There were two burning questions on Jesus’ mind concerning those who followed Him. The first was uttered on the Road to Caesarea Philippi: ‘Who do you say I am?’ The second came not long after, on a day when many would-be disciples turned back from Him: ‘Do you also want to go away?’
Interestingly, both questions were indirectly related to that most basic of human needs – bread. And miracles. And human reason.
In the first instance the Pharisees, in usual form, were demanding a supernatural sign, custom made just for them. Jesus was not pleased. In the meantime His closest friends, having so recently witnessed Jesus multiply bread, were worrying about where their next meal would come from. Again, Jesus was not pleased.
‘Why are you reasoning?….how is it you think I’m talking about temporary, earthly things when I’m speaking about spiritual things?’ He remonstrates (paraphrase mine). Then, after asking them what other people are saying about Him He confronts them suddenly with the million dollar question: ‘But who do you say I am?’ (Matt. 16:1-16, Mark 8:11-29).
The second burning question came a day later. Those who had witnessed the bread being multiplied, and had eaten it, wanted more. Here was a Man who had powers to feed them and their families indefinitely. With such fringe benefits following Him would be a breeze. Once again, Jesus was on another page altogether.
‘I am the Bread of Life’ He tells them, ‘the Living Bread. The Bread I give you is My flesh.’
‘What? Yesterday He was handing out good solid, belly filling bread, but today He’s telling us to eat His flesh?’ they reason. This weird kind of talk wasn’t what they’d signed up for. ‘Who can understand what He’s saying?’ they muttered as they walked away.
Watching, Jesus turns to those closest to Him and asks ‘Do you also want to go away?’ The path He was offering was not going to be either easy or popular. (Jn. 6:22-67)
The capacity humans have for reasoning things out is useful and necessary. Without it we could not solve everyday problems, administer our justice systems, or fly to the moon, for instance. But human reason is fallen and corrupt, like every other facet of human life. It’s something Jesus consistently confronted and opposed (Matt. 22:25; Mark 2:8; 12:28; Luke 5:21). When human reason rules our world, our hearts become hardened (Mark 8:17 NKJV).
But it seems we humans have a tendency to vacillate between reason and an obsessional desire for self-gratifying signs and wonders (Mark 8:11). Jesus walked a balanced line between the two. To those who demanded more and more signs He pointed out that He was their greatest sign (Mark 12:39,40). And to those who filtered everything through the lens of human reason He demonstrated a radically different way of doing life with Him, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, saying:
‘It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.’ Jn. 6:63
These two vital questions have not faded in relevance since Jesus walked among us. They are still the two most important, confronting, soul searching questions we disciples of Jesus Christ can be asked.
Who do we say He is? And if we say it, do we believe it? And if we believe it, does our testimony that He is the Christ, that He is God, bear out as truth in our dealings with the world around us? Unless we are learning how to walk this earth as newly created spiritual beings in the likeness and image of Jesus Christ, unless our very ordinary lives bear witness to the extraordinary truth that He rose and He lives, what we say means nothing.
Shall we also go away? When the path gets narrower, when the journey gets lonelier, when those who have walked a way with us decide to go no further, will we too have second thoughts? Unless we are learning what it is to feed on the Bread that came down from Heaven, unless we are beginning to understand what it means for His flesh to be our true food, and His blood to be our true drink, we will not know the sustenance this journey requires. Imperceptibly, little by little, we will find ourselves feeding and drinking elsewhere until we discover that what we are following is no longer Christ.
Two burning questions.
One emphatic answer.
Christ Jesus. Sustainer, Grace-giver, Life.
Who do we say You are?
You are Lord and Lover
Song and Singer
King and Brother
Gift and Giver
Who once we held apart
Passing proudly by, faces averted,
Lest You should heal our weary hearts
But now seeing with newly born eyes
Our tongues stumbling to confess
That which, once spoken, can never be unsaid
Who do we say You are?
You are Laughter and Light
Story and Storyteller
Fountain of Life
Glorious and Glory-dweller
Costly, this journey, for which
There is no way back
Once tightly held dreams
Discarded like redundant wrapping paper
Pretty then, now drab;
Companions, once inseparable
Nowhere to be seen
Their voices, distant now, beckon us back
To what we only thought we had
But we can’t go back, can we?
We have become as those estranged
Shedding this world like a tired cocoon
No longer at home in its deathly embrace
We have, like You, nowhere to lay our heads
No place of rest or refuge
Except upon Your breast
Will we leave You?
Is there another who speaks
And we, not knowing we were dead
Find ourselves alive?
Is there some other one
Whose every utterance
Infuses us with His Life?
To whom then shall we go
If we should leave Your side?
And if we should seek to go back
To that place You found us
Who would then receive our testimony
That You are who we say you are?
If having known this Love for which to die
Who would believe our report
If we were such sad fools
To trade it for what we left behind?
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.