Don’t Follow for Comfort

What do you think you will get from following Jesus? BE careful. There is a dangerous false teaching out there that would say to people that, if you just trust Jesus enough, your life will get easy. These false teachers suggest to you that you will find health, wealth, and success. They suggest that, after all, if you become a Christian, you become a son or daughter of the King, a prince or princess of the Lord. But they are selling a false gospel to you.

It is not a new thing to see people attempt to latch onto Jesus with the hope of success and prosperity in the here and now. In fact, I think we see such a thing in Matthew 8.

Matthew 8:19-20 – 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

This is a really brief encounter, so we cannot say too much for certain. But I think we can make a couple of assumptions that paint the picture for us. The man who approached Jesus was a scribe. He was a religious person whose job it was to write. And he said that he would follow Jesus anywhere. It seems, then, that this man is offering Jesus is services.

Stop and ask why this man would come to Jesus to say that he would follow him. It could be that this man was genuinely convicted to believe in Jesus, to love him, and to follow him. But, were that the case, I think Jesus’ response to him would have been different. My best guess is that this man actually was trying to go with Jesus out of a desire for personal gain. Why do I say that? Jesus responded to this man by pointing out that there was not going to be a cushy destination at the end of this road.

My assessment is that this man wanted to get in on the early stages of Jesus’ ministry. He may have thought to himself that, as a scribe, if he got in on the ground floor of this ministry, he would be in a great spot once Jesus finally reached his destination. Perhaps he thought that Jesus was destined to be a big and important Pharisee. Perhaps he saw that Jesus is Messiah, but he assumed that meant that Jesus would establish a physical, earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. In either case, being the number one scribe for this man would be a great position.

Jesus shatters this man’s illusions when he simply tells him that there is no place they are going. Jesus has no home. The Savior was, in fact, more homeless than foxes and birds. He traveled. HE spoke. He gave. And Jesus would end his earthly ministry, not in the temple, not in a palace, but on a cross leading to a borrowed tomb.

It is possible that I’m misunderstanding what the scribe was saying. But I know these two things. First, Jesus’ response to him indicates that Jesus saw this man as looking for earthly comfort and stability which he would not receive following Jesus. Second, we have no reason to believe that this scribe followed Jesus. And so I think I have the picture pretty close to correct.

For you and me today, there is a lesson. Christianity is not and has never been something to jump into so that you can have a nice, soft, easy life. Jesus did not promise that. Yes, there have been times in history when, for a brief season, it is easier to live in a society as a believer. But, honestly, such periods of history are not as long and not as regular as you might think. And, throughout history, when a society has embraced the faith in some form, this has often led to corruption in the church, compromise in doctrine, and sinful greed as people pretended to follow Jesus in order to gain political power. We want to follow Jesus. WE want people to be saved. And, as people are saved, societies will be transformed. But, when the transformation is more political than spiritual, the transformation is something other than Christianity.

No, dear friends, do not think that following Jesus grants you health, wealth, and prosperity. The Savior promised that following him would bring you persecution and hardship in the here and now. Jesus told the scribe that he was homeless, and to follow him would make the scribe lose earthly stability. The reason to follow Jesus is not earthly comfort for this life. The reason to follow Jesus is that Jesus is God. Jesus is your only hope of salvation. Jesus is your only hope of lasting joy. And, of course, Jesus grants us an eternal future that is far greater than any hardships we may suffer in our eighty or so years of life on this earth.

Teaching Affliction

There are many running themes in the Scripture. When we study, we see that certain ideas find their way into book after book. These ideas are important, because they show us that God is completely consistent in his word to us. Examples of this include the true deity and true humanity of Jesus, the importance of the local church, the call to sexual purity, the need for Christians to love one another, the necessity of focusing on eternity, etc. You see the same principles of right thought and righteous conduct in book after book, author after author.

One recurring theme in the New Testament is one that we do not love, but which we must understand. Repeatedly in the New Testament, we see that the church of the Lord Jesus is destined for affliction and persecution in this world. I find that, as I prepare sermons or do personal devotions, I see a regular reminder that the lost world will not love the church.

1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 – 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells of his concern for the church in Thessalonica after he was forced to leave the city. IN fact, Paul’s concern for those believers became so strong that he sent Timothy back there to check on the believers in that infant church. Thankfully, when Timothy arrived in Thessalonica, he found the believers standing strong, even in the face of worldly hardships.

Notice what Paul says about his teaching when he was in Thessalonica. Paul says that he repeatedly kept telling the young believers that Christians will suffer afflictions. During his time of preaching and teaching in Thessalonica, preparing believers for persecution was a commonly repeated theme.

The funny thing for us to remember in all this is that Paul was only in Thessalonica for around three weeks. He then had to move on. The apostle had only three weeks to try to pour into the Thessalonians important doctrine. And in that time, Paul says that he not only mentioned the possibility of persecution, but he repeatedly pointed out to them that hardships would come.

Now, believers, if you only had 3 weeks to teach a new Christian what they needed to know, what doctrines would you include? Of course you would teach them the gospel and the significance of Scripture. You would teach them about evangelism and the local church. Hopefully you would point them toward the return of Jesus and our hope.

But if you want to be consistent with Scripture, you also would need to be abundantly clear that a lost world will strive to bring hardships to believers. You would not do a young believer any favors by pretending that God will protect us from pain in this life. Instead, you would be wisest to help them know that persecution is part of following Jesus until he returns. Even in a 3-week crash course in the faith, you would, if you followed Paul’s pattern, speak against any notion of a prosperity gospel or an escapist theology. Instead, you would strive with Scripture to weave steel into the character of young believers so that they would be ready to stand in the face of worldly affliction.

A Dangerous and False Imitation of Christianity

Issues of the true faith are issues of great importance. We are dealing here with the honor and glory of God. We are dealing here with the eternal souls of men and women. It matters a lot.

Sadly, there are many who would claim the faith who are misled, either intentionally or unintentionally, to a kind of faith that uses the Bible, that claims to be Christian, but which is an almost exact opposite of the true faith. People who follow this faith meet in buildings they call churches. Sometimes they sing the same songs that other Christians sing. They speak prayers. But their ultimate belief system is a perversion of the faith.

I am speaking here of the believers in versions of what is often called the prosperity gospel. This might be followers of Joel Osteen and his ilk, or it might be embracers of a sort of liberation theology. Either way, we are here talking about people who take Scripture out of context, who rip from the Bible the heart of the meaning of the words of God, and who pollute any form of the genuine faith with a superstitious claim to health, wealth, and prosperity. It involves people who think Christianity promises them worldly wealth, and it includes people who think that Christianity will allow them, as an oppressed people group, to rise up and conquer. But neither of these views is biblical.

Often prosperity preaching people will claim a verse like Deuteronomy 28:12-13a as their promise.

Deuteronomy 28:12-13a – 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down…

Boy, that all sounds good! If we belong to God, we get good all the time. We go up and never down. We lend but never borrow. We are the head and not the tail. We are rich. We conquer. We rule!

Before even pointing out the interpretive error, let me say that such a view is a way to play on mankind’s most sinful desires and to mask it as a form of the faith. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden by rejecting the rule and authority of God for selfish rule. All human sin, at some point, is the intentional throwing off of the authority of God for my own desires. And every human-centered, godless religion out there tells us all to focus on self, to fulfill our own desires, to see ourselves as great.

But look again at the verses, this time with the incredibly important clause at the end of verse 13.

Deuteronomy 28:12-14 – 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

Yes, God told a particular people that he would promise them prosperity. But he told them that they could have this prosperity if, and only if, they would fully obey his commands. They could have prosperity if and only if they would have God as their God, their Lord, their Master. And, to let you in on a little secret, the people to whom God spoke these words never really obeyed. Instead, they proved that humanity, left to ourselves, will always rebel against the ways of God and bring to ourselves destruction.

Here is the truth. Mankind is naturally rebellious against God and destined for destruction. In the Old Testament of the Bible, we proved that we would not obey God, not even for clear promises of blessing. And we proved that we will not obey God, not even in the light of promises of terrible punishments for disobedience (see all of Deuteronomy 28-30.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 – 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

That is the promise God made to Israel through Moses. Obedience and faithfulness would be met with unbelievable blessing. Rejection of God and his ways would be met with similarly unfathomable cursing. And Israel did not obey.

But what about the modern Christian? Should we claim half of the Deuteronomy verses as our own? Should we say that we get all the blessings if we just speak positive words and think positive thoughts? Of course not.

The Lord has given us a different kind of promise. The Lord has promised us in this life his presence and his blessing. He has also promised us hardships and persecutions. God calls us to believe in Jesus and turn from sin. God calls us to obey his word in the here and now. And God calls us to set our minds and hearts, not on earthly reward in this life, but on the eternal life that he has promised us and proved to us through the resurrection of Jesus.

If your church is telling you to “claim” a promise of health and wealth in this life, your church is misleading you. If your church is telling you that God has promised you an easy life of any kind this side of the resurrection, your church is misleading you. If your church is telling you that, if you just believe, you can have all the money you want and live in selfish luxury in Christ, your church is misleading you. If your church is applying to you partial Old Testament promises without any sort of biblical context, your church is misleading you.

Yes, there is glory and joy in Christianity. There is life, blessing, peace, and hope. But these are part of a life that is also a battle for sanctification, a battle through persecution and sorrow and suffering. The promise of God is that he will sustain us in this life with the joy of his glory as we press on in obedience to his word toward the ultimate prize of being conformed to the likeness of Christ. That promise is not that we will win an election, that our particular people group will prosper, or that we will have a nice house or a healthy body. The promise is eternal life in Christ as we bow to him in faith and yield to him as Lord.