Why It's Hard to Follow Jesus
From a modern marketing perspective, Jesus' strategy would be considered unorthodox if not ineffective. In business today, you have to tailor your product to the consumer. Give them options. Make it easy to want what you're selling.
By contrast, Jesus says, "Follow me," and proceeds to make the way difficult. Has he "sold" you on following him? He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” (Luke 13:24.) The way is singular, without all the options and choices. Are you sold yet?
I've been wrestling with Jesus' "narrow" statements in Luke's gospel. Here are four observations on the "narrow way" that actually inspire me to follow him.
The narrow way is decisive. You're "in or "out." What you cannot be is neutral.
Here is a sharp word: “Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). It helps me to have a farm-girl for a wife. When plowing a field, you have to set a mark and be decisively focused on it. If you look back or to the side, your row will be off and you'll mess up the field for planting and harvest..
I am struck by the numerous times Jesus calls for decisive action. You can’t be setting your course in one direction and then look back. No regrets, no hesitation. When following Jesus, it’s full on. You’re in or you’re out. There is no neutral.
By contrast, we prefer to have an escape clause or the ability to opt out. We like a contract with no termination fees. We don’t like to be locked in. We like to change our minds. We hold off on making a commitment because a better offer may come along. But Jesus says, “Not with me. Not with the Kingdom of God.”
The narrow way is exclusive and inclusive at the same time.
The way of Jesus is exclusive when he says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” (Luke 13:24). There is one entry point.
But just a few sentences later, the way is also inclusive when he says, “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29). The kingdom of God has all kinds of people, from the four corners of the world. In chapter 14, Jesus talks about the Kingdom as a banquet, and says, "Go invite everyone to come in!" (Lk 14:23).
The way of Jesus is two things at one time.
It is exclusive because the door is narrow. It is inclusive because the door is open for everyone.
It is exclusive because there’s only one way. It is inclusive because he desires all people to be saved.
It is exclusive because Jesus demands obedience. It is inclusive because he has mercy.
It is exclusive because he says that He is the only way. It is inclusive because he invites everyone to “Come in.”
The narrow way calls for definitive prioritization.
One of Jesus’ most troubling statements is Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Does Jesus really want me to hate my family, or my own life? Biblical commentator Joel Green notes that “hate” here is not primarily a quality of the heart. It’s more about “redirected loyalties” and “primary allegiance.” The narrow way of Jesus requires prioritization, that nothing would come between disciple and Master.
I want my wife to love me. I expect that I’m a priority in her life. But I also know that her top three priorities run like this: 1.) God. 2.) Husband. 3.) Children. If I should ever infringe on her love for Jesus, I give her every right to hate me. Of course she loves me deeply. But by comparison with her Lord, I am to be set aside. The narrow way calls for definitive prioritization.
The narrow way is a single-minded focus.
Jesus was a guest of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha was the good girl who always did her chores and worked hard. She scrubbed, dusted, washed, and worked. She would get riled up when she saw her sister just sit there. Like the time she was making dinner while Mary just sat and listened to Jesus.
So Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:41-42). Serving and working are good things. But Jesus is better. Sit as his feet. Keep your eyes and ears on him. And don’t let your activity distract you from single-minded focus on him.
In a world of distractions, options, and choices, Jesus calls, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Is this too exclusive? Is it unreasonable? Is it cruel for God to make the way narrow?
Just before Jesus made his “narrow door” statement, Luke provided some geographical context. He said, “Jesus went on his way . . . journeying toward Jerusalem” (13:22).
Jesus had other options. He could have gone to Damascus, or Rome, or Egypt. He could have avoided conflict and spent more years traveling, teaching, and healing. He could have gone the road of fame and success. But he journeyed toward Jerusalem.
He chose one way.
One narrow door.
One death. For him, there was no other option. He was decisive and definitive. He chose the harder way. The narrow way. But for him it was the only way.
In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“To be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can say is, ‘He leads the way, keep close to him.’”
The hard and "narrow" statements of Jesus actually draw me to him. I take seriously the One who walked the narrow road ahead of me. "He leads the way. Keep close to him."
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