This is why Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 are so critical for us to hear. He exposes our dangerous tendency to gravitate toward that which is easy and popular. Hear his warning: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” In other words, there is a broad religious road that is inviting and inclusive. This nice, comfortable, ever-so-crowded path is attractive and accommodating. The only thing that’s required of you is a one-time decision for Christ, and you don’t have to worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory after making that decision. You now have a ticket to heaven, and your sin, whether manifested in self-righteousness or self-indulgence, will be tolerated along the way.
But this is not the way of Jesus. He beckons us down a hard road, and the word Jesus uses for “hard” is associated in other parts of the Bible with pain, pressure, tribulation, and persecution. The way of Jesus is hard to follow, and it’s hated by many.
Just a few chapters after these words in Matthew 7, Jesus told his disciples that they would be beaten, betrayed, mistreated, isolated, and killed for following him. “Be on your guard,” Jesus said, “[for] they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings. . . . Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. . . . All men will hate you because of me.”
On another occasion, right after Jesus commended Peter for his confession of faith in him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus rebuked Peter for missing the magnitude of what this means. Like many people today, Peter wanted a Christ without a cross and a Savior without any suffering. So Jesus looked at Peter and the other 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 will find it.”
Shortly before Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” In each of these passages in the book of Matthew, the call to die is clear. The road that leads to heaven is risky, lonely, and costly in this world, and few are willing to pay the price. Following Jesus involves losing your life—and finding new life in him.
Not long ago, I was serving in North Africa alongside persecuted brothers and sisters. I talked with one man who just months before had his leg shattered in a church bombing. I talked with a pastor who shared with me how women in his church were being kidnapped, abused, and raped for being Christians. I had dinner in a family’s house where just two blocks away a follower of Jesus had been stabbed in the heart and killed.
I heard the story of three Christians who had moved overseas from the United States to work at a hospital in this region. In a move that most people in the world (and many people in the church) would call foolish and unwise, they had left behind their comforts, careers, family, friends, safety, and security to share the goodness and grace of Christ in a land where it is forbidden to become a Christian. Day after day in that hospital, they met physical needs while sharing spiritual truth.
They knew there was opposition to their work, but nothing could have prepared them for the day when a man walked into their hospital with a fake bandage on his hand and a blanket bundled to look like a baby. He entered the office area and immediately unwrapped the blanket to reveal a loaded rifle. Beginning in the office and working his way through the rest of the clinic, he shot and killed all three of these brothers and sisters.
During my time in this country, the ten-year anniversary of that shooting was approaching, so we set aside time to remember these three Christians. Our commemoration happened to be near the grave of Oswald Chambers. Consequently, we thought it appropriate to read from Chambers’s well-known devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, on that particular day. It was as if his words were written for the occasion. Chambers says:
Suppose God tells you to do something that is an enormous test of your common sense, totally going against it. What will you do? Will you hold back? If you get into the habit of doing something physically, you will do it every time you are tested until you break the habit through sheer determination. And the same is true spiritually. Again and again you will come right up to what Jesus wants, but every time you will turn back at the true point of testing, until you are determined to abandon yourself to God in total surrender. . . .
Jesus Christ demands the same unrestrained, adventurous spirit in those who have placed their trust in Him. . . . If a person is ever going to do anything worthwhile, there will be times when he must risk everything by his leap in the dark. In the spiritual realm, Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold on to or believe through common sense, and leap by faith into what He says. Once you obey, you will immediately find that what He says is as solidly consistent as common sense.
By the test of common sense, Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but when you test them by the trial of faith, your findings will fill your spirit with the awesome fact that they are the very words of God. Trust completely in God, and when He brings you to a new opportunity of adventure, offering it to you, see that you take it. We act like pagans in a crisis—only one out of an entire crowd is daring enough to invest his faith in the character of God.
Chambers’s words, viewed through the lens of these three martyrs’ lives, challenge us to consider the seeming madness of Jesus’ words:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. . . . Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
To everyone else in the world, these words seem crazy. But to every Christian, these words are life. For the few who choose to abandon themselves to the will of God and put their trust in the character of God, following Jesus wherever he leads, no matter the cost, is the only thing that makes sense.
Platt, D., & Chan, F. (2013). Follow me: a call to die. a call to live. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.