The launch of Jesus’ Galilean ministry in John 6 was a huge success! In no time, what started as nothing more than Jesus’ little leadership group of twelve disciples had turned into a massive crowd of thousands, somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 enthusiastic, adoring followers who were so mesmerized by Jesus that they wanted to make Him King. It’s a scene that reminds of us of some of the stories we’ve heard about churches who launched and then the next thing you know they are no longer just a church, but a massive “megachurch” with thousands gathering together on Sundays.
We modern-day followers of Jesus are prone to take Scriptures and experiences from God’s Word and seek to use them in formulating how we will live our lives as individuals as well as collectively as the Body of Christ. We search God’s Word to look for biblical paradigms. A “paradigm” is defined as “a typical example or pattern of something; a model.” We desperately need biblical paradigms to help us live out our faith, to learn how to live with one another, love one another, forgive one another, and serve one another. We need biblical paradigms to give us understanding about how we are to use the gifts God has given us in relation to the rest of the Body of Christ. I could go on and on, but hopefully you understand the importance of biblical paradigms for our daily life. We do need to be very careful when searching out biblical paradigms to make sure that we are formulating practices and principles based on the totality of God’s Word and not isolated Scriptures or experiences. A great example of this is church growth.
In our lifetime we have witnessed an amazing phenomenon in our society, the rise of the megachurch. Megachurches have always existed. We can read about the first megachurch in the Book of Acts where thousands came to know Christ after Peter preached the Gospel. When Charles Haddon Spurgeon was preaching in London in the 1860s, the crowds were so large at the New Park Street Chapel that services had to be moved to the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall where over 10,000 people packed out the house to hear Spurgeon preach the Bible. In 1876, the Chicago Avenue Church was built and D.L. Moody’s preaching would draw crowds of 10,000 people every Sunday. Megachurches have always existed, but until recently they were few and far between.
What we have witnessed in our lifetime is a paradigm shift. What use to be rare is now seen as the norm. More and more churches are going “mega.” According to Outreach Magazine there were 150 megachurches in 1980, 350 in 1990, 600 in 2000, and over 1600 megachurches today. They report that over 50% of everyone who attends church on Sundays attends a megachurch. Just as McDonald’s use to be known for its “Happy Meals” and is today know for its “Super size me” menu, so now what use to be known as “church” has gone “mega.”
The growth of churches is something to be celebrated, but to say that this is the paradigm, the model for churches is going too far and more importantly, it’s just not biblical. Church planter, Ron Sylvia says, “launching large is congruent with the best of missionary theology and with the methods of Jesus.” (Ron Sylvia, Starting New Churches on Purpose (Lake Forest, Calif.: Purpose Driven Publishing, 2006), 108.)
As Rev. Sylvia was reading the Bible about the methods of Jesus, he must have missed John 6. Jesus walked to the Sea of Galilee with twelve “members” of His church, the twelve disciples. In no time, a massive crowd of up to 15,000 were following Him. Today, as we open our Bibles, we will find Jesus leaving Capernaum with the same twelve He started with…everyone had left Him except the twelve. Let’s read our Scripture and get started.
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.” 70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) (John 6:60-71 NIV)
The adoring crowds that flocked to Him had left Him. Those who wanted to make Him King had abandoned ship when He didn’t provide for them what they wanted most from Him.
If you will remember back to our lessons of this 6th chapter then you will remember that Jesus has said some pretty eye-opening, disturbing, things. Things like, “I am the bread of life” (vs. 48), “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (vs. 44), and “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (vs. 54). The massive crowd had gathered to hear Jesus, but what He had to say wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Finally, after listening to Jesus, some of those who were following Him, spoke up. In John 6:60 we read,
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60 NIV)
This is one of those verses where our understanding of the Greek language can really help us. When we use the word, “hard,” we mean “difficult.” Learning to ride a bike is hard for little ones so we get them training wheels. Math is hard for me and some of you who have just started back to school. Showing affection is hard for some people who didn’t grow up in an affectionate home. These things are “hard,” they are difficult, and outside of what comes naturally to us. This is not the meaning of the word “hard” that is used in verse 60. James Montgomery Boice has written.
The Greek word is ‘???????’ (skleros), and it clearly does not mean, ‘hard to understand.’ It means, ‘hard to tolerate.’ So long as Christ’s followers could not understand him, they stayed around and asked questions. It was when they did understand him that they went elsewhere. They left because what they heard was so contrary to their own views that they would not accept it. (Boice, James Montgomery. The Gospel of John: Vol. 2. pg 530.)
It wasn’t that they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying; they just didn’t like what Jesus was saying. Do you know what they wanted from Jesus? We’ve touched on their desires in our study of John 6. They wanted food (vs. 26), they were looking for a king (vss. 14-15) and they wanted Jesus to perform more miracles for them (vss. 30-31). Are we any different today? What is it that we want from Jesus? Well, the “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” has sure been a big seller during the past 30 years. The “prophets for profit” go around sharing isolated verses in the Bible to “teach” people that God wants nothing more for His people than that they be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous in all of their endeavors. And all of their teaching is somehow rooted in Jesus, the One who had no home, suffered ridicule and harassment at every turn, and became poor so that we might become rich in righteousness. What do we want from Jesus? We want Him to get us out of the fix we are in and ASAP! We want Him to get us out of the financial fix we’ve gotten ourselves in. We want to pray a secret prayer that only His true followers know so that He will restore perfect health to our loved one who is suffering. We want Him to bring back our wife who has decided that she no longer wants to be married. The list goes on and on, but the common denominator is that we want Jesus to fix it. And what happens when He doesn’t? We’re disappointed and some turn away. That leads me to verse 66 where we read,
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:66 NIV)
Dr. F. F. Bruce has written, “What they wanted, he would not give; what he offered, they would not receive.” (Bruce, F.F. The Gospel of John. pg. 164.) Wow! When you stop and really think about Dr. Bruce’s comment, could there be any more tragic statement? Jesus came to offer them His life, His very life, so they could be reconciled with the Father, and yet what they wanted was the stuff of earth and not heaven.
They were actually offended at the things Jesus was saying to them. John tells us that “his disciples” were grumbling about what He was saying. I need to point out to you that the “disciples” mentioned here are not THE “disciples.” The Greek word that is used, “???????” (mathetes) means, “a learner, pupil, or disciple.” It is the same word that is used of the Twelve, those chosen by Jesus as His inner circle, but not all disciples are “true disciples.” Those who walked away when things didn’t go their way were fair weather followers of Jesus and not true followers, or disciples, of Jesus. Those who are fair weather followers will gladly praise Him as long as He delivers. True followers of Jesus praise Him even in the most broken and darkest moments of life. Fair weather followers of Jesus focus on the temporal and the moment. True followers of Jesus focus on the eternal and the big picture. Fair weather followers focus on the material and true followers of Jesus focus on the spiritual. Fair weather followers of Jesus focus on themselves and what they want, but true followers focus on Jesus and His will. While they were explaining what they wanted, Jesus was busy trying to get them to see what they needed. They were spiritually bankrupt, dead in their sins, their “good works,” that they were so proud of, couldn’t move them into God’s good graces, and God alone could change their desperate situation. The crowd didn’t want to hear this kind of talk, they wanted material, this world satisfaction, but Jesus kept trying to pull back the veil and show them their deepest need—to be reconciled to the Father. Jesus was the One who had been sent to establish the path to reconciliation, but they rejected Him. Jesus said,
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. (John 6:62-63 NIV)
Jesus knew the people were offended, put off by His words, and He said, “If this offends you, just wait until you see the Son of Man hanging on the cross, buried in a borrowed tomb, and then ascend back to the Father.” D.A. Carson writes,
However offensive the linguistic expression ‘eating flesh and drinking blood’ may be, how much more offensive is the crucifixion of an alleged Messiah! The very idea is outrageous, bordering on blasphemous obscenity, ‘a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Yet this stands at the very heart of the divine self-disclosure. The moment of Jesus’ greatest degradation and shame is the moment of his glorification, the path of his return to the glory he had with the Father before the world began. (Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. pg. 301)
If Jesus’ words were offensive then the very act for which He was sent, to die upon the cross for our sins, would be utterly abhorrent to them. In Old Testament times the most common method of capital punishment among the Jews was stoning the guilty to death. There were times that they would hang the body on a pole in a public place as a deterrent to the criminal element in the community. It was a reminder that criminal actions would be punished harshly. The Jews clearly understood that anyone who was punished for a crime with death and put on display on a pole was under God’s curse. Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote,
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (Galatians 3:13 ESV)
Jesus knew that this was why He had come. He also knew that as He hung upon the cross, He would take on the sins of humanity, and suffer the curse of God on our behalf. Anyone who might have considered that Jesus could have possibly been the Messiah would have lost all hope when they saw Him hanging on the cross.
After the crowd all turned and walked away, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked them if they would leave also? They had been with Him from the beginning. He had chosen them, each and every one. They had been there when He turned the water into wine. They had watched Him take on all of the money changers with such fire and passion in order to preserve the purpose and dignity of the temple. They had been there when He healed the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. They had seen Him quiet the waves on the Sea of Galilee with nothing more than His words. His words, oh those words! He used things from everyday life—lost coins, lost sheep, lost sons, mustard seeds, and coins to teach the most profound lessons. He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable with those words of His. Now, they were being asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
Rather than leave His words in the past, spoken to His closest friends, we need to hear those words spoken to each and every one of us. He has chosen you, called you by name, rescued you from a life of meaninglessness and melancholy, but you need to consider His question this morning, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” After all that He has done for you, do you want to leave? He came to you when you weren’t even looking for Him…will you now turn away? He has delivered you from yourself, your wayward ways, your self-centered ways…will you now turn away? When you were at your lowest, He gathered you in His arms of grace and mercy, and lifted you out of the pit…will you now turn away? He sets the lonely in families, is a Father to the fatherless, and a husband to widows…will you now turn away? You were headed to destruction as you proudly proclaimed, “This is my life, you can’t tell me what to do!” but He revealed to you the error of your ways, He turned you around, and set you on a new course…will you now turn away? Will you turn back to your old way of living?
I love Simon Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question. The masses had left, it was a disappointing, discouraging scene when you stop to consider the excitement that must have been present before they all walked away. The disciples could have just quietly left with the crowd, but instead, Simon Peter said,
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.” (John 6:68-69 NIV)
I love Peter’s answer! I’ve thought about it long and hard this past week. There are three aspects to Peter’s answer that I want to highlight. First, Peter knew that as difficult as they might be to hear at times, Jesus had the words of eternal life. It’s still true today my friends. We may not like what we hear, but we would be fools to dismiss the Word for something more comforting, inspiring, or affirming. Jesus’ words are not easy believism, but they are the words of truth and eternal life. Secondly, Peter both believed cognitively and believed experientially that Jesus was the Holy One of God. I want to point that out because they don’t necessarily go together. I know people who can quote chapter and verse of the Bible, but they are more academically, instead of intimately, related to the Lord. At the same time, I know folks who talk about Jesus all the time, but He would be shocked at what they say about Him. Their relationship is more of a projection of what they want Jesus to be instead of who He said He was. David, in Psalm 34, invited his readers to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” That is exactly what Peter did. He listened to what He had to say, He watched everything Jesus did, and He sought to walk in His steps in everyday life. The last aspect of Peter’s answer is really the first statement out of his mouth. It is written as a question to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In actuality it is a statement, “Lord, there’s no other place for us!” Someone once wrote,
In Christ we have a love that can never be fathomed; a life that can never die; a righteousness that can never be tarnished; a peace that can never be understood; a rest that can never be disturbed; a joy that can never be diminished; a hope that can never be disappointed; a glory that can never be clouded; a light that can never be darkened; a happiness that can never be interrupted; a strength that can never be enfeebled; a purity that can never be defiled; a beauty that can never be marred; a wisdom that can never be baffled; and resources that can never be exhausted.
He is all of that and more. “Lord, there’s no other place else for us!” He is the Redeemer who has freed us. He is the Reconciler who has restored us. He is Salve to our wounded soul. Yet, just as they rejected Him at Capernaum, they still reject Him today. In spite of the overwhelming evidence of our great need, they still reject Him.
There have been constant reminders of the brokenness of humanity and society before us this past week. We’ve continued to hear heartbreaking stories coming out of the Gaza Strip and Iraq. Robin Williams, the funniest man we all felt like we knew, took his own life. A young man was killed by the police in Ferguson, MO. and a community erupted. There’s been so much written and reported about all of these events, but there was something I read about Robin Williams which immediately jumped out at me.
Russell Brand is an English comic, actor, and radio personality. He’s probably best known for being married at one time to Katy Perry. This past week, after Robin Williams’ death, he wrote a powerful piece for The Guardian called, “Robin Williams’ divine madness will no longer disrupt the sadness of the world.” It is really a powerful piece that you should all read. Russell Brand is not a follower of Jesus, but there’s something he wrote which jumped off the page at me as I was studying John’s Gospel. Mr. Brand wrote,
Is it melancholy to think that a world that Robin Williams can’t live in must be broken? To tie this sad event to the overarching misery of our times? No academic would co-sign a theory in which the tumult of our fractured and unhappy planet is causing the inherently hilarious to end their lives, though I did read that suicide among the middle-aged increased inexplicably in 1999 and has been rising ever since. Is it a condition of our era? (Russell Brand, “Robin Williams’ divine madness will no longer disrupt the sadness of the world.” The Guardian. August 12, 2014.)
I may not agree with Russell Brand about much, but there is at least one thing we totally agree on: The world is broken. We are broken. You and I are broken. There all kinds of possible solutions being offered to fix our brokenness, but there is only One who knows the brokenness in the deepest parts of you and me and is able to meet us there. Won’t you ask Jesus into your heart? Won’t you invite Him into your brokenness and watch Him put begin to go to work?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 17, 2014
The great mistake made by most of the Lord’s people is in hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone. (A.W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification)