LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 29 December 2019
Sermon Text: John 6:53-69
I. Jesus’ teaching on the core of Christianity
II. Jesus’ question to His disciples
III. A disciple’s answer
Conclusion: True Christian discipleship
It has arrived – the last Lord’s Day in 2019. More than that, the last Lord’s Day in the decade of 2010 has come. At a moment like this, our human nature does not allow us to move on but to pause for a moment and, with a deep breath, look back the time that has passed. So many things have happened to each of us in this year. Some were hard to pass through, whereas some others made us smile and joyful. There were some exciting moments too. While some of them were fruitful in many ways, some were regretful. So, as much as we look forward to having a new and fresh year, it’s natural for us to reflect the time passed.
Having said, I wonder whether you’ve reflected your time, counting the Lord’s grace and blessing. I also wonder whether you try to evaluate the meanings of the things happened to you in the past year and figure out how those meanings have worked together for your spiritual good. If you haven’t, I recommend you to try it over the last days of the year 2019. It’d be even better if you could measure how much you’ve grown in faith over the past decade.
Christian’s spiritual growth is, in other word, Christian discipleship. By Christian discipleship, I mean ‘the process by which Christians – Jesus’ disciples – grow in the Lord Jesus and are equipped by the Holy Spirit to overcome the world and become more and more Christlike.’ So, Christian discipleship is a process and progress in faith. Over this year 2019, over the passing decade, Christians grow in the knowledge of God and Jesus and, as their trust in Jesus grows, they grow also in living their life for Christ.
This is the topic I’d like to consider with you today in the light of our text passage from Jn. 6. Especially, I’d like to focus on the foundation of Christian discipleship. I mean, on what foundation we Christians stand, on what ground you and I continue following Jesus. In other words, what makes Christians to remain with Jesus and abide in Him, unlike all others in the world. Or, why are we here in Christ’s church, worshipping Him? This is the point I want to expound today in the light of the story of Jesus’ disciples. Lord willing, we’ll continue and consider more about Christian discipleship over some Sundays in the new year.
I. JESUS’ TEACHING ON THE CORE OF CHRISTIANITY
Coming to our text passage in Jn. 6, let me point out to you that what we read from this passage is very odd, very strange indeed, because Jesus taught people who had been following Him for some time the core doctrine of Christianity, the core of the gospel, and that teaching caused so many of His followers to reject and leave Jesus. From this moment and on, they no longer followed the Lord. What Jesus taught them were ‘the centrality of the word’ in Christian faith and ‘the doctrine of election.’ Especially in v. 63, Jesus said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” What He meant was simply this: “Believe in God; believe also in Me,” as in Jn. 14:1. Then, about God’s sovereignty and holiness wrought in His election, He spoke in v. 65: “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” And with this teaching, many of Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him.
As we see this reaction strange, as we consider their departure from the Lord truly odd, the same has repeated over the history of Christian church. It still happens even today. When the Bible is opened and Jesus’ free saving grace is read out and explained to people, not many of them take what they hear to their hearts, but most of them reject that word and walk away. When the Triune God’s redemption plan is read and expounded, many hearers seem to be even offended because, in their hearing of this divine rescue plan, people have no part in it but all credit, thus, praise go to the Triune God. Many people are offended by this. Moreover, they are told that they are in sin – in fact, dead in sin – and their only destination is eternal damnation unless they’re rescued by God through Jesus. And this makes them more than simply ‘offended’; they hate the message and the One who disclosed this divine plan through His birth and life and death and resurrection. So, they leave Jesus and no longer walk with Him. What a strange rejection and departure theirs is!
II. JESUS’ QUESTION TO HIS DISCIPLES
Those who walked away that day from Jesus were many in number. As we read v. 67, it seems that only those called the Twelve remained and were with the Lord. Likewise, whereas there are thousands and tens of thousands of people outside the walls of this church this morning, it seems that only handful of worshippers have come here and gathered together. Seeing this, we need to ask this question to ourselves, that is, ‘Why am I in the church? Why are we here? What is the true reason for our following Christ?’
That is exactly what the Lord Jesus asked His twelve disciples, but in slightly different words – He asked in v. 67, “Do you want to go away as well?” What He really asked is, ‘Why, do you think, you haven’t followed the rest but remain with Me? Have you thought about that and do you know your reason for not leaving but staying with Me?’ Jesus asked this to help His twelve disciples out to start thinking about their true reason for staying with Jesus. So, He is asking you and me to think about why we’re with the Lord in His church. The questions are, ‘Why have you been coming to this church and worshipping God in the name of Jesus? What made you turn your eyes to Jesus and remember Him? And that over the past year and over the past decade and over your entire life?’ Have you seriously thought about the reason and answer for all these questions? He asks the same question to each of His followers, “Do you want to go away as well?”
III. A DISCIPLE’S ANSWER
What would be your answer to this question of the Lord? Before we look at Simon Peter’s answer recorded in vs. 68-69, let me list a couple of wrong reasons some people have.
Firstly, some people come to church, hang around Jesus because it seems to be the right thing for them to do. Their parents and grandparents did it, and so do they. It’s a ‘mop psychology.’ People they know go to church, do things Christians do, and so do they. It is most likely that many among those dispersed disciples of Jesus in Jn. 6 had come to the Lord because people they knew had done the same and followed Him. After all, He was a strangely different rabbi, that is, teacher, to their eyes. After all, church and Christians seem to be slightly, if not strangely, different place and people from the rest of the world. This is a wrong, very wrong, reason for anyone to be in church. He/she is more than welcome to come to church with their families, friends or anyone they like – in fact, most, if not all, of us started our life in the Lord Jesus that way, didn’t we? – but, if any such person remains with that reason, never thinking about the right reason for following Jesus, that’s very wrong and even dangerous because the warning Jesus gave in a parable of the narrow door in Lk. 13 might be the case for such a thoughtless person. In that parable, the narrow door is closed and those who have been near, yet, not gone through that narrow door knock the door and ask that door to be reopened for them. The master answers in that parable to them, “I do not know where you come from.” They reply and say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But the master’s words are the same, “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” So, remaining in church because of this wrong reason is not only wrong but also dangerous.
Another wrong reason for coming to Christ’s church is to satisfy various individual needs. It seems fun at church and entertaining; church gives people position and power; it seems that people could express themselves in church, and so on. Occasionally, some seek social and/or economic benefit in church. This is as wrong and dangerous as the first inappropriate reason.
Peter’s answer to Jesus recorded in vs. 68-69 is the right reason. This is the reason every disciple of Jesus in His church must endorse and uphold. Hear what Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” What an amazing answer this is! I believe that this answer is the best answer anyone could give to the Lord Jesus. It’s the best explanation of Christian discipleship. But I think that this is not fully appreciated and emphasised by many Christians. We know Peter’s another profession made in Mt. 16:16, that is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If that profession is about the nature of Jesus, this one in Jn. 6 is about how a Christian grows in faith and how a disciple of Jesus is nurtured to be fully equipped to overcome the world and be more Christlike.
Let me briefly expound this confession of Peter and see what discipleship really is. The first is that a Christian notices and realises that Jesus is the only One to come for salvation. So, Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” He means, ‘There’s none like You, Jesus; who else is in the world that we should go? None!’ He means that he has done his search up until this very moment of making his confession, but couldn’t find any suitable one – there was none but Jesus who would satisfy his soul. Listen to the psalmist who knew this more than a thousand of years before Peter and said in Ps. 73:27 and 28 in these words: “behold, those who are far from [God] shall perish … But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge.” There’s none other but Jesus, and this is the first and beginning in discipleship.
Then, Peter continues and says, “You have the words of eternal life.” He means, ‘You speak the truth and Your words convey the divine power that gives life.’ In fact, a disciple’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ universal lordship and discovery of His possession of the life-giving word take place simultaneously. Because His word is living and gives eternal life, a Christian finds that there’s none like Him! Because Jesus is the Lord, His word saves sinners and brings them to be reconciled to God!
Peter continues, “and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” This is truly the corollary of Christian discipleship. This is a process, growth, expansion and deepening of faith and trust in Jesus. The early enthusiastic expression of faith and hope has grown to fuller faith and knowledge. It means that believing and knowing the Lord have become fuller and deeper over time, and the result is in effect now in the life of a disciple. The emphasis is on the present fruit-bearing life, resulting from the deepening process of faith. In other words, earlier in one’s Christian life, he knew Jesus partially and followed Him reluctantly and incompletely, but over time, he has grown and now walks with the Lord, knowing Him more fully, thus, doing things that please Him. And he seeks more of such things in his life; he follows and serves Jesus with a greater joy. He’s say that the more he knows Jesus, the firmer his confession is, and that is, as Peter said, ‘Jesus is the Holy One of God!’
An example of this deepening, growing discipleship is the life of Judson Van De Venter of the 19th century. Judson Van De Venter wrote a famous hymn we know well, ‘I surrender all.’ He was an art teacher in a public school in America, but knowing and deepening his faith in Christ, he changed his career and became a servant of God, serving the Lord as an evangelist. When he completed his hymn, ‘I surrender all,’ he wrote a short memo that described his heart. This is what he wrote: ‘For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life, I became an evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, He caused me to sing.’ And this hymn goes like this: ‘All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.’ The second stanza continues, ‘All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow; worldly pleasures all forsaken, take me, Jesus, take me now.’ Do you see how a disciple of Jesus grows in faith and enjoys its fruit? This is what Simon Peter answered to the Lord and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”
CONCLUSION: TRUE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP
So, now, let me go back to the question I asked earlier, ‘Why are we here? Why do we worship Jesus and follow Him?’ I believe that you now know what your answer is as the Lord’s disciples. We have no one else to go to than Jesus, not because Jesus is the only one to come, like the case of the last mountain peak left in the world unsubmerged at the time of Noah’s flood, but because Jesus is the only true refuge – unlike millions of false refuges of this world. He is the only true Saviour for sinners to come and rest. More than that, as we grow – not by our wit or effort, but by God’s grace and nurture – our faith deepens over time, and it becomes clearer and firmer to our eyes that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the King and Lord of all, set by the Father! So, to Him alone we surrender our all. This is why we’re here and worship the Lord Jesus and, through Him and by the Holy Spirit, God the Father.
So, true Christian discipleship is a joyful process of faith in the life of all who come to Jesus and remain in His church. And true Christian discipleship begins with this foundational confession, that is, “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God!” ***