Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Why not turn away from Jesus?

From this time many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You don’t 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…” John 6:66-68.

If, as you read this, you are a Christian, I would like to ask a personal question: Have you, at any point in your Christian life, felt you would like to give it all up? – that your life would be more enjoyable and perhaps even make more sense if you didn’t have to bother with all this stuff about Jesus?

If your conversion to Christianity is relatively recent such a question might seem absolutely outrageous: “Stop following Jesus? How can you suggest such a thing? This is the greatest and the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me!”

Fair enough.

But if you have been a Christian for a few years now, if you have wrestled with the disappointment of prayers earnestly prayed but seemingly unanswered, if you have found that serving Jesus entails a lot of hard and unrewarding toil, if you have been disappointed sometimes by less than perfect fellow-Christians, if indeed you have looked inside yourself and been disappointed with what you have seen – if, in short, you have been following Jesus long enough to have gained some of the scars of battle – then I wouldn’t be surprised if from time to time you have indeed wondered if it’s just more trouble than it’s worth.

That leads to another question: Why then are you still a Christian? Why haven’t you gone back on your faith?

I guess your answer would be along the same lines as Simon Peter here on behalf of the twelve: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I find those simple words deeply touching. Dear Simon Peter! – could true, childlike faith ever be better expressed?

If you read through John 6 you will find that Jesus has been offering some meaty but difficult teaching, triggered by the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Declaring himself to be “the bread of life” he goes on to talk, in a way which is bound to seem mysterious and even offensive to his hearers, about the need to “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. No wonder the response of some was, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (verse 60). No wonder “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (verse 67).

What are we to make of Peter’s beautiful reply? In essence he is saying two vital things.

First, “Lord Jesus, how can we turn away from someone who has made such a massive personal impact on our lives?”

Isn’t that what “to whom shall we go?” boils down to?

Once you have come into a relationship with Jesus and got to know him as a living, loving brother and friend, saviour and lord, who else indeed can you turn to? Who, or what, is there better? Who, or what, is there more satisfying? Buddha? Hinduism? Mohammed? Atheism? Agnosticism? Cynicism? Materialism? Money? Pleasure? As a former tennis-player used to shout when he couldn’t believe the umpire’s call: “You cannot be serious!”

Once you have come to know Jesus in this intimate and life-changing way you can no more separate yourself from him than you can separate yourself from a loved one, even if they let you down or make enormous demands on you. He has become part of the very fabric of your life: your north, south, east and west (to adapt the words of the poet W H Auden).

Second, “Lord Jesus, we believe that you are not just a supremely wonderful person, but that you are the very truth.”

Isn’t that what “you have the words of eternal life” boils down to?

Being drawn to a magnetic person, what today we might call “a charismatic personality”, is one thing. But it’s not enough. Indeed, such people can be deceptive, manipulative and frighteningly dangerous. Hitler was pretty charismatic, wasn’t he, albeit in the darkest way? Saddam Hussein was magnetic, by all accounts. And there are plenty of “celebrities” on the world stage today that most of us feel instinctively troubled about… where might they lead us…?

Jesus claims not only to teach the truth of God, but to be the truth of God. And this claim is vindicated by the life he lived, the words he spoke, the love he poured out, the death he died and the resurrection he demonstrated.

Isn’t this why you have stuck with him through thick and thin? Yes, in many ways it might have been easier to “turn back and no longer follow him”. But you have found it simply impossible.

And all I can say is: One day that faith and devotion, that stubborn perseverance, will be wonderfully vindicated also. Don’t give up! Don’t turn back! No, say with Simon Peter his next words too: “We believe and know that you are the holy one of God”.

And may God bless you indeed as you do so. Amen!

Lord Jesus, when the going gets tough and following you seems hard and disappointing, gift me with the same simple faith as Simon Peter. Help me to stick with you through thick and thin, and so bring me to that day when I will see you face to face. Amen.

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