“This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60)
Let’s not be foolish or naïve. While we celebrate the magnificent sayings of our Lord–“No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)–let us admit He said some other things that befuddled His hearers then and provoke modern disciples to scratch their heads.
Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53), which was what drove His disciples to ask the question above in the first place. Jesus went on to explain that He was speaking spiritually. “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (6:63). Whatever else that means, it means those words should be interpreted “spiritually” and not literally. We recall that Scripture also says, “The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Does that help?
It does. But we are still left with a basket-load of questions. And the Church has wrestled with that issue ever since: To what extent is the eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, literally or symbolically the body and blood of Jesus? The history of the Christian Church has entire chapters devoted to that single question and is littered with the bodies of those brave soldiers who dared take an unpopular position. To our shame.
There are more such statements of our Lord that left His audience–and many of us–scratching our heads, wondering what to make of them. (In all that follows, I’m including only those spoken by the Lord Jesus, not difficult passages from the apostles or prophets, of which there are quite a few.)
Here are three of my (ahem) favorites…
–“All sins will be forgiven the sons of men…but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:28-29).
Some preachers have done great harm by their faulty interpretation of the doctrine of the unpardonable sin, and have ended up burdening weak disciples with unbearable guilt and unendurable anguish.
In numerous cases–as here in Mark 3–as soon as the Lord’s statement is given, the Scripture writer explains it. Mark says, “(He said this) because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” (3:30) So, clearly that infamous unpardonable sin involves attributing the works of the Lord to the enemy. These people were so far gone that they looked at black and called it white, at good and called it evil.
So, if you worry that you have committed the unpardonable sin and are in danger of eternal damnation, the very fact that it matters to you is proof you did not do it.
–“Whatsoever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you” (John 16:23).
Is that ever a get-out-of-jail card or what? You’re in trouble, just ask the Father in Jesus’ name and you’ve got it! Say what we will, that’s how it reads. On the surface at least. (And reading it “in context” doesn’t help. It says what it says.)
Clearly, the apostles did not interpret this verse as the name-it-and-claim-it magical formula some have made it. Otherwise, they would not have spent a single night in jail or endured one lash of the whip. However. Take a gander at the sad list of Paul’s scars in 2 Corinthians 11:22-29 and stand in awe. Such is the price this beloved apostle paid for the gospel of Jesus Christ. So–why didn’t he claim John 16:23 and shortcut the suffering? Answer: Because he did not interpret the Lord’s promise as it appears to read on the surface. Furthermore, no one else did either. We don’t see any of the twelve apostles playing that card.
What exactly does it mean? It must mean that the Father will do what you ask if it is in line with His will, and if it isn’t, He won’t. We get this from the full treatment the Lord Jesus gives to the subject in all four gospels, but not from any one verse.
–“This generation shall not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30). Boy, have the prophecy guys had fun with this one over the years. Through the decade of the 1950s, they said the birth of Israel in 1948 started the clock ticking, and within one generation “all these things” would occur. (I lived through that decade; I heard those sermons.)
They were wrong.
The two interpretations that seem to endure are: a) it refers to the generation living when “all these things” begin to occur; and b) “generation” (genea) may refer to the race of people (the Jews). Vines says genea may refer to a race of people, a family, or successive members of a genealogy (hmmm…genealogy…there’s that word–genea).
There are other possibilities, of course. The main one being: We don’t know what it means. Personally, I have no trouble with that.
When I asked Facebook friends for their “favorite” hard sayings, these are some of the responses….
–If your eye offend you cut it out. Matthew 5:29
–No one unwilling to hate father and mother can be my disciples. Luke 14:26.
–Why hast Thou forsaken Me? Matthew 27:46
–Woman, it is not right to take the children’s food and feed to the dogs. Matthew 15:21ff.
–If you forgive anything, it is forgiven. If you don’t, it’s not. John 20:23
–Turn the other cheek. Matthew 5:39
–Not peace but a sword. Matthew 10:34
–I and the Father are One. John 10:30
There are numerous books written on the subject of “the hard sayings of Jesus.” If these concern you, you would be interested in checking them out. I will say this, however. When a scriptural question bugs you and nags at you, in most cases the Holy Spirit is at work in you, trying to bring your spiritual growth to the next level. And for that reason, the answers you find in the books will not suffice. You have a question, you read someone’s answer, something that works for them, and you come away frustrated, wondering why that doesn’t satisfy you. The reason is God wants to help you find the answer in His own way in order to do something special in your life.
So, stay with Him. Keep the question before the Lord and keep studying the Word. When the answer comes, you will think you have died and gone to Heaven, it’s that wonderful. (I speak from experience.)
What are we to make of all of these ‘hard sayings’ of our Lord? Here are my thoughts on the subject….
The Lord deliberately said some things hard to understand to weed out the softies from the sincere. The hangers-on from the devoted disciples. The shallow from the solid. The groupies from the team. The fans from the faithful.
That’s what He was doing here in John 6, the text which kicked off this discussion in the first place. Go back and look more closely at the entire chapter…
–John 6:1-14 Jesus feeds the five thousand with the loaves and fish. (They sure did like this! Wow. Let’s stay with Him. And don’t ever worry about bringing your lunch again!)
–John 6:15 Jesus sensed that the enthusiastic crowd–almost a mob!–was about to force the issue and crown Him as king. So, He and the disciples left the area in a hurry.
–John 6:16-25 We have the interlude with Jesus walking on the water. Was that ever a story to tell! The news about Jesus went viral.
–John 6:26 Jesus says, “You seek me, not because you saw the miraculous signs. You’re more interested in being fed.” John MacArthur commented, “The crowds which followed Him were motivated by superficial desires of food rather than any understanding of the true spiritual significance of Jesus’ person and mission.” Sound like God’s people today?
–John 6:27ff. The discussion which follows shows how carnal the understanding of the crowds was. In 6:30, they’re asking for another sign. In 6:34, they say, “Give us this bread always” (No more hard work to earn a living!). In 6:41 the Jewish leaders stumble over His claim that “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” After all, didn’t they know His family? How could He be from Heaven?
–John 6:43-51, Jesus ups the ante, making it increasingly difficult for that crowd to get the meaning of His words. He said no one had seen the Father “except He who is from God; He has seen the Father” (v.46). He said, “I am the bread of life…which one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread…” (vv.48-51).
He was saying not just one or two things but a ton of things these people could not understand. “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he understand them; for they are spiritually appraised…” (I Corinthians 2:14).
–So, when Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you,” He was merely ratcheting up the mystery a notch to bring this to a conclusion. As though He were to say, “You think that’s a mystery! Try this!”
And the point of all this–I submit–is the Lord was weeding out those who were following from the wrong motive.
The proper answer for the disciples then and the disciples now is the one Simon Peter gave. When we find things in God’s Word we cannot understand and do not seem to find an answer for, we should remember his testimony…
When Jesus said, “Will you also go away?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You (alone) have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68).
That’s the answer. It’s the answer of the faithful, but not of the shallow or the fan.
We are not here because it’s easy or because we have Jesus all figured out. We are here because He alone is the Savior of the world, the only begotten Son of God. There is No Other Name, period.
There are no other choices. All those other gods are not gods.
Anyway, doesn’t it figure that if the God of the universe were to dwell among us in human flesh, He might know a few things we don’t? Do some things differently from how we might expect? Phrase something in an unusual manner? Put some things on the highest shelf to remind us who is in charge here? (Have you read Job chapters 38-41 where God did exactly that?)
Jesus is Lord. And we ain’t.
Not even close.