“Do you want to go away as well?”
by Robby Higginbottom October 28, 2014
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “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.” John 6:66-69
In John 6, Jesus does amazing things, but he also says difficult things. He miraculously feeds thousands of people (6:1-15), then he walks on water (6:16-21). The miraculous meal leads some people to try to make Jesus king by force, but then he starts talking. Jesus claims to be the Bread of Life, and he tells the people that they won’t have life unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood (6:35, 53). Rather than receive the people’s crown, Jesus says more and more astounding things until the people reconsider. By John 6:60, he seems to have accomplished his mission: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
Following Jesus is hard. Let’s just acknowledge that. Sadly, sometimes churches and campus ministries can feel a little like used car salesmen. They’ll tell you just enough to get you to buy, but not enough to scare you away. These kinds of transactions are fine until the car breaks down on the highway…or the person breaks down on their journey of faith. It feels like people aren’t sure that following Jesus is better than not following Jesus, so they don’t read you the fine print. But if we make following Jesus seem so easy, should we be surprised when people quickly turn away when things do get hard? Maybe Jesus is onto something.
So Jesus’ ministry seems to be falling apart. He’s saying things that are hard to understand, and many of his disciples are turning back and no longer walking with him (John 6:66). Sounds a lot like college, right? The Christianity that made sense in high school doesn’t seem to fit any more. You take that science class (or maybe New Testament Intro). You get into that social organization. Weekends are busy (or you just need some sleep). You stop going to church. Some of your friends have already checked out. Following Jesus doesn’t make sense any more. It’s just too hard.
Picture the scene. People are literally walking away from Jesus. It feels like the twelve are all that Jesus has left. Shouldn’t he be a little more forceful? Draw a line in the sand? Give a stirring speech? Well, he doesn’t. In this vulnerable moment, Jesus is incredibly…vulnerable. He asks, “Do you want to go away as well?” I think Jesus knows where he is going. He knows that his road will end with a cross, and rounding up thousands of “easy” followers will only make it harder. If they love him for his miracles, they will leave him for his mission. Jesus could overpower the disciples in this moment. Instead, he asks them a question that gets to the heart of what they really think about him.
As usual, Peter speaks up for the group. “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” (6:68-69). What’s behind these amazing words? What does Peter see? He has already left a lot to follow Jesus. He knows that life with Christ is hard. He doesn’t even know how hard it will be yet. But Peter seems to know something else: NOT following Jesus is even harder.
Athletes sometimes quit teams when things get hard, only to find that not being on the team is harder. People sometimes quit on relationships when things get hard, only to find that being alone is harder. On the other side, people do incredible things when they understand that hanging in there is hard, but walking out is harder. Storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day seemed like an impossible mission. But the soldiers got out of boats and swam to shore. Many lost their lives as they took the beach one foot at a time. Why? Because the thought of losing the war was harder than the thought of taking the beach.
If Jesus really is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), being with him is clearly better than being without him. He says that those who come to him shall neither hunger nor thirst, so what does that mean for those who refuse to come? The cost of discipleship is great, but the cost of non-discipleship is greater. As you weigh the challenges of life with Jesus right now, have you been honest about the reality of life without him? Have you considered the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8)? Life with Christ will get hard. A day may come when you feel like Jesus is asking you, “Do you want to go away as well?” When that day comes, I pray you will be able to see through eyes of faith. Life with Christ is hard, but life without him is harder—not just for eternity, but even for today. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”