Safe? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.
- Mr. Beaver to Lucy, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Last week I wrote about some thoughts I'd been wrestling with about dysfunction in the church and when it crosses the line and becomes abuse. As I was finishing the post, I had the thought, "I believe that the church should be one of the safest places in the community, but is the same true of Jesus?"
One story that comes to mind in wrestling with this question is in John 8. The chapter opens with a group of Pharisees bringing to Jesus a young woman caught in adultery.
They mention to Jesus that the law commands for her to be stoned. They want to know what Jesus thinks her punishment should be. They come to Jesus under the pretense of showing their allegiance to the Old Testament law seeking to see if Jesus holds the same loyalty. But in reality, they're trying to trap Jesus looking for a reason to kill him. Essentially, they were using this woman as a pawn in their twisted religious game. Which is a blatant case of spiritual abuse if there ever was one.
Jesus' response to the Pharisees is incredible. He neither supports nor chastises the proposition of stoning her. Rather, he turns the moment on them, basically saying, "Go ahead and stone her. However, let he who is without sin cast the first stone." All the men, realizing they are not without sin, walk away one by one.
Whether or not these men were actually going to harm this woman is unclear, but either way, she found refuge in Jesus. Therefore, you could conclude that Jesus offers us safety.
In one sense, I believe this is true, especially for the downtrodden and marginalized. Jesus says in Matthew's gospel, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (11:28-30).
But at the same time, there are numerous places in the gospel where Jesus says that following him could get you killed. He says in Mark 8, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (v34-35). In one sense you could translate the "pick up your cross" piece, and the "lose your life" piece as a spiritual metaphor, but for the disciples, following Jesus literally put their lives on the line.
During Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22).
In Matthew 10, right before he sends out the disciples on a mission trip he says to them, "I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves” (v16).
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus tells the disciples, "In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
Paul says in Acts 14:22, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."
Just by a simple and straightforward read through the gospels and Acts, it doesn't appear that following Jesus is safe. As Westerners, we've become so inoculated by the convenience and comfort of American consumerism we've lost the notion of the cost of discipleship.
Again, I believe Jesus would offer protection and help to someone in need. He's not uncaring or unkind. The emotion most attributed to Jesus is compassion. Since we are His Body, the church should be the expression of his care and protection in our world. But to those responding to his call to discipleship, as Bonhoeffer says, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
The call to follow Jesus is costly. It's not a call to experience your best life now; it's a call to participate with God in His counter-cultural mission in the world. But as you do, Jesus doesn't leave you to go at it alone. He is with us on His mission. As he says at the end of Matthew, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20).
Therefore, you can take confidence and courage that even though Jesus might lead you into difficult situations, He's with you and always has your back.