When I was in college I took a course in Communications. One of the lessons had to do with communicating with symbolic language. We were given the assignment of writing an article that demonstrated this method. Now Gloria and I were in our first year of marriage and were learning the reality of household expenses and inflation. I had just read that the price of hamburger meat was increasing. So I decided to write an article illustrating that. I entitled it “The Golden Calf.” After sharing the article, the class was to try to determine what I was really trying to say. I didn’t communicate very well, obviously. The best one of the guys in the class could come up with was that I was talking about girls’ legs!
Along this line I read an interesting article this week:
Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. This pastor has been an avid sports fan all his life. But I’ve had it! I quit this sports business once and for all. You can’t get me near one of those places again. Want to know why…
Every time I went, they asked me for money.
The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.
I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites — they came
to see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.
The band played some numbers that I had never heard before.
It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
I don’t want to take my children to any games, because I want
them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.
–(Taken from Sermonillustrations.com –Author Unknown, At Calvary, Covington, KY.)
Now what do you think that article was really talking about?
Our scripture today is no laughing matter. Jesus had fed the 5000 with the 5 small barley loaves and 2 small fish. That evening—or early the next morning—he walked on water to where his disciples were struggling against rough waters in their boat. Later, after reaching shore, the crowd caught up with him again, this time desiring to anoint Him as King. He accused them of being more interested in what they could get (free food) than what He wanted to do in them and through them. He gave them a discourse about being “The Bread of Life,” and then told them that they had to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood if they were going to have any part with Him. If they understood at all, they knew He meant they had to commit themselves completely to Him and obey His teachings without hesitation or reservation. And they just didn’t like what they were hearing. And that brings us to this morning’s Scripture reading. Note particularly John 6: 66—“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” And one can just feel the emotions that Jesus was feeling in the next verse where we read, “You do not want to leave too, do you? Jesus asked the Twelve.”
It would seem that this was a turning point in the public ministry of Jesus. Before this everyone wanted to be found in the crowds seeking Jesus. After this, people had second thoughts and even perceived that it was dangerous to be recognized as a follower of Jesus. The establishment even began to develop plans to eliminate Jesus!
Years ago in a seminary course in Kansas City our class took spiritual profile test—I can’t even remember which test it was. But our instructor evaluated the test results for each of us and made the statement that I had a very high concept and respect for the Church. And he was correct. I believe that the Church is God’s tool for bringing His people together, training them, and sending them out to evangelize the lost. I believe that it is important to make a personal commitment to the church—to support it with time and talent and finances. I believe that the only perfect church is the One that will be revealed when Christ Returns. The physical expressions of the church that we see are the result of the Holy Spirit calling people together and helping them in their humanness to work together, to build up one another, to love one another, and to fulfill the mission of Christ prior to His Return. I believe that in the local church, we learn to work together, we learn to submit to authority of the Bible and the standards of holiness conduct that the church has identified. And I believe we should come to church to learn how to personally fulfill the mission that God has for each of us—To be His witnesses unto all the world!
I believe that my personal commitment to the local church remains good when things are going great and when things are not going as great as I would like. I understand that I do not have to have my own way in everything that is said and done. I like certain types of music. Other people like different styles. I choose to respect those differences so long as they honor God. I do not come to church just so that I can be made to feel good. Sometimes I need to be made to feel bad. Sometimes I need to tolerant things I do not particularly like just so that someone else can be built up in worship and understanding. Bottom line is this: Coming to church is not about me—it about Christ first of all, and, secondly, about others—winning others to Jesus!
And so, when I read in John 6:66 that many no longer followed Jesus because they were not comfortable with what He had said, I immediately think of how easy it is for people to quit the church when things don’t go just the way they want it to go.
For the short time we have together today, let’s examine the parallels between our commitment to the Church and those who initially chose to follow Jesus and then departed from Him.
I. WHY WERE THEY FOLLOWING JESUS?
a. The gospels are pretty clear that Jesus’ public ministry was really sensational. John the Baptist had already created quite a stir in the religions community, and his endorsement of Jesus certainly helped turn public attention to Him. We read in John chapter one how two of John’s disciples left him and became disciples of Jesus. And in Mark chapter 1 we read how in Capernaum after Jesus cast out a demon in a man in the synagogue the people of the town immediately begin bringing their sick to Jesus to be healed. Mark 1:32-34 says, “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” Word spread, and before long everyone who was someone turned out to see and hear what Jesus would do and say next. And by the time we get to John chapter 6, we see another reason people were following Jesus. It wasn’t because of what He preached. It was because they thought He would take care of them. Instead of working for their food, all they had to do was let Jesus feed them. Instead of asking Jesus what they could do for Him, they were thinking of what Jesus could do for them! He seemed like the Goose that laid the Golden Egg! And, more, instead of submitting to the authority of the government, they thought Jesus would overthrow the government.
b. But what about the Church—which, by the way, the New Testament identifies as “The Body of Christ”—why do people attend a church? There are all kinds of studies that seek to answer that question. A Gallup survey from 2007 interviewed 569 people who claimed they attended church once each month. Their answers:
23% said for Spiritual Growth and guidance; 20% said it “keeps me grounded/inspired; 15% said “It’s my Faith”; 15 % said “To worship God”; the13% said it was because of the fellowship of other believers/The Community:;12% because they believed in God/Religion; 12% because they were brought up that way/ family value/tradition.And there were many other answers by the rest…
And while I accept the validity of those answers, after pastoring for over 40 years I can tell you that many choose their church for different reasons:
• It’s convenient location
• A friend goes there.
• There are activities for our children and youth
• It makes them feel good.
• It is a great place for business contacts and networking.
• It is a good place to find a boyfriend or girl friend—a future spouse.
• (Parents, spouse, colleagues) expect me to be there.
And too often, there is no concern over how true to the Bible the Church is in its teaching, preaching, and practices.
There are lots of reasons people do things. Some of those—hopefully, a lot those—are good reasons. But sometimes the reasons are not really very good. And sometimes they are downright selfish: “So long as I am getting and not required to give, I will go!” That seems to be the case in our scripture today. As soon as people discovered it would cost them some sacrifice, they backed away from Jesus!
II. WHY DID THEY STOP FOLLOWING?
A. In our scripture passage, the many who stopped following Jesus did so because He refused to allow them to control Him. He refused to be used as a “Good Luck Charm” or a “Genie in a Bottle.” They wanted to tell him what to do, but He insisted that they obey His commands. Their response showed immaturity—“If I can’t have my way, I’ll take my toys and go home!”
B. And why do people stop going to church—or switch to other churches? One person listed 10 excuses as to why people do not attend church:1. The Church if full of Hypocrites.2. I’ve been hurt by the church.3. I really don’t get anything out of the church—the preaching or the music.4. You don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian or go to heaven.5. My child is “gifted” in athletics and plays games on Sunday.6: I work on Sundays.7. I can just watch church on television.8. We were out late on Saturday night.9. My husband is out of town almost every weekend—and I don’t want to go to church alone.10. We can just do church at home.
And while I have heard all these excuses, there are many more excuses as to why people decide to change churches. I’ve heard comments like:
• I don’t feel like I’m being fed.
• They don’t have the programs I want .
• They aren’t very friendly.
• I didn’t like the way the pastor handled that situation.
• And the big One: I don’t like their style of music!
C. The crowds that first followed Jesus turned out to be somewhat fickle. Their commitment level proved to be very weak and shallow. They were more interested in what they could get than what they could give. And in the church world too often people choose to look somewhere else rather than choosing to pitch in to do what needs to be done.
III. AND THEN THERE WERE TWELVE…
a. The question Jesus asked the Twelve must have been bathed in emotion. And it must have been very penetrating to the hearts and minds of the Twelve. Crowds were leaving. Jesus was not backing down. Rather than begging people to stay, He sadly watched them walk away. I’m sure each of the Twelve was giving serious thought as to their own commitment and their own future. And, bless his heart, it was Simon Peter who voiced the decision they had all reached: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6: 68-69). And with that decision, Jesus produced Leaders who literally turned the world upside down.
Years ago, Billy Graham shared this in a sermon:
I have in my hand a letter written by a Communist student at an eastern university after he had gone to Mexico and become a Communist. He wrote to his fiancee, breaking off their engagement. Here is in part what he said. This was given to me by the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Montreat, North Carolina, where I live. Here is what it says:
We Communists have a high casualty rate. We’re the ones who get shot and hung and lynched and tarred and feathered and jailed and slandered, and ridiculed and fired from our jobs, and in every other way made as uncomfortable as possible.
A certain percentage of us get killed or imprisoned. We live in virtual poverty.
We turn back to the party every penny we make above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive.
We Communists don’t have the time or the money for many movies, or concerts, or T-bone steaks, or decent homes and new cars. We’ve been described as fanatics.
We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one great overshadowing factor,
THE STRUGGLE FOR WORLD COMMUNISM.
We Communists have a philosophy of life which no amount of money could buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty personal selves into a great movement of humanity, and if our personal lives seem hard, or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind.
There is one thing in which I am dead earnest and that is the Communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife and mistress, my bread and meat. I work at it in the daytime and dream of it at night. Its hold on me grows, not lessens as time goes on. Therefore I cannot carry on a friendship, a love affair, or even a conversation without relating to this force which both drives and guides my life. I evaluate people, books, ideas and actions according to how they effect the Communist cause
and by their attitude toward it. I’ve already been in jail because of my ideas and if necessary, I’m ready to go before a firing squad.
(Quoted from aSpeech delivered at Urbana 1957 by Billy Graham)
How can we think that God expects any less commitment to Christ than this?
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of “The Purpose Driven Life” : “In 1939, in a stadium much like this, in Munich Germany, they packed it out with young men and women in brown shirts, for a fanatical man standing behind a podium named Adolf Hitler, the personification of evil. And in that stadium, those in brown shirts formed with their bodies a sign that said, in the whole stadium, “Hitler, we are yours.” And they nearly took the world. Lenin once said, “give me 100 committed, totally committed men and I’ll change the world.” And, he nearly did. A few years ago, they took the sayings of Chairman Mao, in China, put them in a little red book, and a group of young people committed them to memory and put it in their minds and they took that nation, the largest nation in the world by storm because they committed to memory the sayings of the Chairman Mao. When I hear those kinds of stories, I think ‘what would happen if American Christians, if world Christians, if just the Christians in this stadium, followers of Christ, would say ‘Jesus, we are yours’? What kind of spiritual awakening would we have?”
As we close out our church year this month and select leaders for the new church year, my prayer is that we will have many people step up and say:
I am committed to this church. I am here to work through the decisions, to pray, to bear one another’s burdens, to love, to support the mission of the church with all my ability so that we can reach the lost for Jesus! When the going gets tough, the church can count on me to stand and do whatever it takes to fulfill its mission.
Will you be one who is willing to make that commitment?