Why should I follow Jesus? What’s in it for me? If you turn on TV on a Sunday morning or browse through the most popular books in a Christian bookstore, it looks like it’s a pretty sweet deal: Follow Jesus and you’ll have health, wealth, and prosperity. Jesus will solve all of your relationship problems. Jesus will help you with your finances. Eat like Jesus and your health problems will disappear. Jesus is like the ultimate mixture of a self-help guru, a winning lottery ticket, having a personal fitness instructor, and a genie who will make sure all your dreams and wishes come true!
In Acts 9 there’s a story about a guy named Saul who’s been really busy making followers of Christ suffer for their beliefs. He’s on a bit of a rampage, trying to find followers of Jesus so that he can throw them in jail. While he’s on his way to try to find some more “followers of the Way” that he can persecute in Damascus, he has a dramatic vision and encounter with Jesus. He sees a bright light and hears the voice of Jesus, who tells him to go to Damascus and wait for further instructions. When he tries to open his eyes, he realizes that he’s been blinded by the vision, so his travel buddies have to help him get to the city.
Meanwhile, a disciple named Ananias, who lives in Damascus, has a vision from Jesus who tells him to go find Saul and place his hands on him to restore his sight. Ananias responds to Jesus in Acts 9:13-14 by saying, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.” That’s a biblical way of saying, “Jesus, are you crazy?!”
Jesus responds by saying, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
(Music screeches to a halt, talking immediately stops, all heads suddenly turn to look at what was just said.)
Wait, what?!?! What did Jesus just say? I thought everybody who followed Jesus got good things as rewards. I thought Jesus was like a good luck charm who made sure to take care of his people. I thought following Jesus would be care-free and easy. I thought the preacher on TV and the guy who wrote that book I saw said if I gave my life to Jesus, Jesus would bless me with health and wealth and prosperity and happiness and stuff. Why is Jesus talking about suffering here? Where’s the fun in suffering? What’s in this for ME?!?!
Here’s the reality: Jesus didn’t come to earth for me, to bring me happiness, to help me with my finances, to strengthen my relationships, or to be my self-help guru. Jesus came to earth on a mission: to restore what has been broken, to heal what’s sick and diseased, to bring hope to those who are suffering. The unbelievable part of the story of God in Jesus is that God didn’t just poof a magic spell from on high to solve all of the world’s problems. God figured that the best way to reach those you are trying to reach is to become one with them. The best way to reach the broken is to become broken. The best way to heal the sick is to subject yourself to their sickness. The best way to alleviate suffering is to take it on and speak hope from within it.
Jesus did these things. He hung out with the most broken people in society. He touched the sickest people, risking becoming sick himself. He suffered a criminal’s execution because people were outraged at the audacity that he would claim to be the Son of God yet lower himself to the role of a servant.
Truly following the way of Jesus doesn’t mean prospering in life, it means suffering like he suffered. The beauty of it all is that without brokenness there is no wholeness. Without sickness there is no healing. Without suffering there is no hope. When we subject ourselves to brokenness, sickness, and suffering, not only do we offer wholeness, healing, and hope to others, but we often find it ourselves.
God is on a mission to restore the world through Christ, and it’s not in the prosperity or success or health or winning of Christians that it will be accomplished, but in our willingness to suffer and lose ourselves.
What am I willing to lose? What am I willing to suffer? What sickness am I willing to catch? How am I willing to be broken? Am I truly willing to live life the way of Jesus, the risky, dangerous, self-sacrificing way of Jesus? Or is my faith purely about what’s in it for me?