Season 3 - Week 4
He’s just fed 5,000 people with a kid’s packed lunch and slipped away unnoticed in a boat. He’d been with a large group of disciples – not just the 12 we usually hear about. When they finally find him on the other side of the lake, Jesus takes his opportunity to point out that it’s his teaching, not his catering skills that they’re hungry for.
Don’t hunger for food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life. (verse 27)
I think one of the hardest things about youth work is knowing when to introduce the concept of faith. Of course, if you’re working in a church youth group it’s a bit more obvious but if you’re meeting young people in schools, detached, sports clubs, youth cafes and similar, talking about God can feel a million miles from the football game you’re in the middle of. I have a huge amount of respect for those of you who just make it feel so natural and normal.
So how did the disciples respond when Jesus dropped in his God-slot?
“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (v60)
and then later
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (v66)
So Jesus has just made 5 bread rolls feed 5,000 people, described himself as the Bread of Life who’ll sustain them forever, backed that up with the well-known evidence that his Father fed their ancestors with manna in the desert, and promised them that following him means eternal life.
And they walk away.
It’s sort of reassuring to know it happened to Jesus too. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had this fear in the back of my mind that as soon as I mention God, Jesus or anything vaguely churchy, the conversation I might've been enjoying with some young people or my friends and neighbours will come to a sudden end.
In that moment, Jesus had this tenacious determination to make sure they all knew who he was, why he was there and what he was offering. He was so convinced that his offer was worth it, that he was willing to risk losing half his following. If they weren’t interested in it, they weren’t really following him anyway – verses 64-65 showed he was well aware of that. Jesus was confident that the eternal life he offered was more important than the risk of losing a few followers.
Whether you find it easy to talk about God with young people or not, the challenge to us in this passage is to hold on to a tenacious theology just like Jesus had. “Being sure of what you hope for” as Hebrews 11 puts it. So what am I sure of?
I know that Jesus died and rose again.
I know that means I can have eternal life.
I know my sins are forgiven.
And I know that this is the most important thing I know and therefore the most important thing I can tell a young person.
Knowing the statements at the core of your faith with absolute certainty are the key to that tenacious theology. And if you’re sure they’re the most important thing you know, you’ll find ways of sharing them with young people so that one day they too will "...come to believe and to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God.”
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, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
What are the statements that you'd say were the core of your faith? Take some time to remind yourself of them this week.
How can you be certain that these are true?
Think of all the young people you'll meet in the next week (or "old" people!)
Are there any you'd particularly like to share your faith with? Make a decision to start that conversation this week. Pray for opportunities and for the boldness to pursue the topic.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.