In the 1968 Olympics, the marathon runner from Tanzania fell early in the race. He suffered a gash and internal damage to his knee and smashed his shoulder. Instead of going to the hospital, he had his knee stabilized and wrapped and the deep cuts treated. He finished the race more than an hour after the last runner crossed the finish line. When asked why, John Stephen Akhwari said,
"My country did not send me 9,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 9,000 miles to finish the race."
Jesus Christ didn't call us to quit on him. Jesus didn't send us into the world to quit on our faith. Jesus Christ calls us to finish the race. But as most of us know, sometimes that's tough. We all have known people who appeared to be on solid footing in their walk with Christ but then dropped out of the race. Can that happen to me? Will that happen to me?
Or we've told ourselves, "That will never happen to me."
Today we're going to look at how we can finish well. John 6:60-71 is a reaction to Jesus' bread of life teaching. John 6:52-59 says: The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. Just because some had trouble with the teaching didn't mean the teaching was flawed. Jesus is very clear about being the bread of life. This is the first of seven "I am" teachings in John's gospel. Don't miss what Jesus is saying. "I am the bread of life." He's the "I am." And when Jesus Christ says "I am," he follows it with a statement about how he can meet the needs of your life. "I am" the One who can meet the basic needs you have.
Do you want to bring something meaningful to your little corner of the world? Jesus is the One who can lead and inspire you.
So how does Jesus satisfy our needs?
We start by learning from those who didn't last…who didn't finish the race. This begins as a cautionary tale. John 6:60 is the story of how some people reacted to the words of Jesus Christ. Remember what happened. Jesus was doing well with the people. He turned water into wine. He healed a man. He healed a child. He fed over 5,000 people. Everybody was happy. They cheered Jesus. They couldn't get enough of the things he was saying and doing. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was on a roll. But then he said, "You need to eat my flesh and drink my blood." The roll stopped. Where did that come from? They looked at Jesus and said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"
Now there's something we need to understand. It wasn't the teaching that was hard to understand. It was that their hearts were hard. Clearly, some teachings take effort to understand. Especially when it is a deep spiritual teaching. There's some unpacking that has to be done. While Jesus' teachings are sometimes challenging, they're not impossible. As someone once said, "I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you." The great cop-out of people unwilling to understand something or accept change is the old, "It wasn't communicated properly." If you have a PhD. in marketing, and someone is unwilling to understand or change, they will always say you failed to communicate properly. Why do I know that? Because it happened to Jesus. And Jesus was the greatest communicator ever. Yet people still failed to understand.
When you look at Jesus' teachings, when people don't understand, it's always a failure of the heart. It's always either an inability to accept change or an unwillingness to adapt to a new worldview. Either way, it is a problem of the heart.
Here's how Jesus describes it in Matthew 11:28-30:
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
What is Jesus saying? His teachings aren't impossible to understand. They are not a burden. They are life-changing. If you have a heart that wants to understand, they are not a heavy burden.
Jesus Christ came to set us free, not weigh us down. But sometimes we over think things. We make them harder than they really are.
Make no mistake. Jesus gives us an incredible freedom within our faith. He doesn't force us to follow him. Because of that, his truth is hard to some people. And who were those people? The passage tells us they were disciples. Not disciples in the specific sense, in reference to the 12. But disciples in the general sense, a reference to the crowd of followers. This includes the people who were arguing with Jesus. These were all the people who were following, learning, being fed, and witnessing the miracles. A huge swell of people. From this large group, we learn, "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him."
So, after many of the disciples turned back, who's left? Here's where our focus is going to be. It narrows from the crowd, to the Jewish leaders, to the disciples, to the twelve, and then finally, to the one. The final word is on what does one person believe about Jesus Christ being the bread of life? That's the focus. The one. What do I believe about Jesus Christ meeting my daily needs?
Check out the negative trajectory of chapter 6:
First the crowd is seeking.
Then they're murmuring.
Then the arguing with Jesus.
Then they're walking away from Jesus.
But the growing negativity ends with someone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Seeking, murmuring, arguing, departing, confessing. We want to be with the last one. We want our hearts aligned with Peter's heart. Peter said to Jesus, "What other option do we have? You are the Only One."
Here's how these four positions break down.
First, it's in our human nature to seek meaning in our lives. We all want a sense of something great than us…something beyond us that gives purpose to our lives. Seeking is good.
Second, there's murmuring. Murmuring is bad. Let's not confuse murmuring with questioning. There's nothing wrong with questioning. "What does this mean? Can you tell me more? Can you help me understand better?" Questioning is good. But that's not what the crowd is doing. They're murmuring. They weren't seeking. They were evaluating. They were complaining. Grumbling is never good. Complaining about others and to others is a great underminer of healthy relationships.
In fact listen to what Paul says in Philippians 2:14-16:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Grumbling and complaining will keep us from finishing well. They contaminate the positive trajectory God wants for our lives.
The third thing they're doing is they're arguing with Jesus. That's why he asks them, "Do you take offense at this?" The word translated "offense" is from the Greek, skandalon. Skandalon can also be translated, "trip up." It's a form of the word that describes the stick used to prop up a snare for an enemy. Jesus is asking, "Are you letting this teaching trip you up" What a great picture word. Jesus is saying, "Is this truth a trap for you? Is this a stick that you might hit against, rendering you trapped in unbelief?"
That's the same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." In other words, just because others have hardened their hearts to the truth of the Cross, we're not going to change or soften our message. Jesus has a way of knowing the sticks in people's lives. He knows and he presses us with the truth. He doesn't back off. He says to a rich young ruler, "If you want to follow me, you have to leave everything you have." Jesus knows money is the trap for him. He walked away from Jesus, empty. His trap caught him.
Jesus says to a Samaritan woman at the well, "Do you want to believe in me? Go call your husband." Jesus knows her relationship issues are her trap. She avoids the trap, telling the whole village about Jesus.
Jesus pushes and presses us. He challenges us, giving us the opportunity to grow in our faith.
In verse 66, instead of believing, they walked away. They walked away. And Jesus exposes their hardened hearts when he says, in verse 63, "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." In other words, he is talking to them about spiritual things, using his flesh and blood as analogies. They didn't stick around to understand.
Are you spending the time…putting in the effort…using the resources God gives you…to understand the life-changing words of Jesus Christ? The fourth thing that's happening is people are walking away from Jesus. His teachings are going somewhere. His words build to something. His healings and his miracles are leading to something. But these people walk away before they get to where Jesus is taking them. They turn their backs on the life-changing gift of the Cross. How horribly sad. They allowed their own stubbornness and closed-mindedness to keep them from the empty tomb and resurrected Christ. They turned back and no longer followed him.
Here's the movement we've seen. The crowd is seeking, then they're murmuring, then they're arguing, then they're walking away. The last movement is the positive one. It's the life-changing trajectory of Peter's confession of faith. "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."
That is a great ending. You've got all these people betraying Jesus or not trusting him or struggling with him…they get caught up in stubbornness and willful ignorance, so they walk away. It happened then and we know it happens now. But then there's Peter. "Do you want to go away as well," Jesus asks. And when Peter answers, I hope he answers for all of us here right now, "You are the Messiah. You are the One. Who else is there to follow? Who else has the words that you have? Who else can change our
If Peter speaks for you, then the stick is still in the snare, and you are moving forward in faith.
Lord Jesus, I can't finish the race without you. You lead me not into temptation. You deliver me from trying to last on my own strength and energy. I cannot move forward in life unless I'm tied into a relationship with you. Thank you, Jesus, for loving me. Thank you for working in my life in ways I sometimes don't even see or understand. You give me a faith that lasts. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.