About five years ago, I began searching the scriptures for the offenses of Jesus. (Wait! What? Jesus, offensive? Yes. Here is an introduction that explains the premise.) While teaching, Jesus often used the tactic of offense to reveal the hearts of His listeners. Jesus used it repeatedly to reveal the motives of the Pharisees. But I’ve found an offense that Jesus used to reveal the reason why He came to Earth. He was not engaging the Pharisees, but his own followers. This conversation was not merely a tactic of Jesus to reveal and adjust perception of Him, but in my opinion, the most foundational principle that defines the relationship that each follower will have with Christ. Jesus revealed the very meaning behind His death on the cross. A meaning that his disciples could never have anticipated.
The passage is found in John 6. It’s a long chapter, but all parts of the story are so important to the meaning of Jesus’ words. There is a reason that the scholars lumped all these stories into one chapter!
In verse 1-15, we read the familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5000+ people. They are so impressed with their free meal, they get the idea to seize Jesus and make Him their king. That is not in Jesus’ plan so He “withdraws” to the hillside alone. He stays away until after dark. The disciples (the Twelve) decided to put off in the boat and head for Capernaum. A storm kicks up. Working as hard as they can, they only get about 3 or 4 miles off shore. Then they see Jesus walking on the water toward them. They are understandably terrified. Once Jesus speaks, “I AM; stop being frightened,” they gladly let Him in the boat. Verse 21 says that immediately they arrived at their destination. (Ponder that for a moment…)
The next day, many of the followers (disciples, but not the Twelve) caught up with Jesus at the synagogue. Jesus knew their hearts and minds. They followed because they wanted more free food! (vs. 26) Jesus admonishes them to stop striving for food that perishes but work for the food which lasts for eternity.
Okay…how do we do that? Jesus gives them the good news – “This is the work that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger].” (vs. 29)
But they still were not satisfied. They came for the free food. Show us more, Jesus… Moses gave our ancestors manna. What can you give us?
So Jesus brings them back to the real lesson of the bread multiplied on the hillside. He reminds them that Moses didn’t give them manna, God did. And God has living bread to give them, and it is Jesus Himself. “I am the Bread of Life.”
At this, the Jews began to grumble against Jesus, after all, this is just Joseph’s kid. How can Jesus be the one that came down from heaven. He grew up around here. We know his folks… (Be careful of your assumptions of Jesus… Jesus was not Joseph’s son.)
But instead of backing off His message, Jesus continued, “I [Myself] am the Living Bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever; and also the Bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (body).” (vs. 51)
At this point, I’m sure that the Twelve are beside themselves. This is not the way to build followers. Jesus is going to drive off all the new people!
Despite the negative reaction, Jesus keeps pressing the point, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood dwells continually in Me, and I [in like manner dwell continually] in him.” (vs. 56)
Now the Jews are truly offended. Everything they knew about holy living told them to avoid consuming blood. This was too much for them to accept. The Amplified Bible puts it this way, “This is a hard and difficult and strange saying (an offensive and unbearable message). Who can stand to hear it? [Who can be expected to listen to such a teaching?] (vs. 60)
Yes, this was a radical message, like nothing they had ever heard before. The offense to the mind was now to reveal what was in their hearts. Jesus knew their intellectual struggle. So He challenged them one step further and said, “Is this a stumbling block and an offense to you? What then [will be your reaction] if you should see the Son of Man ascending to [the place] where He was before?”
Jesus assures them that the words He speaks are spirit and life. And no one can come to Him unless it is granted by the Father. Now they must choose. Following Jesus was not going to be a free picnic. Jesus’ followers must come to Him in the manner that only the Father designed.
In verse 66, we see that some of the disciples (not the Twelve) turned away. They gave up following Jesus and went back to their old lives. So Jesus turns to the Twelve who have been watching and listening. He asks them, “Will you also leave?”
Simon Peter speaks up, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words (message) of eternal life. And we have learned to believe…that You are the Holy One of God, the Christ.” Yes, Jesus words were hard to understand. But one thing Peter knew. His words contained life. There was no one else who could speak that way. They had seen the bread multiplied and picked up the leftovers. They had seen Him walk on water. They had learned to believe.
When Jesus’ words are hard to understand, we would do well to learn to believe them. It is a process. Believing involves an intentional cleaving to, trusting, relying on. Remember what Jesus said was the real work of following God? It was to believe in His Messenger! When I trust the One who says the words, I know I can trust the understanding to come in time.
Jesus was giving them the secret to eternal life. A life that brought us back from spiritual exile and into a life where Jesus dwells within us. A life reconciled with our Heavenly Father. The very reason He came.
In time, the Twelve understood the meaning of these hard and offensive words. They just had to stick around long enough to find out!
Are you wrestling with words of Jesus that are hard to understand? Is He asking you to do something that doesn’t make sense? Maybe it’s your assumptions of Jesus that are throwing you off. Get back to the basics of His word. Trust Him. Keep seeking Him. Don’t miss the greater understanding that you will receive in time!
Grace and peace,