The Great Desertion
July 19th, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREAT DESERTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-19-87 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are a part of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Great Desertion. It is an exposition of the latter part of the sixth chapter of John; John chapter 6. In verse 61 it says His disciples murmured at what Jesus has said. And the Lord asked them, “Doth this offend you?” [John 6:61]. Then in verse 66, “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him [John 6:66]. And Jesus said to the twelve, Will you also go away?” [John 6:67]. The Great Desertion.
The scene and the situation is described in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. There were great throngs who listened to the Lord in Capernaum [John 6:2]. Then Jesus left and went around the head of the lake to the eastern seashore of Galilee, beyond Bethsaida [John 6:1]; and there He fed the five thousand [John 6:5-13]. Then the Lord returned to Capernaum. In the ship in which He returned, the disciples were in the midst of an awful storm; and you have the miracle of the walking on the water [John 6:15-21]. When Jesus came back to Capernaum, those throngs that had followed Him across to the eastern seashore followed Him back [John 6:24-25]. And the Lord says to them, in the twenty-sixth verse, “You seek Me because you ate of the loaves, and were filled” [John 6:26]. They were following the Lord for what they could get out of it. I see so much of that in Christianity today, as it is purveyed on television. These televangelists, “You send me five dollars and you’ll get a blessing that big. And you send me ten dollars and you’ll get a blessing this big. And you send me a hundred dollars and you’ll get a blessing that big”; their religion consists in what they can get out of it. That’s what the throng who followed Jesus sought from the Lord: to eat free loaves and fishes [John 6:7-11].
When the Lord spoke to them, He did so in an unusual way. He said to them, “Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life” [John 6:54]. It was an hard saying. In verse 60, “Many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” [John 6:60]. Their response to such a word as, “Eat My flesh, and drink My blood” [John 6:54], was one of offense [John 6:61].
You know, it’s unusual how Jesus will speak hard things. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, our Lord said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, born again” [John 3:3]. And Nicodemus replied, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he go back into his mother’s womb, and be born again?” [John 3:4], an example of the sayings of the Lord Jesus. Or take again, as we follow through the Gospel of John, He says to the woman in Samaria, “Whoso drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst” And the woman says, “How can such a thing be? The well is deep and You have nothing to draw with” [John 4:11]. The hard sayings of Jesus; as we follow through the Gospel of John; when that nobleman from Capernaum came and said, “My son is dying; will You come?” and the Lord replies, “Except ye see signs and wonders you will not believe” [John 4:46-48]. Ah! Seemingly harsh and understandable things. And that poor nobleman said, “Master, I am not interested in signs or in wonders; my boy is dying. Won’t You come?” [John 4:49]. The sayings of the Lord Jesus: and this is a typical instance; “Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life” [John 6:54].
May I pause to comment on that for just a moment? You have in that word of our Lord a typical mystery of the Lord Himself: one of those inexplicables that is beyond finite understanding. It is impossible, always, to separate the Lord Himself from what He says, from His teaching. It’s just the opposite of every other man that ever taught in the earth. When you study Plato, what Plato said had nothing to do with Plato himself. You could do with Plato as you please. If you study Aristotle, you can do with Aristotle as you please, irrespective of the man himself. If you study Marcus Aurelius, you can take his teaching and do as you please with it, whatever you think about Marcus Aurelius. But you can’t Christ: when you listen to the voice of the Son of God, it is inexplicably bound up and connected with the Lord Christ Himself. When you search the springs of the new nature, there you’ll find Christ. When you cut into the center of the new heart, there you will find Christ. When you analyze the new birth, there you will find Christ. When you look at a godly and holy life, there will you find Christ. When you see a church that is dynamic and filled with the power of the Spirit of God, there you will find Christ. And when you study the life of the martyr, in prison, persecuted, beat, and finally slain, there you will find Christ.
I saw the martyr at the stake,
The flames could not his courage shake,
Nor death his soul appall;
I asked him whence his strength was giv’n;
He looked triumphantly to Heav’n,
And answered, “Christ is all.”
I dreamed that hoary Time had fled,
The earth and sea gave up their dead,
A fire destroyed this ball;
I saw the church’s ransomed throng,
I caught the burden of their song,
‘Twas this: “Christ is all in all.”
[adapted from “Christ is All,” W. A. Williams]
You cannot separate the Lord Christ from the word that He brought to our world.
But they were offended; they were offended. “And from that time, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him [John 6:66]. Then said Jesus unto the twelve”—and let me give you the Greek of that exactly: “You, humeis, you, you twelve, you, will you thelo, will you wish always, will you also choose to go away?” [John 6:67], a pathetic question. “We’ve heard You for the last time; we’re not going to follow any longer. We’re turning our backs on You” [John 6:66]. Like the experience of the apostle Paul as he wrote in his swan song in 2 Timothy, “All they that are in Asia are turned away from me. And when I stood in my last trial, no man stood by me” [2 Timothy 4:16]. Our Lord, with those throngs and throngs and throngs, left with just that little handful of personal called disciples [John 6:66-68].
Why do men leave Christ? Why do they desert our Lord? There are several reasons. One: they lose interest in Him. Isn’t that a strange thing? These are the people that up here in the first part of this chapter were trying to make Him a king [John 6:15]: “He will lead us against Caesar, and He will bring to our nation freedom, independence; and they sought to make Him a king” [John 6:15]. These are the same people who say, “We’re tired of You; we’re through. We’re turning our backs” [John 6:66]. Isn’t that a strange thing? When they realized that Jesus is building a spiritual kingdom, and when they realized that for them there is no political advantage or material gain, they leave Him. They look on religion as something out of which we get something, and if we don’t get it we’re not interested in it. Why do men leave Christ? Because they despair of getting anything out of it.
Why do men leave Christ? Because of its cost: they seek a cheap salvation. Our Lord said, “The one that is to follow Me is to deny himself, and take up his cross” [Mark 8:34]. Our Lord said to those that would follow Him, “He that loses his life shall gain it unto life eternal” [John 12:25]. It’s like that rich young ruler, when he saw the cost he refused the Lord [Mark 10:17-22]. There are those who leave our Lord because of its cost. There are those that leave our Lord because they are more interested in the world. Paul said,” Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” [2 Timothy 4:10]. He loved the wrong world. And they are enticed by the things of the world and have lost their commitment to Christ.
Why do men leave Christ? Some of them follow the crowd, follow the crowd. So many young people are peer-pressured: they follow the crowd. When the crowd followed Jesus, they were following. When the crowd left Jesus, they left Him too.
Why do men leave our Lord? Because they’re never really converted. As John says in 1 John chapter 2, “They went out from us because they were not of us; for had they been of us, they would have continued with us” [1 John 2:19]. Any child of God has on the inside of his soul a deep, everlasting pulling toward the Lord Jesus.
One time I followed down the inner pass-way in an airplane, followed down from Alaska, coming back to America. And I was seated by a man who had often made that journey. It was a clear day. He said, “This is a rare, rare thing, a clear day.” And as we looked out the window, he said, “I want you to look at that glacier, that glacier.” He says, “That glacier is larger than the state of Rhode Island, that glacier. And the whole vast thing moves toward the sea, and breaks off into icebergs.” That’s the way it is with a man who loves the Lord, who’s been converted: there’s something on the inside of him that pulls toward Christ no matter what, no matter what.
I was down there preaching in Panama, and in the arch of that nation, I stood there and watched the tide. The tide there is more than twenty-five feet high, and comes nineteen miles up on the land. That’s exactly how it is with a man who has given his heart to Christ: there’s a tug and a pull that climbs the very sea wall itself. I think of this planet Earth: why doesn’t it speed out into the vast infinite beyond? Because of the pull of the sun. Any one of us who has ever been converted, who has ever been saved, will never get away from that tug and that pull in the human heart, no matter how you try, no matter how you are enticed, no matter the pull of the world; there is something on the inside of your soul that brings you closer and closer, more dependent, more dependent upon the blessed Lord Jesus.
When they were turning away, the Lord looked at Simon Peter and said, “Simon, are you also going away?” And Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we know and believe and are sure that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [John 6:66-69]. You know, in the life of Simon Peter there are two great pathetic scenes. One carries with it a sorrowing question, and another carries with it a sorrowing look [Luke 22:54-62]. You remember both of them? And in both of them, Simon Peter came back to the Lord. The sorrowing look: in the courtyard, standing by the fire, when the Lord was being condemned to be crucified, a little maid, a little girl looked at him, heard him speak, and said, “You are one of His disciples. You have the accent of a Galilean. I know you; you are a follower of Jesus.” And Simon Peter cursed and swore, “You think I talk like Him? Listen to this”; and his oath was like a blue streak, cursed, “I never saw Him. I do not know Him.” And while he was cursing and denying, the Bible says the Lord turned and looked on Simon; the Lord turned and looked on Peter. That crushed him. “And he went out and wept bitterly” [Luke 22:54-62].
The second one is a question: the pathos of this question is undeniable and indescribable. The Lord says, “All of these are leaving, all of them; you, you, do you choose, do you wish, thelo, do you wish to leave also?” [John 6:67]. And Simon Peter again arose to his greatest height, “Lord, to whom shall we go? [John 6:68]. If we turn from You we turn to blank despair.” What do you do in the hour of death? And what do you do at the great judgment day of Almighty God? [2 Corinthians 5:10]. “Lord Christ, if we turn from Thee, to what do we turn except to despair, loss, ruin, hopelessness, helplessness?” It’s Jesus that gives us strength and guidance and blessing for the way; Jesus, He alone and He enough.
There was a man fishing in a boat, rowing his boat, fishing in a creek in South Carolina. And as he rowed his boat fishing, he came by an old broken-down log cabin; and there in the door of that falling cabin was an old Negro mammy. Her head, her kinky hair white, her face wrinkled with the passing of the years, and her form bent over after years of toil. And as he came by in his little boat, he stopped and said cheerily, “Good morning, auntie. You’re living in there alone?” And she replied, “Yes, massah, just Jesus and me, just Jesus and me.” And that South Carolinian fisherman said, “You know, it seemed to me that beyond that old bent form I saw somebody else; and the figure was like that of the Son of God”; just Jesus and me.
I cannot go it alone.
The waves run fast and high,
And the fogs close chill around,
And the light goes out of the sky
But I know that we two shall win, in the end,
Jesus and I.
I cannot row it myself,
My boat in the raging sea,
But beside me sits another
Who pulls and steers with me.
And I know that we two shall come safe into port,
Jesus and me.
Coward and wayward and weak,
I change with the changing sky.
Today so eager and brave,
Tomorrow not caring to try.
But He never gives in and I know we shall win,
Jesus and I.
[adapted from “We Two,” Father Francis P. Le Buffe]
“Massah, just Jesus and me.”
God bless us as we find in Him our best Friend, our constant Companion, and the Leader of our pilgrim way. Now may we pray? Our Lord, how dark and how hopeless our world without Thee. Thou art the light of our life, the hope of our heart, our door into heaven. O God in Christ, how much You mean to us! May we love Thee more with each passing day, and may every day be a victory—even the hour of our death and that glorious entrance into heaven.
And while our heads are bowed, somebody you, this day, this moment, give himself to Jesus, “And, pastor, here I stand.” A family you coming into the fellowship of our dear church, “Pastor, this is God’s day for us, and here we stand.” Answering the call of the Spirit of God in your heart, “Pastor, I’m answering with my life, and here I stand” [Romans 10:9-10]. In this moment when we sing our appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come, and God bless and angels attend in the way. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us this holy and heavenly hour. In Thy precious and saving and keeping name, amen, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The scene and situation
A. The multitudes
following Him (John 6:26)
B. The message of Jesus
on the true Bread of life
1. “A hard saying,
who can hear it?” (John 6:60)
a. Jesus’ teachings
(John 3:4, 4:11, 15, 4:48, 6:53-54)
b. Cannot separate what
Christ teaches from Christ Himself
II. The offense the great
A. Many of His
disciples and the throng turned away
1. Experience of
Paul (2 Timothy 1:15)
B. Why do men turn away
1. Lose interest
2. Too costly
(Luke 9:23, John 12:25)
3. Love of the
world (2 Timothy 4:10)
C. Why do people leave
1. Following the
2. Never really
converted (1 John 2:19)
D. True child of God is
pulled to the Lord
III. The commitment of Simon Peter (John
sorrowful look (Luke 22:61-62)
Jesus’ sorrowful question
Peter at his best