Accepting Hard Teachings
14th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 15) LSB #’s 730, 716:1-3, 716:4-6
Text – John 6:60-61
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?”
ACCEPTING HARD TEACHINGS
Go to your room, right now! Just wait till your father gets home! If you get punished at school, & I hear about it, you’ll get even worse when you get home. You’ve heard those haven’t you? And if you ever were on the receiving end of those words, you know how hard those teachings are to accept.
Swallowing our pride does not come naturally. It takes something a lot more powerful than we are to make us swallow our pride. Still, it’s a good lesson to learn in life. It’s one that all of us should learn to do gracefully, & parents are responsible for seeing to it that their children learn to accept hard teachings.
In the 6th chapter of Paul’s letter to Ephesus, it reads: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline & instruction of the Lord.” (6:4 ESV)
The word Paul used for discipline, or correction, was a Greek word that could mean, “to bring someone up with a training that leads to a fear of the Lord,” & as you may remember from several places in the OT, such fear is the beginning of wisdom.
Children must be disciplined & corrected when they’re young so they learn how to discipline themselves when they are adults. Think about it a moment. Once a person becomes an adult, they almost never allow someone else to discipline them against their will.
More & more, it takes a badge or a gun to do so. Our society has increasingly resorted to prison & life sentences in order to control people who won’t listen to anything else. And a standard complaint today is that people lack common sense. Could some of those situations be related? Could it be that people no longer have wisdom, common sense or self-discipline because they no longer fear God? And who is it that should be teaching them the proper fear of the Lord? God’s Word tells us it’s the parents, specifically the fathers:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline & instruction of the Lord.” Even that Bible text is a hard teaching that is difficult to accept. Many of today’s fathers find that verse offensive, because it takes away from time for themselves. They’d rather be watching sports or hunting or playing with their toys.
How many men are there teaching Sunday School? How many men do you normally find in adult bible study? How many men are seldom seen in church at all? Apparently they’re having a difficult time accepting those hard teachings themselves, let alone teaching them to their children. PAUSE
Where do you rate your ability in that respect? Would you give yourself an A+? How about a D-? Probably most of us would tend to stay around the middle & give ourselves a C. That way we don’t sound too prideful because accepting hard teachings is the opposite of pride, so we don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression.
Once the men get their act together, then it’s the turn for the women. One verse after today’s epistle lesson gives a very obvious example: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.” Talk about a hard teaching! That has got to be one. It’s difficult enough to submit to the Lord & He’s perfect. Husbands are a long way from that.
Yet God’s Word is clear, & the church’s traditional wedding liturgy reflects God’s Word in the vows, “Will you love him, comfort him, honor him, obey him?” In that case, I would think you’d want to be married to a God fearing man – a man of wisdom. And difficult teachings don’t end for women with their marriage vows. Scripture also makes clear that women are not to be pastors. The Bible doesn’t say why, & it doesn’t give the benefit of an explanation. Yet God’s Word is clear even if it’s a hard teaching to accept. PAUSE
While speaking at the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus said, “For my flesh is true food, & my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh & drinks my blood abides in me, & I in him. …This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, & died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:55-56 & 58 ESV)
In those circumstances, many of Jesus’ disciples said, & many people in our day agree, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Several verses later John reports, “From that time on, many of Jesus’ disciples turned back & no longer followed Him.” His teaching rubbed them the wrong way, & in their dissatisfaction they left.
Christianity is a teaching that does not agree with human reason. The man who allows his reason to interfere with his religion is on the downward path. Paul wrote, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) And even the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.
And that, my friends, is a hard teaching to accept. Our sinful nature chafes at the bit. It wants to go its own way. Forget about common sense & wisdom. I’ll cut off my nose to spite my face if I want to. But when His disciples reject Him, Christ does not run them off. He makes a plea to those offended not to oppose the Spirit of God in His Word.
At times we end up in the same position as those disciples. When we don’t understand some teaching in Scripture, or when we are offended by it, we must not forget that if an insight to an unclear passage is to come to us, it must come from the words themselves. Our trying to make the words say, what we want them to say – is dishonest & arrogant.
In those circumstances we need to swallow our pride. We need to be still, & we need
to know that God is God. That stillness & that knowledge depend upon whether or not the Spirit of God dwells in us, or only the spirit of the flesh. The Spirit of God is quickening, it brings true life, & where He operates all offense at the teaching of Christ is removed. But where the good for nothing sinful nature dominates in man, the offense of Christ remains.
The Spirit operates in the words of Christ. They are spirit & they are life. If the Spirit & life, of which Jesus has been speaking, are to be found anywhere, they must be found in the Word of God.
Therefore, even when the disciples who left were offended, at the hard teachings of Jesus, the Spirit of God was still working on their hardened hearts through those very words, which they found so offensive. God’s discipline is not simply punishment or correction. It also includes instruction & teaching.
God’s Words are life, because they do not only offend & condemn. They are creative & forgiving as well. Nonetheless, He allows you to reject them, & in that case God’s will is that His words become powerless. It’s uncomfortable to think that God allows you & me to render His Words powerless, however, that’s only for a time.
There comes a point when God renders judgment, & those Words are anything but powerless. Then life teaches hard lessons. Illness intrudes upon our plans. Death interrupts our goals. And there’re hundreds of smaller inconveniences that daily interfere with our ideas. Life itself, if lived as God wills, is a constant struggle of hard teachings.
And God does not promise that He’ll always light our path to see His will. Isaiah wrote,
“Let him who walks in darkness & has no light trust in the name of the Lord & rely on his God.” (50:10 ESV) Sometimes we are fighting with our sinful nature. Sometimes we’re fighting with our holy nature. And there are plenty of times when we cannot tell the difference. We won’t always know what is the right thing to do. But no matter the battle, the final question always boils down to, “Do you believe in Jesus as Savior, or don’t you?” PAUSE
We cannot always know what is right, but we can always know that Christ has the words of eternal life. After the offended disciples left, Jesus asked His remaining followers, “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.” (John 6:67-68 ESV)
Congregations that use the hymnal recognize those last sentences. They’re sung by the people just before the Gospel reading. And they’re a fitting introduction to the Good News, because they speak volumes about where salvation is to be found.
We don’t find it in psychology or salesmanship. We don’t find it in good works nor in decent living. A man will not find it in bringing up his children correctly, nor will a woman find it in submitting to her husband. None of us can even find salvation in accepting hard teachings. All of those actions, God pleasing as they are, do not gain us eternal life.
By virtue of Christ’s Words we have eternal life as a gift. It comes first. All our God pleasing actions flow out of, & as a result of, the spiritual life that came first. That order of salvation releases us from guilt & worry, because first Jesus sees to it that He earns eternal life for the whole world.
Only a living tree can produce fruit, & first Christ’s Words made us alive. Those words are still making us alive – over & over. The only thing for us to do is share that fantastic & life giving news, as a healthy tree shares its fruit. As the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens & sanctifies you, you will find that God’s teachings are not so difficult to accept after all.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.” Amen.
Praise the Lord all you nations; extol Him all you peoples. For great is His love toward us, & the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord. Amen. Psalm 117:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet