I was reading John 6 the other day and the headline above verse 60 screamed out at me: “Many disciples desert Jesus.”
I wondered how that made him feel. Seriously. Go with me here.
I know he was God. And I know he knew in advance who would be staying and who would be leaving. But I also know he was human like me, capable of human emotions even when he knew the outcome. Like when his friend Lazarus died. He knew that he was going to raise him from the dead, but the shortest verse in the Bible says that “Jesus wept” anyway. He cried. Like I cried when my best friend died in a car wreck. It makes me feel better to know that he was capable of feeling what I feel.
So how did he feel when disciples started bailing?
You get the feeling that these weren’t just faces in the crowd. By this time, the crowds had grown extremely large. He has just finished a miracle of feeding at least 4,000 people. That’s the second time he’d done that one. People were so desperate to see him that they literally chased him across a lake. When some of them misunderstood something he taught, they started grumbling about it. Some of the crowd decided that he was getting a little too full of himself, and they started to leave. The murmuring grew until many of those close to him, his disciples, decided to quit following. They weren’t just faces, and you get the feeling that they didn’t go quietly.
How did he feel? How did he process it?
At that point, he turned to the ones that he is closest to, the Twelve, and he asked, “Are you going to leave, too?” Hit the pause button. What are the emotions of those words? Words are never spoken in a vacuum. There is always texture and feeling and context. What were his? What was he thinking?
Honestly, we don’t know. He’s God, and we are not. But I think we can learn some things from Jesus about a healthy process when people leave.
Be secure in the Father's love.
There was never any doubt in Jesus' mind about whether or not the Father loved him. I’ve got to believe that he knew his worth had nothing to do with how many were at the synagogue this Sabbath as compared to a year ago. The echo of the words of his baptism,“This is my son, and I am really pleased with him,” can’t be underestimated. A friend told me recently that our first thoughts every morning should focus on how much our Father loves us. Everyone else may think you are a jerk, but hey, what difference does it really make if God loves you?
Try to play for an audience of one.
Jesus says in verse 38, “I have come to do the will of God who sent me, not what I want.” There’s a lot of pressure in trying to please everyone. As the crowd grows, there will be more voices clamoring for your attention and potentially becoming offended if you don’t play their hand. One is a much less stressful number.
Learn to process it with your inner circle.
Even Jesus didn’t go at it alone. In response to his question, Peter says, “Where are we going to go? You have the words of life.” You need people like that. “I’ve got your back” type of people. Sure, you need some who will tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth, but you also need a few “I’m not going anywhere, boss” types for situations like these. Do you have people like that in your inner circle? Do you have an inner circle?
Trust in God’s sovereignty.
Jesus knew ahead of time who would leave and who would stay. You and I don’t. It would be a great gift to have. It would certainly save time and a lot of grief. You may not know, but God does. And according to Romans 8:28, he’ll weave it into the plan in a way that serves both his and your best interest.
The bottom line: When people leave for whatever reason, God’s got your back. What else do you really need?
Question for pastors: How does Jesus' example help?
Question for church members: Does your pastor know you’ve got his/her back?