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GRIP Thoughts - November 29, 2016

Timothy Keller, in his book Jesus the King, says that, "some of Jesus's sayings are like hard candy. They're not like chocolate, which you can let melt in your mouth, swallow and it's gone - a momentary pleasure. With a hard candy, if you try to take it in too fast, you're likely headed for the dentist chair or the Heimlich Maneuver. Many of Jesus's sayings are like that. You work on them, you work into them, and you work through them, and only then are you rewarded with layer after layer of increasing sweetness."

This is the place that the disciples of Jesus find themselves in this week in the New Testament portion of our GRIP Bible reading program (John 6-9). Quite unexpectedly the popularity and largess of Jesus's ministry takes a 90 degree turn. Those who had jumped onto the Team Jesus bandwagon early are discovering that the actions and teachings of their Master are no longer quite so popular with the crowds or palatable to themselves. In fact, they are finding out that the hard sayings of Jesus feel more like rocks going down than candy. Of specific note here in this particular passage is Jesus's teaching about being the “Bread of Life”. What Jesus has to say about his flesh being food and His blood being drink confuses and deeply offends many of His listeners who don’t understand it. Mark records, "On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?... From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." (John 6:60, 66, NIV).

The early disciples of Jesus were discovering what all of His subsequent followers over the years would eventually come to realize as well. They were finding out that it's easier to be a Christ follower when everything is going the way that they thought it would and when following Jesus is the popular choice. It's easier to follow Jesus when His teachings are accepted and praised by the crowds than it is when they are being criticized and rejected. It's easier to be a Christian in power, when the miraculous is happening all around you, than it is in weakness. It’s easier to follow Jesus when the path He is leading you on is downhill and the benefits of belief are tangible. But anyone who has read the Scriptures, who has followed the history of God's people and who has understood the heart and priorities of God, will most certainly conclude that the Christian journey is often a challenging one. It is a course filled not only with times of joy, peace and celebration but also with hard teachings, opposition and refining experiences. As the old saying goes, God is typically much more concerned with our character than He is our comfort. And when Jesus's early followers experienced this reality first hand; when the going got tough; many of them simply turned their back and walked away.

As Jesus watched the steady stream of followers packing up and leaving town He asked His inner circle of twelve if they were planning on deserting Him too. In response to this question it's no surprise who jumps in with a quick reply—the apostle Peter of course. What is surprising, though, based on Peter's track record of offering up impulsive, half baked responses in such situations, is the wisdom and insight inherent in his reply on this occasion. "Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69, NIV)

And here we see the difference between saving faith and claiming to be a follower of Jesus for any variety of other reasons or motivations. Saving faith recognizes Jesus as Savior and understands that He is the only way and the only truth that leads to life. Saving faith acknowledges that there is no other name by which it can be saved—understanding that there is no where else to go. Saving faith bows in humility before God in situations where it just doesn't understand—acknowledging that God's ways are higher than its own. Saving faith admits that its knowledge and understanding of all situations is finite and ultimately that "God is God and I am not". Saving faith continues to trust in the heart of God even when it can't see the hand or understand the mind and of God. Artificial faith is consumed when the heat gets turned up while genuine, saving faith perseveres and grows stronger.

And so the Gospels yet again present us with pointed instruction and challenge on how best to live. In light of this I trust that our own responses in tough and trying times, when we just don't have all the answers, will mirror that of Peter's as he says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You (alone) have the words of eternal life." The temptation to turn away loses most of its power and appeal when one recognizes and acknowledges that there is, quite literally, no place else to go. Eternal life… by Jesus; in Jesus; only Jesus.

-Gord Hanson
(Associate Pastor of Administration)

Categories: Bible , Grip