Following Christ closely
April 11, 2011
by Rev. Bill Hillyer, Saving Grace Lutheran Church, Delano

News for Christians hasn’t been all that joyful in the past few weeks. Just look at a couple of headlines: At least one Christian has been killed in western Ethiopia in widespread violence resulting from a “rumor” that a Christian tore a page from a Quran. More than 4,000 Christians have also been displaced after Islamic extremists burned 59 churches and 28 homes. And more than a dozen Christians have been killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past week as Muslims protest over the burning of a Quran.

By comparison, being a Christian in the United States is pretty easy. A person doesn’t even have to attend services, pray, or read the Bible to claim to be a Christian.

The disciples of Jesus were pretty comfortable as they followed Jesus, at least until He asked them to accompany Him to the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful Thursday evening. They had just celebrated a wonderful Passover dinner together.

In fact, during the dinner as they shared the unleavened bread, Jesus tore the thin bread into pieces and told them that it was His body which was now given into death for their sake. He then took the cup of blessing and told them that this was now His blood of the new testament, which was shed for many for the remission of sins.

The disciples must have been excited at Jesus’ words. Could it be that He was now going to usher in the new and restored kingdom of God that Israel hoped for? Would they now be ruling with Jesus?

Up until this time the disciples seemed fearless in their discipleship. They were inspired by the success of His preaching, His popularity, and His demonstrations of power and authority.

But how quickly all this changed as they watched Jesus being arrested, bound, and led away as a common criminal. The confidence and optimism the disciples had, quickly changed over to fear. The disciples abandoned Jesus and fled because of that fear.

Sometimes we, too, can be distant, far-off disciples. What does this type of Christian look like? Often, it’s being a half-hearted believer. It’s following Jesus only when it is convenient, when it requires no sacrifice.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, and other parts of the world, loyalty to Christ can cost Christians their lives. What does it cost you during this Lenten season to follow Christ?

Perhaps giving up golf on a Sunday morning so that you can worship with your family? Or maybe shutting off the TV and attending Lenten services after a hard day’s work? The choices we make in our everyday lives all have to do with discipleship.

Many times, fear is at the heart of our own faulty discipleship. We are afraid to live our faith because we are afraid of the consequences. We are afraid we might be ridiculed, we might lose our popularity, we might be considered odd or different. Or maybe we’re afraid that if we follow Jesus and His Word, if we put what’s right, what’s honest, what’s unselfish above everything else, we might not get ahead in life as quickly.

All this is a sign of spiritual distance from God. We’re afraid, so we follow from a distance. The problem is that when we follow Jesus only when it’s convenient or comfortable, we may wake up one morning to find that we are not a disciple of Christ at all.

What do you do if that’s you? Focus on Christ. Learn to spend time in His Word (read the Bible). Especially during this season of Lent, as you focus on His suffering and death, you will find the answer to the fear of being too close to Jesus.

His life, death, and resurrection are for you! He carried your sins in His body to the cross. He lives again, having disarmed the powers that try to frighten you and tear you away from Jesus.

We are very blessed to live in a country where we are free to worship and follow Jesus without fear. Jesus goes ahead of us! He’s been to the cross, to death, and back. He went there so that you might be forgiven and be set free from the bondage of the devil, the world, and even your sinful self.

You see, there really is nothing we have to do to follow Jesus. But that doesn’t mean it will always be easy. And we don’t need to let fear or anything else cause us to follow Jesus from afar. Because of the gifts of the cross, the resurrection, and baptism, we are empowered to live boldly for Jesus.

Christ Jesus has done everything necessary for us to live a new life in Christ, the life of discipleship, the forgiven life, the fearless life.