Main Passage: Luke 9:18-27 NIV
Secondary Passage: Matthew 26:69-75 NIV
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Matthew 12:30 NIV
In my first husband's career as an engineer, he went on several business trips. There was a lot of pressure to pad expense accounts, drink alcohol to be "social", do pay-per-view on cable t.v. to watch porn, tell crude jokes and cuss, and even spend time with prostitutes. He saw many Christians "put Jesus away" on business as they participated in activities that were inappropriate for Jesus followers to do. He was even asked, "You aren't one of those goody-two-shoes Christians, are you? You won't get ahead in the company like that." He stood firm in his conviction to be a witness for Christ, even when he was ridiculed and reprimanded. Many of his colleagues were intrigued by his strong convictions to do what was right, not what was popular. When he left the company to go to seminary to become a pastor, his boss was astonished. He could see Don's seriousness to his resignation and wished him well. There was a curiosity about why someone would leave a good paying career to serve Jesus as a pastor.
The ones who "put Jesus away" were hard to distinguish from non-believers. Some were leaders in their churches. Their influence drew many people away from Jesus and the church. The people who saw their poor witness didn't see anything special about being Christian at all. These people were influencers who could have built up the Kingdom instead of steering people away. What a contrast.
What's the Deal?
Christians are leaving the church in record numbers, mostly because of people who claim to be His, but don't act like it. Other Christians put Jesus in a box so His teachings don't sear their conscience. They live exemplary lives at church, but live like non-Christians at work, school, and other places because they are afraid of ridicule and exclusion. They lie, cheat, and steal in subtle ways. They view porn and go to strip clubs on company business trips. They prefer status over relationship with Jesus. Some like the power of leadership in church for their own personal power status, using it for their own glory. As others watch or get hurt by these people, so they want no part of being a Christian nor become a part of the church.
You can see this happen as early as in Jesus' latter part of ministry. Peter loved Jesus. In fact, he was the first one of the disciples to recognize Jesus as the Messiah out of the group. When Jesus asked the disciples who they believed He was, it was Peter who confessed Jesus as the Christ (Savior). Those outside of the group simply thought He was a prophet or a good teacher, but Peter saw Him for who He really is.
Later we see Judas betray Jesus in Matthew 27 and the other disciples hide themselves away when Peter denied knowing Jesus, so as not to be identified with Jesus because they feared for their lives. Those who knew Him well, turned their backs on Him.
Jesus told them that following Him meant giving up what most people look for in life by following in His footsteps, even to death. He also said, probably because He knew what they would actually do under pressure, that anyone who was ashamed of Him on earth, God would be ashamed of them in Heaven. How embarrassing it would be at judgement for God to be ashamed of their shame of Christ!
Following Jesus isn't easy. In fact, Jesus even told His disciples that it was not. It would mean sacrificing their own desires, even to the point of death. Peter felt the pressure as His Savior was tortured. His response to concern for his own life was to swear and curse as he denied Jesus for the third time. When he realized what he had done, he cried tears of shame. Following Jesus was harder than Peter imagined. Following Jesus meant wholeheartedly yielding to God's plan rather than his own, regardless of the cost.
We haven't been under the same pressure the disciples were, yet all of us at one time or another deny Jesus as our Savior through our attitudes, words, and actions. The way we live in our daily activities either draws others to Jesus or sends them running the other way.
Whether we are part of church leadership, spend time in the company of non-Christians, or perform duties on the job, Jesus is a part of us as believers. How we treat others makes a big difference in how people see Jesus. How we behave in public or private reflects on Jesus' character. We love Jesus, but struggle with the pressure to not identify with Him in our post-modern culture. Peter caved in to fear of torture or death, but loved Jesus, too. Jesus said that whoever is not for Him is against Him. Those who are for Him gather people into the Kingdom. Those who are against Him scatter people away from the Kingdom. When under pressure, do we deny Jesus or proclaim Jesus? Do we draw people to Jesus or send them running the other way? Either way, our behavior will either gather people around to ask "Why do you live differently? Who is this Jesus?" or people will scatter in pain and frustration, muttering, "Why don't you live what you claim to believe if you say you are a Christian?" We make a decision daily to follow Him or to deny Him. Will you gather or will you scatter?
May God bless you!
image 1 by Charles Forerunner on Unsplash.com.