Run Away, Fall Away, Deny
In Matthew 26:31-35, Jesus said:
"This very night you will all fall away (run away) on account of me, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered' (Zechariah 13:7). But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."
"Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."
"I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times."
"Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you."
And all the other disciples said the same.
Falling Away and Denying
In our (currently) shallow Christian subculture, a handful of "celebrity" Christians have made the news for their subsequent Falling Away and Denying Jesus as Lord. New words have risen to describe this phenomenon: deconversion and deconstruction.
First, I'm not pointing fingers at anyone.
Second, note in Matthew 26 that every single disciple of Jesus actually did fall away ... in the critical moment, all went AWOL, leaving Jesus to die alone. However, these same men would return very quickly to follow him. 11 of the 12 apostles would even sacrifice their own lives to never deny him again.
Third, this phenomenon is nothing new. Ever since Jesus uttered radical claims, followers have been tempted to leave him behind. In John 6:66 (an ominous number), it records many of Jesus' followers found his claims too hard to digest. They bolted. They fell away. They disowned him.
Notice, unlike our probable first impulse, Jesus didn't chase them down.
In fact, he invited his closest disciples to consider leaving, too. "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the twelve. I'm afraid in our milquetoast Christian culture, we'd also be greatly tempted to exit, stage right.
What does it mean to run away, fall away, or deny? I'm a 'word guy,' so I loaded my mechanical pencil (.5 mm lead) and carefully scratched out idioms and synonyms that came to mind, to help me better grasp (and articulate) the nuances of falling away from Jesus. Here's my list ... see if you're ever tempted by any of these thoughts:
To defend self
To make excuses
To hunker down
To live for another day
To circle the wagons
To go 'radio silent'
To scatter like cockroaches
To give up
To stop short
These are signs of falling away, of disowning Jesus. We are left with a binary option: either follow Jesus to the death or follow him only so far ... utilizing some of the 20 synonyms above.
When I finished jotting that list in my journal, I wrote out an honest prayer:
Help me to stand, to attend to You till the end. To never quit, nor go silent. To die in Your company, 'come what may'. Hold me near. Tether me to Your side, like a dog leashed to his all-knowing Master. Don't let me run away."
Then, drawing the picture below, I signed off...