Hard to Follow

Hard to Follow

 

narrow path

One of the great fallacies of discipleship is that once you become a follower of Jesus life gets easier. That’s just not true. Nowhere in the Bible are we promised that following Christ makes life easier. In fact, the Bible indicates that the exact opposite is true. Just consider what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14…

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

From this passage, there are two important truths we learn about following Jesus. First, We learn that FOLLOWING IS NOT EASY. Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life” (emphasis added). The way to destruction is easy but the way to life is difficult. I think that’s why on multiple occasions, Jesus indicated that following Him would require one to “take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; cf. Matthew 10:38).

The phrase “take up his cross” is a reference to “the Roman practice of forcing a condemned criminal to carry his own cross-beam to the site of crucifixion.”1 Therefore, it was originally associated with martyrdom. However, “when martyrdom ceased to be common, cross-bearing properly became of symbol of following Jesus in sacrificial service.”2 Thus, the admonition to take up a cross can refer to any “burden that [a disciple] must bear” and “any sacrifice [one] must make to be faithful to the Lord.”3

Ultimately, what Jesus is saying when He says “take up your cross” must be understood in light of the fuller instruction to “deny [yourself], take up [your] cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). When “take up your cross” is paired with the instruction to “deny self” and “follow,” what you have is a call to abandon your own, personal will (i.e. deny self), accept God’s will (i.e take up your cross), and put those two in practice (i.e. follow me).4 Thus, following is not easy because it requires one to do the hard work of rejecting self in order to accept God’s standards, God’s agenda, God’s purposes, and God’s will.

Second, we learn that FOLLOWING IS NOT FOR EVERYBODY. Jesus said that not only is “the gate…narrow and the way…hard that leads to life” but also, “those who find it are few” (emphasis added). Many will enter the way to destruction but few will find the way to life. Now, don’t misunderstand this text. Everyone is invited to follow. The way to life is accessible to everyone. But not everyone is going to choose it. Not everyone is going to choose to take “the way…that leads to life.”

This is best illustrated by that 5000+ member crowd that Jesus fed with a few pieces of bread and a couple of sardines. In John 6, we are informed that on the day after this miraculous feeding, the crowd searched for Jesus, and, when they found Him, He began to feed them spiritually instead of physically. He informed them in John 6:35 that He is “the bread of life” and He expounded on this identity over the course of the next 25 or so verses. In particular, He spoke about His death and alluded to the Lord’s Supper which would commemorate His atoning sacrifice when He said in John 6:54, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Now, look at John 6:60. After hearing Jesus present the Bread of Life discourse and talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, “many of his disciples…said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ and, according to verse 66, they “turned back and no longer walked with him.” In other words, some disciples found Jesus’ teaching too hard so they chose not to follow anymore.

Do you think that still happens today? When people come across a hard teaching do you think they give up on following? When people realize they have to give up a particular sin that they enjoy, do you think they give up on following? When people realize that following requires more than a spectator mentality, do you think they give up on following? When people realize the cost associated with following, do you think they give up on following? You see, following may be AVAILABLE TO everybody, but, ultimately, following is not going to be CHOSEN BY everybody.

We need to be honest about being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Bible indicates that it will not be easy and it will not be for everyone. But the Bible also indicates that it will be worth it. Why? Because only those who choose to follow will receive “the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).


1 Sellers S. Crain, Jr. Truth for Today Commentary: Matthew 1-13. (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2010): 362.

2 James A. Brooks, Mark. New American Commentary, Vol. 23 (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1991): 137.

3 Sellers S. Crain, Jr. Truth for Today Commentary: Matthew 1-13. (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2010): 362.

4 Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 572.

한국어로 읽기