The Dangers of Following Jesus

Maundy Thursday Communion Meditation

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

As I have prayed and meditated over the last several weeks on what I should say tonight, I have come to distill it into one sentence.

Jesus had love to suffer for me that I might have faith to suffer with him.

I have been reading the sufferings of Jesus in the light of the Salmon Rushdie affair. Rushdie published a novel entitled Satanic Verses. In it he put the Muslim prophet Mohammed and the Muslim god Allah in a bad light. He was accused of blasphemy and the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered him executed and offered bounty for his death.

I have put myself in Rushdie's place and felt how utterly vulnerable he is. I do not look on this as a distant and strange thing. To me it is very close. I felt this so strongly two weeks ago that I wrote to the former Bethlehem interns who are now scattered around the country as pastors and teachers. Here is what I said:

What will you do when your preaching is so clear and pointed in its missionary implications concerning the blasphemy of Muslim teachings about Jesus that your name appears on the hit list along with Rushdie's?

There is a hair's breadth between me and the condemnation of the Ayatollah. One slight turn of social and historical affairs and the militancy of the Muslim defense of the honor of Mohammed and Allah could make us the target of a thousand guns. Are you ready? Read of the wild-eyed, irrational spit and fists in Matthew 26:67 and then read Matthew 10:24–25.

I want you to see the connection that I saw in these verses.

Matthew 26:67 simply says this: "Then they spat in his face, and struck him; and some slapped him."

Matthew 10:24–25 says, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master . . . If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household."

Now Salmon Rushdie is no follower of Jesus as far as I can tell. That's not the point. The point is that we Christians by definition believe that Allah is not the true God as Muslims know him and Mohammed is not a true prophet. Jesus really is the Son of God and really did die on the cross and rose again and reigns at God's right hand until he puts all his enemies under his feet, including Mohammed and his followers. And saying that is enough to get me killed—and you.

The days will soon be gone, if they aren't already, when you can assume that it is safe to follow Jesus—to stand for his majesty and his commandments. So I have been thinking much about whether I am willing to pay the price. And if I say yes, where will I get the courage and the freedom to suffer with Jesus?

It isn't just Islam with its endorsement of holy violence that makes following Jesus dangerous today. Consistent biblical Christians, who don't absorb the spirit and trends of the age, are increasingly at odds with major forces in our society. And what makes the situation so volatile is that those forces are increasingly strident and increasingly invested with legal sanction.

For example, the Bible commands me and you to believe and stand for truths that are so offensive to radical feminism and to homosexual rights groups and abortionists and the pornography industry that we could easily be assaulted by hired assailants or taken to court for conspiring to deny rights or shot by a fanatic who believes he is serving God.

John 16:2 says, "Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God."

John 15:20 says, "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you."

The more clearly your life shows what God demands of people, the more dangerous will be your life. I think that is what Paul meant when he said in 2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." The greater your desire to be godly, the more you will offend people committed to unbelief and sin and relativism.

Jesus said, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). In other words, if you let your light shine for Christ, the children of the light will come and glorify God because your good works, but the children of darkness will not come and will call your goodness many other names. 

So I have been thinking a lot about the price of being a Christian and a pastor with strong convictions in these days. And the Lord has been good to me. He has made me to feel deep in my soul . . .

  • That "the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life."
  • That losing life is saving it.
  • That I must suffer with him if I would be glorified with him.
  • That everything in this world is as nothing compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
  • That pain and prison and death are not the great dangers after all, but fear, and disobedience, and conformity to the age are the really great dangers.
  • And that even if we were being killed all day long and counted as sheep for the slaughter, we would be more than conquerors through him who loved us, because neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When I ask how I might press on in the face of possible and actual persecution, I come back to these things. And I sum them up in the sentence I mentioned earlier:

Jesus had love to suffer for me, that I might have faith to suffer with him.

When he suffered for me, he gave what I needed to suffer with him. He gave me forgiveness for my sins (Matthew 26:28, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins"). So my guilt before God is gone. That means God is on my side as long as I am trusting Jesus. And if God is on my side, what can man do to me?

Jesus had love to suffer for me, that I might have faith to suffer with him.

So my prayer tonight is that when you eat the bread and drink the cup tonight, you will be so full of faith in his surpassing worth that no danger would ever hold you back from the fullest and most radical obedience to all that the Lord has commanded us.

I concluded my letter to the young pastors with these words,

I believe with all my heart that the secret of preaching well (living well!) when the guns are pointed, will be whether we have learned to love the taste of the BREAD OF HEAVEN far above the taste of life in this world. "Thy steadfast love, O Lord, is better than life."

So savor, brothers and sisters, savor. I love you all. I am glad that we will be together in the kingdom forever!