Go to church to get hungry.
Don’t go to church to get fed? People say this sounds unbiblical. Didn’t Jesus tell Peter, “Feed my sheep”?
That’s the point.
We find this idea in Ezekiel 34 where God was speaking “against the shepherds of Israel” who failed to feed the sheep and instead fed themselves: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought … My sheep were scattered with none to search or seek for them …” (Ezekiel 34:4,6)
Imagine the scene. Peter swims up to a beach where the Messiah he denied is cooking him breakfast over a charcoal fire. Just a few days earlier he was warming himself around another charcoal fire when a girl gave him a chance to stand up for a suffering Jesus. He fails miserably, the cock crows, and he flees in shame, lacking faith to believe in a Redeemer who could beat death, much less his sin.
But Jesus thoroughly defeated sin and absolutely conquered death.
Peter now finds himself looking into the same eyes of the Man he betrayed, with the smell of his failure in his nostrils. He then hears the question he never saw coming, with a command that would change his life:
Do you love Me?
Feed my sheep.
When most Christians hear the words feed my sheep they tend to think of reaching in. Going deep. Finding a church that meets my family’s needs. They call it discipleship. For most people feed my sheep means improving existing believers.
But I don’t think that’s what Peter heard.
There’s no doubt that improving and caring for found sheep is part of what Ezekiel 34 had in mind. Strengthen the weak, heal the sick, have good Bible studies. All good stuff. But when you read the story of Peter, you do not find him staying in; he goes out. Central to God’s rebuke to shepherds was their characteristic neglect of lost sheep.
After 2000 years Christians still miss it. We still think feed my sheep means preaching good sermons. (And listen, I’m a sermon guy. I’m sold on well-prepared, expository, Christocentric, Redemptive-historical, gospel preaching) We still think feed my sheep means helping already-found sheep shine a little brighter. (Just to be clear, I’m all in with with laboring for Christ-like sanctification by faith, a la Galatians 4:19.)
But what if feed my sheep is something more like the great commission.
You know, Go make disciples.
What if making disciples is like making a cake. It certainly includes the icing and the decorating, but it absolutely demands the cooking. Starting with nothing but ingredients and turning this nothingness into somethingness. Sounds a lot like God: “Let there be light.” What if making disciples is exactly what Jesus said it is: teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19-20) What if feed my sheep says loving Jesus means I’ll care about what he cares about. And he feels deeply about lost things.
What if feed my sheep is a lot more like an urgent search for your lost keys when you’re running late for work? Funny how I never hear people passively sit down and rationalize theology with their lost keys. Well, maybe I was predestined to never find these keys. If God wants me to have them, he’ll find a way. Let’s be honest, if we treated looking for lost keys the way we treat looking for lost sheep we’d be unemployed.
Feed My sheep.
I have eight children. That means every now and then I lose one. Can you imagine if I went home to my wife with seven out of eight? As my wife explodes in maternal concern do you think she’d be okay with me saying, “Ruth, calm down. We still have seven. Let’s not be all about numbers. Besides that, the more kids, the less the rest of us get our needs met. The less food for the rest of us. I don’t want us to be a mega-family, I like small-family. All these extra people make it harder to go deep.” My wife would go off.
Because that’s her sheep.
What if your wife-swapping coworker is His sheep, but he doesn’t know it yet? What if your annoying neighbor is His sheep, but she’s never been told? What if feed My sheep means we’re rubbing shoulders with lost sheep all the time, and God wants people with a heart like his?
Which is why He’s asking, “Do you love Me?”
And that’s why I don’t want to go to a church that “feeds” me, in the way a predictable American Christian hears the word feeds. I want to be a part of one that makes me hungry – hungry enough to go all the way with this gospel I say I believe. And nothing makes me hungry like the uncompromised proclamation and demonstration of the substitutionary death and explosive resurrection of Jesus, in the context of a community that lives as if it’s true.