John 6:66 (EHV) After this, many of his disciples turned back and were not walking with him anymore.
Rejection is hard. Ask the teenager who finally built up the courage to invite their crush to the dance but got denied. It’s the feeling when the promotion you worked so hard to get was given to someone else. It’s getting a letter back from your dream college without the word ‘accepted’ anywhere in it. No one enjoys going through rejection. The same must have been true for our Warrior Jesus.
There were people that he’d been preaching to and performing miracles for. They came to him in crowds. Not long before this, thousands came to him even when they had no food. They were disciples, people who looked to him for teaching, who saw him as their leader.
But what do we hear? From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Something Jesus had said was too much. It wasn’t the healing or explaining what God’s Word said. It was this: he told them that he was the bread of life, the way for people to have salvation. Many disciples had been with him up to this point, but when he said that he was God, that he was the Savior, they decided not to go with him anymore. They rejected him.
You don’t reject a great leader, you get behind them. People want to play football with Tom Brady because of how he leads. Soldiers are ready to die because they trust their commander’s orders are good. Millions walked with Martin Luther King Jr. because he led them in the right way. And none of them come close to Jesus. It’s crazy that so many didn’t want to follow Jesus’ lead.
That’s what the twelve thought about Jesus. When everyone else left he asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. No matter what these crowds did, they were not going to leave Jesus. They knew they needed to follow him.
That is, until it meant following him to the cross. Even the twelve struggled with rejecting him. They had all made promises hours earlier but when they arrested Jesus, no one went with him. The twelve left him and ran away. They knew Jesus was leading them in the right direction but they ended up rejecting him too.
Do you see yourself in any of these disciples? When you know how big your sins are and doubt that Jesus could still be enough to be your salvation, it’s easy to turn away from him. Or maybe it’s when God’s enemies look strong and following behind Jesus means suffering and pain that you are ready to abandon him too. You and I know that Jesus is the chosen Warrior God promised to win salvation for us and we still struggle with rejecting him.
But a win changes everything. Two years ago what people thought was impossible happened. In the history of the NCAA college basketball tournament, no #1 seed team had ever lost to a #16 seed team. And that’s why almost no one got behind UMBC. They were supposed to be crushed by #1 Virginia. But they weren’t. UMBC dominated and won. And because they won and did the impossible, so many people got behind them.
A win changed everything. The rejected Warrior Jesus kept going all the way to the cross where he was rejected by the Father. Jesus took on the sins of the whole world, including sins when people rejected him, and he defeated them. Alone, the Warrior did what no one else could do, win forgiveness. We see him rejected by many but we know, he wins. And because he wins, we do too.
So follow him. The enemy is tough. The devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful nature fight to make us doubt his goodness and his power to save. And that’s why God calls us to follow him and win. When the enemies are tough, get closer to Jesus in his Word, in remembering your baptism, in regularly coming to the Lord’s Supper. God will strengthen you and encourage you and equip you to follow behind the Warrior, your leader. This must have been a hard time for Jesus. He knew that all the people who were walking away from him were walking away from the one thing they needed most. He was the bread of life, the living water. And he had come to bring life to the world. He was the Warrior God had sent him to be. A Warrior rejected but not defeated. A Warrior rejected but victorious. So during this season of Lent, let’s thank God for our Warrior. Let’s grow closer to him and take time to be in his Word. Let’s confess along with the twelve, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Amen.