The Crossroads of Following Jesus
Popularity is not the same as commitment. People become popular because others admire them and, in some way, want to gain value from them: but commitment is a deliberate choice to personally dedicate oneself to fulfilling a purpose even if that may involve self-sacrifice.
The amazing miracles and captivating teaching of Jesus were hugely attractive to many people. We do not know their reasons for following Him from place to place but in some way they believed that He could benefit them; perhaps in healing or spiritual education, or perhaps they would be rewarded when, as they wrongly thought, Jesus would set up a new government and overthrow the Roman occupation forces. The disciples had a similar mindset (Mark 10:35-37), so what Jesus had to say was particularly pertinent to them – especially as most of them would die an early and violent death because of their faith in Jesus.
Jesus said that following Him would mean an extraordinary personal commitment - which might separate them from their families and even result in their own death. Commitment to Christ is not a leisure activity to be indulged when life is good; it is an exclusive commitment. ‘Hate father and mother …’ has a strong meaning: not that they are to be despised or dishonoured - that would contradict the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12) – but that the call of Jesus takes priority over their demands. ‘Carrying the cross’ does not mean putting up with inconveniences or enduring hardship - it is something much stronger than that. It means being willing to die to self-interest, living for Jesus as though each day may be our last. Jesus has never wanted to build a popularist empire, but to inspire followers who will commit to the same gospel mission that drove Him to be crucified (Colossians 1:24).
Paradoxically, the church grows best and is of the highest quality when it is under persecution. Of course, nobody wants to be persecuted, but those who hate Jesus’ authority will hate us (John 15:18-21; 2 Timothy 3:12). However, those who believe in Jesus as Saviour and commit their lives to Him find that He is able to sustain them until the day they meet Him in glory. As Jude, a half brother of the Lord Jesus, said, "To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (Jude 1:24). This remains the confidence of all true followers of Jesus who look beyond present comforts or distresses to the joy of being in the Lord's presence for ever.
© Dr Paul Adams