Jesus would have been horrible at public relations. Just consider some of his controversial statements.
- Sell everything and give it to the poor, and then come follow me.
- You’ve heard that adultery is wrong, but I tell you anyone who even lusts after someone else in their heart is guilty.
- Anyone who follows me must hate their father and mother, sisters and brothers.
- If anyone wants to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow. For whoever wants to save their life, will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake, will save it.
However, if these lines were bad, imagine what the marketing department was thinking after Jesus turned away perfectly good volunteers at the end of Luke chapter 9. Three separate people come asking to follow, but just need to complete some simple tasks like telling their family goodbye or burying their parents, and to each one Jesus rejects them. Either be completely committed to me, Jesus says, or don’t come at all.
Surely some of the disciples were calling him aside at times to remind him he was in danger of ruining a good thing. In just three years, Jesus had grown his ministry from nothing to thousands. It was a great growth curve. He would probably be asked to speak at church growth conferences soon, or even write a book. But he needed to tone down his language some. Go a little easier on the people. Don’t be so offensive. Say a few things they like to hear in order to make them feel good.
But Jesus doesn’t listen well. Instead, his slogans would be more like:
- Follow Me And You’ll Be Homeless
- Follow Me And Kiss Your Family Goodbye
- Follow Me And If You Ever Think Of Following Someone Else, I’ll Fire You
Let’s be honest, we wouldn’t let Jesus handle the social media page for our church. We might not even let him stand at the door and greet visitors. If he’s saying these things to volunteers, imagine what he’d say to guests.
- Welcome, glad you are here. If you’re not completely devoted, go ahead and leave now.
- Welcome, we expect your entire paycheck given as contribution each week. Anything less is unacceptable.
It seems silly to even consider, but Jesus doesn’t seem too politically correct.
In Luke Chapter 9 Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. From this point forward, everything in the narrative is focused on getting to Jerusalem, and what will happen when Jesus arrives. For Jesus, Jerusalem means death. Jerusalem means the cross. Jerusalem means the completion of the purpose for why he came. And from this point forward, Jesus is completely focused on the task ahead.
Jesus is focused, and he wants his disciples focused as well. The days are drawing near. Every moment is of greatest importance. The disciples need to be focused. Because, if Jerusalem means death for Jesus, it means death for the disciples as well. If Jesus is taking up his cross, the disciples need to be ready to take up the cross as well; dying to self so they can live for Jesus.
This life of cruciformity is costly. It costs status, it costs friendships, it costs reputation. Hanging out with sinners and outcasts will get one talked about at church. Claiming Jesus is Lord instead of Caesar, or pledging allegiance to the Kingdom of God instead of country will cause some to call you unpatriotic, and no longer associate with you. Being committed to Jesus may mean you can’t be as committed to your child’s travel sports team or your job. It’s a costly choice.
Problem is, recently, the church has shied away from commitment. At times, we seem more content to simply get people in the doors than to challenge faith and discipleship. We may think tithing is important, but settle for 2% as enough. We may think being involved in serving others leads to deeper faith, but are content if member simply show up on Sunday. We may believe regular bible study leads to deeper spiritual growth, but rarely challenge people to give up a hobby or other commitment to allow for opportunities for small group bible studies.
It seems at times we’re afraid of setting the bar high, afraid to admit Jesus actually demands your whole life. We are afraid because we think people will leave if we challenge them, so we don’t say anything at all. No discussions about money, finances, or how you spend what God has given you. No questions about commitment, and lessons being taught to children and others when you’re gone every weekend for another activity. No questions about politics, race, sexual ethics, or other difficult subjects, because if we do people might leave, attendance would go down, and maybe we wouldn’t be successful anymore.
Now, to refocus for a moment.
Was Jesus speaking in hyperbole? Absolutely. This is the same man who wouldn’t hurt a bruised reed, who was compassion and grace personified. He made everyone feel loved, accepted, and welcomed all to the table.
However, was Jesus serious about a commitment to discipleship being all of life and costly? Absolutely. Following Jesus is not a part time job; it’s your life. At times, in an effort to offer grace, we’ve watered down the gospel to the point where it doesn’t matter if we are committed or not. The danger then for many of us, myself included, is not that we will be persecuted for our faith, but that we won’t have any type of faith that is worth persecuting. And that is a sad discovery.