November 24, 2020
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ …From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60-66, NIV 1984).
His lymphoma was in remission and we had time to chat. He’s the pastor of an African American church and took time to describe his ministry, “I teach the Bible. Most churches have stopped preaching the Bible, but that’s the Word that God has for His people.” He paused. “When I started at my church, I had a hundred members. How many you think I have now?” Thinking he was about to brag, I offered, “Two hundred?” “No,” he said almost proudly, “Thirty. That’s what happens when you challenge people with God’s truth.” He continued with a story, “This is a true story; not my church, but it happened. People were sitting in church one Sunday and a man came in with a gun, wearing a mask. He hollered out, ‘Any of you who will deny Jesus Christ can walk out of here and live. I’m going to kill everyone who stays.’ A bunch of people got up and walked out. After they left, the man took off his mask and said to the remaining few, ‘I’m your new preacher. Let’s get started.’”
God’s truth has never been easy to follow, though it’s easy to follow the superficial Christian precepts of kindness, prayer and religious practices. This is true for me and for most Christians. The crowds loved Jesus and followed Him as long as they could, as long as He cared for their needs and demanded little. When Jesus got to the hard teachings, many left Him.
The hard teachings have not changed. How deep am I willing to go in loving those who hurt me? How hard will I follow when Jesus tells me to stop storing up treasures on earth? How much will I pour out for those who are in need? Will I actively seek the disenfranchised and touch them with kindness? How bold will I be to speak the name of Jesus? Will I stop judging others? Will I act justly and demand justice for all? Will I sacrifice money and time I could use for my family to give and go where God asks me to give and go? Will I leave when a masked preacher comes in with a gun?
The hard teachings of Christ run deep, and we may be hurt when we follow them.
Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi, is religious but not Christian. In his book The High Mountains of Portugal, he writes, “Tomas realizes that this matter of faith was either radically to be taken seriously or radically not to be taken seriously.” Jesus said the same to the church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16, NIV 1984).
Will I follow the hard teachings of Christ or stay comfortable with superficial precepts?
“‘You do not want to leave me too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:67-68, NIV 1984).
Burn deeper into my will so that I may follow.