I have been giving much thought the last few weeks to chapter 6 of the gospel of John and its relevance to pastoral ministry.
That chapter contains an account of Jesus feeding 5000 people, His miraculous walk on the water in the middle of a storm, the strongest teaching of His ministry to that point, and the subsequent desertion of most of His followers.
The masses rushed to follow Jesus when He taught, “For God so loved the world,” healed their sick and filled their bellies on a hillside. They really did want to be around Him and hear Him teach – most of the time. But suddenly, in the latter part of John 6, Jesus starts teaching, “I am the Bread of Life” (which infuriated the Jewish leaders) and that those following Him must be willing to eat this bread (which was a horrific mystery to the gathered disciples).
This was a fork-in-the-road moment. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” and “from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus turns to the Twelve and asked if they, too, wanted to leave. Simon Peter makes his infamous response: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” and with that they stayed.
I have done hundreds of ministry sessions over the years. Most of the people who have made appointments have done so because they want “Christian” counseling. Like the crowds of old, these folks want to be around Jesus, they listen to His teaching (through sermons, Bible studies and reading the Bible themselves) and they believe He has the words of truth and eternal life – until they hit their fork-in-the-road moment.
- “Forgive as you have been forgiven.”
- “Get rid of all anger, bitterness and rage.”
- “Do not enter into unequal relationships with unbelievers.”
- “Flee sexual immorality.”
- “In all things give thanks.”
- “Love your wife like Christ loved the church.”
- “Wives, respect your husbands.”
“This is a hard teaching.” And the question becomes, “Will they stay or will they leave?” Do they really believe that there is nowhere else to go because Jesus alone holds the words of truth?
Sadly, many turn back and no longer follow Jesus. Oh, they still go to church, sing the songs and listen to the sermon – but folks, that is not following Jesus. A true disciple is one who says: “That is a hard teaching; but I trust you, Lord, and so I will stay and do it.”
Grace to you!