There are several trailheads where I live. Not one quite like this one in Galilee (see the red jackets along the bottom of the picture.) Lots of places to leave your car, get your hiking gear ready, and take off on a hike. One of my favorite parts of the hike is right after I have started. I am not tired yet, my feet don’t hurt, and everyone is excited about getting “back to nature.” The trail is pretty open, and you can still see the cars and hear the people.
But then you make the first real turn in the trail, and everything changes. The noise subsides, you start to forget the trailhead, you start seeing nature unstained, and the mountains just seem higher. For me, though, the greatest change is in what I hear. The dull drum of city life disappears after the turn, and I start to hear the sounds of nature. Each bird with its own call. Trees creaking in the wind. Water moving. And in-between the sounds, silence. The kind of silence that almost hurts your ears it is so quiet. And the steady, soft crush of years of leaves and pine needles under my feet, muffling my every step.
And I remind myself, this is why I have come on the hike. Because it is different.
But trails where I live rarely stay easy. The mountains are high, and the trails start to wind and twist and eventually climb up the sides of the hills, then the mountains. It get difficult. My feet start to hurt, and I start to sweat. And I have to remind myself, this is why I have come on the hike. Because it is different
And so it is with the new follower of Jesus. When they first turn off the easy road and go through the gate, it generally is fun and exciting and rewarding (unless of course you live in an area where persecution is instantaneous). But eventually, it is going to get difficult, and the new follower of Christ needs to know what will happen.
If our conversion sermons are full of nothing but bliss and glory, we take the dangerous chance of misguiding people. Yes, forgiveness of sins, regeneration, adoption — all the things we talk about last week — are true bliss and glory. But I am deeply convinced that the new Christian needs to know that they were changed at the gate, and eventually the path of discipleship will lead them down a road that Jesus says is hard and difficult.
Changed people will of necessity live changed lives.
Paul had just started a church in the city of Thessalonica. Because of the jealous opposition of a group of people, he had to leave. Two of his most trusted friends stayed behind to help the young church, but Paul was genuinely concerned that the opposition would be intense and damaging. He was concerned that the new believers would not continue on their journey. A few months later he heard from his friends that the new believers were doing well, and he wrote a letter to rejoice with them as well as answer some of their questions. He talks about their reputation and says people know they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
They “turned.” The path on the other side of the gate very quickly became different from the easy road they had been traveling. Why? Because they were changed, and changed people live in changed ways, and that change will bring them into conflict.
So if you are a new believer, do not fear the future. As we will see later, God is with you, he has strengthened you, and you will walk this path with other pilgrims on the same journey. But please understand that you were changed, and the new path you took will not look like the easy road you just left. Its end, Jesus says, is destruction.
But the end of your journey is life.