When Following Christ Goes Badly

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A common misconception in modern American Christian thought is that once a person “gives their life to Jesus” that everything from that point will be easy. We hear this from our pulpits on a regular basis. Just give your life to Jesus and everything will be okay. Are you hurting? Give your life to Jesus. Are you broken? Give your life to Jesus. Are you searching for purpose? Give your life to Jesus. While I completely believe that we should give our lives to Jesus, I believe that this more often than not looks a lot differently than we’d like it to look.

A brief survey of the New Testament should tell us that if Jesus promised anything, it most definitely was not that life following Him would be easy. In the gospel according to Matthew, a scribe came to Jesus and (somewhat flippantly, it seems) told Jesus that he would follow Him:

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:20-22)

This wasn’t some type of allegory that Jesus was speaking; He literally had no home. Then look at the Twelve, Jesus’ inner circle. They left jobs and families to follow this Man. In one exchange, we see Peter wondering what the lot of the Apostles would be:

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19:27)

In what is probably the most direct statement from Jesus regarding how the lives of those who follow Him would go, Jesus tells His followers:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Even from the lips of Jesus, we hear that following Jesus has a cost. One biblical witness who could attest this is John the Baptist. John had from his conception been set apart from God to serve the Kingdom. John was “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'” (John 1:23). He was witness to the voice of God speaking from the clouds and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove at His baptism. Yet we later find John imprisoned and at the mercy of Herod who had vowed to a teenage stripper that she could have anything she wanted. In a desperate moment, John sends his disciples to Jesus to make sure that He was truly the Messiah. Jesus sends word back to John:

In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:21-23)

What’s significant about Jesus’ response is that He was quoting (in part) Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; (Isaiah 61:1)

But Jesus left off the last part. The liberty of the captives and the prison being opened. John would’ve known these verses. John would’ve known what his disciples had left off of their report. In effect, Jesus was telling John, “Yes, I am the Messiah. And you will die in prison.” But then Jesus goes on to tell His disciples that there has been no man born of woman that is greater than John.

Later in the New Testament, the writer of the book of Hebrews is reciting the so-called “Roll Call of Faith” (Hebrews 11). In verses 32-38:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:32-38)

Did you see that? Some were mighty. Some put foreign armies to flight. Some received back their dead. Some were tortured. Wha…? Without even so much as a pause to breathe, the writer of Hebrews puts believers who were “stoned…sawn in two…killed with the sword” in the same category as those who “stopped the mouths of lions”. This seems to be evidenced by the dramatic ways that the Apostles perished. (For more on this, see this document). These were considered positions (and fates) of honor, not disgrace.

So what’s the point of all this? Why go through such lengths to show that more often than not, those who follow Jesus are persecuted or worse for the name of Christ? Because, especially here in America, we have been lulled into a false sense of calm with our faith. In America, it costs almost nothing to be a follower of Christ. We meet without fear. We have endless access to Scripture. We have laws that protect us in this land. But the result of this peace and security is a spiritual “fatness”; a “Thanksgiving Dinner” type of lethargy that has made us quiet and complacent.

The point of all of this is not that we live comfortable, happy lives here on earth. The point of all of this is that we are faithful until death, and then we get God. We are, by the blood shed for us by Christ on Calvary, reconciled to the Father and seen as righteous in His eyes. If we set our eyes upon the goal of eternity with Christ, this earthly trouble will seem like just what it is…”light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Be blessed…