“There are times when it seems to me that in our misinterpretation of Jesus as gentle and pitiful and tolerant, we have imagined that all we have to do to make a man [or woman] a Christian is to sing him [or her] some sweet, soft nothing, set to dance music” (G. Campbell Morgan circa 1929).
When surveying through the four gospels, the twenty-third chapter of Matthew contains some of Jesus’s harshest words directed toward the religious leaders of his day. Jesus the Messiah rains down upon them seven woes, which contain stark metaphors such as blind guides, brood of vipers, and whitewashed tombs. Clearly, Jesus exudes zero tolerance for the hypocrisy of the religious leaders in his day; however, this is vastly different than the point being conveyed by G. Campbell Morgan’s quote.
In the fourteenth chapter of Luke, the good doctor records Jesus’s words on discipleship: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:26-30, ESV).
From Luke’s passage, Jesus expresses a high status bar for following him. He doesn’t address the subject of discipleship like the religious leaders. For example, there isn’t any accompanying list of dos and don’ts. Jesus doesn’t say, “Your robes must be of a certain cloth and color and length.” Neither does he say, “if you’ve arrived spiritually, then you can follow me.” Instead, Jesus emphasizes to his audience that following him means to put him first. Christ is at the center of the disciple’s life. My life and the corresponding needs, wants, and attachments are secondary. Anything that I’d lay claim to must be despised for his sake, which echoes the apostle Paul’s words: “…whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7, ESV).
Jesus gave his life in order to conquer sin and death, which entered into this world because of tolerance toward falsehood. The enemy’s goal had been to steal, kill, and destroy Adam and Eve and all of God’s creation. What adds wonder to Christ’s work of redemption is that his choice had been made in eternity past. Ephesians 1 catalogues the glorious redemptive plan, which occurred in the conference room of heaven before the foundation of the world. God the Father desired and purposed to redeem the elect in Christ, through Christ, by Christ and for Christ. God the Son agreed to carry out the Father’s plan in his life while God the Holy Spirit agreed to bring the redemptive work of Christ to life within the redeemed.
The price of redemption wasn’t cheap. It cost Jesus everything; therefore, any teaching that lessens what Christ did necessarily lessens who Christ is and his gospel. Avoiding the notion that Christ calls us to carry our cross only paves the way for deception and feelings of betrayal. Does this mean that Jesus calls me or us to die? It’s possible as his people. We follow him. He doesn’t follow us. Abel and Enoch are two faithful believers whose lives demonstrate two sides of the same coin. Abel lost his life due to his faith, but Enoch didn’t see death. Scripture holds out both men as examples for Christ’s disciples in Hebrews 11.
There is victory, healing, blessing, and joy in Christ; however, there is also persecution, suffering, defeat, and sorrow. Despite those possible outcomes, the ultimate truth is that at the consummation of all things, those in Christ will shine like the stars in our Father’s kingdom. Our redemption has us on a trajectory, which far exceeds any joy or blessing or sorrow experienced during this present age. We are Christ’s disciples, his ambassadors, who walk this earth proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. The message won’t always be received warmly, but that’s to be expected. Besides, our hope isn’t in our effectiveness in proclaiming the good news. Our hope rests in Christ and his coming, which ushers in the age to come.