"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways,
take up your cross daily, and follow me."
In the past two weeks, I have been bombarded with troubling and distressing news, concerning the people that I admire and love. I learned that my dear brother in Christ, Saeed Abedini, is suffering from internal bleeding because of the constant beatings and torture he is receiving from his captors in Evin prison in Iran. Then if that wasn't distressing enough, a few days later my Christian friend Ebi who lives in Tehran gave me some more bad news. He had just been released from jail after 12 days and explained that he had been lashed 76 times and fined a large sum of money. Why? Because of his Christian faith. In Iran, it is a very serious crime to convert from Islam to Christianity. It can be punishable by death from hanging.
The reality of this troubling and distressing news instantly reminded me of the solemn words of Jesus as he prepared his disciples for the hard road that lay ahead of them;
"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me."
Jesus is reminding us that there is a high price, a personal cost to following him. When we identify ourselves as Christians, we are sending a direct message to the world and sometimes the world is very hostile in its response.
What does it mean to "take up your cross?" It means very clearly that as a Christian, we must die to ourself and our own agenda and be willing to submit to God's will for our lives. In some cases that may mean death.
"What? wait Jesus, I didn't sign up for that!"
The question then becomes, why do we follow Christ if the road ahead is perilous and full of danger and my life is at stake? Wouldn't it just be easier to just try and get along with everyone?
The answer is of course, "No!"
Jesus took up his cross and gave his life for us! He loved us that much! He endured the pain and torture of an agonizing crucifixion so that we could be forgiven.
In this world, we too will have tribulation, but Jesus reassures us, "Take heart, be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."
These are words of comfort to me when I think of Saeed and Ebi. Jesus understands the depth of their pain. He has experienced it himself. He is saying, "Don't be afraid. I am with you. I have overcome the forces of darkness. You belong to me."
Following Jesus can be costly and sometimes we are tempted to turn and walk away. On one occasion, the teachings of Christ offended some of his "so called followers" and they quickly departed. Jesus then challenged his twelve disciples with the all important question, "Are you also going to leave?"
Peter quickly responded with the only answer any of us could give to this very important question posed by our Lord and master.
"Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life?"
When the journey becomes difficult and life threatening, we need to remember Peter's answer.
Jesus is our only life and hope. There is no one else we can trust our life with but Him.
Despite the depressing news of my dear friends, when I ponder the ultimate truth of this, then I can finally have peace and be comforted that they understand the cost of what it means to follow Jesus.
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