“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39, ESV).
In a post-game interview Baker Mayfield, rookie quarterback for the Cleveland Browns was asked how he had led his team to an amazing victory. Mayfield responded, “I woke up feeling dangerous today!”
Following Jesus is a dangerous undertaking! It sets you at odds with the very world in which you live.
Following Jesus can set your family against you when you love Jesus more than them. Following Jesus can set your your friends and colleagues against you when it becomes a higher priority than work or hobbies.
Following Jesus can set you against the popular culture and politics of this world when His values become your values.
It makes you look suspicious… unusual… dangerous!
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV).
In the book of Philippians the Apostle Paul highlighted the need for advancement or progress in one’s Christian life by inciting the Philippians to “work out their own salvation” (vs. 2:12) and then by rallying them to follow his example and “press on toward the goal” (vs 3:14).
It’s as if living their Christian lives was like participating in a footrace. And, the finish line for this race was not ahead but up!
“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths” (Psalm 119:1-3, NLT).
I recently read the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and the key founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich in Germany prior to and during World War II. Bonhoeffer, who wrote the Christian classic, The Cost of Discipleship, was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis at the age of thirty-nine for his Christian faith and participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
The detailed biography was an interesting and inspirational read but left me with some disturbing theological questions concerning the tension between good and evil in this present world. Although Metaxas probably didn’t intend to agitate his readers when writing the biography, the story of Bonhoeffer’s brief life and tragic death certainly raised some concerns about God’s justice for me!
“But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own…but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead… I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. “ (Philippians 3:8-12, CEB).
When I was in college the rock band, The Doobie Brothers, recorded and released the song, “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me.” Although the song was originally written as a gospel song, The Doobie Brothers’ recording was meant for listeners of pop and rock music. The song became quite popular, however, among counterculture Christians, particularly those involved with the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. The song continues to be a staple of playlists on classic rock radio stations.
I’m sure as a member of the Jesus Movement in the 1970s I sang the song many times at student prayer meetings on my college campus. I still like the song today.
Recently, I heard the song on one of those classic rock radio stations and began to reflect on the perspective posed by the song: “Jesus is just all right with me!” And, it occurred to me that the sentiment expressed in the song that I loved so much as a young Jesus freak actually confirms what can go wrong with my faith as a mature Christian.
I like being comfortable with Jesus. He’s cool with me! So, it’s an easy and convenient place for my faith to reside when it’s a relationship that is clean, friendly and socially acceptable.
Certainly, Jesus is just all right with me isn’t exactly the expression of faith in Christ that the Apostle Paul describes in this declaration from his letter to the Philippians.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, NLT).
As I was praying one morning and yet again reciting to the Lord all my shortcomings and should-have-done’s, it occurred to me that though I profess to be a follower of Christ, am I really following Christ?
Just because I’m a follower of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean I’m following Christ!
I follow a lot of people on social media. But, just because I follow them on Twitter doesn’t mean I always read their tweets. Just because I like them on Facebook doesn’t mean I want to be like them.
But, it’s different with following Jesus. He says you can’t just be a follower, you have to follow. And, following requires you to do something–or not do something–depending on how you look at it.
“The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, CEB).
I often take my kids to the skating rink to roller skate. Since they are still learning to skate, I tell them to keep their heads in front of their skates. Then, if they fall, they will fall forward and can catch themselves on their hands and knees and can get back up and continue skating. If they fall backward on their head or back, they risk hurting themselves and not wanting to skate anymore.
I’ve spent much of my career trying to understand how people learn. And one thing I’ve learned about learning is that some of the best learning occurs from failing. For example, it’s easier to learn how to skate when you know how to fall.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me’” (John 6:53-57, CEB).
I’m not so certain that in these verses Jesus is just talking about taking communion. Certainly, communion celebrates the flesh and blood sacrifice of Jesus through the imagery of the bread and the wine. I suppose these verses might even be used to support the notion that the bread and wine of the Eucharist is somehow changed into the body and blood of Christ.
But I don’t think that’s at all what Jesus had in mind here.
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33, NASB).
Sometimes we think that being a member of a local church is the same thing as being a disciple of Jesus. It’s certainly intended to be that way. But there seems to be some variations in the admission requirements between church membership and discipleship.
Now, it’s fairly easy to meet the requirements for church membership. Shake the preacher’s hand and say a little prayer; tell God you’re sorry and promise to believe in Him. And maybe even get baptized! But Jesus had something more comprehensive in mind when he specified the requirements for being His disciple.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven…Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 4, NLT).
When we practice the spiritual disciplines of giving, praying, and fasting we are cultivating a quality of life that helps us develop an authentic relationship with God.
“Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in August of that year. He had arranged to leave Babylon on April 8, the first day of the new year, and he arrived at Jerusalem on August 4, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” (Ezra 7:8-10, NLT).
King Cyrus of Persia had allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 538 BC. The returning Jews rebuilt the Temple and completed it in 515 BC, approximately 70 years after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar (This Second Temple stood for approximately 585 years until the Roman army of Titus destroyed it in 70 AD.)