“The Hard Road vs. The Easy Road”

John 6:60-69


            Road A or Road B.  You know nothing about what looms beyond what you can see nor do you know where each road leads, but you have to choose.  Faced with this decision you would probably start asking some questions, looking for some sort of clue in order to help determine which option is better, which road is the right choice.  It’s a hard decision … which one do you choose.

            You know, at some point in time, we all find ourselves standing at that very point.  We find ourselves at a fork in the road and having to make a decision.  Sometimes there are clues, sometimes there are people to ask who can help us make that decision. 

            Two options … two roads.  One may look daunting and rough while the other may look easy and smooth.  Which way do you go?

            In a way, that is what Jesus is asking the disciples in the Gospel lesson this morning.  The last couple of weeks, the gospel reading has been from John 6.  The beginning of the chapter was about Jesus feeding the 5,000.  And really it was much more than this because John says that “the men sat down, about five thousand of them” (John 6:10).  After they sit, Jesus takes the five loaves of bread and two fish, blesses them, and then feeds the multitude.

            Evening comes and Jesus tells the disciples to go on ahead of him to the other side of the lake.  Ducking away from the crowd, Jesus takes some time for himself.  After a while, he goes out to the struggling disciples by walking on the water.  Once the sun comes up, the group who were fed with five loaves of bread and two fish, they realize that Jesus and the disciples are gone.  So they too head to the other side of the lake.

            Once the crowd catches up with Jesus, he begins to teach them using this image of bread.  Jesus begins to teach them about how unlike the bread which came down from heaven to their forefathers in the wilderness, how that bread which they picked up off the desert floor only temporarily filled their bellies, how that bread eventually spoiled and got moldy … Jesus is different.  Jesus is the bread of life.  Jesus is the bread of life which had come down from heaven which doesn’t spoil.  Jesus is the bread of life which is here to fill and give life, to give eternal life to those who believe in him. 

            But the people on hearing this start grumbling, just like their forefathers in the wilderness after they left Egypt.  These people, they can’t wrap their minds around Jesus’ teaching.  Here Jesus is saying he is from heaven, that he is from God and yet the people know that he was born to Mary and Joseph.  It doesn’t make sense.

            It doesn’t make sense to them when Jesus says that those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood will live forever.  They can’t wrap their minds around the idea that Jesus, that belief in Jesus as the Savior equals eternal life. 

            These disciples of Jesus … through this conversation have been drawn down the hard road with Jesus.  They see this road as one with all kinds of bumps, hills, valleys and curves.  They aren’t exactly sure where it is going and they aren’t liking that idea.  So they begin to argue sharply; they begin to really start yelling at each other. 

            Even though Jesus is probably frustrated at this point, he tries again to explain in terms of bread, something which there are familiar with, that if they believe in him, if they make him a part of who they are, they will live forever. 

            But these disciples, these followers want no part of it.  They say, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (6:60).  Jesus is like, “Seriously? What if I showed you another miracle, then would you believe? The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (6:62-63). 

            At this, at being offended, at being tripped up by Jesus’ words … many of his disciples turned back, they gave up following Jesus and went about their own way (6:66). 

            The days of using a map or an atlas to get from point a to point b are for the most part gone.  Most people now have smart phones and so they just simply ask Google or Siri to lay out their course.  The default course is the quickest and shortest course possible.  You can set it so it will avoid highways, avoid tolls and avoid ferries.  GPS is great, GPS is easy.  As you drive along, it will tell about slowdowns, speed traps, and will even help reroute you if there is a faster way because of construction or traffic.  We like easy.

            The disciples, the followers of Jesus like easy too.  In John’s gospel, they love Jesus when he is doing signs, when he is performing miracles.  After the feeding of the 5,000 and the fact that there were twelve full baskets of leftovers, the people were amazed.  John says that the people began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14).  They had been waiting for this prophet to show up so they could live in peace and harmony again.  But knowing that the crowd was going to make him king by force, Jesus got out of there.  The people thought life would be great and easy if Jesus was their political king.

            We, like the disciples, we like easy.  I mean who doesn’t like easy?  The GPS for your school plans is set, especially since we just had registration this past week.  The GPS for your career, your retirement, your life in general, we set them and then put ourselves on cruise control.  We like easy.  Instead of setting the GPS to avoid highways, tolls, and ferries … we set it to avoid hardships, avoid trials, and the frustration of the unknown.  Like the disciples, we like the easy road.

            But we all know … life isn’t always easy.  Oh sure, there are times when the road is straight and smooth and things are wonderful.  But there are other times when the road rough.  And by rough I’m not talking like the interstate on the way to Mt. Vernon or because there are potholes and washboards.  I’m talking rough like getting stuck in the mud, having to go through raging water, and trying to navigate through uneven terrain. 

            Following Jesus, listening to his teachings, taking them to heart and inwardly digesting them, making them a part of the very fabric of our being … that’s a hard road to travel on.  It’s a road which at times may seem impassible.  It’s a road where traps are going to be set.  It’s a road which says to give up your idols, give up your addictions, give up your laziness.  It’s a road which will test your faith to the nth degree.  Jesus says in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” 

            The way of Jesus, the road to eternal life through him … it’s not an easy walk in the park.  It’s a road which is actually impossible for you and me to follow.  No matter how hard we try, no matter what kind of resources we try to us, no matter what … following Jesus is a hard road to travel on. 

            Jesus’ closest disciples, the twelve disciples he hand-picked … they know it.  They know that following Jesus isn’t going to be easy.  As other followers are walking away from Jesus, Jesus asks his closest disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67).

            Peter’s response?  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68).  Notice Peter doesn’t say where shall we go, but to whom shall we go.  Peter knows, the other disciples know … there’s nowhere to go which will be easy.  There is no such thing as an easy road.  Even though some fell away from Jesus, even though some still today do not follow Christ … their life is still full of hardships.  We might be able to avoid highways, tolls, and ferries … but no one is exempt from hardships, trials, and the frustration of the future.  Satan, sin, the world, and our own flesh make this life of ours hard.

            I get it, all this sounds rather dismal.  It’s no wonder that some of the followers of Jesus turned away.  Who wants to follow someone if it is going to require going through valleys of deep darkness and climbing rugged and jagged mountains only to suffer and die?

            We do.  Follow Jesus knowing that he is with you, his rod and staff comfort you.  Jesus leads you and me through the valley of deep darkness to a place with green pastures and quiet waters. 

            We follow along the hard road in this life because we know that Jesus is the very bread of heaven, the source of eternal life.  We follow along the hard road because we know that one day, one day when Jesus returns, “every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed and all people will see it together” (Isaiah 40:4-5).  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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