Imagine Jesus’ sermons and miracles as modern-day stadium events. The Twelve would be in their team uniforms. Some of Jesus’ larger band of disciples would proudly wear the team colors, perhaps even painting their faces with the team colors and fish symbols. The atmosphere would be electric, the enthusiasm contagious.
But you know how fickle fans can be. Only a minority are the true diehards; many of the rest are ready to change allegiances if something better comes along. I’ve watched basketball games where the mood of the crowd shifts with the flow of the contest. When the home team is losing badly, their supposedly faithful fans can even start booing.
It wasn’t long after he came on the scene that Jesus began to amass a following. He was, for a time, The Next Big Thing. But nobody, not even his closest disciples, understood what was coming. Seeing his meteoric rise in popularity and impact, they projected an ever more glorious future — not one that would seem to end on a cross.
Jesus, of course, knew. And he wasn’t much interested in gathering more and more people to himself that had no intention of staying the course.
John 6 begins with one of the most publicity-worthy miracles of Jesus’ ministry: the feeding of the 5,000. (We’re perfectly capable of stressing out over feeding a dinner party of 5, without the zeroes.) It seems like a triumphant moment.
By the end of the chapter, however, we read of the many followers who were offended by Jesus’ words and walked away. Jesus hadn’t changed his message; he only pushed people toward what it would really mean to follow him. They didn’t understand everything he said. But they didn’t like the part they thought they understood, and decidedly they had had enough.
As we come to the end of chapter 6, therefore, we need to ask ourselves a question. Do we really want to be “disciples” — lifelong learners who grow through a relationship to their Master, even when the lessons get difficult?
Or would we rather just be fans? And have churches that produce the same?