Updated: Nov 7, 2020
James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” Mark 10:35-37
While working in the yard recently, I listened a second time to an audiobook in hopes of locating a reference I wanted. The book was written and read by David Bennett, a man who had, against all odds, come to faith in Jesus Christ. A committed atheist and gay advocate, Bennett shares the struggles and difficulties he had in his journey to becoming a Christian in his book entitled “A War of Loves”. Today, he is working on his Doctor of Philosophy in Theology at Oxford University in England. Frankly, as compelling as his story is, I was listening the second time for the reference, not for his story.
As I listened and worked, I was struck again by the sacrifices he made in choosing to follow Jesus Christ. He spoke of the need for repentance and the ongoing struggle with sin and weakness, facets of discipleship that apply to all Christians. Unexpectedly, the power of his witness is not so much in those aspects of his journey, but rather, the power of his witness is in his joy in Christ. He is willing to do whatever is necessary to remain close to Jesus. Only in Jesus did he discover what it meant to be truly accepted and loved, and only in Jesus did he experience immeasurable joy. Bennett also spoke about the church’s failure to be true to Jesus and to take seriously the call to give our whole selves to Him, denying our will for the joy of living in Him and for His glory. In an almost throwaway remark, he said, “Christianity should not be a hobby of the middle class.” Funny, I hadn’t heard that before. I was a little insulted, but the thought remained with me.
Christianity should not be a hobby of the middle class. A hobby is variously defined as a diversion, a pastime, an interest, a leisure pursuit. In almost no sense can a hobby be considered a sacrifice or an act of self-denial. Hobbies, though often time-consuming, generally are activities we enjoy, which is not to imply I think we shouldn’t have hobbies. Rather, Christianity should never be a hobby for any of us. Discipleship is not something we do because we’ve always lived this way. To the contrary, authentic discipleship calls us to live in a manner contrary to our own wishes and desires. Christian life is an ongoing movement from selfish to selfless for the glory of Christ Jesus, not an activity in which we engage with our friends.
I couldn’t avoid asking myself, “What does it cost me to follow Jesus?” My unhappy conclusion is “not very much.” Possibly, one might measure opportunity costs – those things in life I missed because I am Christian and became a pastor – but that would be purely speculative. One cannot guess what one might have had if living an entirely different life. To what extent do I overlook my sins and ignore my disobedience? What love, acceptance, and joy do I know in the presence of Christ? How would you answer these questions for yourself?
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had sacrificed to be disciples. They had left behind their lives as fishermen to follow Jesus. Even as they followed Jesus, heard His teaching and preaching, saw Him perform signs and wonders, they still thought following Jesus was about their hopes and dreams, not God’s plans. Jesus was to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the fulfillment of the Davidic kingship. As they approached Jerusalem with Jesus, they asked Him if they could sit on His right and on His left. “All this walking around Judea has been interesting, but now that You are to be King, what about me? What do I get to be?” In AD 44-45, James was beheaded and became the first apostle of Jesus to be martyred, and John eventually was exiled to Patmos. So, in due time, the brothers gave the whole of themselves and their lives for the Gospel.
What does being a disciple of Jesus Christ cost you? We follow a Lord Who was crucified, Who warned His disciples that the world would hate them, Who preached self-denial, and called His followers to leave father and mother behind for His sake. If Christianity is easy and fits comfortably in our lives, are we really following the radical Lord of life and salvation? Are we utterly convinced that, no matter what sacrifice is involved, it is not too great because being close to Jesus is worth it? If being Christian does not involve sacrifice and obedience, then are we truly being Christian? James and John wanted Christianity to be about their plans and their expectations. How often do we seek Jesus in prayer and study of the Scriptures to ask, “But what about me? What do I get?”
As all of this was rolling around my mind and in my prayer, I thought of John Wesley’s question for his small groups: “How is it with your soul?” Some form of that question is used in all sorts of ways. The latest version of Wesley class meetings invites people into deeper relationship by having each answer the question. Emmaus Reunion Groups use that premise for accountability. I use it with my small groups during class meetings between books. The most common form of the question found in accountability groups is, “Where or how did you experience Jesus this week?” What if we changed the question just slightly? How might we reconsider the seriousness of our commitment to follow Jesus, obey His commands, and sacrifice ourselves, if asked the question, “How did Jesus experience me this week?”
How did Jesus experience me this week? That rather changes the whole conversation, does it not? I imagined myself in a small group with the Lord and Him laying His forehead on His hand and saying, “Oh, my Me… Could you whine a little more? The Hebrews were in the desert for forty years and didn’t complain as much as you’re complaining. Good heavens, oh Me, have mercy!” Sad, but true. I do believe I’ve found something to complain about every day, often multiple things in a day. “But, Jesus, what about me?”
Bennett chooses obedience, which is hard for him, but truly being obedient is hard for every Christian. Obedience reveals our selfishness and our flaws and teaches us how badly we need to be saved. Yet, obedience also draws us into the mercy of Christ and invites us into the love and joy of our Lord. What Bennett discovered is a God and a life worth more than anything in this world. For the privilege of the company of Jesus, Bennett was and is prepared to sacrifice everything else, as did James and John in their time, as we are called to do today.
Christianity is not a hobby of the middle class. Religion is a hobby, but not Christian life and faith. Is your relationship with Jesus Christ all about you? Or, is your relationship with Jesus all about Him? When we make it about ourselves, we can’t really be obedient, because the will of God almost never goes hand in hand with our own. The great tragedy, however, isn’t our failure to be fully committed, but instead, the greatest tragedy is our failure to receive a life greater than anything else offered to us. We get busy taking from the world and never fully receive the Kingdom.
How did Jesus experience you this week? If you ask Him, He will let you know. The Lord is not shy about these things. He wants you to join Him in His Kingdom, not to be satisfied with a comfortable seat in our worldly kingdom.
What about you? What about me? Everything your heart desires is offered to you from the heart of God Himself.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau – © 2020