Followed By Few
Scripture: John 6:66–71
Followed By FewJohn 6:66-71
Sunday, February 9, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith
Throughout history, "religious" people have fallen into two distinct camps: the lost and the saved, the unbelieving and the believing, the reprobate and the elect. The New Testament often refers to them as false disciples and true disciples. False disciples fall into two categories. Some, once they understand the demands of God, simply abandon the faith. Others, however, stay with God's true sheep often disguised as wolves, and whether they realize it or not, cause disunity and promote error amongst the flock. True disciples, on the other hand, have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. They strive according to God's agenda and faithfully persevere to the end.
Even among those who claim to be religious, the true disciple of God has always been a minority. Moreover, the true disciple often receives his or her greatest persecution from the false disciple or the "religious community." Jesus went as far to say, "an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think he is offering a service to God" (Jn. 16:2). Jesus experienced this. We to different degrees have experienced this in our day and age. Yet we have not been alone in our struggle.
You will recall Elijah, the man of God who mightily overcame the prophets of Baal. After God granted him a tremendous display of His power, the Prophet fell paralyzed to the threats from wicked queen Jezebel. Elijah was scared. He wanted to die. He felt as if only he, among all the religious people in the land, was devoted to the ways of Jehovah. Have you ever felt that way at work or in your neighborhood or among your family? At Mt. Horeb, Elijah pleaded his case before the Lord. "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away" (1 Ki. 19:14). You will recall the Lord's response. "Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him" (1 Ki. 19:18).
In addition to Elijah, the testimonies of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Paul and Jesus all bear many similarities. Each of these men battled the false religion in their day, only to be violently persecuted and rejected by the religious multitudes. But throughout the annals of church history, God has always preserved a remnant of true disciples, a remnant that has faithfully followed God and refused to bow the knee to Baal.
Our text this morning, possibly better than any other biblical passage, contrasts the natures of a true disciple and a false disciple. We will see the true disciple, the remnant, stay with God through adversity, while the false disciple either departs or remains often to the detriment of the flock. The primary objective of this message is to identify these three groups and then evaluate our own standing. Are you a false disciple that is bound to leave Jesus when you understand His true demands of discipleship? Are you a false disciple that probably should leave but rather hangs around God's sheep in an unintentional effort to lead them astray? Or are you a true disciple that stands for the truth, trusts in the promises of God and vows to follow Him anywhere?
If you are a true disciple, I trust this message will be of great encouragement to you.
1. DEFECTION - FALSE DISCIPLES WHO LEAVE (6:66-67)
Let us first begin with false disciples who leave.
Throughout John 6, we realize that a large contingency followed Jesus. We learned that He fed an upward of 20,000 with the bread and fish. Doubtless after this miracle the excitement increased, as did His following. We can picture the synagogue in Capernaum packed to the gills with hundreds denied attendance as Jesus delivered the "Bread of Life" discourse. The reception seemed almost too good to be true. It appeared that religious Israel was accepting her long awaited Messiah.
However, Jesus and the reader of John's gospel are prepared for a letdown. John introduced the crowd as those hungry for signs (Jn. 6:2). Jesus introduced the crowd as those hungry for material food (Jn. 6:26). Few, if any in the multitudes, appeared spiritually hungry to receive the Bread of Life. The reader stands on the precipice watching two worlds about to collide, a disaster of defection or a miracle of conversion inevitable.
Tragically, the former occurred. Within the span of hours, those who were overjoyed to be in the presence of Christ began to peel away in droves as it became clear who Christ was and what He expected from His followers. John 6:66, "As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore." First it was the multitudes, then it was those who professed to be His disciples.
With a little imagination this scene is not hard to envision. Picture the bright faces slowly begin to darken during Christ's sermon. First a few eyebrows begin to rise, a few jaws begin to drop. Then a gentle murmuring comes over the crowd as the people turn to each other to confirm what they just heard. Eventually heads begin to shake, faces become red with anger and protests sound from the back of the audience.
The 12 disciples are not sure what to make of the scene. They were in a pickle. In one way, Jesus was offending the audience that was eager to follow Him. This was no way to gain supporters and start a movement. They possibly questioned some of His teaching themselves. In another way, they felt they must be loyal to their Master. Whether they understood His tactics or not, they needed to remain close by His side.
Jesus had just delivered one of His most powerful sermons and the multitudes, maybe thousands, threw in the towel. Possibly few in addition to the 12 remained. Imagine the disciples watching the people depart. Imagine the stunned looks on their faces. Imagine them wondering if they had made the right decision to stay. Could that many people have judged incorrectly? Would they face the same rejection if they remained with Jesus? Imagine them looking at each other, glancing at the crowd disappearing over the horizon, peeking at the reaction of Jesus. Silence must have filled the synagogue. It was just Jesus and His loyal few. A thousand thoughts must have been racing through their human minds while Jesus stared them down with His penetrating gaze.
What would you do?
Jesus was the first to break the deafening silence. Verse 67, "So Jesus said to the twelve, 'You do not want to go away also, do you?'"
Jesus was not about to force anyone to unwillingly be His disciple. But for those who do profess, He does expect allegiance and loyalty and obedience. The disciples' faith was put to the test. A line was clearly drawn. Would the 12 show themselves to be false disciples? Would they remain on what appeared to be a sinking ship? Would they take greater comfort in siding with the majority, opposing faithful preaching of the Word and pursuing the pleasures of this world? They were forced to make the most important decision of their life. How would they answer?
2. RECEPTION - TRUE DISCIPLES WHO STAY (6:68-69)
Point number two: true disciples who stay.
As usual, their impulsive leader spoke on behalf of the crew. Verses 68-69, "Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.'"
Journalist William Allen White made these comments after his first meeting with then President, Theodore Roosevelt. "He sounded in my heart the first trumpet call of the new time that was to be…I had never known such a man as he, and never shall again. He overcame me. And in the hour or two we spent that day at lunch, he poured into my heart such vision, such ideals, such hopes, such a new attitude toward life and patriotism and the meaning of things, as I had never dreamed men had…After that, I was his man."
If mere mortals can makes such an impact, how much less should we expect from the living God. Jesus had touched the true disciples lives in such a way that they were compelled to remain close by His side.
First, in verse 68, Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Peter had come to realize that Christ was altogether lovely. That only Christ held in His hands purpose, satisfaction and eternal life. Where would Peter go? Put yourself in Peter's shoes. Where would we go once we have tasted the goodness of Jesus Christ? Back to our emptiness? Our sins? Our loneliness? Our hopelessness? Think about that! Remember your life before Christ. Remember the honeymoon when you first discovered Him as your "first love." The thought of turning back is unfathomable! There are no other alternatives. Who or what can measure up to Christ? The true disciple has only one option; He is compelled to press on. He has nowhere else to go, but forward with Jesus!
Departing from Jesus for the true disciple is like jumping off a luxury liner in the middle of the ocean. Why would anyone want to leave the pool and the activities and the food and the friends only to cast themselves in the frigid waters of isolation to be eaten by sharks? The true disciple forsakes the emptiness of the world. He stays on the ship and sails forward with Jesus.
When Paul composed the "spiritual armor" section in Ephesians 6, it is believed that he simply recorded the articles that were present before his eyes as he was chained to a Roman guard: the breastplate, the helmet, the shield, the sword. Considering the placement of this armor, some keen observers have noticed that a Roman soldier is clothed with protection only on the frontal portion of his body; the back is clearly exposed without any defensive covering. The reason being is the conviction that a true soldier of Rome never retreats. He is trained to keep his ground, stand firm and advance. Likewise, the true soldier of the cross, the true disciple of Jesus Christ never turns back. He is forever advancing, obedient to the call of his commanding Officer. He is reminiscent of Christian in Pilgrim's Progress ever advancing to the Celestial City. Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go?"
Peter, in his great confession, also said, "You have the words of eternal life" (verse 68). The miracles may attract the false disciples of Christ, yet the teaching repels them. However, it is not the supernatural works, but rather the divine words that bind a true disciple to His Master. As we studied earlier, the true disciple develops a hunger for the words of Christ. He realizes that His words disclose the promise for eternal life and the food to continually feast upon Jesus. You will remember in His sermon that Jesus said, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (verse 63). Why would anyone want to ignore the words of eternal life? True disciples have spiritual ears that hearken to their Master's calling. They hear His voice and receive it with joy. Peter said, "You have the words of eternal life."
Peter concluded his confession in verse 69, "We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God."
A few key observations of this verse are worth noting. First, Peter begins with the emphatic use of the pronoun "we." Peter claims to speak for the other 11 disciples and separates them from the false disciple who departed. Second, both verbs "believed" and "know" are stated in the perfect tense. This tense denotes an action that occurred in the past, comes to completion and has ramifications that continue into the future. Henceforth, Peter is claiming that the 12 disciples have already made a firm and decisive commitment to Christ in the past, which will continue even now despite the obstacles they have encountered. Third, the order of the two verbs in verse 69 is crucial. Peter said they "have believed and have come to know." Faith or belief always precedes (or goes before) knowledge. Humanly speaking, we demand knowledge before we believe. "Seeing is believing!" God's way is not our way. From Him it's, "Believing is seeing!" Spiritually speaking, knowledge comes as a result of belief. As everything else in our spiritual life, faith is essential! It must permeate everything we do. It must come first. The reception of spiritual knowledge is no different. We must understand divine truths through faith. God blesses our faith by giving us knowledge, discernment and understanding. Fourth, Peter, based on His faith, came to understand Jesus in verse 69 as "The Holy One of God" (The only other user of this title were demons-c.f. Mk. 1:24; Lk. 4:34). Peter came to the conclusion that Jesus was more than a moral teacher or a miracle worker or a philosopher or a prophet. Peter ascribed to Jesus the highest possible honor and put Him in a category with God and not with man (Jn. 17:11). Based on this verse, Peter made it clear that he and the other disciples weren't going anywhere. Can you blame him?
The unknown author once confirmed, "In Christ we have a love that can never be fathomed; a life that can never die; a righteousness that can never be tarnished; a peace that can never be understood; a rest that can never be disturbed; a joy that can never be diminished; a hope that can never be disappointed; a glory that can never be clouded; a light that can never be darkened; a happiness that can never be interrupted; a strength that can never be enfeebled; a purity that can never be defiled; a beauty that can never be marred; a wisdom that can never be baffled; and resources that can never be exhausted."
Who would want to leave a Savior with promises like that? The disciples promised to stick with Jesus. History tells us that the disciples faithfully persevered to the end despite the fiery testing that each of them experienced.
Church tradition states that: John escaped death in a cauldron of boiling oil and then was exiled to the island of Patmos. Andrew was crucified in Achaia (southern Greece). He hung alive on the cross for two days and preached the gospel to the spectators. James (John's brother) was sentenced to death. After his accuser witnessed his courage, he too was converted and then subsequently beheaded alongside James. Philip was crucified after a faithful ministry in Phrygia (Turkey). Bartholomew (Nathaniel) was crucified by the idolaters in India; one tradition says he was flayed alive. Thomas (Didymus) was killed by being thrust through with a spear in India. Matthew was killed by the sword after preaching in Ethiopia. The other James was stoned by the Jews. Jude (Thaddeus) was crucified in Edesssa (Turkey). Simon was crucified in Britain. And Peter himself, as we all know, was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die the same way as his Savior.
I think it's safe to say they stuck it out to the end. I think it's safe to say they were true disciples!
3. DECEPTION - FALSE DISCIPLES WHO STAY (6:70-71)
I wish I could end this sermon on this high note, but John includes two more verses in chapter 6. I thought about reversing the order in my message, but I don't want to appear wiser than the Apostle. I am confident that he had a reason to end this section the way he did.
As of now we have looked at false disciples who leave and true disciples who stay. As we move to point 3, I'd like to cover another category: False disciples who stay. Verses 70-71, "Jesus answered them, 'Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil? Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him."
Verses 70 and 71 reveal the false disciple who stays within God's sheepfold and reaps havoc amongst His flock. I'll get to that point in a moment. But for now, I want you to see how verses 70 and 71 also amount to two points of correction regarding Peter's prior confession.
First of all, Jesus told the disciples in verse 70, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve?" In other words Jesus is saying, "Men, don't think you are a cut above the rest. Don't be overconfident. Don't think that you had superior insight to choose Me while the others departed. I made it clear in My discourse that nobody can come to Me unless My Father draws him (Jn. 6:37, 44, 65). Now I want to make it clear that it's My choosing that even enables you to be counted as my inner 12." Even when Peter made his great confession in Matthew 16, Jesus had similar words. "Blessed are you, (Peter), because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 16:17).
Christ keeps us humble by reminding us that salvation is all of Him. They may have some theological reasons, but proud people will never ascribe to the doctrines of grace. We called on Him because He first called on us. Neither Peter nor we are doing Jesus a favor when we receive Him. Jesus doesn't need us; we need Him!
This past week I was enjoying dinner with my family at Applebee's Restaurant. Suddenly my ear caught that smash hit from the 70's in the background, Anne Murray's, "You Needed Me." I sent my poor secretary on a wild goose chase this week to determine who "needed" Anne Murray. She even e-mailed the artist herself in an effort to seek the meaning of the song. We never received a definite answer, but if that song was about God, we have major theological problems. Jesus made it clear with Peter, He chose us because we needed Him!
Second, intuitive listeners who were counting might have noticed that I only listed 11 of the disciples earlier by name that persevered with Jesus. Jesus corrected Peter in the later half of verse 70 by informing him that his inclusive "we" who will not depart from Jesus was incorrect. In that verse, Jesus said, "And one of you is a (better translated "the") devil (diabolos)."
In other words, "Peter did I hear you say "we?" Do you think you are speaking on behalf of the 12? Well I've got news for you. One of you as My intimate friends will betray Me. One of you will operate in the spirit of Satan himself. He is consumed by his own agenda and will oppose everything I stand for."
Six months later at the Last Supper Jesus again said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me" (Mt. 26:21). The very next verse, "Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, 'Surely not I, Lord (Mt. 26:22)?'" The disciples, after walking closely with Judas for over 3 years, had no clue that He was an imposter. Yet Jesus wasn't fooled. John's commentary in verse 71 makes it clear that Jesus knew all along that the betrayer would evolve from the 12 (as prophesized in Psalm 41:9) and his name would be Judas Iscariot.
Many of the false disciples start strong and then begin to fade away with time. They come to church whenever the doors are open; they receive the word with great joy (Mt. 13:20) and then something comes upon them like the trials of this world (Mt. 13:33) or persecution for Christ's sake (Mt. 13:21) or the love of money (1 Tim. 6:10) or a correct understanding of discipleship (Lk. 14:28), and they depart. It's rarely all of a sudden. Usually it's just a slow fading away. You begin to see them less often on Wednesday nights. Eventually even their Sunday morning attendance becomes sporadic. Then gradually over time you never see their face again. It's very sad, but it's no different than what Jesus faced when He was deserted by those who were originally excited about His ministry, even those who professed to be His disciples. And if Jesus had false disciples desert Him when He was physically present, what makes us think that we won't experience the same when He is now only present in spirit?
In many ways (and I don't mean to sound unloving) it is a blessing when false disciples depart from the church. God often prunes His church by cutting off dead branches. Often He gives us a foretaste of the future separation that will occur when He once and for all separates the wheat from the tares. I never see Jesus or any biblical leader pleading for a false disciple to stay, because false disciples often cause havoc and reap destruction among the flock.
Many false disciples depart, but some false disciples, like Judas, stick around and cause problems. They become wolves disguised in sheep's clothing. The Apostle Paul repeatedly warned the churches of such people. "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Ac. 20:29-30). Some false disciples may quietly "hide in a corner," but others, depending on their degree of impact, are to be shunned (2 Thes. 3:6, 14) or removed (1 Cor. 5:13), before they shame the face of Jesus and shipwreck the faith of many.
We are not talking about an unbeliever here, they are easy to spot and easy to avoid following. We are talking about a professing Christian who is not saved. A "so-called brother" as Paul calls him (1 Cor. 5:11) who is camouflaged within the flock. Often these individuals think they are serving Christ and attempting to do good, but too often they cause problems because they are not redeemed. They exist without the Spirit of God so the things of God are foolishness to them (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, they think differently, they act differently and they teach differently. They advocate, formally or informally, false doctrine. They oppose any discussion of sin. They promote their own form of godliness. They refuse to repent. They gossip. They create factions. They resist authority. They set a poor example themselves by their conduct and slowly corrode the purity of God's church. They do not belong to God. Like Judas, their father is Satan (Jn. 8:44). They listen to his lies, bear his fruit and often through their own deception further his agenda.
That's why leadership must be very careful as to whom they assign a formal teaching position in a church (Jas. 3:1). However, false disciples often make their greatest impact through the subtle avenues of private conversations. Beloved, you must love all people and leave the eternal separation among professing Christians to God. The Lord knows those who are His (2 Tim. 2:19). Nevertheless, be careful what you believe. Avoid naivety. Sift every idea, philosophy and practice through the grid of Scripture. Imitate the noble-minded saints of Berea who "received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Ac. 17:11; c.f. Tit. 1:9-11). And if they did that for the Apostle Paul, how much more should we do that for each other? And by all means, you must include my preaching in that continual examination.
Some individuals like to lump people into three categories: obedient Christians, carnal Christians and unbelievers. I see very little biblical warrant for those classifications. I think it is better to think of people in two categories: true disciples and false disciples. And then of the false disciples there are those who depart and those who stay just like we witnessed in our text this morning.
These past two weeks I have been doing some personal meditation in 1 and 2 Timothy. I was encouraged to find our classifications from this morning once again identified. Turn if you would to 1 Timothy.
First, there are the false disciples who stay.
1 Timothy 6:3-5, "If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain." 1 Timothy 1:18-20, "This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme." 2 Timothy 2:15-18, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, menwho have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some."
Then, there are the many false disciples who leave.
2 Timothy 4:10-11, "For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me. Only Luke is with me." 2 Timothy 4:16, "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them." 2 Timothy 1:15, "You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes."
Finally, there are the few true disciples who stay.
2 Timothy 1:16-18, "The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me-- the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day-- and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus."
The Timothy epistles parallel John in these three categories. Many false disciples depart, few true disciples stay and a smaller number of false disciples stay.
I conclude by rephrasing the objective. Are you a false disciple that either is about to depart or wish to remain for the disturbance of God's household? Or are you a true disciple that feasts upon His word for the purpose of Christlike behavior whereby He might fulfill His purpose in creation and redemption to be glorified in your life. Can you echo with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
The easy roads are crowded
And the level roads are jammed;
The pleasant little rivers
With the drifting folks are crammed
But off yonder where it's rocky
Where you get a better view,
You will find the ranks are thinning
And the travelers are few.
But the steeps that call for courage
And the task that's hard to do,
In the end result in glory
For the never wandering few.