Summary: At the height of popularity, Jesus makes hard statements that thin the crowds. He says many of his disciples didn't really believe. And they fell away. What's the difference between the faith that saves and the kind of faith that doesn't? This story reveals that truth.
I’m sure that there are many of us here who have known or encountered people who were strong Christians from everything we could tell, but who have, for one reason or another, fallen away from the faith. They no longer claim to believe, they do not practice what Christ taught, they no longer attend church services and their life-styles would be no different from that of a typical unbeliever.
As I’ve mentioned before, included on my list of people I have known who have fallen away from Christ is the person who led me to faith in Christ, a girl I once dated, and a friend who twice married and twice divorced one of Jeanie’s best friends back in Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m aware of a couple of people who supposedly got saved through our church but have since in one measure or another renounced the faith, one even seeking out a deprogrammer to help cleanse of himself of Biblical beliefs. More than that I’m aware of a person who was a very prominent Christian leader in Reno, who once was the senior pastor of the largest evangelical church in Reno way back in the late 70s and I believe into the early 80s who now claims to have no faith in Christ and who makes it clear that He isn’t the least bit interested in talking about the situation.
And, of course, the questions that always accompany these experiences and stories are these: What happened to cause these people to fall away? Is it possible to lose your salvation? How can we prevent these sorts of things from happening, either to ourselves or our loved ones?
At the end of John 6, a very strange and very large thing happens in the life and ministry of Jesus. A mass exodus among his disciples occurs. After experiencing the greatest popularity and following in the history of Israel to that point, with tens of thousands of people literally and ardently following him around the Galilean country side, quite suddenly Jesus makes a few statements which disillusion the crowd, with the result that the majority of the people who are called “disciples” completely withdraw from and stop following Him. Jesus’ comments about this mass exodus not only provides us with some answers to our questions but grants us insight into the kind of faith that actually saves versus the kind of faith that doesn’t. The kind of faith that saves carefully seeks out the truth about Jesus at first and believes it to the last. The kind of faith that saves carefully seeks out the truth about Jesus at first and believes it to the last.
So how can we tell from this mass exodus at the end of Jesus’ second year of ministry what kind of faith saves and what doesn’t and whether it’s possible to lose your salvation. Well, listen up.
As you’ll perhaps remember, Jesus had been working miracles of healing and deliverance from demons in an extensive ministry in Galilee for months. At the outset of John 6, he and his disciples try to get away from it all, and travel by boat to a very remote location on the northeast shores of the Sea Galilee only to find that the throngs of people who had been following him on the other side of the lake have hiked all the way around the north side of the lake and found him there. It gets late, there’s not enough food to feed the perhaps 10,000 people there, so Jesus feeds the thousands with five little loaves and two little fish that constitute a little boy’s lunch. This only serves to feed the frenzy over Jesus. There are folks who want to come and take him by force to make him the political Messiah of Israel, others who now want to follow him because, obviously, he can feed them on a whim. But Jesus and His followers disappear overnight to the other side of Galilee, only to have the throngs search out and find him there. Once they find Him, He gives a sermon, according to verse 59, in the synagogue of Capernaum.
The sermon has the effect of crowd control—thinning the crowd very substantially. It was the sermon in which Jesus claimed to be the Bread of Life which came down out of heaven to save the world.
In fact, it is this very statement which causes the majority of the disciples of Jesus to stumble and draw back from following Him. Turn to John 6 and begin reading with me at verse 56—the concluding statements of Jesus’ sermon at the synagogue at Capernaum: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”