If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen (6:60-71)

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“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

On the back of Jesus’ ‘bread of life/eat my flesh, drink my blood’ statements some of his followers were having difficulty with what had been said. For you and me, reading this text 2000 years later away from the context of first century ancient middle eastern religious norms, that difficulty might be a literal difficulty in understanding. But that is not the case here. The conversation in the previous verses took place in the synagogue. jesus was talking with people who would have been well able to understand exactly what he was saying. No this was not hard in the sense that reading the works of Chaucer or doing calculus can be hard, this teaching was hard because it was demanding and it was taking them out of their comfort zones. Religious people (yes – that includes you and me) are generally very similar in this regard in that we have comfort zones of established belief and teaching that we have become happy with in our lives. When someone comes along and begins to say or teach something different; something which might stretch us or our established religion in a new direction we have a tendency to be extremely uncomfortable with it. It is difficult teaching. For example when mainline churches began to ordain women to ministry it was (and somehow remains to be) considered difficult teaching – so difficult that some folks left churches. It was hard teaching pulling them in a direction they felt they could not go in.

Remember Jesus is saying that he is the one chosen and sent of God. Jesus is saying that he is the Word made flesh. The folks listening to him were ready for another Moses, they were even ready for a kingly leader who might lead them in a political charge, but a carpenter’s son from Nazareth as the Messiah of God? That was a stretch too far for some of them. Jesus tries again to explain to them what is going on. The leader they are looking for – an earthly, worldly, political, kingly leader – is not the leader that’s coming because this work of God is a work of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh gives nothing. As he will say in a few chapters time, Jesus has come from God to bring life in all its fullness. The words that he has been speaking are words full of the Spirit and life.

Jesus’ words were too much for some. They walked away and no longer followed him choosing instead to go back to the comfort zones of their familiar old story. Having witnessed Jesus’ signs, and having heard his teaching some people walked away deciding that it was just too much for them. In response to this Jesus turned to his other disciples and asked them if they wanted to walk away too. It was Peter who spoke up on their behalf (as he so often did) and said:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the holy one of God.”

I think that these are some of the most powerful words that any of the disciples speak in the entirety of the gospels. They are a declaration of understanding and complete commitment. In uttering these words, Peter is saying that he and the other disciples get it. They know that Jesus is who he says he is. They have intellectually assented – agreed that Jesus is the Messiah, AND they are saying that they are ‘all in’ because believing that Jesus is the Messiah leaves them no other option but to be all in – “Where else can we go?

I hope that, if nothing else, these opening 6 chapters of John’s gospel have made you think again about who Jesus is and just what it means for him to be the Word made flesh. Perhaps some of the significance of Jesus’ identity has been lost on us as we have become used to the story we grew up hearing, and have allowed it to become nothing more than a familiar fable that teaches a good moral. Perhaps the good news of the Word becoming flesh has lost some of it’s potency in our lives. If that is the case then we need to stop here for a moment.

Stop.

Stop for a moment, close your eyes and focus your thoughts on Jesus.
Think intentionally about all that we have been learning about in these opening 6 chapters:

Jesus is not merely a carpenter’s son.
Jesus is not just another good moral teacher.
Jesus is not a preacher telling the same old story.

Jesus is the Word of God
Jesus is the light in the darkness.
Jesus is the Chosen One of God
Jesus is the Messiah sent by God to reconcile all things to God.

Jesus is here to announce and enact the rule of God over all the earth.
Jesus is here to announce again and enact the very heart of God for God’s people – that we would walk in new life.

New life.

Jesus is calling all people, including you and me, to follow him in this world; to join Him in being light in the darkness; to live distinctively and differently, modeling the kingdom of God.

If you and I have lost that vision of Jesus; if we have become stale and allowed Jesus to become just another character in a moral story that we like, then we need to stop and ask Jesus to do a work in us so that we can join in with Peter and say:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the holy one of God.”

Either the teaching and demands of Jesus are too much for us and we walk away, or the teaching and demands of Jesus are the only place that we can come to, and we must surrender to him as the Word made flesh and go ‘all in.’

There is no in between.

Which way will we go?

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