Listening to the Hard Sayings

by Matthew W. Bassford

The law of Christ is not as I would have written it. There are actions that don’t bother me very much that God labels as sins, and there are things that chap my hide but are not condemned by Him. I think pineapple on pizza ought to be classed as an abomination, but Jesus declared all foods clean, so there I am.

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More seriously, there are plenty of people out there with serious, serious problems with portions of the word of God. Their problems are so serious that they go hunting for reasons to become atheists, just so that they won’t feel obliged to keep that abhorrent commandment. Sometimes, it’s not even something that they have to do. They just don’t like that God said it, so they leave.

This is not a new problem. Indeed, it is clearly on display in John 6. Contextually, Jesus’ ministry has reached a high point after His feeding of the five thousand. Throngs of new disciples think so highly of Him that they want to make Him king by force.

In response, Jesus preaches one of the most alienating sermons of His ministry. Among other things, He tells His disciples that they have to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they want to inherit eternal life. 2000 years later, this is still a difficult concept, and its effect on its immediate hearers is predictable. His new followers desert Him in droves, grumbling that His teaching is too hard to understand.

I doubt this result was accidental. I’m sure Jesus would have been pleased if the crowds were sufficiently devoted enough to stick around even though they didn’t understand what He was saying, but He knew they weren’t. He made such challenging statements in order to separate those who were truly committed from those who weren’t.

Today, God’s word continues to serve the same function. I’ve never met anyone who was upset by the content of John 6, but I have studied with those who stumble over baptism, sexual morality, and marriage. Others don’t like what the Bible says about authority. Still others would rather zero in on grace and ignore Scriptural teaching on obedience.

Sooner or later, all of us are going to run into a hard saying in Scripture, something that we don’t want to do or don’t want to believe. That’s not in question. The question is what we will do when it happens. Either we turn tail like most of the disciples in John 6, or we struggle on regardless.

If we want to be pleasing to God, though, this choice is no choice at all. Either we submit to Jesus in everything, whether we understand it, whether we like it, or we submit to Him in nothing. If we pick and choose from His precepts, we have removed Him as Lord and set ourselves in His place.

The temptation to do so can be severe. If we decide to reject the words of Christ, the devil will hand us half a dozen justifications for doing so in a heartbeat. We must remember, though, that the troublesome issue really isn’t what’s at issue. It’s just a tool that the devil is using to get what he really wants — our souls. As long as he can separate us from Jesus, any method will serve.

That’s the decision that we have to make, then — whether we want Jesus to save us or not. If we do, we will accept Him, hard sayings and all, because there is no other option. Peter says lots of dumb things in the course of the gospels, but in John 6:68, he gets it exactly right. He asks, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Next to those words, the hard words pale into insignificance.

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