It’s after a showdown between Jesus and a crowd. Jesus had just fed thousands with bread and fish in an awesome miracle, but many looked to make him a King against the Romans – an attitude missing what Jesus was trying to do. Jesus slipped away to Capernaum to teach at the synagogue, where they finally found him and asked to be wowed with some free bread. Jesus identified Himself as true bread, His own flesh, which gives life: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (6. 54). But they didn’t get it. It’s a metaphor for believing in Jesus who gave His life so He could give eternal life. But they’re thinking cannibalism. So folks hiked it out of there:
“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away too do you?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6.66-69)
The twelve were confused too. The scoffing words of these other guys who abandoned Jesus must have sounded pretty right-on. He’s nuts! Doesn’t make any sense! Plus, the sway of majority opinion, as A.B. Bruce notes “Mighty is the power of sympathy! How ready are we to follow the multitude, regardless of where they are going!” (145)* It’s the same today. In our limited minds we’re confused with what Jesus says in the Bible, with what other people say, with what’s happening in our lives, why God is allowing it, or causing it, etc.
But Peter’s answer cuts through all of that. I love Bruce’s treatment on this event, which I’ll follow: Peter reflects 3 anchors that helped the twelve ride out this storm: “Religious earnestness or sincerity, a clear perception of the alternatives before them, and implicit confidence in the character and attachment to the person of their Master.” (148).
1. The twelve were very ordinary guys, and in many ways sort of stumbled along in trying to follow Jesus — often dense, lacked faith, and prone to say stupid things. But they were sincere. Jesus had said as much, that everyone who is sincere in seeking truth and learning about God will come to Him (John 3.21, 6.45).“Their concern was not about the meat that perisheth, but about the higher heavenly food of the soul” (148), something Jesus had. The Greek text even emphasizes “eternal life” by placing it ahead of the verb, literally reading “words of eternal life you have.”
2.The disciples had nowhere else to go — after going with Christ this far. As low as things were with Jesus, nothing else compared. Their John the Baptist was killed and would only point to Christ anyway, hypocritical religious people offered no hope, and the crowds didn’t offer any real alternatives. Bruce notes that anyone tempted to renounce Christianity should
“pause if he understood that the alternatives open to him were to abide with Christ, or to become an atheist, ignoring God and the world to come; that when he leaves Christ, he must go to school to some of the great masters of thoroughgoing unbelief.” (151)
Today that would be Richard Dawkins, Bart Ehrman, Oprah, Tom Cruise… all of whom leave much to be desired when compared with Christ.
3. Christ! Once they were immersed in Christ, they knew He was it. No going back:
“Such implicit confidence as the twelve had in Jesus is possible only through intimate knowledge; for one canot thus trust a stranger. All, therefore, who desire to get the benefit of this trust, must be willing to spend time and take trouble to get into the heart of the Gospel story, and of its great subject. The sure anchorage is not attainable by a listless, random reading of the evangelic narratives, but by a close, careful, prayerful study, pursued it may be for years. Those who grudge the trouble are in imminent danger of the fate which befell the ignorant multutide, being liable to be thrown into panic by every new infidel book, or be scandalized by every strange utterance of the Object of faith. Those, on the other hand, who do take the trouble will be rewarded for their pains. Storm-tossed for a time, they shall at length reach the harbor . . . the cardinal facts and truths of the faith, as taught by Jesus in the Capernaum discourse, and as afterwards taught by the men who passed safely through the Capernaum crisis. May God in His mercy guide all souls now out in the tempestuous sea of doubt into that haven of rest!” (154)
They were confused and looked like fools to everyone else, but they were convinced eternal life is found in no one else. If there is any such thing as eternal life at all, it’s in Jesus. If anybody has eternal life to give, it’s Jesus.
So let us, with Peter and the rest of that small band, hold on to following this awesome Person, Jesus Christ. He has words of eternal life.
*All quotes fromThe Training of the Twelve (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1988).
From looking around, there seems to be every reason to be afraid and doubtful about everything. Debt, inflation, and economic downturn threaten to strangle our livelihood; revolutions in the Middle East skyrocket oil prices across the world; governments and businesses ravage the environment to unsustainable levels; natural disasters strike indiscriminately and violently all the time.
Contra this uncertain world, God speaks to anyone who would listen, “Having come in the form of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, I am the Deliverer you really need.” If we trust in Him, He brings us through this world’s storms to eternal salvation with joy and fellowship forever with Him after death. Nothing can really hurt us.
One time twelve of Jesus’ men were on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during a violent storm. This is a terrifying and uncertain experience when you’re on a small boat that might sink. While trying to survive this crisis, they saw Jesus walking to them on the water, impervious to the squall. At first they didn’t know who it was, but Jesus called out to them through the noise of the waves and wind, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!” One of them, Peter, the most impulsive of the disciples, called back “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus responded “Come!” and out leapt Peter from the boat. But he didn’t submerge – he just stood there. An obvious miracle. Yet as he started to walk out to Jesus, he began looking around. That wind sure is blowing hard. The water sure is churning. Peter wasn’t looking at Jesus anymore but on the vicious forces of nature around him. He began to sink. At this point Peter must have been in total panic and fear. Kind of the feeling you’d get if you just lost balance on the edge on the roof of a skyscraper, or you see your car is about to hydro-plane into a pole. He cried for Jesus to save him, then Jesus grabbed hold of Peter in a flash and hoisted his trembling disciple back into the boat. “You of little faith! Why do you doubt?” Jesus asked him.*
We all have storms of our own. It looks as though we’re going to be engulfed by our trials as it is, but Jesus asks us to go further – get out of the boat! Take even greater risks than we ever would have dreamed to be nearer to our Deliverer. But our degree of success or failure in the middle of this turbulent and uncertain world is never to be the foundation on which we stand. Never look at yourself or at anything in your surroundings. Because you fail, and your surroundings deceive and are unstable. We must look at Christ, and Christ alone. Here are three applications of this:
1.Never look to yourself for assurance you’re saved. You’ll only become uncertain as you see all your failures, or worse, prone to pride in thinking you’ve not done too bad a job at holy living, calloused to how much more sanctification you really need. Assurance of our salvation is in Christ alone. Christ promised “he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6.47) Do you trust in Christ for eternal salvation? Then you have God’s irrevocable life right now. Look to Christ, His person, His promise, His adequacy, His sufficiency – not your own person, promises, adequacies, and sufficiency. He is a Man who keeps His word, because He’s the Son of God.
2.Never look to yourself for assurance of getting through a hard time of life – you really have no control over the bigger situation, and when things get worse and don’t go your way, panic will set in. Paul the Apostle speaks of a dark situation he was in, saying “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope” (2Corinthians 1.8b-10a) Even in hard times so bad that it looks like death, trust in God, who ultimately will save your eternal soul but also is fully able to deliver you through the difficult season.
3.Never look to yourself for assurance when setting out to do an important task or mission in life – to start a business, pursue a career, become a parent, etc. As ready as you may feel, you’re not “all that” and pride is a precursor to failure. You have no real control over your success. Many brilliant and talented people fail. Paul told the Corinthians of his great task – how his Apostolic ministry is of the Holy Spirit, written on human hearts and abounding in glory even far beyond when Moses spoke with God to receive the Torah… but Paul was careful to note: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves or consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (2Corin 3.5) They trusted in God for the effectiveness of their ministry.
We can be totally confident in Him. Such confidence seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But must be believed for us to have any certainty in this world. Christ is our assurance. Cling to Him for assurance. He’s the only place you’ll find it.
*Story found in Matthew 14.22-33
Americans like mirrors. We check that we’re presentable, admire our perceived good-looks, bemoan our perceived ugliness, talk to ourselves, and gets sadder from there. In America’s obsession with self, you could say we worship at them like altars! In 2Corinthians recently, I noticed Paul the Apostle looks at a new kind of mirror than what we’re used to.
You see, in the ancient days of Israel God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33.11). Exodus 34 records that when Moses would return from speaking with God, “the skin on his face shone.” The people were afraid at this (understandably, I would be too). Therefore, Moses put a veil (think Middle-Eastern head-covering, not some flimsy linen thing) over his face whenever he returned to the people from having the Law revealed to him from God.
In 2Corinthians 3, Paul draws on this story to say that if the Law, though not able to give salvation still “came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.7-8). The glory of Christ being the Savior that frees us from the Law by faith in Him, and His Spirit coming to empower believers, was the message of Paul and his missionary associates.
Paul was a successful man in the world before he became a Christian and Apostle. Being of a more upper class, he had access to reflective mirrors (unlike the poor) and probably saw a stately figure looking back at him. But nice mirors and all his other wealth left him when he became a Messenger of Jesus. Despite beatings, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, riots, and a host of other nasty experiences they yet had “great boldness in speech” to speak about Christ (3.12). How did he give it all away, going from the comforts and prestige of being a successful Pharisee to become “the dregs of the earth”? How did Paul and his missionary associates trade their health and looks for starvation and scars all over their bodies from the beatings? How did they get over themselves? Verse 18 reveals an answer:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
When you look at a regular mirror, you see yourself. But when you look at the truths and experience of God’s glory in His grace, mercy and holiness, you see all that Jesus is. And when one stares at this kind of mirror, the mirror called Christ, he or she begins to be transformed into what they see. Instead of transforming yourself by looking at yourself more, you look at Christ and Christ transforms you.
For these missionaries, their modus operandi was to behold the glory of their Lord Jesus Christ. The missionary’s inner well-being and action doesn’t form from doing nice things for poor people, although that is good – it is gazing intently at the glory of Christ, directing ourselves toward seeing, experiencing, and knowing God. If we want to be changed into better, more Christ-like people and to do effective missions, we look to Christ first – not to ourselves, nor to other people, or other ideologies. As the Scandanavian missionary Frederick Franson’s motto went, a missionary must have “constant, conscious communion with God.”
And of course, this applies to all Christians. In the book of Romans, Paul expounds eloquently on the grace and holiness of God for 11 chapters. When he finishes at chapter 12, he stops and says “Therefore, I beseech you . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12.1-2). Then goes on to 5 chapters of the actual actions fitting for those saved by God’s grace. We renew our minds by setting our minds on the glories of the grace, mercy, and holiness of God. Yet too often we are looking in the wrong mirror. Tired of the evil you find in you? Desire to be loving, joyful, forgiving, not bitter, not unhappy, not quarrelsome, etc., etc.? And the most longing desire – to get to know God Himself? Let’s stop looking at the shattered mirror of ourselves and gaze at the glory of God in the face of Christ. And the more we look, the more we become like the glory we see.
“… There is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythian, slave and freedman, but Christ is all and in all.” – Colossians 3:11
We often talk about the difference between the East and West in present and past politics, socio-economic issues, and religion. By “East” we usually mean the Middle East, China, India, and the like. By West we mean Europe like Italy, Britain, Greece, etc. and in the past few centuries, the Americas. These two spheres of the world are very different in their outlook; they have risen and fallen in dominance in history; fought each other killing and maiming and enslaving. It has always been so. The East rose first in human history in the form of such empires as the Assyrians , Babylonians, and Persians. Then the West rose up in the Greek and Roman Empires. The back-and-forth battle for dominance continued through the Middle Ages up to today in our globalized world as we see continued debates (and violence) about Islam, Far Eastern religions, terrorism, democracy, Western influence, secularism, and really, everything under the sun.
But what astounds me is how God has brought East and West together by His redemptive plan in Christ. He placed the nation of Ancient Israel right in the crosshairs of East and West, for maximum exposure of His chosen people and Himself to both ends of the world. In the coming of Jesus, God combined the East and West into one in the process of welcoming the Gentiles to be his people. Jesus was an Eastern man but had his New Testament written in Greek, a western language that had permeated both East and West. He brought a new kingdom that does not get into the petty political or racist differences of earthly kingdoms but brings in members of every kind of human who simply believes in Jesus Christ.
The above verse makes this beautifully clear. Those who have seen or experienced the harsh differences, hate, and division between cultures can appreciate how liberating and redemptive this is. This is yet another example of how Jesus Christ annihilates all that is bad, and builds all that is good. As Charles Ryrie wrote, “In Christ, distinctions of race, class, and culture are transcended.” Amen.