Last Week, we covered the conclusion of Jesus’ Bread of Life Sermon delivered at the synagogue at Capernaum. In it, the Jews were offended first by Jesus’ claim to have come down from heaven (God). They thought they knew where He came from. They reminded Jesus that He was just the son or ordinary people, Joseph and Mary. How little did they know. Then the Jews were offended by his claim that all who would want eternal life would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood. The debate was heated, and it is apparent that the Jews had rejected both Him and His claim.
Exposition of the Text
This week we come to the next round of rejection. We remember in the beginning of the gospel where it is stated that “He came unto His own things, and His own people did not accept Him. In chapter 2, the Jews of Judea and Jerusalem rejected him, In chapter 5, the Pharisees rejected Him too. In the earlier parts of this chapter, the Zealots and the Jews from Galilee rejected Him. Now the pattern of rejection starts coming closer to home. In the passage this morning, it is Jesus’ “disciples” who start to reject Him. In fact, it seems that few more than the twelve would remain with Him by days end. Later on in the gospel, they too would reject Jesus, one by betraying Him, and the other eleven by forsaking Him on the night of His arrest. The only people who did not reject Jesus, strangely enough, were the hated Samaritans. But for the plan of the Gospel to work, and that all nations of the earth might have the opportunity to hear the gospel and be saved, it was necessary for the entire nation of Israel to reject Jesus. This is so that the playing field might be leveled. All who would enter into eternal life will enter by God’s grace and by God’s initiative, not ours.
In verse 60, Jesus’ disciples found Jesus’ teaching to be unacceptable. They said it was a hard saying. Some commentators and bible translations translate this as being heard to understand. However, it is better to see from the context that the problem wasn’t one of understanding Jesus’ words. They understood what He had said, but were grossly offended by it. These disciples were not the twelve but were the larger group of disciples who had been following Jesus around. They had seen His miracles, signs, and wonders. They had seen the dead raised, the sick healed, the demons cast out, and had heard His teaching. The problem was perhaps that they never were Jesus’ disciples in the true sense. They were self-made disciples. They had called themselves rather than the other way around. They wanted to be in control of the disciple relationship rather than Jesus. But a true disciple is on who wants to be like His master and is obedient to the teaching of the master. If they were truly Jesus’ disciples, they would have continued with Jesus. When they saw that they could not make Jesus fit their expectations for the Messiah, they were offended and left.
Jesus knew that they were offended, and that they were about to desert Him. Jesus is especially in the Gospel of John shown to be in complete control of the situation. As God, the Son, He does not need anyone to tell Him about what was going on. And He could read their very heart and thoughts. He also knows that these so-called disciples are not His disciples at all. Jesus does not beg them to stay, but lets them go. When it is said that they departed and no longer walked with Him, it is apostasy which they were committing. This was one of the worst sins a Jew could commit. Yet this is exactly what they were doing, whether they knew it or not. They were not just leaving a Rabbi or some teacher. It isn’t like leaving one church and joining another, or even changing denominations as far too many Americans are prone to do for every little offense. They were walking out on God. They were rejecting the covenant which The Father wanted to make with them. Jesus had clearly taught them that to reject the Son was to reject the Father. They were clearly warned, and they clearly chose to desert Him. Whether they ever came back, we can’t be sure. But it is possible that after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension that some may have come back. After all, Jesus took His disciples who had denied Him and fled back. And His own brothers who showed their rejection of Him in the next chapter came to believe later. But what is abundantly clear is this. Jesus does not want disciples setting the terms of service. The true disciple follows the Master.
A sign on a church read “Most people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.” In other words, they will serve God only if they gan give God advice on what to do. Most people aren’t as willing to take dictation as to give it.
Jesus did let them know that He knew that they were offended. He wasn’t about to let them depart silently, which is apparently what they were intending. He let them go, but asked them “Does this offend you?—Suppose you were to see the Son of Man ascending where He was before.” This is a little hard for us to understand what He meant. The best guess is that Jesus was talking about the crucifixion event. It would mean: “If this talking about eating flesh and drinking blood is offensive, just how offensive is the idea of the Messiah dying on the cross going to be to you?’ In the Gospel of John, the idea of lifing up has a double meaning, the one being exaltation and glorification, and the other crucifixion. The glory of God and the power of god is displayed in God being crucified and dying on the cross. It is one thing to be awed by God doing what no other being can do such as creating the universe and doing miracles. It is quite another to see God’s power displayed by God doing what is seemingly impossible for God to do. How could God become man and be both human and God? Yet the Word became flesh. How could the Creator of all things become a creature? How could the Eternal God, die on the cross? And how could God be glorified by being treated the way Jesus did? This is truly the miracle of all time—How could God so love us miserable sinners who constantly reject Him and do evil to self and others to allow these things to happen to His Son? Yet the absolute omnipotence of God is most clearly demonstrated in the weakness of the cross.
One is reminded of the words of Charles Wesley in the Hymn “And Can it Be” here:
And can it be, that I should gain
An interest in my Savior’s blood.
Died He for me who caused His pain,
For me Who Him to death pursued.
Amazing love, How can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me.
God’s love is sovereign.
In verse 64, Jesus again makes it perfectly clear that the initiative to save sinners is God’s and God’s alone. No one can come to Jesus unless the Father has granted it. And for since Jesus is God’s only way, the only way one can be saved is by God’s grace. This was unacceptable to His disciples, so called. They left.
After they left, Jesus asks the twelve if they plan to leave. The Greek is constructed in such a way as Jesus knew that their answer would be “no”. He knew that they weren’t going to leave—at least not yet. Jesus asks them this question for their sakes, not His. Peter answer for all of them: “To whom shall we go? e have come to faith and know that You are the Holy One of God.” This is close to the statement that Peter would make a couple weeks later at Caesarea Philippi. And in both cases, Jesus had to warn Peter to look out for the devil.
Jesus does not at this point commend Peter for the statement. First of all, He was answering for the entire group and not just for himself. It isn’t enough to say: ”What does the church believe?” A statement of faith in Jesus must be a personal one. No one else can believe for you. Nor can you believe for someone else.
Jesus answer in verse 70 tells us two things. The first is that Jesus reminded them that they had not chosen Him, but He them. Perhaps this is what was different between them and the other “disciples’. We see in the gospels that Jesus had indeed called them to follow Him. In the gospel of Matthew, we are confronted by a disciple of the other type who said “Master, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” In other words he was telling the man that he did not have what it takes to be his disciple. Who could ever live up to the demands of being a disciple of Jesus? His teaching is not just downright hard, it is impossible for us to do—if we do it on our own strength. The only way we could truly be a disciple of Jesus is to be called by Jesus Himself. He who calls also equips and makes what it impossible for man to do possible.
The second thing Jesus tells the twelve is that one of them was a devil, or even “The Devil.” And yet God chose Him also. Jesus was not fooled by Judas. By the way it is interesting that the only other time the title “The Holy One of God” is used is spoken by the demoniacs. “Yes I have chosen you, even the devil.” Jesus is even sovereign over the devil. This should bring to a complete stop those who would try to portray Judas as a misguided person who has been wrongly accused by the church. Nowhere is this more seen than in the rock opera “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” In that blasphemy, Judas has almost become the hero and Jesus the devil. Not so. Judas knew exactly what he was doing.
Application of the Text
Today’s passage is very challenging because it goes to the very root of what it means to be a disciple. There is a strong movement in America today called the “seekers”. We are trying to accommodate our churches to make them comfortable. But there is a big difference between a seeker and one who had been found by Jesus Christ. We are warned by the Scripture which says “ever seeking and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”.
In order to make the church more palatable to seekers, have we been guilty of trying to remove the scandal of the cross? Have we been glossing over those “hard sayings” of Jesus to present a Jesus which is more friendly to what we want the Messiah to be? Do we at times find the sayings of Jesus to be hard? Is the answer to a difficult truth from the Bible to water down, change, or ignore the Scripture?
Discipleship is all about Who is in control. We cannot be disciples on our own terms. We cannot set God’s agenda. It is for the true disciple to follow. In Jesus’ day, the Jews thought they could choose the Rabbi they wanted to follow. We too would like to think we can choose what preacher to follow. But remember the words of Jesus: “Have I not chosen you?” The rules are different with Jesus. We cannot follow Jesus unless we are called. And we cannot be called apart from the will of the Father. What we need to do is to petition the Father in prayer that it might be granted that we could follow Jesus. If we don’t, will it be us who walk out next when the times get tough.
But if we have been called, we will have the assurance of the Holy Spirit in our lives who will guide us into all truth, including the difficult ones. If we have the Holy Spirit, we will not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will not try to water down the gospel or dress it up, but simply tell the truth in love.