Summary: The essence of our calling to really follow the Master.
THE CHALLENGE OF DISCIPLESHIP
"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no rnore with Him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will you also go away? Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou are that Christ, the Son of the living God." --John 6:66-69
The great feast of the loaves and fishes has ended. The holiday spirit and sense of sensationalism has subsided. The Lord has concluded His great sermon on the meaning of the eternal bread of life. He has told the assembled thousands His Kingdom is not of flesh and blood. He has warned them about being overly concerned about the physical dimension of life and strongly asserted He's not about to setup a Kingdom on earth. He's denied any plan to implement a permanent programme to prevent poverty. He has discouraged any delusion that he will perpetually place peas in every man's pot. He has denied any intent of rebellion against the powerful, painful and punitive Roman oppressor.
The sign and sensation seekers now see He will not keep on multiplying physical miracles ad infinitum. Now, the great admiring throngs have turned aside He had touched the most sensitive spot relative to committal. It's often not as important what, a person does, as why he does it. Motivation is always important, but especially so in obeying and serving the Lord.
Obviously, this was a multitude with mixed motives. Some were evidently moved by no nobler a notion than a free meal ticket. Some seemed to have come along out of crass curiosity; curious but not converted. Others probably perceived His power as being primarily political in purpose and were ready to join in rebellion. But these with mixed motives had one thing in common. A lack of real committal. These people of the periphery were listeners but not learners. When the signs gave way to the sermon, the attraction to the application and the miracles gave way to the Master's main message of meaningful dedication, they went away and followed Him no more.
The Master knew all this. His omniscience gave Him supernatural insight into their motives and murmurings. (Verse 61) Yet He goes on and challenges them about discipleship. At his first recorded miracle it was made crystal clear that He primarily performed His miracles, signs and wonders in order to validate, authenticate and irrefutably confirm His Messiahship to unbelieving Jews. (John 2:11) It is now time to get down to the nitty gritty; the brass tacks of being a committed disciple or follower of the Lord. Jesus Christ. If they follow Him they may risk all that people of the world hold so dear.
He had nothing of worldly worth. As He said, the foxes had their dens, the birds their nests but He, the Son of Man, had not even a pillow upon which to rest His weary head. Those who would follow Him could expect their path to be narrow and thorny, rather than wide and rosy. The going is going to get tougher all along the way. As the saying goes, the men are about to be separated from the boys. His followers will be persecuted and some will even be killed for their faith. So at this crucial moment of impending crisis many of the would be disciples who are willing to slide into heaven on the coat tails of those who are prepared to pay the price, decide it is just all too much. They turn back.
Evidently their possession doesn't measure up to their profession. Until now they had been called disciples or followers. They had put on a good show until the testing time came. They had constructed an impressive facade, even to the point of being outwardly indistinguishable from genuine disciples. They were of the same sort John spoke of later in his first letter when he said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would not doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." (I John 2:19) They were of the same caliber and character Jesus spoke of on another occasion when He said, "No man having placed his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the king- dom of God." (Luke 9:62) They were of the sort often called, "On again, off again, Fenigan types." Gipsy Smith once asked such a man in an after-meeting, "Are you a Christian?" "Yes," the man replied, "For twenty-eight years, on and off." "More off than on, I guess," replied the evangelist.
God is not always the God of the crowd or the majority. If you recall, a call for a democratic decision from the crowd attending Jesus' trial resulted in a unanimous vote for His crucifixion. God, as in the case of Gideon's band, is more often than not interested in the dedicated two or three. He looks on the inward man. He's a heart reader, not a head counter. Success achieved at the cost of compromise is no success at all. Conscripts can scarcely be classed as converts nor draftees as devotees, no matter how many may swell the ranks of popular religion. When the pressure is applied by Satan, they too will turn back in the day of battle. Surely when the Master preached this, one of the very greatest of His great mes- sages, He was acutely aware of the inevitable result; a diminishing of His followers and an overall decrease in his congregation.