Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, 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.” 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 8:18-22
I am the proud father of a daughter who serves in the Armed Forces. She and her husband have both worked diligently to achieve the rank of Sergeant, but their success has not come without sacrifice. While I did not have the privilege of serving in the military, I have always had a healthy respect for those who do serve. As part of the boot camp training experience, each soldier is broken down and rebuilt into the image of a soldier fit for service. That means being isolated from everything that has defined your life, personality, and habits up to that point in your life. It’s a high price to pay to serve the greater cause of liberty and the mission of protecting our nation.
Following Jesus is really no different conceptually. If we say that we will follow Him, we must understand that at times He will call us to go places that are uncomfortable and unfamiliar. We may be required to cross the street and care for a neighbor. We may need to demonstrate love to someone who is “unloveable.” Perhaps He may even call you to cross the oceans to carry the gospel to some of the darkest places on earth.
Last night, my wife and I attended a webinar hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where we listened to stories of current missionaries serving in South Asia in a land of 1.7 billion people, where 1.5 billion of those do not know the light of Jesus. For a sense of scale, that is a population that is more than 5 times the total population of the United States in an area that is roughly half the geographic size of the Lower 48 states combined. It is considered “the greatest concentration of lostness in the world” as 89% of that region has no connection with the truth of Jesus. What is equally distressing is that for these missionaries, they are literally putting their lives on the line to bring the light of the gospel to this darkness.
January 30, 1933 is a day that should be forever burned in our memories. It was on this day that the history of the world irrevocably changed as the Nazi regime rose to power in Germany. Two days later, Adolf Hitler was installed as Chancellor of Germany in the hopes of reviving the Holy Roman Empire. Immediately, from the earliest days of the Nazi regime, a young Luteran pastor began boldly speaking out against this powerful new regime and their idolatrous worship of the Führer (“leader”). He would often refer to Hitler in his radio speeches as Verführer, or “misleader, seducer”.
It wasn’t long before he was on the radar of the Nazi leadership as he vocally criticized Hitler’s campaigns for euthenasia and genocide. In 1943, he was finally arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Tegel prison for a year and a half where he endured unspeakable torture before being transferred to Flossenburg concentration camp. In 1945, he was accused of association with a July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler. He was quickly tried and hung as a martyr on April 9, 1945. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
His overriding passion was the Kingdom of Christ and it cost him his life. During this time, much of his writing was designed to encourage Christian living in an increasingly secular world and he wrote a book that is considered one of the great classics of modern Christian thought “The Cost of Discipleship”. Within this book, he summarizes his thesis very clearly with this one statement:
Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.Dietrich Bonhoeffer
And yet here we are in the American church complaining because our pews are too hard or our built in coffee bars don’t serve our preferred drink. We spend more time debating with each other over doctrine and politics than we do serving our communities that we are called to be a light to. We walk around either with our heads held high in the air with pride or drooped in despair, all the while there is a lost and dying world in need of the transformative power of grace right in front of our noses. We sit in judgement of those who believe differently than us instead of breaking bread with those who need our fellowship and the grace of our Lord. We continue to perpetuate the very same divisiveness that we decry in the name of our own self-preservation.
But Jesus warned us that the mission we have before us carries with it a price. We must learn to let go of everything that binds us to what we were before we came to know Him and allow Him to transform our lives to be more in line with the truth of His word – to be more like Christ. Sometimes that means being at odds with our own family members. Sometimes that means going places that don’t make sense in the moment. Sometimes that means letting go of our preconceived notions of who Jesus is and simply listening to His words and accepting them for truth, in spite of our personal preferences and opinions.
Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy. In fact, He very clearly promised that it would be difficult. I’ve often heard it said that nothing worth doing in this life comes easy, and that is never more true as it is related following Jesus. It often requires swimming against the current of society. It often requires enduring the ridicule and judgement of others who do not even know Him. But to know Him – to truly know Him instead of just knowing things about Him – is to love Him and to be devoted to Him and His mission to “seek and to save those who are lost.”
I would like to challenge you today. Be willing to break out of your routine and be intentional about your faith. Speak the truth even if it is uncomfortable, but do so in a spirit of love and grace. Be willing to go and shine your light into the darkness around you. But be prepared, for the task is not easy. However, in the end, the rewards for obedience will far exceed your wildest imaginations.