Chapter 1: ~ “The words that I speak unto you…they are life.”

This may be an unusual way to begin, but I have a confession to make. This is the one chapter in the book in which someone else’s words, equally with Christ’s, influenced my choice of a title passage. Hopefully when we get to that other person’s words you’ll agree that I made a good decision in starting out the book like I have.

Having said that, let’s go right to our study. I’ll begin by quickly setting the scene. The story containing our lesson is found toward the end of chapter six of the gospel of John. The thirty or so verses leading up to it consist of a discussion Jesus was having with a group of people, with Jesus doing most of the talking. While what He had been saying to those people is obviously important, it’s what happens in response to what He was saying that contains what I believe is one of the most important lessons we can ever learn.

Okay, let’s begin:

“He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 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… “the very words I have spoken to you, they are spirit, and they are life.”  {John 6:59-63 NIV, NLT, KJV}

(Just so there’s no confusion: the “disciples” mentioned in that passage aren’t the twelve disciples.)

I’d like to elaborate just a bit on what Jesus said to those disciples: “Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them…the very words I have just spoken to you”—those very words that you’re finding so hard to accept, those very words that you think will all but ruin your life, are the very words that will give you not only true life, but eternal life as well. But unfortunately they didn’t believe Jesus, for in the next verse we read what to me are some of the saddest words ever written:

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  {John 6:66 NIV}

I think I should point out a couple things before continuing on. #1—As we’ve seen, those people who “turned back and no longer followed him,” weren’t just uninterested, or half-interested, casual listeners. We’re told that they were “his disciples.” #2—We’re also told there were “many” who turned back and no longer followed him.

In a minute I’m going to ask you to do some serious thinking. But as a preparation for that I’d like to quickly share with you another incident in the life of Christ and His disciples. It took place at what is commonly referred to as the Last Supper. As you read these few verse I’d like to ask you to give a little extra thought to what takes place there, especially the last sentence; and then we’ll try to apply what we read there to our original story.

“Now when evening was come, he sat down with the twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”  {Matthew 26:20-22 KJV, NIV}

That must have been an awfully solemn scene and an awfully solemn few minutes. And with it fresh in your minds we’ll now return to our original story: Something Jesus said to those disciples caused them to no longer follow him. And jut as in that second story, where “every one of them began to say unto him, Lord is it I,” so we need to ask ourselves: Is there anything Jesus could say to me, anything He might ask me to do for Him, anything He might ask me to give up for Him, that could cause me to no longer follow Him?
Continuing on:

“Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave too?”  {John 6:67 NLT}

What a question! And again, another awfully solemn moment.

We can only wonder: How long was the wait before Jesus received an answer? And what went through the minds of each of the twelve in that awful moment?

Now we come to the reason I picked this story to start the book with. And I just pray that along with our title passage—“the words that I speak unto you…they are life”—you’ll let Peter’s response to that awful question sink deep into your heart and become the very cornerstone of your life. And for those of you that haven’t yet made up your minds as to whether or not you want to be true Christians: It’s absolutely critical that you find out whether or not Peter was right.

“Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave too?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.”  {John 6:67, 68 NLT}

Now, instead of trying to explain to you what exactly it was that Jesus said to those disciples that caused them to no longer follow Him, I’d like to go to another story, a story that I believe will show you what it was that caused that horrible mass defection far better than I could ever tell you what caused it. Although the specifics, at least on the surface, are completely different, the principles are the same. And unfortunately, so were the results.

The story is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; I’ll be citing from Mark.

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.”  {Mark 10:17 NIV}

Let me stop and point something out: The story goes on to tell us that this man had “great wealth;” with Luke telling us, “he was very rich.” Luke also tells us that the man was a “ruler.” At the same time, the Bible is pretty clear that while Jesus walked as a man upon this earth He was anything but rich. Now, it has always been the case that the rich don’t normally bow down to the poor; much less do rulers. Actually, it’s usually the other way around. So, taking those details into account, I think we can safely assume that this man saw in Jesus someone very special and was truly sincere when he then

“…asked him, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.”  {Mark 10:17 KJV, NIV}

Now, because I don’t want to get sidetracked from our reason for coming to this story, I’m just going to cite the next portion and save commenting on it for a latter chapter:

“Why do you call me good? Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone. But as for your question, you know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor thy father and mother.” “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was a child.”  {Mark 10:18-20 NIV, NLT}

We now reach the point where this story begins to parallel our first story, only this time we get to see what it was Jesus said that resulted in the same sad outcome as our first story:

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”  {Mark 10:21, 22 NIV}

Surely the thoughts and feeling that ran through that rich young man’s mind when Jesus said to him, “sell everything you have and give to the poor,” were very similar to the words that came out of the mouths of those disenchanted disciples in our first story: “this is a hard teaching, who can accept it?” And just as truly could Jesus have spoken to this young man those same words He spoke to that first group: “those very words that I have just spoken to you,” those very words that you’re finding so hard to accept, “they are life.” But sadly, this rich young man didn’t trust Jesus any more than did our first group: “He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

As I said earlier, the specifics of the two stories are completely different. (Of course, we haven’t even looked at the specifics of the first story.) And while the different specifics of both stories contain extremely important lessons—obviously the money thing in that second story is one of them—I don’t want to get sidetracked into looking at them now, but instead want to stay focused on that one all-important lesson contained in our two verses:

“The words that I speak unto you… they are life.”
“Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.”

Now I need to point out a very important characteristic of both Jesus and the Father. It’s revealed to us in both the Old and the New Testament. And it’s that they never change:

“I am the LORD, I change not.”  {Malachi 3:6 KJV}
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  {Hebrews 13:8 NLT}

In the light of those two passages—and this is something every single one of us, at some point in our lives, must come face to face with (if we decide to be real Christians)—we can be absolutely certain that just as surely as Jesus uttered “hard teachings” in that first story, He still utters hard teachings today. And that just as surely as He asked of that rich young man in our second story something that to him seemed incredibly difficult, so He still asks things that might seem equally hard of those who would follow Him today. (We’ll be looking at some of those things throughout the book.) And I must tell you, if you’ve been presented a Jesus that doesn’t ask hard things, then you’ve been presented, as Paul puts it, “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4 KJV), and it isn’t the Jesus of the Bible.

Something else we might not want to think about: we can also be certain that just as it was back then—“many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him”—so it will be today. Only today there’s one very big difference. Jesus isn’t physically here today as He was back then, which makes for a much greater possibility that we can turn back and no longer follow Him, while at the same time deceiving ourselves into believing that we’ve done no such thing:

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, I never knew you; depart from me.”  {Matthew 7:22, 23 NLT, KJV}

What a horribly sad passage. But I promise you, that will never happen if you truly believe those two all-important verses:

“The words that I speak unto you… they are life.”
“Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.”

Let me try to make something else clear before I bring this chapter to a close: When I refer to those two stories and their “hard teachings,” and say that we can be certain that Jesus still utters hard teachings today, I call them that only because that’s what those disciples in our first story called them. But the truth of the matter is, those disciples were seeing things through very clouded and very faulty human vision. The real truth is, and this is the truth that Jesus tried to communicate to both that group of disciples in our first story and the rich young ruler in our second story, and it’s a truth that every one of us need to become absolutely and forever convinced of, that all His words, and all His ways, are life. That everything He tells us to do, and everything He tells us not to do, is for our good and for our happiness always, both now and for eternity. And I can assure you, when we come to the point in our experience when we truly see things aright we’ll see that that’s always the case. But, and I think this is extremely important, until we do come to that point, we need to trust Jesus—and that certainly includes trusting what He says—no matter what we may see or think or feel.

So as we leave this chapter, certain to encounter more “hard teachings,” I present to you one more time our two verses, this time prefaced with the example of the psalmist; an example we would do well to follow:

“Thy word have I hid in my heart.”  {Psalms 119:11}
“The words that I speak unto you… they are life.”  {John 6:63}
“Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life.”  {John 6:68}

**************************

For those of you who didn’t read the introduction, and I assume that’s probably quite a few of you (I only assume that because I don’t usually read them myself): without question there are going to be many, many wonderful Bible passages throughout the book. I don’t hesitate to say that I believe those Bible passages are infinitely more valuable than anything I could ever say. And I just want to encourage you that when you encounter passages that are especially meaningful to you, and I hope there will be many, that you’ll spend some extra time with them and pray that God will write them in your heart and that they’ll truly become a part of you.