60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.
Wilbur Reese really disturbed my world. Now, I don’t know Wilbur Reese, but he wrote a little poem that I first heard a number of years ago and it really, sincerely disturbed my world. It’s a sarcastic poem, a tongue-in-cheek poem, a disturbing poem.
Here it is:
I would like to buy three dollars’ worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul,
or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk, or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy,
I want the warmth of the womb,
not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal
in a paper sack.
I would like to buy three dollars’ worth of God, please.
Honestly now, how much of Jesus would you like to buy? How much of Him do you want?
That’s essentially the question that Jesus had to ask those who claimed to want to follow Him. In the aftermath of Jesus’ frankly shocking teaching about His being the Bread of Life, about His being broken for the world, about the need for those who would follow Him to “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood,” the crowd is faced with a tough question. How much of Jesus did they want?
How much of Jesus do you want?
You have to ask yourself that question because following Jesus presents certain challenges, as our text will show us this morning.
I. The Challenge of Uncomfortable Truths (60-66)
The first great challenge the disciples of Jesus faced was the challenge of uncomfortable truths. Remember that the light of John 6 began wide and has grown ever more sharp and penetrating as Jesus revealed more and more about Himself. He began with literal bread, then explained that He was the bread, then revealed that His flesh was the bread, then proclaimed that His flesh would be broken, and finally announced that unless one ate His flesh and drank His blood He could not be saved.
As Jesus progressed in His teachings, the disciples’ discomfort grew more and more intense.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
The response of the people reveals two things: (1) that Jesus teachings’ were difficult and (2) that they were so difficult they were causing the people to rethink whether or not they really wanted to follow Him.
“This is a hard saying,” they proclaim. James Montgomery Boice has helpfully explained this word:
“…Christ’s teachings were ‘hard’ to accept. The Greek word is skleros, and it clearly does not mean ‘hard to understand.’ It means ‘hard to tolerate.’ So long as Christ’s followers could not understand him, they stayed around and asked questions. It was when they did understand him that they went elsewhere. They left because what they heard was so contrary to their own views that they would not accept it.”
“This is hard to tolerate,” they say, and they are right. Many of the teachings of Jesus are indeed very difficult for the natural mind to tolerate.
61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Here, Jesus explains the true source of their great discomfort.
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
Jesus proclaimed uncomfortable truths, difficult truths, awkward truths. Jesus did this so often that I do wonder if a man can really claim to be following Him if he has never felt himself challenged by the teachings of Jesus? And yet, many people in churches in America seem perfectly cozy with Jesus, as if they have never once felt the internal tension and outward pushing that the radical teachings of Jesus cause in the hearts of men.
My whole life I’ve heard religious people and preachers soften the sharp edges of Jesus. And, in truth, I’ve done the same at times. For instance, how easy it is to explain away or soften Christ’s teachings that we love our enemies. “Well,” we say, “I’ll love him, but I’m going to sue him for all he’s worth and destroy him.” Or, “I’ll love her, but she is going to pay me back everything she owes me, then some.”
Sometimes we soften the sharp edges of Jesus to make ourselves more comfortable. Did Jesus really say that He was the only way to the Father? Did Jesus really say that we must repent? Did Jesus really tell that wealthy young man that he had to sell all that he had and give it to the poor? On this last point, I’ve grown up hearing preachers say that, of course, that’s not literally intended for every person, and that the point is that we must be willing to rid ourselves of whatever it is that’s destroying us. True enough, as far as that goes. I agree. Jesus never told everybody to sell everything. But I sometimes wonder why He has seemingly never called any of us to sell everything since that moment? And what about me and this teaching? How convenient that I’ve never felt that call in my life. Has He called me to do that and I’m refusing, or has He called me to give up something else?
It’s a challenge isn’t it? At the very least can we agree to put back on the table at least the possibility that the hard teachings of Jesus may have been intended intentionally and literally for me?
We must let the teachings of Jesus stand. We must not remove the discomfort of His truth.
May I suggest that the reason many people in church who claim to be following Jesus don’t feel uncomfortable with Jesus’ teachings at times is because we have simply picked and chosen what portions of the teachings of Jesus we will follow? We have, in others words, removed the uncomfortable parts out of Jesus, remade Him in our own image, and then followed that image. But the problem is that whenever we seek to alter the image of Jesus we inevitably alter it into the image that we know best: our own.
Few people have said this better than Soren Kierkegaard, the great Dutch existentialist:
“What we have before us is not Christianity but a prodigious illusion, and the people are not pagans but live in the blissful conceit that they are Christians. So if in this situation Christianity is to be introduced, first of all the illusion must be disposed of. But since this vain conceit, this illusion is to the effect that they are Christians, it looks indeed as if introducing Christianity were taking Christianity away from men. Nevertheless this is the first thing to do, the illusion must go.”
Yes, the illusion must go. Some people who claim to be following Jesus are actually following a Jesus that they have recast in their own image, along the lines of their own understanding, and in ways that do not offend their own sensibilities. This leads to a shocking thought: many people think they are following Jesus when, in reality, they are following themselves.
It is this misunderstanding that Jesus confronts in this poignant, tense scene. The people had to face the challenge of Jesus’ uncomfortable truths. So must we.
This raises the interesting issue of courage. Do you have enough courage to allow the teachings of Jesus to be what they are? Do you have enough courage to take Jesus for who He is and not recast Him into what you want Him to be?
II. The Challenge of Total, Intentional, Personal Commitment (67-69)
In the aftermath of this exodus of a large number of folks who were following Jesus up to this point, Jesus turns to His disciples:
67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
I think it matters how we read these passages. The tone in which they were spoken affects how they should be read. For my part, I find it unlikely that Jesus said this with shocked, caught-off-guard sadness: “Do you want to go away as well?” As if Jesus was now tentatively turning to His disciples, shuffling His feet, His fingers crossed behind His back, hoping that the disciples would stay.
No, I don’t think that’s the way to read it. Jesus knew that many who were following did not understand and would be offended when they began to understand. In truth, Jesus was leading to this moment. It was necessary that this line-in-the-sand moment happen with His own disciples. For the first time they are seeing the cost of discipleship. They are now understanding that Jesus isn’t a wise sage they are simply hanging out with. Rather, He’s God’s incendiary, life-changing, discomfort-bringing, salvation-granting Son, and to follow Him will change everything about their lives.
So He asks them not with hurt but with the light of further revelation in His eyes and tone: “Do you want to go away as well?” As if to say, “Do you see that what following Me is going to entail? Do you now understand that I am not like the other teachers you’ve seen. This isn’t a field trip. This isn’t vacation. It’s going to cost you to follow me. It’s going to cost you your reputation and your comfort and your old way of living. It’s going to cost you your lives. But it’s not going to cost you more than it will cost Me.”
It is a powerful, tense moment. “Do you want to go away as well?”
First of all, let me point out that Jesus would almost certainly never have been hired to teach the “Church Growth” seminar at the local Bible college or seminary. You see, we live in a church climate that holds to a “growth at all costs” model. We will do anything for a crowd. To that end we surround ourselves with gimmicks and tricks and enticements so that we will have lots of folks come to the church. We seem almost paranoid about the size of the audience, don’t we?
But Jesus seemed to think that this little thing called “truth” mattered more than the size of the crowd. In fact, Jesus challenged the crowd with offensive, uncomfortable truths, and asked them to think long and hard about what is was going to mean to follow Him.
Jesus never checked attendance records. Jesus’ own church growth record was a dismal failure by our standards. Just look at this text! Most who are following leave Him, then He gives the few who remain a way out. In the end, ten of the twelve will abandon Him on the cross, and one of the other two will help place Him there by betraying Him.
Jesus had His eyes wide open when it came to the commitment level of the majority. So He revealed Himself in truth to them and most left. Then He asks His disciples whether or not they really wanted to follow Him.
Have you ever asked yourself that question? “Do I want to go away as well? Do I really want to follow Jesus? Am I prepared for what this is going to mean for my present and my future? Am I willing to embrace what this is going to mean for the living of my life? Do I want to go away or go on with Jesus?”
This is the question Jesus puts to His disciples. What Jesus is doing is putting before them the challenge of total, intentional, personal commitment. Will the disciples commit themselves to Him totally, intentionally, personally? This is what Jesus is asking. When He does so, Simon Peter steps forward. It’s always a little unnerving when Simon Peter steps forward, isn’t it? But listen to his answer:
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Some commentators suggest that this may be John’s telling of the scene from Matthew 16, when Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Whether this is the same scene or a different one, the substance of Peter’s response reveals their determination to press on with Jesus. They will commit totally, intentionally, and personally, though, as we know, their commitment will be severely tested and, in the main, abandoned for a time. One, as we will see, never truly bowed to Christ as Lord and will betray Him.
Even so, this powerful confession is an important example of what it means to follow Jesus, the offered, broken, saving Bread of Life. Peter asks, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
To be a disciples is know that no matter how difficult it might be to follow Jesus at times, He is the way, the truth, and the life, and there is literally no other option for us. “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Peter proclaims that they have “believed, and have come to know.” We truly embrace Christ when we believe the gospel and know the gospel and plant our feet firmly in the beautiful, saving truth of the gospel.
Can you say that the horizon of your life is so dominated by the greatness and grandeur of Christ that there literally is no other option for you? Can you say that you have “believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God?”
The challenge of total, intentional, personal commitment is a powerful but important challenge. We must reach the point where we can face Jesus’ question, “Do you want to go away as well?” and say, “Lord Jesus, there is simply no other place I can go or will go because You and You alone are life and truth and salvation.”
III. The Challenge of Enduring Discipleship (70-71)
Presumably, all twelve of the disciples placed themselves under Peter’s confession by not denying it at the moment. Yet, one who allowed his name to stand under the confession truly was no disciple of Jesus. I am speaking of Judas Iscariot.
Jesus receives Peter’s confession of faith and commitment, then reveals something most disturbing:
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.
Here is the challenge of enduring discipleship. Will those who claim to follow Jesus follow Him or abandon Him or, worse, betray Him?
The reality is that Judas’ commitment and discipleship was superficial. He never embraced Jesus as Lord. He never met the challenge of personal, intentional, total commitment. Not, I would argue, that the disciples were ever fully aware of that until Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
I’m always amused at how some of the movie depictions of Judas present him as an almost sinister, dark, brooding character. As if Judas were perpetually lurking in the dark corners until those moments when he shuffled out, Igor-like, hunched over, dragging the money bag on the ground behind him, wild-eyed and maniacal, knuckles dragging on the ground, and slobbering out, “Yessss Master!”
No, the truth of the matter is that if Judas were a member of this church we’d likely offer him a Sunday School class or a position of leadership. Why? Because people are good at hiding weak commitment under the guise of religious verbiage. Judas sang the hymns like the rest. Judas paid attention like the rest.
The exact psychology of Judas is hard to grasp. I am attracted to the theory that Judas was following Jesus because he thought Jesus was going to lead an political insurrection against the Roman occupying forces. When that did not materialize, and when Judas realized, to his horror, that Jesus meant something very different from the normal meanings when He used words like “Kingdom” and “King,” Judas betrayed Him. He may have betrayed Jesus in an effort to try to force Jesus’ hand, to bring Him out into the open as a political revolutionary. It’s very possible, and I think that theory makes sense of the events of Judas’ last days.
Regardless, Jesus was never Lord to Judas. His discipleship was temporary and calculating. He did not endure to the end. He wanted to walk with Jesus so long as the possibility of his getting from Jesus what he wanted to get still existed. But the moment his alliance with Jesus was no longer advantageous, Judas betrayed the Lord.
The challenge of enduring discipleship confronts us with the question of whether or not Jesus is Lord of our lives, now and to the end? Will we follow Him, walk with Him, and, if need be, die with Him? Or is Jesus simply useful to us insofar as He is profitable to us?
How many set out to walk with Jesus but, in the end, like Judas, betray and abandon Him? Judas implicitly agreed with Peter’s confession by not denying it, but, as Jesus well-knew, he had no place with them.
There are those who walk beside Jesus who are not walking with Jesus. They will not endure to the end. They have no real intention of walking with Him wherever He leads, though they may have convinced themselves that they do.
Let us understand that there are challenges to walking with Jesus. Even so, the challenges do not eclipse the joy of doing so. Jesus summed up both of these realities when He said in Matthew 11:
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Following Jesus is a yoke. It challenges our carnal minds and our flesh. But when one sees the beauty and glory and grace and wonder of Jesus, one sees that it is an easy and light and wonderful yoke indeed.