While driving back from the San Francisco airport through natural beauty along a gently winding interstate, a well-known televised preacher once asked me, “why do you think some people respond to the gospel and others don’t?” Perhaps many insightful answers could be offered. On one particular occasion, Jesus weighed in on this question. His answer was simple. Concise. His terminology rang with notes foreign to the phraseology of church growth studies.
Repeatedly throughout what must have been a prolonged emotional bungie jump, Jesus consistently had given the same straightforward answer. The throng’s nearly sudden mass abandonment of Jesus deserved an explanation. After all, what had gone so terribly wrong? The thousands, who had eaten their fill from what had begun as a small meal, had been ready to enthrone him as king. They had searched until they found him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. From the growth-of-a-movement’s perspective, momentum had appeared to be going in Jesus’ favor. People were voting with their feet in a wonderful way. What could account for the crowd dispersing into the horizon?
Jesus’ answer was “no one is able to come unto me unless it has been given to him from the Father” (John 6:65). As Jesus’ teachings had increasingly grated upon the crowd’s expectations, plunging their future relationship toward the ground, Jesus had warned:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37) and
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
Was Jesus claiming that God selectively imposes his will by tapping some individuals upon the shoulder while glibly ignoring others? Not at all.
To prevent any misunderstanding, three times we are told how God works to draw, enable and give people to Jesus. To confirm God does in fact draw people, Jesus quoted Isaiah 54:13 whereby Jesus also revealed how God draws: “They shall all be taught of God.” God draws those who listen to his message. Similarly, immediately after emphasizing to his increasingly flight-filled disciples the importance of his words in the crisis of their persistent disbelief, Jesus explained, “This is why I told you no one can come unto me unless the Father has enabled him” (John 6:44, NIV). Through belief in the message of the Son, God enables people to come to Jesus. And finally, in describing the Father’s will to give people to Jesus, Jesus focused on whether someone will “look to the Son” and “believe” (John 6:40). And so when Jesus asked the Twelve if they would also leave, Peter’s answer honed in upon the key, “You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68,69). Whereas the crowds abandoned Jesus, these had been drawn by God.
The image of a magnet emerges from this discourse. Just as the same magnetic force touches all objects but only metallic ones are moved, so too God’s word encounters many hearts but only those believing the message are drawn. In what appears to boil down to a practical tautology but is also reminiscent of the parable of the Sower, Jesus ultimately focuses his answer (as to why some believe and others don’t) upon how human hearts respond to the message.
What can we make out of this? Ultimately genuine church growth comes down to God working through his message to give people to Jesus. What matters is whether a person will accept the teachings and claims of Jesus. Or to state it more personally, am I made of the metal which God will draw?
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