A Day In The Life
He feeds five thousand and the people proclaim “He’s a prophet!” He walks on the water to escape a crowd wanting to make him King by force. He teaches in the synagogue about “food" and watches people walk away from his ministry. “This Jesus started well.” some would observe. “We loved his dynamic sermons and healing ministry. But something went off track there after a little while.”
Maybe Jesus should have read some books on messaging and creating a culture through shared language. Surely, with the latest techniques in-hand, coupled with the applied power of persuasion, Jesus could have avoided this rookie mistake. After all, how can the crowd receive the good news if they don’t stick around to hear it?
All the above takes place in John 6. Jesus presents a difficult teaching not long into his earthly ministry and many couldn’t accept it. Among those who walked away were some who claimed to be his disciples!
So what was this difficult teaching? Simply this — Jesus is the requirement for eternal life. (Check the context for yourself.) The followers that rejected their Rabbi’s teaching were all about the miracles, sure. And they probably enjoyed the movement and the energy that came with the crowds. But when hard truth was delivered, they couldn’t stomach the words of life delivered by the Spirit.
This reaction didn’t come from the religious elite that hated Jesus and were trying to discredit and even kill him. It wasn’t from the Romans that came to eves drop on the emerging grassroots leader. It came from those who were considered close followers—disciples. In fact, Jesus gave this teaching because he knew that some who were following him really didn’t believe. So he said something provocative, spiritual, and true and they walked away. Even in calling these his disciples, they were distinguished from the miracle-enamored meal-seeking crowds. A “disciple” is one who is devoted to instruction of their teacher—committed to following in his footsteps. These were people who had followed Jesus around the countryside because they wanted to absorb every single thing he said and did. They loved to see the healing, the miracles, and even hear Jesus speak of eternal life and the resurrection from the dead. But when Jesus message was fully understood, many abandoned him.
Friends With Benefits
We may be quick to cast judgement at these mutineers. But are we not the same? We seek a sign, a blessing, a miracle, but we run scared from a real relationship that brings challenge, vulnerability, and sacrifice. The call to “come and die” has never been embraced by the crowds or, as seen here, by many who will initially embrace the title “Christ follower.” In the process of following Jesus, are we just seeking a “friends-with-benefits” transaction, or are we really pursuing the knowing? Are we simply seeking the effects of Jesus’ ministry, or are we truly inviting people to know him?
Contemporary Christianity seems to be all about miracles and even declaring blessing and provision for our daily lives. Those things are all part of this passage (see v. 1-34) but when it comes to receiving life from Jesus, to see him as our miracle, resurrection and provision, very few seem interested.
The Seduction of "Influence"
Back to our story - As Jesus watched many walk away, he turned to Peter and asked him what he intended to do. Peter, the headstrong leader of the 12 inner-circle disciples that would one day take the message to the world, looked at Jesus and said the faith-filled words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” For all of Peter’s flaws, he did not allow the pursuit of “influence” to sway him from truth, even if unpopular with the crowds. (This quality would one-day serve him well as the delegated leader of the underground movement called “the church.”)
As a faith community today, are we feeding off the reactions of the masses, mysteriously mirrored in the actions of large-crowd leadership? In a results oriented society, it only makes sense — the more people you gather, the greater the opportunity for influence. If you keep people coming back for more, then perhaps they’ll eventually adopt our behaviors and believe the truth. Cater to the majority's demands and their own perceived needs, and you get to keep your audience. The problem with this thinking is that it’s too small — the results depend on us, not the Holy Spirit who gives life and the Father who draws us to believe (v. 63, 65).
The Greater Thing
Now, the point we’re making here isn’t that good leaders have to say hard things to prove they’re doing God’s work. Nor is the point that large crowds are proof that a ministry is man-made or off-course. Rather, the point is this — Jesus invites us to Himself and only Himself as the source of life. Do our venues, teachings, and culture reflect that? Or are our practices centered on the demand for “a sign that they will believe” (v. 30, 31)?
When many walked away, Jesus kept walking with the few who stayed. Those that must have Jesus are not going to find anything else that comes close. This is who Jesus calls. Everyone else hears the message but cannot accept it.
A “Jesus" that has to constantly provide supernatural experiences, new teachings, or some practical life-improvement tip in order to continually prove He’s God isn’t the Jesus we find in Scripture. This isn’t the Jesus who offers “abiding” presence, permeating every fiber of our existence. Peter said it… “we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” Knowing comes from abiding—living in the reality of relationship. Signs and wonders, our daily needs, and even being raised from the dead might come with abiding, but they cannot replace relationship. They are not the kingdom itself, but the things added when we seek what is greater.
Searching for the Seeking
We all must stay aware that not everyone that claims to follow Christ really believes. Not that we’re on some mission to figure out who’s a fraud, forming social cliques for those who are “in” and those who are “out.” No! Rather we must continue inviting people to walk with the real Jesus, reminding each other that this is what we’re all about. The crowd will always be fickle. But those who endure are single minded — we are after the person of Jesus. We will not let the crowd convince us to skip relationship to get to the “works of God” (v. 28).
Jesus presented Himself as the life-giving source that the world was waiting for. He invited them to see a reality beyond our perceived ideas of successful results. He invites us to abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present with, remain and stand with Him. We don’t have to prove anything to Him. We don’t have to be some special “awakened" individual to live with Him. In this state of abiding, it is the fruit of our lives that will say more than the miracles ever will. (See John 15) Miracles are wonderful and our eyes have yet to see all that God’s power can do! But they are not the end in themselves. ("These signs and wonders follow those who believe...") Their purpose is to reveal a “good news” reality that reunites humanity with our Creator. It is the reunion of relationship that we are called to and are calling others to.
You see, we don’t need a new method, model, or mission. Relationship is simply learned by walking with Jesus. We are inviting people to know Him. Some may walk away at the invitation, but don't be discouraged. Keep looking for those who are looking for Him. It is the poor in spirit, the seeking, and the teachable who will respond to the One who has the words of life.
About the Guest Author
Will Michaloski is a trusted friend, family man, and advisor to L24 Collective's leadership. He and his wife Beth live in Colorado Springs with their five children. Their back porch, with views of Pike's Peak in the distance, served as the location for many a late-night discussion on practical faith — what it means to follow Jesus, learning His ways and living as He lived. When we first decided to relocate to Bethlehem and launch L24, Will and Beth were some of the first to convince us we weren't crazy. So, in a way, this is all their fault.