“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”
In our mind we can see the Lord and his disciples, coming down the steps from the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Passover. Arriving at the bottom, they walk eastward through the streets of Jerusalem. It had been a very emotional evening.
The Lord had told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, which made each of them consider whether he was the one who’d do such an awful thing. The Lord had also spoken of his body which would be broken and his blood which would be poured out. These things had made them sad, afraid, and confused. But finally, when the Lord had led them in the singing of a hymn, things had almost returned to normal.
Imagine the disciples, now a bit relieved, following their Master through the dark streets of the city. Soon they leave Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate, the towering walls of the city rapidly fading into the darkness behind them as they walk the short distance to the Mount of Olives.
It is during this walk that the Lord begins to speak again to his disciples. Now He drops, as it were, another bombshell among them: “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (v. 31).
Peter probably spoke for them all when he protested in verse 33,“Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” Here is Jesus, and following Him is what is left of the church He had gathered. So many had fallen away already on account of his words. “This is a hard teaching,” they had said, “Who can accept it?” Many had turned back and no longer walked with Him. Now the Lord prophesies that even these disciples, they who’d confessed that He had the words of eternal life, would also fall away on account of Him. No way! They will never leave or forsake their Master!
However, the Scripture needs to be fulfilled and in the Scripture it was written that the shepherd would be stricken, and the sheep of his flock would be scattered. Sheep are confident as long as the shepherd is with them, but without the shepherd they do not know what to do and where to go. They will scatter.
We know from the rest of the story that when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, this is exactly what happened to the disciples. “Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled,” we read in verse 56 of this same chapter. So it was written, and so it had to come to pass.
When finally the fullness of time comes to its climax in Jesus’ hour of suffering, He is completely alone. The Old Testament church, captive to its traditions and a law it did not want fulfilled, utterly rejects Him. Also the small and frail New Testament church deserts Him in bewildered fear, in slowness of heart to believe what the prophets had spoken.
There go the disciples: running in every direction, they scatter over the Mount of Olives, like sheep without a shepherd. They forever give evidence that without Jesus neither the church nor any of its individual members can amount to anything or do anything.
“I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. But. . .” – and this is the glory of our Saviour, for the scattering of the sheep is not the end – “But after I have risen I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (v. 32).
Jesus will victoriously arise from defeating all things that threatened his followers and He will lead them to Galilee. He will lead them to the place where Head begun to teach them and where He had promised to make them “fishers of men.” There in Galilee He will, from the ruins of that small, frail, and scattered church – which had returned to be fishers of fish – raise his glorious New Testament church. The members of this church confess that they can do nothing without Him, who never fell away on account of them.
Let us continually strive to be active members of this church of our Saviour. Let us cease all attempts to do anything without Christ, lest we too, scatter like sheep without a shepherd.
Rev. H. Kalkman is retired minister of the Canadian Reformed Church at Calgary, Alberta
Source: Clarion, Vol 58:13 (Apr 24, 2009)