Monday, 31 March 2014

The cost of following Christ

It's funny how the biblical lessons that are the most obvious are often the ones that I tend to naturally ignore.  Such is the case with the lessons of perseverance in following God.  From the narrative accounts in the Old Testament (Abram and Sarai waiting 25 years for Issac, Joseph being sold into slavery, Moses leading the stubborn Israelites for another 40 years through the wilderness, Jeremiah prophesying for 40 plus years with only one convert--his scribe), to the ample teaching in the New Testament, the Scripture is clear: God is ultimately interested only in faith that endures.

Jesus boldly proclaimed the cost of discipleship on numerous occasions.  In Luke 9:57-62, He made it crystal clear that He did not judge the faithfulness of people the way that we do.  He was not impressed with short term/superficial commitments:

"Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.  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.'  Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.'  But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.'  Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God'  And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house'  But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'

There are so many who boldly proclaim, "Lord I will follow you wherever you go", only to "fall of the rails" after a season of trial.  They are "on fire for God", but only for a short time.  Why is enduring faithfulness so hard to find?  Because it requires an authentic faith that clings to nothing other than the ROCK: Jesus Christ.  When our hearts are holding on to the things of the world, we cannot fully put our faith in Jesus because our affections are divided.  And Jesus warned us so when He proclaimed, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other." (Matthew 6:24)  He was speaking about the love of money, but by extension He was speaking about all the lusts of the this world that money represented (comforts, fame, power, pleasure, etc.).

In John 6:60-69 Jesus taught some very difficult things for the crowds of followers to accept.  And many left Him because of it.  But even after this exodus, Jesus wasn't rattled.  In fact, He wasn't even finished teaching on the subject of commitment.  He challenged His disciples with a stark choice: do you want to follow Me or not?  He was in effect giving them an "out".  Look at the context:

"Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?'  When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, 'Does this offend you?  What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.  And He said, 'Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father'
 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away' But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'

So much of what happens today in contemporary Christianity is designed to please the crowd.  Our validation comes from the blessings we receive in life or the favourable responses of other people.  But such thinking has it all wrong.  No amount of earthly blessings can ever satisfy the craving of the human soul and the fickle affections of the crowd will only produce a short-term happiness.  When this thinking creeps into the church body, it is a dangerous thing indeed.  What we need is the same kind of mindset as Peter: "To whom shall we go?"  He was "all in" for Jesus.  And his feeble faith would one day became gigantic because of Christ's work in Him.  But the road was brutal and the challenges never ended.  Yet, Peter gained the greatest prize of all: eternal life with Christ because of his dogged determination to follow the Lord.

True faith endures.  Fickle faith crumbles under duress.  It's a lesson that one cannot escape if they are serious about God's Word.  God never promised us an easy life: He promised us a purposeful life of eternal significance and intimacy with Him.  And that is found only in the ROCK of our faith: Jesus Christ.

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