Few things are as polarizing as faith. Conviction has its own way of drawing a line in the sand. Jesus, standing among His followers in the local synagogue, had now thrown down the gauntlet. The people had been impressed that the son of a carpenter had been able to perform miracles. But now He was making strange statements about eating His flesh? Drinking His blood? Being equal with God?
John 6:60 – 7:1 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
In today’s world, spirituality is assumed to exist on a spectrum. I can dial it in as my circumstances demand. The only forms of spirituality I avoid are the extreme ends of this spectrum. No one wants to be a fanatic. “I’m a Christian,” we might say. “But I don’t force my religion down other people’s throats.” In other words, I’m not comfortable making others uncomfortable. Jesus doesn’t allow His followers to remain in the safety of this Nerf-gun faith. He plays with live ammo:
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.”
We don’t need to get lost in debates over “free will” to understand what Jesus is saying here. It’s harder to believe than not to. Jesus isn’t concerned about whether His message is hard or easy; He’s concerned about a message that’s true. Jesus’ words remind us that we need not be surprised that many in our world choose not to believe. Instead, we should be grateful that God’s Spirit has granted us the ability to believe at all.
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.
It amazes me that Jesus was so willing to allow the crowds to walk away from Him. He made no attempt to regain their affections through clever words or side-show performances. Surely it must have broken His heart—but His followers wouldn’t be based on entertainment or experience. His closest followers understood that it wasn’t bread that they truly needed, but the “words of eternal life.”
We do ourselves—we do God—a great disservice by treating faith too lightly. One of the most prominent themes of the Hebrew scriptures is the “fear of the Lord.” Have we lost this understanding? Have we turned the God of the Bible into something safe, tame, domesticated? In his beloved Narnia series, C.S. Lewis gives us a picture that closely resembles the scene of John 6. Jill is looking for water when she comes across a stream:
“Although the sight of water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason; just on this side of the stream lay the lion….
‘If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,’ thought Jill. ‘And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.’ Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it….
‘If you’re thirsty, you may drink.’
…the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in a rather different way.
‘Are you not thirsty?’ said the Lion.
‘I’m dying of thirst,’ said Jill
‘Then drink,’ said the Lion.
‘May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?’ said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
‘Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?’ said Jill.
‘I make no promise,’ said the Lion.
‘Do you eat girls?’ she said.
‘I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,’ said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
‘I daren’t come and drink,’ said Jill.
‘Then you will die of thirst,’ said the Lion.
‘Oh dear!’ said Jill, coming another step nearer. ‘I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.’
‘There is no other stream,’ said the Lion.”
There is no other stream. No other path, no other source of life. “To whom shall we go?” the disciples ask. It’s a good question for each of us. If all we want is “bread,” all we want is external satisfaction, our world offers endless supply; an abundance of means but a lack of ends, of real meaning and significance. But if we want something else—something deeper, more substantial—we find it at the feet of a God that makes mountains quake and oceans roar. Before Him, there is no other.