I would like to take a brief bit of your time today to sort of piggyback on last week’s blog: It’s Not Called Faith Until It’s Hard. We wrapped up things, reiterating our main focus of the fact that faith is often times “hard”, yet we have been guilty many times of packaging the gospel in a more palatable fashion that harms more than helps. The result has been massive attrition (some of which is natural), but that could be avoided at least partly by a presentation of the gospel that includes the costs associated should one give wholehearted alignment to it. A case in point, and perhaps an addendum to our previous talk worth additional ponderance, comes from Peter himself. A serious disciple of the Lord known for often getting it wrong, but who often got it “spot on” while the rest were simply trying to catch up. Our text before us today captures this in a monumental way I believe.
Some Hard Pills to Swallow
Our story comes from John chapter 6, and particularly starting in verse 25, where Jesus begins relating the manna that was given to the Israelites in the wilderness as in fact “Himself”. In other words, Jesus says He is the “bread of life” that in fact came down from heaven. This of course starts an immediate ruckus among the crowd, with them first of all calling out his humble and unimpressive lineage from their perspective. The additional gag reflex was in trying to get their arms and minds around Jesus asking them to “eat his flesh”. And if that were not bad enough, Jesus seems to be commissioning them to drink some of his “blood” to wash it down with. And as a result of this “hard teaching”, in verse 66 we find the words, “After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer” (John 6:66 NET). And I find it interesting to note here that there were many “disciples” that were following Him besides the 12, but it was at this point when the gospel and it’s “hardness” began to separate the men from the boys shall we say. In fact, you can bet your bottom dollar part of this crowd that bailed as a result were also some of the same ones who later hollered “crucify him” and also chimed in “Give us Barabbas instead” assisting Pilate in deciding His fate.
But in light of this, understandably, Jesus looks out at the 12 and says these somber and profound words that I would suggest He is still asking today to those of us for whom the good confession we made before many witnesses is starting to lack any visible “benefit package”. Additionally, for those of us who at a pivotal point in our walk begin to also wrestle with the things “hard to understand”, or in the navigation through times of difficulty that seem to have no current expiration date. The stuff of which Jesus beckons us to not only file away until a later time of revelation, but to also embrace in patient waiting along with the more genteel admonitions that give us epiphanies of glorious light along the way. And so He says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you”? And I’m guessing at this particular instance you could have heard at least 12 pins drop!
Peter Graduates to Class 201
In fact, it is here that I envision all the disciples looking at each other, wondering who has the correct answer to this haunting question. Or perhaps they in unison are contemplating whether there is even a right answer to give at this point. Perhaps they were looking at each other much like you and I might do as schoolchildren when the Principal asks a suspicious looking group of us for an answer to a question that could incriminate the whole lot if answered incorrectly, and so no one lets out a peep; or else! And yet Peter has already sifted this uncomfortableness through his own mind and heart proven by his epic response. For he has, if you will, already “burned all the ships” and “cashed in his chips”. And his reply is captivating to say the least. Our text says, “Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God”. And from my perspective, never have more profound words been uttered for our instruction to those of us trying to make it to second base on the oftentimes lonely narrow path of which we are embarking upon. For Jesus’ question will continue to be one we also need to answer on the long trek homeward, and our needful repetitive answer will demand the basic tenets of Peter’s reply all over it.
A Flunky Disciple’s Pilgrimage
I concluded last week’s blog with a short video about the story behind the song I sung as a child, still wrestling then with what it meant to be a follower of Jesus and what that would look like in Mark Prince clothing. And though I wouldn’t totally embrace the narrow path until the age of 27, I would spend the next 28 years afterwards learning what that continual decision would cost me personally. And though I skinned my knee many times throughout that journey through my own spiritual clumsiness, by God’s grace I have been able to say, “I have decided to follow Jesus” and “though none go with me, still I will follow”. In fact, that has often been the case in moving pictures so to speak. For I have watched many of my friends who were once “brothers in arms” in the fight of faith on this narrow road become casualties of that same raging battle before my very sad blue eyes. Men and women who because of trials, toils and snares and a variety of brokenness are those who finally call it quits and say, “enough already”. For the road is much, much too difficult. Those costs have also included God’s very own churchmen treating me as an outsider, part of the rebellion, or as someone simply unwilling to kiss their ecclesiastical ring. A ring of whose glitter did not reflect the gold that had once been projected as a given. It’s also cost beloved friends and family who both quietly and even boisterously conjured up spells given spiritual names for my demise. Added to these were my own flaws being worked through cruciform necessities to drive my roots deep and wide and ready for a later more worthwhile rumble with the demons just outside my door. And then not to be excluded were the loss of all things often unequally mixed with restoration and hope, along with “dark nights of the soul” that lasted more akin to days, weeks and years; along with dates with death to then be postponed until further notice. And yet here I am, still talking about and walking with Jesus, albeit with a very distinctive limp.
The Decision to Abort Plan B
And as you guessed it, all of us face this same pivotal moment in our lives if we dare to dream about walking on the path of our Lord and what it might entail for us. For there are a plethora of never-ending options alluring us to its beck and call, all the while making continual boasts of its cure to whatever currently ails us. And yet sooner or later like Peter, and like the rest of any would be disciple who endeavors to embark on that self-same path, we’ll have to answer a difficult (yet with God’s grace and help) life altering question. And the answer has only one reply once we have been beat up one too many times with the pleasures of sin for seasons, and man’s endless tirade of pragmatic plans that promise to lead us anywhere but a cross that will need to be carried. And it is at that time as we stand watching the crowds teeter-tottering between this way and that, sifting through the vast array of best made plans, that we finally understand that He alone has the words of eternal life. And then consequently resigning to the fact that in light of that stark and yet beautiful reality, there simply is nowhere else that we can go! And when that happens; when we finally “fish and cut bait” for the last time, life without a B plan becomes the absolute safest place in the world we could possibly be; and one in which we finally begin to actually live!