So, from the beginning of ministry anywhere, it’s critical for people to do a heart examination. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith, because clearly our Lord made an issue out of this. There are people who attach themselves to Jesus and to Christianity, to the church and then defect and desert. They do not last, and they do not persevere.
It was Jesus Himself who said that whoever perseveres to the end, Mark 13:13, shall be saved. There are plenty of defectors and we’ve all know people who have had that experience. The Apostle Paul, so faithful and so beloved, looked back over his life in 2 Timothy and said, “All who are in Asia have forsaken me,” and then in 2 Timothy 4:10 says, “Demas has forsaken me.”
Jesus recognized that there would be traitors in the church. It gets painful when it happens in our circle of friends, when we know people who once professed an interest in Christ and no longer do that. Is equally painful when it’s a spouse who once was involved in the church and professed an interest in Christ and no longer does. We can imagine the pain of that.
But it’s a reality and that’s why 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us because they were not of us,” it says. “If they had been of us, they would have continued with us but they went out from us that I might be made manifest they never were of us.” There will be defectors. We don’t want to make it easy for false followers of Jesus Christ. We want to make sure we’re a true disciple.
The Bible makes a huge issue out of spiritual defection. That was painfully the agony of the prophets who were crying out to unfaithful Israel and unfaithful Judah repeatedly. As Isaiah 65:11 puts it, “You have forsaken the Lord and have forgotten his Temple.” That is a repeated issue in the Old Testament to which the prophets spoke. In Isaiah 16:9, God says to Moab, “I will water you with My tears.”
In Isaiah 59:13, the people are indicted by the prophet because they have departed from our God. That is the God who has revealed Himself to us, the God we know about. And this is God speaking through Jeremiah 2:13, “For My people have committed two evils, they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hue for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Again you see the tears of God in Jeremiah 14, and in Jeremiah 31, and even in Lamentations, that wonderful book by Jeremiah. Lamentations 2:11 says, “I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken. My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people. Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets of the city.”
When you come into the New Testament, perhaps one of the most familiar is in Luke 19:41-42 where it says, “But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.” Spiritual apostasy or false discipleship breaks the heart of God and Christ.
Now we can study John 6. Hopefully you can grasp this in some way, not only intellectually, but also emotionally. The sorrow is great because you don’t know why things have gone the way they have gone, when our children deeply disappoint you, or your grandchildren disappoint you, or troubles come your way, or disease or the threat of death. That is when you learn to lean on the sovereignty of God.
Here in John 6 Jesus Himself leans on the sovereignty of God the Father. Jesus while fully God is also fully man. And He is tempted at all points like as we are, and if God weeps over spiritual defection, Jesus does as well. The issue here is spiritual defection, spiritual apostasy. John 6:66, “As a result of this, many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”
And then verse 67, “Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’” It’s a painful experience for our Lord. He is so perfect, so compassionate, so powerful, fully God, gracious, merciful, kind, and He is spending the day healing like every other day. And then this massive feeding of twenty-five thousand people, which demonstrates compassion and His power.
And it ends in John 7:1 with the Jews seeking to kill Him, and the defection of many of His followers. This leads us to understand that there are many false followers of Jesus. I’m only an insignificant representative of Jesus and can’t come close to Him in any sense. You would expect false followers of me or any other pastor. But Jesus? Hard to imagine, after having been exposed to His person and His power.
Now John 6 has 71 verses, and the theme is the characteristics of False Discipleship. This chapter is here to show us the difference between a true and false follower of Jesus. I fear that many people who profess Christ don’t know Him. Matthew 7:13-14 says. “The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”
Verse 66 says that it is possible to be a disciple who walks away from Jesus. Many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. Finality, they left. That’s an indication that disciple is a generic word. In Greek it means a student, a learner. But nobody ever had the massive crowds that Jesus had. And some were disciples that really believed in Christ.
But it also could mean that you were just interested superficially. A disciple could also be an unsaved person, a false follower of Jesus. John 6 is about disciples, the real and the false. So we’re going to learn this overarching reality of what characterizes false disciples. As we work through John 6, we’re going to see one principle after another unfold. And that’s going to connect it all together.
First, false disciples are attracted by the crowd. So Jesus, after these things in John 5, went away, this is the end of His Galilean ministry. “A large crowd followed Him.” Jesus is the most popular person in Israel. Nobody in their family ever knew a miracle worker, nobody ever saw a miracle. And now this Jesus is doing them on a daily basis. His popularity draws massive crowds of people.
And crowds attract crowds. The widespread healings, the demonic deliverances of Christ have led to massive popularity. We even read in some accounts that they were stepping on each other, being crushed together. Well it’s a pretty powerful thing, a mob kind of mentality and when something dramatic is going on, when demons are being chased out and people are being healed, the crowd swells.
Secondly, false followers are fascinated by the supernatural. Jesus creates food out of His hands. How much power would it take to create that kind of food? Assume a half a pound of food for every person. So they did a scientific study. All the electrical power on earth running at a hundred percent capacity for four years. That’s how much energy it would take to create that meal for 25 thousand people.
Listen, this is nothing for Jesus. He created the sun, “God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him,” from John 1:3. The sun consumes approximately six hundred million tons of matter per second, generating enough energy in one second to supply all the U.S. current energy needs for thirteen billion years. Jesus has the power to do that in just one star, and there are billions of them.
Life is mundane, for many going nowhere, relationships are tough, families are a mess, disappointments abound. Now somebody comes along with the name of Jesus, offering health, wealth, happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment. They don’t have to have a healing miracle, just thinking that it would be possible is going to attract a crowd, even though what Jesus is offering is not worldly, but heavenly.
Thirdly, false disciples think only of earthly benefits. In John 6:14 the people said, “This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world,” that’s from Deuteronomy 18. So they now are beginning to connect Jesus with Old Testament messianic prophecy. But what’s He been talking to them about all day? According to John 18:36 Jesus says, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus is talking about the eternal Kingdom of God over which God rules in the lives of those who are redeemed, those who repent and believe and are saved. But the people wanted to kidnap Jesus to make Him a King. He can create the perfect living conditions on earth. He feeds us all the time, vanquishes all our enemies, heals all our diseases, and chases the demons away. They think only of earthly benefits.
But no one can use God for his own ends. But that is what’s so much offered to people today. God is your genie, He’ll show up and fix everything. That’s a formula for attracting false disciples. So now we get to John 6:16 - 21 and there’s a fourth characteristic, false disciples have no desire for worship. And to get the whole story, you need to read also Mark 6, and Matthew 14.
Here’s what John 6:16-17 says, “That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. 17 But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum.” Actually the other writers tell us they were going a little ways to Bethsaida, which was just on the north shore. They stayed there for a while, thinking Jesus is going to come.
But Jesus doesn’t come. So according to Mark 6 they leave. They start to cross the sea to Capernaum. Verse 18, “Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough.” That lake is about 700 feet below sea level and it’s ringed on three sides by mountains that rise several thousand feet. The collision of winds in the valleys between those hills turned that area into a raging storm.
Now, many of these disciples fished that lake as a daily routine. But they are afraid. This isn’t the first time this has happened. They had already had this experience once before in Galilee and the waves were so bad they were crashing over the boat and Jesus was sleeping, remember that? And then He got up and stilled the storm, stilled the wind and stilled the water.
So here they come again and the familiar storm starts. Verse 19, “They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified.” They’ve only gone three or four miles in the fourth watch of the night. You can read more about it in Mark’s gospel as well. Matthew 14:24 says, “But the boat was already a long distance from the land.”
The fourth watch of the night, that’s 3 to 6 A. M., Jesus came to them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost.” Verse 20, “But immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, “Do not be afraid, I am here.” Matthew 14:28 says, “Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
Verse 29-32, “Yes, come.” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. 31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” 32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.”
Notice the difference. Last time this happened they said, “Who is this man?” This time in verse 33, “Then the disciples worshiped Him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.” Now that’s true discipleship, worship. Go back to John 6:21, “Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!”
Now they’ve just seen a series of miracles. Miracle number one, they’re still alive. Miracle number two, Jesus walking on water. Miracle number three, Peter walking on water. Miracle number four, Peter sinks and he’s pulled back up to walk on water. Miracle number five is Jesus stops the wind. Miracle number six is Jesus stills the water. And miracle number seven, the boat is at the place to which they were going.
The boat went from wherever it was, straight to the dock at Capernaum. Now they know who they’re dealing with, this is the Son of God. He is in control of nature. He is in control of His creation. This is what sets the true disciples apart from the false. It was all about worship. It was all about declaring Him to be the Son of God and then bowing down in worship to Him.
What is it about false followers? Judas was part of what these disciples had seen and experienced, how is it possible that despite all that he had witnessed and felt, he still could betray Jesus? Are not these miracles proof that Jesus is God? Yes, but Satan has blinded his eyes and God has allowed that. Spiritual battles continue to rage where we cannot see that, but we have read the ending of it all.
Oh, these false disciples are drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, interested only in earthly benefits and really have no desire for worship. Real worship is bowing down and proclaiming Jesus is Lord and God. True worshipers bow down, they prostrate themselves, in worship, in submission, in sacrifice and obedience to the Lord and God. That’s a true disciple. Are you one? Let us pray.