“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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 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.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.’” – John 6:60-69
At the beginning of chapter 6, John recounts two of Jesus’ most amazing miracles (feeding the 5,000 and walking on water) in a mere twenty-one verses. This brevity is due, in part, to the fact that his Gospel was written well after those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Readers were already familiar with the narratives, so it wasn’t necessary to rehash every detail. Still, it is telling that John dedicates more than twice as many verses, two-thirds of the chapter, to the dialogue between Jesus and the crowd at Capernaum. Why? Because he, like Jesus, wanted his audience to focus on substance rather than spectacle. And because there is a stark, and instructive, contrast between how the people and the Twelve responded to Jesus’ claims.
After Jesus fed a multitude with one boy’s lunch, the crowd quickly jumped on his bandwagon. They declared: “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (v. 14). After all, he had demonstrated exactly the kind of miraculous power they expected the Messiah to possess. But then Jesus started teaching, and just about everything he said challenged their long-held beliefs. Faith, not good works, was the key to salvation. God’s invitation, rather than birthright, determined who would know eternal life. The Messiah would be a sacrificial lamb, not a conquering hero. Whoa, whoa, whoa! This was getting a little too radical.
You can almost feel the tension rising each time Jesus reasserted these truths. First, the people grumbled. Then they disputed. Then they complained. Finally, they became offended and stopped following him altogether. They wanted Jesus to display his power, pat them on the back, and say, “Keep up the good works!” They wanted his assurance that they were good to go, that he would right the world’s wrongs, not a call to drastic change in their own lives. They still believed in the coming Messiah, but it certainly wasn’t this guy.
As the crowd dispersed, Jesus turned his attention to the Twelve and asked if they too wanted to walk away. Simon Peter once again acted as spokesman for the group, and his response is both practical and poignant: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (v. 68). Many Jews presumably reverted to the old ways, which were far more comfortable, familiar and, frankly, convenient. But that was no longer an option for the disciples; their faith in Jesus had inexorably altered them. It had changed their identity, their perspective, their attitude, and their priorities. Knowing who he was and what he came to do made it impossible to follow anyone or anything else. They had experienced saving faith. While the crowd believed in Jesus only as long as he conformed to their expectations and ideals, the disciples were transformed by who he actually was.
May all of us be transformed by our faith in Jesus Christ.
Does your faith in Jesus reside on the surface, or does it penetrate your heart and change you from the inside out? Ask the Lord to lead you into a deeper saving faith today. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In our six-week small group Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!
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