Well as you know, if you’ve been around Grace Church recently, we’re in a series of sermons where I’m helping you to look at critical conversations with the Son of God; and that, of course, takes us to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the gospel accounts of His life. Conversations about salvation. Conversations about the gospel. Conversations about sin and forgiveness and eternal life and faith and unbelief. All of those essential elements were topics of conversation between our Lord and His disciples, as well as the people of the land of Israel. And they are profoundly important conversations because our Lord is defining for us the essence of spiritual truth.
One of the most profound conversations, and one of the most serious, is found in the sixth chapter of John. Open your Bible, if you will, to John chapter 6, and I draw your attention down to verse 59, where Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. He did this in His Galilean ministry. That was kind of His headquarters; so much of His teaching and miracle working was done in the town of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. So that’s where we find Him in this text of John 6. Let me read you verses 59 and following.
“These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ 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.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’
“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.”
This is a shocking moment in the ministry of our Lord. At the peak of His miracle working, He has a mass defection on the part of disciples. It’s laid out very simply in verse 66: “Many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” There’s a finality in the language there. They left, and they left for good.
This passage introduces us to a biblical case, you could say, of Christian deconstruction—people who abandon the faith. It’s a very big movement today in our world, understandably; I get it. I know why there are so many defectors from Christianity, so many who are calling themselves “exvangelicals” or “exvies” or “Christian deconstructionists” or “#emptythepews” or whatever else. The reason there are so many is because there are so many false Christians. There’s a proliferation in our time of false Christianity. Consequently, there will be mass defection of those who once called themselves Christians. Let me define that a little more.
There are two categories of false disciples, two categories of false Christians. Category number one: those who find out at the judgment. Those are the people who think they’re Christians all the way through their life, only to find out that when they face God, He never knew them—Matthew 7, right? And there are many of them: “Many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, we did this, we did that in Your name,’ to whom He will reply, ‘Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity; I don’t know you.’” These are the deceived.
And there are many of these people who sit in forms of Christianity where they believe they’re in a relationship with God that will bring them to heaven, only to find out when they face God that they’re going to be sent to hell forever—false disciples who don’t really know they’re false disciples. We have much instruction in the Scripture to warn those people. “Examine yourself whether you’re in the faith,” Paul said to the Corinthians. Every time you come to the Lord’s Table, you do a self-examination to make sure you’re a genuine believer so that you’re not believing something so minimally that you’re believing for no good at all.
But that’s not what you see here. But rather, what you have in this text are false disciples who declare themselves to be false disciples in this life. These are the disciples who reject, openly and publicly, what they once affirmed. They deny the Lord they once avowed. They leave the Lord they once followed. No need to wait for judgment for them. They declare themselves to have rejected the Christian faith. And while that may seem, and should seem to all of us who are true believers, a horrifying reality—and indeed it is, and I’ll say more about that—I don’t think it’s ever been quite as tempting to false disciples to abandon the church as it is today, because being a defector from Christianity carries with it in this culture a kind of victimization heroism.
In the past you might not want to walk away from the church and walk away from Christ openly, publicly, because you would be shunned, you would be isolated, you would have nowhere to turn; you would be treated like a pariah, like a Judas. But today, you can go on the Internet and find tens of thousands of friends who’ll applaud you as a hero, the same as they do those who are caught up in the lie of transgender behavior. There’s plenty of support for what’s wrong. This is a massive movement of Christian deconstruction, exvangelicalism. You can actually express your heroism in a blog or a podcast. You can go to a conference of ex-Christians, exvangelicals; you can be a speaker at one of those. You can become a shining, heroic victim of what the culture would deem as false religion. So never has there been this much support for defectors.
Now in the case of the text of John 6, this defection seems virtually impossible because it’s a defection by those who are identified as “disciples.” Look at verse 66. Not a few, but “many of His disciples”—What’s a disciple, mathētēs? A learner, a follower—“withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” The language is final. They walked away. And the archetypal defector is identified in verses 70 and 71, “one of the twelve,” who turns out to have been “a devil” by the name of Judas, who was the betrayer. This is the most hard to believe, of all defections.
In Capernaum where Jesus headquartered His Galilean ministry and did endless miracles, overpowering disease and death and demons and nature; where He taught, preached, gave out His wisdom, demonstrated compassion; virtually healed everyone who came to Him. “And you were a follower, one who could be labeled a ‘disciple’”—same term used to describe the twelve—“and you walked away permanently from Him?”
This is as serious as it gets; because the exposure is so great, the judgment is even greater. “To whom much is given, much is”—what?—“required.” If we deny Him, He will deny us. In the language of our Lord Himself, if you go to chapter 10 of Matthew, verses 32 and 33, I’ll read them to you: “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” You deny Him, and He will deny you.
This is essentially apostasy. This is where you have affirmed Christ and the message of the gospel and the church, and you have defected, you have abandoned.
And it’s directly related to and relevant to our church life today because Christianity has so many forms under just that broad term. There are heretical churches where the gospel is not taught, the deity of Christ is not believed—modern, liberal churches, we might call them. People sit in those churches not knowing the truth. And because there’s no truth there and there’s no life there and there’s no power there, they fade away over time. There are cults, quasi-Christian cults; and in their case, it’s not the real Jesus, it’s not the real God, it’s not the true gospel, it’s not the true revelation—and people wander away from that.
You have the Roman Catholic Church, with millions of people connected to an organization but not to the Lord. You have the megachurch, with its entertainment and shallowness that sucks up huge crowds of nonbelievers who may think they’re Christians but who have been exposed only to entertainment rather than the exposition of Scripture, sound doctrine, sanctified worship, and holy living. The ultimate result of this proliferation of superficial Christianity is you have lots of candidates for spiritual deconstruction, a lot of them, because where Christianity isn’t the real thing, where life is not really transformed, all the promises end up empty. If you deliver false promises, people are going to pretty soon discover it. And time and truth go hand in hand; and eventually, given enough time, the truth will come out, and everybody will be exposed, and everything collapses.
So the ultimate result of the false church is it produces the many—the many who won’t find out they were false disciples until the judgment. They’re the many who say, “Lord, Lord,” and He says, “I don’t know you.” But there are some others; there’s another many, and it’s there in verse 66. “Many of His disciples” who aren’t going to be deceived until the judgment, they check out right here, in time. The rapidly expanding number of false Christians is basically guaranteeing mass defection. Obviously this is tragic for them and tragic for the true Christianity and the true church.
Let me say this: that these defections are not happening because people are studying the Bible deeply and profoundly and digging into the Scripture and finding that, in studying the Bible, they have concluded that Christianity isn’t true. That doesn’t happen. It isn’t happening because they decide to take theology seriously, and they peruse the Word of God, and they study sound doctrine, and their rational approach yields to them again the fact that Christianity’s not true. I don’t hear anybody saying that: “I studied the Bible and found it not to be true.”
What I hear is this, and I read many of these testimonies this week: “I had a bad experience at church.” It all comes down to experience. It all comes down to what everything comes down to in this culture, and that’s “me,” that’s “me.”
But again, that’s how they were attracted: for some self-satisfying purpose. And when they couldn’t find the satisfaction their self desired, they’re likely to turn. They talk about things like, “I had a bad experience at church. Somebody abused me. Somebody was unkind to me. There were too many hypocrites. I didn’t like the pastor. It was a hassle to try to be who I am. They wouldn’t accept me the way I was. I feel mistreated. There was racism. There was misogyny. There was homophobia. There was Christian nationalism.” And I even read several articles that said people left evangelicalism because evangelicals vote for Donald Trump. I don’t think you really want to consign yourself to eternal hell because you’re anti-Donald Trump. But this is the litany of reasons why people abandon the church.
The bottom line is love of self, love of sin; love of self, love of sin. And to say it another way, they reject the Word of God—and you see that in the distinction of the text I just read. Peter says, “We’re not going to leave, because You have the words of eternal life.” It comes down to the words, folks. It all comes down to the words—not to emotional experiences, not to music, not to good feelings, not to sentimentalism. If you believe the words, you stay; if you resent the words, you leave. That’s what it comes down to.
People had some personal crisis of faith, or somebody abused them, or, more commonly, they reject biblical morality. And you can find a welcoming community of bloggers and podcasters and books and conferences. And you can meet, once you’re out and you’re among the Christian defectors and the ex-vangelicals, you can find some of your favorite pastors there, and some of your favorite Christian musicians there, and some of your—guess what?—favorite church leaders there. And you can find feminists there, and homosexuals there, and anti-church critics. They’re all there, and they’ll declare you a hero, and you’ll be elevated; and you will also join aggressive enemies of God and Christ and Scripture.
John describes them, these deconstructionists, as antichrists. In 1 John 2, verse 18, John writes, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming”—the final Antichrist—“even now many antichrists have appeared.” “Even now,” John says; this is back in the first century. How do you know who’s an antichrist? Verse 22, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.” You deny God, Christ, the truth concerning the triune God and the gospel, you are an antichrist. Maybe that’s the next hashtag: #antichrist.
And by the way, apostasy like this is not new, it’s just trendy. It’s just popular, but it’s not new.
It was also trendy back in Isaiah’s day. Listen to what Isaiah said in Isaiah 1:4 through 6, “Alas”—speaking to Israel—“alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord . . . despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.” That’s ancient Israel’s apostasy. Hear the words of Jeremiah, who faced the same reality, Jeremiah 2:13, “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” “My people have forsaken Me.” Apostasy is nothing new.
And by the way, both prophets, both Isaiah in chapter 22 of his prophecy and Jeremiah, called for weeping and wailing over this defection. This is the most serious of all issues, and it calls for weeping and wailing. Listen to the words of Jeremiah 9: “Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Jeremiah says, “I wish my entire head was a fountain of tears.” Later in that same chapter he says, “Send for the wailing women . . . ! Let them make haste and take up wailing for us, so that our eyes may shed tears and our eyelids flow with water.” Spiritual defection, whether it’s in Isaiah’s time, Jeremiah’s time, or our time, is heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking. Deconstruction becomes destruction; that’s why it’s so heartbreaking.
Lamentations 2:11 says, “My eyes fail because of tears”—“I’m wearing my eyes out by weeping”—“My spirit is greatly troubled; my heart is poured out on the earth.” That’s Jeremiah weeping over the defection of the people of God. The prophets were actually weeping the tears of God, as the sorrow reached them.
And perhaps even more personal and profound and agonizing are the tears of Jesus. See Him in Luke 19. It says in verse 41, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. . . . You didn’t recognize the time of your visitation.’” This was the end of the three years of visitation from heaven. And Jesus sobbed over Jerusalem. In Luke 13:34, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . ! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would have none of it! So your house is left unto you desolate.”
There was Jewish deconstruction in the day of Jeremiah and Isaiah. There was deconstruction of Old Testament Judaism in the day of our Lord Jesus so that apostasy had taken over the whole nation, with the exception of a very few. And it’s the same today.
Look, I’ve been at Grace long enough to have seen the fruitless soils that look good for a while. It looked good for a little while, but the weeds choked out what appeared to be spiritual life. Some of the most fascinating testimonies that I heard turned out to be false. And some people were not discovered as false for years, when they finally couldn’t take it any longer and their love of sin drove them away. Luke 8:13 describes them this way: “They believe for a [little] while.” “They believe for a while.” They are the half-converted. They can’t face tribulation. They can’t loosen their grip on sin and the world and money and the culture, and particularly their pet transgressions. And through the years as I have preached the Word of God, many times I have come across passages that should act as warnings to those kinds of people. So let me try one more time.
Here is a warning to hear. The apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians chapter 10: “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea”—speaking about the generation that came out of Egypt—“they were all immersed into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” They all had this same miraculous experience of being delivered from Egypt. They “all ate the same spiritual food”—they all received the manna in the wilderness, created by God on a daily basis; they “all drank the same spiritual drink”—the water from the rock—“they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was actually Christ. Nevertheless,” with all of that shared experience as the people of God, being delivered from Egypt, “most of them, most of them God was not well-pleased with.” How do we know that? Because most of them “were laid low in the wilderness.” They never entered the Promised Land. They were the half-converted. They made it to Canaan. Metaphorically speaking, they never made it to heaven. They had all of the experience with none of the reality.
“These things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.” The people who forsake God, who once may have professed to believe in Him, do so because they crave something other than Him. They crave evil things. They “crave evil things,” and they “act”—it says in the next few verses—“immorally.” This is an example to us today of the disaster of apostasy: when having received the spiritual privilege of being with the people of God, you turn your back and walk away. That passage ends in verse 12 with, “Let [the one] who thinks he stands take heed lest he”—what?—“falls.”
There are plenty of warnings that you don’t want to defect. You don’t want to walk away from Christ. A series of those warnings comes in the book of Hebrews. I’ll only just briefly remind you of them; there are a number of them.
In chapter 2 of Hebrews, listen to verse 3: “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” So you heard the message—that’s what verse 1 says—you heard it, it was spoken, and you neglected it; you turned away from it. How are you going to escape judgment if you reject the only way of salvation?
Another warning comes in chapter 3 of Hebrews, verse 7, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness.” This goes back to the same thing that 1 Corinthians 12 was referring to, the Exodus. “Today . . . don’t harden your heart . . . . Where your fathers tried Me”—verse 9—“by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years.” Forty years of miracles, provision. “I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways’; as I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest.” Don’t be like that.
Chapter 4, “Let us fear”—verse 1—“if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard didn’t profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, ‘As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest.’” Doesn’t do you any good to hear it if you don’t join it with faith. Warning after warning.
Chapter 6 in Hebrews, verse 4, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened”—which means you had the truth told to you—you “tasted the heavenly gift” in some sense—this could refer to the Jews who saw the power of heaven expressed in the person of Jesus in His earthly ministry—they were “made partakers of the Holy Spirit,” because the Holy Spirit was doing the miracles through Him. They “tasted the good word” in hearing Him preach. They saw “the powers of the age to come” in His healing and casting out demons. If after all of that revelation you “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” You don’t want to walk away. That’s what apostasy is: You have rejected with full revelation. There’s no possible way to return and repent, because you have chosen in the end to join those who crucified Christ.
And then in the tenth chapter, which I read earlier, such a direct statement, verse 26: “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth”—you receive the knowledge of the truth, but you turn from the truth and go on in your sin—“there [is no longer] a sacrifice for sins.” All that is left for you is “a terrifying expectation of judgment and fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” And it’s going to be severe, verse 29: “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This is not a trifling issue, this deconstruction; it’s terrifying. It’s little wonder that the prophets wept. It’s little wonder that our Lord Himself wept.
Now all of that brings us back to John 6. And the subjects of this text: first of all, the false disciples. Next week we’ll look at the true disciples. But the false disciples. Those are the ones described in verse 39 of Hebrews 10 as “those who shrink back.” They come close, but they defect.
There’s a certain pathology for these defectors. Their character is exposed earlier in the chapter—and it’s a long chapter. But everything actually started—go back to the beginning of the chapter, chapter 6. Everything began with a miracle meal, with a miracle meal. Verse 10 says there were five thousand men, which means there were also five thousand women and five thousand kids. This is a huge crowd. Jesus did a miracle in feeding all of them from five barley loaves and two fish, and had twelve baskets left over to feed the disciples.
So here is the setup for false discipleship. The crowd was huge. And here’s the first thing to say about false disciples: They are drawn by a crowd. They are drawn by a crowd in this case. They follow the crowd. They may not know what the crowd is all about, but they follow the crowd. Whether it’s a megachurch or a rock concert or whatever it might be, there’s a curiosity and a novelty and a seduction in a crowd. Most people follow a crowd, even if they have no idea what it’s gathering for.
In this case, they knew. The crowd was gathering around the miracle-working Jesus; and He worked a miracle the likes of which was beyond comprehension, so far beyond comprehension it staggers the imagination to even try to conceive of what He did.
Listen to this. I did a little research to try to figure this out. I’m not a scientist, but I asked the question, How much power and energy would it take to create food out of nothing to feed 25,000 people? And I came up with this: E = mc2—we all know that. Energy equals mass plus the speed of light squared. A quantum of light carries energy that is converted to mass. So how much energy for, let’s say, half-a-pound meal for 25,000 people? How much energy to create it out of nothing?
One answer I found: all the electrical power on Earth operating at 100 percent output for 100 percent of the time for four years. And that would have been easy because Jesus created the sun and billions of other suns. And the sun consumes approximately 600 million tons of matter—are you ready?—per second, generating enough energy in that one second to supply all the power the US would need for 13 billion years. Jesus’ miracles drew immense crowds. Even people who can’t do miracles draw immense crowds under the pretext that they can.
So this is perfect scenario, here in John 6, for false disciples. They’re drawn by a crowd. Secondly, they’re fascinated by the supernatural. They’re fascinated by the supernatural. Always a danger when Jesus is popular—and particularly in this time when He actually was doing miracles, and they participated in those miracles.
Jesus was drawing in massive crowds with supernatural wonders—power over demons, power over disease, power over death, power over nature—and promising more miracles and promising a supernatural experience. And I see parallels to that today. People rush to a crowd at a megachurch under the pretext that somehow there’s going to be some supernatural, transcendent experience that’s going to elevate them out of the doldrums of their mundane, useless, pointless, go-nowhere life—something bigger than them, something beyond them.
But like the crowd, it’s all attached to this world. When they declare, in verse 14, that this is the Prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18, the Messiah, what do they do to respond? Verse 15, they tried to “take Him by force” and “make Him king.” So this is the third thing you see about these false disciples: They desired immediate worldly benefit. Just, “Wow, if we can get this guy and make Him our king, just think of what He can do for us”—carnal enthusiasm—“how He can elevate our satisfaction, our comfort, our provision, our freedom from difficulty. What’s He going to do for us? What can He give us? What can we get from Him?”—which is, one form or another, the prosperity lie. And Jesus is going to have to deliver what they want. So this is a perfect scenario for a false disciple: There’s a crowd, there’s the promise of the supernatural, and there’s this carnal desire for everything that the fallen heart wants.
And then they take another step: They demand that their request be made into reality. Drop down all the way to verse 28 for the sake of time: “They said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ So they said to Him, ‘What then do you do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?’” They’re asking Him to validate His claim by doing a miracle, when they have just eaten food that He created with massive supernatural power.
They want what they want. It’s about their own satisfaction. And that’s what drives false disciples: They follow the crowd, they look for the supernatural, they want what their carnal heart wants, and they expect their desires to be met. And Jesus says, essentially, in verse 29, “The only miracle you’re going to see is the miracle of faith”—“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” They were not interested in soul salvation—or for that matter, neither was Judas. Judas was interested in the money, right? That’s why he stole the money.
They just wanted a welfare state. Look at verse 31: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’ Jesus then said to them”—in other words, they’re saying to Him, “If You’re going to expect us to follow You, You start delivering the bread, Man, every day, every day, just like it happened in Moses’ time. We’re going to stop working, we’re just going to show up in the morning, and the bread’s going to be there, and the manna from heaven is going to be there, and You’ve got to deliver.”
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you’”—verse 32—“‘it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’” And they said, “‘Lord, give us this bread [all the time]’”—“We want this bread,” in their shallowness. He said, “I say to you . . .”—verse 35—“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, he who believes in Me will never thirst.” “The problem with you is”—verse 36—“you’ve seen Me, and you don’t believe.”
Here’s the next thing about false disciples: They have no interest in Christ. They have no interest in Christ, they have only interest in themselves; and if Jesus doesn’t deliver what they want, they’re gone. And He adds one other dimension down in verse 51. He said, “I am [that] living bread”—He continues to talk in those spiritual terms—“that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats . . . he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the world is My flesh”—“give for the life of the world is My flesh.” So now He’s talking about sacrificing His life.
“And the Jews began to argue with one another”—“What? How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”—“And Jesus said to them, ‘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’ll raise him 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. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he will also live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’” “You’ve got to be committed to Me, and this has to be understood: I’m going to give My flesh and shed My blood. Can you accept sacrificial atonement? Can you accept Me as the sin offering?” This is what eating and drinking means: personal appropriation of the cross of Christ.
And of course, 1 Corinthians 1:23, to the Jews the cross was a—what?—“a stumbling block.” They didn’t need a savior, they didn’t need a sacrifice, they didn’t need substitute, they were righteous on their own. And Paul had to relentlessly preach Christ and Him crucified, and nothing but Christ and Him crucified.
So what is the pathology here of a false disciple? Drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the prospect of the supernatural, desiring worldly benefits, demanding their requests be met, having no real interest in Christ at all, and completely indifferent, if not repulsed, by His atonement. That inevitably is going to be false discipleship. And sure enough, verse 60 says, “Many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is hard, hard teaching’”—literally, “We’re not buying into this. We’re not buying into this.” And they “withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”
False disciples come to the crisis moment inevitably, if they’re going to turn and walk away, when what they want is far more important to them than what God wants. They find the words too difficult. Oh, the sentiments about Jesus, great. The music about Jesus, great. But when He speaks, they’re offended.
That was a sad day, and its postmortem is given by our Lord in Matthew 11, verse 23, listen: “And you, Capernaum”—very same town—“will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” I can’t think of a more horrendous pronunciation. Sodom was destroyed because it was full of homosexuals who tried to rape angels. Sodom was as perverse at it could be. Jesus said, “It will be worse in the judgment for the people of Capernaum because they Me. They heard Me; they turned from Me.” You’d be better off to be a pagan sodomite in the book of Genesis than a religious Jew in Capernaum during the life of Christ. Your exposure to the gospel truth heightens your accountability and threatens to escalate your judgment if you turn away.
What about those people that turned away? One final comment from John: 1 John 2, verse 19, listen carefully, speaking of these “antichrist” people, as he called them in verse 18. In verse 19 John says this: “They went out from us”—these are the defectors; these are the exvangelicals; these are the Christian deconstructionists. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; if they had been of us, they would have”—what?—remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be [known and] shown that they all are not of us.” When somebody defects, they didn’t lose their salvation; they never had it, never had it. But to defect, to be an apostate is to put yourself in the most jeopardy possible and be unable to be renewed to repentance.
The true disciples were distinguished by the very thing that is the opposite of the false. The false didn’t believe the words of Jesus; the true disciples did believe. Verse 69, Peter speaking for them, “We have”—what?—“believed.” All this defection from Christianity is a rejection of biblical truth, the very words of God. Nothing is as dangerous as this. Examine your own heart to be certain you’re in the faith. Let’s bow in prayer.
To say this is sobering, of course, Lord, is an understatement. To say it calls for weeping and wailing is to understand the reality of it. If someone turns away from You when they have known the truth and walks no more with You, there’s no more sacrifice for sin, and they are eternally lost in the worst kind of punishment. How much severer punishment will they be thought worthy, who trampled underfoot the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and showed spite for the convicting work of Your Spirit.
We pray, Lord, that You would halt some sinners who may be close to that today. May people be attracted not to the crowd, not to the superficial, and certainly not even to the falsely supernatural, but may they be attracted to Christ. If we lift up Christ, He’ll draw all men to Himself; and thus, we do that. May Your church exalt Christ. May He be all in all, the one who is the glorious Redeemer.
As believers, we should be known because we love the Lord Jesus Christ; and that love transcends everything else to the degree that it doesn’t matter to us what we gain or lose in this world, what we enjoy or suffer in this world. All that matters is Christ. Make Christ known to us in His fullness, for there we find our soul satisfaction. We ask this in His great name. Amen.
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