John 6:60, 67-69
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Hard teachings, we have a few of those in the church don’t we? The Bible is true, and it says God told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites, there’s Sodom and Gomorrah, the laws and culture God gave the Israelites regarding deviant sexual behaviour, diet and shelter, many of which are seen as abhorrent and evil by today’s culture. The hard teaching that Jesus Christ is the only way for salvation and every other religion is wrong; that there is life after this one and there is eternal salvation, life and eternal death and separation from God’s grace; that there is an all good, all powerful and all-knowing God but there is still evil and horrors in this world He created. There’s the man Jesus being born with a virgin for a mother, the almighty creator of the universe becoming a man, then we also teach that despite His power God died. Now just take a step back, God died, what kind of a person would go around saying God made the universe, no one is greater or stronger, He knows everything and is in control of everything, then He died. That’s one of our teachings and to many these teachings are ridiculous.
There are also hard teachings for us Christians. We think of the Divine trinity, three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, but only one God. Also back to Jesus, He was fully human and fully God; He died and rose again to life by His own power. He came down from heaven and ascended back there to God’s right hand. He is the bread from heaven and we are called to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Even, no one can come to Him unless the Father draws them. These are hard teachings, this world teaches us that we get what we earn, either reward or punishment, but God freely gives His grace in salvation from sin and death unconditionally; we do not work to earn salvation. We love because He first loved us. We were dead in our sin, but God made us alive together in Christ, by grace you have been saved. That is the teaching we as Christians struggle with the most.
These are hard teachings, but they are the words of God the one who loves us and all people so very much. He’s gone out of His way to give us His word in a way we can receive it, written down in the Bible. That’s a fantastic teaching as well, that God cares so much that He’s stooped to our level to help us understand the things we’re able to. So that, like a parent to a young child, we know what we did wrong, and why it was wrong, and also how it has been fixed in Jesus. So that we understand what is true about us and this world God has created. Truly a wonderful thing, thank God for His love through His Word.
So God loves us, He stoops to our level, but why doesn’t He make those hard teachings easier for us to understand. If only Jesus had said things differently, maybe those disciples wouldn’t have left. These people came after being fed and wanted to know more of Jesus, but He tells them to believe Him, then says that He is the bread of life, eat Him and live. They reply not understanding, thinking ‘Is this man telling us to canabalise him? That’s against God’s Law!’ So Jesus tells them, ‘Unless you chew and swallow my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.’ They say, ‘that’s a hard teaching, who will accept it?’ He says, ‘this offends you? Wait until you see me rise to heaven where I’ve come from. My words are true and life. I knew you didn’t believe.’ And those many disciples left Him never to come back.
Wow! Dial it back a bit Jesus, not so harsh, you gotta butter them up first, if you speak like that no one will come to listen to you. We as enlightened, Post Modern people know that if you want people to come to faith you need to start on the small and easy things, nice songs, prayer for health, God loves you, He wants the best for you; we know we should leave those difficult questions about hell, damnation and God killing, for later, or the pastor. You don’t start with cannibalism, like why didn’t you say you’ll just be eating bread and wine, not your actual flesh and blood, people would’ve been on board with that, well more than the other teaching.
And then Jesus turns to His twelve dedicated disciples. ‘You gonna leave to?’ But Peter replies, “Lord, to whom would we go? For you have the words of eternal life and we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus doesn’t even try to repackage hard teaching for His disciples, but they know that He speaks the truth, not only that but it is Jesus, The Word of God, who gives us eternal life. The truth is sometimes hard, difficult and painful; but it is always true. Like confessing failure, the pain must be dealt with but the forgiveness and healing is sweet. As we eat and drink Jesus in Holy Communion He is with us in a most intimate way, bringing life and forgiveness. We are brought in and with Him into the loving relationship of Father, Son and Spirit; being joined with the triune God. God died on the cross, for you on the cross. And it is God who has saved you, forgiven you and loves you, not because of what you have done, but because of what He has done for you. We can’t make Him love us any less or any more. Jesus loves you, has promised you that you have eternal life with Him, the gracious gift of God. We know and we believe that He is The Way the Truth and the Life. And despite the offence He is our Lord, the one whose words give life eternal.
And the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham