Today, we have the thrilling conclusion to our sermon series, Jesus Unfiltered. We have been traveling
with Jesus this summer through the Gospels of Mark and John. We have been looking as his teachings
in these passages, some of which have been a bit challenging. It is easy to skip over these, and get to the
Jesus that is nice and gentle that doesn’t seem to ask too much of us. We want to avoid the more pointed
statements, the demands, the chastisements or criticisms that hit a little too close to home. The things
that make us look at ourselves and how we live our lives that make us want to rationalize the teachings
that make us feel uncomfortable, make the commands more manageable. Those are the filters that we
use when we look at Jesus, even when we don’t mean to. That’s why we need to be intentional about
looking at Jesus unfiltered.
Just because the series is ending doesn’t mean that we are going to start twisting the Bible to say what
we want it to say. We will continue to be intentional and authentic in our interpretation of Scripture of
both the Old and New Testaments.
This week we are finishing up the sixth chapter of John. We have spent over a month in chapter six that
is primarily about bread. First, Jesus feeds the crowd of over 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Then the next day, the crowd follows Jesus and the disciples across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum to
see if they can get some more bread from him. Jesus tells them that he is the bread from heaven. They
have to feed on him in order to live. There is some confusion and even revulsion as they take his comments
literally when he means them figuratively and spiritually.
Today, the discussion continues, and what began with a crowd of thousands becomes a substantially smaller
number of people. We will begin at John 6:56 continue through verse 69.
Hear the word of the Lord!
John 6:56-69 (NIV)
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just
as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me
will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors
ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while
teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend
you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives
life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit
and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning
which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told
you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal
life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
One of the things that I find so amazing about this chapter of John is how Jesus goes from a crowd
of over 5000 people following him out into the wilderness who are about to “force” him to be king on
one day reduced to a handful of followers the next day. The Scripture does not say that the Twelve
were the only disciples who stayed with Jesus, but the number of people was greatly reduced. If you
look at the logic of the world, that would seem to be abject Failure, with a capital “F.” Now, the people
who remained (Remember that word “remained.”) the ones that remained caused the Gospel to be
spread all over the world. The tables were turned, and what looked like failure became great success.
Of course, on Good Friday Jesus on the cross looked like an insurmountable failure, which became the
greatest success with his resurrection on Easter Morning. That is one thing that we have to remember.
Things with God often look upside down and backwards from how the world perceives them.
Some of the disciples say, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60) Yes, “Whoever eats
my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (6:56) or completely trust and rely on me
[Jesus] is a hard teaching. Even those of us who know where our next meal is coming from and are not
living under the occupation of another country may find it difficult. The crowds left and even many of the
disciples. (vs. 66) They weren’t persuaded. Jesus wasn’t presenting himself as someone like Moses who
would feed them, intercede for them, lead them in battle, free them from their oppressor.
Are they wrong to want what they wanted, a reliable source of food, and relief from the Romans? No, but
that is not what Jesus is offering. That was what Moses did as God’s representative. However, Jesus is more
than God’s representative. What he’s doing is more all-encompassing than that. He is acting on a cosmic scale
in a way that affects the whole world. He is not acting against a local oppressor like the Romans. He is acting
against the primary oppressor, Satan and the forces of evil, the sin that oppress individuals and the world in
ways that dwarf specific empires or regimes.
But the people who are leaving can’t see that. They are not persuaded. They are going back to their lives
before they encountered Jesus. There are stories from missionaries in China in the 19th century. During
times of famine people would flock to the Christian missions for food and shelter. They were baptized and
joined the church. They got involved in the life of the church as long as they needed help getting their physica
l needs met. Once things changed, and they thought that they could make it on their own, they drifted away
from the church.
Back in the 1980s as cracks in the iron curtain were starting to develop in Eastern Europe, churches that had
been dormant under communist persecution started becoming bolder in their preaching against the tyranny
of the communist regime. People began to flock to the churches for the encouragement and emotional support
that they received there, but once Soviet control ended, the crowds went away. The churches often look as
abandoned now as they did under Soviet rule.
There are those who will stay as long as their physical or emotional needs are being met. If that doesn’t occur,
they go elsewhere. They are not persuaded to remain with Jesus. As O Benjamin Sparks says, “This is a hard
saying for those who have everything and who need nothing – except to be transformed by faith in Jesus.”
(Feasting on the Word vol 3, Kindle ed, loc 11004)
Perhaps is it the word “persuaded” that is the problem. Jesus’ words aren’t meant to persuade. Many of
his teachings are hard. Part of the reason that they are hard is that they are so upside down, so opposite to
the rules that we live under in the world. That is just as true today in contemporary secular society as it was
in Jesus’ time. With a worldly mindset, Jesus’ teachings can sound crazy, preposterous. We may not even
be aware that we have a worldly mindset, but we get it simply by having to live and interact in the world.
The truth is that you have to live Jesus’ teachings before they make sense. The only way you will have a
chance to live them is if you deliberately and intentionally abide, or remain, with Jesus, if you eat the manna
he offers. Before you do that, his teachings seem preposterous.
The world’s wisdom is “Do to others before they do it to you.” Jesus says, “Do to others as you would
have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) The world says, “You deserve the best, so take it by whatever means
necessary.” Jesus says to consider others more highly than yourself. Be humble. (cf. Luke 14:7-11) The
world says that if someone hits you, hit them back harder. Jesus says, “If anyone slaps you on the right
cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Mt 5:39)
These things don’t make any sense with the world’s rules. In fact, “turn the other cheek” has been ridiculed
as being “a doormat for Jesus.” Quite the contrary, at the time, a slap on the cheek would have been a backhand
slap that a superior gives an inferior. If one offered the other cheek, and the person was willing to try to hit again,
they would do it with an open hand, which someone would only do to another of equal rank. It forces the attacker
to acknowledge the other’s humanity.
When we live by the teachings of Jesus, which frankly is impossible to do without the help of the Holy Spirit,
but when we attempt to live that way, we are transformed. The way we regard others, the way we regard ourselves
is changed. When we love our enemies and bless those who curse us (Mt 5:44), it may or may not have any effect
on those who consider themselves our enemies or those who curse us, but it does have an effect on us. We are in
a better frame of mind. We are at peace. When we follow Jesus, abide and remain with Jesus, we no longer feel
like we must extract everything from life and the people around us that we can get.
We no longer have to worry whether someone is getting the best of us. We can be content that we are doing
our best for God. The person who is having a rotten day, may not have the time, the patience, or the luxury to
acknowledge and thank you for holding the door for them, letting them into traffic, and so on. You may get a
smile or nod of thanks, but you might not. What you will get is the knowledge that you helped someone who
might be at the end of their rope or going through something really terrible or maybe they are just a jerk. It
really doesn’t matter. If they are a jerk, they have the opportunity to learn that someone did something nice
or helpful to them without expecting anything in return, no strings attached. It is a free gift, just like God’s
grace to us.
It may seem preposterous, but if you start living this way, things start looking different. It always seemed to me
that when I played by the world’s rules, I always got run over. I never got what I expected, what was promised.
It seems just when I started to understand the rules, they would change. Following, abiding, remaining with
Jesus isn’t like that. “[He] is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb 13:8)
Jesus doesn’t change. His teachings don’t change, but when we remain with him, we change. Our perspective
changes about personal relationships, casual encounters, the way that we look at the world. That all changes for
the better. We still have heartbreak, down times, personal struggles. We won’t be running around throwing around
fairy dust. We will feel terrible when we look at the state of the world, especially when it seems to be getting worse
rather than better. And yet, that should inspire us to stick closer to Jesus and love more, even when we don’t
Understanding is not easy. We have spent five weeks in John chapter 6, and we have barely scratched the
surface of all that it has to offer us and teach us. So many of the disciples found it to be too much. They stopped
following Jesus, but he asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (vs. 67) Peter answers for all
of them, and effectively says no. They don’t want to leave. They don’t understand either, as is clear from all of their
questions and misstatements throughout the gospels. Yet, they remain. They continue to learn. They continue to
listen and do things that they won’t fully understand until after Jesus’ resurrection, and they receive the Holy Spirit,
yet they remain. And, doesn’t that sound preposterous? Despite not understanding, they remain. That should be a
great encouragement for those of us who don’t feel like we understand as fully as we think we should or understand
Sometimes some of us can be concerned that if we don’t understand everything that Jesus taught, in other words
that we still have things to learn, that we don’t have salvation. If we are saved and claimed by God, we should
understand, right? But, we have to remember that all of the disciples that remained with Jesus didn’t understand
at the time and continued to learn. Even when they were scared and ran off when Jesus was arrested, they came
back. So, if we don’t understand everything, we are in good company. The important thing is that we remain
with Jesus. We feed ourselves on Jesus’ teachings.
The Twelve remain, but why? Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (vs. 68-69) They don’t understand
everything (or maybe hardly anything yet), but they know that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and he is
the Holy One of God.
In the church, we can get the idea that eternal life is the life in the age to come, after we die, after Jesus returns.
That is not wrong, but in John’s Gospel it is not entirely accurate either. It is incomplete. That eternal life begins
as soon as you believe, trust, rely upon Jesus. It is when you abide and remain with Jesus. Basically, eternity
begins now. You get to begin to have at least some of the benefits now. It doesn’t mean that this life won’t end for
us, but we get the benefits of being in communion being in community with Jesus now. All of those preposterous
things that I talked about before, all of those things that sound so backwards compared with the wisdom of the
world like loving your enemies. Those are the rules of the new creation. We are the first fruits of that new land.
We are the representatives of that new place. We still live here, but we belong there.
We get to enjoy the benefits in the here and now. We don’t have to wait for the hereafter. There’s only one catch.
You have to continue to rely on Jesus, and thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit helps us with that. All of this
helps us to realize what is really important, so it helps us to set priorities. It gives us inspiration to continue on
even when the world appears to be coming unglued. It is freeing because these things in the world don’t have to
drag us down. We can help to lift others up.
All of this is because we have the true bread from heaven, the life giving manna. By believing, trusting, relying on
Jesus, his teachings, his love, his ability to work things for good despite the pain, the mistakes, the sin that we go
through here, our new life begins now. Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly
(John 10:10 NRSV), starting now, not next week, not next year, not after we die. We get it NOW!
We have the reassurance that God loves us no matter what. That God will never leave us or forsake us. (Heb 13:5)
As it is put in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)
And that is Jesus Unfiltered, and with that I think that we all can say, “Amen!”