New International Version (NIV)
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
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[a] 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.”
- John 6:63 Or are Spirit; or are spirit
Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
The Twelve Disciples answered, “Where on earth would we go?”
I’m very much tempted to use the “hell” word. But just less than a week ago Oklahoma valedictorian, Kaitlin Nootbaar, was reported to be “having a devil of a time receiving her high school diploma” for using “hell” in her graduation speech (USA Today, August 20). So, I’d rather not use the word in the same way that Kaitlin did.
I used to carry a Red Letter Edition Bible, so called because the words of Christ are printed in red. Now that Bible is gathering dust somewhere. But every time I come to this passage, there are words of Christ here that stand out from the rest, as if these words have been printed in the reddest of red.
When “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him,” Jesus asked the Twelve: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Now there is the bloody question that would haunt anybody who’s not sure about what to do with Christ and his words.
Why did many of Christ’s disciples leave him? They left because they were offended by the bloody words of Christ. Earlier, Jesus offered his flesh and blood to them. He said,
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.”
These words of Jesus are especially provocative because he said them in the synagogue and to people for whom eating flesh and drinking blood was sickening. Only evil people (Zech. 11:9) and vultures and wild animals do that (Ez. 39:17). The words of Jesus were offensive. No wonder many of his disciples left him.
The reason why these disciples find Jesus’ words offensive was because they did not believe in him as the Word of Life who had come down from heaven and whose words are life. If they did, then they would have believed the words of Jesus. Yes, even if they did not understand the full meaning of the words of him who would suffer and die on the cross.
Today, we may not have any problem with the words of Jesus—we understand better what it means to eat his flesh and drink his blood—but do we believe that he truly came down from heaven and, after the resurrection, ascended to where he came from?
Modern minds may find that hard to swallow. Some may say that only those who have the ability to scrutinize the claims of Jesus are the ones who can make the right judgment. But Jesus thinks differently. He declared, “…no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
Some theologians call that “prevenient grace.” Whatever, you might call it, it is clear that it is God the Father that enables sinners to come to Christ or believe that he is God made flesh and the source of eternal life.
Sounds like a fairy tale? Well, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” (The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays). I’m not saying that all these stories about God becoming flesh in Jesus are fairy tales or myths. What I’m saying is that it is in these stories about Christ that our desire to “live happily ever after” finds its greatest hope… if we believe.