Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Following Jesus is Impossible

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." -Jesus
Can you believe these words from Jesus? Can you imagine hearing them as a disciple? In light of what crucifixion meant in the disciples' world they would be more than shocked. I think they would be horrified! Perhaps they would have blown it off as one of Jesus' wacky statements that simply lend no explanation, but I doubt it. It's too poignant, too direct, and frankly really, really scary!

It's like someone today hawking electric chairs, "Electric chairs, electric chairs, come have a sit and a zap!" I don't think they'd have any takers. It's like Jesus was saying to his to his disciples, "You want to follow me. Here's the most horrifically gruesome thing I can think of. Now that's what happens when you follow me." Was Jesus just being mean?

How are we to reconcile these words? I don't really know. That's why I'm writing about them, sort of in the hopes that God would somehow help me to understand. It'd be nice if God was like, "You know Phil, I didn't really mean a real cross, I was simply saying the way would be hard, but I'll make it easy for you Phil. You've got nothing to worry about." Somehow I don't think that's God's interpretation.

Since 11 of the 12 disciples were killed or executed, my guess is Jesus was being a little too literal for everybodies' comfort. I confess I don't like this train of thought at all.

I know that the Christian life is all about dying to ourselves so that we can find our life in Christ. In fact that's what the very next verse talks about. But how in the world is that supposed to be appealing?

Let me back up for a moment: I'm the worst surrender-er out there. I really, really don't like (we're trying not to say "hate" these days with our kids - who like to say they hate everything) surrendering my way or will to anybody. I want what I want. And if you somehow interfere with me getting what I want, you can expect me to turn into "sergeant grumpy-pants" issuing orders that nobody likes. Why? Because I'm not happy, and I need to be happy.

So that said, how should I respond to this statement of Jesus'? Should I attempt to "metaphorosisize" (a mix of metaphor and metamorphosis) it into something a little prettier, something I can handle? I'm tempted to. It'd certainly be a relief to get this cross off my back.

But the truth is, Jesus doesn't promise his way is going to be easy. I believe he paints it in terms that are meant to scare us off. We're not supposed to respond with, "Alright, your way is hard, but I can do this." That would be missing the point entirely. Peter had just tried taking this tack with Jesus.

As someone said somewhere in some context, the Christian life is about making impossibilities possible. In other words Jesus was fully aware that he was addressing a group of fraidy-cats with the proposition of jumping in the ring with rottweilers. But what he also was fully aware of was his own strength.

That's what I always forget. You know how the Marines never leave a man behind. Jesus was fully aware of his ability to not leave any man behind, period. To take them through any trial, any difficulty, any torture, and even through any horrific death. I forget this because I forget that Jesus is actually real. He really his. And he's the son of God!

If Jesus is real and the son of God, he can and will sustain us through any sort of trial. It's not like Jesus is thinking, "I'm pretty sure my disciples can handle this." No he knew what a shock this was going to be to them, and he was putting a wall in front of their spiritual progress. In essence, he was saying, "If you want to follow me, you can't, because, guess what, you are going to die, ha!"

That's what I've got to believe about Jesus. That his way is impossible. It simply takes him to do it. I can't follow Jesus. I'm way to selfish. My will always circles back around to me (Yes, I'm a "me-monster"). But if Jesus sees fit and if I'm want to reject my will, he can do his work in me, enabling me to walk the impossible path, the path of death to self and life in God.

So am I saying that this is some sort of magical formula for sanctification and walking the straight and narrow. No. This has nothing to do with a formula and everything to do with a messy process. To our universal chagrin, Jesus is unafraid of taking time with us. From my experience he's more than OK with "process."

Daily as his disciple, I'm faced with this: Am I going to believe in Jesus and his abilities to work life out of the death in me, or am I going to try to find life myself? It's the question that makes all the difference. Not because our sanctification depends on us. It doesn't. But it's not that we're at the mercy of the fates either. Jesus died so that we could now follow. Not in our strength but in his. Even if this following looks really, really scary.

This is no sales pitch, Jesus is still calling us to take up our Roman torture devices, but He's doing it as our Saviour, the only one who was able to save us from our enslavement to sin and more than up to the task of making us more like him.

I think that's why my favourite prayer is simply "Help!" It works because Jesus is real and powerful. Something I often forget.

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