following Jesus is easy
How many walks of faith begin believing those words? Grant admitted it was true of his early on, and I believe it’s a pretty popular notion overall. It’s as if a Staples “Easy Button” shows up via Fedex the morning after you put your faith in Jesus. This is the free gift that comes with the purchase of the Ginsu knife set. You give Jesus your life, and for “signing up,” He sends you an Easy Button with instructions to push it anytime life begins to get uncomfortable. But here’s the thing … when you begin to follow God, and you begin reading your Bible, you don’t find any “Easy Button” stories in there. What you find is hard. What you find is good, but it’s not anything resembling easy. Following Jesus takes Guts!
The New Testament includes several letters which were written to churches. Most of them by Paul, a couple by Peter and seven by Jesus himself. Over the next three weeks, we’re going to focus on the letters which Jesus wrote. Now, to begin with some context, the first half of the Bible unfolds on a plot of land not much bigger than the state of New Jersey. Israel sits bordered on one side by the Mediterranean Sea and is surrounded by nations who are their historical enemies. Stories as to why are contained throughout the Old Testament. The New Testament begins with the arrival of Jesus. He is born, lives, dies and rises again all within the same footprint of the Old Testament. But in preparing to return to heaven, Jesus changes everything. He gives His disciples a command to go and tell the whole world. They are not to stay within the traditional borders, they are to take the message of His birth, life, death and resurrection to the ends of the earth.
As the disciples begin to spread out to fulfill the mission Jesus gave them, the map expands. One of the significant areas which comes into focus is the large area on the map known as modern-day Turkey. As the message spreads, new believers are coming to Christ in large numbers. These new believers begin gathering in small communities to learn, worship and to live life together. This is the early Church, and these are the early churches. A great deal happens in the area we know as modern-day Turkey, as new believers flee there as the Romans begin to persecute Christians for their insistence that this God they are worshipping is the one any only true God. Asia Minor (Turkey) is where the seven churches exist which Jesus speaks a letter to.
Yes, I said “speaks a letter to.” Jesus did not “write” this letter. The words were penned by the Apostle John, who by this point in history, was the only living original apostle of Jesus. Every single other apostle has died … all as martyred, many crucified (no Easy Buttons, right?!). John had been exiled and was sitting in prison when Jesus appeared to him in and spoke the words of a letter He wanted sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor. The words begin …
“To the angel [or, messenger] of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Revelation 2:1-7 (NIV)
Jesus begins with stirring language which essentially and strongly states, “Pay attention, this is God speaking.” He continues with some very encouraging acknowledgements. He has been watching, and what He has seen from the church in Ephesus is hard work and perseverance in serving Him. They have resisted wicked people and tested the words of what have turned out to be false prophets. This is praiseworthy, considering how easy it is (think of our modern context) to consume and enjoy s sugar-laden gospel. But as individuals and as a community they had lost touch with their “first love.” They have strayed from who they were when they first believed and began serving God. But there is forgiveness if they repent and are faithful. They have fallen far, but never too far if they will confess and repent. Jesus does not promise to send an Easy Button, but He does promise paradise … a forever life in the presence of God himself. How good is that?!
Jesus then continues with words for the church in Smyrna …
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Revelation 2:8-11 (NIV)
Jesus knows that suffering is in the immediate future of the believers in Smyrna, and He is allowing it to happen. He “writes” to them and promises life after this one if they remain faithful … even to the point of death. He knows there will be harsh persecution and He is not handing them the Easy Button. But His promise … His promise is eternally better if they will just remain faithful.
These first two letters shine a spotlight on the pull and temptation of this life. The pull and temptation to see this life and it’s trappings as the “stuff” that matters. It matters what we choose and do for Him, but it is not what we or our choices and actions do for this life that matter. Be faithful and hold tight to the promise of life in His presence. It would be something to see what we as individuals and as a Life Bridge community would do facing this kind of pressure. If very real persecution and death was waiting for us in making a decision to follow Jesus, what would we do? Heck, not even that, if we had to pay more in taxes if we checked a box that said “Christian” on our tax returns, would we pick up the pencil and profess our faith?
These letters beg some tough questions. The answers to those questions will speak clearly whether you have the Guts to genuinely follow Jesus. Ask yourself these questions … this week, and every week. Be transparently plain and brutally honest with your answers. He sees and He knows. Pretending is foolish.
Are you being faithful?
Could you be faithful no matter what comes?
Is the crown of life enough?
The invitation to believe in Jesus should never be a sales pitch. It takes Guts to believe and be faithful. And I can PROMISE you forever life in God’s presence is worth it!