Thinking back to the portrait we see of Peter in the Gospel accounts, I think many of us would be quick to say that he was the Disciple best known for sticking his foot in his mouth, either speaking too soon (John 13.36-38) or just speaking nonsense (Mark 9.2-6). However, there is at least one instance where we see Peter speaking with more clarity than just about anybody in his time or ours.
At the end of the theologically rich chapter of John 6, we find that many of the people who are following Christ have grown frustrated and begin grumbling and questioning him. After he answers them in regards to “who can listen to [the teaching of Christ in v.53]” we receive the following account:
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.‘” (John 6.66-69)
Jesus had just spoken a hard word, many people left him, and yet, when questioned over whether the Disciples would leave as well, Peter affirms the truthfulness of Christ’s deity and his words speaking of eternal life. Christ is the truth, he has delivered the truth, and the truth can be found nowhere else but in him (John 14.6). Why would Peter ever go elsewhere when he has encountered the “Holy One of God” already here?
Why did the others leave? Because what Jesus spoke was “hard” (v.60). When they heard him, they took at face value what he said (“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“) and failed to see it with spiritual eyes, as Jesus explained to them in vv.61-65.
Yet more than that, they were discouraged. As we see earlier in this chapter, Jesus has been at work performing miracles among the people (vv.10-11), and this has led to a great gathering about him and following after him (vv.22-24). But these people were only following after him for his physical works, and were blind to the true purpose of his coming. Thus, when they realized following Jesus was no free lunch (sorry about the pun) they turned and left.
This is where I think many of us are today. It is a common refrain among the younger generation in the church to say “I grew up in an evangelical church, but . . . ” and then give some excuse for a departure from orthodox behavior or belief. We all have a common background, a common starting place, just like the people following Jesus in John 6 (who we’re all Jews living in Palestine). Yet, at some point a hard saying has come up and some of us have decided to “no longer walk with him.”
Now, I know this sounds harsh, even judgmental, but this is what I truly see among many in this post-conservative, post-modern, emerging generation. Hard sayings have come, about personal liberties or homosexuality or gender relations or the exclusivity of the Gospel, and this has caused many to jump ship. So, then why did I make such a big deal about Peter’s words at the beginning? Well, what does he say? “To whom shall we go?” Peter rightly understood what was going on. He rightly saw that irregardless of what they were doing, himself and the Disciples, and more generally all of us, we would all be following someone.
So, who do those who takeoff follow? If we look at it today I believe what we will find is that, for the most part, the one that those who left are following after now is their self. Humanism, hedonism and relativism have elevated the self to position of ‘Rabbi.’ What the Bible says is only important and/or binding in as much as it conforms to how I view the world and reality and what is good for me. It is this teacher that many have decided to follow, have decided to leave off from “the Truth” and go after.
We must wake up to this declaration. We are all following someone. It may be a teacher, a charismatic leader, or, as I see the case today, it may just be ourselves. Raising ourselves up as the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong, what is acceptable to God and not. This is nothing but dangerous. So many want to say they are Christ-followers, thinking it takes away the ugliness of saying they are Christians. But the reality is, many of those who are departing from the Bible in all those new and innovative ways that 2000 years of biblical scholarship was incapable of unlocking have long ago quit following Christ because they found his sayings too hard, his truth too unsatisfactory for their enlightened self.
This is dangerous.
Wake up and listen to what Peter affirms.
Who else shall we follow?