Today’s Devotional Reading: Insights Gained From the Story of the Antelope Herd That Jumped From a Cliff
One day, I read an article describing how a herd of antelope had met with a sudden death after jumping from a cliff. The story told how, due to an eye disease, the leader of the herd failed to see the cliff looming behind a thicket of bushes and, clearing the bushes with a single leap, plunged over the precipice. The rest of the herd was following close behind their leader and they too jumped and fell. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the vision of the rest of the herd—they would have been able to see the cliff, so, why did they still jump? Well, it is actually because it is the natural behavior of antelopes to follow the leader of the herd. Wherever the leader goes, the herd follows. They don’t have the ability to make decisions on their own, and so when the leader jumped over the cliff, the herd followed suit, leading to their sudden, collective death. Clearly, the act of blindly following can very easily take one down the wrong path, and in severe cases may even lead to calamity.
As I was sighing over the death of these antelopes, I couldn’t help thinking that if we Christians don’t have a place for God in our hearts when we believe in and follow Him, or if, like the antelopes blindly following their leader, we don’t practice independent judgment in the situations we face, we will lose God’s saving grace forever.
I thought back to when the Lord Jesus appeared in the world to conduct His work in Judea, and how He ended the Age of Law and established the Age of Grace, issuing the words: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). He provided the people of that time with new and more practical means of dealing with the real problems they faced. During that time, apart from spreading the gospel and conducting His work, the Lord Jesus also performed many miracles and wonders, such as: feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, stilling the wind and sea with a single word from His mouth, healing people afflicted with blindness, raising the dead to life, etc. The Lord Jesus’ word and work were all a clear manifestation of His unique authority and might. At the time, many Jews could see the authority and might of the Lord Jesus’ word and work, and so they were willing to follow Him and listen to His teachings. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding a donkey, the Judean commoners lined the streets to greet Him and the whole city was abuzz, with people crying out the Lord Jesus’ name. However, when the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees began spreading lies about the Lord Jesus, accusing, attacking and judging Him and blaspheming against Him, denying that He was the Messiah who had been foretold, the Jews began to join with the Pharisees in denying Him. Then, when Jesus was arrested, the Jews, spurred on by the Pharisees, began to cry out in loud voices, “Crucify Him!” Eventually, they followed the Pharisees’ lead and nailed Him to the cross.
The Jews blindly heeded the words of the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, nailing Jesus to a cross, offending God’s disposition and thereby suffering God’s punishment. They made the same mistake as the antelopes when they followed their herd leader over the cliff. The Jews believed in God without knowing God. They even resisted and accused God. This should be a warning for all of us. So why did the Jews join with the Pharisees in resisting God? What was the reason for their great failure?
God’s words say, “Some people do not rejoice in the truth, much less judgment. Rather, they rejoice in power and riches; such people are called snobs. They exclusively seek out those denominations in the world with influence and those pastors and teachers coming from seminaries. Despite having accepted the way of truth, they remain skeptical and are unable to devote themselves fully. They speak of sacrificing for God, but their eyes are focused on the great pastors and teachers, and Christ is brushed aside. … they only value position, prestige, and power; what they hold in high regard are large groups and denominations. They have no regard at all for those led by Christ; they are simply traitors who have turned their backs on Christ, on truth, and on life” (“Are You a True Believer in God?”). The Jews failed mainly because instead of loving the truth, they worshiped status and authority. They believed in God in name, but in reality they put their faith in and followed man. At that time, the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees occupied the top level of leadership within the religious world—they had status and authority. In particular, the chief priests were the highest ranking leaders and enjoyed absolute authority and the most revered status. As such, the Jews greatly admired and worshiped the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees and blindly submitted to them without the slightest bit of independent judgment, even viewing them as their “herd leaders” on their path of faith in God. They believed they couldn’t possibly go wrong by following their lead in practicing faith in God. The incarnate Lord Jesus grew up in an ordinary household and had no illustrious status, and nor did He project a particularly imposing image. Most of Jesus’ followers were common people with no political power and no reputation to speak of. When the Lord Jesus led His disciples to do work and spread the gospel, they met with accusation and rejection. Thus, when Jesus performed miracles and wonders and bestowed grace and blessings upon His people, the Jews followed the Lord Jesus. Yet, when the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees began spreading lies, making false judgment, slandering and blaspheming against the Lord Jesus and even working with the Roman government to crucify Him, the Jews went along with their leaders, blindly joining them in their accusations against the Lord Jesus. The Jews didn’t love the truth, they didn’t consider it important to properly investigate the Lord Jesus’ word and work, but instead persisted in their worship of status and authority, following and admiring man and ultimately setting off on a one-way journey along the God-resisting road to ruin.
There was also another reason for the Jews’ failure, which was that they lacked truth and were incapable of independent judgment. They weren’t able to see the Pharisees’ truth-hating, antichrist essence for what it was. Instead, they were deceived by the Pharisees’ veneer of false piety. The Jews saw how the Pharisees often gave lectures on the Bible, and how they even stood in the synagogues and at street corners performing very long prayers. They saw how they did good deeds in the street markets and had, for many generations, even strictly adhered to the ancient traditions and religious rituals such as “not eating without first carefully washing the hands.” Because of all this, the Jews had great admiration and reverence for the Pharisees. They believed the Pharisees upheld God’s commandments and that they were loving to their fellow man, yet they completely failed to perceive how the Pharisees were full of deceit in everything they did, and that they were merely acting and engaging in self-promotion to deceive the Jews and ensnare the hearts of them, so that they would worship and adore them. When the Lord Jesus exposed the Pharisees, saying, “All their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments” (Matthew 23:5), the Jews didn’t accept His words in the least and still mindlessly persisted in their admiration and worship of the Pharisees.
When the Lord Jesus appeared in the world to carry out His work, the Pharisees, in order to maintain tight control over the Jews and preserve their status and livelihood, spread all manner of heresies and fallacies, saying, “This Lord Jesus is not called the Messiah, He is not of God,” “This Lord Jesus’ work is heresy and not in keeping with the Scriptures,” “This Lord Jesus does not keep the Sabbath, goes against the teachings of the Bible and is a sinner,” etc. They knew very well that the Lord Jesus’ word held the truth, but they still intentionally asked the Lord Jesus whether He was the Son of God and even spread all kinds of lies, accusations, slander and blasphemy against Him. Ultimately, they worked with the Roman government and nailed the Lord Jesus to the cross. It can be seen from the Pharisees’ frenzied resistance to and accusations against the Lord Jesus, as well as their derision toward the words of truth spoken by the Lord Jesus, that they were falsely pious, sinister, conniving, and malicious people. They were antichrists that deceived and ensnared men, and in their utter derangement, made themselves enemies of God. This is just as the Lord Jesus said when He exposed them, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). “You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
At the time, the Jews didn’t understand the truth and were unable to discern the truth-hating, antichrist substance of the Pharisees. On the contrary, they believed that because the Pharisees were well-versed in the Bible, masters of the law and commandments, and had sacrificed much to spread and testify Jehovah’s gospel, they must know God and be the most devoted of all people to God. As such, they blindly worshiped and followed them. Thus, even when the Jews heard the Lord Jesus’ sermons, witnessed the Lord Jesus performing miracles and wonders, and observed how His word and work were filled with authority and might, they still joined the Jewish leadership in resisting and making accusations against Jesus out of admiration and worship for the Pharisees. In the end, this is what led to tragedy.
Reading the tragic story of the antelopes and then reflecting on the bitter lesson of the Jews, I was deeply moved. I realized that those with genuine belief in God and love of the truth are not easily swayed, don’t follow other men blindly and don’t approach situations with a bias. Rather, they are able to seek God’s will in every situation and measure all things according to the truth. They believe whoever speaks rightly and in accordance with the truth and resolutely reject and oppose those who do not. Because every person, no matter whether they are of high status or profound learning in the Bible, is but a fleck of dust before God. Their words are not the truth, only God’s word is the truth. Only God’s word is the standard by which one may weigh right and wrong. No matter what situation we may encounter, we can always use the truth as our principle. Only as such can we avoid going down the wrong path. Just take the example of the Lord Jesus’ disciples, Peter, John and Nathanael—upon witnessing the Lord Jesus’ work, they didn’t blindly follow the Jewish leadership, but rather actively sought out and investigated the Lord Jesus’ word and work. When they saw that the Lord Jesus’ word was full of authority and might, could expose murky things that people would rather keep hidden, unravel the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and were indeed God’s voice, they weren’t influenced by the leaders of the religious world but remained resolute in following the Lord Jesus and eventually welcomed the Messiah and received God’s saving grace.
At this point, I couldn’t help but reflect upon myself and how whenever I met with any issue in life I would go consult the pastors and elders. I thought that since the pastors and elders had been working toilsomely for God for years on end and had vast knowledge of the Bible, I certainly couldn’t go wrong in heeding their advice. I believed in God without having a place for Him in my heart. I hadn’t put effort into studying God’s word in the Bible and seeking His intention. Rather, I blindly followed the advice of the pastors and elders. In doing this, was I not believing in God while following man? Reflecting upon how the Jews joined the Pharisees in crucifying Jesus, it became clear that this is a lesson written in blood, and one that I must learn from! At this point, I suddenly thought of how we are currently living in the last days, and many of the prophecies associated with the return of the Lord have already been fulfilled, and, in fact, the Lord might very well have already returned. Yet, when it comes to welcoming the Lord’s return, the pastors and elders always tell us: “Any preaching that says the Lord has come is false!” Thus, even when I heard news of God’s return, I didn’t seek or investigate. Now I realize that I can’t blindly follow the words of the pastors and elders anymore. I must have a place for God in my heart, have my own judgment and follow the example of the Lord Jesus’ disciples Peter, John, and James. When hearing the news of the Lord Jesus’ return, I should actively seek and investigate God’s new work and take God’s word and the truth as the standard by which I distinguish the true way from the false way. Only in this way can I welcome the return of the Lord Jesus and avoid reenacting the great historical tragedy of the Jews!