28 Then Peter began to say to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You.”
29 So Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,
30 “who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time–houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions–and in the age to come, eternal life.
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
What are we giving up when we choose to follow God’s calling? What are we gaining when we follow Christ? What does a disciple–a true disciple–have to look forward to in their walk with Jesus Christ? If we read the Bible, then we’ll see they are giving up an awful lot. And for what? A dusty road, the open sky, persecution, and alone time with the Son of God? It’s not easy to follow Christ like the apostles did. To be honest, you and I have it easy when compared to Peter, James, John, and the others of the Twelve.
As Peter observes in today’s verses (and in Matthew 19:27, Luke 18:28), the disciples left all to follow Jesus. Early on, they sometimes stayed at Peter’s home near Capernaum, but later they stayed wherever they could in whatever town they visited. They spent a lot of time in the wilderness with Jesus, and they didn’t always get a good reception when they passed through some areas. Their wives and children, their past jobs and lives had all been left behind. Is that truly the cost of learning at the feet of Jesus?
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
The apostle Paul’s life is probably the best record we have in Scripture of what disciples of Christ must give up and what they will gain. Paul started off with the name Saul and he was a Jew among Jews, raised at the feet of some of the finest teachers of his day. He found employment as a servant of the temple, bringing “heretics”–the followers of Jesus–back to Jerusalem to face the Sanhedrin and possible excommunication and exile. Having given up everything to become disciples of Christ, the early Christians dreaded facing a man like this Saul. And then the Lord came to Saul on the road to Damascus, and this once-dreaded man became Paul the apostle, Christ’s greatest champion among the Gentiles. And what did he get for it? Constant travel, shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonment, persecution, opposition, and the chance to speak the gospel before the most powerful leaders of the day. And yet, this Paul could reflect on his past life and say he could count it all as rubbish for the great gift of Christ and His salvation.
Peter himself would one day stop asking “Therefore what shall we have?” (Matthew 19:27) He would see that he gained much more than a new and larger family, that he found more than just a home in any Christian household he chose to visit. This Peter who once wondered what he and the other apostles had to gain, one day he would stop worrying about such things and just follow his Master wherever He might lead.
Look at what Jesus says we have to gain. He tells us that in this mortal life we will get homes and family, but they will come with persecution. For most of the twelve apostles, their persecution would end in death. But, as Paul reminds us, we can count it all as loss when compared with “the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” if we can “attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10,11) Jesus Himself tells us we will receive eternal life as our reward for leaving behind all we have now. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
Do modern Christians really give up their lives like those first-century Christians? Some missionaries do, and quite a few pastors and priests do, and there are some small house churches that become mission communities in big cities. But the overwhelming majority of Christians in the West give up very little to follow Christ. We have created a whole sub-culture of “Christian-flavored” things that we deem “family-friendly” so we can continue to have what everyone else has. We build multi-million-dollar churches that allow us to experience our faith for a few hours once a week, just so we can continue living our tepid lives however we see fit, never truly giving up “house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands.” And in the meantime, there are millions of Christian brethren worldwide and in our own countries who experience poverty and oppression with almost no help from their better-off, church-going brothers and sisters.
44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,
45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,
47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
The early church–the body of believers–left all behind, sold what they had, and lived together with other believers, who then became the very “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” of which our Savior spoke. As Jesus has reminded us time and again, this gathering of believers is our family, and we cannot expect to truly be part of this family unless we are willing to part with our worldly family. That doesn’t mean we will be called to leave behind our children or our spouses–after all, Mary the mother of Jesus was one of His followers. But we must be have the “simplicity of heart,” the integrity to be ready to give even our mortal life for Christ and the gospel. Then, just when we have seemingly lost everything–including our homes and lives–we will find we have gained something far more valuable: eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.
Saul became Paul in a flash of light on the road to Damascus. Simon became Peter while following in the dusty footsteps of his Lord on the roads of Galilee and Judea. What roads are we willing to travel for the gospel, for Christ? How much will we leave behind? How much will we gain? Do we see, or do we leave the scales on our eyes and avoid the change that is awaiting us?
I am no better than most Christians. I sacrifice very little, and I never ask the questions that Peter seems to ask. I never say to the Lord, “Look at all I’ve given up for You!” I have yet to face the persecution that Paul or Peter or Philip or Stephen faced. I am blessed to live in a country where the gospel is still “safe,” not persecuted openly, not suppressed by governments or churches. Yes, we complain about God being separated from our daily lives and rulers, but we in America still have it made when compared to believers in Saudi Arabia or Indonesia or the Sudan or even parts of India. We have not even come close to being able to say to Jesus “We have left all and followed You.”
That is the lesson we need to learn from Peter and Paul: we have to be ready to live and die for Christ and the gospel. We cannot count on Christ’s second coming to save us from leaving all we have in order to gain all He gives. We must step up now and be true disciples of Christ–sharing all, giving all, and gaining so much in return. Simon Peter learned that from Jesus firsthand. Are we ready to do the same?
Lord God, we praise Your name and come before You humble and contrite. We have given so little, and yet You gave so much. Help us learn how to give so completely that we become more like those first apostles. Teach us humility and poverty in this life so we may gain the riches of eternal life with You. Father, forgive our sins, and lead us in Your righteousness–a righteousness that puts You first, others second, and our own lives third. Amen.