The passage from the Gospel of John reproduced below was the subject of a sermon recently where I attend church. It is also the catalyst for one of the most important turning points in my life.
Jesus had just finished telling the crowd, “I am the bread of life….” (John 6:48); “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51); and, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (John 6: 54)
The Romans called the early Christians cannibals because of words like these and “the Lord’s Supper” that Christians observed ritually when they met. The crowd didn’t understand what he was saying either. The apostles also didn’t understand, as is evident by the following interchange in John 6:
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Emphasis added)
These words Jesus spoke were allegorical of course. In the sermon on this passage the pastor developed the principal that we feed on what we follow.
Paul says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) “Garbage in, garbage out”, as “they” say. It’s biblical, and it’s common wisdom, but this passage is about much more than an adage for life.
There was a time in my life, long after I became a Christian at the age of 20, that I stopped following Jesus. I didn’t make a conscious decision not follow him. I drifted away over a long period of time. I focused my attention and “fed” on other things, and I found myself far from God.
I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped taking time to pray. I stopped seeking out Christians. I even stopped going to church.
I never stopped believing. I would throw prayers up to God here and there like periodic SOS signals, but I stopped devoting time to God. I filled my mind and my heart on other “food”.
I fell back into old sinful ways and habits. My mind and heart were cold and dark. I was spiritually withering on the vine, shriveling and dying. My life in Christ was choking and suffocating from the pressures of conflicting forces.
I don’t remember if I was reading the Bible or simply recalling the words of Peter in this passage. I had reached a place of spiritual desperation. I knew I was drifting dangerously far from God, and I cried out to Him.
Peter’s words came into my head: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” I asked myself: where will I go? The things I was filling my life, my thoughts, my attention and my heart with were empty, utterly empty. I thought, “Where will I go?”
And then, Peter’s words came into my head, “You have the words of eternal life.” I thought, “Only Jesus has the words of life!” I knew it to be true.
These words became my utterance to God, my heart cry, my desperate plea.
I felt so far from God, so utterly sinful and unfaithful, that I truly thought I may be lost. I had tasted the goodness of God, and I walked away. Like a dog returning to its vomit, I had returned to my old ways of thinking and living. I was prodigal…. Again.
I didn’t know in that moment if there was hope for me, and it didn’t even matter. Where else was there to go? I knew there was nowhere else to go!
I came very near the end of myself that day. I had been there before, but the old self dies hard. It still does.
In the sermon on this passage, the pastor asked, “Where would anyone go if they didn’t follow Jesus?”
In response to his own question, he said, “They would go back to their lives, to what they were doing and what they wanted to do. They might go back to following their friends and family, their political leaders, their religious leaders, philosophers, etc.”
I had gone back to medicating myself and chasing weekends. I fed on my children’s exploits in wresting. I pursing wealth, recognition, security and comfort…. And, I was miserable.
Having tasted of the goodness of God, I was aware – more than ever – how empty these pursuits are in themselves.
Our culture today encourages us to follow ourselves, to be true to ourselves, to live our best lives. Following ourselves is fine until someone doing the same thing rubs up against us. Then, we have problems.
We value tolerance, but we keep people at arm’s distance, lest they might make us feel uncomfortable. We keep God at arm’s length, lest He makes us feel uncomfortable.
Jesus made his followers uncomfortable. His teaching was “hard”, yet the apostles recognized that he has the words of life. Do you recognize this?
As difficult as life can be sometimes, and has hard as it is to follow the teachings of Jesus in the 21st Century (any century really), only He has the words of life!
I had to come to a place of supreme discomfort before I was able to turn to God in my misery and desperation and give myself anew to Him. Maybe sometimes God allows us to wander away just so we can realize what we have in Him. Just so we can know that there is no good in anything else.
I realized in that moment that I was lost. I didn’t know the way out of the wilderness, but I knew Jesus was the way, the truth and life. I knew I could trust him. I had to trust him!
If we look to our “own truth” and try to become our own compass, if we look to ourselves as true north, how do you suppose we will find our way? Would you take a compass into the wilderness that always points toward yourself?
When Jesus asked Peter, “Will you leave also?” Peter asked, rhetorically, where would we go? “You have the words of eternal life!”
The words of eternal life are what we need to follow… wherever we are!
More accurately, Peter asked, “To whom shall we go?” Peter followed Jesus, the person. HE has the words that give eternal life.
John tells us that Jesus is the Word who was with God in the beginning, through whom God created the heavens and the earth. He is the Word that became man and lived among us.
Jesus not only has the words that give eternal life; He IS the Word that gives eternal life!
Jesus stands at the door and knocks, even now, as long as it is still called today. If you were once a follower of Christ, but you have drifted away, it’s not too late to return to him. Do it now. Where else will you go?