After this many of His disciples turned back
and no longer walked with Him.
John, Chapter 6, begins with a wonderful tribute to the affirmation of Jesus's influence on the Jews who came to see and hear this man from Galilee. In fact, the second verse of the chapter tells us that a great crowd was following Him because they had seen the great miracles He had accomplished in healing the sick. If you will recall last Sunday's blog post, these wonders and signs were undertaken by Jesus for the express purpose of giving Him an opportunity to share the Gospel message.
The chapter continues with the feeding of the 5,000 near the town of Bethsaida. The people were astounded by the miracle He performed of feeding the throng with only five barley loaves; and the miracle the next day of seeing Jesus approaching the shore in a boat manned by His disciples. (They knew that the Disciples had left the shore to go fishing on their own, and that Jesus had not gone into the boat with them the evening before -- yet here He was departing from the boat!)
They were more than happy to call themselves His disciples and to receive Him as a Prophet from God and a miracle-worker when he fed them and filled their fleshly bodies with real bread and sustenance. But when He begins to preach to them about a spiritual bread, and asks them to seek after the true Heavenly Bread from the Father, which is present in Himself, they begin to balk. They don't trust in what He is offering, and want only that which satisfies their physical hunger.
He then gives them the litmus test of what it means to be a real follower of His. He tells them that " I am the Bread of Life [that gives life—the Living Bread]. Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and [yet] they died. [But] this is the Bread that comes down from heaven, so that [any]one may eat of it and never die." Will they get it? Will they believe and trust in what He says? But they don't understand ... "How is He able to give us His flesh to eat?"
But Jesus keeps delivering the same message -- to the crowds that follow Him, and in the synagogues where they gather to hear Him teach. "This is the Bread that came down from heaven. It is not like the manna which our forefathers ate, and yet died; he who takes this Bread for his food shall live forever." Still they grumbled and complained about the difficulty of understanding what He meant. It was too hard and difficult and strange to understand. No one else could understand it, and it was offensive to their ears and their culture. John 6:60 finds them asking, "Who can stand to hear it? [Who can be expected to listen to such teaching?]".
Jesus knew that they protested against His teaching behind His back, and confronts them by proclaiming that "some of you fail to believe and trust and have faith." He then goes on to explain the astounding fact that "no one can come to Me unless it is granted him [unless he is enabled to do so] by the Father." Then comes our selected Scripture for today ... After this, many of His disciples drew back (returned to their old associations) and no longer accompanied Him.
Why did they reject His message; because that is, in essence, what they did. And how does this relate to us, His modern-day followers? Could we say that these disciples were members of His following, but not committed to believing His teachings? They certainly seemed mesmerized by the miracles and satisfied when He fed them earthly bread, which they could understand. But when He asked them to trust in Him and have faith in something bigger than what they were comfortable in accepting, then they were more than willing to depart from Him and turn back to the way they had come.
How is it any different today? How many people are "in the church", yet are not true Christians? How many people profess to be "followers of Christ", yet reject the Word and its commandments? Remember ... in John 6, those people who had difficulty with Jesus' teaching and who ended up turning away from Him are called His disciples. The very question they asked, (Who can be expected to listen to such teaching?) shows the state of their heart. They certainly don't want to take any responsibility themselves for such a teaching that is just too difficult to accept; it goes against common sensibilities and acceptable practices.
Do we not see this today among those who call themselves Jesus's disciples? Don't they proclaim that the Word's teachings on homosexuality are too offensive and difficult to understand in light of what our culture has become? And do they not refuse to understand the teachings against the shedding of innocent blood, and therefore find ways to compromise their faith in support of abortion? There are people in Christ's Church today who have tried to make Jesus into a version of Himself that they can bend to their own purpose. These are the disciples and the churches who promote same-sex marriage, homosexuality in the priesthood, and the premise that a woman has the right to terminate her unborn child.
They are more than happy to be called a "Christian" when the teaching of the Word is all about grace and love and feeding the poor. But when the teaching starts making them uncomfortable, and they have to engage with a combative culture who doesn't understand what it means to trust and believe and have faith in Him, then they are more than willing to turn back (and away) from Him ... that teaching is just too hard to follow ... Who can be expected to agree with that?
Jesus is now asking us the same question that He asked His Twelve Disciples ... would they, too, turn and leave Him? Then, as today, the true and faithful believers will cling to Him and not depart, saying, "We have learned to believe and trust, and [more] we have come to know [surely] that You are the Holy One of God, the Christ (the Anointed One), the Son of the living God." Like those twelve faithful Disciples of old, we continue to walk with Him and trust in His every word and deed. We will not reject Him!