A God who never “walks it back”
John 6:60 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 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 are spirit and they are 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 him." 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. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Today we come to the conclusion of Jesus’ teaching in His Bread of Life sermon in John chapter 6. We began in the wilderness with Jesus feeding the 5,000. Then we moved with Jesus across the Sea of Galilee into the village of Capernaum. Now Jesus ends His teaching in the Capernaum synagogue.
Apparently, the people who followed Jesus across the sea continued asking Him questions about eating and teaching. But then we hear that after this day, that stopped. John records that “from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Many who were following Jesus walked away.
Why? Well in their own words they said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” What had Jesus told them? He told them that He was not going to be their Bread King (John 6:34-35). He told them that His Father is the One who had granted the Israelites manna in the dessert (6:32). He taught that they had to believe in Him in order to have eternal life (6:40). He opened their eyes to see that He was the One who had seen God the Father and He would be ascending to see the Father again (6:46). He caused them to argue among themselves when they thought they were to cannibalize Him by eating His flesh and drinking His blood (6:52).
It wasn’t that Jesus’ words were too hard to understand. The people understood full well what He was saying. Neither their knowledge of Old Testament history nor their intelligence on applying it to their lives was the issue. This was a faith issue. These words of Jesus were too hard to accept; too hard to believe. These particular words of Jesus were too different. That He had come down from heaven. That He is God’s Son. That their flesh as descendants of Abraham meant nothing. That instead they must eat the flesh of Jesus by faith in order to have everything. These words must certainly have been too offensive. Many walked away.
Notice what does not happen here. Jesus doesn’t “walk it back.” That’s a phrase that has become popular recently. When politicians or comedians or athletes or media personalities say something that creates an uproar or offends someone, they “walk it back.” They try to explain what they said in terms that are more acceptable; they try to soften it, take the edge off, become a little more vague; all in an attempt to try to settle things down. “I didn’t really mean it that way.” “You misunderstood what I was saying.” “My statement was taken out of context.” That’s “walking it back.”
But Jesus doesn’t walk anything back from what He said. You might think He would want to, especially given that many of His disciples are leaving. But, no. He doesn’t say, “You misunderstood me.” Or, “You took it out of context.” Or, “You only heard the edited version.” He doesn’t tone it down. He doesn’t try to explain Himself further or make His teaching more acceptable, more palatable.
That’s because He meant what He said.
But Jesus wasn’t just offensive to the people in the Capernaum synagogue. His Words still offend people today. He offends men when He calls them to be leaders in their homes and not spiritual wimps. He offends women when He calls them to be submissive and trusting of their husbands to make the right decisions. He offends children when He teaches them to respect their parents, even when their parents are mean or absent. Closed communion, baptizing infants, the Holy Trinity, God’s design for marriage, humility, confessing of sins, etc. These are all offensive to us in our liberal, tolerant, accepting society. These are all offensive to our own arrogant sinful nature.
Those teachings of God make many grumble today just like in Jesus’ day. Those doctrines are just not popular or mainstream. Those things make people get up and walk away today.
I’ve had people walk out of adult confirmation class because of fellowship discussions. I’ve noticed people walk out of church when God called homosexuality a sin. I’ve seen people walking out of counseling when God called their choices “sinful.” Saddest of all is that I’ve even witnessed people walk out of their faith when God’s Word no longer matched their thinking.
That can happen to any of us. At any time we can be like the people in the synagogue who grumbled; like the disciples who stopped following Jesus; like Judas who continued to follow so He might betray Jesus. At any point, when we allow our feelings to be the starting point, or our wisdom to be the influencing factor, or our happiness to be the goal, then we are in danger of walking away from Jesus.
But truth is never a popularity contest. Jesus isn’t trying to get elected as Savior or leader of Israel. He isn’t trolling for votes. He isn’t changing His stance at every interview trying to gain more followers.
Our sinful nature and our unbelieving world wants Jesus to walk any of it back … all of it back.
Jesus doesn’t walk back on His meaning in order to gain followers. He doesn’t walk back on His words to appear less offensive. Jesus isn’t concerned with popularity. He is concerned with truth, with life, and with eternal salvation.
Jesus did not walk back from an incarnation of humbling Himself to take human flesh into His divine nature. He did not walk back from receiving a sinner’s baptism in the Jordan River. He did not walk back from confronting the father of lies in the desert. He did not walk back from the scouring or the thorny crown or the tears, the agony, or the wrath of His heavenly Father. He did not walk back from death on a cross. Though many walked away from Him, He would not walk away from doing any of these things.
Just as Jesus did not walk away from any of the sin He had to take upon Himself, nor does He walk away from you, the sinner. You have come here after another week of wallowing in your sin. Another week of failing to do what you should have done – failing to love God and serve your neighbor. Another week of doing what you should not have done – loving and serving yourself. Another week of half-truths and parsed words to get what you want. Another week of unclean desires, wicked thoughts, grudges and bitterness. You’ve come here to this Racine synagogue after marinating in your sins.
You walk in here like a bum off the streets of hell … and your Savior does not walk back from you. Instead, He has been waiting at the door for you. He embraces you with His love. He welcomes you back as a lost brother or sister. He kisses you with forgiveness. He washes you from head to toe in His living waters. He invites you to the Feast He has prepared for you. He came into this world for you and He’s still coming for you. And there’s no place that He’d rather be than right here, right now.
That kind of liberal use of His love is offensive to many. They grumble that God accepts murderers and child molesters and prostitutes and dead-beat dads and alcoholic mothers and … and … you into His Kingdom. What is your response to this liberal love combined with conservative doctrine? You can walk away like so many had or you can be like Peter. He heard the same words everybody else heard, but He accepted them with humble faith. He gave one of the most beautiful confessions of faith that you will ever hear.
When Jesus asks His disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:67) Peter was convinced he had found something he could get nowhere else. What had Peter already heard Jesus say by this point?
Peter heard Jesus teach Nicodemus that unless a person is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. He heard Jesus announce the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that His words were like living water. He saw Jesus heal a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath, sticking it to the Pharisees. He watched in awe as Jesus stood in the boat and calmed the stormy sea. He witnessed Jesus driving out demons and raising a dead girl back to life. The words that Peter heard from Jesus had power and they had life. Peter knew in his believing heart that he could hear words like that nowhere else. That’s why Peter confessed to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Jesus doesn’t change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He words are eternal. His teachings are life-giving. He isn’t going to walk it back on anything He has said or done.
That means you can have one of two reactions. You can be like so many of the disciples who grumbled and walked away from Jesus. Or you can be like Peter who heard those same wonderful, offensive words and accepted them by faith.
Jesus will never, ever walk it back. He is faithful to His Father and steadfast for you. And so His calls goes out still today – don’t walk away, repent. Don’t walk away, listen. Don’t walk away, believe. Hear His words of eternal life. To walk away is to walk back to sin and death. To stay is to walk back to your baptism and remember your adoption there as a child of God. To stay is to walk back to the mercy promised you in absolution. To stay is to walk back to the communion rail to eat His flesh and drink His blood.Where else are you going go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. Amen.