Imagine you’re sitting in a synagogue located right off the beautiful Sea of Galilee. In its first-century context this building of rock, sand, and stone is enormous. As you look around at your surroundings you can’t help but sit in awe at the ornate architecture and intricate design. In comparison to all the other structures in Capernaum, it’s obvious that such a building would never had been constructed if not for a powerful, wealthy, Roman benefactor.
While the synagogue itself is filled to capacity, you find it oddly comfortable with the morning breeze coming in off the cool lake through the large windows and doors constructed to provide much needed ventilation. Not only do you find the air crisp and refreshing, but the excitement throughout the room is inescapable. On that particular day the audience has amassed for only one reason - Jesus, the famous Rabbi, would be speaking.
After taking in the scene, your attention shifts to the crowd around you. Just off stage right you see Jesus’ twelve closest followers congregating with the Ruler of the Synagogue. It’s likely they’re simply engaged in a measure of small talk. In the seats of honor surrounding the stage you notice a delegation of religious leaders who’d recently arrived from Jerusalem.
The elaborate robes, hats, and tassels of these affluent and influential men are a distinct and unmistakeable contrast to the common folk you find yourself rubbing shoulders with in the gallery. On that specific morning the overwhelming multitude of those in attendance are local peasants from either Capernaum or one of the many towns that make up the Galilee.
As you look around at the expanse of those piled into the back pews, you can’t help but consider how the majority of the audience included the poor, beaten down masses. Whether it be the high taxes or the economic unrest, they all bear the physical signs of struggle.
And yet, you can’t help but also see a particular fire and optimism in their eyes. While the scowls of the religious leaders make it clear they were skeptical of Jesus, the larger vibe in the room was a combination of excitement mixed with anticipation. No doubt the lion’s share of the audience that morning were convinced Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah.
As you eavesdrop on the conversations happening around you, it’s clear most of this crowd had been following Jesus over the last several months. As you listen you hear their first-hand accounts of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000. Aside from this you realize the day before these pew-sitters had actually tried to take Jesus by force and make Him their King!
Though you learn Jesus had stopped them and dispersed the crowd, many were discussing the events of that morning and their hurried journey across the Sea to be in attendance. Universally, people are consumed with speculation as to what they might soon witness.
I’m sure as you watch the countdown timer on the flatscreens work its way down to zero and the lights dim, you can feel the avidity of the crowd intensifying. People are desperate to know what Jesus was going to say! More than that they’re curious what He might would do! Many hoped this would be the day Jesus would spark a revolution against the occupiers. Still yet others had gathered optimistic Jesus might perform another amazing miracle.
The jitters of the crowd quickly still and the rumblings of banter instantly cease as Jesus the Rabbi emerges on stage and makes His way to the pulpit. Everyone present, for a myriad of varying reasons, are on the edge of their seats as Jesus begins to speak…
(John 6:26-58), “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
As you’re listening this thought is interrupted by some within the crowd who cry out, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Unfazed by the interruption Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Again the audience interjects, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
With a glance of compassion, but with an obvious conviction in His voice Jesus replies, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” With this statement the crowd around you erupts in almost a complete unison, “Lord, give us this bread always!”
You notice their reaction causes a measure of frustration within Jesus. Trying to get His audience to see beyond the physical Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Now it’s at this point these religious Jews who’d been sent from Jerusalem begin to complain amongst themselves, because Jesus said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” Furthermore, you can hear them ask, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Undeterred by the distraction Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.”
Jesus pauses before continuing, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
As you sit in the back of this synagogue you can feel the mood of the room begin to shift. In light of what Jesus has just said these Jews begin to quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” No longer are they directing their questions to Jesus, but they’re directing their concerns to the larger audience in attendance.
Jesus, knowing that these men were intentionally twisting His words, quickly takes command of the room and says to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven - not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” It’s likely at this point Jesus leaves the pulpit and takes a seat.
While we’ve taken the last three Sunday’s to unpack this “Bread of Life Discourse” and discuss the significance of what Jesus was articulating to the crowd, this morning it’s time we transition to what immediately follows - for the reaction to this sermon is unexpected.
John 6:60, “Therefore many of His disciples (the larger group beyond the twelve), when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’”
In the Greek their reaction, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” would be better translated as, “This is an offensive message; who can accept it?” And note it wasn’t that the substance of Jesus’ sermon was difficult to grasp intellectually; rather, it was the substance of Jesus’ sermon that was hard to accept because it offended their sensibilities.
John 6:61-69, “When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’
For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’ From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”
Again imagine being in the synagogue that morning… As Jesus worked His way through the meat of His sermon and answered the inquiries of the crowd as well as the cynicism of the religious leaders, the general feeling in the room slowly morphed. The initial exuberance of the crowd dissipated. What Jesus was saying sucked all the air right out of the place.
It’s hard to ignore that fact the initial fire in the eyes of the masses of hope had all but gone out! The anticipation and elation of the crowd was replaced with disbelief and despondency. It was evident they couldn’t believe what they were hearing! Not only was it obvious Jesus wasn’t living up to the billing, but His message that morning was deeply offensive.
As you look around the room you can’t help but notice a very visceral and in some ways personal deflation of those who’d gathered. It began with one or two who rose to their feet and left the synagogue in disgust, but it didn’t take long for this trickle to form a stream. This very group who arrived ready to hail Jesus King and follow Him into battle were now bailing!
While this is happening you witness a tempered but noticeable glee coming from the smirks of the religious leaders as they follow the masses out of the auditorium. Jesus had crossed a line and alienated the people without them being forced to take action. He did them a favor.
As this stream of deserters swells into a river your attention shifts to the twelve disciples still sitting stage right. The look on their faces as to what was occurring said it all! From what we know of these men, there is no question the departure of such a large group of disciples following Jesus’ sermon was equally disheartening - a punch to the gut. Many of the folks leaving were their friends and family. Their dismay is so obvious even Jesus notices.
Keep in mind, even though these men knew that Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” since (as Peter so perfectly confesses) He was “the Christ” and “the Son of the living God” - Like the mob, these men were also hoping Jesus would lead a revolution against Rome. In fact they’d forsaken all believing they ultimately hold positions of power in this coming Kingdom.
In their minds the dynamic of loosing followers was simply counterintuitive to the intended aim. I can see them thinking, “Way to go Jesus! You intentionally offended the majority of our foot-soldiers and now they’ve bailed. You could have toned things down just a bit in order to keep this ball rolling! Instead, you’ve killed our momentum and weakened our odds.”
As I mentioned the reaction of these men was so palpable in the moment that Jesus can’t avoid the elephant in the room. John records that as the crowd is filing out the door Jesus turns to them and asks, “Do you also want to go away?” His question tinges with emotion.
Peter’s initial reply before his larger statement of faith said it all… To Jesus’ question Peter (who’s acting as the spokesman for the others) replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
Think about this for a moment… Peter doesn’t rebuff the fact that what Jesus has just said was deeply offensive nor does he do anything to conceal their obvious disappointment. Furthermore, Peter doesn’t deny the reality departing hadn’t been a temporary consideration.
Instead, Peter’s response indicated the reality that once the options were weighed in light of everything they knew of Jesus, they really didn’t have any options. “Yes, Jesus we’re disappointed and frankly we understand why people decided to go. What You said this morning was offensive. And yet, because we know you are the Messiah and the Son of God, who else could we honestly leave You to follow? You speak the words of eternal life.”
John 6:70-71, “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.”
While John quickly adds a bit of commentary to Jesus’ retort making it clear He was alluding to His coming betrayal by Judas Iscariot, imagine processing this statement in the moment, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” In context to everything that’s just happen, this remark would have been a total head-scratcher! Well… For everyone, but Judas. It’s likely Judas has already set into motion his dastardly deed.
Though we’ll get to a more complete examination of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus later in our travels through John’s Gospel, consider what Jesus is actually saying. If Judas had already hatched a plan in his heart, Jesus is letting Him know He’s aware and regardless of his reasoning the very idea was devilish. Jesus is giving Judas a chance to change course.
As we wrap up our time in “The Bread of Life Discourse” there is one final question I want to answer and an overarching statement I want to make… First, what was it that specifically made Jesus’ message so offensive a group of disciples who’d spent months following Him around Galilee, had seen Him perform miracles like the Feeding of the 5000, and who the day before wanted to make Him their King now completely bail and forsake Him?
To answer this let me first point out that most of your decisions manifest from what I call a “Need, Fix, Results” framework. A Need drives you to a Fix which fosters a Result. If the Results fail to effectively address the Need or for that matter creates a more pressing and larger Need, the Fix logically receives the blame and is abandoned for a new pursuit.
For example… If your fundamental need is money and a new job is seen as the fix, but after getting the new job the result isn’t enough money or worse still you have ample money at the expense of time with your family - you’ll eventually quit the job and seek a new fix to the need. Unless of course, money is a more important need than the well-being of your family.
If your need is being needed and a girlfriend becomes seen as the logical fix, but after a few months into the relationship you don’t feel needed like you thought or she’s become nothing but drama - you’ll dump the girlfriend and seek a new fix for your initial need - a puppy!
If your need is happiness and drugs or partying are seen as the fix, but after a period of time neither of these things are yielding the desired results - logically, you’ll change the drug or scene in order to gin up that sense of pleasure and happiness you so desperately wanted in the first place. Needs always drive to a perceived Fix desiring a specific Result… And if the Result doesn’t met the Need, it’s only natural you move on to a different Fix.
This “Need, Fix, Results” framework is especially relevant when it comes to Jesus and why one of the grand lessons of this particular sermon is that it’s critical you come to Jesus seeking Him as a Fix for the correct Need. If you don’t it’s likely you won’t be pleased with the Results and end up bailing like these disciples because He offended you.
Think about the multitude present that day in this Capernaum synagogue… If it was the oppression of Rome that brought you to Jesus hoping He’d be your King, the fact He refuses to lead a revolution would have left you upset and in time looking for a new fix.
If you came hoping He’d free you from the tax burden of Rome, the fact Jesus failed to speak to that social issue would have left you upset. Note: You’d be further disillusioned when Jesus would later address this topic saying, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars!” Again Jesus is dodging the distraction of lesser needs so that He could address the larger one.
If that day you came to this synagogue desiring an experience (to be fed or wowed by a miracle), the fact Jesus only taught an offensive sermon would have left you disappointed and looking elsewhere. Once more, if you wanted to feel good about yourself, Jesus’ sermon emphasizing the importance of His death to atone for your sin wouldn’t have sufficed. Ultimately, they left Jesus because they had come hoping He’d fix the wrong need.
Consider why of all the groups present that day it was the twelve who refused to bail? Sure, they were disappointed Jesus didn’t start a revolution. Sure, they would have liked to have seen a miracle or two. No doubt, eating His flesh and drinking His blood didn’t sit well.
And yet, the disciples didn’t bail on Jesus for one simple reason… They correctly understood their most pressing Need was salvation and since Jesus promised “everlasting life” as an effective Savior He remained the most logical Fix. Again Peter’s response as to why they weren’t leaving Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Understand, the reason many of “His disciples” left and ultimately why people get so offended by Jesus today is that they come to realize one of two things: Either Jesus isn’t the fix for my need, or I’m not cool with what Jesus says I need. In contrast the twelve stayed became they could admit their need of eternal life - a fix Jesus had come to fill.
In order to build off this explanation as to why Jesus’ message was offensive, I want to make a statement about this sermon that likely won’t sit well… Jesus’ message was offensive! Furthermore, Jesus would rather risk a following than placate the truth of the Gospel.
Let me tell you a secret most churches try to hide… The Gospel message is deeply offensive! Not only will Jesus refuse to be complicit in fixing needs that really don’t matter, but He’s clear what your need really is! The Bible refuses to tiptoe around the reality of sin. Apart from Jesus you are broken, and it’s this brokenness that alienates you from God.
Sure, there is no question Jesus loves you, but the Gospel declares God does not love who you are in sin. The truth, whether you want to hear it or not, is that you aren’t as God created you to be. Because of sin your desires and proclivities are skewed. As a direct consequence of sin your identity and pursuits are completely warped. Friend, you’re a mess!
You see the very idea of the Fall following Creation means you and I aren’t naturally the way God intended us to be. And if you can’t admit you’re fallen, how can Jesus ever pick you up? The truth is nothing in this life is the way God created and designed it to be - including you! And yet, the glorious news of the Gospel boldly states that, if you’re willing to admit this fundamental need, Jesus is not content to leave you that way! He’s your fix.
When someone says of themselves, “Jesus loves me just the way that I am” know they are at best self-deceived. When a pastor utters such a statement the truth is their words ooze from below and aren’t coming from above. Jesus loves you, but not the way that you are!
Let’s be honest that such a statement is offensive. Telling someone who they are and what they’re doing is not ok or for that matter lovable, assaults their sensibilities. And yet, the inability to admit your core need only neuters the fundamental power of the Gospel. If you can’t admit your real need is salvation, what good is Jesus to you as a Savior?
Friend, if you’re struggling with this central concept of the Gospel, I want to challenge you with a simple question… If Jesus really does love you just the way that you are, then why would He have died specifically to transform you into something you aren’t?
In the end it doesn’t take a theology degree to understand the offensive nature of the true Gospel message flies in the face of the most popular church-model in America known today as either the “Seeker-Friendly Church” or in a more modern twist the “Attractional Church.”
Sadly, there are many churches today that intentionally minimize the full truth of the Gospel specifically to make the church service more comfortable for the unbeliever to attend. Unlike Jesus, they’d rather temper truth in order to maintain a larger audience.
What’s interesting is that to accomplish this goal of softening the message in order to keep Jesus from being offensive, these pastors either refuse to articulate what a person’s true need is by never discussing sin, brokenness, and the essential need of transformation or they present Jesus as the fix for lesser needs - Jesus wants to lead you into financial freedom, make you wealthy, give you influence, a life of purpose, etc!
Since the Gospel message by its very nature offends, it’s only logical these churches intentionally teach topical messages crafted to insure they can avoid these kind of uncomfortable truths. This very approach has become so extreme that according to Andy Stanley in order to reach the lost we must now uncouple Christianity from the Old Testament.
I want you to consider… What exactly does this approach really yield? The fact is these church models justify their approach by boasting huge conversion rates. They argue that the ends justify the means. People are getting saved and that’s all that matters. Really?
Taking Jesus’ example here in John 6 to heart, there seems to be one question no one is bold enough to ask about this argument… If you aren’t presenting a Gospel message that offends, are you really presenting the Gospel? And if that’s the case, what are all of these people actually converting too if they aren’t hearing the real Gospel message?
Could one argue these churches are instead churning out false-converts - People who’ve come to Jesus as their friend, moral example, teacher, or spiritual guru without ever accepting Him as their Savior, because their real need is never discussed in church? I know that’s a provocative and difficult thought, but I actually think it’s provable…
Have you noticed that churches that boast huge numbers of conversions still refuse to teach the Bible? Here’s why this do this… These church leaders know if they did present the truth of the Gospel many of their “converts” would be offended and likely leave their church. Well, if this is the case, again I ask… What have they converted too?
Let me apply this concept as simply as I possibly can… If you’re never offended by a message you hear at church, it’s likely you aren’t being given the truth of the Gospel! Once more if your church fears the true Gospel message, why are you attending?
In closing… Aside from the fact that failing to articulate the real need of fallen man or over-emphasizing lesser needs never affords the opportunity to present Jesus as the ultimate fix for our real need - sin, there is a much deeper problem with such a ministry approach…
By design the offensive nature of the Gospel message isn’t friendly for the seeker nor has God intend it to be attractive to the unbeliever. Within this Bread of Life Discourse Jesus has been more than clear that it’s solely the job of the Father to draw a sinner.
Look again… John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” John 6:39, “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing.” John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
You see the very idea that it’s even important for a church ministry to make Jesus more palatable for the masses, seeker-friendly, or attractive denies the sovereignty of God in the process of drawing and minimizes the power of His calling upon the lost to come.
The truth is God doesn’t need our help drawing sinners anymore than He needs our help saving them! God doesn’t need a church to temper the nature of the Gospel to be more marketable and lessen its offense. The Father draws and Jesus saves - period!
By design when an unbeliever comes to a church committed to presenting the real Gospel message through the faithful teaching of God’s Word, one of two things will always result…
Either the person repents, comes to Jesus, and accepts Him as a Savior for sin (evidence the Father drew them in the first place), or that person bails on Jesus because the message of the Gospel was offensive as they were never willing to be honest with the true essence of their need to be saved (evidence the Father wasn’t drawing them anyway).
Again, this dynamic whereby people end up offended by the truth of the Gospel message and ultimately walk away from Him… Jesus says in John 6:65, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
We must ask ourselves what is more important… Being a crowded church filled with people who never hear the offending truth or being a church of whatever size God has determined filled with people being transformed by the offending truth? Of the first church in Jerusalem we read in Act 2:47, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
In this synagogue that morning in Capernaum Jesus teaches us that He would rather risk a following than placate the truth of the Gospel. May we be bold enough to do the same.