Hard Words

  • Posted on: 23 June 2013
  • By: Chris Strevel

Having an infant in our home again is quite a joy. I have not laughed so much in years and had forgotten the simple pleasure of stacking up blocks and knocking them over. I am also relearning a firm “no.” Watching his response to this little word is a combination of comedy and tragedy. It is as if his small world comes to a screeching halt – the quivering lip, a few tears, and sometimes a howl. He inherited this from me. His daddy has no great love for the hard words and warnings that disrupt my tenacious God-delusion. Only by crying as a little child and looking to my Father to overcome my willfulness and pride can I expect him to help me. He resists the proud. I need to become that child of which our Savior spoke.

Life is filled with hard words from our Father. Some of the doctrines of Scripture are impossible to fathom and challenging to accept, especially those that reveal him to be a God of such absolute sovereignty that our only hope is his sovereign mercy. We are not in control. We cannot move him to do what he does not want to do, what he knows is not in our best interest, what will not reveal his glory and our need of him every moment. His “no’s” are so wise and holy. Still, we writhe and cry when we hear them. Like little ones, we want everything to be “yes” – life on our terms, without limits or consequences, religion by whim.

Some of the hardest words our Lord ever spoke are found in John 6. The day before he taught them to the multitude gathering in Capernaum, he had fed them all with only five loaves of bread and a few fishes. Life was grand that day. Jesus Christ revealed his fullness, power, and compassion. There were even leftovers, which he instructed his disciples to gather up, so that “nothing be lost” (v. 12). Now this is a Savior the Jews could embrace. Some of them wanted to take him by force and immediately set him up as a king (v. 15) – a kingdom of plenty, a veritable utopia, without work, money, or faith, just bread and meat, and lots of it. These sorts of expectations are very familiar to us today. Men love this perversion of the kingdom of God, except now they substitute the printing press, government paternity, and equity by theft.

The morning came. Jesus and his disciple had passed over the Sea of Galilee. The crowds were hungry again, so they came searching for Jesus. He understood them perfectly. They followed him because they wanted more bread (v. 26). He urges them to “labor for the meat that does not perish,” the bread that gives eternal life (v. 27). To have this bread, they must believe on him (v. 29). They ask for more signs, more proof; apparently yesterday’s miracle was insufficient (v. 30). They want him to do what Moses did for them: feed them for forty years with bread from heaven (v. 31). He denied that this was the true bread from heaven, but that God’s true bread is the One who “cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world” (v. 33). They are interested; they want this bread (v. 34). It sounds better than what Moses gave. Then, Jesus proclaims: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (v. 35). Moreover, they cannot have this bread unless the Father gives them faith to come to him and receive it (v. 37). This is not bread that they control and define. It is out of their reach unless God sovereignly and mercifully gives them faith to believe and eat.

This is too much for them. His words were wondrously clear, but they were coming from him. We know this man; how can he say, “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (v. 41)? Jesus now presses them to the breaking point. Many preachers would have found a way to lower the bar and win the crowd: not the bread, but a bread; you have the strength to stretch out your hand and take it; you can eat and still hold on to your favorite things, for God wants you to be happy. The Son of Man plays no such games with divine truth. You cannot come to me unless the Father draws you, drags you by an internal renewal that is wholly beyond your ability (v. 44). If you know the Father, he will have taught you of me, and you will come to me (v. 45). Do not try and figure this out by your reason or experience; I am the only one who has seen the Father (v. 46). I alone can reveal him; apart from me, all is darkness. Again: I am the bread of life (v. 48). Your fathers ate manna and died; if you eat me, you will live forever (vv. 49-50). You are dead; I must give my flesh if you are to have life (v. 51).

A fight practically breaks out among the crowd (v. 52). Jesus adds fuel to the fire. Unless you eat me, you have no life in you (v. 53). If you eat me, you will live forever, and I will raise you up (v. 54). My flesh is the only meat; my blood is the only drink (v. 55). I dwell only with those who eat me: take me into their inmost being by faith, live only by me, want nothing but me (v. 56). The living Father has sent me, and the only living men are those who eat me (v. 57). The crowds are dumbfounded. Never did mortal men hear such words! They were offended (v. 61). To have this bread meant admitting a hunger deeper than the stomach: a total emptiness of any good and righteousness, strength and hope save that which this man gives. Even his broader group of disciples was murmuring at his words. Jesus now presses his claims with an alarming clarity. What if you see me ascend up where I was before (v. 62)? What divine, confident eternity, authority, and sovereignty flow from his blessed lips! Then, Jesus says aloud the thought that haunted them, the conclusion they wished to avoid at all costs. “The flesh profiteth nothing” (v. 63). You cannot understand or possess this bread on your terms. Only the Spirit, my Spirit, gives life and enables a man to believe and eat. And as for my words that you hate, “They are spirit, and they are life.” But you cannot have this life unless the Father gives it to you (v. 65).

This was the final straw. His Galilean popularity for all practical purposes ended at this point. Not all, but most of his disciples no longer walked with them. He offered them bread; he offered them himself. He pointed them to his crucified flesh and cleansing blood. They did not want it. His words were too hard, too absolute, too unbearably humbling. Jesus turns to the twelve, who had been listening, wondering. “Will ye also go away” (v. 67)? Ever the first to confess, Peter makes one of the most glorious confessions to be found in all of Scripture. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 68-69). When reason reaches its limit, there is the Christ of God speaking the words of life. When there is a struggle to make his words match our experience, we say good-bye to experience and trust the hard words of the Son of God. When he sifts us so deeply that we feel he is turning us inside out, stomping on all our pride and delusions of strength, there is the Bread of life, offering himself to us. Hard words or no, they are the words of the One sent down from heaven. He will feed us with the true bread, with himself. He will raise us up on the last day. However hard he presses upon us, we must eat of him, believe in him, come to him, cling to him. There is no one else to whom we may go. No other religion. No other philosophy. There is no one. It is either Jesus Christ or starvation in the wilderness of our pride. It is either Jesus Christ or utter emptiness now, and blackness of darkness forever in hell.

These and other hard words of Jesus you must hear and believe if you would have him and obtain his everlasting kingdom. His words come with piercing power. They shatter our delusions: about God, ourselves, and the nature of life itself. We think we are so strong, so smart. Someone will figure out our problems. Some solution will present itself. None is forthcoming. Bring out your best technology, political and economic systems, religions, and philosophies. All tried; all failed; all empty. There is only one bread for sin-ravished men, one source of life and salvation: Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the crucified Savior, the resurrected Lord and King of all men and nations.

If you would eat him, expect to feel dumbfounded before his word, convicted of your sinfulness, and so challenged in your assumptions about life that he alone can come and save you. Depend upon it. This bread is too precious to be combined with the world’s filthy food, too holy to leave us unchanged. Wondering, humbled, yet confident in God’s mercy, confess with Peter. Become the little child who cries for one food only: the safe food of God and of his Christ. He loves us too much to leave our idols intact or our pride untouched. He tells us we have no life in us because he tells us the truth and offers himself to be the true food and drink of our souls. He gave his flesh for us on the cross; his blood has cleansed us. As hard as it may be, eat him: by faith in his saving work, trusting his word, and looking to nothing else to satisfy you but the living bread that has come down from heaven. Reject him, refuse to trust him when circumstances overwhelm you, refuse to believe the truth about yourself, and starve.

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