Dikaseva from Unsplash
When I was a kid, I always day dreamed about being pretty hot stuff.
I was the star of the basketball game, I hit the homer in the bottom of the ninth, I got the girl, I made the newspaper. None of those things came true (although I guess I did get the girl, after all), and I’m not very hot stuff. But that’s not the point.
I was thinking about how we all daydream about being a big deal and all, and none of us ever daydream about being mediocre or definitely never about suffering. We never think about how when we stand up for what’s right people will call us names. We never fantasize about preaching about Jesus and getting roughed up for it. We don’t think about stuff like that in the same way that we think about our beach vacation or getting a big promotion or finding Mr. or Mrs. Right.
Usually when we think about our life’s purpose, when we have a goal setting meeting or whatever, we never think about how our purpose might be to have a tough time of it.
But for a Christ follower, suffering is kind of part of the deal.
I was thinking about this reading the Gospel of Luke, because there are two times in Luke when Jesus turns to the crowds who are following (he actually was very hot stuff) and tells them that if they want to keep following him, they need to be willing to carry a cross.
So there’s Jesus, with people guffawing all over him because he’s healing and telling the religious leaders what’s-what and all that. The crowds are beside themselves, day-dreaming about the overthrow of Rome and Israel being the big shot again and Jesus being their king and them getting something out of it.
They’re so lost in their daydreams of grandiose power and position that they can’t even hear what Jesus is saying about having to carry their cross and all. I guess that’s why he had to say it twice.
What I never noticed is that it’s in between these times when Jesus tells his followers they would have to deny themselves, take up their cross, and suffer, that Jesus “resolutely” set out for Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He’s been ministering up in Galilee, but he knows his real reason in coming was to die for humanity, and he knows that’s going to happen in Jerusalem.
Jesus, even if no one else was realizing it, knew his life was about suffering.
So Jesus tells them they are going to have to take up their cross, then he sets out “resolutely” to go take up his, and then, as if no one heard him the first time, he reminds them.
“No…seriously, guys. I’m going to die on a cross. My way is a way of suffering. If you aren’t up for that, you should probably stop following me now…that’s literally where I’m headed right now.”
I was sort of thinking about how dense they were that they didn’t see what Jesus was getting at, until I realized that I am just as dense. When I think about following Jesus, I think a lot about the ways I get something out of it. When I look at the modern American church, I kind of sense the same thing. Comfort, power, goose bumps of emotion when the worship band changes keys.
We like following Jesus when there’s good, quality programming for our kids and convenient service options and free coffee and not too many demands. All things I personally enjoy quite a lot (especially the coffee).
I wonder if Jesus were among us today he’d have to remind us more than once that following him means walking a path of suffering. I wonder if he’d have to repeat himself because we didn’t hear him the first time.
In the past couple years, I actually have started thinking about suffering more. I’ve thought a lot about persecution and what I would do if I were being persecuted. I’ve prayed I wouldn’t deny Jesus, even if things got particularly ugly. I’ve prayed that if I were being tortured for Jesus I would not deny Him, and that my kids and wife wouldn’t deny him either. I’ve even prayed (you’re going to think I’m nuts) that if my wife or kids were being tortured that I would not deny Jesus just to get their torturers to stop.
This might all sound very crazy to you, but if you ask me it’s not any more insane than just daydreaming about how we are going to be very hot stuff someday or how Jesus makes life easy or never thinking about Jesus and suffering for Jesus and only thinking of the good stuff he can bring us and not the hard stuff that he might require of us.
I think that’s kind of insane, if you want to know the truth, because Jesus told us twice we’re have to suffer for him if we wanted to follow him. We may not have heard him the first time, or the second time, but it’s the truth. It may not be the stuff daydreams are made of, but it is what Christians are made of.
It’s what Christ was made of.