Will You Leave, Too?
There is a familiar ring to the tension in the story in John 6. Jesus had just fed 5,000 families and then walked on water. Crowds were pursuing Him. His ministry was in full throttle. His popularity was at its all-time high. The disciples must have been emboldened by the groundswell of support. Things were moving in the right direction. There were still some skirmishes with the religious authorities, but they paled in comparison to the support of the people. Yes, Jesus was the man of the hour, and they were with Him.
Then it happened. In what seemed like a flash, there was division, confusion, polarization and betrayal. Everything began falling apart. What happened? Jesus proclaimed the values of the kingdom of God in harsh, stark, unambiguous terms. Here’s the result.
Therefore, many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”
Just when it seemed as though the religious leaders, the culture or the governmental authorities began to tolerate Jesus’ message, He came out with something so provocative, so controversial, that He turned all three against Him. From what was a pinnacle of approval and support, the rest of Jesus’ journey from here was a steady descent to the cross, where He died alone, forsaken, abandoned, betrayed.
Why? One reason. He clearly proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God, and the values that accompany it and its citizens. And the world hates it. It hates the kingdom, it hates Jesus and it hates all who would call themselves kingdom people. If we seek to be such citizens, it will hate us. It already does.
There is a great rending going on in the body of Christ. It’s tearing apart denominations, churches, communities, friendships and even families. It’s happening because it is no longer safe to wear the label ‘Christian’ in our country, and the same is true in so many other countries of the world. We used to be the majority voice in our culture. Being a Christian was a widely accepted and approved label most wore with some sense of pride and honor.
However, like the culture around Jesus, things are changing. It seems like it has happened in a flash. On so many fronts, there are attacks against faith, religion, Christianity, and against evangelical believers most acutely. It’s coming both from without and within the Church. Our culture police are no longer tolerant of those who take their faith seriously. And they are openly hostile and increasingly vitriolic toward those who have the audacity to espouse kingdom values.
In the face of this growing antagonism, what will we do with the words of Jesus? Will we embrace kingdom values or will we, upon hearing ‘a hard saying,’ choose to walk away? Walking away does not mean abandoning our faith, it simply means choosing not to live it out in any public way. It means choosing a private faith, a faith for which we are quick to apologize when we fear it may cause offense. It means looking like the world 6.5 days a week. When we choose this way, we may try to fool ourselves into thinking that we are still following Jesus, but the hard truth is, we have counted ourselves with those who ‘went back and walked with Him no more.’
Our nation desperately needs kingdom people to stand up, speak out, reach out, and proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God. And it needs kingdom people who are determined to live according to kingdom values, who serve selflessly, give generously, seek justice, visit the imprisoned, advocate for the voiceless, love their enemies and walk humbly with their God. And for all of this, they will be hated, vilified and persecuted
There is a choice being set before us. The values of the kingdom of God are unambiguous and uncompromising. Will our life be just as clear? Will we take a stand and take the heat?
How will we answer Jesus when He asks us, “Will you leave me, too?”