Jesus was at the height of his popularity. Multitudes of men, women, and children were flocking to see him. Many were even clamoring to make him king. After feeding them with miraculous bread, Jesus turned to address the massive crowds. What would he say to those who had come to see him?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (6:53)
The crowds listened dumbstruck. What was Jesus talking about? Did he want them to literally eat and drink his body and blood? Was he speaking figuratively and if so, what did he mean and why did he have to use such disturbing imagery? Was he asking them to depend on him completely for life and sustenance? Jesus’ words were bewildering. Unable to understand or accept his words, many of the enthusiastic supporters began to leave, muttering to themselves: “This is a hard saying who can listen to it?”
Turning to his disciples, Jesus asked them: “Do you want to go away as well?” And Peter, always first to speak, answered:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God”
Over the years, Peter’s words have become some of my favorite in all the Bible. I’ve meditated on them and repeated them to myself many times, especially during times of doubt. Below are some of my reflections on Peter’s response. I hope these verses can be as helpful for you as they have been for me!
Lord, to whom shall we go? – It’s scary to admit but sometimes I feel like leaving Jesus as the crowds did. Sometimes I feel tired of trying to understand and accept the hard teachings of Scripture. Or I feel naive and ignorant for holding on to promises that seem too good to be true. In those moments, I think about a life without Jesus. If I weren’t a Christian,, I wouldn’t have to daily wrestle to live by faith. I wouldn’t have to surrender my thoughts, feelings, and life to God’s Word – a daily submission which all too often feels like dying. Maybe, apart from Christ, I find myself thinking, I might have more peace.
My instinctive reaction to those thoughts is to immediately suppress them and pretend they don’t exist, instead assuring myself of my allegiance to Christ. But that knee-jerk response ignores the problem and is driven by fear, not biblical faith. How can I preach to myself when there are real feelings of wanting to depart?
I’ve found that a good way to begin is to start with Peter’s words: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter doesn’t answer Jesus with a bold declaration of his allegiance. He does not even deny that he wants to leave. All he can manage to say is: Lord, I have nowhere else to go. There is wavering and confusion and uncertainty in his voice. But there is also faith.
Likewise, when I feel like leaving, I’ve found the best way to begin preaching to myself is to remember: I have nowhere to go outside of Christ. I may wrestle with the justice and goodness of God, but leaving won’t help me find a higher standard of moral beauty. Everything I’ve ever learned about humility, self-sacrifice, and genuine love has come at the foot of the cross. If I left, I would return to a life of self-absorption and self-centeredness and empty righteousness. I might struggle to believe God’s story and promises, but leaving would not bring me greater meaning. Instead, I’d go back to a life of triviality and of pragmatic nihilism, in which I try to get the most for myself in a world that amounts to nothing.
It’s easy to take Christ for granted. We forget who he is and how much we need him. We lose sight the grace he has shown us. Sometimes it takes bluntly facing a reality without him, to remind us just how precious he really is; to jolt awake our dead affections to see him again with wonder and awe.
You have the words of eternal life – Notice, Peter does not say he understands Jesus’ words, nor does he say that Jesus’ teachings are easy to accept. He says Jesus has the words of eternal life. He’s saying, in effect, “I may not understand you now, but I’ve been around you long enough to know that no one speaks with the authority, wisdom, and beauty you do, so I will trust you.”
Doubt gives us tunnel vision. It makes us think “Unless I resolve this question or circumstance or feeling, I cannot believe”. But Peter’s words help me to step back and remember the ultimate foundation for my faith. I don’t believe because I’m able to answer every single question. I believe because I’ve become convinced that the Jesus revealed in the Scriptures holds the words of eternal life.
Who could have imagined a Gospel in which God himself lays down his life to save sinners and satisfy justice? Who could have conceived of a story so perfectly unified from start to finish? Who could of known the complexity and beauty of the triune God? No one but the Perfect Author Himself.
I believe because I have felt my heart burn within me at the unfolding of Christ in the Scriptures (Lk 24:32). Because I have heard the shepherd’s call and recognized his voice (Jn 10:3-4). Because I have seen light shining out of darkness in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).
Remembering the foundation of our faith allows us to cling through difficulty and confusion. We know Christ has the words of life so we can trust his heart even when we cannot understand. Though the wind and the storms rage around us, we stand knowing our lives are laid on the strong foundation (Mt. 7)
And we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God –
Just one year before, Peter made the choice to believe in Jesus. By faith, he left everything to follow him, not knowing what would happen. And in that short time, Peter came to know Jesus. As we have seen, Peter came to know the power of Jesus’ words, both to impart wisdom and perform miracles. But more than that, he came to know his character: his integrity publicly and privately. His compassion. His life of prayer. He came to know his faithfulness. Jesus had confused Peter with hard words before, but he had never once let Peter down. Everything Peter knew about Jesus pointed to an inescapable conclusion: that Jesus was the Holy One of God – the long awaited Messiah. The Savior of the world.
The crowds decided Jesus was not worth following because of one difficult message. Peter, on the other hand, based his allegiance on his history with Jesus and on Jesus’ proven track record of faithfulness. Because of that, Peter is not quick to leave at the first signs of hardship.
In the same way, the Scriptures have revealed more than wisdom and life lessons to me; they have revealed a person – the person of Jesus Christ. When I became a Christian, I believed in him. I made a commitment to follow and trust him, even when things got tough. And, over the years, I have come to know him. I have found him to be faithful. I have learned to trust him even when I cannot see, because he has taken painful circumstances and turned them for good time and time again.
Yet, there are times when I feel no affection at all for the Savior. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to remember what the big deal is about Jesus. He seems like a Sunday School cliche, distant from the realities of daily life. He feels easy to ignore and leave behind. What do I do in those moments?
Peter has taught me not to wallow in present feelings, as if they have the final say, but to remember his past faithfulness: Remember, O my soul, who you have believed in and come to know. Remember everything you’ve learned about the character of your Savior. Remember your history together: all the times he’s come through in your life. Could it all have been fake? Could it all have been a lie? Or are you the one not seeing clearly? Trust that he is faithful and good.
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. Those words don’t magically fix everything, but I’ve found they strengthen me to cling to Christ when I feel like letting go; to hold on with sincerity and faith when I feel nothing. To pray and ask for help for another day.
Did I not choose you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil -For a long time, I focused on Peter’s words and skipped over Jesus’ response to the disciples. Jesus’ words seemed harsh. I wasn’t sure how to read his tone or what he meant. Was he dismissing Peter’s plea? Was he rebuking the disciples? I’m still not sure I understand completely, but I think there are comforting words here for doubting disciples.
I’m sure Peter felt the frailty of his words as he said them – what if his belief failed him? What if he strayed past the point of return? We know later in the Gospels that Peter, and all the disciples with him, would stray that far. Peter would go on to deny his Lord three times and flee from him in shame.
But the Lord answered wavering Peter with these comforting words : did I not choose you? Those words didn’t come out of nowhere. Jesus had touched on the idea of being chosen throughout chapter 6 as he addressed the crowds:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:35-40, 44-45 ESV)
Thanks for sharing, Chris! I’m struggling with basically the same pattern of belief/unbelief, so your thoughts, reflections and encouragements are very timely. 🙂
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