“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”
John 6:66 (ESV)
As we have been studying and preaching through the Gospel of Matthew at Memorial Presbyterian Church each Sunday, two things have becoming abundantly clear: Jesus is aggressive in dealing with sin; and, we don’t like that much.
I know this is upsetting to our “Sunday morning sensibilities.” We prefer to think of Jesus as the happy, loving, kid-on-his-knee, flower-in-his-hair, Messiah who has come to tell us, “You’re all right with me!” The problem is, that’s not the picture we get in Scripture.
Yes, Jesus loved sinners, but he told them to stop sinning (John 8:11). Yes, Jesus loved and welcomed children, but he also condemned the wickedness and corruption of the human heart (Matt 15:10-20). Jesus never hems and haws about sin, but he addresses it head on. He tears down the walls we’ve built around our hearts, the self-justification, the rationalization of our sin, our spiritual sluggishness, and our arrogant independence. Like a mighty warrior, Jesus enters the battlefield of the heart, He will not be denied his conquest. The picture we find, when we really look at Jesus, is more like what the Book of Revelation gives us,
His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:12–16)
The thing is, when we truly read and listen to the words of Christ, there will be some things that bother us. This is a natural reaction. We are, because of the fall, rebels against the will of God. Our hearts are not inclined to His and, in the hardness of our hearts, we reject God’s authority. When we are made alive in Christ Jesus by the grace of God, our rebellion is forgiven and we are justified before God, but the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit continues. We are continually learning to put to death the old way of life, and to take on the new (Col 3:5-17).
This struggle against the “old man” within is often frustrating. He’s defeated, he just doesn’t know it yet. And every time we read and hear the Word of God addressing those sins we once held dear, oh how he likes to “kick against the goads.” Either the old man within will tell you that the Bible really doesn’t mean what it clearly says, or that you have fallen so far from it that you are beyond all hope. The battle can be discouraging.
We’re not the first to react like this. In the Gospel of John, after teaching the crowds that He was the bread of life, come down from heaven, many people started to leave. His teachings were just too hard, he had offended them one to many times. He had upset challenged their common assumptions, and shaken their beliefs. The people began to walk away saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?”
When you are attending a church that faithfully attends to God’s word in worship, teaching, preaching, and study, there will be times that you don’t like what you hear, when you don’t want to listen any more. It can be frustrating, discouraging – you feel like you never want to go again because you just know the preacher’s gonna be meddling in your affairs again. We hear Jesus’ words and they convict us. We want to love Jesus, but we don’t like what he says. We want to separate the man from his words – which in this case is impossible – He is the Word made flesh.
Friends, we must continually return to the Gospel, for only in the Gospel do we find life and peace. We must continually sit at the feet of Christ, hear His words of discipline alongside his words of encouragement. “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23). Loving Jesus is directly related to hearing and keeping his word.
No, this is not easy. But if the Christian life were supposed to be easy it wouldn’t be called discipline. If this were not easy, we wouldn’t be told, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14).
The battle is not easy, but then, the battle is not yours. The battle, the victory, belongs to God.
Let us with humility and joy submit to the words of our Lord and Savior. They are the words of our Lord, our sovereign, our creator, the author and the finisher of our faith, to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. They are His words of command, of correction, and of hope and life. They are the words of our Savior, he who came to deliver us from death to life, from sin to holiness, from despair to everlasting hope. So let us keep coming back to the Word. Keep coming back to the water of life. Like a slow moving stream that cuts its channel deeper and deeper into the bedrock below, the Gospel will continue to work deeper into your heart, cutting through the layers of self-justification to put sin to death and bringing healing and life.
As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternallife, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).