I’m currently walking with a couple of high school girls through the book of John and the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. They lead some pretty busy lives, and since I remember what that was like, we’ve agreed to reading a chapter of John a day and a chapter of Crazy Love per week. Both girls have some deep, deep desires to pursue Christ, know more about His Word, and be more involved in His church and service for Him and His people. Neither are incredibly biblically-literate, but both want to be. For those who have been at this for a while, you’d probably agree with what better place to start than with the Gospels and the words of Jesus himself?
John 6 has always had a very strong grip on my heart and mind from the first time I read it. I used it in my blog, “The L Word: The World Will Hate You For It,” but it absolutely smacked me in the face in a new way tonight. I’ll post a small portion of it (the portion that had me picking my jaw up off the floor):
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
There is a word used here that I have totally missed in the dozen other times I’ve read this passage until tonight. Can you guess what it is?
If this isn’t scaring you yet, let me go a bit further. The word used here means a pupil, or a learner in the original Greek. Okay, great, Hannah. What’s your point? This is the same word used to describe the Twelve when they were each called, and it is also used to reference the Twelve many times throughout the Gospels. Okay, cool, what’s your point, Hannah? These were not common, every day folks who decided Jesus’ teachings were too hard. These were people who had committed themselves as students of this heavenly rabbi. They may not have followed Jesus around as often as the Twelve did, but these were people who’d decided they believed this guy. Jesus had his three closest guys (Peter, James, & John – Matthew 17), then there were the Twelve disciples, and then there was everyone else. No less important than anyone in terms of humanity, but they weren’t the disciples who Jesus spent the most time with (I think that speaks to the importance of small groups, small groups ministries, accountability, etc). In our churches today, these aren’t the people who you meet with regularly for a mid-week Bible study. These other disciples would be the people that you greet on any given Sunday, who are a part of their own Bible study, etc. They’re not your closest friends at church, but they’re pursuing this Jesus guy just like you are.
And many of them walked away.
And Jesus let them.
And he never chased after them.
If this doesn’t strike a deeply reverent fear in you, I don’t know what will. When it finally hit me that Jesus’ DISCIPLES were the ones walking away, my immediate thought was, “Holy smokes, that could have been (and could still be, at any given point) me.” These are people who had, at some point, decided to commit their time and following to Jesus. They would have gone to the Crazy Love book study on a Sunday evening. They would have showed up for the local missions outreach opportunities. They would have been helping out with the youth group on Sunday evening. But at some point, push came to shove and they opted out. And that scares me. These are people like me. These are people like you. Oh, but you’d never walk away from Jesus because the goin’ gets too tough and you’re in for the long haul? Might I remind you that one of the Twelve handed Jesus over for his execution. I’m not sure anything is outside the capability of fallen humans. If, per chance, you still want to argue about that, then I would encourage you to go read Daniel 4. It’s Nebuchadnezzar’s story of being driven to insanity out in the wilderness, even after he learned who God was and saw him do miraculous wonders. Newsflash: God holds your sanity in the palm of his hand, and should you ever choose to doubt his abilities, don’t be so shocked when you wake up from having lost your mind seven years earlier wondering what the heck just happened to you. God can and probably WILL humble you if you’re so prideful as to believe this sort of thing can’t and won’t ever come into your life.
This is not a post to point out how terrible of humans we are. We’re worthless without grace. The best thing we can offer are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Oh, this is fun: “filthy rags,” when translated, literally means a used maxi pad. It would have been menstrual rags. Yeah – your righteousness is no cleaner than a used Tampax to Almighty God. We know we’re that worthless, yet valued and loved through grace from our Lord. What this post is is a warning to anyone who is like me who can sometimes become a little too comfortable with the whole following Jesus thing. When things get difficult, when teachings become harder, when the expectation becomes greater, what is your first reaction? Dig in? Keep going? Or maybe it’s confusion. What about doubt? And scariest of all, are you tempted to look back over your shoulder at a life you’ve left behind? Read Genesis 19:26. That’s never a good idea.
Guys, at any point in time, Jesus will ask you to believe and do something really, really hard. It will come. If you’re a disciple of Jesus, there will come a point when he wants to know if you’re all in or if you’re just a fan. Don’t think that just because you accepted him one day at church camp, or during a church service, or in an intimate setting, or after Kyle Idleman’s “Not A Fan” series that you’re set for the rest of your life. You may sign up for discipleship and lead a disciple’s life for a long time – but this story tells us that disciples do and can walk away … and Jesus doesn’t stop those who want to. This piece of Scripture, along with a few recent events, have been shaking the tar outta me over the past few weeks and months. I’m frustrated right now because I don’t think I’m explaining any of this very well. I’m going out on a limb here that this passage is perhaps smacking someone else the way it’s been smacking me now that you’re attentive to the word “disciple.”
Perhaps one final effort to put this all into perspective. Revelation 3. The church in Sardis.
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Disciples are normally known as people who are alive, right? But in all reality, apparently disciples can choose otherwise. Maybe you’re walking around dead and you don’t know it. Maybe you won’t know it until Jesus asks you to go do something difficult and you decide it’s just a little too hard. Just as he said to Sardis – Wake up! You don’t know when he’s going to come to you! Maybe now would be a good time to wake up and strengthen what’s still there that hasn’t yet died. But in all of those people walking around in Sardis who seemed alive, there were only a few who were truly walking with Christ. Those are the few who will be acknowledged when we stand in front of God. I originally thought the tough question was whether or not I was a Christian – more of a fan of Jesus than anything, or if I was a disciple. Now I’m having to wrestle through what type of disciple I am.
I hate to burst your bubble here, but if I’m right (hey – I get a lot of things wrong, so if I’ve tanked on this one, let me know), we’re all now in a conundrum. The more we know, the more we’re held accountable for. I hate to tell you this, but if you’ve just read over this and you had the same, “Tah-Dah!….Wait….. CRAP!!!!” moment that I had, you’re now accountable for more than you were 10 minutes ago. I know, I burst your bubble & I’m awful. I think so too. I both love it and get so frustrated when the Holy Spirit smacks me in moments such as this one, because now I know more and am accountable for more.
Don’t allow fear of walking away keep you from digging in more. Dig. Dig deep & dig hard. Dig until you reach China (ha!..*groan*). Walk humbly with God. God humbled Nebuchadnezzar. He can humble you & me, too. If asking God what kind of disciple you are to him scares you, then perhaps that’s a clue and a sign that it’s time for some things to change. In all honesty, that’s what it is for me.
Pray (for the guidance of the Holy Spirit – John 16:13 .. but read the whole chapter).
Seek (the life of a true disciple – Luke 14:27).
Do (not fear what’s going to come. One day at a time – Matthew 6:34).
“Wake up, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. -Ephesians 5:14