The danger of being scattered

Being a Christian means trials, distress, and hardship, the Chief Apostle stated in a recent divine service. But believers don’t have to fear, for the Son of God will help them, just as the Father helped Him.

In a divine service on in Kempten in Germany on 2 August 2020, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider concentrated on God’s help in difficult times. Everyone who follows Christ is exposed to affliction, distress, and hardship. And along the way there is always the danger of being scattered. Jesus already pointed this out in the Bible text that was used for this divine service: “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16: 32).

The prophecy of Zechariah

At the beginning of his sermon, the Chief Apostle pointed out that Jesus was referring to words by the prophet Zechariah. He wanted to make it clear to the disciples that they should be careful so they would not be scattered. “Be careful, the prophet already said that the Shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered. You will leave me” (cf. Zechariah 13: 7–9).

Despite his warning the disciples withdrew. “It began in Gethsemane. The Lord needed them to pray with Him, but they had fallen asleep. Then He was captured and they all disappeared, they fled.” Yet in spite of them having left the Lord, He was not alone. Jesus said to His disciples: “The Father is with Me, He does not leave Me alone.”

“How did God do that?” Starting with this question, the Chief Apostle pointed out how God came to the aid of Jesus. He did this in three different ways: “In Gethsemane, God sent Jesus an angel to strengthen Him. On His way to Golgotha the disciples were no longer with Him, but God watched over Him. He sent Him Simon, a stranger, who happened to pass by, and He carried the cross for Him.” But the most important thing was: Jesus was not alone because God was with Him in spirit.”

The work of the evil one

But what does this word tell us today? Coming back to the words in Zechariah, Chief Apostle Schneider explained: “Zechariah already explained that the Shepherd will be struck and the sheep will be scattered, and that this is permitted by God. God allows this because He wants to cleanse His people. The prophet even says that two thirds will be cut off and die, and one third shall be refined.”

This is not a statistical model, but an indication of how serious the danger was for the Christians then and now, the Chief Apostle said. This is how Jesus explained to the disciples that His impending death will not only mean a difficult time for them now, but also those who follow Jesus Christ later will be exposed to tribulation.

The danger in such times is that people only think of their own lives and their own welfare: “One is fully occupied with one’s own worries. One withdraws into one’s own little world, and earthly life is all that matters. And at that moment you no longer need the Lord as much. Salvation is still important, but at the moment you just don’t have time for it. At that moment, health and work is more important.”

In such a situation some people find that they can get along without God, which is why they turn away from Him and no longer keep his commandments. “When you withdraw into your own little world and think only of your earthly life, you realise that it is possible to get along without God and that the commandments don’t have to be taken so seriously.”

There is also the danger that through the activity of the evil one we withdraw from the congregation: “When we go through difficulties, we tend to withdraw into ourselves and distance ourselves from God and from the congregation.”

Help from the Lord

The Lord provided comfort for such situations, Chief Apostle Schneider continued. “Jesus said: I have overcome the world, I can help you! Call on Me if you want to remain faithful. I will give you the strength you need. I can help you to fight against this.”

The Chief Apostle went on to say that the Father helps us as He helped the Son. He does this in three different ways:

  • through the ministers: “He sends us His angels, His servants, His ambassadors, who strengthen us with word and sacrament.”
  • through His help: “If things become too difficult for us, He gives us very concrete help in our daily life; we have all experienced this.”
  • through the Holy Spirit: “He has given us His Spirit. And He is always present in us. God is with us through the Holy Spirit. And He strengthens us.”

The Holy Spirit reinforces our love for Jesus Christ, the Chief Apostle confirmed. Above all, He helps us to remain in fellowship with the Lord by

  • reminding us that Jesus has called us and that we come together because we love Jesus. “Our fellowship is based on our calling by Jesus Christ and our love for Him.”
  • urging us to forgive one another over and over: “God has taught us how to forgive. This is an important element of fellowship: without mutual forgiveness fellowship is not possible.”
  • calling us to serve Him: “Jesus helps us and says: I have called you together to work together. You cannot do this mission alone. You need one another. Come together, serve one another, and serve the Lord together.”

“Every Christian is subject to temptation. That does not mean that we have an impossible life. It only means that we must be careful when difficult times come that we do not distance ourselves from the Lord, are only concerned with earthly things, and do not distance ourselves from the congregation. And He helps us to resist this spirit, if we want Him to.”

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Tatjana Fröhlich
Chief Apostle, Divine service