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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Do you want to go away as well?
Text:John 6:60-71 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-11-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 3:1,2

Hymn 3:5 (after the law)

Psalm 41:1,3

Psalm 23

Psalm 149:1,2

Scripture reading: 1 Corinthians 2

Text:  John 6:60-71

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

No one can really claim that Australia is a Christian nation.  However, if you go by the 2016 census, 52% of Australians are counted as Christians.  You would think that, if over half of the country is Christian, that would have some discernible effect.  You should be able to at least see that half the country is Christian.  For example, when the postal ballot was held about same-sex marriage last year, you might have expected it to be much closer.  But it wasn’t.  So you have a country where the census says 52% of people are Christians, but those “Christians” seem to have little or no impact on the country’s direction.  How do you explain that? 

Part of the answer has to do with the biblical idea of discipleship.  A disciple is a student of Christ, a follower of Christ.  A disciple doesn’t just learn information from his teacher; he wants to be like his teacher.  Discipleship is all about being molded into the image of your teacher.  You want to follow in his ways and be like him as much as you can.  True Christians want their lives to reflect that of Jesus the Master.  Sadly, there are many claiming to be Christians who have no understanding of discipleship.  They may take the name of Christ, but they have no interest in actually following him.  They have no interest in learning from him.  These so-called Christians have no desire to reflect Jesus with their lives.  There’s a total disconnect between being a disciple and being a Christian.

Now in John’s gospel, we’ve already encountered the idea of discipleship a few times prior to this.  And it’s here in our passage for this morning too.  You see a broader group of disciples, made up of many men and women.  We have no idea how many there were in this group.  They followed Jesus as he travelled here and there.  But then there was also an inner circle of 12 disciples – most of whom would go on to become apostles.  Jesus had his 12 closest disciples.  We see both the broader group and the inner circle in this passage.  Many of the broader group are offended by Jesus and disillusioned with him and walk away.  Then Jesus turns to his inner circle and asks them, “Do you want to go away as well?”  That question is at the heart of our text.  It’s a question that the Holy Spirit also puts to us as God’s people today.  In John 6:60-71, we’ll see:

  1. The falling away of many disciples
  2. The confession of some disciples
  3. The betrayal of one disciple

People have always been offended by our Lord Jesus.  If you take him seriously as he’s revealed in the Bible, there’s plenty to take offense at.  Of course, there are those who invent their own Jesus who has an acceptable message of love and tolerance for everyone and everything.  They don’t care what the Bible says or they twist what the Bible says.  But if you go by what the Bible says about Jesus, and just stick with that, he says many offensive things.  There’s a reason why 1 Corinthians 2 says that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him.”  The things of the Spirit of God are taught by Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.  It’s these things that are foolish and offensive to the natural person, to one without the Holy Spirit. 

In John 6, Jesus was speaking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  To live forever in God’s presence you need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  To have your sin problem addressed so you can have a relationship of fellowship with God, you need to eat and drink Christ.  This is a metaphor.  Eating and drinking Christ is a not about cannibalism, but a spiritual symbol for faith.  Specifically, it’s about the aspect of faith where someone personally appropriates the Saviour.  Just like when you eat something and it then becomes part of you, gets absorbed by you, so when you believe in Christ, he becomes part of who you are.  You have taken him in.  That’s what faith does.  Faith is not just about knowing things or acknowledging them to be true – faith also goes that important step of personal confidence and ownership of who Christ is and what he’s done. 

When Jesus used this metaphor of “flesh and blood,” he was using sacrificial language.  He was speaking about an offering for atonement.  Jesus was pointing ahead to the cross and the propitiation he would offer there.  Propitiation means that he was going to turn away the wrath of God from sinners and return the divine favour.  Jesus was going to take the curse we deserve, suffer the hell we should, die the death we ought to die.

Now you might begin to get why you see that reaction in verse 60.  Disciples are mentioned here.  This is about the broader group of followers of Jesus.  They heard what Jesus had said about eating his flesh and drinking his blood and they say, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  They didn’t mean that it was hard to understand.  They meant that it was hard to accept.  When they say, “Who can listen to it?” – that means, “Who can hear this and believe it?  It’s unbelievable.”  In their minds, Jesus is too extreme, over the top.  With all this talk about his flesh and blood, about sacrifice, really about the cross, that’s all just too much.

Christ knew that they were grumbling among themselves and so in verse 61 he addresses them directly:  “Do you take offense at this?”  In Greek the word used there is related to our English word “scandal.”  “Are you scandalized at this?”  Do you stumble over this?  Do you find this hard to accept?  Then he says, “Well, what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”  Again he calls himself the Son of Man, which speaks of his humanity, but also the fact that he’s a human being in whom God is uniquely revealing himself.  He speaks of where he was before, which tells us that he’s no ordinary human being.  He has an existence that pre-dates his conception.  Before he became a human being, Jesus existed and he lived with God in heaven as the Son of God.  And he speaks there of his ascension.  He was going to die on the cross and rise again.  Then after that, he would ascend into heaven, back to where he was before.  If they’re offended at his words about sacrifice and faith, then what would they do with his ascension? 

Our Saviour then gives us an explanation for why these many disciples were offended at him.  The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life.  When someone has spiritual life, it’s because of the Holy Spirit.  He has given it.  When someone has spiritual life, they’re not offended at Christ’s words, but believe them.  They trust in him for salvation.  But the flesh?  The flesh helps for nothing.  What does that mean?  That’s referring to people without the Holy Spirit.  If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, what Jesus says is going to be foolish and offensive to you. 

It’s foolish and offensive because the message is that you’re a sinful human being in big trouble with God’s justice.  What normal human being is going to accept that?  The natural way of thinking is that there’s nothing wrong with me the way I am.  Or maybe nothing majorly wrong.  Certainly there’s nothing so wrong that God couldn’t accept me the way I am.  So when Jesus says there is something terribly wrong with you, so wrong that you need him to be accepted by God, well, that’s a slap in the face to human nature.  It goes against the grain.  “What, something wrong with me?  I need Jesus?  I’m just fine the way I am, thank you very much.”  This is precisely why many of the disciples are offended and want to walk away from Jesus.  They liked him as the miracle bakery.  Perhaps they liked him as a teacher of good morals.  But they don’t want him as a Saviour.    

In verse 63, our Saviour goes on to say that his words are spirit and life.  He has a message which brings some dead people to life.  It’s a message with power.  But there were some disciples who didn’t believe.  Jesus knew from the start who would believe and who would not.  God sovereignly determines salvation and Christ is God, so he too knows who are his and who are not.  He knows the disbelieving among us too.  Belief in Christ is not universal.  It’s not that everyone who hears believes.  Belief is a gracious gift of God, granted by the Father, according to what Christ says in verse 65.

Hearing all this, verse 66 tells us that many turned away from him and no longer walked with him.  They abandoned him.  He was no longer their Master and they were no longer his disciples.  His words were foolishness to them.  He wasn’t what they were expecting him to be.  They were like the people of Israel in the desert who weren’t satisfied with what God provided in the manna – they grumbled and complained.  They were like the people of Israel in the days of Isaiah.  In Isaiah 30, they’re described as “children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD.”  They said to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions…”  Jesus didn’t speak smooth things.  He spoke hard, rough, harsh things.  They didn’t want that kind of a Master or prophet. 

Loved ones, there are two things to take away from this falling away of many disciples. 

First, I want you to notice who these disciples were.  They were Jewish.  That means they were part of the church of God at that time.  They were God’s covenant people.  For a time, they followed Jesus, then when his words became too harsh for their ears, they fell away.  Yet they were still outwardly part of the church of God, part of the covenant.  What does that tell us?  It tells us that there can be and often are unbelievers in the church.  Not every church member is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is a disciple of Christ.  But, loved ones, what about you?  For mostly everyone here, you’re a member of this church.  You were baptized here or in another church.  You’re part of God’s people, part of the covenant of grace.  I imagine that if you were asked in census, you would say with 52% of your fellow Australians that you’re a Christian.  But are you really a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Do you believe in him, have you eaten his flesh and drunk his blood in faith?  Do you then also follow him and seek to conform your life to his?

Second thing to note:  these disciples who fell away were personally responsible for their apostasy.  Unbelief is a sin.  If you remain in unbelief, you remain under God’s condemnation.  John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him [in Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  Hebrews 6 speaks of those who have “tasted the heavenly gift.”  They have followed Christ in a way for a time.  And then they fall away.  If they fall away, they add to their judgment.  In fact, Hebrews 6 says that they even crucify again the Son of God.  They hold him up to contempt and for that they will face justice.  So while faith and salvation are gifts of God’s sovereign grace, there is still human responsibility for unbelief and apostasy.  Those people in our text who turned away from Christ, they bore the blame for their choice.  Same with today.  If you turn away from following Christ, you’re also to blame for your choice.  That’s because it’s a wicked choice. 

That leads Christ to his question in verse 67, “Do you want to go away as well?”  What do the twelve disciples want?  What does the inner circle desire?  Do they want a prophet prophesying smooth things?  Or do they want to keep following Jesus even when he speaks hard things?  There are two paths before them.  A narrow one leading to eternal life and a broad one leading to destruction.  Many disciples have already chosen the broad path.  Few will go the narrow path.  Which will the twelve take?  Which will you take?

Peter was often the spokesman for the twelve disciples.  Here the same.  Peter makes a powerful confession.  He says, “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.”  Notice how Peter doesn’t directly answer the question Jesus poses.  But the answer is pretty clear.  They don’t want to go away.  They don’t want to abandon Jesus.  They’re going to keep following him.  They’re going to stay on as his disciples.  He’s going to continue being their Master, their Rabbi.  But far more is said here.

Peter calls him, “Lord,” as all true Christians will.  That means Jesus is the Master.  It means he is the Owner, the supreme Ruler.  It really means that Jesus is God.  All true disciples, all true Christians, say that Jesus is Lord.  Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 

Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”  That means the same as what Jesus will say later in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  There is no one else to turn to for salvation.  There is salvation exclusively in Jesus Christ.  He is the only way and Peter recognizes that.  All true disciples recognize that.

Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.”  He confesses that Jesus is the giver of the life that lasts forever.  The words that Jesus speaks lead to life forever in the blessed presence of God.  If Jesus is the one who has those words, why would you ever depart from him? 

Last of all, he says, “We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  In the parallel passages in the other gospels, Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  It means the same thing.  Confessing that Jesus is the Holy One of God is to confess that he is the Christ.  He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.  Messiah means “anointed one of God.”  If you have been anointed by God, you have been set apart by him, you are the “Holy One of God.”  So Peter and the other disciples confess that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises for salvation.

And how could Peter make this good confession?  First Corinthians 2:12 gives us the answer:  “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”  Peter could say this through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit works faith and true confession in all true disciples.  When we confess that Jesus is Lord, when we confess that salvation is found only in him, when we confess that he has the words of life, that he is the Messiah, that’s not coming from us and our good hearts – that’s to be credited to the Holy Spirit. 

That was the good confession made by some of the disciples in our text.  It’s the good confession to be made by all disciples today.  But in our text even one of those disciples didn’t have his heart in Peter’s confession.

Judas was already referred to back in verse 64.  Jesus knew all along who would betray him.  This is the first mention of his betrayal in the Gospel According to John.  In verses 70 and 71, we also find the first mention of the betrayer.  We’re now definitely on the way to the cross.  It’s still about a year away, but like a thunderstorm in the distance you can hear it coming. 

Jesus speaks about his having chosen twelve disciples.  He chose twelve for his inner circle.  Why twelve?  Have you ever thought about that?  Why did Jesus choose twelve disciples?  Well, where else in the Bible do you read about twelve important men?  There were twelve tribes of Israel, named for the sons of Jacob and Joseph.  Jesus chose twelve deliberately.  They were to form the basis of the New Testament Israel, the church. 

Yet one of those twelve was not whom he appeared to be.  Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders.  We sang Psalm 41 before the sermon and in that psalm there’s already a hint of this coming betrayal.  It speaks about one of the Psalmist’s dearest friends, one of his inner circle betraying him and wishing he were dead.  That gets fulfilled in what Judas Iscariot does. 

It’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen accidentally to Judas.  No, the betrayal reveals what Judas’s heart was like all along.  In John 12:6 we read that Judas Iscariot was the treasurer of the disciples.  He took care of the money.  He also took care of himself.  He had sticky fingers.  The Holy Spirit tells us that he was a habitual thief.  He was dead in his sins.  He had no regeneration.  Judas had never been born again.  He had no faith and he did not have the fruits of faith in repentance and obedience.  Jesus calls him “the son of perdition,” which means something like “the lost one.”  Acts 1:25 says that after he died, “he went to his own place.”  That’s a euphemism -- that’s a nice way of saying Judas went to hell.  Yes, Scripture says that Judas remained under God’s eternal condemnation. 

In the words of Jesus in verse 70, Judas was a devil.  That doesn’t literally mean he was a demon or Satan himself.  It means that he’s aligned with the great Adversary.  He’s a willing partner of Satan.  Judas was called to be one of the Twelve, those forming the basis of the New Testament Israel, but instead he was a traitor dedicated to the destruction of the Messiah.  Judas was not merely a hypocrite, but an actively involved enemy.

Judas heard the question of Jesus too, “Do you want to go away as well?”  That question had already been settled for Judas.  In one sense, he’d gone away a long time ago.  In another sense, he’d never actually been a disciple of Jesus.  He’d never been a believer in Jesus Christ.  He had never eaten the flesh or drunk the blood of Christ and he never would. 

Now there are a couple of questions people might ask about Jesus and Judas.  For example, why would Jesus choose Judas as a disciple when he knew that he would betray him?  There are several reasons that could be given for that, but let me just mention three.  One is related to the remorse of Judas before he kills himself.  In Matthew 27:4, Judas tells the chief priests and the elders, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  You see, even Judas the betrayer has to acknowledge that Jesus was innocent.  He gives a witness to the perfect innocency of Christ.  Second, from the example of Judas, we’re reminded that the church of Jesus Christ will have its hypocrites.  It may even have those who are treacherous.  Right now the church enjoys peace.  We don’t face persecution.  But that could change.  We could someday face government-sponsored or government-permitted persecution.  When that happens, don’t be surprised if some church members turn out to be not who you thought they were.  But most importantly of all, Jesus chose Judas out of perfect obedience to the will of the Father.  Psalms like 41 and 55 spoke of how the plan for our salvation would involve betrayal.  Our Lord Jesus obediently walked down the path laid out for him and he did it for our salvation.  This was part of his humiliation and he willingly endured it for us. 

Another question you might be asking:  Jesus says that he chose Judas, and yet Judas is clearly not a believer, and Scripture even says that he is one of the reprobate.  So doesn’t this show that election can fail?  God can choose someone and yet they can reject him?  Arminians will sometimes appeal to this passage to prove that.  However, there’s a simple answer to that.  Jesus is not talking about choosing the Twelve to salvation.  He’s not talking about election in the sense of Ephesians 1.  No, he’s talking about a choosing to discipleship.  He simply chose twelve men to be his disciples.  That doesn’t say anything about their salvation.  As it turns out, so far as we know, the other eleven were true believers and thus were elect.  But it doesn’t follow that Jesus was speaking here about their election to salvation.  He wasn’t. 

Judas Iscariot is a warning to us all.  You can be a member of the church.  You can be part of the covenant of grace.  You might even outwardly have the appearance of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  But in your heart you could be stone-cold dead spiritually speaking. 

Loved ones, we’re all called to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.  We’re called to believe in him and follow him, to remain with our Master always.  In a moment, we’ll sing from Psalm 23.  That Psalm tells us about the blessedness of being a disciple.  It does that using two images.  One is of the sheep with the Good Shepherd.  Being a disciple of Jesus is like being a sheep in his care – he feeds you, he protects you, he leads you, he makes it so that you need not fear anything.  He comforts you.  The other image in Psalm 23 is of a feast.  For disciples of Jesus, a table is prepared.  There’s going to be great food in abudance.  The head is anointed with oil – you’re an honoured guest, you get an overflowing cup of his goodness and mercy.  You shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  So when you hear Jesus ask, “Do you want to go away as well?” your answer should be, “Why would I ever want to go away?  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have everything we need.”  AMEN. 

PRAYER

O Jesus our Saviour,

You are truly our Lord, our Master, our God.  With Peter we say, there is no else to whom we can go for salvation, for life, for blessing.  You have the words of life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God – you are the Messiah long-promised in the Old Testament.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to maintain this good confession.  Please work this good confession in the hearts of all gathered here, both young and old, visitors and members.  O Lord, please help us with your sovereign grace to always walk with you in faith and obedience.                                       

 

    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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