Pastor’s Friday Comments (07.05.19)

A biblical passage to which I am often drawn and from which I derive comfort (perhaps too much comfort) is in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. If you’re really up on your Gospels you know that John 6 begins with Jesus miraculously feeding over five thousand people. That’s the part of the chapter that we tell in children’s Sunday School. As we get older the application of the story matures into an understanding of Jesus being the Bread of Life that is far more significant than any one-time dinner on the grounds.

But the part of the account with which I resonate the most starts about the twenty-second verse, when a portion of the crowd from the previous day goes looking for Jesus. When they find him, he lets them know that he understands their primary motivation in searching for him: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26). No polite acknowledgment of how good it is that they returned for the second day of the revival, just a statement that he knows that they’re looking for more food. In those days looking for a handout might have been understandable. The peasants lived a hand-to-mouth existence and food coming from someone else’s hand to their mouths would have been very attractive.

However, Jesus, as he so often did, seized upon the opportunity to teach them about what was really important. He used metaphors about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, indicating the necessity of their total identity with him and his mission, but they were thinking too literally and, when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to repeat the free food miracle, they began to drift away. They remarked that his sayings were too hard: “This teaching is too difficult; who can accept it?” (v. 60).

It was the precursor of a scene that has been repeated many times throughout Christian history. People are willing to explore matters of faith because they have specific needs that they are hoping will be met, but when they find out the demands that Jesus places on a disciple’s life — up to and including death to all personal concerns, they lose interest. Even people who have been active in church sometimes come up against an ethical or practical dilemma where they know that their Christian faith challenges their conduct and, rather than changing their conduct, drift away like those early hearers of Jesus.

The temptation for churches is to give people what they want, not just once, but over and over again, until the opportunity arises (if it ever does) to teach them the “hard sayings,” the call to total commitment. Congregations built on this premise may in fact thrive, at least numerically, but they have a hard time growing true disciples.

When Jesus saw the crowds begin to drift away, there is a hint of resignation in his voice as he asks his disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” (v. 67). Peter responds, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68). That’s it, isn’t it? You can come looking for whatever you think will make you happy or fulfilled or that will give you peace, but if you’re wanting to live the life eternal, you’re going to have to accept the hard sayings of Jesus. If you try to gain your life you will lose it; but if you lose it in serving the Lord, then you find it. That strategy doesn’t always make for big churches, but it can help grow true disciples.