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“On hearing [His unorthodox teaching], many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’

 … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

 ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ ” (John 6:60-64, 66-69). 

Scripture abounds with “hard teachings,” difficult concepts that make readers scratch their heads. God’s Word, and Jesus’ instruction in particular, often disturb our flesh and pride: they make us uncomfortable, point out things about ourselves that need improvement, make us conscious of our complete failure to measure up to God’s standards. While closing the Bible on such passages proves tempting, followers of Christ must grasp that both our relationship with the Lord and our spiritual growth suffer when we do. God does not call us to always understand or even “agree” with His Word, but He does call us to love, believe, and live it! 

Even those who walked with Christ for nearly three years, saw His miracles, and observed the perfection of His life sometimes struggled not to reject His teaching simply because they didn’t comprehend it or because it made them feel uncomfortable. In fact, the tendency led Peter to actually take the Lord aside for a quick rebuke—a decision that did not go over well (Matthew 16:21-23). And even Christ’s own mother surely felt confused by His words as He identified not her personally but “those who do God’s will” as His “mother” (See Mark 3:31-35).

Christ spoke of the utter sinfulness of man, of the absolute authority, holiness, and glory of God; He elaborated on the “foolishness” of God’s plan of salvation, and He gave—particularly in The Sermon on the Mount—a myriad of seemingly unrealistic demands to those who would follow Him wholeheartedly. Truly, some of the Bible’s teachings are difficult to accept. At times, we can even find ourselves offended by them. We will not, however, reach our full potential as Christ’s disciples unless we choose to open our hearts and minds to them.

Sadly, some people reject the hard teachings of Jesus and Christianity from the beginning. Atheists, agnostics, and followers of other, easier-to-follow religions reject Christ outright. They prove unwilling to accept any of Christ’s claims and will not surrender their lives to a sacrificial, spiritual, and God-centered ideology. Other individuals gladly accept Christianity, only to abandon their faith when the entire counsel of God’s Word fails to meet their expectations. These individuals feel attracted to what Jesus offers, but they are often repelled by what He requires. Taking up a cross and denying themselves proves too much. In both instances, teachings wrongly perceived as overbearing and exaggerated prove too taxing to those on the fringe of faith in God. Even some who profess to follow Jesus so water down, rationalize, and liberalize God’s Word that it hardly resembles the true gospel. In doing so they reject Christ as soundly as those who never fully embraced Him in the first place.

God’s Word is often offensive and so is the cross, yet their message is wholly reliable. Every true follower of Christ must affirm that Jesus is the Holy One of God. They must embrace that His words are the truth of eternal life. When in John 6 Peter asked, “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of life,” he got it right. The Bible offers the only teachings that reveal how we can know God. It shows that Jesus provides the revelation of the kingdom of Heaven. He is the King of Kings. He alone stands worthy of our trust and obedience because only through His sacrifice and His words—no matter how challenging—do we have any hope. 

God enables those who will believe and accept His Word (v. 65). Jesus stated, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). The word translated draw in John 6 pertains to drawing water from a well. It could be translated “to pull” and indicates our utter dependence on God to both understand His gospel and come to Him.[i] Simply stated, we can’t get our heads around Christ’s difficult teachings without God’s intervention! That’s why I often say that I can teach the truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart it (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

Growth in discipleship requires us to believe Jesus’ teachings even when we don’t fully understand them, to affirm them even when we might prefer to reject a particular passage, to live them out by faith even when they seem a puzzle. This kind of trust and yielding demonstrates obedience to God who truly draws us to His truth by His Spirit and gives us His life: it encompasses the story of one who means to follow the King and serve as part of His kingdom. Oswald Chambers said, “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the way we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.”[ii]

As you saturate yourself in this in-depth look at the Sermon on the Mount, know that while following Christ’s teaching is neither for the weak nor the faint of heart, the Holy Spirit serves as your guide in the process. Ask the Lord to grow you, to stretch you, and to teach you how to patiently grapple with His teachings. Through faith and surrender, every true believer can thrive in the knowledge that God’s words are truth and life. Jesus is who He claims; you can stake your eternal destiny on His words.

[i] Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon (Clarendon Press, 1889).

[ii] Chambers, Oswald. The Psychology of Redemption (London: Simpkin Marshall LTD, 1947), 34.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are: 

Amazon in book form –     

Amazon Kindle – 

Barnes and Noble in book form – 

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit, backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

**** This is an excerpt from Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him published in 2008.

I’ve always been amazed by John 4:23: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” Here Jesus indicates that true worship of all that God is necessitates worshipping with all that we are. This is the type of worship that God desires. Just as intriguing as the subject of this passage is its audience, an adulterous Samaritan woman who sought spiritual sustenance. Christ could have revealed His advice on worship to His disciples or the religious folks of the day, but He chose a commoner with deep rooted sin issues (See John 4:18). 

Worship, Jesus says, is a well-spring of spiritual vitality. But, like the Samaritan woman to whom He spoke, I have not always understood what it means to worship in a way pleasing to God. Part of my confusion was a misinterpretation of John 4:23. Growing up, I was led to believe that truth must be combined with the activity of the Holy Spirit in order for true worship to happen. Although there is truth in this point, I’ve since come to realize that the word translated “Spirit” to me as a child is actually “spirit” with a small “s.” That suggests something that many of us miss. While worship must be centered on an intellectual understanding of the truth of who Jesus is, it must also be done with the involvement of our emotions or affections. 

You see, true worship is both intellectual and emotive. I believed my worship was doctrinally orthodox, but I often felt my heart was unmoved as I attempted to come into God’s presence. I had the “worship the Father in truth” part down, but I wasn’t doing so well on the “in spirit” part. Since I have always struggled with suppressing my emotions, I had allowed the “in spirit” aspect of my worship to pale in comparison to my intellectual worship. Thankfully, God prompted me to ask Him for help in worshipping Him with my affections as well as my head. He graciously responded to my request. 

Suddenly, emotion began to play a new and amazing role in my worship experiences. I began to acknowledge God’s incredibleness with my whole heart. As I did, I found myself spiritually moved in much deeper ways. I discovered a new appreciation of God’s worthiness (from which the word worship comes), developed a sense of reverent awe, increased in thankfulness for all of His gifts, felt an utter dependence on Him, and established a greater and more intense vision of all of His divine attributes such as holiness, justice, wrath, love, and sovereignty. In short, I found myself falling more in love with Christ than ever before. 

This process of learning to worship with my heart came to a head at a typical baptismal service at the church I was attending. As water cascaded from the face of one who had just dedicated his life to the Lord, I became overwhelmed. Suddenly, all the truth packaged into the act of baptism swept over my heart. I felt as if I was ushered into the throne room of grace! I began to weep as my intellectual understanding of the sacrament crashed into and then merged with the core of my affections, Christ Himself. I was emotionally transported. My vision of God and His grace captured my spirit. I believe I have softly cried at every subsequent baptism. 

Emotion is not the most important aspect of worshipping God. I have come to believe, however, that it is an integral part of fully acknowledging who Christ is and what He has done. I have found that as I ponder God’s truth I am increasingly moved in my spirit. As my spirit is moved by His awesome presence, I seek more knowledge of God and His Word. I believe this dynamic is God-pleasing. He seeks worship based not just on head-knowledge but on heart application. 

Like the Samaritan woman, I desire nourishment that only comes from the total experience of worshipping God in “spirit and in truth.” May God increase in both my heart and my mind the desire for more of Him.

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