I was a member of a small church plant for about 10 years, and I hold no regrets on that score. But one of the hardest things I’ve had to face is that of drop-off. It’s a common problem for every church, but it seemed worst in the one I was at: Severely dysfunctional people came in through the front door, got their lives straightened out, then left through the back door.
When faced with another member leaving, it’s passages like this that comfort and strengthen me. Our Lord Jesus--the Son of God--didn’t hold onto the crowds who followed him. The people who followed him (literally) to the other side of the lake, as we mentioned before, were not there for any great spiritual reason: They wanted to see more miracles, especially those which left them with a full belly. He rebuked them for this, and tried to get them back on the right track. He pointed them away from physical bread to himself as the Bread from Heaven, which a man could eat and never die.
But these were Jews, and the notion that they were to “eat [his] flesh. . .and drink his blood” was more than strange to them: It was disgusting. They were expressly forbidden to eat meat with blood still in it, much less eat another person. And to drink blood, like the pagans in their blasphemous worship? Never!
Of course he wasn’t referring to his physical body and blood, as we talked about yesterday. But they didn’t stick around to get any clarification. They heard something that was a “hard teaching” and left. But Jesus didn’t immediately go after them and yell out “Hey guys! You misunderstood me! I was only talking about believing in me! Come back, let’s talk about this!”
No, the only reaction he gave was to turn to the rest of the disciples and make sure they wanted to stay. His question expects a negative answer: “You don’t want to leave too, do you?” He wasn’t asking for his benefit (as if he didn’t know their hearts), but for theirs. He wanted for each one of them (minus one) to confirm their decision for themselves in their hearts.
This holds several applications for us. First, we shouldn’t be discouraged when people leave. It’s only natural to react to that negatively, I understand. And we should take steps to minimize it. But Jesus himself lost followers. Not real believers, but just people hanging around looking for thrills. They won’t stay, no matter what we do, unless God changes their hearts. And in minimizing losses we must never, ever, ever even get close to compromising what the Father has told us to say. Jesus didn’t even bother explaining himself in order to keep people from leaving, at least not in this instance. And even among these last twelve, one of them was a “devil,” a false disciple.
Second, God will always save a remnant for himself. Out of the big crowd that eventually dwindles, he will sift out quality people whom he will use. As one of my heroes Jonathan once said, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” I’m not saying that more people wouldn’t be a nice change, but God isn’t hindered by the numbers. Using these “twelve” (minus Judas, plus Paul) he changed the world. If he can accomplish all that with those few men, think what he could do with you and me, if we just surrender to his plans and let go of ours.
And that leads me to the third application. Why did Peter and the others stick it out? Was it because they'd figured out what Jesus was doing? Was it because they understood what he really meant when he talked about eating flesh and drinking blood? No, it was because they understood that he was the only game in town. If they wanted real life, abundant life, eternal life, there was nowhere else to go. Whatever he said that didn’t make sense, it didn’t ultimately make a difference. They trusted in him and were going to follow him, because they knew who he was, not because they understood his plan.
Sounds like a great example for me to follow. What about you?
Lord Jesus, I belong to you, twice over. Whatever you want me to do, wherever you want me to go, I’m yours. I don’t care what you tell me that makes absolutely no sense, I’m not turning back.