Consider Your Conviction (August 26, 2018)
Consider Your Conviction
It’s sad to say that sometimes words can so offend us at their first utterance that we don’t even take the time to wrestle with them and consider the important truth that they hold. How many of you have blown up when your husband or wife thoughtfully critiqued your work out of love? How many of you have stubbornly refused kind advice from someone else simply because it wasn’t your idea? We do this all the time. Rather than putting in the time to thoughtfully process an idea, we fire off a reaction. Then we are left with either shamefully admitting our wrong, or stubbornly living with the consequences.
The followers of Jesus had already formed a conviction after hearing his discourse on the Bread of Life. “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). But Jesus asked them to reconsider their conviction. Jesus asked, “Does this offend you?” (Jn 6:61). Does my discussion ensnare you and cause you to fall into a spiritual death trap? Does my encouragement that you eat and drink of me – believe in me whole heartedly – so greatly confound you that it is leading you to abandon me in unbelief? Are you so offended by my words that you can’t catch on to the meaning intertwined with them to believe in me wholeheartedly?
What is it about Jesus’ words that cause offense? What things does he tell us that leave us saying, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60). For the Jews that Jesus was addressing, he was telling them, that unless they believe in him, they are not God’s children – they do not have eternal life! And this was shocking to the Jews. “Weh… We are children of Abraham! Moses is our prophet” they would retort! But Jesus is telling them that they aren’t simply God’s children by name. They aren’t born into the family of believers. Whoever believes in Jesus is a child of God. Whoever continues to follow Jesus is a child of God. That person has eternal life, and Jesus will raise them up on the last day. But leaving Jesus, who came down from heaven, in favor of the prophet Moses, who pointed to Jesus, would be leaving God’s family.
I think the offense for us comes when Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Actively follow me. Deny yourself, your work, a little time while on vacation, and be followers of me! You aren’t believers simply because you bear the name Christian. You aren’t children of God simply because you hold membership at a Christian church. Are you actively following Jesus? Are you taking time to mull over his words and believe what they say? Because Jesus has been quite clear in his discussion with these Jews – which we’ve been talking about for 4 weeks now – Jesus is very clear that spiritual food is more important than physical food. He’s been clear that one who truly grasps the complete corruption of his own sinfulness will also devour the gospel and yearn for the means of grace. The offense comes when Jesus tells you flat out, “You need help. You need drastic help. This is not the life I intended you to have. This sinfulness is appalling. And you know, that sin is a real problem in my eyes. It separates you from me.”
But don’t stop listening! Don’t let these words offend you to the point that you stop listening. I didn’t gather our membership to chastise you. I want you here because what Jesus does next is truly shocking! Jesus says, despite your sinfulness, I still love you. In fact, I love you so much that I can’t stand being separated from you. So, Jesus came down from heaven – yes, down from the place where he had all authority, honor, glory, and power. And I’m not saying he came down in the sense that heaven is up there and we are down here. No, he came down to our level. He humbled himself. Became flesh and blood like you and me. And then, he traded places with you and me. You maybe know the account of Jesus standing trial before Pilate. And in a last-ditch effort to set Jesus free – because Pilate knew he was innocent – he asked the crowd, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas [a notorious criminal], or Jesus who is called the Christ?” (Mt 27:17). You are Barabbas. I am Barabbas. Notorious sinners that were set free because Jesus took our place. He died in your place, gave up his flesh and blood so that you could live eternally! It’s an offensive judgment when the crowd chanted that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas set free. It’s a shocking act of grace and mercy when God sets you free and gives up his own Son because he couldn’t bear losing you.
This powerful act of love motivates our every thought and action afterward. Yes, there will be more offensive teachings that you encounter as you grow in your walk of faith. The fact that Jesus says, “I am THE way” (Jn 14:6) – the only way – could cause offense to someone who finds value in a variety of dogmas and doesn’t want to be nailed down to a “religion” – as they state it negatively. That Jesus was not just a mere man, but that he was also true God is mind bending, but necessary for your salvation. That I cannot choose to believe the words of God because I am “dead in sin” and “blind,” even “hostile to God” as the Bible explains. But yet, God gives his Word and messengers to proclaim it. And these words that Jesus speaks are “full of the Spirit and life” (Jn 6:63), so that by a miracle of the Holy Spirit you can say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3). This is hard to make sense of. This is hard to take in. But because God is patient with me, I’m going to patiently take the time to mull over these difficult words, let the Spirit do his work in opening up the Scriptures so that I can believe!
Patience is what Jesus is asking for. To those who were threatening to turn away because of this hard teaching, Jesus said, “What if you had proof?” “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” (Jn 6:62). We know he ascended into heaven. In fact, the disciples who patiently waited for that proof, even through the offensive betrayal, trial, and death of their Savior, witnessed him rise and ascend with their very eyes! And the rest could have too if they were patient with Jesus and remained with him as their salvation unfolded before their very eyes. Jesus calls for that same patient, steady, following from you and I as well! If there are things you don’t understand yet, stay with him. Stay in his Word and connected to his sacraments, because as the disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven, one day you will see him, coming on the clouds of heaven with the trumpet call of God!
Don’t you see? God has lavished his grace on you by sending his Son so that you go free. He poured out his love to you in his Word and brought you to believe that Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has “commanded his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps 91:11) so that “he who began a good work in you” – dying for you and bringing you to faith “will carry it on to completion” (Php 1:6). You are here today because God has made you a disciple and equipped you to continue in that faith. Just as he taught, trained, and equipped the twelve disciples even up to this moment. It was a difficult teaching for them too to understand. And as people are grumbling, complaining, and turning away, he asks them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (Jn 6:67).
With this question, Jesus was urging them to consider their conviction – evaluate their reasons for following him. Did they follow him because of his miracles and they wanted more? Did they follow his because he told them what their ears wanted to hear? Did they follow him because all his Words were crystal clear and easy to understand? They weren’t always. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (Jn 6:67). Will you turn back and no longer follow like the rest of the crowd? Or is there something deeper you believe me to be?
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). What else is there? What else is there that gives what you have to offer Lord? It almost sounds as if he’s saying, “Lord, don’t push us away. “We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69). You give life like no one else can! The financial security I earn from work sure helps me sleep at night. The love showered upon me by family and friends makes my heart race. The peace and relaxation I find while away on vacation sooths my soul. But all of this can be lost in a moment. Stresses of work may follow and disrupt my relaxation. Relationships are only in this life – and even then can be broken or grow cold. Financial stability can be disrupted with just one unexpected disaster. But your love…. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:36-39).
Nothing can take you from Jesus your Savior. But he does not enslave you like mindless robots. He gives you the chance to consider your conviction. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (Jn 6:67). Each and every time your faith is challenged. Each and every time someone disagrees with what you believe, and you verbalize just what it is you believe, God uses that opportunity to strengthen you. His Spirit living in you answers with a resounding, “NO! You have the words of eternal life.” Just as this confession would strengthen the disciples and carry them even through the bleak confusion of the death of Jesus, so also your conviction of salvation in Jesus, guided by the Father and strengthened by the Spirit, will carry you through life. “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8).