“This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60)
Let’s not be foolish or naïve. While we celebrate the magnificent sayings of our Lord—“No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)—let us admit He said some other things that befuddled His hearers then and provoke modern disciples to scratch their heads.
Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53), which was what drove His disciples to ask the question above in the first place. Jesus went on to explain that He was speaking spiritually. “The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (6:63). Whatever else that means, it means those words should be interpreted “spiritually” and not literally. We recall that Scripture also says, “The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Does that help?
It does. But we are still left with a basket-load of questions. And the church has wrestled with that issue ever since: To what extent is the eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, literally or symbolically the body and blood of Jesus? The history of the Christian church has entire chapters devoted to that single question and is littered with the bodies of those brave soldiers who dared take an unpopular position. To our shame.
There are more such statements of our Lord that left His audience—and many of us—scratching our heads, wondering what to make of them. (In all that follows, I’m including only those spoken by the Lord Jesus, not difficult passages from the apostles or prophets, of which there are quite a few.)
Here are three of my (ahem) favorites…
–“All sins will be forgiven the sons of men…but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:28-29).
Some preachers have done great harm by their faulty interpretation of the doctrine of the unpardonable sin, and have ended up burdening weak disciples with unbearable guilt and unendurable anguish.
In numerous cases—as here in Mark 3—as soon as the Lord’s statement is given, the Scripture writer explains it. Mark says, “(He said this) because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (3:30). So, clearly that infamous unpardonable sin involves attributing the works of the Lord to the enemy. These people were so far gone that they looked at black and called it white, at good and called it evil.
So, if you worry that you have committed the unpardonable sin and are in danger of eternal damnation, the very fact that it matters to you is proof you did not do it.
–“Whatsoever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you” (John 16:23).
Is that ever a get-out-of-jail card or what? You’re in trouble, just ask the Father in Jesus’ name and you’ve got it! Say what we will, that’s how it reads. On the surface at least. (And reading it “in context” doesn’t help. It says what it says.)