Questions from the Disciples
Focus: God is the only god.
Function: that the hearers go to God for true food.
So far we have been following the questions of the crowd, and the questions of the Jews, and today we look to the questions of the disciples. But before we get there, notice this one feature: our circle is getting tighter.
You can first picture the whole crowd, with the disciples and the Jews, around Jesus, thousands pushing in saying, Hey Jesus, come on, give us bread.
And after he answers their questions, they turn aside so that the more theologically minded Jews can ask their questions, which we heard in last week’s sermon. But finally today, we see the circle tighten even more when these Jews fade off into the distance and we see Jesus standing with his disciples.
Notice in our text a little bit of distance here. You probably heard it when I read verse fifty-nine forces us to pause a little when we read it. There’s a distance of perhaps time or space in fifty-nine and then, then verse sixty takes ahold.
There are four questions in our text today: First, the disciples ask, “Who can listen to your teachings?” To that Jesus answers “Do you take offense at this?” Third, Jesus turns to the twelve, to the closest ring of disciples, and asks “Do you want to go away as well?” And Simon Peter replies “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
First, Who can listen to this? This is the question that his disciples ask – not just the twelve but also the over 120 folk that had been sent out on mission journeys and taken up to follow Jesus in a consistent kind of a way. His disciples have been around for the whole conversation, where Jesus has turned the crowd and the Jews on their own head. Those who came seeking unlimited bread, he has corrected. Those who would just make Jesus into a great man, a great moral teacher, he has corrected. Just before this question, these disciples, who’ve heard the whole conversation, they say, “This is a hard saying, a difficult teaching to hear.”
Now, we can think of some instances in Jesus’ ministry where his teaching was difficult because it didn’t make any sense. It was hard to understand, like when he says, “Where the corpse is, the vultures will gather,” or “Let the dead bury their own dead.” That isn’t the case here. The Greek implies that they understood his teaching; it wasn’t a difficult teaching because it was hard to understand. It was difficult because it was harsh, unpleasant and strict. Jesus says, if you believe that I am the true bread from heaven then you would look for, you will long for, you will ache for me and my word more than you do for meals at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and (at least in the case of Pastor Griffin) the midnight snack table. That is a hard teaching, to be satisfied in Christ before you are satisfied in the filling of your physical needs. Do we do that? How do you do that?
For me, it makes worship easier, not harder, when I don’t have a grumbling stomach, right? I’m sure it’s never happened to you, but I have, on occasion, had a bible study before lunch and in the little times of quiet when people are thinking, my stomach makes those noises that tell you you’re hungry. It makes worship easier and not harder when I’m not sleep deprived. It makes worship easier, not harder when God meets all of our needs and we can worship comfortably.
False. The first lesson of our text is to be satisfied in Christ before all others. And that is a hard lesson.
The kingdom of heaven was like a couple whose tongues were sharp and their complaints were loud. They loved each other, but that love kept getting overshadowed by their disappointments. Until one day when health troubles took them to the hospital. Deprived of their daily routine, first for a week, then for months, then for years, it was, frankly, the best thing that ever happened for their faith and for their family.
And Jesus senses his disciples’ grumbling – their grumbling, their murmuring. They have the same quiet air of unease around them that the Jews were had in last week’s text, and the same thing that the Israelites did in the desert when they first received bread from heaven. It’s the same thing that Adam and Eve did when they hid their sin from their God – a discontent that’s below the surface, that they don’t want to express.
And so Jesus does here what we would give as advice to premarital couples, exactly what God did with Adam and Eve, exactly what Moses did with the Israelites. Just because you hide your grumbling doesn’t mean it goes away. The only way to resolve conflict is to first, unearth it. Bring it out into the open.
So Jesus does just that. He asks them, “Do you take offense at this?” If you take offense at this, then what will you do when you see me in all my glory? He’s talking to people who are on the edge of trusting him. They see their physical needs. They’re at the top of the cliff looking down. Right? That’s what I felt when I went cliff jumping. You stand up there forty feet above the water, just standing, just standing. You know you can do it, you know the water’s deep. But still you haven’t jumped.
He asks them, “Will you be shocked? Are you scandalized that as Lord, I rule your whole life? Will you follow me when I am humbled, so that you can follow me when I’m glorified? Or do you fall away from me when public opinion is against me?” It seems foolish to follow a dying man to his death. It seems foolish to believe that Jesus is Lord. It seems foolish to think that one man’s death should pay for all. And many would tell you that, and they’d be right.
But the second lesson of our text is on the scandalous nature of God’s love. As one author writes, “Grace is uncivilized, vulgar, rebellious. We make rules for it and it breaks them. Grace is a constant embarrassment to the prim and proper religiosity of the squeaky clean.
Grace doesn’t give a rip if you’re a high school dropout or a Ph.D., a felon or a cop, a virgin or a porn star. You’re all guilty of leading lives of rebellion in which every intent of the thoughts of your heart is only evil continually. You’re all equally dead in transgressions and sins. You’re all equally condemned by the law of God and sentenced to life in the prison of death. Yet there stands Grace, the anti-Santa, doling out gifts to bad boys and girls. It throws open its door to holler, “Come one, come all. Fools and wise men, penniless and powerful, Pharisees and publicans. You’ve all got a seat at my table.”
Grace is the God who was born in a barn, swaddled in rags, in the cold darkness of a world too lost even to know it needed finding. Grace is the God with a motley crew of former tax-gougers, terrorists, and blue-collar fishermen at his heels. Grace is the God with such poor taste in friends that his detractors labeled him a glutton and a drunkard, a sidekick of sinners. Grace is the God who loved them all, loved them unto death, even death on a cross.”
And so we get to one of major sea-changes in the Gospel of John. The Jews had started to look for ways to kill him in chapter five, and they continue to do so here. Up until this point Jesus was rising in popularity. Now, he diminishes. As some in his outer ring of disciples walk away from him, Jesus does something unique in our little narrative of chapter 6. Up until this point in the conversation, the people would ask Jesus questions and Jesus would respond, sometimes in conventional ways, but mostly in ways that turned them on their heads. For the first time, he initiates conversation with a question, and he talks to the Twelve. He asks the closest disciples, those in whom he had poured time and life and energy and love, “Do you want to go away as well?”
And here is our third point and, as well, the crux of our chapter. Third, we see Jesus ask the perfect question, which leads to the perfect response. So long we’ve seen imperfect people ask imperfect questions, to which Jesus in his kind, gentle and strong way corrects their questions and gives them the answers that answer the questions that should have been asked. But here, notice that this is different. Right here, the perfect man asks the perfect question, and get this: Peter gets it right. He replies, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.
The wise man becomes wiser when he returns to the beginning, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Paul tells us not to be empty but to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Even Peter gets it right when Christ is the one asking the question. So finally we turn to Peter’s question. What better question could we ask than that of Peter? It is a wondering, sincere, helpful and helpless kind of a question.
I can’t get over the helpless kind of simplicity that comes from this question. Where else would we go? In asking the perfect question, Jesus allows Peter to show us the false choice - there is no other place to go; there is only one God and you are it. There’s only one basket, so the only choice we have is to put our eggs in it, or let them fall on the ground. Psalm 73 says, whom have I in heaven but you? There’s nothing on earth that I could desire besides you. My heart and my flesh they may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion.” You are my portion, Lord, because you own the whole pie.
This is the helplessness of Stephen, the martyr, and the apostles. In Acts as the apostles are brought again and again to the Sanhedrin and told to stop preaching, they say, how could we stop speaking about that which changes our life? If the Word of God would lead us in smooth sailing or rougher waters, what choice do we have?
Who else could we go to? This question, asked by a man whose god is his enemy, whose God is a cruel tyrant and a miser, this question is a word of terror and famine and hardship. But to us, whose God is our father, where we are bought and delivered beloved children, these words are like a feast set before us, without end and ever lasting.
The kingdom of heaven is like a big church in a small town where the rich often look out for the poor, the strong often look out for the weak, and the young often look out for the old. Where their own helplessness, their own loss and their own weakness sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly turns into a time and a place to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness. Where we know that the one we run to is the one who has already run to us. Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters