14th Sunday after Pentecost
How many prospect members, or new members have we reached out too, who came to church for a while but no longer sit in the pews next to us? How many Students have gone to our school yet no longer come to church? How many kids have gone through conformation class yet abandon the faith? How many people have gone through BIC yet do not attend? You know who they are! They’re the people you’ve spoken to about Christ. You’ve prayed about their spiritual welfare in some cases for weeks, months, maybe even years and there seems to be no change of heart. When we offer them the bread of life, they turned up their nose as though you offered them rotting meat. Does this mean we are failing as a church? Does it cause us to doubt the power of God’s Word? Does it cause us to doubt the “Hard teaching” of Scripture?
The situation that we find Jesus and the 12 in for today is not so very different. This portion of Scripture from John 6 is the aftermath of the bread of life discourse, which I preached on last Sunday. There we were reminded that Jesus spoke to his followers, not of physical things, but rather the greater Spiritual things – the concerns and hungers of the soul. Jesus wanted them to take him in to follow him, to hear his word and grow in their knowledge of who he was and what he came to do.
But these crowds that followed Jesus rejected what he was saying. As John writes, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Expose the problem
They had been born bread and law fed. Earlier, in v. 28 St. John records, “Then they (that same group of people) asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
If they were going to accept Jesus, they were going to do it on their own terms. Terms that they knew and understood. They were stunned by what Jesus said. He claimed to be greater than Moses! He claimed that if they ate his flesh and drink his blood that they’d live forever. He said that he was the messiah, but he was a person of flesh and blood! This person standing before them was able to give eternal life? That was too hard a teaching for them! Christ was too hard a teaching!
They wanted something that they could rationalize, something that they could wrap their human minds around. They wanted that “feel good” message that the pharisee’s, and teachers of the Law had given them. A message that made sense to them, that you work for God’s love, that if you really try it’s possible to keep the ten commandments. So, when Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” This was a hard teaching for them.
So how do you think Jesus core group, the 12 disciples felt as they watched that crowd of hundreds, perhaps thousands, dwindle down? Jesus even asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” As many of their other friends, acquaintances, family members began to leave, were they dismayed? I mean, Jesus had been at the height of his popularity here! This is what they all wanted right – crowds of thousands of people flocking to the messiah?
Did they expect Jesus to chase them down? Did they expect him to change his tune or apologize for speaking the way he had? Did they expect him to “soften” his hard teaching? Do you think they too were tempted to leave? I mean all that was left in the end were some fishermen, sinners, a tax collector and a guy who would eventually betray Jesus. It must have been difficult to watch these crowds abandon Jesus and turn away from the hard teaching.
DEEPEN THE ISSUE
For Christians in the 21st century, it’s not difficult to identify with the 12 here is it? I think of situations like this – A kid who was brought up in the Church goes off to college and joins the working world. He runs into many different ideas and ways of thinking. People from different backgrounds, religions, lack of religion, or different faith traditions confront him on a daily basis.
Not just that sort of thing, but also the concerns of life begin to creep in – finances, romance, a house, a car, a job – those things begin to take precedence in his life. The importance of Jesus slowly but surely begins to take a back seat to the point that this young man asks, “what in the world does a MAN who died 2000 years ago have anything to do with me?”
Just like the disciples watching that crowd slowly dwindle away, this young man’s parents watch him turn away from Jesus – because Christ is the hard teaching! There isn’t an earthly way to rationalize him.
So, what are parents to do? Are they tempted to soften the message because now every time religion comes up in conversation it causes an argument – saying, “Well he’s a grown man, he can decide what’s best for himself. We don’t really need to interfere.” Do they sit there confounded and perplexed not knowing what to say to him. Especially, when he brings up arguments against organized religion, when he questions the validity of Scripture as a whole, when he says, “look at the world! How many different people of how many different faiths are out there! What makes you so sure that you are right!”
Are mom and dad dismayed? They pray for their son, they ask God to help him. They thought that they did the right thing and brought him up in the right way – is God’s word not effective? Is it not powerful?
In all of John chapter 6, Jesus too is questioned by this crowd of people who were following him. They asked him 6 hard questions. 1. What must we do to be saved? 2. What sign will you give to prove you are who you say you are? 3. Wait! Aren’t you Joseph and Mary’s son? 4. How can you say “I came from heaven?” 5. How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 6.This is a hard teaching who can accept it!?
In every circumstance – Jesus answers the hard question with the hard teaching. For example, in the case of the last question, “who can accept this hard teaching?” Jesus replies, What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e]and life.
He confronts them with THE hard teaching. The reality of who he is. The reality of his Gospel message.
He says, “I am the Son of God!” What if you saw me ascend back into heaven? I am most certainly capable of it! Mark that I say it now because you will hear of it, and what will you think then?
He says, The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. – stop thinking about your physical needs only and what you get wrapped up in in the here and now! This “reality” that you think is so stable, that you think is so important now – what will it be to you when you die?
The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e]and life. I have not come to gain popularity, or political power. I have come to reveal the Father’s Love for the World, his love for you!
The crazy thing is, Jesus knew that the people in this crowd didn’t believe. He knew that they rejected the hard teaching of who he is. Yet, does that stop him from telling them about him? NO! He didn’t try to argue or debate with them philosophically as to why they should follow him. He simply told them what he’d been telling them all along. He kept trying to gift them with faith!
This is what was different about those 12 disciples. This is why they stay when the others left and why they able to accept the “hard teaching.” The Father gave them faith through the Gospel, through that hard teaching. When Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” “We have come to believe and know…” This doesn’t contradict Jesus saying, “No one can come to me unless the Father enables them.” Peter’s confession simply emphasizes HOW! These men walked and talked with Jesus on a daily basis! They were literally in the catechism class of Jesus himself for 3 years. And those 3 short years had a profound effect on the rest of their lives. Peter confesses here that Jesus’ Words were the thing sustaining them – and those same words sustained each of them to the end! Think of the lives they lived and the death’s they died of the sake of the Hard teaching – Jesus. Beheading, torture, persecution, burning at the stake, in Peter’s case he was crucified upside down. Death was no object! Jesus had the Word’s of eternal life! Their attitude because they knew and believed that Gospel message that our sins are forgiven, we are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb – was – to live is Christ to die is gain!
And we might be tempted to think, “Well it was easy for them because they actually lived with Jesus. They ate and drank/walked and talked with Jesus and heard his words – experienced the living breathing “Hard teaching” first hand!
But you walk with Jesus too! You hear the Word right from his mouth too don’t you? We have his unchanging Word in Scripture. We talk with him when we spend time in prayer. You eat and drink with him at communion. We have that same Hard Teaching that they had. We believe that same Gospel that they did.
Melissa, as a teacher this is the same message that you get to share with Jesus little lambs. Daily, you and your class will walk with Jesus as you teach them his Words, the same words, the same Gospel the same Hard Teaching that Jesus himself shared with his little class of 12 students. As you instruct them to believe the Hard Teaching think of the blessing of sharing Jesus with those with a child like faith that simply trusts the Hard teaching.
ANTICIPATE THE CONCEQUENCES
Let it be our prayer that we all could be like that! Simply believing the Hard Teaching with a child like faith that doesn’t try to rationalize it all. A faith that ever seeks to grow in the knowledge of the one who gifted it to us. A faith that trusts that Jesus will walk, and has walked with us through every phase of life. A faith that believes the hard teaching – like as certainly as the sky is blue and the grass is green. A faith like the 12 apostles, that says Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Word’s of eternal life! God grant this for Jesus sake. Amen.