I have often wondered what in
the world convinces a Muslim to follow Jesus. In many Muslim countries, the
moment you convert to Christianity your wife will leave you, your husband will
abandon you, and your friends will betray you. You can lose your job, your
house, and everything you have ever worked for. Worst of all you can end up
rotting away in a prison or killed for your faith.
So what do you say to someone in these countries in order to convince them that
they should follow Jesus? In the west we would go on and on about how wonderful
Jesus can make your life. We would talk about how he can bless your finances
and give you an abundant life and make you happy and fill you with blessings.
We will tell you how much God loves us and wants us to have the best in life
and we would invite you to the best church in town with an awesome worship
band, comfortable seats, and a super cool preacher. The deacons would work hard
to make sure the building is clean and the air conditioning is just right
because we don’t want to give anyone an excuse for not accepting Jesus.
Now, I'm not knocking any of this but do
you realize that in Iraq there is no cool worship band and there is no trendy
preacher or air conditioned, cushion chair, church? Do you realize that in many
of these countries saying yes to Jesus means accepting the fact that you could
lose everything including your family and your life? I ask again, what in the
world convinces these people that they should follow Jesus? There’s nothing in
it for them. And I look at my own life and I wonder, do I follow Jesus because
I want to get something out of him? Or would I follow him even if I lost it
Well, I’m not the only person to ever have
followed Jesus in order to gain something for myself. Peter struggled with this
same exact concept. For many years Peter followed Jesus not out of love but because
he wanted something out of Jesus. Have you ever met someone like that? They
only call when they want something. They only come around when they need
something. And when you have something they need or want they are all over you
but when they get what they were looking for they are gone. I suppose we are
all guilty of that and so was Peter.
In Matthew 16: 21-24 we read the following
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must
go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief
priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the
third day be raised to life.
Matthew begins this story with the words “from
that time on” indicating that something significant had just happened. When we
look back we see that Jesus was with his disciples and asked them who people said
he was. The disciples gave all kinds of answers and then finally Jesus asked
them who they thought he was. Peter stood up and confessed “You are the
messiah.” And “from that time on” Matthew says, Jesus began to explain his destiny.
had finally come to the place where he knew Jesus was the messiah but he still
didn’t know what that meant. You see, the Israelites had been under oppression
for hundreds of years. First the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians, then the
Greeks, and now the Romans. They were treated with cruelty, abused, exploited,
and dictated by the governing power of Rome. The Jews wanted freedom and they
wanted a messiah who would deliver them from Rome and establish them as the
most powerful nation on the earth. And this is what Peter wanted. To Peter,
Jesus was a ticket to success and not much more. So Jesus began explaining to
them what his messiahship meant, that he would suffer and be killed. Then Peter
took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall
never happen to you!” Jesus turned and
said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do
not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
For Peter Jesus' messiahship was about the
earthly kingdom. Peter wanted to be a part of that earthly kingdom. In many
ways, Peter and the other disciples were following Jesus, not because of what
they could give but what they could get. They followed Jesus mainly because
they believed that through him they would get political power and prestige. And
when Jesus said he would suffer and die Peter said, “This shall never happen to
you!” but what he really meant to say was “this shall never happen to me.” And
Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “You don’t have in mind the concerns of God, but
merely human concerns.” I like how the Voice Bible translates it. It says, “You
are not thinking about Gods story.”
To the limited eye it appears that Peter
was trying to protect Jesus, but the reality is he was merely protecting his
own ambitions. He didn’t want Jesus to die because if he did, what would become
of his own story? Peter didn’t really care about Gods story. He only cared
about his own story. And Jesus was the key to make his own story better. In
modern terms, Jesus was nothing more than a product Peter could use to improve
his quality of life. For Peter following Jesus was about “What’s in it for me?”
And the church today is filled with people who show up asking “What’s in it for
me?” And what is the end result of this self-centered Christianity? The life of
Peter answers the question, for when Jesus was taken prisoner Peter denied ever
having known him.
Why are you following Jesus? Why are the Christians in Iraq
following Jesus? What of those who have been hung, imprisoned, or shot? If
someone points a gun at your face and tells you “deny him or die” what will you
The sad reality is that today myriads of
people are following Jesus, not because of their love for Him, but because they
see Him as a product that can improve their quality of life. Jesus has been
objectified into a philosophical commodity that makes us “happy.” Christianity
has denigrated into a “what’s-in-it-for-me” religion. And church has
depreciated into a “what-can-I-get-out-of-it” performance. If that is our view
of Christianity, I wonder, what will we do when we are asked to “deny him or
die” with the cold barrel of a rifle pressed violently against our throats?
Like Peter many of us are living a Christianity that does not have in mind Gods
story, but merely our story—human concerns. And this is why Peter freaked out.
His story was too important to him and the moment he heard the words suffering
and death he was like, “Wait a minute! That’s not what I am here for! I want
to be prime minister." And there was no room in Peters Christianity for
suffering and death.
Is there room in your Christianity for suffering and
Jesus doesn’t give us much of an option.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny
themselves and take up their cross and follow me…”
In Jesus’ day the cross was
not jewelry or a t-shirt. It was an instrument of execution. To carry your
cross means that you die to yourself and your own ambitions and live for him
and his glory. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is what it means to
commit your life to him: Suffering and death.
As a church we have got to stop
trying to sell Jesus. He is not for sale. We do not bring people to Christ by
telling them that if they follow him they will get everything they want. We do
not make Jesus more attractive by turning him into our personal genie. We do
not lead anyone to Christ by offering them a shallow, cheesy, and easy faith.
In his article “Are You Ready? (Thoughts on Iraq’s Christian Genocide)” Pastor
Gabriel Johnson says,
“as I listen to the messages being
preached by many of the world’s most renowned religious leaders I can’t help
but wonder if we are missing the point. Don’t get me wrong I want the big
house; nice car and enormous bank account just like the next guy. And I do
believe that the promises of God can open amazing doors in every area of life.
But when much of what I hear is how God wants to bless my business while
children are losing their lives it causes me to question our religion. Will the
belief in the promise of success sustain me when they’re trying to kill my
family or take my wife? What are we being prepared for in our churches?”
It is not our
responsibility to try and make Jesus attractive by presenting only the promises
and the blessings while ignoring his radical teachings such as “if you want to
follow me, it involves a cross.” Because following Jesus is wonderful. Because
following Jesus is the most rewarding thing you will ever do. But it involves a
cross. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest
friends? When my wife became a Christian she lost many of her friends. Are you
willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family? I have a
friend in New Jersey who got kicked out of his house when he became an
Adventist. Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job? Are you
willing to follow Jesus if it means you will miss out on all the wild things
your friends are doing? Allow me to make this a little more painful for each of
us. Are you willing to follow Jesus when people in church criticize you? Are
you willing to follow Jesus when people in church judge you? To the youth: Are
you willing to follow Jesus when the old folk in your church reject, criticize,
and insult everything you are trying to do? To the elders: Are you willing to
follow Jesus when your church is making changes you don’t like? We can’t choose
to follow Jesus based on how pleasant it is. We must carry the cross. We must
die to self. We must live for his story, not our own—even if it costs us our life.
You know, I am
heart broken when I hear about people who became Christians and then they left
the church because someone said something mean or did something wrong. Don’t
get me wrong, as a church we need to bend over backwards to make sure our youth
and new converts feel safe and welcome. But at the same time, who told you no
one will ever insult you in church? Who told you there wouldn’t be hypocrites?
Who told you there wouldn’t be hard times? Jesus sure didn’t say that. And when
we are concerned with our own story we walk away when something unpleasant
happens. But when we are concerned with Gods story we can’t walk away because
we know it’s all about him.
Some of you
are probably asking right now: This is all good and everything Marcos, but if
following Jesus involves so much suffering then why follow him? I have enough
problems in my life at the moment. Why should I commit myself to something that
is going to bring more problems? First of all allow me to say that God does
bless his children. I am not saying that he doesn’t. There are many benefits to
following Jesus and I am not denying any of those. Jesus does bring peace and
comfort and joy to our lives. He does heal the brokenness of our families and
he does forgive our sin and transform our lives. But I find it interesting that
of the 22 times that Jesus said “follow me” in the New Testament not once did
he say "you should follow me because if you do you’ll get this." Twice he
mentioned a benefit of following him such as, “whoever follows me
will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” But not once did he
say, “I am Jesus. Follow Me and you will receive all of these benefits.”
the most part, Jesus invitation of follow me is not preceded or followed by any
sales pitch. He doesn’t market himself like a new refrigerator. He doesn’t promote all
the benefits of having a Jesus-membership.
To Peter and Andrew he said “follow
me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew had no idea what he was
talking about. But they followed him. Why?
To an unknown man Jesus said,
“follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.” To the rich young ruler Jesus
said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the
poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The rich
young ruler decided “you ask for too much.”
And then we come back to our story.
Peter didn’t want to suffer and die. So in the end he denied Christ. But that
wasn’t the end. Jesus came back to life. He found Peter and their conversation
is recorded in John 21.
When they had
finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love
he said, “you know that I love you.”
said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
The third time
he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt
because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you
know all things; you know that I love you.”
And look at
what Jesus says next. Pay close attention. Here it is:
And to Peter
he said, “when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted;
but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will
dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would
glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow
No benefit. No
discounts or coupons. Death. "Peter, you will be killed because of me. Now,
follow me." And years later Peter was indeed crucified upside down in Rome. What
changed? Why did Peter choose to follow Jesus when the cost was so high?
Because Peter now understood what it was all about. It wasn’t about his story.
It was about Gods story. Peter got lost in Gods story and he discovered it is a
romantic and breath taking love story. “Peter, do you love me?” Yes, I do Lord.
I love you. And that love was so strong he was willing to carry any cross,
suffer any loss, and give his very life so that God’s love story could be told.
Peter experienced Jesus. Peter tasted the love of Jesus. And Peter loved Jesus.
I have discovered that this love is the only reason why anyone should follow Jesus. This is the only
reason why a Muslim who stands to lose it all would be willing to follow Jesus.
Because they saw him. Because they tasted his love and like Paul they cry out,
“everything is trash compared to him!” I don’t want what he has to offer as
though he was some sort of philosophical commodity or some kind of product off
of the shelves in a super market. I just want Him! Love for Jesus. Live for
Jesus. Die for Jesus. No matter the cost. No matter the cross. Follow him.