60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then 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 and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “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.”
70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
Everyone has a breaking point. One lie too many from an elected official. One bill too high for groceries or a fill up for your car. One obligation too far for your job, your family, or even your church.
Do you seem to be continually spinning the requirements of life in the modern western world like so many plates, frantic that another will be added to cause it all to come crashing down?
It is one thing to balance the expectations of external things, but what happens when your very concept of reality is challenged? This can cause your entire sense of purpose, place, and existence of life to come undone and disillusionment to set in. This happens to us all from time to time, but what about when the person doing so is someone we know, have come to trust or even love? You will come to a crisis or a turning point–and your life may never be the same.
Here in John chapter 6, the apostle is remembering back. His gray-haired head is bowed as he recalls those wondrous days of the Man of Miracles: the baskets of loaves and fishes, the chaos of the storm and the terror–and joy–of seeing his savior walking to him across the water.
Then John’s memory darkens with the sadness or shock of the events that followed: Jesus’s words about the “bread of life,” of “feasting” on His body and blood and the shock and disappointment of so many new followers now angrily deserting one they had so recently called “Rabbi.”
John remembers the day all too well, and the feelings of his own confusion and frustration return as he remembers the challenging and confusing words of Jesus that revealed a truth about Himself–and the reality of following Him. New disciples who had begun to flock to Jesus found the truth of Jesus’s true identity too much to comprehend and it brought them to the breaking point.
Why is Jesus doing this? Hundreds, if not thousands of new followers had been flocking to him and His small band of devoted twelve. They sat at His feet, absorbed His words, and marveled at His works. Word of mouth had outdone any marketing plan He could have devised and made His name a household word.
Who would not want this? What pastor would turn down such an exponential growth of his flock? From the moment Jesus stepped into the water to be baptized by John to this gathering on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He has has the most successful ministry the world had ever seen–in just two years!
Jesus does not care. He is not concerned about numbers or growth. In fact, the more people clamor to see the wonders He performs or to hear the soothing words of love, the more Jesus appears to grow frustrated. A breaking point has come. It was time to draw a line in the sand.
There is a legend surrounding the last days of the defense of the Alamo during the War for Texas Independence in 1836. As the army of Mexico laid siege to the town, it was clear that hope for relief would not be coming from Sam Houston and his fledgling Army of Texas. The Commander of the Alamo, Colonel William Barrett Travis, reportedly took his saber and drew a line in the sand and told the nearly 200 defenders–all volunteers–that they were free to save themselves from the fight and possible massacre to come. Anyone willing to stay and fight should cross the line in the sand to join him–to the death, if necessary.
According to legend, all 200 defenders crossed the line and stayed to defend the Alamo.
Jesus is drawing a line in the sand on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with His own words–but instead of legendary bravery, his followers revolt:
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”–John 6:60
It is one thing to follow someone who performs miracles with food, can heal the body or bend the weather–and even time–to His will, but in His claims of being “greater than Moses” or talking about something that sounds like cannibalism is simply too much.
The “hard teaching” here is literally “a difficult word.” The Geek σκληρὸς (skleros) ὁ λόγος (ho logos) means “the word is difficult.” This means much more than being stumped on “Final Jeopardy!”, but instead is more a bitter pill to swallow–like the flesh and blood of Jesus that repulses them. In my mind, the “hard teaching” comes across as the same phrase you may use when someone you trust is telling you a bold lie. Truth to them becomes “bovine manure” (to clean up an expression for Bible study use).
And so the multitudes who had been following now begin to leave. At this point Jesus could easily change His tune, repair the dike, and stop the flow of this exodus. Instead of watering down the gospel, Jesus doubles down on His message:
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then 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 and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”–John 6:61-65
This is the “scandal” of the gospel. The Promised One, the Savior, Jesus fulfills the prophesy that He will not be one that pleases all but instead is one that causes men to stumble:
14 He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many among them shall stumble;
They shall fall and be broken,
Be snared and taken.”–Isaiah 8:14-15
Jesus Himself becomes this line in the sand, this line in the sand that all must cross to come to the Father–or to walk away in frustrated disappointment.
D.A. Carson puts it bluntly in his commentary on John’s Gospel:
How men and women respond to the supreme scandal determines their destiny. –D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John
This is the turning point, the breaking point that you must face–that all believers must face: what is your limit when it comes to following Jesus? Answer carefully--your destiny depends on it.
What Jesus means by this is not “will you follow?” but “how far will you follow me?” It is easy to package the gospel to suit your needs and comfort level but another to find it stretching your ability to endure or even to understand.
What hard truth do you face?
Is Jesus calling you to a ministry that you don’t want? Maybe He is calling you to a less-than-glamorous parish or a pulpit that lacks “prestige.” Maybe Jesus is inviting you to speak with your neighbors about their spiritual lives and their need for Christ–and you just do not want to ruin the friendship with that. Working with and praying for God’s children and those in need can be a messy thing. You get involved in their lives–and the pains that they endure in sin.
Is Jesus calling you to love a husband who stole your girlhood dreams of happiness with bad decisions or the reality of married life?
Is Jesus calling you to love a wife that is distracted by the pressures of life, preoccupied with her children or seems to have no time to spare for you?
Does the scandal of Jesus come from years of unanswered prayers? A cruel diagnosis? A wayward child who abandons the faith?
There are so many ways in which we too can grow wary of the cost of discipleship.
This passage then becomes one of the turning points in Jesus’s earthly ministry. From this moment forward everything will be different. He turns and looks at the disciples that remain, the few steadfast followers–and the bewildered twelve:
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.–John 6:66-67
Far from being happy that He has “laid a truth bomb” on a fickle crowd of rubbernecking glory-seekers, Jesus is visibly pained by the loss. His brown eyes fix on the stunned remnant, His friends: “Will you abandon me too?”
Peter, never one to be speechless, croaks out a response that seems to speak for them all:
68 Simon Peter answered him, “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.”–John 6:68-69
This, then is your only hope: to whom else shall you go? You know the truth of Christ, the glory of the Father, the comfort of the Spirit and the sufficiency of the gospel. Where else will you go in this eternal battle for your soul on earth and in heaven?
This reminds you that there is a supernatural element at play here too–spiritual warfare is afoot:
70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!”
71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)–John 6:70-71
Even in the midst of this, Jesus knows that He will be betrayed–that the devil himself has an agent in His camp. Peter, in his later years reminds us of this in a letter:
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.–I Peter 5:8
As John looks back at this moment and pens his own account, he knows the great cost that the young church must soon endure, for persecution under Roman Emperor Domitian is on the horizon. John wants you too to know the cost of following Jesus–and the wonderful love that awaits you at the cross.
God loves you despite the hard truth that you are a rebel in His camp. Jesus died for you even though you did not deserve it. What earthly discomfort or frustration can compare to this?
Where is your “line in the sand?”
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.