Below is the summary of the sermon.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
If we are to profit from this section of the Gospel, we must be very clear in our understanding of why those who had appeared to be disciples dropped away. The reason lies in the fact that Christ’s teachings were “hard” to accept. The Greek word is sklēros, and it clearly does not mean “hard to understand.” It means “hard to tolerate.” They left because what they heard was so contrary to their own views that they would not accept it.
This applies to our own day and to ourselves. The real cause is not the difficulty of the doctrine but rather the unwillingness of the people involved to accept what they hear. Perhaps it conflicts with their own views.
What were these teachings the crowd found difficult?
First, there is the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation with all that this implies for his person. Jesus said that he was the true bread that came down from heaven (vv. 33, 38, 51). This implied that he had existed before his physical birth and that he had a special relationship with God. He was God’s Son, possessing the divine nature. He had come as God in order to take human nature upon himself. The crowd obviously understood what Jesus was saying, for we are told in the other Gospels that when he said such things they were immediately ready to interpret what he had said as blasphemy. God come in the flesh? This they could not accept. There are many who will not accept it today.
Secondly, Jesus was teaching that he needed to go to the cross. This truth lies in verse 51, which says, “And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” How hard this is to accept and truly understand! Those who heard Christ might have argued that they could understand how a person should pay for his own sin, even die for it if the crime were great enough. They could understand how salvation might be earned. But to think that Jesus Christ had to earn salvation for them and that they would, therefore, have to receive it as a free gift from him or not receive it at all – this they found objectionable. This is the primary difficulty that most of our contemporaries have in accepting Christianity.
Finally, Jesus had taught that the reason why most of those listening did not believe in him was that in themselves they could not believe and that they could come to believe eventually only if God had previously determined to give them to him. These are the rudiments of that system of doctrine known as the Reformed faith (man’s spiritual inability to please God and the necessity of God’s electing grace in salvation). Jesus had said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (v, 44). He had said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (v. 37). Nothing is more calculated to arouse the ire and rebellion of the human heart than this teaching. But it is true. Christ did not hesitate to proclaim it.
Each of these teachings ran counter to the normal way of thinking of those living in Christ’s time, and they run counter to the normal way of thinking today.
We have discussed the doctrines and reasons why the disciples were difficult to accept. They could not accept Christ’s incarnation doctrine, that God came in the flesh. It offended them. Then the Lord asks. “What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” This means: Would you believe Christ’s incarnation if I showed you now that I ascend back to heaven?
What would we do if Jesus did?
We can objectively believe that Jesus came from heaven. In other words, we will be able to know sensibly that Jesus is from heaven and is with us now. But the physical fact that Jesus came from heaven cannot fundamentally change us. Our souls can change when we realize why Jesus had to come to earth and why he should go so low. So Jesus is adding: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (v. 63). This sentence adds the truth that it is only through the ministry of the Holy Spirit
People of this age have said, “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have known the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh? Wouldn’t it have been glorious to have walked with him, to have heard his voice, to have traveled about with him as he moved from place to place during his three-year ministry?” I suppose that for some it would be wonderful. But the interesting thing is that many in Christ’s day did just that but nevertheless did not believe and eventually “turned back and no longer followed him.” Knowing the Lord after the flesh did not necessarily profit those who were with him. Thus, Jesus was saying that it was his thoughts, words, and acts that were to bless them and that even these had to be conveyed to the heart by the Holy Spirit if blessing should come.
On one occasion a woman said to Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” But Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:27-28).
This principle is true of our life as Christians today. It is not the external trappings of religion that bless the soul, but rather the Word of God as it is carried to our understanding by the supernatural intervention of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.
So, what will we do with Christ’s words? Will we heed them, allowing the Holy Spirit to bless us through them? Or will we turn away from them, as many of Christ’s followers did?
What is our obligation? Our obligation is to take these words to those who are lost and who will certainly perish without them. This is our prime responsibility.
We are to feed on Christ’s words, digest Christ’s words, live Christ’s words, exude Christ’s words. Many pressing concerns will attempt to dissuade People will try to discourage our commitment. Do not be discouraged. Proclaim Christ’s teachings to those who will receive them and to those who will not.
As we do, God will use them to draw people to the Savior.