One of the most common misnomers about being a Christian is that it’s easy. Many think that following Jesus makes life easier, and I guess in one sense that’s true, because no matter what we go through in life, and have God with us, literally—the Holy Spirit living in us. And yet, to think that the Christian life, broadly, is easier than the non-Christian life—that’s really not true. Living for God’s glory, even in the power of the Holy Spirit, is difficult at times. To fight our flesh and our worldly desires is more difficult than not fighting our flesh, just giving in. This is why sometimes you see people, especially those trying to follow Jesus in their own power, you see them turn away.
Not only is it difficult to follow Jesus; it’s difficult to believe or accept what Jesus teaches sometimes. Reading how much Jesus speaks of hell, and thinking of the reality of hell, is difficult sometimes, especially for those of us who have lost family members and friends who didn’t know Jesus. Even J.I. Packer says this about hell: “It’s difficult to talk about hell because it is more awful than we have words for, and if we know that, then it prevents us from saying anything when what we say would fall so short of the reality. It is tragic when people leave this world without Christ.” That’s J.I. Packer—one of the leading theologians in North America and even the world—admitting to a struggle. He says, “it’s difficult.” To hear truth and believe it, to hear truth and walk in it—truly following Jesus is difficult. That’s part of why people leave.
From the beginning, many misunderstand Jesus, and then when they’re hit with the reality, they no longer want to be part of it. The love of Jesus, as an example, is so often misunderstood. To some in our culture, God’s love means that he overlooks sin completely. That God, in general, is a loving and forgiving God just because he is. He’s not a justor wrathful God, he’s a merciful God, because those two things can’t go together. Justice and mercy are opposite attributes. It’s either one or the other. Jesus, especially, is just a very loving man, who loved everyone and never said or did anything offensive. That’s how Jesus is understood in some circles, or at least in popular culture, that’s how people want to paint Jesus.
The problem with that is that it’s just not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible said things that made the majority of the people following him turn away! He was often offensive, and on purpose it seems. So is the case inthese last 12 verses of John chapter 6. Turn with me to John 6, we’re going to read verses 60-71. If you remember back to two weeks ago, he just finished talking about the need to actually believe upon Him; actually eating the bread. And he said things like eat my flesh, drink my blood. So they’re already not quite getting it. He’s already saying things that are offensive to them. And, so, that’s when we get to verse 60 of John chapter 6.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
To give you an idea of where we’re going, we have three reasons why it’s difficult to follow Jesus, and one reason why we still must follow Jesus.
- Jesus says hard things.
So right off the bat, in verse 60, we see that this large group of people had a hard time with Jesus saying, “eat my flesh, drink my blood.” And part of that was probably because they didn’t understand what he was saying, but I also think they didn’t want to understand what he was saying. I think hearing him say, “you must eat the bread of life, and I am the bread of life,” in some of their minds, they’re likely thinking, “Do you really think you are that important, that necessary for life?” They didn’t really want to understand and accept what he was saying, because that’s a hard reality to accept! You’re the Bread of Life? You’re the only one who can satisfy our thirst? I mean, you’re doing some cool things here with all these miracles, Jesus. But, I don’t know about what you’re saying now.
And Jesus doesn’t slow down and step back, and accommodate their confusion or compromise the harsh reality of what he was saying. Instead, he took it even further! We see it in verse 62, when he knew that they were grumbling, he says, “Do you take offense at this? Like, really? That’s offensive? Well, then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”
That’s even more offensive and hard to hear. You know why? Because they’ve been hearing him say, He came from heaven. Maybe they took that to mean that he was sent by God. But for him to now say he was going to go back up into heaven—that’s saying he has the right to open the door and walk in. Like someone has a key to your house, right? Only certain people have the status of having a key and being able to walk in your house whenever they please, right? You don’t just let anybody do that. Well, this is God’s house, and Jesus is saying, “Yeah, of course I have a key.” This was a hard thing for them to hear. Jesus says some hard things, and most of the reason that it is difficult is because we don’t always grasp, or want to grasp, his ultimate authority. He has that kind of authority to walk in whenever he pleases. He also has the authority to say and teach hard things, including things that we don’t always like.
You know, I try not to let current issues or culture dominate the pulpit. Maybe you’ve noticed that. And maybe I air too much on the side of caution, as far as not constantly addressing cultural issues. I just think that God’s Word is timeless and it does not return void, and so I don’t feel required to let cultural issues be the primary application of a given passage of Scripture. But, of course, sometimes it is good to speak directly in reference to our culture.
And right now, one of the most offensive things about God’s Word with respect to our culture is what it teaches about homosexuality, and transgenderism, and just any and all sorts of biblical sexual ethics right now. It is hard for the LGBTQ community and most supporters of LGBTQ community—it is hard to read Romans chapter 1 and not want to either dismiss the Bible altogether, or twist what it’s actually saying. And many have tried to adjust it. Probably the most popular attempt in the last decade was Matthew Vines, who wrote God and the Gay Christian, which came out in 2015. He makes an attempt to adjust what the Bible says, but anyone who knows anything about New Testament Greek, which is where he tries to interpret the text differently, he just doesn’t have a legitimate argument based on the text. There is no question that the text is clear. Homosexuality is sin against God, and one of the many sins that brings about the wrath of God.
These are hard things. Now, I also want to make clear: Jesus says hard things for all of us. I can’t help but want to say this anytime we talk about the LGBTQ community. Because we’re speaking of our culture here, but I also want to address our reaction to culture. Some of us seem to struggle with anger or bitterness toward particular groups in our culture, including the LGBTQ community. There’s a problem when we see a gay couple, or see on the news a gay pride parade, or even some change in law with respect to the LGBTQ rights and their agenda. There’s a problem in our hearts when our first gut reaction to that is anger, bitterness, or disgust, instead of brokenness!
Are you angry, or are you broken, because people need Jesus, and they’re looking for meaning and satisfaction anywhere and everywhere, and the only place where they will truly find it is with the Bread of Life. Our gut reaction shouldn’t be bitterness, and frankly, some of us struggle with bitterness. I’m facebook friends with most of you. Some of us struggle with bitterness toward the LGBTQ community, or Hispanics, or African Americans, or refugees. Hear me, please: if you’re complaining about them before you’re praying for them. If you’re angry before you’re broken. If you see any group of people as a political group that needs to be quiet before you see them as lost people who need Jesus just like you and me. If that’s where we’re at, we need to repent.
Realize that the only reason you see things differently than the rest of our culture, is by the grace of God. The only reason you see things differently like, through God’s filter, in the Word, is by the grace of God. He said it in verse 65, right there, yet again: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” The only reason you can think differently and not just fall right in line with the masses, the only reason you are even able to follow Jesus truly and believe him even when he says hard things, is because God has illuminated your heart. He has lifted the veil that was over your eyes, to use Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians chapter 4.
Don’t be on some high horse, church. In a sense, the truth is that we get to ride behind the only high horse, and that high horse is Jesus. Jesus says hard things, and only by God’s grace, can we believe and follow these hard things. Which takes us right into Reason #2 it’s difficult to follow Jesus:
- You cannot follow Jesus in your own strength.
This is why he suddenly switches gears in verse 63. He’s saying, “You take offense at this, just wait, there’s more!” Then he says, in verse 63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” But the problem, here, is that some of them don’t believe, and that’s what he says in verse 64. Then he explains even further in verse 65: He says, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
You cannot understand and follow the hard things that Jesus teaches without God illuminating your heart and mind. And we do nothing of our own to illuminate ourselves. That’s Jesus’ words: The Spirit gives life, the flesh is no help at all. Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 2:14- “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Without the Spirit of God, we are not able to see Jesus as the Bread of Life. We’re not able to eat the Bread! And this might be the most offensive thing to our sensibilities. I get why this is hard to realize that God is the one that has to do this. This is one of the hard things. That God really has this kind of authority. That Jesus himself really has this kind of authority.
These are some of the things that make people leave. Literally, the very next verse, right after he says this, many of his disciples leave. Because it’s easy to think that we can, in our own power, follow Jesus. The problem is that if you’re only following Jesus in your own power, you may think you’re a believer, you can even be genuine in your passion for Jesus, and yet not ever actually eat the Bread of Life, believe upon Jesus, stake your life upon Jesus and what he accomplished.
I’m convinced that this why so many seem to leave the faith. It’s not that they’re actually leaving the faith, it’s that they never really had this faith. Whether they knew it or not, they thought Christianity was about trying to be a good person and trying to live like Jesus, as opposed to realizing you can’t live like Jesus in your own power. That’s the entire reason he had to die taking our sin upon himself. And by trusting in Him the Spirit empowers us to follow Jesus.
And so, naturally, the question comes up, “Well, is it God granting us this belief or is it we who are deciding ourselves to believe?” We’ve talked about this some over the last several weeks. Yet again, we see both. We see God’s sovereignty, that God must illuminate our hearts; he must give us the gift of faith. Otherwise no one can come to him. I know this is one of those hard things, but that’s what Jesus says here. AND you see man’s responsibility! Right there in verse 64: “But there are some of you who do not believe.” He’s putting that on them.
I’m convinced that this is one of the hardest of the hard things we see throughout the entire Bible, and explicitly side-by-side, just in these few verses. God is absolutely sovereign, as in nothing comes to pass that is outside of his active control and power. Ephesians 1:11- “He brings all things into the council of his will.” And also, throughout the Bible, we see that mankind makes real decisions that have real effects that they really and truly are accountable for. Those two are an apparent paradox, to us, and I don’t have the exact answer that perfectly relieves that tension. And yet, we should not deny one or the other because it’s a hard thing. This is one of those things, that is clearly portrayed throughout the entirety of the Bible, and yet, maybe we can’t fully wrap our minds around how they work.
But, this truth, no matter how hard, is also beautiful. Because you can’t follow Jesus in your own strength, that emphasizes yet again God’s grace in illuminating us, and giving us the Spirit to empower us. The picture here is of billions of people walking away from God, or better-yet, just completely blind of their true need for a Savior, and God mercifully illuminates some. He lifts the veil. Just for clarity here: God never keeps people from coming to him. It’s not like people are trying to turn toward him, and he says, “No, I haven’t lifted your veil. You’re not illuminated.” God never keeps people from coming to him. Instead, the reality is that no one, in their flesh, comes to God. No one in their flesh sees. But God, in his grace, illuminates. The Spirit gives life. The flesh is no help at all. You cannot follow Jesus in your own strength. The 3rdreason it’s difficult to follow Jesus, simply:
- It’s easier to walk away than to stay with him.
Verse 66, I think, is one of the saddest, or at least one of the most sobering in the gospel of John. It says, “Many of his disciples [catch that: disciples! People who called themselves disciples!] many of them turned back and no longer walked with him.” This is one of the hardest realities of the world in which we live: There are many who call themselves disciples of Jesus who are not truly disciples of Jesus. I think this is especially true in the United States, where generally you can assume that most people claim Christianity of some kind. I think it’s still true in the Midwest that to not be a Christian means that you kind-of stick out. It’s easy to think you’re a Christian and not actually be a Christian. It’s so easy to lie to ourselves, in a sense, or paint things in the way we want to believe.
When I was in 6thgrade, at school in Iowa Park, Texas, I remember running around the band hall (the band hall was like an octagon). I was running really fast, I guess I was late or something, and running the opposite way around the band hall was Dellas Binion, a fellow 6thgrader. Long story short, we slammed into each other, and because he was taller than me, my nose, went right into his chest, and broke. I broke my nose running into a guy’s chest. That’s a true story.
That being an embarrassing explanation of how I break my nose, I just told everyone that I bounced off Dellas and hit the brick wall. That was a somewhat less embarrassing story. I guess, maybe that’s just as embarrassing, but that’s what I told people. And I don’t remember when it was, I think it was a few years later, I was talking with my mom, and I brought up the time I broke my nose by bouncing off of Dellas Binion and hitting the wall. She looked at me and said, “Ryan, you didn’t break your nose on the brick wall. You broke it on Dellas Binion’s chest.” Apparently, I had told that false story so many times that I had started believing it! I guess I wanted to believe it badly enough, that I forgot the actual way that I broke my nose.
I know that that’s a small, trivial example of convincing ourselves of things that aren’t true, but let me tell you: it is part of our flesh to convince ourselves of what we want to believe, and I’m talking about things that are much more serious than how I broke my nose in 6thgrade. Have you convinced yourself that you have gained God’s favor because you’ve been a good person, because you’ve grown up in the church, because you know the right words to say. I know I told you I was impressed with your answer when I asked you two weeks ago to write down what must we do to be saved. But have you heard that so much that you just know what to write? You know what to say? You know what to do at church? You know how to look like a Christian? You even know how to convince yourself that you’re a Christian, when maybe you’ve never actually recognized your own depravity and lostness, and so trusted in Jesus alone. Maybe you’ve always depended upon your flesh.
I don’t know if any of you have considered leaving the Christian faith, leaving the church altogether. I don’t know, maybe some of you have thought about that. Sometimes the Christian life is difficult. Oftentimes, it is more difficult than the non-Christian life, just living and trusting however you see fit. But no matter the difficulty, let me tell you why we still must follow Jesus. 1 Reason, that we’ve talked about some over the past few months.
Why We Still Must Follow Jesus
- Jesus alone gives Life.
I love these last few verses. Jesus turns to the 12 disciples after all these other so-called “disciples” leave. And he asks, “Do you want to leave as well?” And Simon Peter answered him, this is just beautiful. Verses 67-68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the holy One of God.”
I just love this. Where else shall we go? To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, you are the holy One of God. Do we realize there is nowhere else to go to find life? Everywhere else there is nothing but death. John Calvin put it like this: “As soon as they have gone away from Christ, there remains for them everywhere nothing but death. Certain destruction, therefore, awaits all who, not satisfied with that Teacher, fly to the inventions of men.”
There is no hope outside of Christ. There is no lasting joy and satisfaction outside of Christ. Literally, the question for us must be: Where else can we go? Do you really see Jesus as your only hope? Because if he’s our only hope for life, and that’s how we see Him, then when hard things come, when it’s hard following Jesus, when you’re reading the Word and something is difficult. Even with all of that there’s nothing that will make you leave Jesus, because, Where else would we go? And that’s not just like, in the reluctant sense, “Oh, well, we have no better option, guess we’ll stay here.” That’s not Simon Peter’s mentality when he says this. He’s saying, “To whom shall we go, because no one else COMPARES to you, Jesus! You’re on a completely different level, a different spectrum even. Your words give eternal life.” That’s a bit different than the gospel we hear taught nowadays.
Parachute in an airplane anecdote.
Only in Christ, do we hear the message of life. We hear it from his mouth, in his words, and we SEE it in his flesh! Because he is the ONE to accomplish this eternal life for us. Only in Christ, are the difficulties of the Christian life worth it. Only in Christ will we see the narrow road as the only road worth taking. Only in Christ will we see the path on which only a few walk, as the only path worth taking.
Yes, it’s difficult. But it is infinitely worth it. Like these few disciples who remained, except for Judas: see who Jesus really is, and believe upon Him alone, follow Him alone, because He has the words of eternal life.