John 6 contains one of the hardest passages for me in all of Scripture because it speaks of followers who end up rejecting Christ and turning away. It is a scene in which people literally left Jesus in droves (see John 6:66).
Jesus had just miraculously fed a crowd of thousands. The people were amazed and thrilled by what He had done, ready to follow this wonder-working Messiah. But when He challenged them about what they were really after, they scoffed and left by the masses.
Underlying this passage is a question for anyone who would follow Christ: “Who is in charge of your life, you or Jesus?” Do we allow God to have total direction of our lives? Or do we try to determine for ourselves what God wants of us?
Every Christian faces this question early in his or her walk with the Lord. From the outset, a battle takes place in us, a clash of two warring cultures. First, there is the outer culture of the world, which constantly urges, “How can you benefit from this?” Then there is the culture of God’s kingdom, which asks, “How can you serve the Lord and your neighbor?”
Jesus had already preached that the kingdom of God was at work in the world: “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15, NLT). In other words: “The kingdom of God is present among you.” Most of Christ’s listeners that day had the world’s mindset. They were driven mainly by what they could gain for themselves. When Jesus came along offering blessings, they flocked to Him, saying, “Sure, if You’re going to provide me with everything, I’ll follow you. If You’ll heal my sick family members and answer my prayers, yes, absolutely, I’ll be Your disciple.”
But what happens to our faith commitment if these things don’t come to pass for us? How committed to Jesus are we when we realize He’s not just our “assistant” in life? The same people in this scene who were quick to follow Christ were just as quick to reject Him. Disappointed, they left, giving up on Him.
Jesus knew this would happen. That’s why on the heels of performing a great miracle for those multitudes, He confronted them: “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26, NLT). Is the same true of us today? Do we follow Jesus mainly because of His blessings or because He is Lord?
The Bible clearly paints a picture, infinitely tender and personal, reminding us that God always “hears our weeping” (Psalm 6:8). Some translations from the Hebrew text render it, “He counts or will receive or know each one of our tears.”
This altar of faith that we are called to build, as winds of uncertainty, anger, fear, anguish and doubt roar their threats at us from all sides, is sometimes one of the hardest altars to build. It is a single mom looking at her son today, scary, distant and angry, while it seems that only yesterday he was so loving and affectionate. She lies on her bed at night asking herself, “Who is this monster, so arrogant and mean, wearing my son’s clothes? Why? How can I raise a son without a dad in our home?”
It is you and me, struck down by illness, hearing the doctor speaking dreadful words of cancer that turn into a blur of fear and panic. It is a single person, surrounded by her married friends and their children, drowning in loneliness, asking, “When, Lord? Why?” It is the businessman who gave it everything he had for years, his best, his all, now facing bankruptcy. He feels lost, useless, so powerless and a total failure.
This faith that walks in the valley of the shadow of death pushes forward and treads on paths “tourists at the cross” don’t dare to walk on. No, at this very place, you will find true Christians. A passionate pastor who dies a thousand deaths as he sees his church sinking into an ugly division. A man or woman of faith abandoned and cheated on, cut to the bone by a divorce that will not be repaired. The fracture of soul is so violent that this person truly feels as if she will limp for the rest of her life.
There is a faith that can and will rebuild, restore and even resurrect. Abraham lost his altar (see Genesis 12). There was a famine in the land, and the words of Scripture lift a truthful, yet painful, veil from covering what truly happened to him.
Dear reader, the Bible is an implacable mirror of truth and its purpose and vision is to save your life (see James 1:23-25).
“This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. These things he said in the synagogue . . . Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?” (John 6:58-61).
Note that Christ was speaking to believers here. What was the hard saying they reacted to? It was, “You must eat My flesh and drink My blood, or else you have no life in you. My flesh is meat, and My blood is drink. And eternal life comes only through consuming them.”
Jesus saw that the people were shocked by His words. So He asked them, in essence, “Did I offend you? Are you bothered by My truth-telling?” Then He states, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). He made it crystal clear: “The very thing you’re offended by is what brings life.” How did His followers respond? “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
What is Jesus saying about His gospel here? Simply put, He is stating that the message of His blood and His cross is offensive. Even though it is the only gospel that leads to eternal life, some are not going to accept it. “But there are some of you that believe not” (John 6:64).
Jesus’ words here are being borne out in many churches today. Incredibly, some congregations have removed every reference to Christ’s blood from their worship services. Pastors don’t mention it in their sermons, and hymns about the blood have been removed from the church. It’s all considered too offensive.
But Jesus warns, “It doesn’t matter how offensive My words may seem to you. You can’t change them. My words produce life and you have to consume them as you would food and drink, to make them the very fiber of your being. Therefore, you’re not to soften what I’ve said. If you remove the blood and the cross from your preaching, you’re cutting off seekers from their only hope for eternal life.”
Repentance was at the heart of the very first sermon after Christ’s resurrection. Peter told the crowds gathered at Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth . . . ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22-23).
When the people heard this, they fell under powerful conviction. The preached Word pricked their hearts, because the Holy Spirit had come in all His power. And according to Jesus, that’s precisely the Spirit’s work. He said the Holy Ghost comes to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
The crowds were so stirred, they couldn’t move. Suddenly, before them were the very issues of life and death. So they cried out to Peter, asking what they should do. He answered, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. . . . Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:38, 40).
This passage illustrates the repentance at the heart of Jesus’ message. If there is no conviction in the message—no truth about sin and guilt, no smiting of the heart—then the Holy Ghost simply isn’t in it. He’s simply not present in such preaching.
Peter wasn’t interested in offending those crowds at Pentecost. His only purpose was to show them the truth, and when the Holy Spirit reveals the truth, it convicts. It goes down deep and roots out every area of the heart.
Sadly, this isn’t happening in many churches today. Our ministry receives letter after letter echoing the same refrain: “I have a neighbor I have witnessed to for months. I take him to church, hoping he’ll hear a word about his condition and his need for the Lord. But my pastor never says a word about sin. There’s never a word that brings conviction, that spells out the need for Jesus’ cleansing, freeing power. So my neighbor leaves even more comfortable in his sin.”
What a tragedy! How grievous it must be to God that more people are affirmed in their sins inside churches than outside of them.
According to Jesus, no one can be delivered from sin—no one is ever faced with truth—without the convicting presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus declares, “My church is a place of shameless, open repentance.” Indeed, the apostle Paul attests: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:8-11).
Simply put, we are brought to salvation through our open confession of repentance. Jesus states, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). And, He says, repentance is how we are healed and restored: “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
Beloved, this is good news! Jesus is telling us, “In My Church, everyone is healed through repentance. It doesn’t matter who you are—the physically broken, the mentally ill, the spiritually sick. Everyone must come to Me the same way. And all find healing through repentance.”
So, what is the central message of Christ’s gospel? He makes it plain throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In these four gospels, He tells us, “Here is what I preach in My church. This is My message to all sinners.”
First of all, “Jesus came . . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). What was Jesus’ first message? He preached repentance.
To some Christians, this may sound like strong language. They may respond, “Okay, but how strongly did Jesus preach repentance?” Luke answers that Jesus told His listeners, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
You may think Christ’s gospel of repentance sounds like a downer. But Paul says otherwise. A repentant heart brings true life: “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10).