Those who follow Christ will face numerous challenges. But if they stay focused on their Master, they will be able to deal with whatever happens.
Most of us like to be with important people. Meeting a head of state or a government minister or a celebrity provides us with a much-coveted conversation topic. Knowing someone important, or even knowing someone who knows someone important, somehow seems to endow us with a halo of glory. It seems to be a natural desire to climb up the social ladder rather than remain near its base. Jesus’ disciples were no exception to this unfortunate human trait. More than once His closest followers argued over who would be “first” in His kingdom.
However, rather than promising His disciples material prosperity and social status, Jesus prepared them for a different kind of reality. In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus is teaching plainly about His upcoming torture and death. Peter reproaches Him for this, and Jesus responds with one of His strongest rebukes: “Get away, Satan! You don’t have your mind on God’s matters!” It must have been very important, first for Him to have said something so strong, and then for Him to call the crowd to listen, along with the twelve, to what He had to say next. “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?’ ” (vv. 34-37).1
Following Jesus is a costly business. In his famous book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German pastor who was martyred by the Nazis in 1945, emphasizes that divine grace does not come cheap. And following Christ is not an easy thing to do. It inevitably will involve suffering. Just as Christ said that He must suffer, so must we. If we want to identify with Him in His life, we must also do so in His suffering and death. “To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. . . . Only a man . . . totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from the beginning, or he has only got to pick it up; there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself, no need for him deliberately to run after suffering. Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God.”2
Jesus left His disciples with no doubt that following Him would require sacrifice. He was entirely open with them in regard to what they should expect. In John 15:18-25, He predicted that His followers would be hated and persecuted. In Luke 9:57-58, He said that following Him might not even leave a disciple with somewhere to lay his or her head.
The disciples, except for Judas, eventually became the apostles. From the first chapters of the book of Acts, it is clear that these men had learned many lessons. They had been with Jesus, and now, with the power of the Spirit, they were able to deal with opposition and persecution. Although we cannot be sure about the details, there is good reason to believe the strong traditions from the early church era, which say that all apostles eventually suffered martyrdom. All supposedly suffered a violent death, except John, but his imprisonment on Patmos was not a luxurious vacation, either. He also was a “brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). And of course, the most common reward for good work is more work. To those who are faithful in little, Jesus will give much—not much reward, much work!
Still the rewards are incalculable. Those who follow Christ will face numerous challenges. But if they stay focused on their Master, they will be able to deal with whatever happens. They will have something that is precious beyond words. He gives them His peace, which is unlike the imperfect and transient kind of peace the world offers (John 14:27). It is the peace that transcends all understanding (Phil. 4:7). That peace is the hallmark of the abundant life that Christ gives to His disciples (John 10:10). In spite of all trials and temptations, this is the kind of life that satisfies at a level beyond the reach of those who choose to live without Christ. Yet, even more so, faithful followers of Christ have the assurance of eternal life, beginning now; the certain promise of God that whatever they struggle with now can’t be compared with the promise of eternity that awaits them.3