When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “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.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Fresh out of seminary, I felt as if I had the Christian faith well within my understanding. I knew the Bible well, I understood my own theological views and why I held them, and at the end of the day, I just felt like I was going to be darn good at my job. I may not be a scholar like those from whom I learned, but I was well-equipped to answer questions. I wasn’t going to write a major commentary, but I could preach an interesting sermon which would engage people with the Scriptures.
It didn’t take long before I realized I had vast amounts of learning to do, and these moments of realization often came about due to the wisdom of the older members of the congregation I served. They may not have been to seminary and read all the books that I had, but I soon learned that their practical wisdom, gained over the course of a lifetime of walking with Christ, was every bit as valuable (arguably more so!) as the understanding I had gained during my time in school. I learned to be silent for the most part and to simply learn from those whom I served. On occasion, they would ask a question about some obscure passage of Scripture, and I would happily engage their question in such a way as to provide a reasonably astute response (or at least that’s what I tell myself). For the most part, I chose to take in the wisdom they were pleased to offer.
One evening at Bible study, I was told that my recent sermon had offended some people in the congregation. As we sat around the table and heard the arguments about it, one very respected member in her 90s sat up and said, “But he didn’t say anything that wasn’t in the Bible.” Others began to revisit that some were offended, to which she replied, “The Bible should offend me. It should offend every one of us. Until such time as we are like Christ, God will use the Bible to disturb those parts of ourselves which are not consistent with His will.”
I never forgot the practical wisdom in that statement. It has been uttered since then many a time to many a gathered group of believers. It’s not a license to go out and speak offensively, but a reminder to be bold in our presentation of the gospel.
What are the disciples so offended by in this text? They’re upset by the fact that Jesus identifies Himself as the bread of life. We know that these are not just the Twelve, as the text goes on to tell us that Jesus addresses that group separately. “Many of His disciples” here indicates those outside of the Twelve, the group which was following Christ and yet had not received direct calls from Him to join the inner circle. We know there were masses of people which followed Jesus from the earliest days of His ministry, as indicated by the apostles’ choice of one to replace Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:21 – “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us…” There is no question that Jesus always had a following. The variable was whether or not that following remained with Him – whether they allowed their own offense to cloud their judgment and rule their hearts, or they chose instead to recognize that God would offend their sinful hearts… and that’s necessary.
The Twelve remain with Christ through this moment of abandonment, but Christ recognizes something within the group – not all of this apparent loyalty is as it seems. Even though Judas received the call of an apostle, his heart was not truly devoted to the Lord. He would go on to choose a betrayal far more troublesome than the departure of these former disciples in the preceding verses.
Each of us must check our hearts and examine the extent to which we are walking in true faithfulness to Christ. If Christ offends us, are we the ones who change, or do we change Scripture to fit who we are? Do we make Christ into the image we want Him to fit, or do we allow Him to rule as Lord over our lives? We must choose offense and ruin for the sake of conformity to the image of Christ Jesus our Lord. If we are not willing to be offended, we will choose one day to walk away.
Lord of Truth, You are the One who speaks to us in words which will reveal the deepest longings of our hearts. I know that I am not yet fully conformed to the image of Christ, but I believe that You are at work within me to bring this to reality. If there are ways within me which are offensive to You, break me out of obstinacy and align me with Your will. May I not be stiff-necked, but make me humble as You are humble. Hide my heart in You that I may not depart from You. Grant that I may be joyfully obedient to You in all things.