Into every life there comes at least one crucial watershed moment. Moments where the soul is sifted and the true motivations of our hearts are revealed. Moments when events align around us that will require hard choices and ultimately determine our destiny. It is my belief the slowing down currently caused by the world-wide coronavirus emergency presents the Body of Christ, individually and corporately, with such a watershed.
But more on that later; first I want to focus on a similar watershed moment recorded in the gospels. (The passage is John 6 – feel free to check it out.)
A very large crowd had followed Jesus to a mountainside near the Sea of Galilee. We know their number was over 5000, which is recorded as the number of just the men. Why had they come? They had come because they witnessed Jesus healing the sick (John 6:2). Anticipating their basic needs, Jesus multiplies a child’s small meal of fish and bread, ensuring each one in the crowd is satisfied, yet with twelve surplus baskets of food remaining. The crowd, excited by this miraculous provision and convinced Jesus is the Prophet that Moses had promised would come¹, are intent on installing Him as their new national king. Jesus, however, strategically withdraws Himself so they cannot carry out their intention.
Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:14-15)
Now consider the scene. Over 5000 disciples – a ready-made megachurch. An excited crowd hanging off every word He uttered. Signs and wonders. The prospect of an army of supporters ready to declare Him Israel’s long-awaited Prophet/King, even prophetically endorsed by the revered Moses. It’s religious fervour at its height.
And it’s something Jesus won’t touch with a barge pole.
Fast forward to the following day. Jesus turns up on the other side of the lake, in a synagogue in Capernaum. Many disciples present the previous day on the mountainside also turn up. They know He has come there supernaturally, because they saw His twelve friends leave in a boat without Him. “Rabbi, when did you get here?” they ask. (John 6:25)
But Jesus doesn’t tell them He walked across the sea (John 6:19-20). Instead He starts a discourse with them that seems to be leading somewhere He wants to go. His words cut straight to their motives – He observes they have come to find Him only because of the prospect of ongoing miracles of provision. They then demand another sign, preferably daily bread like Moses had provided for their forefathers in the wilderness.²
It was not Moses, but My Father, who provided for your forefathers, Jesus responds. I am the true bread you need. Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness, but they are still dead. If you eat from Me you will live. (John 6:32-51, paraphrase mine).
And while they are trying to get their heads around this, He says something even more provocative:
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 yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:53-56).
Now there were few things more offensive to a Jewish person of Jesus’ day than the idea of drinking blood, any blood. It was strictly forbidden in the Law of Moses³. Coupled with the idea of eating a man’s flesh, it must have seemed to them that Jesus had lost His mind.
And here is their watershed. Unexpected. Sudden. Shocking.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60).
This was not a rejection of Jesus’ words due to their inability to understand. The relevant Greek word is “skleros”, which more accurately means ‘harsh’, ‘offensive’, ‘intolerable’, rather than ‘hard to understand’. His words were frankly unacceptable to them, a potential deal-breaker.
But Jesus has not finished with them, and presses them even further:
But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”
What is it Jesus is doing here? Every time these disciples appear upset at His words He gives them something even more difficult to chew on. They think He owes them something because they have decided to follow Him, but He tells them they cannot even come to Him except by His Father’s favour and that some of them are unbelievers rather than true disciples. It has been said God will offend the mind to reveal the heart. Jesus is not pleading with these disciples for understanding; He is certainly not attempting to reason with them; and He is unconcerned that they are clearly offended by His words. It appears He is deliberately causing offence. With His words He is carefully sifting them.
At this point this significant group of would-be disciples deserted Him (John 6:66). I like the way the New Life Version puts it: From that time on, many of His followers turned back to their old ways of living. They would not go along with Him after that.
These were not detractors and cynics, they were disciples. They had followed Him because of His healings. They had remained with Him because of His miracle of provision. And now they were abandoning Him because of His Word.
Finally, Jesus turns to the twelve remaining, His closest friends, and gives them the option of desertion also: You do not want to go away also, do you? This is not, as we may have imagined, said with sad resignation at the possibility of losing them. The structure of the original language implies this statement was delivered as more of a challenge than a plea.
Peter’s answer “Lord to whom shall we go?” was meant to speak for all of them, yet Jesus knew it didn’t (John 6:70). Again, He is sifting even those close to Him. A watershed moment had arrived for each of them. An opportunity which, it could be argued, Judas as a false disciple should have acted upon.
Friends, don’t believe for a moment that we are above being sifted by the Word of God too. Such is the hour we find ourselves living in – a watershed hour, a milestone on our spiritual journeys, in which God is sifting hearts and individual destinies are being determined.
Recently I had a prophetic dream in which a woman came out of a nearby building and approached me while I stood in the street. She showed me a text message she had been receiving from her ‘husband’ in which he threatened to harm her. This happened several times and each time I told her that legal provision had been made for her safety, but she herself needed to act on it. Each time she was given this message she returned to the shelter of the building from which she had emerged and back to the husband. On her final approach to me I spoke firmly to her words that indicated the time to take up the provision made for her safety and security was fast running out, and that this would be her last opportunity. She listened to me, but then with very deep sadness in my heart I watched on as she returned again to the shelter of the building and the arms of the threatening husband.
The message of this dream is that Jesus is seeking disciples with undivided hearts, a people ready to abandon every allurement of religious lifestyle and come away with Him to be sustained entirely from His own endless Life. The threatening text represented the Old Covenant Law, which is impossible for anyone apart from Christ to satisfy. Through the New Covenant of the Cross Christ has provided our way of escape from our ‘old husband’ of feel-good religious lifestyles, good works and man-controlled religion based on Old Covenant Law. Through the Cross we have been invited to die to our old religious flesh and become married to Another. (Romans 7:1-6)
There is both opportunity and urgency in this present watershed hour. Opportunity is being provided for a once for all total detachment of ourselves from all that we have been feeding on that is not the essence of Christ Himself. We need to ask ourselves sincerely from where are we seeking to draw our spiritual sustenance? Is it from Christ and His Person alone, or are we more in love with the sentiment, the idea, the ‘christian’ lifestyle of being called His disciple? If all the church buildings, exciting conferences, dynamic speakers, ministry opportunities, celebrity leaders, programs, comforting rituals and all we associate with ‘normal’ Christianity disappeared overnight what would we have left? And if every other disciple abandoned Him would we remain standing alone with Him, stripped down to nothing but our need to know Christ and Him crucified?
And there is an urgency to these matters. When an invitation secured at terrible cost is routinely received by us with a lukewarm response, our hearts grow cold. When Love beyond measure continues to be spurned for something of far less value, our hearts become hardened.
The crowd who abandoned Jesus in Capernaum had only twenty four hours earlier declared Him their King and were willing to enforce that title upon Him. They had witnessed supernatural signs and miracles and followed Him for miles. But ultimately, they rejected His Cross and returned to the Law. They declined the invitation to allow His very Life to become their own. Their initial passion was tempered, their hearts were hardened, and they returned to the familiar and comfortable.
I believe the Body of Christ has arrived at a crucial moment. Some would call it a crossroad. We are in an hour, spiritually speaking, that provides for us the watershed many of us have needed. Life as we have known it has changed dramatically or ceased altogether. It has been unexpected, sudden, shocking. As restrictions are gradually lifted we are going to find the world is a different place to what it was just a few short months ago. The world is crying out for a return to normal. But normal will look different.
Jesus Christ has provided in Himself every spiritual need we shall ever know. How shall we respond to Him in this ‘new normal’ and rapidly changing world? Often it is easier to turn back to comfortable slavery than live with unfamiliar freedom. Shall we be willing to pay whatever it costs to come away with the Beloved, to learn fully what it is to eat His flesh and drink His Blood, and shall that be enough for us?
The Bridegroom seeks out a Bride who has nothing to look back on, a Lover who in her pursuit of Him has burned her bridges behind her. ‘Lord, to whom else shall we go?’ must be our only position and our deepest heartcry.
Beloved Lord, show us in this hour how we may partake more deeply of You. May we be so enamoured of You that we desire no other sustenance but that which can only be found in You. May all other sources from which we seek to draw life become tasteless to us as You reveal your matchless love and sufficiency for us. May we taste of Your endless Life abundantly, and having tasted, hunger and thirst only for You and the Life that flows from our Father to You to us. May we know You not only as Saviour, but as our Fountain and our Provision. And when you search our hearts may you find us truthfully answering You, “’Lord to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal, abundant, LIFE.”
³Lev 3:17; 17:14; Deut 12:23
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2020 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.