“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ Mark 14, verse 27.
A friend and I were having a Twitter discussion today. It was about the Gospel and how big churches grow based on money, power, and programs but not the Gospel. From time to time we discuss matters like this, and today my friend made the point that he didn’t think most people who attend mega-churches are there to hear the Gospel of Jesus. I contended that, whether they’re there to hear it or not, the Gospel is actually what hollow lives crave. Whether or not they do, or take that message home with them, or even acknowledge it is another matter.
But my friend’s point got me thinking, especially when I consider it within the context of today’s verse. Are we simply sheep who have fallen away?
In one sense, we aren’t. We’re believers seeking Jesus, following Jesus. He tasked His very Disciples with that very charge: “come follow me.” So we do. When we do, we’re sheep following the Shepherd. He guides us, helps us, keeps us together, teaches and cares for us. Gathering together in His name, whether in small groups or mega-churches, is true fellowship with Him and His church.
Yet in another sense we are the sheep who have fallen away. Every minute of every day, I harbor sins against my Savior. Thoughts, words, actions: I’m thick with sin and can’t live a minute innocent of it. I’ve come to ignore my shepherd willfully and frequently. I forget His voice; I turn from His commands; I deny His perfection; I spit on His gift to me. Long ago, Jesus quoted the ancient prophecy of Zechariah by saying “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” He was predicting what would happen to His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed. In a larger sense, He was also predicting what we, His church, would do to Him on a regular basis both as individuals and as His corporate and worldly church.
I deny Him. We deny Him. We are struck by Satan through the problems of this world and the sins we embrace. It’s an age-old battle in which we fight, one that goes back to Eden. Anything but God; anyone but God. Indeed, every one of our sins is a subtle idolatry, a quiet choice to be scattered from instead of gathered to our Lord. When Jesus predicted that His best friends would all soon fall away from Him, in another sense He was also predicting the same for us. It doesn’t matter how many times we gather to worship Him, offer Him tithes, sing in the best choir or praise band, or any deed we do for the church. If we fall away from Him in the heart, none of that matters. Jesus wants us to stand with Him with a whole heart first, before anything else, before anyone else.
We’ve fallen away, my fellow sheep. My friend’s point is valid even as it is cynical. We daily fall away from Jesus even as, deep inside, our deepest need is for the fulfillment, satisfaction, and love that only He can offer. As today is the beginning of Lent, what will you contemplate about this fact in the forty days to come?
Lord Jesus, I have fallen away from you. Daily abide with me, forgive me, and renew me that I may learn to live only for You.
Read Mark 14, verses 27-31.