Life is a journey. One day leads to the next, and time never stops. We can never go back and change yesterday, though we may wish we could. A journey has a beginning and a direction. Journeys with a purpose have a destination in mind. We are all on a journey through time. Not one of us can escape that journey, and who would want to?
The scriptures teach that death is not the end of our journey, but rather a transition. One may think of it as a train station. Everyone must get on a train, and which train we board depends on which ticket we have. Some of us are afraid of the train, we would rather stay home, but we will be forced to take a train when we draw our last breath.
Many believe that all of life is about getting the right ticket, the ticket for the train to paradise rather than the train to hell. We are all born with a ticket to hell in our hands, they might say, and we have all our lives to swap that ticket with Jesus Christ for a ticket to paradise. All we have to do is “confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9) and we will be saved. They teach that any who believes in Jesus and gives a public profession of faith receives a ticket to paradise. After that, there is nothing to worry about. One may then coast through life with confidence because they have the proper ticket to the proper train headed for paradise.
Of course, some deny that there is a train station. They believe that death is the end of conscious existence. For them this life is all there is, their mantra: you only live once, so seize the day, go for the gusto, and live like there is no tomorrow! We call this hedonism.
These two beliefs have a lot in common. They both encourage a life seeking pleasure and comfort. The first group uses Christianity and the church to alleviate the pains of life while they wait to board their train to paradise. The second group uses their worldly means to have their ‘best life now’ (to borrow a phrase from a well-known ear-tickler) since they do not believe in a future existence.
But the scriptures call us to something much more difficult. Jesus called His disciples to “come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) They did not merely hand Jesus their ticket to hell in exchange for a ticket to paradise. They gave up their homes, families, careers, everything, to follow Him. (Matthew 19:27) Indeed, Jesus called them to ‘take up your cross and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23) In the words of Bonhoeffer, ‘Jesus bids us come to die.’ Why? Because we are assured that if we die with Christ, we will be raised with Him on the last day and inherit eternal life. (II Timothy 2:11)
God has called for Himself a people who give up everything, take up their crosses and follow Christ. (I Peter 2:9) The journey is difficult, too difficult to go alone, even with Jesus by our side. So God gave us the church. (Hebrews 10:25) The church is the place God gathers His pilgrims for worship, for fellowship, and for sanctifying (making fit for worship) with His Word (Acts 2:42-47). God gave the church His Spirit (Acts 2:4), His sacraments (Matthew 28:19, I Corinthians 11:23-25), His Word (Hebrews 1:1-2, John 1, II Timothy 3:16), and His Spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12). He uniquely equips all the saints to build one another up in love and good works (Romans 12:4-8), to support one another on their pilgrimage. And he gave the church officers (Ephesians 4:11-16) that they may function as a healthy and equipped body for service to our God.
Life is not less than a journey to the train station, but our call is much greater than to simply get the right ticket. Our call is to walk to the right train station. The Christian journey does not start at death, rather it starts when we first meet Jesus when our Great Shepherd finds and calls us to follow Him. It starts with a call to die. We must take up our crosses daily and follow Christ. But what type of pilgrimage is that?
What does it mean to follow Christ? What does it mean to take up our crosses? And how can we be sure we are on this pilgrimage to the proper train station where we will be ushered into the inheritance of Christ? It means that when we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, we do so as an act of allegiance to Christ our King. It means that we regularly submit ourselves to Christ by gathering with the church for worship and service. It means that we live a life of humility, continually dying to our selfishness and pride, admitting our faults, and trusting wholly in Christ for forgiveness, salvation, and good works. It means living a life of repentance. It means many things, but most importantly, it means answering God’s call to become pilgrims, to take a journey, to follow Christ.
My first calling is to follow Christ. As a pastor I am also called, under Christ, to gather God’s pilgrims, lead them in worship, feed them with God’s Word, equip them for service, and encourage them on their pilgrimage as they follow Christ. My aim in life is to be able to say with Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:1 NIV)
At the top of this page, you will find a menu with links to sermons to help you on your personal journey with the Lord. May God bless you as you follow Christ!
In His Service,
- All citations of scripture are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. NIV is an abbreviation for the New International Version.
- Pilgrim photo by Jorge Luis Ojeda Flota on Unsplash
- Train station photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash
- Cross photo from https://karinasussanto.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/your-name-written-on-the-cross/
- Hiking photo by Abhishek Gaurav from Pexels