May 28, 2017

John 6:60-71: The Offensiveness and Persuasiveness of the Gospel

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: The Gospel of John: That You May Believe Scripture: John 6:60–71

John 6:60-71: The Offensiveness and Persuasiveness of the Gospel

Please take your Bibles and open them to John 6. If you’re using the Story Bibles we provide, that’s on page 740. For those of you who are visiting, we’ve been systematically working our way through the Gospel of John passage by passage. And last week we looked at Jesus claiming to be what he called the “Bread of Life”—that is, bread that gives spiritual life. And this week, we read how the crowds respond to that in John 6:60-71. Let me read it: John 6:60-71.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. 

Growing up, I spent much of my childhood living in Virginia. And this was a rural part of Virginia I’m talking about—so rural that when people ask me what town we lived in, I sometimes tell them that it was between the barn and the cow pasture. It was the kind of place where kids started driving farm vehicles before the age of ten. It was the kind of place where people sometimes had to slip out of church early because they got word that their cow was giving birth. It was the kind of place where if you saw a deer outside your living room window, you would get your shotgun, open the window, and shoot dinner for that evening. I had a friend who got a deer that way. But one the most distinctive things about that area, in my opinion, was the smell. Now my family didn’t have a farm, but whenever I went to a friend’s house that was on a farm, I would be greeted by the very distinct smell of manure. And the way you could tell a city person from a country person was the way they acted when they smelled that manure. A city person would make a face, maybe put their hand over their nose, and might even feel a bit nauseous. They thought it smelled terrible. But a country person wouldn’t even think a second thought about it. In fact, they would come to appreciate the smell to an extent. It would smell like home and familiarity and the kind of lifestyle they had been raised to appreciate. So the same smell was atrocious to some but not bad at all to others.

And in our main text of Scripture this morning, we see something very similar happening. Some people—in fact, a lot of people—are put off by Jesus’ message and decide to stop following him. But others believe Jesus’ message is absolutely wonderful and are committed to following him regardless of what happens. And here’s the main thing we see from that: proclaiming the true gospel—the true message of Jesus—will be both offensive and persuasive. Proclaiming the true gospel will be both offensive and persuasive. So if you’re being faithful to proclaim the true gospel, those are the two reactions you should expect. Expect the gospel to be offensive, and expect the gospel to be persuasive.

Expect the Gospel to Be Offensive

So first, expect the gospel to be offensive. Look again at verses 60-66: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

Now why do you think these Jews were so offended? Well, think about it. Jesus was claiming some very controversial things about himself. We saw last week that he was calling himself the “bread of life,” which was a claim that eternal life can only be found through him. Not through having a Jewish heritage, not through keeping the law, not through temple sacrifices, not through any of the things these Jews had grown up their whole lives trusting in. Jesus claimed that it’s through him and him alone that people gain eternal life. And we see how the crowds responded to that. In verse 60, they say, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” In other words, “this is a hard pill for us to swallow.” So Jesus asks them in verse 61, “Do you take offense at this?” That word translated “offense,” by the way, in the original language is σκανδαλίζω, where we get our English word “scandalous” from. It refers to something shocking, something that makes you angry and offends you.

And it’s interesting to observe what Jesus says after that. Notice that he doesn’t change his message in an effort to win these people back. He doesn’t say, “Do you take offense at this? Oh okay, let me take out all the offensive parts to make it more acceptable to you.” “Do you take offense that this? Well, let me just tweak this and this so maybe you’ll like it more.” No, he simply says in verse 65, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Then, in verse 66, he just lets them leave. He doesn’t call after them or beg them to come back. He just lets them leave if that’s what they want to do. 

So there you go. That’s the way Jesus handled people getting offended at his message. And you know what? There will be people today who get offended at Jesus’ message as well. People in every generation and in every culture will find at least some elements of the gospel offensive. 

However, I should mention briefly that that doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to offend people in the way we share the gospel. Definitely try not to do that. A few years ago, I remember one guy describing to me how he liked to preach the gospel in various public places around town. And one time he went to a local park to preach, and there was a group of people celebrating a kid’s birthday party there at the park. So he stood up on one of the benches and started preaching the gospel to the people at the birthday party. And not surprisingly, he reported that they got really offended when he did that. And I thought to myself, “Well gee, imagine that.” So please…don’t be that guy. Don’t be a jerk in the way you share the gospel. Under no circumstances is it ever okay to be insensitive the way that guy was, nor is it okay to be unkind, ungracious, proud, condescending, or harsh when you’re telling people about Jesus. That’s not what God calls us to do. It’s okay if the gospel itself offends people, but it’s not okay if we offend people in the way we share the gospel. 

And yet, we understand that despite our best efforts, many people will be offended, just like they were offended at Jesus’ teaching here in John 6. Also, in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul writes that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Then a few verses later in verse 22, he states, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” And then, in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, he writes, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” So the gospel will be offensive.

So what do we do? How do we respond to the fact that the gospel is offensive? Well, one option is to do what a lot of people have tried to do and alter the gospel. We can stop talking about God’s holiness and stop talking about sin and stop talking about hell and stop talking about the claims Jesus made about himself and stop talking about anything else that doesn’t make people feel good. That would be one way to avoid offending people. But here’s the problem with that: whenever you alter the gospel in any way, you end up losing the gospel. You can’t change it without losing it. Think about the Mona Lisa, commonly recognized as one of the most famous pieces of art in the world. Let’s say someone thought the Mona Lisa needed to be improved in various places. Maybe they didn’t like the expression on her face or the look in her eyes, so they take it upon themselves to alter the painting. But once you do that, it’s just not the same. What you have isn’t the Mona Lisa. It’s something other than the Mona Lisa and, in all probability, something inferior to the Mona Lisa. And just like with the Mona Lisa, the moment you change the gospel is the moment you lose the gospel.  And what you end up with is something so powerless, it can’t save anyone. 

Because the different elements of the gospel work a lot like the different parts of an engine. What do you think would happen if you opened the hood of your car and randomly removed part of the car’s engine? How well would that car run? Now, I’m no mechanic, but I’m guessing it probably wouldn’t run very well—because every part of that engine was put into the engine for a reason. It does something. It’s needed in some way. And likewise, whenever you start taking away parts of the gospel that offend people—again, like God’s holiness, our sinfulness, hell, or different things Jesus claimed about himself—whenever you take away those parts or even conveniently leave them out when you share the gospel, you no longer have a gospel that can save. And a gospel that can’t save is no gospel at all. Friends, I hope you realize that when I get up here Sunday after Sunday and quite often talk about various things many people find offensive, I don’t do that because I enjoy talking about all those things or because I enjoy offending people. I do it because I understand that the biblical gospel is the only gospel that can save people. In Romans 1:16, Paul states, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The biblical gospel is the only gospel with that kind of power.

Not too long ago, I was at a meeting with about ten pastors from other churches. And I won’t say anything specific about what churches they were from except to say that many of them, probably a majority, were from churches that have, in my opinion, compromised the gospel in very significant ways. In fact, I question whether many of these churches even possess the biblical gospel any longer—and it grieves my soul to say that. And the reason many of them and the denominations they serve have compromised the gospel is because they want to make the gospel more palatable to people—less offensive. But here’s the irony: in their effort to attract more people by removing parts of the gospel that commonly cause offense, they’ve ended up losing people. In fact, the decline in many of these churches has been so severe, we might even say they’ve been hemorrhaging people. And it’s possible to observe, looking at different studies that have been done on the subject, that the churches that have altered the gospel the most are the ones who have experienced the steepest decline. And of course there are exceptions to that, but overall, that’s what we see. And so I’m there at this meeting of pastors. And these pastors from churches that have compromised the gospel are talking, and they’re discussing why their churches are in such a sad state of decline. Just so you know, it was really a depressing conversation to be a part of, to be honest. And they were talking about ways they could try to turn things around. One pastor thought more contemporary music might be the answer. Another pastor suggested starting small groups. And they were going on and on about all these secondary things. And I thought to myself that none of those things seem like bad ideas, but why don’t you try just preaching the biblical gospel in all of its richness and fullness? That’s pretty much all we do here at Redeeming Grace, and God seems to be drawing people to that. Because here’s the thing: the offensive gospel is also the persuasive gospel because it’s the only gospel that has God’s power behind it.  

Expect the Gospel to Be Persuasive 

And that brings us to the second point. Not only should you expect the gospel to be offensive, but you should also expect it to be persuasive. And that’s what we see in our main text. Look at verses 66-69: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’

I just love Peter’s answer there when Jesus asked his twelve closest disciples whether they too would leave him. Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” In other words, “Who else is there who teaches the way you teach? Who else is there who possesses the power you possess? Who else is there who saves the way you save?” Then Peter says to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.” “You have the words that give and bring and sustain life.” So you see that the words that had offended some people were the very words that had absolutely captivated other people—namely the twelve disciples. They recognized these words as the “words of eternal life,” and these words persuaded them to be radically devoted to Jesus for the rest of their lives. If we fast forward a few years and look at what these men did after Jesus ascended, we can see the depth of that devotion. Because there’s significant historical evidence that the majority of these twelve men died as martyrs for the faith, perhaps as many as ten of the twelve. And without question, all of them experienced severe loss and persecution as a result of their testimony about Jesus—with the obvious exception of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. But every single one of the other eleven continued to preach the gospel until their dying breath even in the face of suffering and persecution. That’s how persuasive the gospel was to them. 

And when the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to see clearly, you can see why the gospel is so persuasive. You can see why these men and so many others throughout history have been willing to be killed for the gospel. Think about what a beautiful story of rescue and redemption the gospel is. When we were hopelessly entangled in our rebellious ways and covered in the filth of our sin, God loved us. Even though we deserved nothing but judgment for all eternity for sinning so brazenly against one so holy, God provided a way for us to be rescued from that. And he did it at the cost of his own Son. Jesus, the Son of God, left the glories of heaven so that he could become a real human being and die on the cross for our sins. All of God’s righteous indignation against sin and judgment against sin came down on him so it wouldn’t have to come down on us. He rescued us, he redeemed us, he purchased our salvation on the cross. And because he not only died but rose again from the grave, we can be reconciled to God and see his face and worship at his feet for all eternity. That’s a beautiful story. I love what Tim Keller said when he observed that even people who don’t believe the gospel is true should still want it to be true. It’s that beautiful; it’s that glorious. And thankfully, it is true.

And this true story of the gospel that’s so beautiful and glorious reveals a God who is beautiful and glorious. As we tell the story of the gospel, we’re talking about a God who’s faithful to uphold justice and righteousness on this earth without showing any kind of partiality. We’re talking about a God who loves us so much that he sent his own Son to bear the penalty for our sins on the cross. We’re talking about a God who’s so powerful and so glorious that he didn’t stay in the grave but victoriously rose from the dead. We’re talking about a God who sees our sinful, rebellious, miserable condition and mercifully reaches out to us and offers us grace and salvation. That’s a God who deserves our most profound adoration and our most extravagant worship. 

So don’t change the story. Don’t feel like you need to alter the gospel in an effort to make God look better or somehow save God from embarrassing himself in public. He’s glorious just the way he is, and the gospel’s glorious just the way it is. Instead, what you need to do is stay true to the biblical gospel and trust that the Holy Spirit will help people see how beautiful and glorious it is. Because look at verse 63. Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Then verse 65: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” So we need to trust the Father to do that as he works through the Holy Spirit. 


A few months ago, I was down near Memphis speaking at a conference. And some of the members of the church that was hosting the conference took me and another conference speaker named Timoteo out to dinner. And we were talking about different things and having a good time. Timoteo is the pastor of a church in the Philippines and has decades of ministry experience under his belt. There he is in the picture, in the middle. This man has also been incredibly fruitful over in the Philippines. He’s started a very large church and has also been used by God to start so many other churches out of his main church that he’s now starting a small Bible college to train all the pastors he’s sending out. So naturally, I was very eager to talk with him and learn from him during dinner, even though his English is a bit broken. And the conversation at the table turned toward the subject of outreach and specifically outreach to people who have a very secular worldview. And one of the folks from the church there asked me if I knew a lot about how to effectively dialogue about the gospel with people who have a very secular worldview. And I gave them an honest answer. I told them that I felt like I had some insight on the subject but still wasn’t confident that I knew a lot about the subject or that I had particularly valuable advice to share. I’ve dialogued with very secular people—sometimes even militantly secular—on various occasions. And in those conversations, I’ve tried to strategically use various entry points to talk about meaningful things with them, I’ve tried to bring up some ideas that I hope have put a rock in their shoe and given them something to think about, but I’m just not sure how effective I’ve been. All the people I’ve actually seen come to faith through my witness have had at least some openness to parts of the Christian worldview already. So I wasn’t sure I could make the claim of having any particular expertise on the subject.

So I turned to Timoteo, who was sitting right next to me, and I passed the question off to him. Did he feel like he had any expertise on how to effectively approach very secular people with the gospel? And you know what he said? It was incredibly simple but quite profound at the same time. Timoteo said, in his broken English, “Just preach the gospel.” And it was kind of comical, because I had been treating the subject as something incredibly complex and had spun my tires for a few minutes trying to give a helpful answer, but Timoteo offered ten times as much insight as me with four simple words. “Just preach the gospel.” And as soon as I heard it, I knew that he was speaking with biblical wisdom. You know, it’s not bad think to about different ways to approach different kinds of people with the gospel, but it’s possible to think about it so much that you end up overthinking it. And there comes a point when it’s best to do exactly what Timoteo said and simply preach the gospel. You don’t have to have a detailed plan for how the conversation should go. You don’t have to be a brilliant apologist or theologian. You don’t have to have an answer for every single question the person might ask you. Just show them authentic love and share the gospel with them, regardless of their background or prior beliefs, and leave the results to God. Because, as Romans 1:16 reminds us, the gospel is “the power of God for salvation.”

other sermons in this series