Has anyone ever promised you that following Jesus would be easy? Maybe Jesus would fulfill your wildest dreams and make everything in your life go smoothly if you simply asked him into your heart. Though I believe it is true that life with God is the only “life abundantly,” I am also convinced that it can be life’s greatest challenge. Jesus doesn’t promise us ease in life, but he does promise us life. After all, what do we expect becoming disciples of an innocent and executed man?
The early disciples of Christ learned this in dramatic fashion during an extended conversation about the bread of life. Jesus turns the conversation from the topic of eating the bread of life, Him, and receiving eternal life, to eating his flesh and drinking his blood; a shocking and even odd metaphor in any culture. And it isn’t an option.
“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...” (vs. 53-54)
At this point, it is only natural to wonder who this guy is. The crowd wonders about his stance on cannibalism, and his disciples are muttering among themselves that this is a hard saying. And it is a hard saying! Into a world full of religious options, this man says he is the only path to salvation. Into a Jewish culture with a well established set of expectations regarding the Messiah, Jesus comes claiming all those rolls and rights, but doesn’t look at all like what they expected. And to cap it all off, apparently, there will be blood.
The Gospels are full of crowds who both follow and reject Jesus. It is not uncommon for a crowd to gather because of the miracles, hear Jesus teach, and then split into groups of devotees, hangers on, and outright enemies. At this point in John 6 something relatively unique happens. John doesn’t remark on the crowd’s rejection of Jesus. It looks more like this:
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’....After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (vs. 60, 66)
His disciples reject him. It looks like it will be too hard to follow him – to go through what it will mean to “eat” his flesh and blood, to associate so closely with Jesus that it will be like he is in them and they are in him. But there is one notable if not surprising exception.
“Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’...” (vs 68)
This is a profound moment of clarity and priority for Peter and the rest who stayed. It is less important that Jesus might be hard to follow. It is less important that he will say and do things that may be hard to accept. It is less important that blood might be shed in following Him. It is more important that Jesus has the words of life.
The disciples who walked away from Christ that day chose what looked like the easier path, but lost life abundantly and life eternal. Peter’s life did not become immediately easy or perfect, but in choosing to follow Christ come what may, he found God’s life.