New Testament Week 12: “This is an hard saying” – Matt 14-15, Mark 6-7, John 5-6

This week’s chapters mark both the beginning of the end of His two years in Galilee and the preparation time for the apostles. Soon their journey to Judea will begin and will culminate with the Lord’s death and resurrection. You can sense the pressure Jesus feels in preparing his apostles as well as His other disciples. Unfortunately, most of His followers will still struggle to understand His mission even though He will continue to become more explicit in declaring that He is the Messiah and that He will die and be resurrected.

Before we jump into the lesson plan, I want to lay out the plan for the upcoming weeks of posts. On April 14th I am going to post the lessons for Weeks 13-14 (Combined in the manual) and Week 16. So that will be Matthew 16-18, Mark 9, Luke 9-10. I am going post an essay on my faith in Jesus Christ for Easter Sunday, and then we will be back on schedule.

This week as we challenge ourselves on being disciples, we will come across the first time where Jesus loses some of His closest disciples. They can no longer follow Him, as the challenge is too great. I think it is common for us to have moments like this in our own discipleship, but I hope what we learn from these chapters can help us keep going when it is hard.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 12 – Matt 14-15, Mark 6-7, John 5-6

– Jesus is the bread of life and we should make our relationship with Him our most life sustaining priority.

– We must continue in our discipleship even when faced with “hard sayings” from our leaders, from the lord, and from our fellow disciples.

– Sometimes our faith can be tested before blessings come.

Context and Timeline:
– We are back in John this week and so we get to experience Signs 3, 4, and 5 of the Seven Signs in these chapters: Sabbath Healing at the Pool of Bethesda, Feeding the 5,000, and Walking on Water. Remember in John’s method of writing he presents the sign and then gives a messianic message associated with the sign.

– John is the best account for measuring the time of Jesus’s ministry, as there are 4 Passover feasts celebrated in his Ministry. These chapters will span two of them. Passover is the Jewish celebration of when the firstborn children of Israel were passed over while the Egyptian firstborn were killed. This led to the salvation of Israel by Moses and their flight into Judea.

– The Pools of Bethesda were associated with the pagan healing pools of Asclepius and there was a superstition that when the water was still that the first new movement of the water was caused by an angel. The first person to enter the pools after this movement would be the one who was healed.

– Remember that Herod of Antipas was never a king. He and his siblings were made tetrarchs by the Romans after the death of their father Herod. Herod of Antipas was given the rule of the northern kingdom of Israel and since that is where the majority of Jesus ministry took place, he is the ruler that is heavily involved later when Jesus is prosecuted.

– The narratives can be confusing, but Herodias was the wife of Herod of Antipas and John condemned them because Herodias was formerly the wife of Herod’s brother Phillip. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and she danced for Herod not Herodias.

– I think it is important that when Jesus sends his apostles on their mission, he tells them to wear sandals and not two tunics. He wanted them to be comfortable and accepted among the lower classes of people.

– The fourth watch was 3:00 AM – 6:00 AM.

– Stadia is a unit of measurement close to 600 feet long. So, when Jesus went to help the disciples in the storm, the ships were close to 3.5 miles into the sea or about half way to their destination.

– The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle in all 4 gospel accounts. The 5,000 is also only counting men, so there were potentially over 10,000 people there.

– Tradition of the Elders was a list created as an oral tradition by Jewish leaders. The list includes not scattering more than one seed or it was considered planting, plucking one blade of grass, remove a dead leaf, rubbing wheat stalks (considered threshing and Jesus did this often), rub mud off a dress, spit on the ground and rub it with your foot, carry food larger than an olive, carry enough ink to write two letter, carry a pebble, etc. You get it, it was crazy.

– When we hear Jesus talking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood we think immediately to the sacrament. However, it is important to remember that had not been instituted or even spoken about before Jesus speaks about it in the Bread of Life sermon.

– Tyre and Sidon were towns outside of Israel and home to a large Gentile population, but it would have been a safe haven for Jesus.

– When Jesus calls the Gentiles dogs, it can be translated as “little dogs” and has a softer meaning than how it reads traditionally. However, it was still a hostile description for the Greek woman’s ancestry, one that would have the potential to offend deeply.

The chronological narrative is tricky at this point, but we begin with Jesus around the time of His second Passover in Jerusalem. This is the only gospel account that has Jesus traveling to Jerusalem during this period, but it makes sense considering the length of time that passes during the Galilean ministry. Jesus performs his 3rd Sign as He walks into the pools of Bethesda and heals a man who had been paralyzed many years. Before the man can get His name, Jesus slips out the back door. The man claims to have been healed but is accused of breaking the Sabbath by the Pharisees. Later, the man runs into Jesus at the temple and realizes the Savior was his healer. The man quickly tells the Pharisees, who John calls The Jews, in order to justify his Sabbath breaking. The Pharisees confront Jesus again for breaking the Sabbath and this time Jesus teaches them about His relationship with God the Father.

The teachings in this chapter about God the Father and God the Son are very important as they point to a familial relationship with God. We are the children of God and even though Jesus was also a God, He was a son as well. I think this is important to us because it allows God to be more real to us. From the Pharisee’s point of view, Jesus was declaring that He was the Messiah and whatever He does it is what He has learned from God the Father. He was making sure that they knew His authority was a higher authority than theirs. This was a blatant form of blasphemy and is likely the reason they began sending spies to follow him in Galilee.

After Jesus returns to Galilee, he visits Nazareth again. After the events His first rejection, He may have been hoping to convince His family and community to believe, but He is rejected again and leaves. This is around the same time that He sent the apostles on their mission. He tells them to go humbly and to teach and heal and spread the word.

Next we are brought into a flashback of Herod, who has just learned about Jesus’s followers going all over the kingdom spreading the gospel. He is very upset and asks if this movement of John will never die. He had hoped it would die when John was killed. We then learn about the circumstances surrounding John’s execution. Herodias had desired John to be killed from the time he condemned their marriage. However, Herod was worried about an uprising and so he wanted to just keep John in prison.

Eventually, Herodias and her daughter Salome conspire to bring about John’s death by seducing Herod into making an oath to Salome to give her anything she wants. She asks for John’s head on a platter and Herod has no choice but to comply with the oath he made in front of the influential people in the room when Salome danced for them.

It isn’t clear who brings Jesus the news of John’s death, but it seems probable that the apostles, who had been on their missions in the surrounding areas, brought the news back with them when they returned. Jesus is overwhelmed and most likely sad when he asks for his apostles to follow him to a secluded place where can rest. They board on a boat and head off somewhere to recover from their travails.

Another year has passed by this point, and the Passover has come again. Many people are traveling and a large group of them notice Jesus coming ashore. They are obviously unaware of the great burden of John’s death or the Lord’s desire to reconnect with His friends after their return. However, despite His feelings, Jesus has compassion on the multitude and instructs His disciples to feed and minister to the people.

The 4th Sign of Jesus’s Divinity occurs when the Lord and His disciples take five loaves of bread and two fish and feeds 5,000 men and all their women and children. The disciples do not believe it is possible at first, but Jesus commands them to do it anyway and the entire crowd is not just fed but filled. After having fed everyone, the Lord sends his apostles away and promises to meet them later. He needs to be alone, finally, and so He goes up the mountain, which generally means a place to commune with God.

The apostles take their boats into the sea, but about halfway into their journey they are beset by another large storm. This time Jesus is not with them and they are afraid they will die. Then in the distance they see someone walking toward them, I am not sure how they even saw anything as it was between 3 and 6 AM, but that may be why He is usually depicted as being illuminated in paintings. Eventually, they realize it is Jesus and Peter asks if He can also walk on water. Jesus invites him into the water and Peter begins to actually walk on the water like Jesus. Peter is overwhelmed by the storm and waves, and his fear leads him to begin sinking in the water. Jesus saves him and says something that seems harsh, “oh ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I tend to look at this a little differently, I think this is a metaphor for us all. We all have a little faith, enough to see part of the whole picture, but the world around us drowns out our faith. However, the Lord is always there to extend His hand and help our faith. Admitting we need the Lord will help our faith grow, and eventually we will have the faith we are capable of.

When Jesus and His followers arrive at their destination, the crowd whom they fed before has made the journey to find them. They are hungry again. They look at Jesus as free food. This is a little frustrating to Jesus and so this time he teaches the Bread of Life sermon to them. He teaches them that He is the bread of life and if they will make Him their priority they will always be filled. They still want some food, so Jesus then says that they need to eat His flesh and drink His blood or they will have NO life in them.

Many people immediately quit following Him including some disciples, and then Pharisees who have come from Jerusalem to follow the Savior confront him about his comments about eating flesh and drinking blood. They were unclean things and made no sense to them on the surface, although they most likely knew what Jesus was alluding to. He responds more forcefully by saying that His flesh and blood are the only true drink and food, and if they will eat then He will be in them and they will be one with God. He then compares Himself to the precious Manna from their stories. There are not many things that would have been more blasphemous to these Pharisees. However, they were not the only ones offended, as now even some of His closest disciples decided to quit following him. This was too hard of a saying.

Jesus, seemingly worried that his closes apostles would leave as well, asks them if they will go away also. Peter responds that He isn’t going anywhere, and that even though he may not understand the teaching, Peter knows Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus then confirms to them that they are His chosen twelve to lead. I will discuss this episode in greater detail below.

In Matthew’s account the confrontation with the Pharisees is regarding the fact that the disciples do not wash their hands when they eat. This leads to Jesus mocking the “traditions of the elders” they have created. He then states that what comes out of us is more important than what we consume. Our hearts are the source of our righteousness or wickedness.

It is possible that the reason Jesus decides to leave to the north is because He is worried about being arrested to soon, but in any case, he heads to the land north of Israel. He eventually arrives in Tyre and Sidon and the only story we really get in this area is an interesting experience with a Greek woman of Syro-Phoenician decent. She is clearly a Gentile woman and she asks to be healed. Jesus initially refuses, saying that He is come to minister to Israel and not to dogs. A pretty harsh rebuke, especially when we know that Jesus has already willingly healed Gentile people already. However, the woman is undeterred and says, even the dogs eat the crumbs of the bread the children (Israel) eat. Jesus then rewards her faith and her daughter is healed. I tend to think Jesus took the position He did in order to test her faith, rather than make a point about Israel and Gentiles.

We finish the narrative of these chapters with Jesus returning, temporarily to Capernaum where He heals a deaf man and feeds another 4,000 men not counting women and children. There is not much time left in the areas of Galilee and I wonder if that is the reason Jesus decides to feed another large crowd in a different area. He knows He will not be returning and loves them.

Feeding over five thousand people with some loaves of bread and fish is hard to believe. Do we really believe in miracles? Do we really believe the Lord will provide when it seems it is impossible?

When we think of Peter’s willingness to walk on water with Jesus, and then his failure, what does that mean to us? How can we relate with both sides? to Jesus watching us fail? to Peter who has just failed?

How would you react when someone close to you had died and you wanted to be alone, and a crowd of people you did not know needed your attention right then? Would we have compassion like the Savior? Is having compassion for others a method for helping with grief and loss?

What traditions or folk theology do we hold onto that makes it harder to be close to the Savior and to others? Do we create folk traditions with our kids that could be detrimental when they are adults? How can we teach more principle-based living instead of rules and traditions?

Key Moment or Scripture: John 6:60-61, 66-69
60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
61 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

I highly recommend everyone read the book “Becoming the Beloved Disciple” by Eric Huntsman. The book dedicates an entire chapter to this scripture set. The crowds, having been fed earlier by Jesus, were enthusiastic to follow Him but their commitment waned as His teachings became harder for them to follow. The path of a disciple is challenging, and in many ways it will challenge us in ways most difficult for each of us. These disciples, like so many I have come across, have “went away” because of “hard sayings.”

There are limitless “hard sayings” to face in our discipleship: life-long illness, lost loved ones, shattered dreams, children with disabilities, failed marriages, challenging historical points, policies we do not agree with, cultural norms that offend, disparity in gender roles, former and current attitudes about race, confusing doctrines, fellow disciples that abuse, corrupt, and take advantage, behavior of leaders of the church, and so many more. Hard sayings are part of being a disciple.

We can easily become so rigid in our political, cultural, scientific, and religious or philosophical world views that it can make “hard sayings” occur more often or with greater distress. However, Peter and Jesus have an interaction that is so beautiful if fills me with emotion. Jesus asks Peter, “will you also go away?” That is such a tender question, and I imagine Jesus asking me, “Jared, will you also go away?” Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” He didn’t refute that the sayings were hard or agree with Jesus’s teachings. Instead, he adds, “thou hast the word of eternal life and we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter, in essence, is saying he doesn’t understand or even agree with the “hard saying”, but he believes in Jesus Christ and has faith in him being the Christ, the Savior, the One who will right all wrongs.

In my own personal life, I have come across many “hard sayings”, some are still very hard, but I believe in Jesus Christ and remain committed to being a disciple. I believe that being a disciple when things are difficult builds the kind of faith that brings increased peace, greater understanding, deeper love for others, and the personal spiritual experiences we are seeking.

Final Thoughts:
I am halfway through Lent and so far I have had a few very special spiritual experiences. One of them happened while preparing this lesson. I truly believe that God will bless us when we try to exercise faith. I know it is hard, but I think the difficulty is meant to help us see what we are capable of when we keep trying and keep asking Jesus Christ for help.