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Sunday 25 August 2024 Trinity 13, Twenty-first in Ordinary time, Proper 16

Losing his influence

John 6:56-69

By Ian Sweeney

Field Secretary/ PARL Director/ Pastor, Trans-European Division, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

Context: a multicultural congregation gathered for the purpose of training to better share our faith

Aim: to draw people to an expanded understanding of what it means to follow Christ

Kylie Kristen Jenner may not be a name or person familiar to us, so a little background: she is the youngest daughter of former USA Olympic decathlete champion Caitlyn Jenner, who was then known as Bruce Jenner. Bruce Jenner was formerly married to Kris Houghton, who was previously married to the lawyer and businessman Robert Kardashian. Kylie Jenner is the stepsister of Kim Kardashian.


Whether we know who Kylie Jenner is or not, her follower statistics are such that she can be justifiably deemed an ‘influencer’.


An influencer is said to have power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of their authority, knowledge, position, and relationship with their audience. People trust the opinions of an influencer, whose endorsements carry considerable weight.


On the social media platform Instagram, Kylie Jenner has over 400 million followers, which is more than the population of the USA or close to six times the population of the UK!


On X (formerly Twitter) Kylie has 40 million followers.


For every post Kylie makes, she receives on average one million likes and 3000 comments.


However, in October 2023 it was reported that Kylie lost hundreds of thousands of followers and suffered a backlash after sharing a post in support of Israel following the Hamas attacks that same month. Within 60 minutes Kylie removed her post, but the damage was done.


The social media of Jesus’ day was largely word of mouth, but at the beginning of John chapter 6 it could be argued that Jesus’ influence, followers and ‘likes’ were at an all-time high.


Thousands of people were following Him to hear His ‘posts’ and after a long day of ‘influencing’ His followers were understandably hungry. With a small lunch, Jesus performed the miracle of feeding every one of His followers to the point of satiety.


Such was the impact of this miracle, that His followers wanted to make Jesus the new king, but He did not welcome this move and momentarily went into hiding (John 6:15).


Feeding the people physical bread led to a soar in Jesus’ popularity, but when He later posted about the people’s need for spiritual food His influence and followers took a downturn.


In a post that He did not withdraw, He said ‘Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood live in Me, and I live in them’ (John 6:56 GNT).


Jesus’ audience were amazed when He miraculously fed over 5000 of His followers, but they were startled and horrified that He described Himself as the heavenly bread from God and said that His blood was to be drunk.


This post marked the turning point of Jesus’ work in Galilee and, indeed, of His whole ministry. Until this time, He had been widely accepted as a popular influencer, teacher and prophet. Now many of His followers left Him, and from this time on He stood more and more in the shadow of the events to occur on the cross of Calvary.


This ‘post’ was too much for some of Jesus’ followers who seemed to believe that Jesus was promoting cannibalism.


With this post, Jesus did not receive the number of ‘likes’ He had previously enjoyed, and the positive comments turned to critical ones. Jesus’ post went viral and the negative comments abounded, to the point that John records (John 6:66 GNT) ‘Because of this, many of Jesus’ followers turned back and would not go with Him anymore.’


But even with the loss of followers, Jesus did not withdraw His post, in fact He doubled down on it, stressing the importance of His followers accepting Him into their lives beyond ‘likes’. Jesus was not to be simply ‘liked’ but loved and accepted as the ‘Holy One who has come from God’ (John 6:69).


2000 years ago, Jesus wanted to be more than an influencer who was ‘liked’. His intent was for His followers to understand and recognise that He was to be accepted and understood to be God in, and over, every point of their lives. This is further reflected in the many ‘I am’ statements posted in John’s Gospel.


Today, the question can be posed, will we ‘like’ Jesus, or love Him as the Lord over our lives?

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