Sorry! I couldn’t resist using this picture even though it has nothing to do with the topic of my post. Well, actually, come to think of it does! The fact is, when we hear the phrase “left behind,” if you’ve been in church all your life, your mind probably jumps to either the apocalyptic Christian book series with the same title or the rapture of the Church.
I was reading in Mark 4 today when a couple of verses jumped off the page. First, the context of this chapter is that Jesus is teaching the crowds about the Kingdom of God. In this chapter we see several parables that He used to explain what the Kingdom of God was about–the parable of the sower, the parable of the growing seed, and the parable of the mustard seed.
At one point, Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” His answer is shocking! In Mark 4:11, He says, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that [and then He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10], “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.”
In other words, there are some who followed Jesus who listened to His words and were all about learning but were never able to acknowledge the truth, because if they really did acknowledge the truth, they would turn from their ways, repent and receive forgiveness.
I think there are two ways to look at this passage. In the past, when I’ve read this passage, it almost seems like Jesus is intentionally hiding the truth from people so they don’t understand the truth, turn from their ways and receive forgiveness. I guess if you’re a 5 point Calvinist, you could use this text to show that God picks and chooses whom He will save and whom He won’t.
But, I don’t think that’s what this passage is teaching us. I believe, like many other people, that most of our churches are filled with people who are not Christ followers (hence, the parable of the tares sown among the wheat in Matthew 13). Sure, they’ve prayed a prayer, talked to a pastor, been baptized, etc., and they claim to follow Jesus, but they are having to greater impact for the kingdom of God than before their “conversion”–there is no fruit. They are ever learning, dare I say “consuming” religious goods and services, but, according to Jesus, they are not a part of the kingdom of God.
What is amazing to me about the ministry of Jesus is the laser-like focus He had on equipping His disciples. Yes, He healed the sick and taught the masses, but He wasn’t afraid to walk away from the crowds, either. In Mark 4:36, we find another shocking act Jesus took–”Leaving the crowds behind…” What!? Jesus, this is not how you grow a movement! You can’t leave people behind!
The problem in most of our churches today is that we’re not willing to leave people behind to make disciples. We make our decisions based around what is going to add to our bottom line the quickest. What’s our bottom line? Well, all you have to do is hang around a group of pastors and you’ll quickly find out how we typically measure our success–how many? (attendance) and how much? (money). We set up our churches–our services and programs–according to these measurements. If we have a good crowd on Sunday and a good offering, we’re really doing something right!
But Jesus didn’t do that! He had a laser-like focus on equipping His little army that would change the world. Do you realize that if you’re a Christ follower anywhere in the world today, your spiritual lineage can be traced back to one of the 12 disciples? That blows my mind! Jesus had a very intentional strategy that ensured that He made disciples who made disciples who made disciples, etc, etc, etc, until YOU received the Gospel! If that process had broken down and just one person decided to keep their “personal relationship with Jesus” to themselves, you might not be a Christ follower today!
So, are you truly a Christ follower? Could you prove it with something more than your baptism certificate, your church membership or a story about when you cried during an invitation and talked to a pastor? Have you died to your plans for your life and been raised to walk in the life He has planned for you? Or, are you one of the perhaps millions of people who dutifully file in to church on Sunday morning but have never been transformed by the Gospel into a true follower of Christ who makes disciples who makes disciples who makes disciples… If you’re not a discipler, I think there’s a good chance you could be left behind.