A Bible study through John 1-6
Jesus’ message and ministry had great impact during His lifetime. However, at the same time, it was counter-cultural and repulsive to a lot of people. His messages were not easy to stomach and required a level of faith and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone that not everyone was prepared for. While the first six chapters of John cover the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry, here at the end of chapter six, we see people are already walking away.
Jesus’ miracles and gifts of healing and food were always welcome and drew a crowd; however, when He began teaching and explaining the truth of why He had come and what was required to follow Him, people turned back. Therefore, after the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus’ subsequent teaching on the bread of life, John records this sobering result.
“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.”
The many wonderful things Jesus did leading up to the feeding of the five thousand became renowned through the region and attracted a large following; however, what happened to these people by the end of chapter six? Those same people who had watched Jesus heal and had eaten the miracle lunch He provided on the mountain top walked away. The message got hard and the road required more commitment, so the fans slipped away. One by one they turned back and stopped following Jesus.
Signs and wonders will draw a following. Truth will not. Hardcore, biblical truth will not be accepted by the masses. Most will be turned off by it and will stop following the miracle worker. And if this is how things went during Jesus’ ministry, why should we expect anything less?
In our results and statistics driven society, we are easily tempted to measure the size of our impact on the world by the number of people who come to Christ; experience spiritual renewal; or follow our blog, platform, or ministry. However, that’s not the measure God uses. His kingdom is upside-down and backward when compared to the world’s system. God looks at the heart and wants a handful of committed, all-in followers rather than crowds of curious, comfort-seeking fans.
So after Jesus’ message on the bread of life and what is required to receive eternal life, many of His newly acquired followers left. As John stated, they “turned back and no longer walked with him.” I love the word image of walking with Jesus. While Jesus was on earth, following Jesus did require physically walking with Him, traveling and accompanying Him on His various trips to Jerusalem and around the Sea of Galilee. Walking with Jesus denotes a daily commitment and personal investment. It’s a one foot in front of the other type of action. The disciples didn’t always know where Jesus was going, but they walked with Him wherever He led.
While we cannot walk with Jesus in the physical, literal sense, our spiritual walk with Jesus requires the same level of daily commitment to follow the Savior one step at a time. It’s a decision to keep going even when the road gets rough, the way gets narrow, and the journey gets long. It’s identification with a person even when others may walk away. It’s resolving to stick by Jesus’ side no matter the cost.
Most of Jesus’ followers were not willing to make that commitment. So they turned back and no longer walked with the Savior of the world. They weighed the pros and cons and decided that the cost was too high, the way too uncomfortable, and the journey too difficult. So they went back to their little lives and missed out on the incredible adventure walking with Jesus always entails.
But Peter chose a different path. When Jesus turned to His disciples and asked if they were going to follow the crowd and walk away, Peter made a bold declaration and clearly showed where he stood on this topic.
“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.’”
This is a powerful statement of faith and commitment, and one I want to echo in my own life when faced with a crossroad. Despite the fact that Peter did not understand everything Jesus taught and even though following Jesus lost popularity, Peter resolved to stick with Jesus no matter what because he believed that Jesus was the Savior of the world and Son of God.
Do you share that some conviction? If Jesus asked you whether or not you’ll join the crowds walking away, how would you answer?
I hope and pray that we will honestly and sincerely join Peter in saying: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Let’s commit to walking with Jesus all the way to the end--no matter the cost—following Him wherever He leads, one step at a time.