The Great Desertion
July 19th, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
THE GREAT DESERTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-19-87 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of the congregation of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message. It is an exposition of the last part of the sixth chapter of the Book of John. The title of the message is The Great Desertion, The Great Desertion, The Great Turning Back.
First, a background of the scene and situation; it says in verse 66, "From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him." Why such a desertion, a forsaking? Jesus was preaching the gospel in Capernaum, that was a large city on the northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee. Then He walked, with His disciples, to the eastern side, beyond Bethsaida. And when He did, there was a great throng that followed Him, thousands of people.
There in the semi-desert on the eastern side He fed the five thousand with those few loaves and fishes. After that miracle He went back to Capernaum. In the ship, you remember, He walked on the water to those storm-tossed disciples. He went back to Capernaum. And they thronged Him in that city of Capernaum. And the people seeking Him were described by the Lord in verse 26, "You seek Me" – not because you saw the wondrous gospel message presented by the marvelous emissary from heaven, our Lord, but you seek Me for what you can get out of Me – "you seek Me because you did eat of the loaves and the fishes."
So much of Christian religion is like that. We are religious or we respond or we are generous or we give or we come for what we think we can get out of it.
This whole television ministry is built around that very thing. "You send me five dollars and you’ll get a blessing from it this big. You send me ten dollars and you will get a blessing this big. You send me a hundred dollars and you will get a blessing this big. You send me a hundred dollars and you will get a blessing this big;" as though we buy the grace and love and mercy of our Lord. Religion for what we can get out of it; that is what the Lord said to this throng: "You are seeking me, not because of the truth of God or blessing of your soul, but because you ate free loaves and fishes."
Well, when the Lord said that, He then preached to them this sermon, which is recorded in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. And the sermon concerns Himself and He presents Himself in that message as Bread of Heaven and avows that, "If you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you will have eternal life."
The nomenclature, the imagery of it is as strange to us as it was to them: to eat His flesh and to drink His blood. And they strove, the Bible here says, "They strove among themselves and said, ‘This is a hard saying, who can hear it?’" Verse 60, "A hard saying, it is a difficult thing that you ask us to believe. And who can hear it? Who can see or believe such a thing?" Our Lord did that so very much in His teaching of people.
In our preaching throughout the Gospel of John, back yonder in chapter 3, our Lord said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again."
"What in the earth," said Nicodemus, "could you mean by saying a man, a grown man, needs to be born again?" – a hard saying – "Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" – a difficult thing. The Lord did that all the time.
Turn to the next chapter. He is speaking to the Samaritan woman of Sychar and He says to her, "You drink of this water and you will thirst again, but anyone who drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst." And the woman, looking at Him in astonishment, said, "This well is deep and you have nothing to draw with. From whence then hast Thou such living water?" – a difficult saying.
Come with me, further along in the Gospel of John that we have been preaching through. That father, that nobleman in Capernaum, who came down to the Lord in Cana and said, "My son is at the point of death. Heal him, come." And the Lord says to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe." That is, "Are you just seeking a miraculous intervention on My part?" And the father in desperation replies, "O Lord, not that, but my son is at the point and dying. In compassion and goodness and grace, heal him, save him."
The Lord just spoke of it all the time, a hard saying, but one that had great, deep spiritual meaning. And that is this; the Lord says to that throng, "Except you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you. But he that eateth and drinketh [My] flesh and blood shall have eternal life, and I shall raise him up at the last day." [John 6:53, 54]
May I point out here, in passing, that there is an unending and abounding mystery in the person of Christ, into which, it is difficult for us to enter? Being so finite, and He so infinite, when the Lord speaks to us the words of spiritual life, it is hard for us to grasp. Now, this is a brilliant instance of that. When the Lord brings us the truth of God, He, He Himself, He is inextricably bound up in it. You cannot separate our Lord Jesus from what He teaches. They are one. They are bound together.
If you study Plato, what Plato teaches has nothing to do with Plato himself. You can study the classics, the Greek classics of Plato and Aristotle and Xenophon and all of the host of them and you never have to think of it in the terms of the man himself. What Plato says is not connected at all with what Plato was. If you study Aristotle, irrespective of Aristotle, you can study what Aristotle taught. If you study Marcus Aurelius, regardless of what Marcus Aurelius was, you can study what he taught. But you cannot do that with our Lord. He is inextricably bound up with the teaching that He brings to the world. You can’t separate – you can’t separate them.
If you search the springs of a new nature, there you will find Christ Himself. If you cut into the center of a new heart, there you will find the Lord Himself. If you analyze the new birth, you will find Jesus Himself. If you observe a rich and full and holy life, you will find there Jesus our Lord.
If you find a dynamic church, one filled with the unction and Spirit of God in it, there you will find the Lord Jesus. And if you look at the life of a sainted martyr, one who was persecuted and imprisoned and slain. In that martyr’s life you will find the Lord.
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,
And earth and sea gave up their dead,
A fire dissolved this ball;
I saw the church’s ransomed throng,
I heard the burden of their song,
‘Twas this, that Christ is all in all.
[W. A. Williams, "Christ Is All"]
You cannot separate our Lord from the teaching that He brought to our world, this flesh and blood to eat and to drink. It is the Lord Who makes the gospel glorious and powerful and so converting and life saving. "But they said, ‘This is a hard and difficult saying, who can hear it?’ The Lord said to His disciples – the twelve – ‘Doth [this] offend you? Doth this offend you?’" [John 6:60-61]. Then, my text, "From that time onward, many of His disciples forsook Him and left Him and walked no more with Him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve," the English is, "Will ye also go away?" [John 6: 66, 67] The turn of that in the words of our Lord, "Humeis, you, you, you, will you also go away?"
The throng turned their backs upon Him. "We have heard You for the last time, enough is enough, and we are walking with You no longer," and they forsook Him.
Paul, the apostle, experienced that in his swan song in 2 Timothy. He said, "You know that all they that are in Asia have turned from me. And in my trial no man stood by me." Forsaking God, forsaking our Lord; why do men do that? There are several reasons that are very apparent. They no longer desire Him. They no longer are charmed by Him or drawn to Him. They are disillusioned. They have lost their desire to follow Him.
These that I am speaking of in this chapter, these are they that, in verse 15 sought to make Him a king. "He can lead us against Caesar, He can bring us independence. We cannot help but triumph with someone, who, with a few loaves can feed five thousand and can raise the dead. If our soldiers are killed, He can raise them back to life. He can feed an army on a handful of food." They sought to make Him a king.
Well, what’s the matter now, when they leave Him? The answer is plain. When they learned that His kingdom was spiritual and that He had in it and for them no political advantage and no material gain, they left Him. They were in it for what they could get out of it. And when they couldn’t get anything out of it, they forsook Him. That is why people leave Him today: no particular advantage in serving the Lord, no political advancement, no material gain. And because the kingdom is of the heart and of the soul and of the spirit, they forsook Him.
Or look again. Why do people leave our Lord? Because of the cost of discipleship. They want a cheap salvation, one that costs nothing.
When our Lord says, "If anyone come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me," [Luke 9:23] or when the Lord says, "Let a man deny himself and live for God and live for the kingdom," they say, "No, the things that we have cherished in our hearts are dearer to us than anything that God could ever promise us."
It is the same story of the rich young ruler. God, our Lord, never, never meant to say to the rich, young ruler that your riches deny your entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Zacchaeus was a rich man; the Lord never said anything like that to him. Nicodemus was a wealthy man. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man. Well, why say to this young man, "You get rid of your riches and you can come and follow me and have treasure in heaven"?
The reason is his heart was in the world. His heart was in his wealth. His heart was in his riches. He loved them more than he loved God and he turned aside. He left. There are many who do so today. It costs too much to give up what they have in order to serve the Lord Jesus. Why do people leave our Lord today? Because they love the world.
Our wonderful apostle Paul said of Demas, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" [2 Timothy 4:10]. He fell in love with the wrong world and he left Paul and the kingdom of God for this present world, enjoying the pleasures of this life for a season.
Why do people leave Christ? I could speak of a multitude of things. Following the crowd. All of this throng followed the Lord Jesus. When the throng left the Lord Jesus, they left also – whatever is popular, whatever is the "in thing" to do. Particularly our young people are like that. They follow the throng. They follow the crowd. They follow the group.
Why do people leave the Lord Jesus? Because they are not really converted. In 1 John chapter 2, the apostle says, "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]. They are not really converted.
If any man ever knows the Lord Jesus as his personal Savior, no matter what the providence of life, there is a pull on the inside of his heart to our Lord that he can never get away from, that he can never deny, and he can never escape. It is like a glacier that is pulled out of the mountains, down to the seas.
Upon a day, I was coming from Alaska, down that inward passage, in an airplane flying down that coast. I happened to be seated by a man who had been, over twenty years, on that journey from Alaska to America. It was a clear day, which was very unusual. And as we flew down that inland passage, he pointed out and he said, "Do you see that glacier there? That glacier there is larger then the state of Rhode Island." And that vast, vast, vast, vast river of ice, going down to the sea, and there, breaking down into icebergs. That is the way that a Christian is, a child of God. There is a pull. There is a gravity that pulls him to the Lord. He cannot escape it. It is like the tide of the sea that climbs the shoreline. Inevitably, powerfully, movingly, it moves.
I was in Panama where the arch of the country is. And standing there, I watched the tide, over twenty five feet high and coming inland nineteen miles: the pulling of that great ocean. That is the way it is with a Christian. There is a tide in his soul. There is a pull toward Christ that you cannot escape. I do not care what you do. It is there. It is a part of you.
It is like this planet earth spinning. Why doesn’t it fling itself out into the infinity of space beyond? Because of the pull of the sun, it is held in orbit by the gravity of the sun, the pull of the sun. That is the way we are with our Lord. Why don’t we go away? We cannot. You cannot. If you have ever been saved, if you know the Lord is your Savior, if you were to try to sit down and plan a program of separation between you and your Lord, you cannot do it.
There is a pull in the Lord. There is an attraction in the Lord. There is a gravity in Him. And no matter what the providence of life, you are drawn to that Savior, you cannot deny it.
So, Simon Peter answers when the Lord says, "Will you also go away?" Simon Peter said, "Lord, to whom would we go, to whom would we turn? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we know, we are sure that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world" [John 6: 68, 69].
You know, in the life of Simon Peter there are two, there are two instances, providences of great pathos: one is in the sorrowing look, and one is in the sorrowing question. And in both of them, Simon Peter comes to the Lord, stands by the Lord.
The first one, the sorrowing look; Simon Peter is in the courtyard warming himself by the fire, talking to those people out there while Jesus is on trial for His life to be crucified within a few hours. And a little girl, a little maid, standing there in the courtyard and turned to him and pointed and said, "You are one of His disciples, you talk like Him, you are a Galilean."
And Simon Peter said, "You think I talk like Him, you listen to this," and he swore a blue streak, he cursed and he denied that he even knew Him. And in his cursing and in his denying, the Lord turned and He looked upon Peter. And the Book says, "He went out and wept bitterly."
Now, the second one; the Lord says to him one of the most pathetic questions that could ever arise out of the life of our Savior, "Will you, you" – the emphasis is on that "you" – "do you fellow, wish, choose, do you wish, do you wish to go away? You, do you? All of the throng has left, all of them. The thousands have left. Do you also choose to leave?" And Simon Peter answers his finest and his best, "Lord, if I leave You, where should I go, to whom would I turn?"
We who have found refuge in Christ can so sympathize with that avowal of God’s chiefest apostle. Lord, Lord, if we turn from you, we turn to dark despair, to the hopelessness and helplessness in life. Our hope and our life are in Thee. If you have Jesus, you have everything, both in this world and the world to come.
There was a fisherman rowing his little boat on a creek in South Carolina. And as he rowed his little boat along the creek, why, he came where there was an old, broken-down, log cabin up there on the bank. And standing at the door of that old, broken-down, log cabin was an old, Negro mammy. Her kinky hair was white. The age of life had wrinkled and lined her face. And the years of toil had bent her over.
And he stopped his boat and looking up and said cheerily, "Auntie, auntie, good morning. Do you live there alone, by yourself?" And she replied, "Yes sir, master, yes sir, just Jesus and me, just Jesus and me." And that fisherman said, he said, "You know, when I looked at that old, bent figure in that cabin, I thought I saw somebody standing behind her. And the form of that somebody was like unto the Son of God." Just Jesus and me; that is enough, enough for this life, enough for the hour of death, enough at the great judgment bar of Almighty God, and enough for entrance into heaven; just Jesus and me.
I cannot go it alone.
The waves run fast and high,
And the fog’s close chill around,
And the light goes out in 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 or steers with me.
And I know that we two
Shall come safe into port –
His child and He.
Coward and wayward and weak,
I change with the changing sky.
Today so eager and brave,
Tomorrow not willing to try.
But He never gives in,
And I know we shall win –
Jesus and I.
[J.R. Miller, Streams In The Desert"]
It is a glorious thing, a wonderful thing to have a friend in the Lord Jesus. And that is why we preach and pray and make appeal to your heart: loving, coming to, praying to, serving our wonderful Lord Jesus. Now may we pray?
Our Lord, would God we had the voice of an angel to proclaim the gracious goodness of our blessed Savior. O Lord, He is everything to us. In age He is our life. In death He is our Savior. At the great judgment bar of Almighty God He is our advocate. And in heaven, He is our eternal joy and salvation; O Lord that the whole world would bow in the presence of our Lord Jesus. Our Father in heaven bless Thou the appeal we make for Thy Son and our Savior. In a moment Lord when we sing our hymn, may it please Thee to bring to our Lord trophies of grace. These, "I am taking Him as my Savior today;" these, "I am coming into the fellowship of God’s church today;" these, "I am joining the family of the Lord today;" and to some, "I am answering the call of the Spirit of God in my heart." Our Lord give us that gracious harvest to bring to the feet of our precious Savior, in whose dear name we pray, amen.
In this minute when we stand, down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles on this lower floor, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I stand." Do it and may angels attend you in the way while you come while we stand and while we sing.