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.”
And so what causes this crowd of followers to withdraw, in summary, is this statement. I am the bread which came down from heaven. He who eats me, my flesh and my blood, will live forever.
What Jesus is literally saying is that He has uniquely come from God, that He Himself is the divine Son of God, and that people must believe in Him and Him alone for eternal life.
Now as we look at this passage today, it’s important to realize there are two different groups of people identified in verses 59-71. When John talks about “the disciples” here, he is not talking about the 12 men who followed him through his 3½-year ministry. The word disciples here refers to the large crowd of people who were following at this time. When John eventually refers to the 12 disciples, he calls them “the 12” down in verse 67. The 12 disciples will remain faithful to him at this time. It is the majority of the multitude of disciples who will not remain faithful to follow him, beginning at the conclusion of this sermon.
And this is their reaction to Jesus’ sermon: Verse 60: Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement, who can listen to it.” Difficult is from the Greek word “hard” which literally means to be rough, or hard-dried. It literally rubbed these people wrong. They didn’t like how it felt. It was abrasive and offensive. And when they said, “Who can listen to it,” they were effectively saying, “we can’t handle this. We don’t want to hear any more of this” and “We’re done with Jesus.”
So we might ask ourselves, “What was so hard, so difficult, so offensive about these statements that Jesus was making? What made people who had only a day before been so terribly excited about Him, now choose, suddenly to walk away.”
Well, it’s because Jesus was done with just playing mere prophet, miracle-worker and fast-food provider. He had repeatedly and universally done the kinds of miracles no one else in history, much less Jewish history, had ever done. And it was now time to reveal His precise identity and the one thing He came to accomplish. He was the Bread of Life which came down out of Heaven to give eternal life to all who would believe. That little word, the, which He uses with “Bread of Life: in verse 58 is very important. By using it as He did there, He was saying He was unique, one of a kind, the only member of His class. We might use the in the same sense if we said something like “We are the Risen King Community Church of Reno, and there is no other church in Reno called by that name. We are the unique, and only member of that class in Reno and Sparks which is called Risen King Community Church. So when Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life, He was claiming to be the only, one-of-a-kind, Bread of Life which could give eternal life to those who partook of Him, those who spiritually ate of this bread by believing or trusting in Him. He was claiming that there had never been, nor would there ever be anyone else like him who through the sacrifice of His body would be able to give eternal life to those who believed in Him.
Yes, quite an incredible, amazing claim, but a claim He had repeatedly backed up by His incredible miracles.
And then by making the claim that He had come down out of heaven, He was making a statement that no other prophet in the history of Israel had ever made. He was claiming to have come directly from God, and probably implying He was God’s Son or God Himself, which, as it turns out, is exactly what He claimed to be. The God-Man. In other words, Jesus was claiming to be special, very special, divinely special, in that He alone had come directly from God to give eternal life to those who would believe in Him, and it was these fantastic and very exclusive sort of statements which Jesus’ multitude of followers, in the majority, would not accept. They were hard, rough, uncomfortable sayings. They didn’t feel good, and so without further reasoning or consideration given to the fact that Jesus had clearly established Himself as unique among all Israel’s prophets in history, in fact, as unique among all men in history by being able to do what no man had ever been able to do before, yea, what only God Himself could have done, these people abandoned Jesus completely and again went their own way.
You know what? It’s no different from what many people do today. Oh, they can accept that Jesus was a good man, a good moral teacher, perhaps even a prophet and a miracle worker. But when they hear statement like, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me” when they hear that you’ve got to believe in Jesus or you’ll go to hell, those are uncomfortable statement; they are hard sayings, they rub us wrong, and we don’t like to think, that among all the world’s peoples and all the varieties of belief, only the people who believe Jesus is the Son of God and their Savior will escape hell and go to heaven. And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus said in even so precious a promise as John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
You know the question these people who were falling away from Jesus were asking themselves? They were asking this question: Do these statements from Jesus feel good? Do they make me feel good about life and the world and its destiny? And their answer was no. They make me feel bad. They rub me wrong. This is uncomfortable. And so on account of merely how they felt about what Jesus said, rather than whether what He said was true, they immediately abandoned Him and went off looking for someone or something that would make them feel good with their preferred beliefs.
You know the question they should have been asking? It’s this true? Is it true that Jesus is the Son of God and the only Savior of the world? Jesus certainly, at this point, even in their own experience, had all the credibility that any man ever would who would make such a claim, on account of both his righteous deeds and powerful miracles. But these people, in love with their own preferred fantasy world, rejected Jesus, because the truth didn’t feel good.
And so our first point this morning, about the faith that saves is this: The faith that saves follows truth and righteousness wherever it leads and not just when it feels good. Did you get that? The faith that saves, if you are going to believe and be saved, you must be committed to following the truth about God wherever it leads, and not just when it feels good.
That’s what, effectively, Jesus said, in John 7:24 when he advised those who were considering his claims with “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
And it’s also the concern of the Apostle Paul that so many people will prefer to have their ears tickled rather than hear the straight truth about God in the latter days—a prediction that we see coming true on every side in our own day in our own town. For Paul wrote in II Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
You know, in my own fantasy world, I would prefer to believe there are millions and millions of dollars in my checking account. But if I live according that fantasy, rather than reality, I suffer the consequences. I’ll have bounced check charges all over town, bank fees ad infinitum and possibly even a jail term for passing bad checks. And so it is with anybody who must live according to reality. Dealing with reality isn’t always as pleasant as we would like it to be, but it prevents us from experiencing the very unpleasant consequences of living like reality doesn’t exist. The fact is, according to Jesus, He is the only way to God and to heaven, and we must believe in Him and Him alone to get there. That alone, is good news, and our concern ought to be that we live and believe according to that reality.
So, Jesus, knowing within Himself what’s coming down, that there is about to be a mass exodus among his visible disciples, quickly makes two statements to those who are about to jump ship. First, about how they can come to know that He had really come down from heaven. And, secondly, in case they didn’t understand what He really meant by his figurative use of “eating his flesh,” He clarifies that He was speaking metaphorically.
Verse 61: “But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before.”
In other words, do you need proof that I came down out of heaven, directly from God? Do you need proof that I am uniquely related to God, perhaps the Son of God, the God-Man? Well, that proof can be provided to you if only you’ll stick around to see it. And indeed, it was provided for those who stuck around to see it, the twelve disciples, minus, of course Judas, the betrayer. For they were all there on that day which would come in a little more than a year when Jesus would be standing on the Mount of Olives, 40 days after His resurrection, and as recorded in Acts 1:9-11, He would ascend from the Mount of Olives and disappear into the clouds into heaven.
Wow! Yeah! That would be pretty convincing all right!
But did these feel-good followers have the time or the patience to wait for that to happen? Did they have the time or patience to base their decision about whether to follow Jesus on the evidence of its truth or lack of truth? No! Jesus didn’t make them feel good anymore. And that’s what they required, all that they required, someone to make them feel good, rather than the Son of God who could save them for and give them life eternal life. How ridiculous! How foolish! How illogical! And yet, it is the very thing that plagues humankind to this day. Don’t tell me truth. Just entertain, make me feel good for the time being. And those with this kind of entertainment mentality head to hell in a hand basket. A hard saying? Yes! The truth? Yes! What do you choose, being comfortable and headed to hell, or the truth, and headed to heaven?
And then Jesus recognized that some of those who were about to depart might simply be confused by His illustration, by his figurative use of the phrase, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood to have eternal life.”
And so Jesus says, in verse 63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh (that is the physical body) profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
And so Jesus, in effect, says, no, I’m not talking about physically ingesting in your physical body parts of my fleshly or physical body. What you physically eat and ingest within your body will not profit you anything in terms of eternal life. What you eat will have no effect whatsoever on whether you live eternally. What I said to you is all about your spiritual and eternal life. Just as the Spirit is invisible and non-tangible, so the way you obtain benefit from me, and the sacrifice of my body on the cross (which was yet to come) is spiritual. It involves an invisible, non-tangible means of gaining the benefit of the sacrifice of my life for you. That invisible means of gaining the benefit of my sacrifice for you is faith, or belief, or trust in Me and what I have done or will do for you.
And again, we see that spelled in very 47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” Followed by verse 48: I am the bread of life.” In other words, the way you spiritually ingest and take advantage of the fact that I am the bread of life who gives eternal life is by believing in the Bread of Life. believing in Jesus as your only Savior and the Son of God.
Well, the text doesn’t actually tell us if some of those who were intending to leave were persuaded not to believe by these words of Jesus. It only confirms that plenty, even the majority left, despite what Jesus’s clarifications.
And do you know what they were guilty of? They didn’t bother to check out all the facts. They didn’t have the time to investigate the real truth of the matter. For if they had suspended their judgment against Jesus for just a time, for even a year, what Jesus was actually talking about in terms of giving his flesh so they could live eternally would have become abundantly evident. For He would die on the cross to pay for their sins. He would sacrifice his body and blood for their salvation. And then He not only would be raised from the dead, but 40 days later could be seen ascending where he had been before, thus proving that He alone had come down from heaven directly from God the Father.
The lesson for us is point two this morning: The faith that saves checks out facts before checking out altogether. The faith that saves checks out the facts before checking out altogether. If anyone is willing to objectively check out the facts about Jesus, His claims, and the incredible nature of His credibility, given fulfilled prophecy, given the outstanding character of His life when compared to any man, given His incredible knowledge of the future and wisdom in general, and given his miraculous works and the fact that He still works miraculously among those who believe in Him, if they were willing to be objective, and patient, they would come to know what you and I know, that Jesus, when all the facts are considered, made the greatest claims in history because He was indeed the greatest and most powerful man in history, He was indeed the Son of God, the Messiah of the World, the Savior of all mankind, just as Old Testament prophecies supernaturally predicted He would be. Don’t be in hurry to reject Jesus just because the truth isn’t always convenient and doesn’t always feel good. No, first take the time to check out the facts before you make the same mistake these foolish so-called disciples made in Jesus’ day, when they checked out from Jesus altogether.
And then, finally there were these remarkable statements that Jesus made about those who were abandoning Him at this point. Verse 64: “But there are some of you who do not believe.” And I take it that the “some of them” who did not believe were identical with the some of them who withdrew and were not walking with him anymore.
And John adds the comment in verse 64: “For Jesus know from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him—a reference of course to Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, but would not yet abandon Jesus at this point. Now we’ll get to verse 65 next week. But verse 66 tells us what happened immediately at this point: As a result of this many of his disciples, who might be called his former disciples, withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. It’s as though they knew Jesus was talking about them when he talked about those who had not believed.
Now I want you to notice something here. Jesus does not say, well some of you don’t believe and that’s the reason you’re leaving. And some of you have this problem or that problem and that’s why you’re leaving. No, instead, Jesus makes a blanket statement that I believe covers the case for everyone who was falling away from him. He says, in effect, they’re falling away, even though they appeared to be believers, because they never truly believed. That is, they never truly believed what Jesus had just claimed about Himself--that He was uniquely from God, the Son of God, and that He was the Bread of Life—the only way to eternal life.
Now I suspect that these people had believed a lot of things about Jesus, otherwise they would not have been following Him so diligently for all these weeks and months. Oh, they had certainly believed at the beginning of this chapter that he could feed them and make their bellies full whenever He pleased. That had certainly believed that He could be their political Messiah and deliverer from Roman oppression. They had certainly believed He was an incredible miracle worker and very entertaining. But they also, having taken offense at these statements by Jesus to the effect that He was directly from God and the sole Savior of mankind, well, they hadn’t believed this. These beliefs are what offended them, what rubbed them the wrong way. And this is what they had specifically not believed, and how they had not believed.
And interestingly, when the Apostle John much later in life, comments on the very same kinds of circumstances that occurred among the churches he was ministering to, he said this, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (I John 2:19).
Where do you think He got that? Where did He learn to conclude that those who fall away are not really believers in the first place? I think He got that from his experiences which we find recorded right here in John 6. That’s what Jesus said about those who fell away from Him here in the first place. And so it makes sense that that’s what John had to say about those who fell way in his time. And it makes sense about what we can say about those who fall away from Jesus in our time.
Those who fall way never believed in the first place. They don’t lose their salvation because they never ever had it to begin with.
So our final point this morning: The faith that saves is the faith that believes Jesus is the Son of God and sole Savior and keeps on following Jesus no matter what.
Did you get that? The faith that saves is the faith that believes Jesus is your sole Savior & Son of God and keeps on following Jesus no matter what.
And we can say in conclusion: The faith that saves carefully seeks out the truth about Jesus at first and believes until the last.
So this morning, I need to ask you? Where are you in this picture, in relation to this story of the mass exodus of Jesus’ so-called disciples in John 6?
Are you still in the process of deciding about Jesus? Well, then, don’t be asking the question about whether what He says feels good or not. Ask the question about whether He is the truth, and the way and life. Because that’s all that’s going to matter in the end.
And finally, have you come to believe that He’s more than a miracle worker, more than a prophet, and more than just simply a good teacher. Have you come to believe what is it about Him that saves—that He’s the Son of God and Savior of the World, and in particular you Savior? For without believing, in accord with Jesus’ definition of the word, you haven’t really believed unto eternal life.
If you’re not sure you have, let’s make sure this morning. Pray this prayer silently after me:
"Father, thank for your sending your Son to save me. I now agree and put my personal trust and dependence completely in Him as the God-Man, My Savior, who sacrificed His body and His life on the cross to pay for my sins. I accept Jesus as the Bread of Life that gives me eternal life—My bread of life that saves me from my sins. Thank you for saving me and giving me eternal life today. And keep Me as your own not only throughout this life but for eternity. In Christ’s name and for His glory, I pray. Amen!"