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Questions God Asks

Do You Want to Go Away Also?

John 6:60-69

Teaching t12652


In this series, we are examining some of the questions God asks key biblical characters. Why does God do this? It isn’t because He is seeking information, because He knows all things. Rather, He asks questions as a wise counselor. They help us to receive the help He wants to give us.

This morning we will look at another question Jesus asked some of His followers: “Do you want to go away also?” In order to understand the meaning and importance of this question, we must first understand its context. This will take time, but be worth it...

The situation: a “sign”

Jesus has just performed a dramatic miracle – He supernaturally multiplied one boy’s lunch into enough food to feed 15,000+ people and have lots of leftovers for those who distributed the food.

Like all of the miracles John records, this miracle is a “sign” – not just a miracle that meets these people’s physical needs, but an act that illustrates and validates Jesus’ claim to uniquely meet humanity’s spiritual needs. This is why, when the people asked for another free lunch the next day, Jesus refused. Instead, He explained the true significance of the miracle and applied it to them.

Jesus did feed 15,000+ people from a boy’s lunch. But this miracle means something even more significant (read 6:33,35a). The miracle validates the claim: “I am the sole Source of spiritual life who can satisfy every person’s hungry soul.” The offer is both inclusive (for everybody) and exclusive (only from Jesus).

How can we get this bread of life from Jesus? Jesus says He will give it to us for free (6:27b) – but we must make a decision in order to actually benefit from it. He describes this decision in 6:35 as choosing to “believe in” Him. “Believing in” Him is an active choice, which is why He also calls it “coming to” Him. He further describes this decision in 6:51-56 (read). This has nothing to do with cannibalism (see Jesus’ use of figurative throughout this passage) or communion (the context has nothing to do with this). Rather, Jesus is saying: “It’s not enough to just passively agree that I am the bread of life. You have to personally receive My death for your sins and receive Me into your soul.”

If you were lost and starving in the wilderness, and suddenly came upon a banquet table full of food, what would you need to do to regain your strength? What if you just studied the foods and calculated their nutritional content, and concluded: “I believe there is enough food here to rescue me from starvation?” If you “believe” only in this sense, you will starve! No, you must actually take the food into your body, so that its life-giving nutrition is assimilated into your body. That’s the kind of “belief” that would save your life.

That’s what you have to do with Jesus. This is the kind of faith that results in spiritual and eternal life. Have you taken this step of faith? God won’t make you do this; He calls on you to take this step by your own free choice.

The disciples’ reaction

Now that we understand the miracle Jesus performed and His explanation of its meaning, let’s look at His followers’ reaction...

Read 6:60. These “disciples” are not just the 12; they are others who are following Jesus because they are hopeful that He is the Messiah. “Difficult” (skleros) does not mean difficult to understand; it means “offensive; intolerable” – difficult to accept. What is this “difficult statement” to which they refer? Maybe they’re referring specifically to Jesus’ words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But more likely they are referring to His insistence that must die as a sacrifice for sins. This is offensive because they want a King (6:15) who would never die and give them lasting material prosperity (6:26) and lasting political freedom from Rome’s oppression. But Jesus refuses to conform to their Messianic expectations (read 6:61-63). He says: “What if I not only die, but also go back to heaven for a period of time? What if I don’t meet your expectations of economic prosperity and political freedom? What if spiritual life through My words is more important than these things?” Read 6:66: “No thanks, we don’t need that kind of instruction. We’re out of here.”

Jesus’ question

As they walk away, Jesus asks our question to the 12 (read 6:67). What exactly does Jesus mean by this? What is His intent in asking this question?

He is not trying to guilt-manipulate them to stay with Him (ACT OUT). Jesus loves us and wants us to stay with Him for our good; He does not need us for His validation. He is the Messiah and He speaks the truth even if no one follows Him. (In fact, His following steadily diminishes from this point on, until He dies utterly forsaken on the cross.)

Neither is He dismissing them punitively before they dismiss Him (ACT OUT). We sometimes sabotage relationships and reject people to spare ourselves the pain of being rejected. But the syntax of Jesus’ anticipates a “No” answer. He is not pushing them away; He is giving them an opportunity to stay.

By asking this question, Jesus is emphasizing on the one hand His authority (“I am leading this way and it’s not up for a vote”), and on the other hand their freedom (“I want volunteers who trust Me”). He is the Lord and the only Source of life – but He will not use His power to coerce. He wants loyalty out of love, and love involves freely chosen trust. “Will you trust Me even when I don’t fulfill your expectations?”

3 Applications

As individuals, we should expect some “difficult statements” as we follow Jesus. We all have expectations that we expect Jesus to fulfill if we follow Him. Whether we realize it or not, we all subtly want to use Him to fulfill our own selfish agendas. But Jesus is not our Genie, and He won’t be controlled by our expectations. He is the Lord, He knows the way forward, and He neither asks our permission nor apologizes for His leadership. He just calls us to trust Him and keep following Him even when this means the disappointment of our expectations.

Can you relate to this? Here are some of the “hard teachings” Jesus has given me over the years:

“Trust My design for your sexual behavior instead of what you desire.”
“Trust My value system for romantic relationships rather than yours.”
“Trust My schedule for healing this part of your life – not your schedule.”
“Trust Me even if I empty your savings account.”
“Keep serving Me here even when it is agonizing and appears fruitless.”
“Look for your part in this conflict instead of focusing on her part.”
“Trust My plans for your children – not your plans.”
“Serve Me there even though you enjoy serving Me here.”
“Follow Me when I lead you into conflict instead of away from it.”

Are you currently stumbling over one of Jesus’ “difficult statements?” He gives you the freedom to retreat; He will still forgive you and accept you. But your spiritual vitality will eventually begin to wither unless you resolve this controversy with Him. His life is in you forever since you received Him, but His life only grows in you as you continue to trust Him. There are true Christians who were here in this room four or five years and excited about Jesus – but now they’re very far from Him. What happened? Many of them stumbled over one of His “difficult statements.” Will you be one of them?

But you don’t have to respond this way; you can choose to respond like Peter did (read 6:68,69). Notice the two aspects of Peter’s response:

Peter remembers what life was like without Jesus’ direction (“To whom shall we go?”). He says: “I’ve already experienced what life is like apart from Your guidance. There is nothing out there for me.” That’s a good point! If following the world was so fulfilling, why did you receive Christ (Rom.6:21)? Isn’t it true that it left you empty and lonely and broken? Nothing has changed out there! It’s still a world-system full of broken promises and disappointment and corruption. How many more laps do you need to take?

Peter also remembers that Jesus’ direction has been wise and good (“You have words of eternal life”). He says: “What You have taught me so far has brought me true life.” That’s a good point too! Think of all the goodness Jesus’ words have brought into your life. What about the goodness of His willingness to die for your sins? What about the goodness of the promises He has kept? What about the goodness He has shown you through your brothers and sisters in Christ? What about the wisdom He has already taught you in many areas of your life? If His words have been full of life so far, why should this be any different?

Do you think Peter regretted his decision? Do think that Peter ever looked back on the many times that he trusted Jesus’ words and wished he’d trusted his own instincts? No way! I never have, nor have many others, nor will you!

As a church, we should want a core of committed Christians rather than a crowd of uncommitted Christians. Jesus wasn’t trying to keep a crowd of pseudo-disciples happy so they would stay; He was trying to develop a core of true disciples so He could reach the world through them. Paul warns against the tendency for churches to become “consumer churches” which remove Jesus’ “difficult statements” and replace them with accommodation to our selfish desires (2Tim.4:3). By God’s grace, we should be a church that genuinely cares for one another – and that calls one another to follow Jesus all the way. By God’s grace, we should be a church that wants everyone to stay with us – but that will be faithful to Jesus even if most people leave us. This is the kind of church our leadership is committed to. Is this the kind of church you want to be part of?

As servants of Christ, we should help one another develop freely-chosen convictions to follow Him. We should eschew guilt-manipulation or peer pressure or any other kind of coercion. Such tactics may seem to “work” in the short-term, but they will be counter-productive in the long run. People sometimes need to be able to say “No” to us in order to be able to say “Yes” to Jesus. Our job is to point people to Jesus’ direction, to model following Jesus, to testify (like Peter) that it is worth it to follow Him, and to urge people to freely follow Him.


NEXT WEEK: Haggai 1 – “Is it time for you to panel your houses while My house lies desolate?”

Q & A: More on other “difficult statements?” More on these three applications?

“There are several places in the Old Testament where God confronts people who are seriously mistaken or wayward, doing so not with intimidating declarations but with gentle, probing questions... Counselors know that it is not enough to simply tell people how to live. Asking questions helps the person to recognize their own errors, to discover and embrace truth from their hearts. The questions of Jesus are similar...” Timothy Keller, Encounters with Jesus (Dutton, 2013), p.97.

“Anyone who is inclined toward a sacramental viewpoint will almost certainly want to take these words as a reference to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, because of the reference to eating and drinking. But this does not automatically follow: By anyone’s definition there must be a symbolic element to the eating which Jesus speaks of in the discourse, and once this is admitted, it is better to understand it here, as in the previous references in the passage, to a personal receiving of (or appropriation of) Christ and his work.” The NET Bible.