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Sermon by Rev. Mark Covington, Pastor
First United Methodist Church
March 11, 2012
(Third Sunday in Lent)
Topic: “Do You Also Wish to Go Away?”
Why did the people who followed Jesus around, follow him around?
We have this image that it was just Jesus and the twelve walking around but often we are told of the crowds. Why were the people following him?
We would like to believe that it was because they all had heard the Good News and were anxious to be a part of the new kingdom. But that was hardly the case.
Some followed him because of what he could do for them. The event of our text took place not long after Jesus fed 5000 people and took up baskets of food when everyone’s belly was full. So some had seen what he could do for them and wanted to be there for the next dinner on the ground.
Some followed him because they had seen or heard of the wonders that he had done and they didn’t want to miss it when he did another. After feeding the 5000 Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him across the lake and during that night he came to them, walking on the water. Now who would want to miss seeing that if he did it again or if he healed someone or called out some demon?
Some followed him to try and catch him saying something treasonous against the king. They questioned Jesus about such things as paying taxes and this audacious claim of being king of the Jews. They asked him was it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. This was a good one. If he answered yes, they thought they would have him accepting Roman rule, something they would never stand for and if he answered no they could tell the Roman authorities that he was telling people not to pay taxes. Jesus asked them for a coin and asked them whose likeness it was on the coin. They answered that it was Caesar’s likeness. He then told then to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s.
Some followed him to see if they could catch him saying something blasphemous. Once the Sadducees came to him and asked him a question about the resurrection. They asked him whose wife would a woman be if she married a man, who died, and then married his brother, who died. This happened until she had married all seven brothers. “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”
Some followed because they saw him as the best hope of ridding themselves of Roman rule and wanted to be there to be a part of it when it happened.
As the end of Jesus’ life drew closer the conflict with the Jewish authorities escalated until they were willing to say or do anything to keep their position and authority.
So it was not just the thirteen of them strolling down the dusty roads but at times great throngs of people following along.
Jesus knew that these people were following him for many different reasons. And then one day he says something that causes people to pause, and ultimately, causes some to quit following.
He talked about those who were following him eating his flesh and drinking his blood and indicated that the only way to God was through him.
Suddenly there was silence, and then a commotion as first one or two and then a great number turned and walked away.
They were on board when his sayings were popular. They were there when there when the miracles astounded and the food flowed freely. But when it got hard, they caught the bus back home.
Some left because they didn’t understand what he was saying and didn’t hang around long enough to find out. They are the ones that were astounded at the miracles and wanted to see him do something else. They were the ones whose bellies were full and they wanted to be fed again. They were the ones that assumed what Jesus said was to be taken literally.
They are the ones that as long as they get their way in church they are on board. They are the ones that as long as they can sit in a pew on Sunday and live the way they want on Monday, they are with you. They are the ones that love the church as long as the church makes no demands on them but when it does, they are not going to hang around long. They are the ones that as long as “their” church is “their” church everything is good; but when “their” church tries to become “Christ’s church” then it is bye bye.
Then there were those who stopped following Jesus because they understood all too well what he was saying. These are the ones that realized that Jesus was the Messiah and that following him was going to mean sacrifice and hardship. These are the ones that realized that they were going to have to “do” and not just “be.”
We are not told how many leave and how many go but I believe it is shortly after this that Jesus sends the 70 out (Luke 10) and so there must have been more than the 12 that stayed.
It’s not as if this is the only hard thing he ever said. He had told them that they had to deny mother, and brother, and sister, to follow him. He had told them that they had to turn the other cheek. But this one was the last straw. They didn’t even want to hang around long enough to listen to him explain or to try to understand. They were out of there.
After they are gone Jesus looks at his disciples and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Well, do you?
When it gets hard are you going to run? When it gets difficult are you going to go away? If “your” church tries to be “Christ’s” church are you going to go away?
So often Peter opens his mouth and says something strange. Not this time. He answers Jesus’ question, “Do you also wish to go away?” by saying, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Well do you also wish to go away? Or do you know, as Peter knew, that there is nowhere you would rather be than here, with Christ.