When Jesus calls me to follow Him as He heals or delivers people, it’s a joy. When Jesus calls me to follow Him on Palm Sunday – surrounded by a million adoring fans and sold-out supporters – it’s unbelievable. When Jesus calls me to follow Him to Mary and Martha’s village to see Lazarus rise from the dead, I am totally gobsmacked. When Jesus calls me to follow Him to the mountainside and listen to the most challenging and heart-gripping sermon I will ever hear – I am blessed. Oh the joy of following Jesus when everything is going well and Jesus is worshipped.
But what about when Jesus calls me into His pain, His disappointment and His darkest hour? Will I follow Jesus there? Will I follow Jesus into my Garden of Gethsemane and watch my friends fall asleep and fail to keep watch for me? When Jesus calls me to sweat blood in anticipation of what is about to unfold for me will I be able to say, “Not my will, but Yours be done?” Am I prepared to follow Jesus there? What about when Jesus calls me to face my accusers as they lie and make up charges so they can convict me and sentence me without due cause? Can I also keep my mouth closed and not defend myself?
Following Jesus should never be a selective exercise. We don’t get to choose the time, the place or the circumstances. He calls us to follow Him everywhere! We too must face our Judas, our Peter, our mock trial, our unjust conviction, our Calvary – whatever they look like in our world. We will face these realities many, many times in our earthly life and this is all part of following Jesus. We are happy to be with Jesus when the crowds are chanting our name, but what about when we are hanging on our cross with only a couple of supporters left who even care? Will we follow Jesus that far? Will we follow Him to our death if that is required, trusting as He did that our life was given for a purpose and that God will raise us on the other side and make sense of our suffering and pain?
A wise pastor colleague of mine told me a very long time ago that I would have many powerful and glorious ’empty tomb’ moments in my ministry, where the power of God was so evident that the earth would shake and I would never be the same again. He was right. But he also told me that I would never see the best of God at work unless I was prepared to submit to the worst of Satan. He said, “There is no resurrection without death.” He was right again.
We will never have to die the death of Jesus – His atoning sacrifice was unique and it only happened once and for all. However, we should also know today more than ever, that when Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me,” He means that we must follow Him everywhere – yes, even, and especially to His place of greatest suffering.