One of the distinctives about the Bible is its candor, its unvarnished presentation of the failures and foibles of its principal characters. There’s no airbrushing, no whitewashing of even the most important individuals, no accounts told through rose-tinted glasses.
As we read the Scriptures, we encounter many passages about sin, disobedience, rebellion. It starts in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, continues with King David’s adultery and murder to cover up his sin, and carries through to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot and Peter’s more subtle, but equally grievous betrayal as Jesus was being tried and tortured prior to His crucifixion.
So it’s questionable at best to declare one verse as the saddest in all of the Bible, but nevertheless, I have a nominee. In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus had just finished making some difficult statements that troubled many of those who had been avidly following Him. Jesus had declared, “I am the bread of life” (v. 35) and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (v. 44). Not the simplest words to grasp.
These were definitely confounding for many of those listening to Him. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (v. 60). Jesus was not at all surprised by their reaction and made no attempt to pacify their perplexity. “…The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’” (vv.63-65).
Then comes what I regard as the saddest verse in the Bible: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66).
Imagine having been with Jesus – God in the flesh – for weeks, months, maybe even a year or two, hearing His unfathomable words of wisdom and observing His miraculous works. Blind people given sight, crippled people restored to unaided mobility, lepers having skin turned soft like infants, dead people being raised to life. And then, after hearing Him utter some puzzling pronouncements, turning away and no longer following Him.
Could anything be more heartbreaking than that?
The Scriptures tell us “the mark of the beast” – our spiritual enemy – is 666, so perhaps it’s appropriate that the address for this verse is John 6:66. It must be the work of the evil one to cause one-time followers of Jesus to turn away, forsaking Him and His teachings, upon learning what it fully means to follow Him.
Things aren’t much different today. We probably all know people, even friends or family members, who at one time seemed to be ardent Christ followers. They were attending worship services regularly, going to Bible studies, eagerly sharing their faith, maybe even engaged in vocational Christian ministry. But then, whether gradually or suddenly, their enthusiasm and commitment faded. One day we look up and find, like the folks in Jesus’ day, they had turned back and were no longer following Him.
Perhaps, as Jesus described in His parable of the sower, it’s that “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). This is why discipling – spiritual mentoring – is so vital for the health and growth of believers, not only those new to the faith but also those who have been following Jesus for years. We all need support, encouragement and accountability in our walk with the Lord.
My prayer is that I and those I care about will always be able to say, “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Do you know of anyone who seems at risk of turning back and no longer following the Lord? How about you? What can you do to keep that from happening?
May our hearts echo the words of Peter, when Jesus asked His 12 closest disciples if they too wished to leave. Peter replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.