Read John 6:60–71.
These days, it seems no more than a few weeks pass by before I hear of another prominent evangelical Christian packing it up, cashing out, and retreating to a world where Scripture and Jesus have no authority over them. Many of these folks still want to visit the evangelical tent they rail against. Some wax nostalgically about their appreciation of Scripture, not as the Word of God, of course, but as a beautiful statement of human progression that often gets everything wrong. Many more will talk about their respect for Jesus, lamenting how Bible thumpers have misunderstood Him and coopted Him as a figurehead for their buttoned-down view of life and love and liberty.
It’s trendy to walk away from Jesus, and in our cultural moment, it’s often applauded. But, putting aside the rigidity and eccentricities found in some corners of the evangelical tent, it’s a deadly serious thing to walk away from the Lord. However, it’s nothing new. People have been walking away from Jesus since the very beginning.
Here in John 6, Jesus has just told a large gathering of people in the Capernaum synagogue that He is the way to eternal life—more specifically, that to receive eternal life they must eat His flesh and drink His blood (vv. 53–54). He is the bread of life that will be broken for the sins of the world. There’s shock value in His words, but Jesus isn’t exaggerating. He’s deadly serious, and what He has said is disconcerting enough that many disciples decide to stop following Jesus altogether.
In John’s Gospel, the word disciple is often used in a broad sense. These “disciples” who walk away from Jesus aren’t from among the Twelve. We know this because Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks if they, too, will be abandoning Him because of His latest controversial teaching. I love how Simon Peter, the spokesmen for the group, responds: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68–69).
It doesn’t matter if Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter if following Him is costly. It doesn’t even matter if we struggle with doubt. There are no other paths to eternal life, no other way by which we might be saved. Jesus is it. He’s our only hope.
To some, it might seem that Jesus’ self-revelation in the synagogue of Capernaum was a colossal failure. Rather than rallying people to His cause, He lost the devotion and interest of many people, those who would have described themselves as His “disciples.” But Jesus always knows what He’s doing. He’s showing the Twelve—and you and me—that no one gets to come to Him on their own terms. He is not a pick-and-choose kind of Messiah. When we come to Jesus, we must come to Him as He truly is.
We don’t get to sit in judgment over the Lord, deciding what we like and don’t like about His teachings, His miracles, or His theology. It’s just the opposite. We come to Him, and He gets to sift us. He gets to change us and remake us according to His image.
I have a deep suspicion that many people who walk away from the faith today do so because they cannot reconcile something found in Scripture with their view of the world. One or the other has to be rejected, and they cannot dare part with their most deeply held beliefs. Their crisis of faith reveals where their loyalty always was.
It’s a difficult thing to submit to Jesus. It means giving up control. It means being at odds with the world. But to echo Peter, where else can we go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God.