John chapter 6 shows us an example of what happens when God calls us into a deeper relationship with him. Some will respond and come closer to him, but some will leave because of the very truth that’s calling them. In this passage, we see the reason that many Christians get stuck in their walk with the Lord and we see the only way that we can climb out and walk in new paths with Him.
In John 6, Jesus does two major miracles and preaches an intense sermon. The first miracle if the feeding of 5,000 people with 5 barley loaves and two fish (vs. 1-13). Then, after escaping the crowd that wanted to king Him, He walks on water to the boat His twelve disciples are in and transports it instantly to the far shore (vs. 16-21). After the crowd finally finds Him, He preaches them an intense sermon promising them eternal life if they believe.
The response to this intense time is summed up in verse 66, “After this many disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” There it is. They left Him. He turned fives loaves and two fishes into a meal for 5,000 people, walked on water, instantly transported a boat with people on it, and gave a powerful sermon. As a result, he loses the devotion of many of His followers. What about what he said that drove many away? Why did they so quickly vanish when Jesus had just demonstrated his power over nature, food and sea alike?
There are three things combined in this passage that we need to understand the impact of in order to be able to better understand the struggle and to apply this truth to our lives.
- Our motivation
First we see the people’s motivation. In verse 15, they were all ready to take Jesus and make Him be their king. But less than a day or so later, they not only have backed down from that, they have given up following Him as well. What changed is this: they realized that Jesus wasn’t going to be a hand-out all the time kind of leader. They had just had their bellies filled with no work and with a miracle! I’d love to have that kind of blessing all the time, too. However, Jesus wasn’t coming to fulfill our selfish desires.
We want God to give us what we want when we want it. When we feel like God is pouring out blessings on us, we are in a great mood! We feel “close” to Him and feel holier and more loved. Then, the blessing stops. Does our devotion stop as well? Does taking away the blessings show ugly spiritual selfishness?
The people in Jesus’s time were motivated by the wrong things. We must know our motivation for having a relationship with God. Do you love remember what God will give you or do for you? Do you focus on what you’re going to be getting out of this relationship? Do you feel anxious when you can’t see the end of a struggle or don’t get a result you want? Be careful, you might be treading in the land of selfish spirituality.
God loves to bless his children and He knows how to give good gifts. But receiving those gifts shouldn’t be the motivating factor for why you are in this relationship. You should be in this relationship because you know the one true God and are willing to serve Him and nothing else.
This is a position that we grow into. When I first committed my everyday life to the Lord, I did so because He was pouring out His love for me. Like a newborn baby that required everything to be done for it, my spirituality was very needy, requiring help from both God and from the people around me. But, if a thirty year old, fully-capable adult demands to be treated like a newborn, we consider them delusional.
Spiritual growth is very similar. It’s alright to be needy and seek blessings when we are first learning to walk with the Lord. But, please, don’t stay there. Grow and learn and try to accept that God is a great and powerful leader who knows what’s best for all people, not just you. Let go of your need for blessing and step into the grown up spirituality of accepting God’s work in you, no matter how it may look or feel.
- Our knowledge
Some in this crowd knew Jesus, or at least knew His earthly family, and they doubted because they couldn’t accept the incarnate, divine truth of Jesus. We do the same thing many times when God is calling us to go deeper in Him. We take His call and we apply our personal experience and knowledge to the situation and try to understand it. We are finite and small and have only one small perspective on everything. We very often don’t have the knowledge we need to accept and walk in all the truth that God calls us to, at least at first.
We often have to step outside of what we are comfortable with and can easily define and learn to believe in a deeper way. After we’ve experienced it, we can articulate it and understand it. It’s only when we are inexperienced in an area that we feel uncomfortable with it.
Walking with God is a path and we are traveling down it daily. We have to be willing to keep moving forward and trusting Him as our guide. Second guessing your navigator when you’re deep in the woods and you don’t know how to get out is not a wise decision. This doesn’t mean you accept anything that contradicts the Word, of course, but don’t let your belief in your own experiences trump your belief in God’s guidance and call.
- Our limitations
By spelling out Himself, His work and the cost of following Him (eating His body and drinking His blood, v. 56), Jesus found out the limitations of His followers beliefs. Often in life we have intentions of what we’ll believe. We say, “I’ll follow Him forever!” but then the road gets rough and we want to sit down by the side of the road and nap, not follow Him forever. We say, “I believe every word of the Bible” but when it contradicts our friends, we fudge it and ignore the bits we don’t like.
Every time we are called by God to walk deeper, He puts us in a place where we have to live what our words said. We have committed our lives to Him in word and in intention, but He calls us to commit in action. Being loyal is easy when things are good. The team is winning, so you’re a fan. The team hasn’t won in a decade, and you wouldn’t admit to even owning a t-shirt, let alone attend a game.
Loyalty happens no matter whether things are good or bad, but loyalty is strengthened when you choose to stay true when it would be easier to quit. This is what Jesus’s words showed in His followers. They intended to be loyal, but the first challenge broke their intention and they found an easier route.
The Ones Who Stayed
Jesus’s twelve disciples didn’t fall away when Jesus’s words became difficult to understand or accept. The difference in their response is this, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” They had known and experienced the truth of who Jesus was. Their loyalty to God came from a place of experiencing the truth of Jesus and choosing it no matter what. They weren’t swayed by the mass exodus of the other followers, because their loyalty was based on the experience of the truth of Jesus, not their hope for personal comfort.