"Can you believe it? He thinks he's the only one who has a connection to God." "He says only through him can you have heaven!"
That's what people were saying. And they weren't misquoting Jesus either. In John 6, Jesus makes it really clear. Without him, you don't get heaven. Without him, all your "good" is not "good." It's the truth. But his followers thought it was a little bit extreme. So at the beginning of our text for today, John 6:60, here's what's going on: "On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?' From this time on, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."
Notice who was turning away. It wasn't the "bad" people leaving him. These are "disciples". This is the crowd that previously would have said all sorts of nice things about Jesus, and maybe still will - but "it's just too hard...too extreme."
Fellow "disciples" of Jesus, do you see the warning here? The truth of God's word is a hard teaching. Now, some of the stuff in God's word is easy. It's easy to hear about love and joy and peace and justice and fairness. But when God's word gets serious with us about our problems, when that justice and power turn against us, when God gets jealous of his place at number one in our hearts - the truth gets hard. It's time to ask the question of yourself that Peter does in verse 68: "To whom shall we go?"
Look at verse 63. There Jesus says about your relationship with him, about what really matters, about your eternity: "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing."
"The flesh counts for nothing?!" Can you feel your flesh react to that, your life, your lifestyle, everything this world thinks is important?
And your flesh just won't be quiet about it either, screaming its message in so many different ways. It will scream at you through your own brainpower, when God's teachings seem to contradict the "findings" of science. It will be screaming at you through your own body as it wants to experience things that God's word says need to be avoided.
"Come on, just have another drink, who cares if you're a bit tipsy - everyone else is and they are having so much fun!" "Come on; just go a little bit farther on the date, even though you're not married. This is how we show love!" "Come on, check out that pornography. It's not hurting anyone and it feels so good." In a hundred other ways your flesh will be screaming at you.
Friends, please do not think that you can outshout your flesh, not on your own. It won't work. I know. You are strong. You know your stuff. You've been disciples of Jesus for years now. But the flesh just won't be quiet, and if you're not careful, pretty soon, you get used to his shouting and it even starts sounding pretty good.
To whom shall we go? Your flesh is trying to lead you straight to hell, to death forever. And even before that, the things your flesh is shouting to you ultimately ruin your life here too. As much fun and adventure and excitement it promises - every one of those promises is empty, and the party ends, and the relationship falters; the money is spent and only the guilt and regret last.
To whom shall we go? Look at the contrast to the flesh: "The Spirit gives life.... The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."
This is why I encourage my people to be in God's word, committing it to memory, taking it to heart. When you are trying to figure out to whom you will go - it is the word that gives you the Spirit and true life. In the word is forgiveness for all your failures and real life, with purpose and meaning and something far more lasting than a couple hours of fun.
These are the words of eternal life...not just about eternal life, but they give, they bring, they are eternal life. "These are the words," Jesus said, "that testify about me." While your flesh causes failure, God's own Son came and took flesh. He took our weaknesses and mistakes. He took your place. He paid for the shouting of your flesh by shouting out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He suffered your hell and then shouted at the top of his lungs, "It is finished!" He defeated once and for all everything that prevented us from living. He sacrificed his flesh to replace ours, to give us life.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.