Today I saw a book advertised at Christian Book Distributors called Following God: The Made Easy Handbook. Wouldn’t that be great, I thought. Following God made easy. I could sure use a book like that.
Unfortunately, the person who made following God hard was Jesus Christ, and he says his is the only way. The path, he said, that leads to life is ‘pressed hard, like grapes in a winepress, troubled, afflicted, and distressed.’ Oh, you thought he said the way was “straight” or “narrow.” He didn’t.
First of all, Jesus never said anything about the way being straight. That’s just a mistake based on the fact that the old English word for narrow was strait, as in “the Straits of Gibraltar.” So, not “straight”; “strait” is the word.
Second, “strait,” which means narrow, is what he said the gate was. It’s the Greek word stenos. The path, however, is thlibo. That’s not nearly so nice a word. It’s used 10 times in the New Testament, and only in Matthew 7:14 is it translated narrow. Everywhere else, it’s translated with words like troubled, afflicted, and suffering tribulation. One time, in Mark 3:9, it’s translated by the KJV as “throng.” It’s what the crowd was doing when they were crowding Jesus into the sea.
Oh, and it’s a verb, not an adjective. The way is crushing or troubling, not narrow.
There’s other comments that Jesus makes about following God. For example, he said things about denying yourself, hating your own soul, and taking up the cross. The cross, you know, was not just an instrument of execution. It was an instrument of torture. It often took people three days to die on it. That’s why Pontius Pilate was so surprised to find out Jesus was dead that afternoon. It’s why the soldiers broke the lower leg bones (ouch!) of the two men crucified with him. On a cross, you normally die by slowly suffocating to death as your chest muscles cramp and tighten until you can’t breathe. Good legs allow you to push up on the nail and ropes, relieving the pressure on your chest and allowing you to breathe. Break the legs, and the victim can’t do that. Then they die faster.
Now take up your cross and look for the “Made Easy” way.
Paul told his churches that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). I looked up that word “tribulations.” It’s the noun form of thlibo. Apparently Paul agrees with Jesus on this. The way is full of trouble.
There’s more. Paul’s idea of following God involved “I die daily,” and “I discipline my body and bring it under subjection.” In Colossians we find him “striving” and “in great conflict.” Peter used some form of suffer 15 times in the short letter we know as 1 Peter. I don’t have to look suffering up in Greek to know that it’s not easy.
So why then did Jesus say that his yoke was easy and his burden light? I guess I could tell you that it’s one of those mysteries, but I don’t want to do that. Instead, because he’s talking about those that are working and are heavy laden and because he speaks of giving them rest, I think he’s talking about spiritual things. The Law is a heavy burden to those that do not have the Spirit of God. Christ calls us from the Sabbath of man that rests the flesh to the Sabbath of God that rests the spirit. Our spirits can live constantly in that rest, and we find our Sabbath rest in him (Heb. 4). He will keep us in his hand. We will find rest in him. We will find that for the true disciple, there is no way but Christ’s. Truly. he is the rest of our souls that eases our heavy burden so that our spirit soars. “In his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Amen, it is true.
But look at whom he gives that rest and pleasure to. Is it just anyone? No. Read through the letters of Revelation 2 and 3. He gives his rest to those who suffer for him. He gives his rest to those who are worthy and have stood against the spirit of the age. Those who find their reward in the flesh and who find ease in this life will find that God has no reward for them in the next life. They’ve received it here. Worse, the rich man who was comforted in this life not only lost his comfort in the next one, but he was tormented as well.
I have not read the book Following God: The Made Easy Handbook. Perhaps the author knows all these things and is giving real insight into resting in Christ. Somehow I doubt it, but maybe. It is hard to imagine, though, that any English speaker will benefit by hearing that there’s an easy way to follow God. Americans, I know, are always looking for the easy way. Well, there’s not an easy way to follow God, my fellow Americans. God’s looking only for the hardy and committed, those who will forsake this world, their comforts, and their own lives to follow his Son.