Fair Weather Fans
In John 6, Jesus laid some hard, heavy, and profound teachings upon the hearts and minds of the disciples, not just the Twelve, but all who were following him at the time. We do well to remember that earlier in chapter 6, Jesus had accused many of those so-called “followers” of only tagging along because of what they thought Jesus could give them, what he could do for them. Why? Because earlier (John 6:1-15), Jesus fed the 5,000 and they were duly impressed. Who wouldn’t want to be around someone who could do that? They liked it. It benefited them. They wanted more. So, they followed him.
But Jesus knew their hearts and how the heart of man is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9; cf. Psalm 64:6). Thus, he knew their real motives. That’s why he told them in verse 26,
“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
The Bread of Life
Jesus then used this as an opportunity to tell them about the Bread of Life which could sustain them eternally. Of course, we know it is he who was (and is) the Bread of Life – and only by believing in him could they receive real life (John 6:29, 47-48).
Jesus then developed this idea of receiving him as the Bread of Life by telling those half-hearted disciples they must eat his body and drink his blood. This was and is a truly amazing notion, and I think we can appreciate on that side of the Cross, without 2,000 years of Christian tradition and teaching on the subject, it would have been pretty hard to swallow. We can understand why many responded,
“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60)
A Shock to the System
Again, Jesus knew this was what they were saying and thinking. He knew this was a massive shock to their systems, so he reminded them that his words were (and are) life (John 6:63).
And yet, again, he knew their hearts (John 2:24-25) and knew the real reason they were following him around. But he also realized some, even if a minority, would accept this hard teaching and remain with him and in him (John 15:1-8).
Alas, verse 66 of John 6 is the bearer of sad news.
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Discipleship is hard. Following after Christ means picking up crosses and denying oneself. It includes hard teachings. It wasn’t all giant picnics on the countryside with incredible, crowd-pleasing miracles performed by Jesus. Following Jesus included some tough ideas, ideas that run contrary to how unregenerate people think. So, they turned away.
Some, if not many, continue to turn away today when Christianity proves too tough, too ordinary, too unexciting, or too demanding. Some folk are intellectually honest and leave the faith altogether. Others are less honest – with themselves and others – and remain in the church but have long-since left the Jesus of Holy Scripture and his hard teachings.
The Desertion of Demas
The Apostle Paul understood this truth from his personal experience. One of Paul’s co-laborers in the gospel ministry betrayed him. After a far-reaching missions tour and much fruit for the Kingdom (Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24), Demas abandoned Paul as Paul sat in prison, toward the very end of Paul’s ministry and life. Perhaps the demands were too severe. Maybe the cost was too high. Possibly the thought of sitting in a prison cell didn’t seem like a proper reward for all his efforts. We’re not sure of the details, but Paul offered this insight regarding Demas’ desertion.
Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy. 4:9-10) (Emphasis mine)
What does this mean for us? Well, if this committed Christian missionary and personal companion of the great Apostle Paul could desert his beloved brother in Christ out of love for the world, just imagine what can happen to us if we do not stand firm in our faith.
The Devil’s Dark Dominion
It is not too difficult, in light of that, to understand why John would later write in 1 John 2:15-16,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.
Obviously, when the biblical writers use the word “world” in this way, they are not talking about the earth as a planet or the world of people (after all, remember who it was that God “so loved” in John 3:16). Instead, “world” in this context is that dark dominion of sin that John describes in 1 John 2:16 (cf. James 4:4). The world depicted in this way is that realm of the City of Man under the direct dominion of Satan and against whom is our real battle (Ephesians 6:10-13).
The Kingdom of Life and Light
But those who follow Christ, the Bread of Life, have life indeed, and light. The darkness is falling (1 John 2:8) because of this Light and one day will be done away with completely (Revelation 22:5).
Are you of and in the light or are you still enslaved in darkness? It is possible to know the answer to that question. John tells you how you can know in 1 John 1:7 and 1 John 2:3-6.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
When we turn our backs to the fallen, darkened, and decaying world in which we were born and actively resided – when we shun its allurements and temptations – when we reject the dominion of its dark king and his fleeting rule – then and only then can we call ourselves subjects of the Kingdom of Light that knows no end. It is only by trusting in the one true King that brings eternal life (1 John 2:17). For it is this King who has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and ushered us into his own glorious Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
Two Things to Remember
When the temporary and illegitimate “king” of this world and his enslaved servants seek to lead us astray, remember two things:
First of all, as they are now, you once were. It is by sovereign grace alone you were rescued and released from the bondage of the dark lord of this world. It is by the pleasure of God’s will you saw your depraved nature for what it was and made sick by its very sight. Thus, there is no room for boasting on our part. We boast only in God’s grace, our Lord Jesus Christ, and his Cross.
Second, stray but a little to the left or to the right and you may very well find yourself on another path altogether, for the path of our new King is straight, narrow, and hard. We must be careful not to wander off. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul regarding those who did in his day:
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
In light of this, let us uniformly and with great courage declare with Peter and the other faithful disciples who, when Jesus asked them if they too wanted to leave him (John 6:67), replied:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Any other profession about our Lord is a lie and the Father is not a part of it (1 John 2:22-23).
Stand Firm to the End
True Christianity is not easy. Often a person's response to tough times and hard teachings reveals their real motives in following Christ. Christian history is littered with those who could or would not stay true to the end. But before we cast judgment on them, we better take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the grace of God that stares back at us. It is only in his strength we can stand firm. But stand firm we must, for God’s glory and the good of our neighbors, indeed, for our world.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.