Midweek Lent #2
The Son of God Is— The Warrior Rejected by Many Followers!
Dear fellow Lenten worshipers,
It doesn’t happen very often, but I know people who have friends that go all the way back to when they were in grade school, friends that they still hang out with right down to this very day. For example, both of my younger brothers attended my home congregation’s Lutheran elementary school as well as our area Lutheran high school. They made friends that they still get together with right down to this very day. Many of you know that my “oldest” friend is Pastor Greg Ewald. We have been friends since our freshman year in college— which was way back in 1976! I also have a friend in Flint Michigan named Jerry. We have been good friends for about 20 years and we still keep in touch via phone.
Do you have any lifelong or longtime friends? With the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook it is easier than ever to either re-connect with friends from your past and/or stay connected with the friends you now have. But imagine how you would feel if you found out that your group of friends was no longer keeping you in the loop when they planned their get-togethers. Imagine how you would feel if you found out that one of your Facebook friends “unfriended” you. Imagine how you would feel if you found out that the reason your friends are giving you the cold shoulder is because they don’t like how openly you live your faith!
That is the context in which we find our sermon text for this evening. The portion of Scripture that we turn our attention to tonight reveals to us that: The Son of God is the Warrior Who is Rejected by Many Followers. Our text is recorded for us in John 6:66-68. John writes, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
Jesus was now in the final year of His three year public ministry. For two years crowds of people regularly followed Him— eagerly watching and carefully listening to this amazing Rabbi from Nazareth. Shortly after Jesus fed five thousand men, plus women and children, with just five loaves of bread and two small fish, the people begin to think that they should make Jesus their king. They were even planning on making Jesus their king by force if necessary. Why were they so intent on making Jesus their king? Because Jesus had the ability to miraculously provide them with food! No work necessary! No payment required! Now factor in that these people were all a part of the Chosen Nation that the Lord God had carefully protected for more than two thousand years. These were people who knew the promises that the Lord had given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— promises which centered on sending this world a Savior from sin!
Tragically, many of Abraham’s descendants were no longer looking for a Savior from sin. Even some of their religious leaders had abandoned the beautiful promises of a Savior who would defeat Satan and had twisted those promises into a prediction of a king who would get rid of those hated Roman rulers and establish a kingdom right here on this earth— perhaps even a kingdom with unlimited bread and miraculous healings!
How could that have happened? An enemy had been hard at work! This enemy had attacked the written revealed Word of God. This enemy had used whatever means necessary to convince the religious leaders of God’s people to reject Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Promised Messiah. This enemy had convinced many others to follow the example of their leaders.
A very powerful example of this tragic truth is found in the fact that the day after Jesus had miraculously fed over five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two small fish this large crowd of people found Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and said to Him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Notice how the crowd was still fixated on receiving free bread! This is when Jesus tried to teach them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
Jesus tried to help them understand that He was indeed the “bread of life” who had come down from heaven and that everyone who “ate” this bread, that is, everyone who believed in Jesus as the Promised Messiah, would live forever! Jesus promised that He would raise them up on the Last Day. But many of the people who had been Jesus’ disciples simply stopped listening to Him. Many of them simply turned around and went home. John tells us that many of them “turned back and no longer followed” Jesus as His disciples.
The very same enemy who was fighting so fiercely against Jesus so many years ago, still fights against Jesus today. The very same enemy who led the people so many years ago to the conclusion, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”— that very same enemy is still trying to convince people today that Jesus’ teachings are “too hard” or “too judgmental” or “too unloving” to be believed. This very same enemy has encouraged people who don’t know Jesus as “the bread of life” to grow even deeper in their separation from the one true God by establishing numerous false religions such as Islam, Hinduism, atheism, materialism, and many more— all of which offer some sort of pathway to God or some sort of substitute for God and like a pied-piper lead people down that broad road that brings them directly to hell.
This very same enemy has even made significant inroads into the Christian church, spreading false doctrines, attacking the inspiration of the Bible and using critics of Christianity in the media, in schools and universities and in politics to damage and destroy people’s faith in Jesus. This enemy is Satan— a terrorist who is cornered and knows he is going to be confined to the dungeon of hell forever, but he wants to take as many people as he possibly can with him!
Maybe you know someone who once stood before the altar of the Living God and promised to remain faithful to Him and to His Word “even unto death,” but now they rarely if ever enter the house of God. Maybe you know someone who seems to be slipping in their faith or drifting away from God. If so, then you understand why Jesus turned to “the Twelve” and asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
Jesus wanted to give His hand-picked apostles the opportunity to make a clear confession. Was there emotion in our Lord’s voice? Did the apostles hesitate before they answered Jesus’ question? Did they want to see how many others were staying before they gave their own answer? We, of course, don’t know the answers to those questions. But we do know this— Simon Peter instantly gave that beautiful bold confession, the confession that was undoubtedly shared by the other eleven apostles, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Don’t you just love Peter and his beautiful bold confession! Don’t you just love the confidence and the clarity of Peter’s confession! Peter knew that Jesus’ words, the words that have now been recorded for us through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, Peter knew that Jesus’ words are in reality “the words of eternal life.” Peter’s beautiful bold confession reminds us that the Bible is God’s own love story to us. The Bible contains God’s words of life, forgiveness and salvation. The Bible contains words that have unparalleled power. That’s why Paul is able to proclaim to the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (10:17).
Only God knows how many believing Christians there are in this world. And yet, this we do know: Every single one of them did absolutely nothing to create saving faith in their hearts. Every single one of them— including you and me— came to faith by only one very powerful means, one agency, one path. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken, read, or received in a tactile, visible fashion called Baptism. It is the single most powerful force for good in our world. It is God’s holy inspired Word! That is what brought you and me to trust that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has purchased and won for us the forgiveness of all of our sins! (Pointing to the cross) He did it all and paid it all for us! He loved us enough to die for us so that we might live with Him forever! That’s why our Warrior Jesus fought so hard against false teachers and false teachings while He was here on this earth. And that is why our Warrior Jesus says to us today, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). These false teachers continue to oppose Jesus and His teachings right down to this very day. These false teachers continue to try and lure you away from your Savior, away from His Word and away from His cross. These false teachers have lots of opinions and lots of theories, but what they do not have is “the words of eternal life.”
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter and the other apostles knew that they were blessed to hear and to have the “words of eternal life” and they did not want to lose what Jesus had so graciously given to them. Purely by the grace of God we have received and enjoy that very same blessing, my friends. We have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. We are forgiven. We have eternal life. But we also need to realize that every single day we face a very powerful challenge from a very powerful challenger. When we see what is being accepted and tolerated and promoted by society, when we hear what other churches are teaching— or not teaching— Satan himself challenges us to see whether or not we are going to continue to follow the Warrior who has defeated Satan (Pointing to the cross) or whether we are going to join the many many disciples who have rejected Jesus, rejected His Word and go our own way.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” May God grant that we will always follow in the footsteps of Peter and stay focused on our Warrior and what He has accomplished for us (Pointing to the cross). May God grant that whenever we are challenged to turn our back on our Warrior and on His holy Word we will always give that beautiful, bold and clear confession, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
To God be the glory!