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.
Hard truths are offensive to man. The Bible is filled with hard truths. Our world is filled with hard truths. But the offense that we may take at something has no bearing on it’s truthfulness. In a world governed by our feelings, where all that matters is how we feel about something, we need, as much as ever, to hear these hard truths once again. The conception of Jesus amongst many modern people is that Jesus never spoke hard truths, and that Jesus never judged anyone, and that Jesus never gave offense to His hearers, and that Jesus wants us to refrain from speaking frankly with the world, avoiding anything and everything that could be of some offense. That conception of Jesus does not come from the Holy Scriptures, and it certainly does not come from the New Testament. The things that our Lord has said in John 6, we learn today, has given offense to His hearers, such that many stopped following Him; and Jesus is not sorry about it. He does not take back anything He said; He does not soften anything He has said; and He does not qualify anything He has said. There are certainly times where we, as fallible humans and sinners, say things in an inappropriate manner and thus we need to confess when we go wrong. Yet this is not so with our Lord. He meant to say everything exactly the way that He did; and He did it knowing that it would drive the crowds away. Simply put, there are things more important than making people feel good in the moment. Our Lord displayed this perfectly in His own life, as He went through the suffering and agony of the cross, for the joy that was set before Him. The cross was a hard thing. Yet our Lord did not avoid it. He went for it. He took it head on. We ought to learn from this that we ought not to avoid things just because they are hard. We ought not to reject things just because it is offensive to our flesh. It may just be the thing that gives us life.
This passage presents to us a sad moment, at least to our human emotions, in Jesus’ ministry. Many disciples turned back from following Him, and there was yet a devil among the twelve. It was not only the crowds who found what Jesus said to be a hard saying, but His disciples did as well. It is sad for us to see the one whom we love to be abandoned and left by so many people. Yet it is because He went through such abandonment and suffering of various kinds that we have come to love Him. He is precious to His Saints in His suffering. This is why we love the cross. This is why we are excited to preach Christ and Him crucified; because it was in His suffering and cross that He became precious to us.
The Hard Saying
There are many hard truths in the Bible, and we can generally consider those throughout this message today; but in context the hard saying spoken of is essentially the gospel message – the message of the cross. Last week we looked at the whole thing about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ; and the body and blood of Christ there, is meant to show forth His death. It is meant to show that we are to be partakers of Christ in His death. It is meant to show that His death procures certain benefits to those who partake of Him, namely eternal life. So the bloody cross and gruesome death of the Messiah is the hard saying being spoken of here, and thus the eating and drinking of the Messiah. The offense of the cross was something that was constantly coming up in the ministry of Jesus. The Jews didn’t want a crucified Savior – they wanted a conquering king. Little did they understand that the king conquered in His crucifixion. We know that Peter didn’t want Jesus to go to the cross, when at another time Jesus was telling His disciples about how He must die, Peter said, “far be it from you Lord,” and that’s where Jesus famously says, “get behind me Satan!” So this was a hard saying. What a difficult thing to have your long awaited Messiah die a bloody death via Roman crucifixion, and be told that His body and blood you must eat.
The Bloody Cross a Stumbling Block
The principle here is that the cross is a stumbling block. The bloody cross is an offense. The crucified Savior is a hard saying. The Apostle Paul knew this in 1 Corinthians 1 where he said that, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing;” and “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” This is part of the design of the cross. This isn’t a system defect, it is a feature of the cross. In that same chapter from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1 he says, “The cross is a stumbling block and folly, but it is the power of God to those who are being saved; it is the wisdom of God to those who believe.” You see if we take away the offense of the cross because we don’t want to offend or drive people away, we take away the power of the cross and do not draw any of Christ’s sheep in.
I’ve spilled the beans, but I have three points from here on out: 1) The Cross of Christ Drives People Away, 2) The Cross of Christ Draws People to Him, and 3) The Cross of Christ Makes Him Precious to His People.
The Cross of Christ Drives People Away
The bloody cross of our Lord is a dividing line. The Holy One of God, pure and innocent, lifted up on the cross after having His body beaten, whipped, and spat upon; a crown of thorns pierced down into His brow; silent and willing, as a sheep before its shearers is silent; willingly crushed by the wrath of God for sin. A sight we can but scarce behold. An awful sight. And the unbeliever looks upon such a sight with nothing but contempt and hatred. This may be a hard thing to fathom or those of us who love Him, but the Scripture tells us that this is the thing that is the stumbling block. The world would love a Jesus who doesn’t say hard things, or a Jesus who doesn’t deal with their sin, or a Jesus who wasn’t so holy, or a Jesus who wasn’t so bloody, or a Jesus they didn’t have to eat and drink of, or a Jesus who doesn’t demand their lives. But the cross of Jesus Christ confronts all of those things. They look at the cross of Christ and they see a Jesus who deals with sin head on in all holiness and justice, and demands our lives, and tells us hard things. The cross tells us we’re guilty, weak, sinful, and unable to do anything about it on our own. For God Himself had to come in flesh to do something about it. What an offense. What a stumbling block to the pride and arrogance of sinful man. That we must eat and drink of another man’s death, that we may have life. Humbling.
Jesus was not afraid of people leaving Him over the truth. He knew that the things He was saying would drive many away. Yet it did not stop Him. He was not afraid of this result. This is where we must stand as the church of Jesus Christ. We are going to say the hard things. We are going to preach a bloody cross. We are going to offend the natural man. We are going to call sin sin. We are going to talk about election and the sovereignty of God. We aren’t going to skip any verses in the Bible. And if people leave, they leave. We don’t want them to, but we are not going to be afraid if they do. We aren’t going to let the fear of man dictate how much of the truth of God we say. We don’t want to be a small congregation, but if we’re small because people don’t want to hear the offense of the cross, then we better be content to be small. And we ought to be committed, when something offends us, that we not be easily offended, that we humble ourselves and receive it from God, if it is consistent with His Word.
The fact is that hard teaching drives the crowds away. Crowds come together to demand things, or to hear certain things that they want to hear. But they will quickly disperse when hard things are said.
It’s interesting that the Bible is filled with stories (like Gideon) of God whittling down the numbers and using that which is weak, small, and despised in the world to shame the world’s wisdom and magnify the power and wisdom of God. That’s just the way God likes to work. He likes to do big things with small means. He can create a universe with His words. He can feed 5,000 men with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He can slay giants with a small stone. He can evangelize the entire inhabited world with 12 apostles. He can end abortion with a few faithful and courageous Christians. Jesus is kind of like a greater Gideon here. He had too many disciples. His army was too big. He needed to whittle it down to 12 with one of them being a devil in order to evangelize the world.
Hard truths often drive the crowds away and so we need to be ready for when people leave. Many of us have already experienced this. If you live for any amount of time you have and will. Not everyone finishes the race with us. It is a sad reality of life. But we must have faith, like Peter to say, when everyone around them is departing from his Lord and leaving them, “to whom shall we go?” Christ is my life. It appears He wasn’t theirs. But He is mine.
We must remember that just because people may leave us does not mean that Jesus leaves us.
The Cross of Christ Draws People to Him
So the cross of Christ drives people away, but it also draws people to Him. As I stated earlier the cross is not only a stumbling block, but in the offense, it is power. It is the message through which Christ works to draw His people unto Him.
The words of life bring in Christ’s sheep. They hear His voice and they respond in faith. When one called of God beholds the Crucified Christ nailed to a bloody and cursed tree, we see our sweet and precious Savior. We see one who died there for us. We see one whose blood was spilled for us. We see one who has dealt with our sin and holds out forgiveness and righteousness to us. This message of Christ crucified is super natural power to those who are being saved. Christians have been meeting together at least once every week for 2,000 years singing about the blood of Christ, preaching about the blood of Christ, and eating and drinking of His body and blood, all with joy and happiness in our hearts. That’s crazy! And yet I know that that partaking of Christ’s death, and His body and blood, has been the life to my soul. I can’t go without it. It is this message of Christ crucified that draws people to Christ.
This is why we do not use so-called seeker sensitive methods in worship. Prizes, and giveaways, and light shows, and rock bands, and TED talks, and whatever else they’re doing nowadays does not draw people to Christ. It may draw a big crowd, but it does not a Church make. Christ draws His own to Himself with His Word.
What is one of the things we’ve been talking about throughout John’s gospel? The necessity of the new birth, and thus the necessity of the Spirit of God to supernaturally give life to the dead, by His own power. Jesus has just said, the flesh is no help at all to give spiritual life. So why in the world would we appeal to human flesh in order to draw people to Christ? It is contradictory and self-defeating. I guess if we really want to be like Jesus I should get up and ask you all if you want to leave. Are you really here because you believe in Christ and have come to know Him and love Him?
The Cross of Christ Makes Him Precious to His People (v. 68-69)
The cross of Christ not only draws His people to Him, but it makes Him precious to His people.
There’s an old preacher who says that hard preaching makes for soft hearts (of course that is among those who are called of God and drawn by the Father). When the Word of God, which is pictured as a powerful double edged sword, pierces through the hardness of our hearts and lays us bare before God, our hearts are made soft, in a good way, with love for Christ. Our hearts are made to have those fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control… But in order to get that soft heart of love and kindness, sharp preaching needs to happen. The Word of God needs to pierce and cut and slice us up. If the preaching is soft, and hard truths are never spoken, and the cross is unoffensive, then there is no sharpness of the Word going forth to cut through our stony sinful hearts. We would then remain as we are – hard-hearted. For the Christian it is not that there aren’t hard sayings for us, but it is how we respond to them. The Christian ought to respond in humble submission and trust in God that His Word is good and right, no matter how difficult it may be.
It is also true that hard teaching tests our faith. When we come to something difficult in God’s Word, the question is pointed at us, “will you believe God even here? Is He still worthy of your trust even here?” Pastor Doug Wilson always says that we ought to have no trouble passages in the Bible; meaning even the hard things and unfashionable things, we are to accept and believe, and we are not ashamed of them, or embarrassed of them. Our ungodly culture is finding more and more problem passages in the Bible. We ought to have none of them. Even when professing Christian’s ridicule our belief in certain things in the battle, we ought to be ready for it. Even the disciples had a hard time with what Jesus was saying. For the Words of Christ ought to be precious to God’s people, even though the world may mock and ridicule.
How precious our bloody Savior is to us. If we can trust Him with the eternal destination of our souls, we can trust Him with everything in our lives here on earth.
The beauty of the gospel is that though there are those who desert Christ, though there are those who abandon Him when the going gets tough, they we ourselves may have moments in our lives where we run from Him and indulge in sin, or moments in our lives where we, like Peter, our embarrassed to be named a Christian; the glorious truth is that for those who are truly His, Christ does not desert us. He is not embarrassed of us. Though we stumble, He does not. He is the friend that sticks closer than a brother. He came to suffer ridicule, suffering, and shame, that He would never leave us nor forsake us.
If you ever go walking in the woods, or out in a field, you can sometimes get those little sticky things stuck to your pants, they are called burrs. I love what is said to be the last words of Katie Luther, godly wife of reformer Martin Luther, “I will stick to Christ as a burr sticks to a coat.” What a beautiful confession.
Faith sees no other option than Christ. For if you have other options, you will go when the sayings get hard and the going gets tough. When Christ becomes precious to us, and we behold His cross and His gospel, there is no other option. To whom shall we go? You have the words of life, Lord. There is no other place I long to be, than with Christ, wherever He may be. Faith puts all its eggs into one basket. Faith has no backup plan. Faith has no other option than Christ. For truly there is nowhere else to go. None else has the words of life. None else is the Holy One of God, who gives Himself for us, that we might partake in His Body and Blood, unto eternal life. None other sticks to us irrefutably. True faith has nowhere else to go, and true faith is proven in the perseverance. Judas went quite a long with Christ, yet at the end it was proven he was a devil all along.
Despite Peter’s confession and the disciples that remained, even they would flee and run in the hour of Christ’s suffering, abandoning Him, as Christ was arrested and abused. Of course Peter even went so far as to deny that he even knew Jesus.
Yet Christ does not abandon us. Nor does He flee from us in our hour of suffering and pain. Better yet, He does not deny His own before the throne of heaven.
That Christ went through the hardest thing of all for us enables us to say hard things, to do hard things, and to receive hard things, in the Lord. This frees us to accept all of God’s Word, and to be faithful to Christ, despite the raging of the crowds, or the deserting of our friends. No matter where the world goes or how it turns, we can stick to Christ, as a burr sticks to a coat, for He sticks to us. He sticks to His promises to us. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”