because it’s SOO misunderstood, but that still doesn’t make it easy when the person you’re trying to teach instantly thinks you’re living in the stone age. And how do you explain to someone in today’s society that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven—that no one comes to Father except through him?
WE are tempted to pick and choose the teachings we like and the teachings we don’t like. WE are tempted to shove one under the rug if we think it might offend someone else. WE would rather not suffer alongside Jesus as we see him ostracized by society. We don’t want that fate. We don’t want to be labeled by others, “Oh, you’re THAT kind of Lutheran.” We don’t want to be offensive—we’d rather be palatable.
“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… This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (John 6:62,63,65) You see, the fact that we find some of Jesus’ teachings “hard” is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether we find them agreeable or not. It doesn’t matter how we massage the terms to fit the audience. None of that changes this fact—all these “hard” teachings come from God. Therefore they’re true! Jesus pointed to himself as the Son of God who sits at the right hand of the Almighty! His words were not debatable. His words were not optional. His words were not incomplete, or accidental, or false, or misleading, or wrong. Jesus’ words are the very words of God. And for that reason alone we embrace them—all of them. Jesus’ words are the Word of God. And it is this Word and this Word alone that creates faith in our hearts—that changes who we are—that leads us to see past the shallow offense they so often cause and to see it for what it really is—Life!
While so many around him were falling away because the message was just too offensive, Jesus turned to the disciples who hadn’t left. “‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.’” (John 6:67-69)
You see, the primary purpose of God’s Word is NOT to make this life easier. Its primary purpose is to share the path to ETERNAL life.
The Holy Spirit had convinced Peter of that. He knew that the one standing before him was God himself—the Savior God promised to send. Peter had been convinced by the Holy Spirit that he was a sinner, and that for his sins he deserved physical death and eternal punishment in hell. But Peter was also convinced by the Holy Spirit, that this man standing before him was his Savior from that sin. Peter’s heart had been broken by God’s law which showed him his sin and was raised to life by Jesus and his message of forgiveness. And nothing that anyone else said or did would change that fact—Jesus is the Savior of the world! For that reason alone Peter was ready to follow Jesus anywhere.
It’s the same for us. Where else in all the world can we find the Savior from sin that we so desperately need and long for? Where else in all the world can we find the very words that give us eternal life? Where else in all the world can we find the answers to questions that burn in us? Questions like: “What happens after death? Is there a God? Is he angry with me when I do something wrong? What’s going to happen when I have to stand before him?” In Jesus, we find the answers to all of these questions! When we die we will have to stand before the God who created all things. We WILL be judged. But, because Jesus—YOUR Savior—offered his very flesh and blood as the price for your sins—those sins are gone! And as you feast on the Bread of Life—on the very Words of God Himself—in their place you are given Jesus’ perfect life. That means, when you DO stand before God to be judged, the verdict will be Heaven, because your sins are gone and Jesus’ perfect life has been given to you.
And these truths do more than ease our fear of death. They change the way we look at the “hard” teachings. Church Fellowship guards our faith from false teaching. The biblical roles of men and women give us another beautiful picture of Christ—who did not bash his bride with a club—but gave himself up for her. Jesus, the ONLY way to the Father, gives us the ONLY answer there is to sin—even sins that are hard to talk about.
Thank the Lord, Jesus didn’t soften the blow. He spoke words that he KNEW would be offensive on the surface. He spoke them for one reason and one reason alone. They are the words of eternal life. May we cling to them like Peter.
Blessings on the rest of your week!