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A Hard Saying -John 6:53-71

This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.

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The early years of my walk with God were defined by enormous zeal. Even today, I never claim to be the smartest or wisest person in a group of believers, but I challenge anyone to surpass my hunger for the presence and truth of God.

I recall a small city park near our rental home that I would walk around in the early morning hours when I was around 22 and 23 years of age. As I walked, I would pray about the various concerns of life, and I would frequently say to God, “I want more of You, no matter what it takes. I want more of you!” Even as I prayed those words, I remember a little caution alarm that would arise from my spirit as if to say – “Are you sure about that? Is that really a challenge you want to present to God?”

Not long after those years, a short series of deeply traumatic events unfolded that challenged my faithfulness and commitment to that vow before God. Those events impacted my emotional, mental, and spiritual makeup so that only now, decades later, can I confidently say they are solidly in the past. The events set off repercussions that left me spiraling and forced me to find new solid ground and foundations in God as I had never imagined before. Throughout the drama of those ordeals, I remembered the words I prayed to God – “I want more of You, no matter what it takes.”

I believe that cry, whether literally spoken or not, is the heart of a person who truly seeks out the face of God. I know it is a defining trait in me that has drawn God’s attention and pleasure despite my failings and flaws. He loves the heart of the hungry.

Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood

53 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. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. John 6:53-59

I have read many commentaries and Bible study tools that tried to moderate this passage of statements from Jesus through the years. I’m sorry, this cannot be modified. The simple truth is that these are bizarre words! They would have been strange if Jesus spoke them in the wilderness or the city streets, but that strangeness is amplified by the fact that He said them within the synagogue, a place where the people specifically went to learn about the Bible and the God of Israel.

How do we explain a statement like “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood.” I honestly don’t think we need to. Jesus did not clarify or explain the statements to His disciples after He said them. He only challenged them.

Jesus said His yoke was easy, and His burden was light, but He also said those who followed Him must take up their cross to do so. The way of Christ is not seeker-friendly. He requires change in us. We will encounter demands, standards, words, and realities that are difficult to follow. That is the challenge Jesus issued to the people at this point in John 6. It was not about cannibalism. It was about how far were the people seeking to follow Him willing to go in that quest.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. John 6:60-66 (NIV)

In an instant, the massive crowd following Jesus dwindled to a select few. As we saw in yesterday’s post, Jesus drove none of the followers away. Some had a heart postured to follow Him for only weak reasons. But there were others bent on following Christ no matter what.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69 (NIV)

To whom shall we go? What a great question. Peter and the other disciples made many silly mistakes and statements after this point of reckoning, but the status of their devotion to Christ held them close to Him through it all. Peter’s words revealed the nature of that posture. The faithful followers of Christ, those devoted to Him from the heart through thick and thin, have no other options. They must embrace the frequent discomfort of confusion, the hardships of bearing the cross, the struggle of sometimes not understanding everything, because what else are they going to do if they do not follow Him.

True followers have calculated everything else as loss and set out to follow Christ as the only piece of their life that they simply cannot live without.

The Christian missionary Jim Elliott once captures the rational nature of this calculation for the truly spiritually focused person with the following words:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Jim Elliot

When we have calculated the eternal measure and greatness of Christ, gaining Him is worth the loss of anything else in this world.

Subscribe to the blog as we continue our walk through the book of John tomorrow.

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JB Shreve

JB Shreve is the host of the JB Shreve podcast and the End of History podcast channels. He is the author of multiple books.

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