When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:60-69
If you have seen Monty Roberts you might know a little about horse whispering. It’s the art of taming horses without force or harsh breaking tactics, rather by a series of moves by which in 20 minutes time he can have a formerly wild horse following him around a horse pen muzzle to shoulder. Check out his You Tube videos for a look at this fascinating practice.
As Jesus speaks to the people of Capernaum and surrounds, he is engaging in the first part of this unusual practice. He is pushing people farther and farther away from any form of easy-believism, challenging them to think seriously about his true claims and proper place in their hearts. Jesus is no spiritual adornment; he is the Son of God, and you don’t just half-believe in him if you are to be his disciple. These are challenging words. But his challenging words are for a greater purpose than pushing people away. Jesus desires a full commitment to his ways, and an abandonment of anything that would compromise his full impact in the lives of his followers.
I believe this applies especially to a somewhat misguided approach to mission and evangelism by which we seek to offer a very low threshold of belief, with little challenge to take Jesus’ words seriously. If we are content simply to be Jesus’ friends, we will not experience the fullness of his redemptive love and life-changing presence. If, however, we acknowledge that only Jesus has the words of eternal life, and that we must follow him, we will experience abundant eternal life.
Know this well: when Jesus’ hard words challenge you, his desire is to bring you to the end of yourself so that you find your true life and salvation in him and him alone.