On hearing it, many of His disciples said, “This is a difficult teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this teaching, Jesus asked them, “Does this offend you? (John 6:60-61)
From that time on many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.… (John 6:66).
I sometimes wonder about the people who turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. Were they more honest than many of us today who claim to follow Jesus? Many of His disciples could not accept what Jesus was teaching them, so they decided to part company. Christians today sometimes don’t like what they read in Scripture, but instead of walking away, we, in our superior knowledge and wisdom change what the bible teaches, so that we can live with it comfortably. Leaders do it so that it not only doesn’t challenge their lives, it also protects the flock from becoming upset and disturbed by something Jesus said. This done, we can all live happily ever after. However, God desires truth (Psalm 51:6), obedience and attentiveness (1 Samuel 15:22).
Lockdown has given opportunity to become more inventive in the ways we meet, fellowship, and worship. Perhaps that is a good thing, but is it all that we are to learn? God looks on the heart; to Him, the outward appearance and form is not what impresses. Has lockdown challenged how we live and how we think? Are we continuing as we were, manipulating situations, managing difficult challenges in ways that, in our eyes doesn’t rock the boat? Rather than be honest before God, in our cleverness we find ways and give reasons not to teach or do something, because we are trying to hide and conceal a truth; perhaps we feel energised to mask the truth. It might be a truth that Jesus wants to reveal to His people, so that He can bring healing to His Body. The Church/Ekklesia is His Body on earth, isn’t it? Is God giving us opportunity during all the Covid confusion, to not only change our order of worship, but to have clean hands and pure hearts before Him (Psalm 24:4). Does He want our minds set on Him by having His word penetrate our thought-life, and affecting the work of our hands? (Deuteronomy 6:8).
Sometimes what I call the Jeremiah syndrome slips into place so that God’s word cannot take effect in His people: Then the officials said to the king, “This man ought to die, for he is discouraging the warriors who remain in this city, as well as all the people, by speaking such words to them; this man is not seeking the well-being of these people, but their ruin.” “Here he is,” replied King Zedekiah. “He is in your hands, since the king can do nothing to stop you.” So they took Jeremiah and dropped him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah with ropes into the cistern, which had no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud (Jeremiah 38:4-6). They put the problem out of sight and out of sound; but who in this scenario was the problem – was it really the messenger, Jeremiah? This happened among the people of God then, and it happens among the people of God now. We continue playing our ‘Game of Throws’ as we throw out those who would obey God rather than man; those who refuse to tickle our ears (2 Timothy 4:3). The problem is that God sees, and God hears what in effect are our schemes to shut Him up and shut him out, even though we do it with nice religious sounding platitudes.
The affect one new way of meeting during lockdown and since has had, is to expose that we do not take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). At a church Zoom meeting, an elder was seen and heard to exclaim to his wife about one of the sisters on-screen, “What’s the silly old cow doing now?” If he was quoting Scripture, I have not been able to find the reference, and why was the elder’s wife in such a frenzy telling him to shush!? How many of us make remarks in our holy huddles, and when we think others can’t hear? God hears.
Sometimes God moves in mysterious ways. If you were put into a situation that puzzled you, and you eventually realised that Jesus wanted you to understand something from His word, and then to write about it for others in the Body, doing what you believed you should, as the teaching unfolded more and more what would you do? I realise it is difficult for any of us to operate our gifts in a Body that refuses to function according to God’s word and Spirit. Would you share God’s teaching where you had opportunity, or keep it to yourself in case some people took offence? Suppose you shared it only to find that the word is rejected and you are rejected with it. Jeremiah suffered; are you willing to be rejected for Christ’s sake? Instead of gifts of the Spirit of God, we often have manipulations and manifestations of the human spirit. Sometimes “believers” are not wholeheartedly for God; they just like others to believe they are.
Examine yourselves (2 Corinthians 3:5)
Perhaps during this pandemic Jesus is examining the health of His Body, to see if corruption has set in. If we examine ourselves to see if our faith is genuine, we help to keep the Body healthy. If there is a teaching where we change the meaning to accommodate our lives, we, in effect, stop following Jesus at that point. We turn away, because our faith is not genuine. We know we cannot change one jot or tittle of God’s word, but still we do it – “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18). Maybe that is a reason why the Church is so sick.
There is great excitement that the rapture is coming soon. One guy was lamenting about people talking of the antichrist. “Why do we need to hear about the antichrist” he argued, “the Church will be raptured, I won’t be here.” It seemed as though he skipped the first verse of the first chapter in the Book of Revelation: “This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon come to pass.” If Jesus Christ revealed it, we must give our full attention to the whole of the book, not cut and paste bits that appeal to our escapism. The Pretribulation Rapture teaching is a great faith builder – for those who deny the existence of God. When the rapture does not occur first, the unbelievers will be convinced they are right, there really is no God. Then we will hear them say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). Those that have spent their lives believing they will escape the great tribulation by being raptured away, and then find themselves facing the wrath of antichrist, will be like those in our opening verses of this article, they will turn their backs away from Jesus, and stop following Him. They will not accept His teaching.
We may not have been struck with the plagues written in the book of Revelation, but Covid should cause us to stop, and to consider our lives before God. Teachers of God’s word will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). Quoting Job 8:3 – “Does God distort judgment? Does Shaddai pervert justice? Someone commented, “The answer to both questions is no! The problem we have is we can be guilty of both. We sometimes can be judgmental and we can pervert the word of God to fit our own wants!” There are evangelical Christians that use God’s word to support interfaith worship, the murder of the innocent (abortion), LGBTQ+, gay marriage as well as other distortions of divorce and remarriage. Recently in the USA, the Episcopal church found Bishop William Love guilty of defying church orders because he told clergy not to recognise same-sex weddings. So much of what God hates has penetrated the Evangelical Christian mind-set and belief system, manipulating God’s Word and turning what is evil into good, and what is good is now called evil; putting darkness for light, and light for darkness; they put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20). I wonder, will Christians stand up and be counted when they hear good called evil and evil called good, particularly in the Church, or will they simply run with the crowd?
Who do you say that I am?
Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). “When the crowds heard [Jesus say that living water will flow from his heart], some of them declared, ‘Surely this man is the Prophet we've been expecting.’ Others said, ‘He is the Messiah.’ Still others said, ‘But he can't be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.’ So the crowd was divided about him. Some even wanted him arrested, but no one laid a hand on him” (John 7:40-44 NLT). Who do you say Jesus is? A recent survey carried out for Ligonier Ministries by Lifeway Research states that, thirty percent of Evangelicals in America believe that Jesus was a good teacher and nothing more. Fifty-two percent of Americans believe Jesus was a “good teacher” but was not God. Meanwhile, sixty-five percent of Evangelicals believe “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is God the Son. He is not a created being. Is Christology not taught in churches today? The full results of the survey are available online.[i]
The 3 Rs – Protection Racket + Religious Roulette
Those operating the protection racket can be the elders, or they can be the ministers, or they can be a combination of both. One minister I know was gagged by a wealthy elder of the church who ruled with an iron rod. The minister sadly feared man more than he feared God, perhaps being married with children he was fearful of being fired, and of being given a poor reference. He chose to minister under the bondage of the eldership. He preached according to their word and direction, and any projects had to come from the ‘chief elder’. Their protection racket was to provide them with power and authority over the lives of the minister and the congregation. Other protection rackets might be a minister not teaching on particular subjects so as not to upset friends and flock, particularly if he is well looked after financially. He has a comfortable ministry and life. Likewise, those he protects from hurt continue to ply him with financial support for keeping particular subjects off the agenda, but you can’t serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). Even the Pharisees conspiring with their disciples and the Herodians to trap Jesus, spoke the truth when they said: “… we know that You are honest and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You seek favour from no one, because You pay no attention to external appearance” (Matthew 22:15-16). Jesus didn’t have favourites that He protected from God’s truth. We are hypocrites when we berate the press and media for not reporting on some subjects, and misreporting others, when we Christians do the same, only we do it with God’s word! Religious Roulette is playing the game, and using the name of Jesus to do so. God sees, and God knows. He is not persuaded or fooled by our clever explanations. A Scripture I used recently comes to mind again, “They are all bricks in the hand of the enemy leading humankind away from the true God, whilst building a united totalitarian world against Him and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Sometimes the Church has a hand in building Babylon rather than the Kingdom of God.
In our opening verses, many turned away from Jesus. In Mark 8:34, Jesus speaks about the cost of following Him. Do we follow Him, or do we follow a Jesus made in our own image and likeness?
Those who are ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation…” (Mark 8:38).
(To be continued)
Blessings and shalom