If you had a Bible open in front of you, and you were looking at John chapter 6, just scanning through the verses, you’d find this chapter to be just bursting with miracles and masses of people following and surrounding Jesus. Jesus was popular. Jesus was powerful. Jesus was the person that people wanted to see…but then he started talking. And those of you who were here last week or watched the service from home are familiar with what Jesus started to say to those masses of people. As Pastor Casmer put it, Jesus asked the crowds to chew on him, to believe in him and whom he claimed to be, to trust that he, Jesus, was the one and only Savior – their one path and access to God and life eternal. It was at this moment, as Jesus offered them life-giving food to eat, that those crowds reached a turning point.
I’m sure you’re familiar with turning points in life. These are moments in life where suddenly things change for you – sometimes in a good way; sometimes in a bad way. Maybe a relationship with someone abruptly ends, or you inherit an unexpected fortune. These are turning points. They change your life. Well, here is this turning point in John chapter 6 – let me read it for us, vs 66.– “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” A turning point. Jesus fed over five thousand. He walked on water, but then he spoke…and people began to walk away.
Consider that for a moment. God the Son was standing there proclaiming who he was: the Savior; their Savior! – and this is after all those incredible miracles – and people walked away. Going back a few verses we find that Jesus’ words, his teaching, it was too hard for them to accept. “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”, they said. And did you catch Jesus’ response to their question? “Who can accept this, Jesus?” “You can’t.” That was Jesus’ answer. “Not you.” Whoa…that is a hard teaching. But Jesus said it! Look at verse 63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.”
It is only the Spirit who gives us life in Jesus. But how does he do it? Does he work through our preparation and our sacrifice? Does he look at our merits or our success? Do we need to say the right words, confess the right creeds, have the right mindset or emotional state? Do you need to feel the Spirit, hear the Spirit? Is that how it works? No. You count for nothing. I count for nothing. Let that sink in, and maybe think of it this way.
Say you’re at the hospital and one of your loved ones is in a life-threatening situation and they’re being prepped for surgery, and you go into that operation room, and you ask the doctor this question, “Is there anything I can do?” (Now, maybe some of you have medical qualifications, but say you don’t). What’s that doctor going to say to you. “No, you can’t do anything, just go sit outside. I need to do this.” It’s in this moment when the life of someone you love is in the balance that you reach a turning point. You realize just how helpless at times we must be in this life. You realize how much we must rely on others to do what we cannot. And, here is where this gets really hard, you have to accept that.
Today, Jesus says to you, “You can’t do it.” You might find success in this life. You might find joy and happiness and meaning here in the things of this world, but you can’t save yourself. You can’t grasp eternal joy and happiness with God. It is “the Spirit who gives this life.” This is an uncomfortable and at times humiliating moment for us, and, in our lesson, that didn’t go over well with the crowd.
When the followers of Christ heard hard sayings about Jesus, and then realized they had no control over this Spirit that gives life, they reached their own turning point. When they heard they could not chase down the right path and could not please the Father by their own reason or strength, they no longer wanted to walk the path given through Christ. They didn’t like this new Jesus, their Savior, whose face was turned toward them.
By nature, we don’t always like him either. We want any Jesus but the true One. We like the motherly Jesus, who loves us just the way we are and gives us a spiritual hug when we are feeling down. We like the buddy Jesus who’s just that cool sidekick that laughs and is okay with our foibles. We want the Jesus who winks and nods, high fives, and never questions. The Jesus who speaks easy answers to doubt and not hard answers to faith. More than anything we want Jesus to fit our narrative, and we don’t like when he goes off-script, even when it is for our good.
So, when Jesus stands there and says, “You can’t do this. You need my Spirit and you need me.”, that’s hard…that’s hard to hear. I can’t save myself. I can’t please God. I can’t convince him that I’m worthy. I can’t play the victim or accuse him of being unjust. We are completely at his mercy, and that brings us to our own turning point…but back to those following Jesus.
Many in that crowd walked away. Thousand walked away. It’s hard to imagine this scene in my mind. I wonder often what was going through Jesus’ mind. And while we might expect Jesus to chase after those people who walked away from him, who walked away from life eternal, we don’t see that. Jesus let them go.
How many of you have had to do that in this life? Let someone go? Was it a friend who left the church? A sibling…a spouse? You see, throughout this series we’ve looked at what makes us a healthy spiritual family, and the reality is sometimes members of our family get sick, and they don’t want to get better. It is a heartbreaking moment. It’s a very real and deep spiritual divide between you and someone you care deeply about.
And for those of you who have experienced this separation, you might then understand Jesus standing there as he watched those people walk away from the way, and the truth, and the life. I find it hard to believe that Jesus was just okay with that…in fact I know he wasn’t. You know why? Because after those crowds left, after they walked away, Jesus eventually turned and walked to the cross. He loved them enough to go and die for them even as they turned away from him. They were, just like that spouse, or sibling, or friend, a part of this world that Jesus came to save.
And Jesus’ answer to their need and to our own was his flesh and blood. His answer was at the end of this road to Calvary and the new and better garden of the tomb from which new life would be created. Hard words then were all Jesus could speak, hardened in His desire to save you, and hard words, even though our doubts would tell us otherwise, are the only honest ones when it comes to matters of sin and death, life, and salvation.
So, it is as you and I sit here at our own turning point trying to decide whether to walk or stay, we hear Jesus speak that question to his closest followers, vs 67 “You do not want to leave me to, do you? Listen to their answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” They didn’t have another plan. They didn’t know where else to go for the Spirit of Life. They didn’t know how to get to the Father. But in frustration, a disciple named Peter confessed the key to finding the Holy Spirit without even knowing it: Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.”
Neither the disciples nor any of us have anything to impress the Creator of Heaven and Earth. We don’t know how to discipline ourselves to be worthy of eternal love. But in our weakness, the Holy Spirit speaks life and salvation by the Word of Christ. Which means this: We don’t hunt for the Spirit so we can somehow make him fill us; rather, we are the ones relentlessly pursued by the Word of Christ. And in that Word, you discover that the Father has already chosen you, the Son has accomplished life eternal for you, and the Spirit continues to enlighten you by Christ’s Word that surrounds you. So, it is at each turning point in your life, that question is there: “You don’t want to leave Jesus too, do you?”
What’s your answer? And really give it some thought. Look at the world around you as it wanders away from Jesus. Feel your sinful flesh get offended at some of Jesus’ teachings. Consider the costs of following him. Do you want to leave? And remember some do, some will, maybe you once did too. But then also remember this: Remember that Savior who turned his face to that criminal on the cross and forgave him. Remember Jesus who, while dying, turned his face to those crucifying him and asked for their forgiveness. Remember him who breathed his last, and bowed his face, and died for you. Then do one more thing, turn to your left and turn to your right and you will see others for whom Jesus also gave his life, and when you leave here today turn and look at those people who are sitting in a different car on the road next to you or you see that neighbor living next door to you, and know that Jesus turned to died for them too.
That’s the beautiful thing in all of these turning point moments, Jesus is always there turned towards you and me. So, that you and I might say as Peter did, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life. We believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.” By the Spirit dwelling in you, you can say that, and by God’s grace, you always will. Amen.