News reports broke last week of a young Indiana woman who was lying on the couch watching television when her boyfriend arrived home and surprised her by asking her to marry him. When she declined his proposal, he became so enraged that he pulled out his gun, pointed it over her head and fired a shot through the wall. The young lady promptly called the police and her boyfriend was arrested and charged with three counts of criminal recklessness.
Interestingly, a few days later her Facebook page featured a photo of the couple and her relationship status had been changed to “engaged”.
I asked some of my friends last week, “What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?” I received a lot of responses to that question and most of them fell into one of two categories: stories pertaining to driving a vehicle way too fast or stories about jumping off of things that were way too high. But I learned a lot about my friends; who knew they were such daredevils?
It’s interesting that none of my friends said the most dangerous thing they’d ever done was to choose to follow Jesus. I know, that seems like a “gotcha”; I mean, who thinks about the question that way? But truthfully, I’ve recently become even more aware of the radical, risky nature of the call of Jesus. It seems as if we often frame “following Jesus” as the ultimate mitigation against risk. We ask, “If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?” And this frames the decision to follow Jesus as a way to mitigate against the risk of spending eternity in hell. And while I suppose that conversation can be useful to prompt a certain level of personal reflection, it also undersells the clear message in Scripture that following Jesus incurs tremendous risk, even danger, for the would-be disciple.
Consider a few places in the Gospels:
- Matthew 8 – A teacher comes to Jesus and professes “Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus throws a wet blanket on his devotion by saying, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” In the next verse, a potential follower wants to follow but offers up the perfectly legitimate request to attend his father’s funeral first. But Jesus swats this request aside, too, saying, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” It’s not that Jesus has a problem with funerals or home ownership. But he does have a problem with anything else competing for the place of primacy in our hearts.
- Matthew 13 – Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is the ultimate pursuit in life, similar to a treasure buried in a field. When you discover the treasure, you go and sell everything you have in order to possess it. Or, Jesus says, the Kingdom is like finding a pearl of great price at a yard sale. You go back and sell off everything you have in order to purchase it. In Jesus’ economy, the Kingdom of God is the one and only commodity.
- Luke 14 – Jesus says only a fool sets out to build a house, a tower, a structure without first consulting the budget. Likewise, he says, you should count the cost before choosing to follow Him.
In “The Cost of Discipleship”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Perhaps no one understood this better than the apostle Paul. Listen to his description of the dangers he’s incurred from following Jesus:
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 2 Cor. 11.23-28
Paul’s litany of dangers may strike fear in our hearts. How often have we been “in danger” because of the Gospel? Who among us has experienced nakedness, hunger, thirst, or cold for the sake of the Gospel? Who among us has faced beatings and stonings because of our devotion to Jesus? Certainly these sorts of dangers are foreign to the experience of most American Christians. And yet, two points need to be made here:
- For many of our brothers and sisters around the world, these dangers are ever present. In fact, Paul’s experience has been the norm for believers for thousands of years. Those of us who live in an age of religious freedom should not make the mistake of presuming that this is the case everywhere. We bear the burden of praying for our fellow Christians who risk much for the name of Jesus.
- We need to take a long look in the mirror at our culture of “comfortable Christendom” in light of the teaching of Jesus and the example of Paul. Kerry Walters writes, “Many Christians play it safe by practicing a tepid, no-risk spirituality in which we domesticate the roaring Lion of Judah into a nice, safe pussycat.” We need to recognize that following Jesus necessarily involves leaving our comfort zones and taking risks — great risks — for the sake of the Kingdom. Although we likely will never suffer the kind of oppression and danger that our brothers and sisters in India or China or Pakistan or Indonesia face, we are called to risk it all — our status, our wealth, our image, our comfort — for Jesus.
What are we willing to risk for the sake of the Gospel?
We should remember that following Jesus is perhaps the riskiest, most dangerous thing a person can do.
Well, except for NOT following Him.