What's the Alternative?
Scripture - John 6:56-69
I received the following from a pastor in FL this week. Charlie writes:
“I am working on a project right now that involves asking a simple question of residents of a given area. The question is by design open, so to allow for a wide variety of answers. This question is producing an answer that is so often repeated that it reflects a common belief. It also reflects a stupid idea. QUESTION: What do you believe is the greatest need for this community? ANSWER: We need more recreational activities so kids will not get into trouble. One lady’s answer epitomizes the idea. “We need more for the children to do; especially the teenagers so they don’t break into peoples’ houses and cars and steal stuff and get into fights.” This opinion works its way across most social-economic boundaries. I have heard this from people of all ethnic groups, from people of ultra-low income and from the very wealthy. It presumes that the source of bad behavior is boredom or a lack of entertainment options. If that premise is true then the presence of something entertaining and fun should keep bad behavior at a minimum. Don’t tell that to Joshua Martin who was horribly beaten, to the point of brain damage and a coma at a bus stop at an amusement park. In the shadow of millions of dollars’ worth of entertainment equipment, a gang beat Joshua nearly to death. There was plenty for teenagers to do to enjoy themselves. The article about the incident and the settlement is worth reading and might give you insight about family vacations. It can be found on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s website. Search for “Cobb County teen settlement.”
-Joshua & 2 friends @ Six Flags Over Georgia
-So were many gang members, harassing families on vacation
-Fearing trouble, Joshua & friends left for a bus stop 200 yds away
-Some gang members got tossed out of Six Flags
-“Someone’s gonna pay.” It was Joshua
-Settlement: $35M; $32M by Six Flags, $3M by the gang members
Charlie continues, “The opinion that recreation options will prevent bad behavior is so pervasive as to be almost universal; it has even worked its way into some churches. It is completely misguided. People do wicked things because they are sinful and wicked. We have a terrible time admitting this glaring fact. I recently watched an interview with the mother of a boy who is serving a long prison sentence. The mom of the boy said, “My son is a good boy.” No, he is not, unless there has been a great conspiracy to frame the boy the fact that he is in prison means he is not a good boy. In a separate interview a woman in prison was saying, “I made a mistake.” She was referring to her killing an innocent individual while driving drunk. That is not a mistake; that is an act of selfish evil because she was selfish and evil. In the age of church growth and pulpit mass-therapy, the church has apparently lost its ability to talk honestly and frankly about sin. We have become afraid to say, “We are sinful people in the hands of a just and righteous God. We are more evil than we can imagine because even our imagination is evil.” We have become very comfortable with sin, especially our own sin, and we pass that license on to others. We must rediscover the part of grace that we are uncomfortable facing. As John Newton wrote: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear….” Before we say, “God will forgive you,” we must first say, “You need forgiving.” We must proclaim the part of grace that leads us to say, with the psalmist: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. We do not need recreation options to help people stop being bad. We need the grace of a true repentance; we need a change of heart that results in a change of behavior. No one in the entire world, except the church, can declare the glory of grace. And that includes the grace that tells us we are sinners, we are evil, and we are lost and are going to hell apart from the cross.”
Which brings me to our reading for today. We are at the conclusion of John 6, a chapter that began with the feeding of the 5,000, then Jesus walking on water, then the boat miraculously reaching shore, followed by Jesus teaching in the synagogue that he is the bread of life. Jesus speaks about bread - & blood – at length, & we are told that many turned away & no longer accompanied him.
John 6:67-68: Jesus asked the 12, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
It’s true that none of us was there that day. None of us shared in the bread & fish; we didn’t get to sit on the grass & watch as Jesus performed the great miracle, when Jesus expanded the availability of God. John is quite clear that Jesus is the definitive access point to God. But he is also clear that there is no single approach to Jesus. Jesus can be met as God’s holy one, as Peter proclaims in v. 69. Or as the bread of life, as Jesus states in v. 35. Jesus is the presence of God who walks upon the water in v. 20 & as the only one who has ever seen God in v. 46. Everything in John’s gospel points to Jesus; & Jesus is the one who points to God.
But it takes the entire chapter to see the truth unfold. And it takes the entire gospel to see how this chapter reveals its truth. And it takes the entire Bible to see how this gospel relates to the truth of God’s self-revelation to the world. Without some level of study of the Bible, we too are tempted to respond: This message is harsh. Who can hear it? And we, too, can be tempted to turn back & no longer follow Jesus.
Unfortunately, a study of the Bible can be a lot like a new diet. A shock to contemplate, overwhelming to consider, & difficult to follow through on. When encouraged to join a Sunday school class or Wednesday night study group, we have 1 of 3 responses. Despite our honest & earnest attempts to grow closer to God, 1 of 3 things will happen. And each response is found in our text today.
First, we can defect. Many turned away & followed Jesus no more. Some saw quite clearly where Jesus was heading. It was not possible to challenge the authorities as Jesus was doing & get away with it. He was heading for disaster & they were going to get out while it was still possible. They were fair-weather followers. Some who drifted away stuck by Jesus so long as his career appeared to be going upward. But at the first shadow of the cross, they left him.
Bible study can get a similar reaction. There’s too much to read. The reading is boring. Some passages are too difficult to understand & the names too difficult to pronounce. So we simply keep our books closed. Better to be uneducated than ill-educated. Believe me, I’ve heard that before: “It’s better to have no knowledge than just enough knowledge to be dangerous!”
But we know that is not the response Jesus desired. We know that in order to grow closer to Jesus, we need to know him better. And we know that to know him better, we must study His Word. Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Or we can deteriorate. I’m not sure if this is a better response or not. The example from our reading is Judas, who followed Jesus to the very end, only to use Jesus for his own ends. And you know what became of Judas.
We can respond this way to the idea of Bible study. We join a group, we get off to a good start, then we hit a difficult passage or another opportunity comes up, & we take a hiatus. It is only a temporary break, of course; a short break & then we’ll get back to our studies. Then the short break becomes a long break & then a total break. We started with the best of intentions, but we all know where good intentions lead to.
And we know that this is not Jesus’ plan for us. Jesus came that we may have life & have it abundantly. If Jesus’ words are the words of eternal life – which they are – then we must read them, learn them, & know them. If we truly want to make eternal life a present reality, then we must study God’s Word. And we must do so individually & as part of a study group.
A third response is that we can be determined. Our text today is John’s version of Peter’s great profession of Jesus as Messiah. We believe & know that you are God’s holy one. To Peter, the simple fact was that there was just no alternative; nowhere else to go. Jesus alone had the words of eternal life.
Peter’s loyalty was based on his personal relationship with Jesus. There were many things he did not understand. He was just as bewildered & puzzled as anyone else. But there was something about Jesus for which Peter was willing to die. Let me be clear: Christianity is not a philosophy we accept; it is not a theory which we acknowledge. No, our faith is a personal response to Jesus. It is the allegiance & love which we give because our hearts will not allow us to do anything else.
That can happen in studying the Bible too. We make up our minds that, because it is important, we will obey. And we must remember that there is nothing more important in all of our lives. All of the things that we hold so dear & think are so important: our jobs, families, homes, friends, possessions, even our church; they will pass away. We will pass away. And just as we came into this world with nothing, so we will pass from this life taking nothing with us. For me, there is nothing more important than words of eternal life.
Like Peter, I have found them in Jesus. I have found them in this book. As Methodists, we believe all things necessary for salvation & the salvation of the world are found in this book. So may we, like our founder John Wesley, be a people of one book.
Beginning on Wednesday, September 5, we will be studying & I will be preaching on The Call to a Renewed Life. We will study what the Bible says about, among other things, returning to God, to prayer, & to unity. I encourage you to begin studying the Bible, if you aren’t already. If you are not part of a Sunday school class or another small group study, I encourage you to join one. Or form one. I’ll be glad to help with that.
I especially encourage you to attend on Wednesday nights. There, you will get a preview of & look more deeply at the Sunday morning text & messages.
If we want our kids & the kids of our community to stay out of trouble, one of the best ways is to ensure that they know God’s Word. Bible study is not just for adults anymore! Every one of us, regardless of our age, can & should be reading Scripture every day, & be part of a small group studying the Bible. Making good life choices comes from knowing & living the words of eternal life. And they can only be found in Jesus.