(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

When Jesus delivered his discourse on the bread of life in the synagogue at Capernaum the audience consisted of Jewish opponents, the uncommitted, disciples and the Twelve. This passage deals with the reaction of his disciples and the Twelve to his message. It marks a turning point in the ministry of Jesus because from that time he lost much of his support.

(B) Why did many ordinary disciples desert Jesus?

We know that many were baptised and followed Jesus. No doubt this included many Galileans who travelled around with the Master to hear him preach and heal the sick. I expect they enjoyed much of his pithy, well illustrated teaching and marvelled at the miracles. It was an exciting time especially as support grew. The Jesus movement offered many benefits and promised great things.

After Jesus had finished preaching about the bread of heaven in the Capernaum synagogue many of disciples grumbled. They complained: "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" We should note that the disciples did not say that they could not grasp what Jesus was teaching. That would have been understandable and forgivable. The disciples actually profoundly disagreed with what Jesus said - it was not acceptable to them.

We can discover why many of the followers of Jesus rejected his teaching by looking at the comments he made in response to the grumbling.

(1) Some disciples disbelieved his origin.
Jesus said: "I am the bread that came down from heaven." v41. His opponents reacted by muttering: "Is this not this Jesus, the Son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" v42. Obviously some of Jesus' disciples agreed with the religious leaders and so the Saviour said to them: "What if you see the Son of man ascend to where he was before!" v62. In other words Jesus was asking those who doubted that he came from heaven if his ascension to heaven would convince them of his divine origin. A significant proportion of Jesus' supporters were:

    (a) Ignorant of his supernatural conception. They expected anyone who came down from heaven to arrive like an angel - fully grown. It was almost impossible for them to conceive of God being in the womb and in the cradle. We are reminded of Christ's humility in being born like us - even if this gave rise to unbelief. We also see the dangers of ignorance. Very few of the disciples knew that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Christians who make pronouncements on Science without knowing any Science or statements about the past without knowing any History simply make fools of them selves and bring the faith into disrepute.

    (b) Prepared to follow an earthly leader, a second Moses, a charismatic, powerful, miracle-working figurehead with a political and religious agenda. The rank and file disciples were eager for a Messiah who delivered what they wanted - one who made Israel great again.

    (c) Not willing to abandon them selves to Jesus - to give him the devotion only God could rightly claim. His disciples were not going to accept his authority over them. They refused to make a total, unconditional commitment to him. See my story: 'He couldn't do it.'

The divinity of Christ is the sticking point for a lot of church attendees to day. They cannot accept that he knows best. They will not surrender unconditionally to him. They will not suspend their judgment to his. Jesus is a good man, a role model and an inspirational teacher - but no more than that.

(2) Some disciples took literally Jesus' words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
It is likely that several supporters of Jesus placed too much emphasis on man's material or bodily needs. They followed him for the loaves and fishes; they wanted manna from heaven and miracles of healing every day. They were the ones who did not fancy a diet of Jesus' flesh and blood.

Jesus said to them: "The spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing." This is a hard saying. To be honest these puzzling, probing statements fill me with dismay on several levels. It is never immediately obvious what they mean. They have a strange ring to modern ears. When I do work out their meaning I'm uneasy about their implications.

I think Jesus means that our bodies are not what is of supreme significance. If the truth be told we are obsessed with our bodies or our flesh. Millions of people in the West are worried about their appearance! I read last week in the Daily Telegraph that Marianne Faithful is receiving therapy for growing old and losing her looks. She was supremely beautiful as a young pop star but 58 years have taken their toll! Jesus says that physical beauty doesn't matter! Men are acutely aware of their physical strength and accomplishments. Bodily desires torment us and the fear of pain preoccupies us. Jesus says: "The flesh counts for nothing..." We find it very hard to agree!

Jesus stresses that it is the spirit that determines if we really live. It is the spirit that colours our lives. The qualities that give genuine value to our existence are: knowledge, wisdom, belief, the will, experience, character and virtue. Consider the fruit of the spirit. Paul writes to the Galatians: But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal5v22. None of these virtues is of the flesh.

Words are very important to the spirit because language conveys knowledge. We think in words, formulate belief in words and cloth our memories in words. God communicates with us through his Word and we pray to him in words. A person is terribly handicapped without words. This all goes to explain why Jesus said: "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." v63.

Jesus words originated from his spirit and they will change and shape our spirits if accepted. Jesus recognised the power of words to sustain spiritual life when he said to Satan in the desert: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Mt4v4.

By way of example let us consider the teaching of Jesus on judgement: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Mt7v1. If I accept, absorb and assimilate these words they will affect my spirit. I will not have a critical or censorious spirit but a generous one.

Christianity is not essentially about meeting our material needs but about changing our spirits so that they are like Christ's spirit. Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to all who believe in him and the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Rom8v16.

(3) Some of the disciples of Jesus had no spiritual appetite - no hunger for the living bread.
Jesus said of those who would not believe in him: "This is why I told you that no-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." v65. Christ does not give the hunger - but the bread.

God produces in some men and women by an extraordinary variety of means and through a great complexity of interactions down the years a spiritual hunger - a desire for redemption, reconciliation, restoration and future glory. He does not produce this hunger in all because he works under constraint. God allows men and women freedom of action. Our decisions have consequences. This should be obvious. It took over 1800 years for the gospel to reach the Australian Aborigines because God decided that it should be spread through human agency.

This is very mysterious and difficult for us to grasp but it is how it must be. We should thank God that by his choice and the wonderful working of his providence so many have been enabled freely to come to Jesus.

(C) Peter's affirmation of belief.

(1) Peter believed in the divine origin of Jesus. He said: "We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." That is what I believe and know too. Jesus' life and teaching is such he must be God's Son. How can I turn away from him. In him was life and that life was the light of men. John1v4. The inevitable consequence of turning away from him is to go out into the eternal night.

(2) Peter acknowledged that the only way to eternal life was through the testimony and pronouncements of Jesus. He confessed: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." v68. If Jesus cannot give us eternal life no-one else can. I do not know of any other who even makes the offer.

It is not our faith that saves us or our theological knowledge or our good works or our doctrine; only Jesus can save us. We need to go back to Jesus over and over again to feast on him - the living bread.

(3) It was important for Peter to confess his allegiance to Jesus. Expressions of admiration and commitment are good for any relationship. On April 28th 2005 I read the headline in the Daily Telegraph: Beckham: I love my wife. David Beckham was speaking to journalists in response to revelations by his children's former nanny about the state of his marriage. He said: "We are normal people despite what people might think of us. Of course we have arguments like any other couple, but I love my wife." David Beckham's words must help somewhat to maintain his relationship with Victoria.

I always got on particularly well with those pupil's who expressed affection for their teacher!

Paul writes this to the Romans: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Romans10v9and10.

It is just so important to tell both Jesus and others how much you love and respect him. If David Beckham can say publicly that he loves his wife then surely we can publicly acknowledge our belief in Jesus.

(D) The position of Judas.

I have written at length about Judas in my exposition on Acts1v12to26. It is significant that Jesus says at this time: "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" v70. Judas was alienated from Jesus by his actions after the feeding of the five thousand and his teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. There are five points worthy of note:

(1) Judas was chosen - "Have I not chosen you, the twelve?" Judas must have shown potential for Jesus to select him as one of the apostles. His tremendous enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God may have commended him to Jesus.

(2) Jesus knew from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. v64. What can this mean? It cannot mean that Jesus chose Judas so that in the end he would betray him. Jesus would not lead Judas into temptation and abandon him to evil. Perhaps, Jesus was aware of the risk of choosing Judas who was energetic, patriotic and committed to moral reformation but too political in outlook.

(3) Jesus tried to win Judas' allegiance. The Iscariot was devoted to the cause of national redemption and restoration. He wanted Israel to be great again but he was not interested in Jesus as the living bread. He wanted Israel to be freed from Roman rule but he didn't want Jesus to rule in his heart. Jesus gave Judas every opportunity to change. He did not expel Judas from the group but remained in fellowship with him until the Last Supper.

(4) It is rather strange that Judas did not join the disciples who were disillusioned with Jesus and leave. He had a lot in common with those who rejected Christ's teaching on his flesh and blood but nevertheless he remained one of the twelve. Judas clung to the hope that in the end Jesus would do as he wanted and overthrow the Romans to establish his own rule in Israel. He thought that when push came to shove Jesus would finally use his power to overcome the occupying Gentiles.

There are still some church attendees and nominal Christians who hang on in the hope that Jesus will give them what they want.

(5) Most harm is done to Christianity by those like Judas who remain in the church with their own agendas - false disciples, false teachers and false shepherds of the sheep.