Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Jesus said therefore unto the twelve, “Would ye also go away?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69).
Jesus never intended for Christianity to be easy. He has spoken and commanded many difficult things. Many of His teachings and practices are counter-intuitive and entirely against the grain of “conventional wisdom.”
Most people can accept, or at least tolerate, much of what Jesus said and did. Most people have no difficulty accepting the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ that come easily for them. After all, it is easy to keep avoiding the sins you have been avoiding and to keep doing the good things you have been doing!
But then there are the more challenging commands. “Deny [yourself], take up [your] cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 20:27). Be crucified to self, live for Christ– no longer me, but Him (Galatians 2:20). Love your enemies; do good to those who would hate you and do evil to you (Luke 6:27-36). Do good at every opportunity, even when inconvenient (Luke 10:29-37). The list can go on and on, and the list will be different for each person!
Jesus had taught many difficult things in John 6 (John 6:60). He told people that they needed to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they were to have eternal life (John 6:53). While Jesus was speaking spiritually (cf. John 6:61-63), the image was quite disturbing for these good Jews, and it was difficult to wrap their heads around the idea of “consuming” the Incarnate Word (cf. John 1:1, 14). Because of these difficult sayings, many disciples no longer walked with Him (John 6:66).
Jesus turns and asks the Twelve if they would go away in John 6:67, and we then have Simon Peter’s excellent confession in John 6:68-69.
Notice what Peter does not say. Peter does not say that the teachings are easy or that they are entirely in line with the way the disciples already think. No– Peter recognizes that Jesus’ words are challenging and difficult. They were as counter-intuitive and against “conventional wisdom” then as they are now!
Instead, Peter demonstrates his faith and the faith of the other eleven disciples. Their faith is in Jesus Himself. They have come to believe and know that He is the Holy One of God, the promised Messiah that the prophets anticipated (John 1:41, 45). They have seen His work and know that no man can do what He does by His own strength (cf. John 9:30-33). Therefore, even if what Jesus of Nazareth teaches is difficult to swallow, it must be swallowed, because He has come from God and He speaks words of eternal life, and no such words can be found elsewhere!
If we are going to be effective servants of Jesus Christ, we must have the same starting point of faith as Peter and the disciples. It is not enough for us to believe in Jesus Christ for the things we like about Him, or that we should be attracted to Him because He taught some “good things.” Our faith must be rooted, first and foremost, in the belief and knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One of God, Lord of heaven and earth, and His words are the words of eternal life (John 6:68-69, Matthew 28:18, Acts 2:36). If we first believe that, then we will be able to accept all things that He has taught, not necessarily because we think that they are all wonderful and lovely, but instead because we know that they are true and lead to eternal life, and that we cannot find such life anywhere else.
It will not be easy. Jesus’ deeds challenge us and force us out of our comfort zones. Jesus’ teachings overthrow some of our cherished beliefs and perspectives. We will be compelled to change the way we think, act, and how we present ourselves to others (Romans 6:16-18, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 10:5). It may be difficult, but, in the end, where else can we go? Jesus is the Holy One of God, the One who teaches words of eternal life. Let us learn from Him, accept both the easy and the challenging, and be found as faithful servants of God!
Ethan R. Longhenry