The Crisis which the Word of Christ brought in the circle of His disciples.

A sermon on John 6:60 - 66 preached on November 11, 1979, in Pretoria, South Africa by Dr. C. Van der Waal. Translated from a cassette tape by Roelof A. Janssen on Thanksgiving Day (Oct. 13 & 14) 2008.

John 6:60-66:  Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, "This is a hard saying; who can understand it?" When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, "Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father." From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a word that is often used today. That is the word crisis. It seems that things are getting stuck. Everywhere. People realize this especially in the economical sector. Despite many promises inflation continues. And the prosperity we have enjoyed is decreasing worldwide. In such a situation people ask for leaders. But democracy and technical advancement has destroyed and done away with all the conditions to produce leaders. We now produce people who are all alike. And if there is one who sticks out above the other we just strike him down in the name of democracy. We no longer have Churchills and De Gauls. We only have Ayatollahs who create chaos. Leaders however are dominated by thinking. From poor economy and second rate leaders we come to the question whether there are still people who work for an ideal. And then again you see that there is a crisis. It is only whether something is useful that plays a role and everyone cares for himself. In the spiritual or religious world confusion increases.

You should not think that the church is located on an island. How many traditional forms are still present? Everything is in the process of getting out of hand at the same time. And no one is aware anymore in which direction he is moving. But it is clear that though he does not know where he is going, he still knows that he is moving away from traditional morals, and from what used to inspire people.

Doubt has become the great superman. People want to be expressly lead by doubts. Everything is put to doubt. They rather have nothing than something to hold on to. Thus we stand in an emptiness. Thus everything that the thermometer of the times can conclude is that we are in a crisis. All values and morals are gone and all the foundations are shaking.

However, it is so that for a long time the Gospel functioned as the anchor of hope in the world. But with the giving up of norms and morals also the gospel has disappeared. There is still a traditional word of the gospel but it has been hollowed out. Thus the Gospel is in a crisis - so it appears. Census statistics cannot prove everything but it does prove that the Church in our country is on a descending slope.

Now I want to turn this around this morning. It is not true that the Gospel is in a crisis. Instead, the Gospel creates a crisis. In John 3:19 Jesus said, "And this is the judgment - and it actually says crisis - that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light." And in John 9:39 Jesus said, "For judgment - crisis -  I have come into this world,that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind." The Gospel creates a crisis and this message is hard, difficult to swallow.

I speak to you this morning about the crisis which the word of Jesus brings into the circle of the disciples.

We will notice:

  1. The nature of this crisis
  2. The victory of this crisis, and
  3. The background of this crisis.

1. In John 6 Jesus appears as prophet, prophet of Deuteronomy 18, "More than Moses is here."  He also appears as wisdom, that invites, "Come to Me." Now it is not so that Jesus promises salvation. Instead He asks them to believe in Him. There is a difference. The Jews were familiar with promises. The whole Old Testament is full of promises. But now Christ says, "All these promises pertain to Me. I am the bread of life. And whoever eats Me will live. And whoever drinks my blood will live. That means that even when Jesus would die they would have to believe in Him to obtain the promises of the Old Testament. Even when Jesus would seem to go under at the cross then they still had to believe in Him. Indeed, we stand today behind all the facts, behind Resurrection, behind Ascension, behind Pentecost. We have to remember that the words of Jesus were spoken before Golgotha, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. And at that time they have come, so to say, into a crisis, by having to accept a Jesus who would die. No, about that they said, "This is a hard  saying, it is indigestible. That "Logos" (word) is difficult, unacceptable. And because of that there was again the murmuring of the Israelites, verse 61, just as in the Wilderness, just as in verse 41 and 43. Only, here there is not just the murmuring of the people, but of the disciples, of the broader circle around Jesus. By disciples is not understood the twelve apostles but indeed the broader circle of those who follow Him. You have to take note when you look at John 6, that you first see six thousand, than as many as fit in the synagogue, then this broader circle of disciples, and in the end there are twelve, actually twelve minus one, for Jesus announces the betrayal of one the disciples. Thus there is a steady decline of followers.

Crisis, Crisis! The broader circle of followers says, "Who can accept such a Logos?"

And Jesus knows this, He notices it, He understands it. There is a serious problem! And that is why He asks, "Does this offend it?" Literally it says, "Is this a scandal for you?" Skandalizo! A skandalon is a trap, a snare, an iron trap. Is the Word for them an iron trap? Is that a reason for them to sin, to come into the crisis? And then we have to understand that Jesus means it this way.

He does not mean it negatively but positively: You are not offended by this, are you?

And then we continue with verse 62. Actually - just compare that in your Bible - actually we have to begin verse 62 with this sentence in our thoughts, "Would you also be offended if I, Son of man, will ascend to My Father where I used to be?" Christ actually is saying, "Behold, you take offense at me because I am too ordinary. But there is no need for it. For I am the Son of man of Daniel 7. I am the Son of man who goes to the Father to bring a report as ambassador." But indeed, this has to be believed. The people see Jesus in weakness and in hiding, as Human Being of flesh and blood, forsaken by every one, Psalm 41. He also goes onto the cross. The Son of man needs to suffer and be killed. And when nevertheless the disciples are asked if they, no matter what happens, believe in Jesus Christ, when He is exalted and ascended to the Father, then they say, "that word is hard," for they want to first see and then believe.

And this is the difficulty. The disciples are getting stuck because of the earthly, the visible matter. The unacceptableness, the flesh, the threat facing Christ. And that is why they do not believe in Him. They see the earthly and do not believe the heavenly. They do not accept that this Jesus in all His brokeness is the Son who will go to the Father, straight through death. But indeed this is the essence of faith. Faith is acceptance without an answer to the why, without a visible earthly anchor, without proof. And in a certain sense, brothers and sister, the situation of John 6 continues together with the church throughout the ages. There is the Word that speaks of heavenly things. But there is also the flesh, the visible situation. And it does not always speak of beautiful things. Since so many people belong to the church, many are offended by the earthly appearance of the church. And let us sincerely confess, there are many sins and imperfections, many reasons to be offended by this or that. And because of that the church becomes less and less worthy of being believed and brings people into that circle of doubt. Signs of a crisis appear, and the movement toward the word makes room for a movement away from the Word.

And as long as God is pleased to serve Himself by a church, then He will serve us by sinful office-bearers. And as to the matter of believing the Unica Catholica [= Unity of the catholic church] some great demands are placed before us. We can also say it in a different way – the Lord does not make it easy for us - the so-called Corpus Christianum [=Body of Christians???]is disappearing. Also in the last place on earth where it still existed, in South Africa. That means that the position of power of the Church, which existed since Constantine the Great, of which there still remains in our country the last traces in the whole world, is disappearing. The position of power of the Church shrinks and has no influence anymore, especially not anymore in the general world. I have also said many times from this pulpit, "Are we a Christian nation? You can forget about that." And on top of that, if there is still some leadership from a church than it usually is false prophecy. And when now this emphasis is disappearing, when it is no longer taken for granted that you are member of a church, then you look at each other and you see many human things as human things. When there is such a great contrast of innumerable promises on the one side and on the other side the fact of a shrinking church, a doubting church, and a world that bulldozes that church, what do you have left then? And there you have the nature of the crisis. For now it comes to you: What means the most for you, the promises? Or what you see today or what you experience with your weak nerves? The nature of the crisis thus is a running stuck against the flesh, the outward appearance, and a forgetting of those great promises. Is this an offence to you? Or better, You are not offended by this, are you?

2. So we come to the second point. The victory of this crisis.

Christ is not a doctor who diagnosis a certain sickness and gives no medicine for it. He gives direction in the crisis. For verse 62 proclaims Him as the Son of man who goes to the Father.

They have to believe Him, believe that through suffering the glory will come. And they have to believe that His word in the end will bring the victory. Just as Peter later confessed, "Thou hast the words of everlasting life." And that is why verse 63 fits in the context. It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are Spirit and Life. And then you have to remember that Jesus is speaking here in a royal questioning proverbial way. The best is if we read this backwards. The words which I speak are spirit and life. Christ is saying, in My word, which you do not believe, the quickening Spirit is coming together. That is not a word which is a skandalon, which can offend you, which is a trap or snare. No, My word causes life today and in the future. Lord, Thy Word has power to create. And now the second - we are going from the end to the beginning - the flesh profits nothing. What does that mean? The flesh is the outward part. And this has in itself no profit. Jesus does not say that the outward part has no value, but He says, "just the outward part." And if you run stuck against that then you are wrong. If Jesus was just dependant on outward successes, what would it matter? He has come, not to become an earthly king, a man who is wearing a beautiful robe, He has not come to be a competitor of earthly princes, an appearance of great success. No, He has come to appear as a prophet and to experience the lot of a prophet. But also to be raised and exalted in this way. Jesus should not be looked upon in the outward sense, indeed, that is the opposite of success, but Jesus should be looked upon in His word, on His Logos. And those words are Spirit and life, in them is power of attraction. But the flesh, the outward appearance, is not decisive.

Just as Paul said, "For I have come to you in much fear and trembling. But I acted in such a way, I preached Jesus Christ who was crucified, so that your faith should not be in words and show of wisdom but in Spirit and in power (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5). And thus Jesus speaks also. The accent does not lay on the outward show, on success, on number, but on the Word! Indeed, when Christ says "the flesh does not profit" then we cannot say that it is not important if we sing good or bad, or that the organization and outward forms have no meaning and has no value: It is important! But here we see the priority of the church: the priority is the Word, the words of the ascended Son of God.

And when the church passes this on than there will come life in the dry bones: The words that I speak are Spirit and life. And all the other things, if man has to live by that, are just as J.C. Sikkel said, like the bringing of a drop of water to a rose which is dying anyway.

The Word has to be heard and the Word has to be the first. To seek first the kingdom of God is to be obedient first to the Word and thus to receive Spirit and life. And if we see this then we see the solution for our crisis: "Pray God that He may ease you; His Gospel be your cure." (Wilhelmus, stanza 14c) Put your priorities straight O church! And if the Word is there than answer to this by faith! Faith provides order. It decides the priorities. Faith does not demand a church without flaws. Neither does faith demand either that the church is a perfect social group, in which all is arranged according to the rules of society. Faith is a sober matter which realizes that you work with people. And where there are people you will find mistakes. Faith also knows that the church may look very small and as extinct in the eyes of man. But Faith correlates with the Word. Faith seeks the Word. Faith rejoices in the Word. Faith applauds the Word. Faith looks straight through frustrations, also ecclesiastical ones. Faith continues through trudging and plodding and straight through doors, for faith has part in the exalted Christ and the life-giving Spirit. And faith does not let itself be distracted in the world of doubt by a curtain of smoke.

Remember, congregation, that natural man is always inclined to follow policies of distraction. Though the politics in Russia murders millions of people, it points to South Africa with an accusing finger, and the whole world forgets what these complaining communists have done and are planning to do, and say woe to South Africa. Thus Satan works on our faith to overthrow it. And no man escapes such warped attacks. You are being tossed to one side and pushed to the other. But Jesus says, "The flesh does not profit anything." Even if your church is full with many people, with a well lubricated organization, and thousands of members, but when the Word is absent or weakened then you do not have anything, for the flesh in itself does not profit anything. When Frederick the third, the ruler of the Palatinate, who in 1563 ordered the Heidelberg Catechism to be written, was summoned because of that in 1566 to the diet of Augsburg, just like Luther, he said, "I'm not concerned about a helmet full of flesh." In other words, he said that he was not concerned about his own influence or power. "But," he continued, "I am concerned about the Gospel of my Lord and Saviour. For I acknowledge Him above your imperial majesty as a Lord of lords and a King of all kings to whom alone I owe obedience." By that alone he would allow himself to be led.

Because of that the flesh did not profit anything. He considered everything worthless and rubbish in comparison to gaining Christ. And thus we are called to agree with this. Just repeat this yourself: What are we concerned about? About a helmet full of flesh? About power, about smooth relations with other churches or institutions or whatever? About being taken up in a large bond of churches, in which we can hide? Or are we concerned about the Word, the Spirit, the Life? For only the last one will be able to bring the solution and end to the crisis. And I want to add to this both nationally and internationally. You should not, brothers and sisters, think small of the power of the Word. If we have the right to exist as church, than we should use that right to let the Word be heard as the only thing that can save our country and world.

Utopia - after the sermon we are going to sing from Psalm 119 and it says in that Psalm in verse 113, "I hate those who doubt, but I love Thy law." And Law means Word, or testimonies or promises. They are standing opposite each other: Hate for doubt and love for Word. And in these days in which doubt as a fog penetrates everything, we have to see this contradiction clearly. Doubt and Faith!

Remember, the whole emancipated mass media are instruments of doubt. Doubt works with the general impression of opinion polls, schools, and organizations. It always says, "Do not become too absolutistic." And the great fear of people is to be left on your own, not to be accepted by others. The general observation is never decisive and does not speak in terms of black and white.

But the Church lives from the Word which gives clear direction and is very personal. It is the Christ Himself and Christ confronts Himself with all people. The Word, the revelation that I speak is Spirit and life. And outside of it there is no salvation. And this is the faith which overcomes the world, that world of doubts and offenses and crises.

3. We have paid attention to the nature and victory of the crisis. Now we will pay attention to the background of the crisis. Verse 66: Because of this many disciples went away. This follows on verse 61: Because of this the disciples murmured. Thus it was in this order: First complaints, murmuring, and then a clear abandoning, departure.

Verse 64: There are some of you who do not believe.

Verse 65: For this reason I said of you that no one can come to Me if it is not given to him by the Father.

Behind all of this is then the counsel of God, His plan.

And that counsel, that plan includes:

  1. The behaviour of Judas
  2. The departure of many disciples now that Jesus spoke clearly
  3. The history of the church in struggle and victory.

This also is a reason for offence: Just as the master so is the servant. But also: as David so Christ, as servant so master. As master so servant: As Christ has been given up by His people and by Judas, so the church can expect that some men will come out of her who will pull disciples away (Acts 20). But as servant so master. Just as David had an Ahithophel, who lifted his heel against him (Ps. 41), so there were also traitors among Christ's disciple, even in the intimate circle of the twelve there was a Judas. That was a hard fact. But the prophecy had to be fulfilled. The counsel of God had to come to realization. As David so Christ! As servant so master.

However, this is not the end. It says clearly that only those will come to Christ who have been given Him by the Father. Thus there is something that has been given to Christ. Thus the Word causes a crisis. But it is a preordained crisis. This word has not been given us to be complacent, passive, or fatalistic.It is remarkable that Christ has tried till the end to gain Judas. He did not write him off.

However it has been given to us to cause us to fear and be watchful. The Word keeps on going. It is the drawing love of the Father. But there is also the movement away from the Word. And then the degree of reprobation is being realized. It is remarkable how many times these verses and the next (verse 67) speak of going and going away. The Word draws and offends.

Congregation, I urge you: Let the Word be appealing to you. Otherwise it will offend. And put your priorities straight in the time of crisis.

Seek first the Kingdom of God. Seek the things that are above and not those that are on earth. Do not seek the flesh for it does not profit anything. Seek the Lord while He is to be found. Let yourself be drawn, be found, be dragged. And come. For thus, in the way of the Word, He executes the decree of God and come those who are given Him to the Father.

But there is also a going away. This always is a going away from something to something else. That is why Peter said, "Lord, to whom else should we go. Thou hast the words of eternal life."

And you, congregation, repeat this in the time of crisis.