Several years ago when my nephew signed up to serve in the U.S Marines, the process of signing up from start to finish took about a month. It involved consulting with a recruiter, taking the ASVAB test, getting a physical exam from a military doctor, and eventually signing a contract. It is good that there is some time between the start to finish because it is not a decision that should be made to quickly, as there are some critical implications to signing the contract.
Following Jesus is also a choice that should not be taken lightly and made in haste. When we encounter Jesus healing or extending mercy to a disgraced sinner, following Jesus sounds like a wonderful idea. When we hear Jesus say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11.28), we are ready to come. Unfortunately, that is the only side of Jesus some people are ever told about before being asked to follow Jesus. They are told that through Jesus they can have salvation as a free gift of God’s grace. That is certainly true and a very important aspect of Jesus that people must be know about. But that is not all of Jesus.
The Jesus of grace and mercy is also the Jesus who told a disciple wanting to go and bury his father to instead “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matt 8.22). That same Jesus is the one who demanded that his followers must pick up their own cross and follow after him (cf. Mk 8.34). This is also the same Jesus who told a parable about a king returning to his country to see how his money was invested so that Jesus could point out the condemnation that is upon the subject who did nothing with the money the king gave them (cf. Lk 19.11-27). And that same Jesus is also the one who is the humble servant that commands us to love one another not as we wish to do so but as he has loved us (Jn 13.34).
All this is to say that the Jesus we are called to follow is not concerned with whether or not he inconveniences us, places us in a risky or dangerous situation, causes us to be disliked by the world or even other Christians and religious people, undermines our sense of entitlement or the American dream we are taught to chase, and so forth. Jesus simply has proclaimed the appearance of God’s kingdom at hand while calling us to repentance, belief, and discipleship As Scot McKnight reminds us in his new book One Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, “[Jesus] didn’t care if it sounded crazy to some; he cared only to honor God by teaching what God really wants for God’s world and for God’s people” (p. 55).
That is the Jesus we must make a choice on. But we must not make it haphazardly. For this Jesus is also the one who said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Lk 9.62).