The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Monday, August 11, 2014

This is Hard

“This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” – John 6:60


The gospel is frequently presented in a kind of bait and switch fashion. “Come to Jesus and He’ll heal all your diseases. Come to Jesus and He’ll fix all your problems.” An altar call is answered. A commitment is made. It’s “easy.” It’s “free.” And then, as the new convert begins their walk with Jesus they begin to see some discomforting instructions by their new free and easy Master. They have swallowed the chum only to find a painful hook. Some turn away when this happens admitting this isn’t what they signed up for. Others, even though they’ve been misled, seek to go on with Jesus. They come to the realization that, “This is hard.” At that moment the genuineness of their faith is revealed. If genuine they will abide and cling to Jesus, no matter what. If falsely “converted” they will walk away.

We need to be honest in presenting Jesus to the lost. Salvation isn’t a cushy cushion for life. Salvation is a parachute that saves us from a hell bent crash. Salvation isn’t always comfortable, but it is lifesaving. A parachute can be cumbersome while maneuvering around the plane’s cabin, but it is essential when the plane goes down. Seatbelts restrict our movement and wrinkle our clothes, but they save our life.

Following Jesus isn’t easy it’s hard. Yes, that is the truth. Following Jesus is hard. But the full truth and reality is that though hard to follow Jesus it is always worth it. It’s hard to follow Jesus because it costs us. It costs us a pound of flesh and more. Surgery is rarely pleasant. But surgery cuts out cancers and that which produces death. Surgery paves the way for healing and more life. That’s what Jesus’ hard sayings do. They may be painful, but they lead to spiritual life.

What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus? In John 6 Jesus gives His deep teaching on Communion. He speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood as necessities of being a part of Him. The purpose of this teaching is not to explain the substance of the Table elements of the Lord. The purpose of this teaching is to consider some hard sayings of Jesus and be challenged about what we will do with them.

The apostle John observes that when Jesus spoke about partaking of His body and blood that,  Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (John 6:60). To eat His flesh and drink His blood was a “hard” saying of Jesus. The word “hard” (Greek skleros) means hard, tough, harsh, or severe. We get the name of the medical condition of sclerosis from this term. This was no soft saying. It was a hard saying. It restricted the flow. It didn’t allow you to easily pass by. It got your attention. There are a lot of “hard” sayings of Jesus; statements that get your attention like cold water splashed on a slumbering sleeper.

What are some hard sayings of Jesus?  Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of a religious Pharisee (Matthew 5:20). This was no easy statement given that the Pharisees were the most religious figures of the day. Jesus isn’t looking for more religion. He’s looking for something more. Jesus said His standard of righteousness was heart purity. He said a person commits adultery when they lust in their heart (Matthew 5:27-30). He equated murder with being angry (Matthew 5:21-26). Jesus taught hell is a reality and the unrighteous are in danger of going there (Matthew 5:23-24). He said we need to love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-42; Luke 6:27-36). He said we need to deal drastically with sin in our lives and illustrated it by saying we should gouge out an eye or cut of a hand that is used for sin (Matthew 5:29-30). He said blaspheming or rejecting the Holy Spirit’s salvation call was unforgiveable (Matthew 12:30-32). He said woe to wealthy people who live and lust for money (Luke 6:24-26). He said He came to bring a sword not peace (Luke 12:51-53). Jesus said it’s costly to follow Him. He spoke of denying self, (never an easy task). He said you’ll have to daily take up your cross; which speaks of regular self-sacrifice.  And then follow Him; walk as He walked; follow in His steps (Luke 9:23-24; 1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21). Jesus said He must be first in our lives. We must love Him supremely. That means more than your spouse, children, ministry, more than life itself (Matthew 10:37-39; 19:27-30; John 21:15; Matthew 10:39). These are just a few of Jesus’ “hard” sayings recorded in the inspired word of the Gospels. There are more. They deconstruct convention. They break up fallow hard ground. It takes hard sayings to break hard hearts. What should we do with those hard sayings? What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus?

There are hard sayings of Jesus that are relayed to us personally, individually, by the Holy Spirit. They are the personalized conversations with the Spirit. They are His convictions and constructive counsel in the circumstances of life. They are the completely honest revelations about scripture and how our lives so frequently contradict them. There are hard sayings the Lord speaks into our particular personal life. The up front and personal, face to face, heart to heart, rubber meets the road realities about implementing the word of God in our life. They are sayings that disrupt our comfort zone. These are the movements of the Spirit in us that challenge us to go deeper with Jesus in our walk with Him. They are calls to count the cost of following Jesus. Let’s look at some of Jesus’ personal hard sayings to us.

These personal hard sayings of Jesus relayed to us by the Spirit have a certain relativity to them. They are always relevant but they find their relevance in the particulars of our individual circumstances. That means that a hard saying for one person may not be hard for someone else. For instance, a call by the Spirit to rise early and meet in devotions with Jesus may be very hard for one person while very easy for another. Jesus meets us where we are. If you don’t struggle with gender confusion or homosexuality you may find it difficult to empathize with someone who does. Your area of struggle may be lust for the opposite sex, or greed, or overindulgences of various kinds. Those may be easy issues to deal with for others. If we miss this particular subjective nature of the hard sayings of Jesus we may grow prideful or dismissive. Whatever the hard saying is for others we need to be understanding and encourage people to follow Jesus even if it is hard. There are no “outs” on the basis of subjectivity. I’m not condoning any “Well that’s good for you but not for me” type of position. We need to all live within the parameters of God’s word. But we need to lovingly and empathetically do that through a mutually encouraging fellowship where we bear one another’s burdens while still carrying our own load (Gal. 6:1-5).

Jesus wants unity. He works to bring people together (e.g. Ephesians 2:11-22). Therefore a personal hard sayings of Jesus may involve words like forgive, reconcile, accept, or confess (e.g. Eph. 4:32). “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). It’s hard to lay aside prejudices. We are inclined to isolate from people rather than get involved with them for the glory of God. When we isolate from people and view them from afar it breeds bigotry based on ignorance. We literally live in the dark. The dark can be scary. Jesus is the light of the world. He shines light and truth into our darkness and lies. Jesus does this by weaving a mixed tapestry of races, genders, generations, economic strata, and people who are in many ways very different from one another but whom most importantly have the foundation of Jesus. That’s a hard saying of Jesus for many. But by the Spirit we can live in this “bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).

Let me ask you, can you, will you, relate to people of different races, ages, economics, and aptitudes within the body of Christ treating them as your brother or sister in Christ? Will you work wholehearted in love to reach people of different races, ethnicities, and cultures than your own?  Will you infiltrate and influence them toward Jesus? Will you honestly, in the Spirit love any and all people, even enemies?  Will you represent Christ to the lost, both haters and sleepers, and let Jesus call them, through you, to be reconciled to God? (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

Are you willing to enter into the “fellowship of His sufferings” and be “conformed to His death”? (Phil. 3:10). Be honest. Because such fellowship will mean you have to release bitterness, resentment and your lust for “justice.” You will have to release any and all decisions about “justice” to the Lord. You will have to give up your “rights.” And in the process you will come to learn that you have no “rights,” you are the Lord’s possession (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You will learn the hard selfless meaning of surrender and the justice of the cross.

Will you allow the Lord to direct you into the “patience of Christ”? (2 Thess. 3:5). Will you wait for those who walk slower than you? Will you wait for those who understand and mature in their faith, slower than you? Will you walk in grace? (1 Cor. 15:10). If you are young, will you work alongside those who are old? If you are old, will you work alongside those who are young? Will you consider and accept the blessings and resources of different groups by the grace of God? Will you sacrifice your rad, phat, awesome, coolness or your well-aged wine of wisdom and knowing better for the sake of harmony and unity in Christ? That can be hard.

Will you submit your relationships to the “hard” sayings of Jesus and His word? Will you love and romance only within the parameters of God’s word? Will you stop your flirting? Will you not entertain or enter into unequally yoked relationships with unbelievers. What will you do when Jesus says you shouldn’t date or marry unbelievers? That can be hard.

Will you present your money and personal resources to Jesus? What will you do when He tells you not to enter into that lucrative business relationship because of the sinful practices involved? What will you do when Jesus tells you to be honest even though it will cost you money? What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus? Are you willing to “suffer the loss of all things”? (Phil. 3:8). That can be hard.

Are you willing to submit to change, even when it is hard? Are you willing to forget your sentimental history and move on to Christ’s higher ground for you? (Phil. 3:13-14). Will you put away your monuments and be a part of His movements? Are you willing to leave behind a blessed past? Are you willing to follow the vision of those Jesus puts in leadership of His church? Are you willing to live in the mind of Christ and “do all things without complaining”? (Phil. 2:14; cf. also 2:5-13). Change can be hard. But change is part of all Jesus does.

How can we understand, implement and grow from the hard sayings of Jesus? “When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:61-63). Here is our answer. The word “complained” (Greek goggydzo) means to grumble, murmur under the breath, or outright complain. That’s the way some people respond to what they view as hard sayings of Jesus. They murmur and gossip and express their indignant alternative opinions to that of the sayings that require they submit or change in the Spirit. Jesus confronted the murmurers and asked “Does this offend you?” “Offend” (Greek skandalidzo) means trip up, cause to stumble, displease, entrap, entice to sin. Jesus asked if His teaching tripped them up in their worldly walk. And then He speaks of His higher origins. They were tripped up because their perspective was only horizontal. To understand Jesus you have to look up. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit who gives live; the flesh profits nothing.” The Holy Spirit shows us the way to abundant life from the hard sayings. Looking at the hard sayings in our flesh or limited self-reliant resources will prove a waste of time.

You will never understand and appreciate the hard sayings of Jesus unless the Holy Spirit “gives life” to the words. The Holy Spirit helps us understand (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-14). The Holy Spirit is the great Illuminator. The Holy Spirit shows us the holy path. He will purify our heart as we trust in Jesus and obey the hard sayings (Acts 15:8-9). Will you submit to the leading of the Spirit? Will you listen to and receive and obey what the Holy Spirit tells you to do, even if it’s hard? That is the only way to grow spiritually.

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (John 6:66). Will you walk away when Jesus calls you to something hard? Know this if you do. Jesus will never let go of the one who perseveres and clings to Him in faith. But a person can choose to walk away from Jesus. What a tragedy! We will undoubtedly encounter things in life that we don’t understand. There will be hard sayings of Jesus that disrupt and challenge us. When that happens, we have the option of walking away. That is your choice; a sad and spiritually tragic choice. If that is your decision, Jesus will let you go.

But a better decision would be to stick with Jesus no matter what. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” 68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68). Here is why you should stick it through with Jesus. Jesus has the “words of eternal life.” Peter didn’t stay because of the miraculous “signs” or material blessing. He didn’t stay because of Jesus’ popularity, fame or to be entertained. Peter was attracted and stayed with Jesus because Jesus had, “the words of eternal life.” People minimize the authority of the word of God to their peril. You can’t poo-poo God’s word just because you don’t want to obey it. The teaching of the word of God is what draws us to Jesus. There is power in the word of God (Heb. 4:12).

The second and most important reason to accept the hard sayings of Jesus and continue with Him is because of the relationship we have with Him. “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:69). Peter stayed with Jesus because he was attracted to the Person of Jesus. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promised Messiah. Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus made Himself knowable, approachable, loveable. There was no way Peter would go anywhere else even if Jesus spoke hard sayings he didn’t’ fully understand. The person who comes to Jesus and stays with Him no matter what  is the person who falls in love with Jesus (cf. John 21)

What will you do when Jesus through the Spirit directs you with some hard sayings? Will you walk away? Or will you see these hard words as words of eternal life? Will you fall deeper in love with Jesus? It is love that keeps us close to Jesus. In love we cling to Him, no matter what. What will you do with the hard sayings of Jesus? Yes, “This is hard.” But it’s worth it!


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