It was a day full of hard sayings in Capernaum.
First, Jesus scolded the people for coming out to get their bellies filled with food, rather than to get their hearts filled with His teaching (John 6:26). Then, Jesus claimed to be the “bread of life” come down from heaven (6:35, 41), superior even to manna. Then, Jesus said, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:54).
The Jews grumbled about Jesus’ equating Himself to God (6:41). They wondered aloud if Jesus was suggesting cannibalism (6:52).
But sadly, it wasn’t only Jesus’ enemies that had a problem. Even His own disciples said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (6:60). And soon, “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (6:66). What a shocking thing to contemplate—those who had walked with Jesus now abandoning Him in droves on a day of challenging teaching!
Jesus gathered the twelve apostles, the men who were His inner circle, the men He had chosen Himself. Jesus asked them, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (6:67).
You Do Not Want to Go Away, Do YOU?
Of course, Jesus knew their hearts. He knew, for example, exactly what lurked in the heart of Judas (6:70). But Jesus posed the question to get His apostles to do some soul searching, to come up with the answer themselves, and articulate their reasons for it.
There comes a challenging day in every disciple’s life when he discovers that following Jesus is not about pleasing himself, but about pleasing God.
Preachers try to be thorough when teaching prospective converts, helping them understand the commitment of discipleship, disabusing them of faulty notions. Still, it is unlikely that anyone fully understands what he is signing up for as a Christian. Certainly it’s a good thing when penitent sinners ready to put on Christ are overwhelmed with thankfulness for the free gift of salvation about to be theirs in full. Still, when exploring the gospel, they need to count the cost of discipleship; there are crosses to be carried (Luke 14:25-33).
What will you do when you hit one of those potholes in your walk as a Christian?
Perhaps you’ll be skimming along in your devotional Bible, with its smooth leather cover and neat lines for journaling, and run across a passage that says something challenging. That identifies some behavior or object or relationship as sinful, demanding repentance. Many have taken this as an occasion to backslide. Will you go away too?
Perhaps you’ll be dipping in and out of worship services as usual, church attendance tightly shoehorned into each week full of sports and programs and homework. When suddenly a new opportunity arises, an invitation to join a travel ball team, an advanced class, an exciting group. Many think of the church as one on a list of many extracurricular activities, rather than as the very kingdom of God, the body of Christ. They have taken this as a reason to chop worship out of the schedule. Will you go away too?
Perhaps you’ve been carefully sheltered by the company of all the friendliest, most fun-loving disciples, until the day you are cornered by a curmudgeonly saint who scolds you for forgetting your tie. Perhaps you needed that talk, just not in such a sudden and threatening way. Many have taken this as a reason to never again set foot in the door of a church building. Will you go away too?
Perhaps you’ll get the bad news of a cancer diagnosis. Many have taken this as a reason to accuse God of not caring. Will you go away too?
To return to Jesus’ question to the Twelve, thankfully they determined not to go away too. Peter spoke for the group and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (6:68-69).
They were challenged by the mysteries of which Jesus spoke that day. They were challenged by the demands of following Him. Soon, they would be challenged by greater things (6:61-62). But these challenges were overcome by being convinced that Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Son of God come down from Heaven. By the confident hope that participating in His life would mean eternal life.
The parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-23) reminds us that many of those who hear fail to produce fruit. Let us be assured of who Jesus is and the importance of the kingdom, so that we will have the strength to persevere “until death” (Revelation 2:10), “knowing that our toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).