Tuesday with Michael Spencer
Looking for an Exit (2009)
At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)
Have you ever come to a place where you wanted to say, “Let me off. I’m done?”
Maybe you were in a car with an 88 year old driver who shouldn’t have been driving anywhere, much less down an interstate.
Maybe you were about to get on an amusement park ride that you really didn’t want to ride.
Maybe you were going back for week two of a job that was not at all what you thought it would be.
You said to yourself- or to anyone else who would listen- “I think it’s time for me to quit.”
After listening to Jesus give what may have been his most intense, challenging and disturbing talk, it seems that some of Jesus’ disciples were ready to quit. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood” was their place to get off the bus.
We tend to think of the people who followed Jesus as an “easy sell.” They were sitting around, doing nothing, just waiting for a prophet or rabbi to show up so they could spend years following him. Like eager customers at a car dealership, they were ready to buy from minute one and never doubted.
I doubt that such a scenario is true. It’s more likely that many days ended with some of the disciples saying “I’ve had enough. I’m going home.” I imagine many late nights around the campfire were punctuated with one disciple talking another out of leaving, or arguments that ended in departures the next morning.
Why? The scriptures suggest to me at least three issues that may have caused some of Jesus’ followers to look for the next exit.
Some were frightened because of what they saw Jesus do. When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were terrified. We may think it was wonderful, but if you and I had been there, it’s likely we would have said, “If this is God, I don’t want to be around him.”
Some may have just heard enough of what they couldn’t believe. Jesus didn’t hesitate to put the choice to be a disciple in less than “attractional” language. He seemed to purposely offend with hard words to force a choice. We would be a bit silly to think that every disciple heard Jesus make statements about the decisive choice to suffer, go against family or embrace the cross and easily said “Yes. I choose that way.” Some certainly heard Jesus say “If anyone would come after me….” and said “I’m not coming after you any more.”
I especially think about the traumatic experience of having all your certainties about God, life, the Kingdom, the Messiah, scripture and the future exploded every day. Jesus relentlessly took on the certainties of religion and politics, redefining and reanimating them all with whole new meanings. This couldn’t have been easy. At times it must have sometimes been infuriating and depressing. Some would have said, “I don’t want my whole world turned upside down. I’m quitting.”
As evangelicals, we’re often blind to this segment of the people we relate to and communicate with. We are oriented to think that our witness is to people who are open to be convinced or are moving toward the truth. In fact, Jesus had many people move the other way as the truth about himself himself came clearer.
There are many in evangelicalism who are close to that same place. They are looking for the best time and place to quit. They are moving away from Jesus and away from those who believe in and say they follow Jesus. We often write these people off as “quitters” or we simply don’t admit their existence. But they are there. Sometimes they are a son, daughter or close friend. Sometimes, it’s been some of us.
Why are they thinking that it’s time for them to “get off” the evangelical/Christian journey?
1. They can’t believe in the God we’ve told them about any more.
2. They can’t live the Christian life as it’s been presented to them.
3. They don’t want to be like the Christians they see and many they know.
4. They tried “it” and “it” didn’t work.
5. They’ve thought about it, and something other than Christianity makes more sense for the moment.
Many Christians would immediately present arguments, apologetics and a pile of reasons to these people.
Jesus gives an interesting response.
In John 6:61-62, Jesus says, “If you are offended now, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until you get the big picture of who I am.”
His offensive words about flesh and blood would soon be overtaken by the resurrection and the ascension. A puzzling and mysterious Jesus would be replaced by a world-overcoming/world-transcending Jesus.
Jesus says all our objections are ultimately dwarfed by the truth of who he really is. It’s not that our objections and reasons to quit are irrational. They simply can’t compare to the truth that is so much greater than any of our questions, objections and even rejections.
Peter says, “Yes, it’s difficult sometimes, but where else and to whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Where else can we go is a great response. It’s honest and authentic. It doesn’t make Christianity a game of “How many questions can be answered?” No, it’s a matter of WHO Jesus is, and despite the mystery, the challenge, the intimidation and the difficulty, who else comes to us as God on earth, with the words of eternal life?
In the story of the prodigal son, both boys learn that the Father’s love and grace are greater than what stands in the way of understanding him. The Father’s love and grace to the wasteful son overwhelms his sin and his religious plan to get back in the family. The Father’s love and grace is greater than the moralistic, legalistic system of reward that the older son thought guaranteed him his place in the family.
The Father was greater than all that they brought to the table. In the end, they were left not with answers to their questions, but a Father whose love and purpose to save couldn’t and wouldn’t fail.
For all those who are looking for the next place to “get off” the path of following Jesus and/or being a Christian, their is no list of answers. There is only one who overwhelms all questions and answers; one to whom we ultimately say “Even with all my objections and reservations, where else could I go, Jesus, except to you.”
I realize it seems a bit devotional to say that Jesus is the answer to all those reasons to “quit.” I’m not naive. I’m expounding scripture, and that may have already hit the trash bin. I’m giving my own testimony — Jesus is all that keeps me on board these days — and that isn’t everyone’s story. I realize all of this.
But I do think that sometimes it’s not at all the court case we make a spiritual divorce out to be. Sometimes the answer is simply coming to know that there is One who, as love himself, makes all the questions move back a few rows so our faith can have a place to sit.
I pray that many will stay with the journey a while longer, and learn that a Jesus-shaped faith contains one whose great grace overturns our hurts and fears.