To follow Jesus wherever he goes necessitates a lifetime of self-denial and sacrificial service for others.
When Jesus dispatched his disciples to announce the “good news” to the “lost sheep of Israel,” he warned them to expect to find themselves as “sheep among wolves.” Hostile men would haul them before “councils and whip them in their synagogues,” and his followers would be hated “by all men for my sake.”
And that was the harsh reality discovered by his first disciples, and later, by the early church. Many of the very men who ought to welcome the Messiah instead fought what he represented – tooth and nail.
To walk the same path of suffering and self-sacrifice as the true Messiah of Israel did is the only way for anyone to become his faithful disciple.
But the student is “not above his master”! Only by “enduring to the end” will anyone be saved. If they persecuted their Lord, the “enemies of the cross of Christ” certainly have no qualms about mistreating his followers.
And Jesus never promised his followers a life of ease and tranquility. They are to expect suffering and even persecution for his sake:
- “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be they of his own household.”
Jesus does not wage war against humanity, but conflicts begin whenever men reject him, his example, and his teachings. And the persecution of his true followers, those who emulate him, is inevitable. While such warnings strike us as being grim, he also warns:
- “He who does not take his cross to follow me is not worthy of me. For he that finds his life will lose it, and he that loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The faithful disciple will reap great rewards in the end, but the narrow road that leads to life is often rough and dangerous. Anyone who desires to become his disciple must first count the cost. The call to follow the Crucified One is an all-or-nothing proposition. The half-hearted man will soon fall by the wayside.
Not all disciples experience persecution, but the potential and often real loss of all things for his sake is the price of following Jesus “wherever he leads.” And the New Testament does not sugarcoat it.
For example, in the book of Revelation, followers of the slain “Lamb” are found standing majestically on “Mount Zion” with him. But before reaching that glorious summit, they first must overcome the “Dragon.” And they do so by the “word and their testimony, and because they love not their lives even unto death.”
The implication of the last clause is martyrdom. In the same manner as did the “faithful witness” – Jesus – disciples who “overcome” qualify to reign with him on his Father’s throne – by remaining faithful even when doing so means an unjust death – (Revelation 1:4-6, 3:21, 12:11, 14:1-5).
On one occasion, Jesus foretold his impending arrest, trial, and execution to his disciples. But they either did not hear or were incapable of comprehending his words. In reaction, they began jockeying for position in the coming messianic kingdom. But he used the opportunity to teach them just what it means to be the Messiah and his faithful servant.
In the account, James and John ask to sit at his right and left when Jesus comes “in his glory,” positions of great honor and power. But their request only highlights their ignorance. As Christ’s words and DEEDS demonstrate, his servants serve others, just as he does, and sacrifice, suffering, and death precede glory.
Jesus challenges James and John. “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” In the Hebrew Bible, the “cup” symbolizes something allotted by God, and usually in the negative sense of judicial punishment. So, also, Jesus will drink the “cup” of God’s wrath on behalf of others in his trial and execution – (Psalm 11:6, 16:5, Isaiah 57:17-22, Jeremiah 25:15-28).
When James and John declare they are well able to drink this “cup,” his response demonstrates their cluelessness. However, in the future, they will drink the same “cup” when they suffer for his sake.
And this warning is not just for James and John, but also for all disciples of Jesus. Collectively, his followers are destined to endure suffering, deprivation, and persecution for the gospel.
But since these two disciples desire high positions in his kingdom, Jesus explains exactly what it means to become “great” in his kingdom:
- “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones tyrannize them. Not so will it be among you. But whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you will be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Contrary to the ways of this age, “greatness” is achieved by self-sacrificial service for others, NOT by achieving power, rank, and privilege, and certainly not by exercising power over others.
SERVANT OF ALL
The one who wishes to become “great” must first become the “servant” of all. This term translates the Greek noun diakonos used elsewhere in the New Testament as a general term for “servant.” And in ancient Greek, it refers to the slave who waits on tables. And in the parallel passage recorded in Luke, Jesus applies it in that very manner:
- “Let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” – (Luke 22:26-27).
Jesus is explicit. The disciple who desires to become “great” must first become the “slave” or doulos of others, just as the Messiah came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his soul as a ransom instead of many.” And here, the Greek verb rendered “served” is the verbal form of the noun diakonos.
As for Jesus giving his life to “ransom” others, his words allude to a passage from the ‘Suffering Servant’ song in the book of Isaiah:
- “Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great, because he poured out to death his own soul, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, he the sin of Many bare, and for transgressors interposes” – (Isaiah 53:10-12).
And giving his life as a ransom for “many” does not mean a limited or exclusive company. The term is a verbal link to the passage in Isaiah where “the many” refers to the “transgressors.” And the contrast is not between “many” and “all,” but between the one Christ who gave his life and the many beneficiaries of his sacrificial act.
And in that society, often ransoms were paid to purchase the freedom of slaves. His statement is a declaration of his mission – to give his life to free others from slavery to sin, death, and Satan.
By responding to the disciples in this way, Jesus uses his example to demonstrate what it means for anyone to become his disciple. His call to service is applicable to everyone who wishes to follow him. The self-seeking man or woman cannot be his disciple. Thus, to follow the “Lamb wherever he goes” means walking the same path that Jesus did, and living a cruciform life of self-sacrificial service for others – to the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, and especially to one’s “enemy,” just as Christ offered his life when we were “yet enemies of God