In John 6, Jesus is being chased around the Sea of Galilee by a large crowd. He’s healed terrible diseases, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and taught with great authority. Things were going so well the crowd was planning to make Him king by force. In modern language, Jesus was a rock star.
What would you have been thinking if you were one of the disciples? “Surely this is the moment. You’ve got them eating out of Your hands … literally! Use Your power to make them follow You.”
But in one of the countless ways Jesus defies expectations, He doesn’t capitalize on His fame. Desiring true disciples over admiring crowds, He proclaims harder – even potentially offensive – teachings. The result?
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. (John 6:60, 66)
What happens next is staggering. Jesus didn’t beg or run after them to clarify: “Wait, I got a little carried away. Let me rephrase.” He let them walk away. And then, as if to drive the point home, He turned and said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
I’m not saying we should select the most difficult passages in the Bible to scare people away. But if our goal is the same as that of Jesus – true discipleship and life-change – we have to be willing to let people walk away. Jesus always honored the dignity and choices of those He met. Remember the rich young ruler. The unrepentant criminal on the cross. You and me.
In our work at Hope International, we give clients the opportunity to choose: to be a client of a Christian organization; to participate in times of Bible study; and, increasingly, to engage in deep discipleship opportunities outside of regular meetings. When people choose to attend a Bible study led by local pastors or talk with their loan officer about troubles they’re facing, these choices are some of the best indicators we have of hearts moving toward Christ.
So as you share Jesus with friends, neighbors, or family, remember that if Jesus honored others’ choices to walk away, there will be times when we need to do the same. Giving others the space to say no is hard and requires great discernment. It certainly doesn’t mean we stop praying for them, showing God’s love to them, or looking for opportunities to connect with them.