Summary: God offers to the followers of Jesus something worth selling all else for.
Pastor Douglas Webster wrote a provocative book entitled, Selling Jesus. He described the American church as taking a foolish route to attract an audience. While the claims of Christianity can and should compete in the “marketplace” of ideas, we must be careful of “selling out” when “selling Jesus.” The metaphor of consumerism in relation to the church contains the very real danger of having the market demand a lower price to “move the goods.” Jesus avoids the compromises of crass consumerism by commitment to Truth.
After reading the text, we may wonder if Jesus would benefit from more marketing savvy. He seems determined to drive away “would be” disciples. But a bigger question is involved: How will we respond? Will we embrace hard truths and follow, be offended and turn away? Listen please, as I read from John’s Gospel, chapter 6, beginning at verse 60. [Read John 6.60-71. Pray.]
I recently watched a Star Trek episode in which Zefram Cochrane, an old engineer, decides to spend his last days in space. He crashes on “Gamma Canaris N” and would have died, but an alien rescues him, restores his youth, and sustains him for hundreds of years. He eventually learns to communicate with “The Companion,” and tells her that he must be around other people like himself in order to survive. He hoped the alien would repair his ship and send him back to Earth. Instead, it forces the Enterprise crew to join Cochrane, who must now explain his eternal youth to Captain Kirk. Kirk then asks what will happen if he leaves The Companion. Cochrane says, “I will age again and die, as all men.” Then the key sentence: “Anyway, eternal life is pretty boring.”
Eternal life is pretty boring? That theme appears frequently in modern and post-modern literature. In the newer version of Star Trek, written a decade later, the character, “Q” appears. He is a rascally demigod who alleviates the boredom of eternity with practical jokes played on Captain Pickard.
You see the same complaint in the T-Shirt which pictures a halo-capped man sitting on the clouds and thinking, “Heaven is Boring.” Or the person who states that he would rather be in hell with his friends than playing a harp forever in heaven. Or the mocking words of Rev. Tom Goldsmith of Salt Lake City’s First Unitarian Church: “As long as I can still listen to National Public Radio, heaven will be tolerable.”
Rather than be taken in by such foolishness, we do well to make sure we ask the right questions. The skeptic asks, “Do I want to do forever what I really do not enjoy doing at all?” Of course the answer is, “No.” Heaven bores those forced to do forever what they now dislike.
But we reach a different conclusion if we ask, instead, “Does the Bible might mean something different by ‘eternal life’ than the skeptics allow?” Jesus speaks often of this subject, and Peter (in John 6.68) claims that Jesus’ offer of eternal life makes it worth following him even when the way is hard.
The solution to the apparent dilemma comes when we realize that Jesus’ definition of eternal life is not the same as the one mocked by “Q.” Eternal life is not more of the same, but substantially different. Eternal is not merely infinite quantity; it is a fundamentally distinct quality.
You know the experience. When you reach the mountain summit and the magnitude of the view and the layers of beauty beg you to live in that moment forever. Or after the delivery, when you first hold your baby and the joy of that moment is so intense and sweet that it would not dull if you stayed always.
I remember when my daughter and I found the perfect roller coaster at Silver Dollar City. It pushed us just beyond comfort, so that it thrilled our senses without frightening us beyond what was fun. We rode it 20 times in a row!
That is precisely why C. S. Lewis said: “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else…. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for’” (The Problem of Pain).
Some of the followers of Jesus heard that sound. They had eyes to see the eternity in their hearts. They understood that some things are so valuable that everything else must be sold to obtain them. “You, Jesus, have the words of eternal life.” As a result, they were compelled to follow him.