“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
At the heart of Christian persecution is the assault on relationships because the gospel rests on the greatest relationship of all, that with Jesus Christ. For many over the centuries, choosing to follow Christ meant a separation from family and culture. It’s not that Christ calls new believers to initiate separation from mother, father, neighbors, and culture. Most often than not it is the family and community that present the new believer with an ultimatum: choose us, or your Christ. I watched from afar how my believing grandparents lived during Communism and post-revolution with unrelenting faith in Christ their Savior. I watched them risk it all for Jesus. They were constant targets of mockery, ridicule, persecution, and gossip. People turned against them, betrayed them, rejected them, denounced them, all because they chose to believe in the God of the Bible and follow the Jesus of the Scriptures.
When I chose to follow Christ as a Romanian teenager, I knew that my whole world would turn upside down. I just didn’t have a detailed script for how exactly it would go. It’s one thing to watch it from afar, and quite another to pass through its flames. After I announced my baptism to my family, I was presented with the choice of either choosing not to join the “repenters sect” (a derogatory term for protestant Christians) and live at home, or choose to go ahead with the baptism and find myself on the streets. Friends, family, neighbors, teachers, and priests tried to persuade me to reject Christ and remain in the religion of my birth. When nothing worked, I was ostracized and ridiculed. Estrangement of any kind hurts, but when home, culture, and community stand against you, the immediate question I grappled with was, Is Christ worth all of this? What sane person would lose it all for Jesus’ sake?
Someone once observed, “The early Church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.” It is hard to believe that hardships and persecutions will ever come against such a well-established, affluent church in our post-modern age, and yet they are already here. Although physical persecutions are uncommon in America, John Stott has pointed out that “persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value-systems.” The secular worldview is at all times in high clash with the conservative, Christian worldview on all fronts. Times are changing for Christians in the West. As Thomas A. Tarrants poignantly describes, “The changes afoot today represent a sea-change from the past; the wind is no longer on our back but in our face. This is creating a cultural climate in the West in which persecution of Jesus’s followers, simply for their allegiance to Him, is no longer unthinkable, whether in family, community, or workplace.”
While Christians in the West left little behind to follow Jesus, the time is here when they have to reckon with themselves if they are willing to give up their plenty to remain with Jesus to the end. In other words, they must face the question as more and more persecutions arise, Is Jesus worth losing it all?
The rich young ruler weighed this question and with a “fallen face” walks away sadly from Jesus (Mark 10:22). It is not that Jesus had an issue with this young man’s money, his 401K, wall street investments, or huge savings account. After all, as Jesus ends this story, he clearly promises “a hundred times as much in this present age and in the age to come eternal life.” Mingled with suffering and persecution, Jesus speaks of abundant fields and numerous family members every deserted believer for Jesus will receive. This is not a prosperity theology teaching of Jesus, but rather a divine blessing of God’s daily provision for his children. In other words, those who choose God above all else will lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). To make sure no one misreads this statement, Spurgeon’s words help with their hermeneutics:
Give yourselves up to God wholly and live for him, and you shall never want anything that is really good for you; your life shall be the best life for you, all things considered in the light of eternity, that a life could have been. Only mind you keep to this—the seeking of the Lord […] Keep to that and seek the Lord, and your life shall be, even if it be a poverty-stricken one, such a life that if you could have the infinite intelligence of your heavenly Father, you would ordain it to be precisely as it now is. “They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”
The rich young man’s issue was the relationship he had forged with his treasures above all other relationships. We see it in his face that falls and him walking away sad at Jesus’ penetrating command to “sell all that he has and give it to the poor.” God and people had no room in this man’s affair with his own money. Jesus wasn’t calling him to poor living, he was calling him to living with the poor generously. Unless our love for Jesus surpasses that of all our comforts, privileges, and popularity, Jesus will not be ‘worth’ giving it all up. Unless our love for people to know Jesus directs how we spend our fortunes or bask in our luxuries, Jesus will not be ‘worth’ losing it all.
In the same text, we find that Peter and the other apostles weighed this question, and chose to lose it all for Jesus. In fact, Peter’s emotional response to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!”, could sound more like a good pat on the back, typical of the rash and “all or nothing” Peter we know from the biblical narratives. Was Peter here being prideful? While we don’t know the heart motives behind Peter speaking this line, his testimony resounds powerfully contrasting the rich young ruler who just left the presence of Jesus in sadness. The more I read it in the full context of the passage, the more I see Peter’s statement as more of an emotional outburst from men who left it all because they see the richness and worthiness of being counted as God’s children. His one-line statement is the quintessence of a worshipful heart who counted all things as rubbish because knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior is worth far more than everything else put together (Phil. 3:8).
When my time came, I, too, found that Jesus was worth me losing it all. It turned out that as I chose Christ, he equipped me to face my daily trials. My church family was ready to receive me, my new friends prayed for me, and I never lacked my daily needs. Fruit of the Spirit began budding and flourishing within my Spirit. The Bible lighted my path, and God’s wisdom helped me in my choices. I realized that what I lost paled in comparison with what I gained in Christ.
Mark 10:29-30 was my anthem during my early Christian days. Jesus spoke of the situation I would be encountering nearly 2,000 years before my trials. My situation was not a surprise to God. In his unlimited wisdom, Jesus recorded these verses to meet trying believers like me who, years to come would need every noun and verb of Christ’s words. Christ was and is forever worth it! Now the question is for all my brothers and sisters in the West: when time comes for you to choose, will you see that Jesus is worth all your losses?