John 6:60-71: How to empty your church.

“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 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.’70 Then Jesus replied, ‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’ 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)” NIV

A while ago I saw an extract on the news, of an interview with the then England football manager, Sam Allerdyce. He explained that he had developed a certain toughness through the years and gave every impression of a man relishing the challenge. He said with a smile, ”Bring it on boys!”

Leadership is tough, and it is an art to be able to have the hide of an elephant and yet retain the heart of a child. It’s a delicate balance to be able to combine softness and strength. A lot of us are not made of the sort of stuff that smilingly says, ”Bring it on.” We’d avoid it if we could.

But as a preacher you must be prepared to speak the ‘hard’ truth (60). You don’t have to be hard in your manner; but you must not put the hard truths of the gospel in a blender and mush them up.

As a leader you have to be prepared to face grumbling and offence (61). You won’t always be understood and you can’t always be popular.

In John 6, Jesus preached a message that emptied the church – well, almost. At the end of it He only had twelve left in His congregation. (Actually, He knew it was just eleven: verses 70, 71). But was He a success in God’s eyes? Of course He was! We can be too obsessed with growing numbers. The black and white stats don’t tell the whole story.

Methodist missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones tells this story:

”A Brahman came to me confidentially one day and said, ”Your addresses have been very much enjoyed, but there is one thing I would suggest. If you will preach Christ as a way, all right, but say that there may be other ways as well. If you do this, India will be at your feet.” I replied, thanking my brother for his concern, but said: ”I am not looking for popularity, and it is not a question what I should say. It is a question of what are the facts. They have the final word.” I should be glad, more than glad, if I could say that there are others who are saving men, but I know of only One to whom I dare actually apply the term ”Saviour.” But I do dare apply it to Christ unreservedly and without qualification.” ‘The Christ of the Indian Road’, pp.48, 49.

As faithfully as you may preach the good news, the anointing of the Spirit bringing a life-giving word is no guarantee of belief (62, 63). As we saw previously, the mystery of God’s Sovereign grace is at work in every conversion (65). And there were those who believed, few though they were in number. They were not perfect. They included in their ranks Peter, with all his flaws. But he was ever big-hearted Peter; quick to say the right thing on this occasion. Does he not speak for us all? (68, 69). As E. Stanley Jones observed, there is no one like Jesus.

Prayer: Toughen me up Lord to always do and say the right thing; the required thing, in any given circumstance. But please, also, keep my heart so soft towards you, and to every person I meet.