Staying or Going?
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Staying or Going?

John 6:60–71  (ID: 3631)

A multitude often gathered to hear Jesus preach. Some enjoyed the miracles and being part of the crowd. They were attracted to what Jesus could give them—but soon they opposed what His teaching demanded and deserted Him. Turning to the end of John 6, Alistair Begg explores the crowd’s reaction, Christ’s explanation for it, and the apostle Peter’s subsequent declaration. At some point, everyone who hears Jesus’ teaching comes to such a crossroad: we either decide to continue in life without Him, or we believe Him, submit to Him, and find eternal life.

Series Containing This Sermon

“Truly, Truly, I Say to You…”

Twenty-Five Divine Declarations from John’s Gospel John 1:1–21:25 Series ID: 29001

Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to read from the Bible, in the Gospel of John and chapter 6 and from the sixtieth verse. If you’re able to follow along, that would be great. John chapter 6 and beginning to read at verse 60:

“When many of his disciples heard it”—that is, the things that Jesus has just been saying to them—“they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’

“After this many of [the] disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’ He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”

This large crowd that has been following Jesus now for some time has a decision to make. They have come in the course of the dialogue to, essentially, a crossroad and, as a result of the determination that they make in relation to what Jesus has said and the claims that he has made, will determine certainly their future progress and perhaps even their eternal destiny. They have understood the fact that everything Jesus said was true, but not everything Jesus said was easy. And some of us have discovered that as well as we’ve been reading the Bible. We haven’t had difficulty in understanding it, but we’re just wondering whether it is too hard to accept and to become committed to. The crowd either have to take him at his word—look, believe, come to him, find eternal life in him—or continue in life without him.

And Jesus actually confronts not only the crowd on that day, but he confronts everyone every day with the very same decision. Sartre, who ended his life somewhat dissolutely—the philosopher (twenty-five thousand people attended his funeral)—he said, “That God does not exist I cannot deny; that God continues to search my soul I cannot forget”; so that whatever the defiant responses of philosophy, whatever the immediate reaction of the hearts of men and women, the gospel is very clear. It’s binary, if you like.

Everything Jesus said was true, but not everything Jesus said was easy.

John has been making this clear all the way along. We have begun to study these “Truly, trulys” in light of his express statement concerning his purpose: “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing you will find life in the Son.”[1] In chapter [3] he puts it with great clarity: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, … whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”[2]

So, the passage that we’ve been reading now for some weeks—this might be the fifth week (I haven’t checked)—it shows us that it’s possible to be part of a crowd, attracted to what Jesus can give and yet opposed to what Jesus demands. It makes perfectly clear that not all who are apparently disciples are actually disciples. And, of course, classically and chillingly, as the chapter ends, we’re reminded of the fact that the one who betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver was one who is listening to this dialogue as it unfolds, one who was part of the crowd that followed Jesus on those days.

Now, it would seem that the decision that is demanded of those to whom Jesus speaks is a decision that is demanded of each of us. In fact, not only does it seem so, but it is so. And by the time we end this morning, I’m going to give an opportunity to some of us to actually respond in a public way in making our affirmation of our desire to take our stand with Peter and not with the crowd. In leading up to that, I simply want to track our way through the text. And if you’re looking at it, I’ll take you through it without any—I was going to say folderol, but without any particular displays of anything.

A Reaction

Verse 60, we have the reaction of the crowd. The reaction of the crowd. You think about it: They’re listening to the greatest preacher that has ever lived. They’re looking into the eyes of the man of great compassion. They are meeting the incarnate Son of God. He is explaining things to them. He is calling them to himself. That’s the context. And then John says, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”

Now, what we discover is that it wasn’t that they were disinterested. They were interested in the miracles. They were interested in the food. They were interested in the possibility that this man would be a great political ruler for them and set them free from the tyranny of those who opposed them. So, they had an interest in their stomachs. They had an interest in the spectacular. They had an interest in politics. It wasn’t, for them, that the truth that they said was hard was hard to understand. It was that it was hard to accept. There’s a difference. And they were just part of a loose affiliation of people that had come along with him. They had begun to listen to him. But either they hadn’t understood, or they were unprepared to accept the implications of what it was that he was saying. So, there you have the reaction, in verse 60.

Some Questions

In verses 61 and 62, you have these questions that are posed by Jesus to them. Because John tells us that Jesus knew “in himself that [the] disciples were grumbling about this.” And so here’s his question: “Do you take offense at this?” You see what he’s saying? “Is this too much for you? Do you? I know you don’t like the sound of what it is I’m actually saying.”

Now, we’ve seen this, haven’t we? If you look back at verse 41 for a moment: “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I[’m] the bread that came down from heaven.’” And they began to say to one another, “This doesn’t make any sense at all. We know his street. We know where he lived. We know his father and mother. We know Joseph and Mary. How can he get off with actually saying, ‘I have come down from heaven’? How does he say that?”[3]

So Jesus says, “Let me ask you a second question: What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? You’re struggling with the fact that I told you I came down from heaven. What if you were to see me going back up to heaven?” Because that’s exactly what he was going to do. And when Jesus speaks about the ascension, you realize everything that precedes the ascension. Before he gets to the ascension, he will go to the cross. When he goes to the cross, he will go to the tomb. He will emerge from the tomb. He will display himself to people, declaring that he has triumphed over sin and death and hell. And then he will ascend.

And I’m not sure whether he expects the answer to be a positive answer to that question—like, “What would it be like if you saw me ascending? Would you believe then?” Or is he saying, “What if you saw me ascending? Would that make any difference to you at all? Or would you continue to be offended?”

An Explanation

Verses 63–65, he then provides an explanation—an explanation of what’s going on. Notice what he says: “It is the Spirit who gives life.” Remember last time, in this great and trying passage, we recognized that Jesus was using physical things in order to explain spiritual truths. And he actually rounds on this by making this point: “It’s not a matter of physicality. When I speak to you about eating and drinking my flesh, the flesh is no help at all. You can’t get there physically. It is the Spirit who gives life.”

“The words”—notice—“the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” That’s a dramatic statement, isn’t it? We sang about it a moment ago: “The Word of God is light in [our] darkness.”[4] What does that possibly mean? Who else can say, “The words that I speak not only display life but give life”—that the very words of Jesus, the power of Jesus’ words, the truth of Jesus’ words, when received by faith, actually bring about the reality to which he points? “In him was life,” the prologue says, “and [that] life was the light of men.”[5] “I am the living bread,” he says. “[I] came down from heaven.”[6] But no, they grumble.

And he understands perfectly. Verse 64: “Let’s just be honest about it,” he says. “There are some of you who do not believe. There are some of you who just don’t believe. You just continue in your unbelief.” To believe Jesus is to trust Jesus. To believe somebody is to trust that what they tell you is true. To believe someone is to say that when they make a promise, they will keep a promise. So what he’s saying is this: “Some of you just don’t trust me. You don’t trust me. You’re not prepared to trust me with your entire life. You’re happy to be part of the crowd. It’s exciting to be around on some of these occasions.” We might make it right up to date and say it’s wonderful to be able to come to a concert like last night. “But some of you,” says Jesus, “do not believe. You’ve heard the voice of the preacher. You haven’t heard my voice—the voice that says, ‘Come to me, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.’ The voice that says, ‘I am gentle and lowly in heart. And if you’ll take me at my word, you will find rest for your souls.’”[7]

Verse 65: he says, “Now you understand, if you didn’t understand when I said it the first time.” In verse 44 we have it. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Allow your eye to go back up to verse 44, where they were grumbling. And in that context he says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” What is it that he’s saying? He’s saying this: this salvation belongs, lies, in the sphere of God’s sovereignty. That we have seen clearly, and for some it is a hard saying.

What Jesus is saying is that when a person actually comes to trust in Jesus, the initiative lies outside of them. The initiative actually lies with God. You could think about it in terms of interpersonal relationships. Perhaps there’s a lady listening to me now, and she realizes that if that fellow that she knew very little about had not approached her on that day in that coffee shop or in that place, there’s no saying where her life would have gone. It wasn’t that she was looking for him. She might even have been running from him at that point. But he showed up. He was insistent. He pursued her. He loved her. They have a relationship—not a relationship that is a result of actually knowing the person exists but a relationship as a result of having been joined, heart and soul, with one another.

“I’ve found a friend,” says the hymn writer,

      such a friend!
[I] loved [him] ere I knew him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus he bound me to him.
And round my heart, [now] closely twined,
These ties [that nothing] can sever.
For I am his, and he is mine,
Forever and forever.[8]

“But,” says Jesus, looking at them with compassion, “there are some of you who do not believe.”

Some of you may actually be tied up on the very notion of God’s sovereignty. You have a caricature of what that actually means. You’ve decided that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen despite you. It will not happen despite you. You believe on account of God’s initiative, but God does not believe for you. Is there a decision to be made? Absolutely, there is! We’re called to it. Is our will engaged in coming to saving faith? Definitely. But the determinative cause of saving faith lies in the divine side and not in the human side.

That’s why, you see, when someone calls you to a decision, it’s not a call to your emotion. It’s a call to the totality of your being. And no one ever, ever says yes to that call in reality apart from the moving of the Spirit of God—for it is the Spirit that gives life, Jesus explains.

A Desertion

Well, you would think after such a wonderful explanation and such a compassionate statement, they would all say together, “Terrific! We’re all on board with you, Jesus.” Verse 66: “[And] after this…” Desertion. Desertion! Reaction: “This is hard.” Question: “Are you offended? What if you saw me ascend?” Explanation. Desertion.

Is our will engaged in coming to saving faith? Definitely. But the determinative cause of saving faith lies in the divine side and not in the human side.

You see, what they wanted from Jesus he wouldn’t give them, and what he offered them they didn’t want. So they decide, “We’re away.” Instead of submitting to Jesus, instead of saying, “I want to rely upon you, Jesus,” many of them just went back to the life that they had had before. It was fun for a while. Goodness, who would ever forget the feeding of the five thousand? They’d earlier considered even the possibility of making him a king by force. You can see that if you go back to chapter [6].[9] You see the volatility of the response of people to the person of Jesus and to the claims of Jesus? At one point they said, “You know, maybe we can actually make him a king.” And then they say, “Well, maybe we could throw him over a cliff.”[10] Then they say, “Well, maybe we could just forget about him altogether. Who cares? I used to go along there. I used to listen. I remember I was in the youth group back in the day.”

Actually, I have a very vivid recollection of a similar “decision” kind of Sunday to this Sunday, when, back in the high school auditorium in Solon, I invited people to do what I’m gonna invite you to do in a moment. And in the multitude of responses, I had lunch the following day with someone that I knew who was present. And at lunch he said to me, “I heard what was said yesterday. If I were to respond in the way that the Bible prompts me to, my life would be entirely changed. And I do not want my life to be changed.” My friend continues in that position to this day. Days of decision are vital days.

Another Question

And so he has a question for the Twelve. It wasn’t that the hard things kept them away. It was their selfish will kept them away. Either they had to keep on living in their own way, or they had to start living in the Jesus way. There was no middle ground anymore. He calls it: the fair-weather followers will eventually drift away. And that’s what’s happening here: “[And] after this many of his disciples”— not a trickle—“many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

So he looks to the Twelve. He narrows the focus now, and he has a question for the Twelve in verse 67: “Do you want to go away as well?” It’s a test, you see. He had already given them a test at the beginning of the chapter, which had led to the feeding of the five thousand, remember? You remember he said, “Does anybody know where we could get some bread here for these people?”[11] And then John tells us he said this as a test, because he knew exactly what was going to happen.[12] Now he gives them a test. He assumes the affirmative response. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a question not that he needs an answer to. It’s a question that they need to face.

It’s a question that you and I need to face: Do you want to go away? Do you want to stay on the side of Jesus? Do you want to be unreservedly committed to Christ? Not just a churchgoer. Not just a religious person. Not just somebody that wants to float around in the wake of things. No! No, no, no, no, no. Do you want to go away? Or do you want to stay?

A Declaration

Peter, who gets it right sometimes and wrong other times, comes in strong here. And in response to the question of 67 there is the answer which comes in 68 and 69. (You can tell we’re nearing the end.) And it is a declaration. We sang it, didn’t we, really? “Lord, to whom shall we go? We’ve heard you. We’ve heard what you said. We know that it is the Spirit who gives life, that the flesh is no help at all. We know that the words that you speak are spirit and life.” That’s what he’s actually saying there: “To whom shall we go? You”—“you alone”—“have the words of eternal life.”

So, here’s an illustration of what it means to be unreservedly committed to Jesus. Number one: you know that there is no other alternative. There is no other alternative. You have reached a point now where you say, “I cannot go on into life without you, Jesus.” That’s it. Where else would we go—to whom, to what, to where, to philosophy, to wherever it might be? You’ve reached that point, said, “No, no, no. Uh-uh.”

“To whom [could] we go? [Because] you have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know…” And people say, “Well, if you don’t answer all the questions, I’m not sure I will ever believe.” If you don’t believe, you will never, ever begin to understand many of your questions. And even some of those questions you will take into heaven with you. But don’t fall foul of the idea that “I’m an intelligent person here this morning. I live in the realm of knowledge. I live in the realm of fact. And you want to call me, apparently, into the realm of faith, into the realm of the unknown, whatever it might be.” Notice what Peter is saying: “We have come to know, having believed that you are the Holy One of God.” “You’re the Word of God the Father, … before the world began.”[13]

Now, Jesus then clarifies things in a quite dramatic way in verses 70 and 71: the chilling reality that one of the inner circle—so close to Jesus he could touch him, had access to him on every front—was prepared to sell him as a betrayer.

But let’s end in this way. Jesus is now speaking to us through his Word. And the question is: Is this your declaration? Have you concluded that there is no alternative, that “my heart won’t allow me to do anything else; your love has broken down the barriers in my heart. You haven’t reached me by clever talk. You haven’t reached me by specific argument. Your love has reached me. I want to live my life loyal to you.” Are you prepared to say, “We have believed,” that “we’ve come to know,” realizing that faith’s not a feeling or an experience? It’s certainly not a leap into the dark in the absence of evidence. Faith is not a thing. People say every so often, “Oh, I wish I had your faith,” in the way that somebody might say, “Oh, I wish I had your brains,” or “I wish I had your red hair.” Doesn’t make any sense! Faith is reliance. It is trust. So, for example, you say to somebody, “Do you have reliance?” The inevitable response is “Reliance on what?” or “Reliance on whom?”

What Peter is declaring here is that he is unreservedly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. And what that means is being prepared to say, “I’m no longer going to live my life in my own way, rejecting Jesus, spoiled by my indifference or my rebellion, living my life without hope. I’m not going to do that anymore. I actually decided that a while ago, but you’re pressing me, Pastor.” Uh-huh. “I’m going to go Jesus’ way. I’m going to submit my life to him as my Lord. I’m going to trust him entirely. I’m going to rest on the fact that when he died on the cross, he bore my punishment that I deserve, and that when he rose from the grave, he opened up the way for me to enter unashamedly into the presence of the Father.”

It was decision day at the end of chapter 6, and let me suggest to you: it’s decision day today.

Let’s pause and pray together.

I have in mind, and have had for weeks now, a certain category of person that perhaps does not exist. But just in case they do, I want to be clear: there’s all the difference in the world between being “interested in”; if we stick with the picture of marriage, even getting engaged; but never, ever coming to the place where an unequivocal commitment for the rest of life is made. And coming to Jesus has that sense of gravity and wonder and eternal destiny. And often I find that people who are assenting to many of these truths have never actually closed with Christ’s offer. Whatever that might mean, whatever it means in the recesses of our hearts, certainly it has to involve a declaration on our part.

And so, let me pray a prayer, and perhaps you will make this your prayer. Maybe this is something you’ve been waiting for, wanting, hoping for, or even dreading. You could pray in your heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but through you I’m more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment, and offering me forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as my Savior. Amen.”

[1] John 20:31 (paraphrased).

[2] John 3:36 (NIV 1984).

[3] John 6:42 (paraphrased).

[4] Andi Rozier and Brenton Brown, “The Word of God” (2012).

[5] John 1:4 (ESV).

[6] John 6:51 (ESV).

[7] Matthew 11:28–30 (paraphrased).

[8] James Grindly Small, “I’ve Found a Friend” (1866).

[9] See John 6:15.

[10] See Luke 4:29.

[11] John 6:5 (paraphrased).

[12] See John 6:6.

[13] Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “You’re the Word of God the Father (Across the Lands)” (2002).