While walking around the zoo, I don’t intentionally listen in to visitor’s conversations, but some comments are impossible not to hear. Today, I had the high and the low of the overheard comments. In the morning, I was cleaning one of the small, glass-fronted bird exhibits. I know full well that I look ridiculous in there, ducking under the short ceiling and twisting myself around the perches. People often make comments or jokes, thinking that I can’t hear them through the glass. This morning, a little boy stopped in front of the exhibit and cried, “Whoa! How did that fat person get in there?” Gee, thanks kid. In the afternoon, I was washing the outside of the windows on those same exhibits. A man walked past one I had already washed and said, “Mmmm, it smells clean in here.” Why thank you, sir. We try.
Thinking about these two spontaneous comments made me remember a conversation I had with a lady from my church. We were talking about how many “feel good” churches there are today, where the preacher is more worried about how his sermons make people feel than about what they teach the congregation. She mentioned the fact that our pastor isn’t one of those preachers. And we appreciate that about him. He speaks from his heart, and is more interested in passing along the message God gave him than in whether or not someone will be uncomfortable with it. I said that that was just like Jesus. He didn’t pull punches with His messages. He said whatever was necessary at the moment, even if it was unpopular or difficult to digest.
There was actually a time when Jesus spoke directly to people who found His message distasteful. He had been speaking to His followers about the day to come when He would be sacrificed for them. He compared His life giving sacrifice to the act of eating bread to live. John 6:53-58 “So Jesus said to them, ‘I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, because My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood lives in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the manna your fathers ate – and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever’.” Some of the people hearing this were justifiably confused but others were truly upset. Verse 60 says, “Therefore, when many of His disciples heard this, they said, ‘This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?'” Now, Jesus may not have overheard their comment, but He knew about it and responded. “Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were complaining about this, asked them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to observe the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some among you who don’t believe’.” (verses 61-64a) Jesus knew their hearts. He knew they were following Him for reasons other than wanting to hear His true message. They liked the prestige of following a respected teacher or they liked being able to tell their friends about the miracles He performed. But as soon as Jesus got down to the core of His message, they decided it was to much for them. They weren’t fooling Jesus. “For Jesus knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray Him. He said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father’.” (verses 64b-65) That was the last straw for many of His followers. Verse 66 says, “From that moment, many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him.”
Throughout His ministry on Earth, Jesus had many different messages. He had some that were totally pleasant, pronouncing blessings or praising the faithful. Many others were difficult to hear. All were the right thing to say at the right time. That’s how I think God wants all of the men He calls to be preachers to be: willing to say whatever needs to be said, even if it might drive some people away. Chances are, those people are ones Jesus knows from the beginning will not believe.