If you say, “I can’t hear you” to someone, that can mean different things, right? It might mean that the person talking to you is mumbling or not talking very loud, or it could mean that your ears are not working at full strength. But if you say, “I can’t hear you” to someone, it also can mean something totally different, because it can mean, “I don’t want to hear you.” For example, I could imagine that happening this afternoon at the church picnic with our big slide, if you’re familiar with that. If mom or dad says to little son or daughter, “Okay, you’ve been able to slide down the slide two hundred and fifty-two times now, so now it’s time to go,” that little son or daughter may in effect say, “I can’t hear you,” as they traipse up that slide for slide down the slide number two hundred fifty-three. “I hear you, but I’m not accepting what I hear.”
It’s that type of “I can’t hear you” that all of us as children of God need to think about as we think about our lesson for today from John 6. The opening verse says, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” You can’t tell it in English, but the words of the Greek language of this chapter show an interesting connection. The word for “On HEARING it” is the exact same word as the word translated, “Who can ACCEPT it?” In other words, these people heard the words of Jesus, but they really did not HEAR the words of Jesus. They would not accept them. They were saying to Jesus like a disobedient child, “I can’t hear you!”
Is there something that struck you about who the people were who said this to Jesus? What does that first verse say? Many of his “disciples” were complaining what they called a “hard teaching” of Jesus. In the verse right before our lesson we are told what they had been hearing that they were not able to accept. The verse leading into our lesson says, “Jesus said this while teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.” They had just heard Jesus preach a sermon to them, the sermon we have been studying the last few weeks about Jesus being the bread of life. That is why this section of the Bible is especially helpful for personal reflection for you and me, because while we often and appropriately talk about the sadness we feel for people who are unbelievers who worship false gods that they can see or that are in their mind or heart, we also need to take to heart God’s concerns for all of us who are his disciples that we not take our faith for granted and that we instead continue to confess our faith for all to hear and for our dear Lord to see. That is the hope and goal for these words today.
So how can we do that? Verse 66 closer to the end gives us a way to get at it by having us learn a positive thing from the negative thing these falling-away-from-faith disciples did: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” The words “followed him” literally say “walked around with him.” The way to fall from faith is to stop walking around with Jesus. The way to stay in faith is to “walk around with Jesus.” Let’s think about that as the way we can avoid ever wanting to say to Jesus, “I can’t hear you.”
That’s a neat picture, isn’t it – walking around with Jesus? When you and I listen to Jesus speak in his Word, when we think about what he says in the Bible, when we reflect on what that means for us, it’s just like we are walking around with Jesus – like he’s right there with us, which is exactly what he tells us in the Bible: “I will never leave you or forsake you, but will always be with you.” When we walk around with Jesus, it also gives us a chance to think about how great it is that he would even want to walk around with us in the first place, because we know that every day we walk in places in our minds or with our words or in things that we do that are places where we do not want Jesus to ever be walking around with us. Take just a moment in your mind to think of the kind of places you have been even in the last twenty-four or forty-eight hours in mean or gossipy words you have spoken, or lustful thoughts you have allowed to come into your minds or improper images you have allowed your eyes to see, or in complaints against what God is allowing to happen in your life, or in self-righteous prayers or actions you have expressed because you have let yourself believe, if even for a moment, that in God’s eyes that person over there is worse than you because of how bad he or she appears in your eyes. It is so frustrating, isn’t it, to think how many “places” I am in every day where I don’t want Jesus to be walking around with me.
Yet he does. He does walk around with us because of where he walked that he didn’t want you and me to have to go. He did not want you and me to give our lives as the bread of life for the life of the world, because he knew that even if we died for our sins, we could not by that death forgive the guilt of our sins. But he could do that– and he did do that – not because of who we are, but because of who he is – the God of justice and punishment who is also the God of grace and love – the God who in his mercy and pity for us took the justice and punishment that should have been ours.
And that at its heart is the “hard teaching” that we pray to our Lord that will continue to accept by walking around with Jesus and seeing his love in action every single day of our lives. The devil wants us either to think it’s too good to be true – or he wants us to end up having other things become more important to us by getting us to not see how nothing can be more important in life than knowing what will happen after we die. That’s why Jesus talked in these words about the Spirit giving life – and that the words which he speaks are spirit and that they are life. You and I cannot grow in our faith or stay in our faith unless we keep hearing the words of Jesus – and about Jesus – which give us faith. “Does this offend you?” Jesus said in the third line of our Lesson to those who were grumbling about what he was saying. And then he said in verse 32, as the dear Lord reaching out in love one more time, “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” He had just told them that he was the living God who had come down from heaven. Now he was telling them that he was also a human being – the Son of Man – who was going to go back up to heaven after he completed the work he had come to do of giving his life for the life of the world. That’s the message which we hear again and again which helps us say again and again, “I hear you, Jesus, and because I hear you, I want to thank you. Thank you for accepting me!”
That’s what helps us see other things that can seem like “hard teachings” to us, too. You may or may not see the words of the submission of husbands and wives that was talked about in our Second Lesson as a hard thing, but they can be hard to hear for many people, all of which shows us the importance of continuing to walk around with Jesus by hearing what he really says. Sometimes those words about “submitting to one another” can seem hard because our sinful nature does not want to consider others more important than ourselves or to yield of ourselves to others or to put their interests ahead of ours – whether in the marriage relationship or in any area of life, because our Lord says the same thing about every area of our lives. Or sometimes these words can seem hard because we see how even many disciples of Jesus have misused them by husbands acting as bosses and lords rather than leaders who are to be willing to show the same kind of love for their spouse as Jesus did for us all by sacrificing himself on the cross — or by wives who do not show the kind of respect toward their husbands as our Lord wants all of us to show to everyone, either because they are a fellow child of God or becasue they are someone we hope will someday be God’s child by faith.
But when we walk around with Jesus and realize that he always speaks and acts in love and mercy with everything good in mind for us, then we see that what the apostle Paul in those words to the Ephesians called a “mystery” to those who do not believe in Jesus is no longer a mystery to us who do believe in Jesus. With God’s help we see everything through the eyes of someone who gave himself for us when he came to earth so that we can someday live in heaven. Therefore we are people who want to use all the days God gives us on earth to show how happy we are to know that we are going to heaven by how we treat one another in whatever area of life it may be, even as we have to apologize to one another for so often failing to do as we should — and as we truly wish we can do more and more. That’s why our Lord tells us to submit to one another as brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus “out of reverence for Christ.”
It is that reverence for Jesus which led the apostle Peter to answer as he did at the end of our lesson in words which we hear loud and clear. When Jesus asked his twelve apostles if they would be among those who would also walk away – as Judas did later, sadly – Peter spoke words that are in the heart of every child of God, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” These are words our Lord Jesus loves hearing from us, because these are the words which summarize the entire reason for which he came to earth. He wants his words about eternal life through believing in what he has done to forgive our sins to be words that we hear every day – words that we accept by the faith that God gives us – words that help us better understand any teachings that may seem hard to us and any hard times of life that we may go through that may seem too difficult for us — words which assure us that our God in heaven will never say, “I can’t hear you” when we pray to him, but will always hear – and listen – and act in the way that is best for us. His ears are always open — open as we approach him with our tears and our sins and our thanks and our praise – open to all who know that for the sake of Jesus his Son he has opened the door to heaven. And that, we pray, is never too hard to hear and always by faith easy to accept. Amen.