Jesus' life is a mystery to me.
If you read one story, you would see people amassing around him with an insatiable thirst for His words of life. They starved on hillsides to listen to him talk. They franticly and fanatically ran around lakes stalking him as he tried to retreat to the other side of the lake. They gathered by the thousands to watch him perform miracles and back up his claims to be the Messiah with "signs and wonders". They said of him, "He speaks as one having authority." He was mesmerizing. People couldn't get enough of him. He was an attractive personality. The face of a growing movement. The engine of a revolution people wanted in on.
And yet there were times when he would clear the crowds. The people would be frothing at the mouth for more and he would say something like, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood in order to participate in the kingdom." and they would run for the hills. One time the crowd when from 4,000 to 12 in about a minute. He went from Hero to Zero in the span of a sentence. The teeming throng would scatter and he would be left with the original 12 disciples...and even their response of "where else could we go? You have the words of eternal life." Almost as if to say..."if there was another way, we would take it, but you're it, so we'll have to eat the flesh and drink the blood, I guess." Let's just say that Jesus' 3 years of ministry were mixed with both attraction and attrition.
One verse that I saw a while back has stuck with me in some sort of strange way. I feel exactly what was being expressed about Jesus at times.
"How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." - John 10:34
Suspense vs. Clarity.
There was an intentional way that Jesus lived and spoke to keep people in suspense. People don't like this. I don't like this. I want God to show me plainly and speak to me plainly so that I can get about the business of living with confidence and comfort. Who wants suspense unless you're wanting to see a good movie. Suspense makes for good flicks but difficult stories. Suspense forces you to follow when you don't know everything. You have to follow the person instead of the plan. You have to trust the heart of Jesus even when he confuses your sensibilities. You have to abandon certitude and to lean into a life of faith. This is why I believe Jesus was enigmatic to many. He was appealing and repulsive.
He was the center of attraction and the cause of attrition. He was both plain and simple and paradoxical and suspenseful. One person would find him irresistible precisely because he wasn't the typical 1+1=2 formulaic predictable religious leader. Another would find this attribute to be the very argument for his illegitimacy and blasphemy. If he was the one, he wouldn't be so confusing. He wouldn't be so cryptic.
Jesus even admitted that he was purposefully keeping people a little perplexed when he said, "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father." There is that word again, plainly. Who wants figurative, metaphorical, hypothetical stories when you could just cut to the chase and speak with clarity and certainty? But this was a tactic to test the authenticity of people's motives in following Him.
It still is.
So many will leave Jesus if there's a fleck of confusion. One close call. One difficult word. One decision that goes against their better judgement. One statement that is confusing. One tenuous trial. One unanswered prayer. One call of sacrifice. One move into the unknown. One call to faith into suspense. One disagreement over direction. One statement that calls into question their future plans. One painful consequence of obedience. One defining moment to leave something that feels good. One disconcerting sermon that offends them. One call to die to themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. One clarification of who is really in charge, who is the real Lord. It doesn't take much.
There is a fine line between attraction and attrition and it often correlates with the suspense of following Christ when every bone of your body is looking for clarity...something plain and simple. Ain't gonna happen.
So whenever I find people dropping like flies or feel within myself a distaste for the "flesh and blood" call of Jesus into suspense that causes me to withdrawn myself, I must remind myself that Jesus has always caused this internal consternation...on purpose. He was the epitome of attraction and the provocation of attrition. He seemed ok with it. Furthermore, he seemed to expect it.
In an age of growth at all costs in the church, I think we need to remember the ways of Christ. "No servant is greater than his master." - John 15 What Jesus was saying? "You aren't going to find a clever way to avoid the paradox of attraction and attrition...if my life provokes both reactions...being like me will make you a provocateur as well." Christians that are not willing to follow Christ to this place of suspense and surrender are more interested in promotion than devotion.
Jesus, help me to be ok with the conflicting reality of following a person like You.