When you were children, did you ever play a game called “Follow the Leader”? Well, for those of you who didn’t, or for those of you who have never heard of the game, let me explain how it is played. First, you choose a leader. Then you follow him wherever he goes and do whatever he does. You stomp through puddles, climb over fences, or swing from a tree—all to stay in the game because no one wants to be a quitter.
The Gospel passage we heard from John 6:56-69 a few minutes ago is an example of people who did not want to play follow the leader. The passage marks the end of the “bread of life” discourse that we have heard for the last several weeks. Today, it reaches its climax. Jesus tells his followers that if they abide in him-that is, live in him and believe in him-he will always be with them. Jesus is the source of our life and our sustenance. We need to stay connected to him to be fruitful. Just as God gives Jesus life, Jesus in turn gives his followers eternal life if they believe in him.
The choice to accept Jesus is a difficult one. Godly people will still face difficulties in life, including persecution. God’s ways are not our ways, and that is why the Gospel message is hard to accept. It is costly because in order for us to accept Christ’s death and resurrection as the way to eternal life, we also have to experience our own form of death and resurrection. We have to die to our worldly way of life and rise to a new life in Christ. There are times when our faith in Christ will be harder than we expected. Each of us must answer the question, “Where can we go?” Jesus promises us eternal life. We face troubles in this life here on earth, but they pale in comparison to the joy of Christ revealed in us as mentioned in Romans 8:18.
Worldly life and godly life are always in conflict because they are so different. Worldly life always tempts us with the sinful desires of greed, envy, jealousy, sex, drugs, alcohol and other things. The Christian life calls us to live godly lives now in exchange for a heavenly life later-even if our present worldly life is full of pain and persecution.
Jesus wasn’t interested in whether he was causing offense or not. That does not mean that he did not care for the people he was talking to. On the contrary, he deeply cared for them. Because he cared for them, he preferred to speak the truth instead of speaking what was pleasing. Jesus wanted his hearers to know that what he is saying is the truth, even though it is hard to hear. In other words, Jesus used tough love, in contrast to some preachers who want to “tickle the ears” of their congregations.
Jesus did not try to talk unwilling disciples into staying with him, nor did he try to make things easier so that they would reconsider their relationship to him. He wants eager followers who understand the cost of following him. The Gospel message is not easy to hear and accept. The church is often tempted to soften the impact of the message by removing the offending parts or by preaching something similar to the Prosperity Gospel. Most people do not want to hear this message because it calls on them to change their way of life. It calls on them to give up the world’s ways in favour of a life that will lead them to heaven. The truth is so confronting and so painful that we are often hell-bent on hanging on to our sinful way of life. That does not mean that everyone will refuse to accept the message. Some, like Peter and the disciples, realize that Jesus is the key to eternal life. In return, he will give us the strength we need to be strong in our walk of faith. That strength will mean taking a stand for Christ and being counted. It will make a difference both in us and in the lives of everyone we come into contact with.
The picture that this portion of John’s Gospel paints is not a pretty one, but it is a realistic one, especially when our Christian walk of faith is difficult. The picture is also one of belief and faith, especially when we keep our eyes on Jesus. It produces love, joy, peace, hope and eternal life.
The purpose of the Gospel message is not to convince detractors or turn the hearts of rebels. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel message is the means by which our hearts respond to God. The disciples who left heard what Jesus said as a threat—a threat to their way of life, their accepted notions and their grip on reality. Those who stayed heard what Jesus said as a challenge to their way of life, their accepted notions and their grip on reality.
The disciples who continued on with Jesus might not have completely understood what he said, just like sometimes we can’t completely understand what he says. We, like the disciples, might not even be completely comfortable with it, but we are intrigued by what he said. In the Bible, faith is a verb. It is an action by which we consent and act. It is also a process. Peter and the others, like us, need it to grow stronger.
If the disciples-the great heroes of the faith-had doubts, it should not be surprising that we will have doubts. What we can do is embrace them and take them to the one best source for answers-Jesus. Jesus provides the spiritual power that we need in our lives. Without it, we will be overwhelmed by the spiritual and mental challenges we will face. We will be too tired to serve in ministry and will be too weak to engage in spiritual warfare.
If we have faith in Jesus, we have to spread the Good News. We have to be public witnesses for Christ. Sometimes our witness will be in the form of words, but mostly it will take the form of our actions, especially the choices we make in life. If our actions, words and deeds contradict our Christian faith, we are being hypocrites.
If Jesus walked into your dining room tonight to have dinner with you, how would you answer two questions he might ask?
- Are your goals in life God-centered goals?
- Are you putting as much energy into loving others as you do in living for yourself?
The Spirit brings forth spiritual fruit in us, equips and deploys us with gifts in service to others, and gives us strength to witness for Christ every day. Our thoughts, feelings, priorities and daily practices are changed to match what Jesus would feel, think and do if he was in our place. We become like Jesus and in turn we love and serve others as Jesus would.
There will be times when our faith is tried and tested. At times like these we must remember that to abandon the faith of Christ will lead to desolation, ruin and death. We must fall back on our personal experience of a living God in which the truth is wrapped up and made flesh for our benefit.
I’m going to close this message by telling you a story about a little girl named Inga. Inga had two older sisters and the two older sisters were in Girl Scouts. Inga watched her sisters go to Girl Scout meetings and she wished she could go and be a part of that real important stuff that they did. She asked her mother if she could go and her mother said, “But, Inga, you’re not old enough to go.” Inga said, “Well, when will I be old enough to go?” And Inga’s mother said, “Soon.”
Finally the day came and Inga joined Brownies. She got a little brown skirt jumper and a little brown hat with a little brownie and she got little half socks with a little brownie on it. Her mother even bought her some brown shoes and she dressed up and went to her first meeting and it was just wonderful.
Well, much later when she and her mother and father and sister were coming to church, she asked her mother this question: “I heard about belonging to Jesus. How do I know that I belong to Jesus? We don’t have a uniform like the Brownies. I know I belong to the Brownies because I have a uniform. How do I know that I belong to Jesus?”
Her mother replied, “Well, where do you go on Sunday morning?” Inga said, “I go to Sunday school to learn about Jesus.”
Her mother continued, “What’s that book in your hand?” Inga said, “It’s the Bible and the Bible is the stories of Jesus.”
And her mother said, “How else do you know that you belong to Jesus, Inga? What do we do always before we go to bed?” Inga replied, “We talk to Jesus every night before we go to sleep.” “And Inga, where do we go after Sunday school?” “We go to the big church.”” And what do we do in the big church? We learn about God and we sing about Jesus.”
Then Inga got this big smile on her face and she said, “I belong to Jesus.” And her mother said, “That’s right.”
When we come to the Lord’s Table to take part in Holy Communion, we know that we draw near to Jesus when we eat the bread and drink the wine. We, like Inga and her mother, also understand that Christ lives in us in a new way, and that we abide in Christ and he abides in us. The Holy Spirit gives us the assurance that we are believers. As Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”. Only then can we have the inner conviction and witness of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God.
- Stanley, C.F., The Charles F Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
- Swindoll, Charles; Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Inc.; 2010)
- Exegesis for John 6:56-69. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- The Rev. Dr. David Lose, “Words of Eternal Life”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Dr. Bill Bright, “A Communist Youth”. Retrieved from Insights_with_Bill_Bright@crosswalkmail.com
- Charles H. Spurgeon, “Sustained by Feeding”. Retrieved from www.christianity.com/devotionals/faiths-checkbook-ch-spurgeom
- Berni Dymet, “Believe in Which Jesus?” Retrieved from www.christianity.com/devotionals/christianity-works-berni-dymet
- Michael Youssef, PhD, “Bearing Fruit”. Retrieved from email@example.com
- Greg Laurie, “The Witness of the Holy Spirit”. Retrieved from Greg_Laurie_Daily_Devotions@crosswalkmail.com
- T.M. Moore, “The Holy Spirit & Affections”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
- Sergei Sosedkin, “The Right Diet”. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Leslie Snyder, “Where Would I Go?” Retrieved from Homeword@crosswalkmail.com
- Christopher J. Harris, “Power Outages”. Retrieved from www.stramingfaith.org
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 21st Sunday, (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Jim Penner, “Spirit-Filled Living”. Retrieved from email@example.com
- The Rev. Beth Quick “Offended”. Retrieved from www.bethquick.com
- The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “The Flesh God Has Married”. Retrieved from www.sermonwwriter.com
- Jamieson-Fawcett-Brown Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
- “No Turning Back”. Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com
- Roland McGregor, “Children’s Sermon for Pentecost 13, 8/26/12”. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org