"Because of what Jesus said, many of his disciples turned their backs on him and stopped following him. Jesus then asked His twelve disciples if they were going to leave Him. Simon Peter answered, "Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life. We have faith in you, and we are sure that you are God's Holy One."
This spring marks 40 years that I will have been a follower of Jesus Christ. Having grown up in the church and in ministry (both as a missionary's and a preacher's kid), I have been exposed to God's Word of truth from an early age. It's wonderful, when, after all these years, the Lord continues to reveal Himself to me in new ways.
Take John 6, for instance. This may be one of the most misunderstood - therefore glossed over - chapters in the Gospels. It was still early in Jesus' ministry; the journey had taken He and His disciples from Cana to Jerusalem, through Samaria and back to the Galilee. Andrew, Philip, and Simon Peter were probably still trying to process the first miracle they saw back at the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. From there He had gone on to raise up a lame man in Jerusalem, heal an official's son, save a whole town in Samaria, miraculously feed untold thousands, walk on a stormy sea, instantly transport the boat they were in across the Galilee, along with many other miracles Scripture does not record in detail, except to acknowledge that Jesus did them. Talk about fastening your seatbelt - the Twelve disciples must have been in a whirl!
And then, a breather. After feeding the multitude, Jesus spent time alone that evening before returning to Capernaum. The next day the crowds followed Jesus back across the lake. When they arrived, they found Jesus waiting for them in the synagogue. Synagogues were places of teaching, where Jewish men would go hear the Law of Moses taught by the priests and rabbis. The crowds had been following Jesus because of the signs and miracles He had been performing, not the least of which had been the 'miracle meal' 24 hours earlier! They were fired up! In fact, Jesus withdrew back to Capernaum because He perceived they were going to try to take Him by force and make Him king!
So He promptly shatters their world. He tells them that they should not be following Him because he filled their bellies, but because the Father has sent Him on a mission to save them and give them Life. He reminds them of the 'manna in the wilderness' experience during Moses' time (they are, after all, in the synagogue and this would be a common teaching, like a Bible story in Sunday School) But He adds a new twist. Jesus didn't tell them that He had miraculously fed them meat and bread (like Yahweh in the wilderness), and they could expect this provision to now continue since He, the Messiah, was here. Instead, Jesus told them He was the bread of life! In fact, He pressed the point home by stating His flesh was bread they must eat; His blood, the wine they must drink - this was true food. How's that for a political campaign?!
The crowd was rattled. They argued. This was outrageous! But Jesus didn't stop or backtrack. He pressed on to say, "I tell you for certain that you won't live unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. But if you do eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life, and I will raise you to life on the last day. My flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me, and I am one with you. The living Father sent me, and I have life because of him. Now everyone who eats my flesh will live because of me. The bread that comes down from heaven isn't like what your ancestors ate. They died, but whoever eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:53-59). The grumbling began to ripple-out through through His disciples (not the Twelve, but many others who followed Him as a rabbi and teacher).
The tension reached a breaking point. Any thoughts the crowd might have had of making Jesus king were forgotten. Surely this man was mad! How could anyone in their right mind teach these things? Eat his flesh, drink His blood? Bread of Life - what on earth was He talking about? At that moment, Jesus spelled it out for them, but He was not heard or understood. Minds and hearts were closed. He asked them, "Does this bother you? What if you should see the Son of Man go up to heaven where he came from? The Spirit is the one who gives life! Human strength can do nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are from that life-giving Spirit. But some of you refuse to have faith in me." (John 6:61-64) Jesus explained there is no power in the flesh - human strength - in an attempt to correct their thoughts on the 'cannibalism' issue. Yet when He gave them the Father's true perspective, the crowd remained closed. They were finished, done. They left. Many of His so-called disciples left with them. The huge momentum built over weeks of teaching, signs, and miracles came to an abrupt halt. High hopes and expectations were dashed. There would be no king to deliver them from Roman rule. Jesus shattered their world.
Only He didn't, really. What He did was speak Truth. He didn't come to deliver them from Roman rule, but from Satan's rule! He tried to get them to understand His mission was to bring them back to the Father, as many as would believe and follow Him. To their credit, the Twelve (Jesus' chosen disciples) got it! (John 6:66-69) You see, the miraculous meal which took place the day before was as much a test for the Twelve as it was anything else. Look at a couple of interesting verses back at the beginning of the chapter, "When Jesus saw the large crowd coming toward him, he asked Philip, "Where will we get enough food to feed all these people?" He said this to test Philip, since he already knew what he was going to do." (John 6:5-6) Before you think that it might have been a little unfair of Jesus to test Philip this way, think back to the miracle at Cana. Philip, Andrew and Simon Peter were there when Jesus turned the water into wine. They heard Mary tell the servants of the bridegroom, "Whatever He tells you to do, do it." Simply put, the test was one of obedience. Would the disciples remember Mary's words and take them to heart?
When we come to Jesus, He speaks the Father's Truth into our lives. God's Truth shatters a world which revolves around misguided beliefs or faulty paradigms. When our world is shattered, we have a choice: do we follow by faith in obedience to His Word; or do we fall away because we don't understand, or our minds are made-up, or the way is too hard? It's been almost a month since my last blog. A month since Jesus shattered my world (something I've come to be most grateful for). I lost my job; my position on staff as worship pastor of a church I had grown to deeply love and enjoy serving. There were no reasons given by the church leadership other than 'differences in style and approach to ministry'. We agreed to end the ministry partnership amicably, in a way that honors the Lord, and the church leadership has been more than generous in providing for my family during this interim period in which I am discerning from the Lord 'what's next'.
Nevertheless, I am unemployed (at least temporarily), for reasons I don't really understand, as I step back and try to look at the whole picture. I am in a place much like the one in which the crowds in Capernaum found themselves on that day so long ago, in a synagogue by the Sea of Galilee; a place of disappointment, of confusion, of doubt. They thought they had discovered a king, a savior, but didn't understand Jesus was the King, the Savior. They allowed circumstances to close their hearts and minds to the Truth the Son was trying to show them: He came to save them - not on their terms, but on the Father's (far better terms, by the way!).
"'It's not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord God of hosts."
It's not about my job, or the ministry to which I am called. It's about passing the test of obedience. How else on earth can my faith be tested? The Lord has so incredibly blessed my life with an amazing wife and family, abundant seasons of prosperity, great times, wonderful accomplishments for His Kingdom, close friends and ministry partners, many of them lifelong. And yet the command to "sell all you have and come, follow me" still rings out. For me, this means accepting greatly perplexing things I don't understand, whether ministry-related or otherwise. As I look back over the last few years I think this is perhaps the greatest lesson the Lord has been teaching me. A life of faith is one which accepts those things that do not make sense to the human mind, letting go of anything that would challenge the Father's authority in our lives. Like the old hymn goes, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." (Public Domain, Rev. John Henry Sammis, Daniel Brink Tower)
Lord, there is no one else that I can go to! Your words give eternal life. I have faith in You, and I am sure that You are God's Holy One. I can't wait to see what's next!