As a follower of Jesus, there are times where you are stronger than you think you are and there are times when you are weaker than you think you are. Learning to follow Jesus includes learning what your limitations are and learning from your failures.
Today, we are going to begin looking at Jesus telling His disciples they are about to lose their faith in Him, desert Him, and falter in their faithfulness. From this we are going to see some important lessons about ourselves when we begin to feel the world is falling apart around us and we blame God for it. At those times, if you begin to struggle trusting God, talking to God or defending God then you are not alone.
Some believers go through such a difficult time and begin to wonder if God cares or if God is interested in their problem. Sometimes they are so hurt or disappointed with God they stop talking to Him, stop going to church, or stop reading the Bible. They fall away.
This is what Jesus is about to address with the disciples.
On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” 30 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 31 “No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same. (Mark 14:27-31, NLT)
Today, we are to focus in on verse 27. From that one verse there are four things you need to think about.
Falling away means to stumble due to weakness
Number one, falling away means to stumble due to weakness. Jesus told them they would desert Him. The word desert comes from the Greek word skandalizo. It means “to fall into a trap,” “to come to one’s end,” “to cause to stumble,” “to cause to fall.” It means to desert or fall away under pressure of circumstances. It is not intentional deserting but a desertion by pressure. This is to fall because of weakness, not desire. It is to stumble because of external factors. It is similar to walking through a windy storm, but you stumble and fall because of the rain and the wind. Your intention is not to fall, but you do. You are weaker than the storm. Most translations use the phrase fall away to describe what is happening (MEV, NASB, NET, NIV, TLV, CSB, ESV).
A little bit later into the night, Jesus will mention this again but on a smaller scale. Jesus will be at the Garden of Gethsemane praying. He had asked the disciples to pray as well. However, their bodies were so tired they could not stay awake. Instead of praying, they were sleeping. When Jesus returned from praying Jesus says, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:37-38, NLT). The word for “spirit” (pneuma) refers to their mind, will, and emotions. What Jesus was saying is He knew they were willing to do what was right, their spirit was willing. Their mind, will, and emotions were in the right place. However, their body was weak and fell asleep because of their physical human weakness. They were tired. By affirming that “the spirit is willing,” Jesus was saying that He knew the disciples wanted to stay awake and pray, but the weakness of the flesh had overpowered the spiritual desire to pray and watch. Jesus was not scolding them but exhorting them to beware of their own weaknesses.
This falling away is not what they wanted or desired, but because of their weakness to handle what was about to happen they would all stumble. This would be a sin of weakness, but not rebellion.
Let me be clear, when the disciples desert Jesus and fall away from Him, does not mean that the disciples lost their salvation. It means they lost their courage in following Him during the intense events of the night. Because of the pressure around them, they unwillingly forsook Him.
Let’s think about this. What does this mean for you and me, as followers of Jesus? As you follow Jesus you will face moments of great distress and pressure. At times it will seem that events conspire to cause you to stumble in your relationship with Him. Mentally, emotionally, and physically it wears you out. This could be going through a horrible divorce, financial ruin, death of child, or serious illness you are fighting. Whatever it is, you do not have the strength mentally, emotionally, or physically to deal with it. Because of it, you fall away. This may look different for different believers. For some they stop talking to God, they quit going to church, or they give up on reading the Bible. They begin to think God does not care and they lose their faith in Him. They started off with a willing spirit, but because of their weakness they stumbled. They deserted God. They abandoned God or they left God.
Then somewhere along the way, when things calm down, you realize what you have done. You are embarrassed about how you walked away from God. Listen carefully, don’t think that somehow you walking away from God is bigger or more complex that God Himself. There is a reason why God’s Word says in Romans 5:20, “Where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more” (CSB).
Falling away happens to every believer
Number two, falling away happens to every believer. I want you to notice that Jesus said, All of you will desert me. Notice Jesus said all of them. Without exception. Everyone of them will abandon Jesus due to the pressures on them that were about to happen. When Jesus says this, there is no indication by the words, the context or anything else that would imply that Jesus was mad or upset at them. Listen carefully, Jesus is letting them know upfront that He knows they are about to desert Him, but He loves them still. He wants them to know that when they desert Him, He is still dedicated to them. When they stumble, He is still their Shepherd. When they fall away, He is still their friend. He is letting them know that what is about to happen and what they will do, He is not going to hold it against them.
Falling away is not wasted by God
Number three, falling away is not wasted by God. The reason Jesus knows that they all will desert Him is because of His omniscience and because of what God’s Word says. In verse 27, Jesus goes on to say, For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
I want you to notice that Jesus was committed to the Scriptures. Whenever Jesus talked about what He believed or was asked about what He believed He always began with God’s Word. Even when the Devil was going one on one with Jesus in the wilderness Jesus refuted the devil’s statements with Scripture. Every time the devil would come at Him, Jesus would say, “The Scriptures say” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).
Listen carefully, if anyone ask you about what you believe about heaven, hell, God, salvation, spiritual warfare, spiritual gifts, past, present, or future and you begin with, “I remember when I was 16 years old” or “My experiences have told me” or “I have seen” then you are not following Jesus’ example on building your faith and theology and beliefs on the solid rock of God’s Word. When someone ask you what you believe about something the first words out of your mouth should be, “Well, God’s Word says….”
One of the reasons why Jesus knows they are about to desert Him is because they are about to fulfill prophecy. This is why Jesus says, For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ In that statement God is God, the Shepherd is Jesus, and the disciples are the sheep. Jesus is quoting from Zechariah 13:7 which was written about 500 years prior to this event.
The phrase God will strike the shepherd refers to all the events surrounding the crucifixion and the crucifixion of Jesus on cross. The crucifixion of Jesus is a divine appointment. God initiated it. Even though it will be humans who beat Jesus, whip Jesus, and nail Jesus to the cross it is God who has orchestrated all this so that His wrath can be placed on Jesus for our sins. Out of God’s sovereignty, providence, omniscience, omnipotence, justice, wrath, and love God is striking the shepherd so the sheep can be rescued from their sin. Jesus was fully aware of the Heavenly Father’s plan. Isaiah prophesied about this in Isaiah 53:10 saying, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” (ESV).
The odd thing about this is that while God is striking the shepherd, the sheep will be scattered. Jesus is letting them know that God’s Word says they are going to scatter when it gets bad. They are going to run and hide. After Jesus is arrested the disciples flee. They will be in the shadows of the Lord’s crucifixion, but they do not want to identify with Him. Again, God is proven right. They do exactly what He said they would do.
God does not waste anything. For the disciples, their falling away fulfilled prophecy demonstrating God was correct again. Their falling away also revealed the Lord’s omniscience about future events. As we will see later, their falling away put Jesus’ love and grace on display.
For you personally, you don’t want to fall away, you want to stay faithful and lean in on Jesus when it gets difficult. But if you do fall away and struggle trusting God, doubting whether He cares or is really in charge He is able to use your falling away, your weakness, your failures to for His glory and purposes. Ask Moses how God used his failure when he murdered a man and fled to the wilderness… Ask Samson how God used his falling away to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines… Ask Peter how God used him after denying that he even knew Jesus… Ask Jonah how God used him even through he fled from God’s call on his life… Ask David how God still used him after he sinned with Bethsheba and then had her husband killed… Ask Paul how God used him after he persecuted the church severely…. God does not waste a falling away. If you have turned your back on God, its time to turn around and face God. Your God loves you. He is your gracious heavenly Father and He will welcome you back just like the father welcomed back the prodigal son. God is not done with you. The best days of your life are still ahead of you.
Falling away is a learning opportunity
Number four, falling away is a learning opportunity. Let’s look at verse 27 once again, On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” This verse starts out by saying, on the way, Jesus told them. Where are they headed. According to verse 26 they are headed to the Mount of Olives. This is where Jesus is going to pray and experience extreme stress over what is about to happen. He will sweat drops of blood. Instead of praying the disciples will fall asleep. Judas will show up and betray Jesus with a kiss on the cheek. Jesus will be arrested, and the trials, torture, and crucifixion begin. When that all starts the disciples will scatter in fear of being arrested themselves.
Jesus knows all this, but we are told that on the way, Jesus told them how they were going to respond. They were on their way into a difficult situation. They did not see it coming. However, Jesus begins to prepare them ahead of time. He would tell them they were going to stumble because this is going to be tough. He would also tell them that after He was raised from the dead, He would meet them in Galilee. Jesus is saying to them, you are going to stumble but I’m going to restore you. After you fall away, I will help you find your way back. Your failure is not final. Your falling away does not define you. I have a purpose for you.
As a follower of Jesus, there are times where you are stronger than you think you are and there are times where you are weaker than you think you are. Learning to follow Jesus includes learning what your limitations are and learning from your failures.
When you fall away, God is not done with you. You are not damaged God. You may be broken, but God is in to restoration. If you have fallen away, I’m asking you to come back. I’m asking you to consider praying again, reading God’s word again, and making worship a priority. I’m asking you to return to your first love. I’m asking you to fall in love with Jesus again.