Today most people at least respect the name of Jesus and his teachings. Some leave it at that. He was a profound challenge to even his inner circle of followers and the public crowds. But here is the real problem. ◊
Jesus has always been an attraction to the masses. Back in Judea, this was a problem for the authorities (Jewish religious and Roman governing leaders) because it threatened their religious rule and civic control. But the general population were drawn to the wisdom of Jesus, the mystery, the healings, and the clever confounding of those authorities whenever He engaged.
He was a superstar like no other.
Today most adults remember the Bible stories they learned in Sunday School a long time ago. When it comes to Jesus, everyone remembers some miracle stories or popular parables.
But the problem is that most people then and now missed/miss the real message.
A Case in Point
Think about the time that Jesus fed 5,000 people on the hillside near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6) The people were attracted to Jesus because they saw and heard of His miraculous healings in Capernaum and in Jerusalem. On that day in Galilee, He amazed and satisfied the hungry masses in the countryside with his supernatural multiplication and distribution of five barley loaves and two fish.
One could almost imagine some followers of Jesus seeing this amazing event and thinking of the possibilities of “taking this show on the road.” Yes, Jesus could go from town to town and could easily command an army of loyal followers who could be such a force for good, or whatever one wanted.
But that wasn’t the plan, then or now.
It was more than just bringing them in and “winning souls for Jesus.” There was a whole other focus.
It’s About Making Disciples
It was about developing obedient followers. In fact, on this matter of the Great Commission that so motivates the expansion of the Church, the actual words of Christ are as follows:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The emphasis is on disciple-making which goes beyond making converts in large numbers. True disciples are consciously and symbolically identified with Christ’s death and resurrection in baptism; they have developed deep roots in good soil (Parable of the Sower); they strongly abide or are connected to the vine (Jesus is the Vine); they read and study the Word of God; they really are obedient to the teachings and commandments of Christ; and they impact and produce good fruit many-fold through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a high calling, potentially available to everyone. But not everyone dives “all in.”
Why not? Because it’s difficult as it involves giving up full control. The transformation is not always clean and easy. Practical application and stumbling toward a fully devoted life should be shared in community, not necessarily just from a pulpit. It can be experienced with family, friends and neighbors in safe and real ways without high-brow judgment and pressure. It can be encouraged with effective training but really only in the form of humble facilitation in the exploration of prayer and the reading of the Word of God.
A commitment to a radical new way of life does not come overnight. Regardless of time, It comes with the power of the Spirit of God.
Jesus Calls It Out
In His day, Jesus was pretty serious about all of this. And interestingly enough, He didn’t wait around for the fickle masses to get on board. He had a mission to accomplish (to die a sacrificial death for all mankind – read the Book of John) and doesn’t stray from the objective.
When the crowd of 5,000 is enthralled after their feeding, Jesus retreats into the hills, even away from his own 12 disciples.
Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:15)
Jesus reconnects with the disciples while they were 3 or 4 miles across the Sea of Galilee in a boat on their way back to Capernaum. This is the time that He walks to them on the water. (John 6:16-20) The next day the crowd follows them there and confronts Jesus with questions about how he got there.
Here’s His answer:
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:26-29)
Then He goes further and speaks of the true bread from heaven given by the Father:
“For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”… Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. (John 6:33, 35-36)
The Jews there began to grumble about Him because of these bold words. Jesus calls them out: “Stop grumbling among yourselves.” (John 6:43) He continues with strange words that confuse the people and even turns some of them off:
I am the bread of life…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them….
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:48, 55-56, 60)
What Would You Have Done?
I might have felt or said the same thing. Who can accept such teaching? This is very strange – a real problem.
Yes, Jesus and Christianity is serious business. So serious that it creates a commitment problem for many. It’s not a popularity contest or soft lovefest that is focused on catering to the whims of the people or culture that can love you one day and crucify you the next.
Yet that world and all people are loved by God who comes to us, His creation, with the ultimate goal: Wholeheartedly know, believe and obey the One True God who loves and saves us, so that we will love one another, produce multiplied fruit, and make other fully devoted disciples around the world.
Do you have a problem with Jesus?
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.- John 6:66
Categories: Abundant Living, Calling, Church, Devotion, Discipleship, Faith, Forgiveness, Jesus, Marketplace, Prayer, Purpose
Jesus was popular with the Jews, in part, because some of the Jews (including Judas) thought he was the Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government and liberate them from religious tyranny. This was not his purpose.
Part of his popularity with non-Jews was because he was willing to challenge the idea of Jewish supremacy with teachings such as the parable of the Good Samaritan. He also openly and repeatedly confronted the Jewish priests in the temple, who were the equivalent of pastors in today’s terminology.
However, Jesus was not trying to be popular with either group, and on some occasions simply walked away when a large crowd gathered, or as you point out, sometimes gave a hard teaching that turned people off.
The ultimate question is whether we have a problem with the Father drawing us. Jesus himself said nobody will come to Him, unless the Father draws him. If you yield to the drawing of the Father, you will follow Christ, even if He asks you to sell all your wealth, and give it all to the poor, before joining his ministry.