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That Scares Me


Matthew was a tax collector.  No one liked tax collectors.  Despite the expected criticism, Jesus invited Himself into this man's office.  Matthew probably saw Jesus as a potential source of pocket money.  Extorting the tax payer as he paid his taxes was routine for tax collectors.  The majority of people would most likely have kept their mouths shut when standing before Matthew, but not Jesus.  How long they talked and what they talked about is uncertain.  What we do know is that Jesus ended the conversation with two simple words; "follow me". (Matthew 9:9)


I've often wondered about Jesus' conversation with Matthew.  Was there some small talk, or was it all serious?  What went through Matthew's head when Jesus said, "follow me"?  Did Matthew leave his desk immediately?  Did he anticipate what he was getting himself into?   Did he foresee the hassles with the religious establishment?  Did he ever have second thoughts?  Was he crushed to the core when they took the bloody mess of a man he admired down from the cross?  Did he shake his head in bewilderment, wondering, "is this where following Jesus has led us"? 


As Matthew heard the blood curdling screams from the cross, I imagine him recalling what Jesus told him and his friends.  "Anyone who does not take up his cross and 'follow me' is not worthy of me". (Matthew 10:38)  With the screams from the cross still ringing in his ears, Matthew might well have taken a deep breath, sighed, rubbed his beard with his hand, and wondered, "is my cross going to look like this"?  Little did he know that it would.


The gospel message that Jesus spoke to Matthew and others wasn't the typical "believe in Jesus, get saved, and live happily ever-after" gospel that many Evangelicals have preached over the years.  Believing in Jesus was supposed to lead you to following Him.  Following Jesus means following Him to your own personal cross.  Following Jesus wasn't a matter of hanging out with Him and enjoying the good life on the beaches of the Sea of Galilee.  Before the good life comes, there's some serious, unpaid, and at times dangerous, work to be done.  


I wonder if the average "church-goer" is really clued in to what following Jesus means.  Is it simply a matter of hanging out with like-minded friends; going through the routine of church in the hopes of heaven?  Does western style Christianity lead anyone to his own personal cross?   


In John 3:16 Jesus offered us eternal life once we believed in Him.  Merely acknowledging the existence of the historic Jesus, or even the risen Jesus, isn't exactly what believing in Jesus is all about.  Believing in Jesus is an exchange; your life for His life.  As you hand your life over to Jesus, He hands His life, in the form of the Holy Spirit, over to you.  At that point, following Jesus begins, and sooner or later, you will encounter your own personal cross.  It might well mean forgoing the instant gratification in this life for the joy in the next life, something we know little of in the western world.  That's what the cross meant for Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2) 


I doubt if Matthew knew what he was getting himself into when he took his first step towards Jesus.  Matthew's journey with Jesus began when he left his desk.  It took him down the dirty and dusty roads of Judea and Galilee.  There were countless sleepless nights along the way.  The criticism from the religious establishment was irritating.  Yes, there were the miracles, but on the other hand, there was the cross of Christ.  If not for the resurrection of Jesus, Matthew's journey would have ended right there at the cross.  After many years, Matthew's journey with Jesus eventually led him to his own personal cross.  As tradition has it, he was stabbed in the chest by a persecutor's sword.  That's what following Jesus meant to Matthew.  I wonder what it means to you and I.     


I wonder if the average "church-goer" in the western world has ever given Jesus' words much thought.  "Anyone who does not take up his cross and 'follow me' is not worthy of me". (Matthew 10:38)  Our watered-down, and somewhat selfish gospel, has not allowed us to think beyond finding forgiveness that gets us into heaven.  If I'm right about this, how can we really follow someone that we don't properly believe in or trust.  If believing in Jesus is mere mental ascent to the existence of an historic Jesus, or even the risen Jesus, we've sadly missed the boat.  We'll stand waiting on the dock of the bay, looking for the next boat to drift in, but there won't be a next boat. 


For those of my family and friends who hold to such a faulty understanding of believing and following Jesus, to put it in simple words; "that scares me".  The boat will soon depart into open seas.  It's time to seriously intercede on the behalf of those who are enjoying their picnic under a distant shade tree.  I pray they will join us in preparing for the boat's departure.    






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