October 13, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jhn 6:60-71 ESV] 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.
When the disciple heard it, they said, “This is hard saying; who can listen to it?”
What was the hard saying?
It is Jesus’ saying:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
And he continued,
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Following these sayings of Jesus we now find (1) that most of his disciples depart from him (these are the false disciples, (2) the twelve disciples remain with Jesus (These are the true disciples), except (3) there is one in their midst who does not believe; that is “a devil,” Judas Iscariot.
So we have a passage here on the reactions to hearing the words of eternal life. Most reject Jesus, a few accept him, but even among those who appear to accept him there is an unbeliever.
So we will be looking at the false disciples, the true disciples, and the false disciples among the congregation of the Lord. Then we will look at what is called the “offense of the Gospel.” Why it is that people are turned off by the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
I. THE FALSE DISCIPLES
First, let us look at the false disciples.
To Jesus the false disciples respond, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it.” Or, more exactly, “who can accept it?”
They’ve heard Jesus declare that he is the bread of life come down from heaven and that they need to eat of this bread.
We don’t know how many disciples there were at this point. But it is almost certain that there were more false disciples than true ones. If there were 12 (or rather 11) true disciples, then there might have been hundreds of even thousands of false disciples. Remember, the crowds had been following Jesus. And it is said of those who rejected Jesus’ sayings that there were “many.” Thus there was a large number who departed from Jesus.
These false disciples attached a “crassly literal interpretation” to his words. They thought Jesus was asking them to be cannibals; to literally eat his flesh. They failed to ask if Jesus’ words had a deeper spiritual meaning.
Jesus, however, would often speak in parables and analogies. And the Scriptures tells us exactly why he does this; exactly why Jesus speaks in parables. It is in order to bring to fruition God’s plan of election. To some knowledge of God is given, but to others it is not given.
In Matthew chapter 13, we find this explanation.
[Mat 13:10-13 ESV] 10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
I once had a person say to me that the parables of Christ are not meant to be understood. And hearing that was quite disturbing, for it indicated that that person was not a believer.
For to believers is given understanding.
This is proven in that after Jesus tells a number of parables and explains them to his disciples, we find him asking “Have you understood ALL these things?” And the disciples responded to him saying “Yes.” (Matthew 13:52) Yes, we understand. But false disciples do no understand.
So what a false disciple? It is one who rejects the teachings of Jesus. A false disciple is in fact not a disciple at all, but maybe appears as one for a time, following Jesus for some gain of their own but never having faith in Him as the Son of God and messiah.
This is a call then to have faith in Christ. Not merely to follow as the crowd follows Jesus. But to follow him by accepting his teachings. Understand then that to eat of the bread of life is not to literally consume flesh but is “to look on the Son and believe in him.”
Of the false disciples John Calvin explains, “It was in their hearts, and not in the saying [of Jesus], that the harshness lay.” The problem is not that it is a hard saying, but that they have hard hearts.
As a side note about these false disciples in the text, it is interesting that they are spoken of as “grumbling.” This is interesting because the passage alluded to from the Old Testament about “manna from heaven” also has the people grumbling. Exodus 16:2 says “And the whole congregation of the people grumbled against Moses and against Aaron in the wilderness.” And now in John we hear that Jesus knew that his disciples (the false ones) were grumbling about his saying. In both cases — Exodus and John’s Gospel — those who grumble do not trust in the Lord. This certainly teaches us not to grumble, but to come to an understanding of what God is doing. In the Exodus he sustains life with bread from heaven; in John’s Gospel he provides His own Son Jesus Christ as the “bread from heaven” that gives eternal life.
But let us move on to the true disciples.
II. THE TRUE DISCIPLES
The true disciples understand Jesus as he ought to be understood — that is, that his saying is not literal, but spiritual. To eat of his flesh and to drink his blood is to come to Him and to have faith.
The false disciples left. And this would seem like a big blow to a movement. But the truth is not in numbers. Jesus does not say what the people want to hear so that he might form a mega-church. Nor does he do what the people want him to do that he might become a popular preacher. He proclaims, rather, the Gospel of God’s grace—salvation from the Lord.
The false disciples leave not understanding Jesus. And Jesus asks those remaining “Do you want to go away as well?”
Simon Peter famously answered him, “”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I say famously, but maybe that is not so for everyone. But growing up in a liturgical church each week we would sing responsive readings and one of them was “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I heard that week after week as a child. And only some time later did I realize that it was a direct quote from the Scriptures and then come to see its very important meaning.
“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Truly, we have only the one good option. Following the Lord brings eternal life. Those who reject Him are foolish, interested in some fleeting thing of this word. Money, power, sex, or possessions. But there is no permanent happiness in these things. Life must have a greater meaning. And death is inevitable. To have peace then, and to have meaning, and to have eternal life we must—we absolutely must—come to Jesus.
Peter here is the spokesperson for the group. He says “to whom shall WE go.” And this is the first time the disciples are numbered as twelve. It is possible that at this point there were only these twelve, but it is possible also that there were others who were not counted as part of the closer “inner circle” with Jesus. Certainly we know that women like Mary Magdalene become disciples but are not numbered among the twelve. The twelve have a particular purpose. They are apostles “sent out” to proclaim the Gospel, but they are also to be witnesses to the resurrection. (Acts 1:22)
The true disciples then stay with Jesus. But the outward appearance is not always the same as inward belief. In the very number of those who have stayed is one who does not believe – Judas Iscariot, the false disciple among the congregation of the Lord.
III. FALSE DISCIPLES AMONG THE CONGREGATION OF THE LORD
Judas Iscariot is well-known as the greatest traitor in history. In exchange for thirty pieces of silver, Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests. So terrible was his action that he ruined the name “Judas” forever. In Biblical times this was a common name. The Scriptures have not only Judas Iscariot but also the disciple known as Judas Thaddaeus. The popularity of this name might have something to do with the Jewish hero Judas Maccabeus —“the Hammer”—who led a revolt against the foreign rulers two centuries before Christ. Well, so atrocious is the traitoriousness of Judas that almost no one uses that name today. Like Benedict and Jezebel, Judas is a name forever laid aside.
Jesus chose all of the disciples, in that he physically called them out to follow him. Yet he knew that among them was one who is “a devil.” He doesn’t here tell the disciples who the traitor would be, but John explains that it is Judas the son of Simon Iscariot who was going to betray Jesus.
The presence of Judas among the twelve disciples teaches us something important about the church. Not all who are members of a church are true believers. And not all who are baptized are true believers. And not all who put on the airs of being Christians are true believers.
Of false believers, Jesus says:
[Mat 7:21-23 ESV] 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
It is a sad thing, but the visible church does not fully overlap with the invisible church. This teaches us not to believe in salvation by church membership, or salvation by baptism, or salvation by any other church-y thing, but to believe in salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
So there are the false disciples who reject Jesus and the true disciples who accept him. But among those who appear to follow Christ there are some who are not true.
The focus though of this passage leads us to ask, “why is it that so many reject Christ?” [REPEAT: why is it that so many reject Christ?]
IV. THE OFFENSE OF THE GOSPEL
Jesus asks “Do you take offense at this?” (His saying)
Jesus has told them a great truth about himself; even the gospel itself. But they are offended.
That is why this is known as the “Offense of the Gospel.” [REPEAT: “The Offense of the Gospel”]
Have you considered this? Why are so many offended by the Gospel?
I want to note at least three reasons.
1. The first reason people are offended by the gospel is that they want a powerful king, not a suffering servant. [REPEAT: the first reason people are offended by the gospel is that they want a powerful king, not a suffering servant.]
This is the certainly the case in the story in John. We saw earlier that the crowd wanted to take Jesus by force and make him king. They wanted all of the earthly benefits they could have from having such a political leader. But Jesus came not for that reason, but to be a suffering servant; to die for the sins of His people.
This is an offense to the pride of man. Man asks “How can I worship a suffering servant?!” It is easy to worship a King Arthur, a Hercules, or an Alexander the Great. But a lowly servant? And a DEAD ONE at that?
This is an offense to the mind of man.
The Greek in the text is actually “skandalidzei” meaning “to stumble.”
The Gospel, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, is a “stumbling block” to the Jews. [REPEAT: the gospel is a stumbling block]
To help us understand when he means, we look to the origin of this term in Leviticus 19:14 which reads, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
Thus a stumbling block was first, literally, a block over which a blind person would stumble.
The unbelievers are now likened to the blind and the Gospel to the stumbling block. The unbelievers cannot believe the gospel. They stumble, they are offended, at the idea of a such a King as Jesus, the suffering servant.
2. Now, the second reason people are offended by the gospel is that Jesus saves helpless sinners. [REPEAT: the second reason people are offended by the gospel is that Jesus saves helpless sinners.]
This is a scandal, an offense, and stumbling block to the spiritually blind, because it teaches that salvation is not by one’s own powers, but is OF God. And just as man wants a powerful king, so he wants power in himself for salvation. But Jesus says “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” And “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
In our own present passage it is taught that “It is the SPIRIT that gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” And “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
This Gospel of God’s salvation is offensive to those who (1) don’t want to be called helpless sinner, and (2) want to contribute something (if not everything) towards their own salvation.
3. Then, the third reason people are offended by the Gospel is that Jesus makes an exclusive claim that salvation is ONLY through him. [REPEAT: the third reason people are offended by the Gospel is that Jesus makes an exclusive claim that salvation is ONLY through him.]
This is the offense of the Gospel; the word ONLY.
People will tolerate you if you speak about Jesus positively. People actually like Jesus. … And they like Mother Teresa and the Dahlai Lama, and Buddha, and so many others. But say “Jesus is the ONLY Lord” and “he is the ONLY way of salvation” and you’ll find the offense of the Gospel. This is a stumbling block to those who want to pick and chose who to follow based agreement with their own beliefs.
Jesus, rather, would have us discard our beliefs—because they are sinful—and take up the wisdom and knowledge of God, revealed to us in the Scriptures.
A true disciples of Jesus Christ is offended not at the Gospel, but in his own sin. From the Lord comes only good things. But from the sinful heart of man comes evil.
Be offended at sin! Be offended at YOUR OWN SIN!
But be NOT offended at the Gospel, for it is the words of eternal life.
What can we see then in summary of the reasons that people are offended by the Gospel and do not truly follow the Lord.
It is sin, and it is self.
The common ingredient is a desire for control, for honor, for glory—not for God, but for man, for self. The Gospel though says “blessed are the meek” and calls all men to come follow Jesus and believe in his words.
When the Gospel is truly believed, it causes no true offense. The sin of man which offends God is now washed away for all who believe. And we find a loving God; exactly what we need. We find in Jesus Christ—and Him alone—the words of eternal life. Praise be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Forever and ever. Amen.