Jesus had fed 5,000 people using five loaves of bread and two fish. He had poured out His energy for them with healing and teaching like the world had never seen before. All He required of them was belief. And for that, He would give them everything that mattered…including everlasting life with God in the halls of paradise. Their response is remarkable:
When the people heard Jesus, they began to grumble and complain. Who did He think He was to say that He had come down from Heaven? They all knew He was the son of Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth. They all knew His mom and dad…or at least they knew about them. How dare He claim to come from Heaven?
If you think about it, it would be a ridiculous for any normal human to say they came from Heaven. Actually, it would be worse than that. It would be a horrific lie. If a regular human claimed to come from Heaven as the God of all creation it would be the greatest offense possible. It would show tremendous dishonor to the only One who is worth all of our worship, honor, and praise. That is why the false religions of the world are so terribly wrong. They teach crooked distortions about the One who is straight and right and true! They draw people away to worship gods that are not real instead of the One who Is. They join the lies of Satan as he tries to keep humanity from understanding the beauty of their Maker.
But if Jesus really was from Heaven, well, then something magnificent was happening in the region of Galilee. It meant God had come to earth. It would mean that the most important decision the people of Galilee would make in their lives was their decision about how they responded to Him. It is the most important decision you or I can make, too.
Jesus knew how the crowd was grumbling against Him. He also knew that His Father was powerfully at work through the Holy Spirit in everything He preached. The Galileans were rejecting the work of the Spirit just as much as they were rejecting the words of Christ! It was the same sin as the sin of the religious leaders when they called Jesus a partner of Satan! This is what He said to them:
“‘Stop grumbling among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.’”
Wow. Jesus is saying that nobody can believe in Him unless God initiates and pursues them. If any of us is a follower of Christ, it is because the God of Heaven looked down on us with mercy and pulled us out of the mire of our sin. He is the reason we are able to repent! It is a great gift. But that is not all the Father will do for those who believe in Jesus with sincere faith:
“‘I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me. No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the Bread of Life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the Bread that comes from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living Bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’”
Wow. Jesus really turned their argument around on them. Why would they want the same manna that God had sent in the time of Moses when all of them ended up dying in the wilderness? Especially when Christ was there as Bread from Heaven, offering them Himself? They only had to believe to receive everlasting life!
When the Jews heard Jesus say this, they began to talk and argue about it with each other. They said, “‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’” They were so focussed on this world that they made everything about the physical body. Their hardened hearts could not perceive the spiritual meaning of Christ’s words about eternal things from Heaven.
Jesus did not try to make it clear to them. He knew they did not have ears to hear. He knew that those who came to listen with honest faith would respond with the same trust and devotion as His disciples. He went on speaking, knowing full well that they would refuse to understand:
“‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 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 Him. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but He who feeds on this Bread will live forever.’”
It probably sounded like Jesus was speaking in riddles to His hard-hearted crowd. He was using difficult ideas in the same way He used His parables. Only those listening with receptive faith would understand His meaning.
Jesus was already looking ahead to the time when He would offer up His life on the cross. Through His body and His blood, He would win salvation for humanity, and feeding on that powerful gift is the only way to receive that salvation! Only through the precious offering of His body and blood…the blood He shed for you and me. He would be God’s special sacrifice for the life of you and I. What a beautiful Savior!
In some ways, we do feed on Him. We celebrate His sacrifice and victory when we celebrate communion…we partake of bread and wine (or grape juice!) in the memory of what He did when He offered up His body and shed His blood. But there is a way we feed on Him spiritually too…or at least we can. In the deep places of moving into life in Jesus, there is a hunger…a deep, rich need that is as compelling as the desire that arises with falling in love. The need to be satisfied in Him and by Him, to gaze on His beauty, to draw into the richness of His goodness, to rest in His love…there is a hunger that these holy compulsions satisfy.
And yet as the people stood there and listened to Jesus speak of feeding on His flesh, they didn’t get it. Many of Jesus’ own disciples were troubled by it. “‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” they asked. They began grumbling to each other about it. Jesus said:
“‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before! The Spirit gives life: the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’”
Wow. Sit with that for a second. ” ‘The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.'” They are life. They are the answer to everything.
Jesus knew exactly which of those among them did not truly believe in Him. He also knew who would betray Him in the end. He said, “‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’”
After Jesus said these things, many of the disciples who followed Him turned away. Imagine it. After all the miracles. After the wonderful teaching…after being loved by Him. They could have asked Him questions. They could have remembered His goodness. They could have stood with Him until they understood. But they left. Imagine the moment as they walked away…imagine the tension, the rejection, the hurt. The prophecies of the Old Testament said that Jesus would be despised and rejected. I wonder if this rejection…by the men that He has been journeying with for months and years…was the most painful of all.
Jesus looked to His twelve disciples and asked, “‘You don’t want to leave me too, do you?’”
Heartbreaking, vulnerable Lord. Who would stand with the Worthy One? Who would be faithful by His side? How the angels must have trembled with fierce, protective love for their King.
Simon Peter spoke up, “‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’”
Wow. Read that again! Glorious, bold, and bright! The grandeur of Peter’s faith! The glory of BELIEF. For all of his weakness and failure, our Peter sure knew how to rise! And in that terrible moment for Jesus when all others had left, I am so glad that he spoke those words.
Jesus said that those the Father had drawn would not be lost, and Peter was a vivid example of what that looked like. Out of all those crowds, religious leaders, and failed disciples, there were the few whose faith rang clear and true. They had eyes to see and ears to hear the eternal message of the Messiah. And yet as you read Peter’s words, there is a sweet vulnerability to them, too. He literally felt like he had no options. He had seen that Jesus and His goodness made everything else seem stale and dead by comparison. He had nowhere else to go.
Jesus replied, “‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’” Jesus knew that eleven of those disciples had true faith, even as the whole Jewish world was turning against Him. He also knew that there was one who was going to betray him. He was talking about Judas Iscariot.