“Following Jesus may end badly.” I borrow that line from one of Matt Chandler’s sermons. Chandler was simply stating the truth, both from scripture and from his personal experience. Often, our brand of American Christianity paints a rosy picture of the Christian life that cannot be found on the pages of God’s Word. Popular religious hucksters such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, and Joyce Myer paint a picture of following Christ that is all rainbows, sparkles, and fairy dust. Is it any wonder so many believers are depressed, uncertain, and confused when their lives are not the cakewalks promised by those who trumpet the false gospel of “health and wealth?”
This is not to say that following Jesus isn’t joyous, fun, and fulfilling – it is – yet, we must guard against giving others a false sense of what the Christian life looks like, and glossing over the hardships of the journey as promised by our Lord himself. I think about Hebrews 11:35-38,
“Others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.”
This is a far cry from what many pastors preach, and what many modern Christians believe, yet for the majority of believers around the world, Hebrews 11 is reality. Over 100 million Christians are being persecuted for their Christian faith daily, which accounts for about seventy-five percent of worldwide religious persecution. But here in America, where our biggest threat is the school board not letting us pray over the p.a. at a high school football game, we know nothing of Hebrews 11.
We’re insulated and the results are telling. Church health experts estimate that ninety-four percent of churches are static or in decline in America. In forty years it is estimated that the number of church attenders will be about half of what it is now. The reason for this is obvious: our Christianity is much too comfortable.
I thank God that, as far as I know, we are free from stonings, shunnings, and killings in my city. However, following Jesus still may end badly for us, earthly speaking. Christ’s invitation to follow is an invitation to suffering and persecution: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). If our Lord was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) should we not expect the same to some degree?
And what about Paul, whose story is filled with so much hardship, suffering, and strife that my mind can barely grasp it all:
“Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
When we call people to Christ, let’s make sure we’re telling them the whole story. There should be no greater joy than following and serving the One who’s redeemed us. The sweet fellowship we have with him and with his people, as well as the spiritual peace we have, is incomparable. The flip side of that is we will hurt, we will ache, we will be depressed, we will struggle, we will suffer, we will grieve, we will hurt, and we will eventually die. Sometimes unfairly, it seems. We must be truthful and let them know that following Jesus may end badly.