Today marks a one year anniversary that will haunt certain folks in our county for years to come. It marks the day that a string of tornadoes struck portions of central North Carolina, leaving destroyed homes and devastated families in their wake. One such twister struck the north end of our county, leaving many homes ravaged and torn apart. For Bob and Cheryl Torrence, a couple in our church, that day filled their lives with horror and loss. Upon hearing the freight train sound that always seems to accompany the reality of an approaching tornado, they rushed to a spare bed room in the basement of their house and barricaded themselves under a mattress as the chaos ensued. When the peace returned, they emerged free from injury but finding their home in pieces.
Now, how would you handle that? It would be a great test to our faith to find out, I’m sure. Bob and Cheryl have often spoken about how this event not only did not cause them to turn away from their faith, but instead has greatly strengthened it. Never once did they find themselves questioning God or growing in anger toward him for their plight. But, what is it that causes this strange reaction…especially when God has allowed something to occur in our life that makes absolutely no sense and has brought us pain?
In John’s gospel, he includes the story of Jesus making a very strange statement. At least this was the case for those who heard him make it. Just after he had miraculously fed the thousands by multiplying only a small portion of fish and bread, Jesus turns to the crowd and says something that seems absolutely outlandish and ridiculous.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56)
Now, of course most of the crowd turned and walked away after hearing this. They were wanting a show, or some more free miraculous food! But this guy has just left the reservation! “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it (v. 60),” they said to each other. Soon Jesus was left standing with much fewer followers. He turns to the 12 disciples, and without further explanation of his crazy statement, simply asks them why they didn’t also leave. Peter speaks up for the group, and his answer is most profound.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (v. 68-69, emphasis mine)
So, what was the difference? Simple. These 12 have left everything to follow Jesus. He is all they have in this life. Not only that, but they have hung on every word Jesus has said and every deed he has done. They have watched as Jesus has confirmed his identity as the “Holy One of God” time and time again. Through watching him, they have not only believed, but have grown in their faith…as they have walked with him. They weren’t following Jesus for the show he might provide; rather, they were following him.
This is so important to understand. The disciples did NOT stay because they understood what Jesus was saying unlike those who left. The disciples actions during the future events of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection prove this. They have NO idea what Jesus is saying here. They didn’t remain with him because they had full understanding of the circumstances. They stayed with him because he was the Lord and he alone had the ‘words of life.’ Despite their own confusion of the events that have just unfolded, they were not confused as to who Jesus was. Even in the midst of confusion and a lack of understanding, nothing would cause them to leave Jesus.
What an incredible statement of faith.
This is why it is impossible to ‘try Jesus’ in this life. There is no trying him. The crowds were trying him, and even though they had seen incredible miraculous things with their own eyes, they turned away from him so easily when they lost understanding of the present circumstances.
This is why Bob and Cheryl’s faith has only grown stronger since the tornado plundered their lives a year ago. Would this event, along with a lack of understanding probably to this day, cause them to grow angry toward God? Would it cause them to consider turning away from him? No, because they understand after following him and walking with him for years that he alone has the ‘words of life.’ They have (truly) believed, and have come to know that God is good. And no matter what circumstances may bring devestation and loss, he is unchanging and worthy of worship and devotion because he alone is sovereign God.