I want to confess something.
There have been times when I thought Christianity was completely, totally, and ridiculously unappealing. Before you wonder what is wrong with me, have you ever really read Scripture? If you disagree with me, consider how Jesus spoke to some people who approached Him.
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8: 18-20
If you want to make something appealing, then “Sell it!” If someone wants to follow, you should encourage them, right? Get them to commit. Sign on the dotted line. Lock them in. Seal the deal!
To take it another step forward, don’t ignore exactly who this man was: a teacher of the Law. He would have been in a position of influence. He would have had means. He’s someone you would want on your side, right?
Jesus tells him that he will be homeless. Unlike the foxes and birds, if he follows Jesus, he will give up comfort and security.
Well, maybe it was just that particular guy? Jesus knows the heart, so maybe He just didn’t want to encourage that guy to follow. Nope.
Another disciple said to Him,
Pause here: “Another disciple”. Don’t miss the implications. A disciple is someone who is following someone else. The disciple wants to learn from the person they are following. (An apostle is someone who has been specifically called and appointed to a role. Jesus had 12 Apostles but many, many disciples.) Can we infer that both the scribe and this man were therefore following Jesus?
Another disciple said to Him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8: 21-22
Now, what would you expect Jesus to say in a situation like this? I would have expected to hear Jesus say something like:
I’m so sorry. Go home. Bury your father. Take as long as you need.
Jesus told him to let the dead bury their own dead. Zombies don’t exist, so He clearly is intending to say something different to the man…
To pick up on the full understanding, we have to put our sandals on. This isn’t the same thing as burying someone in 2019. It wouldn’t take a day or two. Let me explain.
In this time, some commentators point out that the man’s father might be sick but nearing death. If the father were dead, the man would not be there. However, the text does not state that directly. Other commentators point out that there are actually two steps to a Jewish burial. The first happens within 24-hours after death. It involves wrapping the body and placing it in a tomb. The second step involves going back a year later and gathering what is now bones. These are placed in an ossuary, or a small box, as the “permanent” place. In other words, this could have taken at least a year for the full process.
My point is simple. Jesus was not interested in numbers. He wasn’t focused on how many people followed Him. He was focused on sharing the Truth. He was focused on calling people to go deeper into relationship.
Eighty-five years ago, Simon & Shuster published How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The first year it was available, 17 editions were published. If you aren’t familiar with publishing, that’s a big deal. It has now sold over 15 million copies.
The book contains a lot of good practices:
Arouse in the other person an eager want.
Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
These, among the many, many others in the book, are great strategies for developing relationships and getting people to work with you. The guides in this book present ways to cultivate a positive personality and interactions in a multitude of ways.
Of course, Dale’s ideas are not exactly the same ones that Jesus had, are they?
Who wants to have “no place to rest”?
Who wants to leave a family member in a time of need?
Who wants to do all of the other very challenging things that Jesus called His followers to do?
For one, I do.
Please, before you think I am a horrible person, let me explain.
A few years ago, I took my first trip to visit with The Micah Project in Honduras. Founded two decades ago, the ministry works with street-connected young people on the streets of Tegucigalpa. The majority of these young people are boys who are addicted to a chemical found in a common shoe glue. They walk around in a daze – sniffing continuously from bottles they carry.
Those who serve through The Micah Project offer something very simple – HOPE. They offer an opportunity to leave the streets, break the addiction, receive an education, and to be released from the bondages of sin.
On my visit, I was struck by the contrasting situations. Those who live on the streets sleep on sheets of cardboard and have little besides the clothes on their backs. Those who choose to leave the streets have a home, a family, food, and opportunities to go far beyond anything the streets would offer.
It’s not that they don’t know what The Micah Project offers. There are days during which the street-connected young people are brought out to the Micah property. They are fed. They can play games. They are shown the opportunities of what life COULD be like.
So many choose to stay on the streets.
In my experiences, this is one of the most powerful images of grace I have ever witnessed. On one hand, we have those who choose to live in incredibly difficult, dirty, and despairing conditions. On the other hand, we have those who choose to receive the free gift of a life free from those conditions.
Granted, life is NOT perfect for those who leave the streets. Addiction holds a powerful grip. The past has a returning to the mind over and over again. Temptations don’t stop simply because you move a few miles away.
But there is freedom. One step. Two steps. Three steps…
Here’s the thing about grace: It is free. It is available. It is a gift.
And I want it.
I not only want it, I want it to fill my heart and be lived out in my life abundantly. I want my family, my friends, the person I meet on the street to have it. I want grace to go out into the whole world so that all might know the Truth.
Jesus paid the price so that you might receive it. He gave His life on the cross to pay the price we could not pay. Those who receive Him do not need to worry. Life won’t be perfect. You’ll still sin. Others will still sin. There will still be ramifications after those things happen.
You can still live in freedom. You can still live with the knowledge that this world is a temporary home. We live in it. We enjoy it. We are blessed in it.
Among the many things that Jesus said, there are two words that are simply beautiful to hear: Follow Me.
If Jesus has called you to follow Him, do it. If you are following Him, are you doing it with your whole heart and your whole life? Is there anything more that you sense Jesus is calling you to do? How can you do it?
The Gospel is all about grace. It doesn’t “sell” in the world’s eyes because it is not me-centric. It’s not about how I can get more stuff.
No place to lay your head? That’s ok. Grace is better. Our response to it is to be ok with being a reflection of the grace we have received. Be willing to give more of your time, talent, and treasure as a loving response to the gift you have received.
Sign me up!
Yours in Christ,