I don’t know if that was obvious to the disciples at the time that Jesus said it or not. But a few months later, two of those disciples spent a night in jail (Acts 4:2-3) because they did what Jesus told them to do.
Perhaps the same afternoon that they were released from jail, the church held a prayer meeting. The words that they prayed are recorded in Acts 4. Among other things they prayed: “Lord consider their threats and grant that Your slaves may speak Your message with complete boldness.”
Why did they pray for boldness? Because there was a threat. To speak Jesus’ message at that time could get someone jailed or killed. They needed boldness because the more natural thing to do in that setting would be to shrink back from the threat.
A little while later, one of the followers of Jesus named Stephen was given that very boldness that the church had prayed for. He preached the gospel even though the leaders of Israel opposed it. And the reward for his boldness? The leaders of Israel stoned him to death.
I think that sometimes when people do the wrong thing and get away with it, they are emboldened to do it even more. And that’s what happened that day. The very same day that they killed Stephen, they apparently went crazy and tried to kill a whole bunch of Christians (Acts 8:1).
Following Jesus had become dangerous. It looks like many of the Christians scattered to different areas (which I believe suggests that there are times when it is good to run from danger!) but even as they scattered to new places they continued to obey Jesus by preaching His message and making disciples (Acts 8:4).
And that story has continued on and off throughout human history.
WHEN I WAS A KID
I can remember being taught about Operation Auca when I was a child. By the time I was in my twenties they even made a movie about it. If you’ve never heard the story, Wikipedia gives a pretty good explanation which I will summarize/put into my own words:
Operation Auca was an missionary effort back in the 1950’s when five American Christian men decided to try to reach the Waodani people of Ecuador with the gospel. The Waodani were known for their violence, so I’m fairly certain the men attempting to evangelize them knew that they were taking a risk. This was one of those cases where obeying Jesus’ words was dangerous. And in fact, it was so dangerous that all five of them died. They were speared to death by the Waodani as they attempted to tell them about Jesus. However, the mission was not a total failure as the widow of one of the missionaries and the sister of another one of the missionaries went back several years later for a second attempt. The second attempt was successful and many Waodani people converted to Christianity and repented of their violence.
When I was growing up, the Christian community around me was unanimous in their opinion that the deaths of those missionaries was worth it so that the Waodani could know about Jesus.
And while that particular story is well-known, I’m sure there have been many other occasions where Christians have risked their lives or their well-being for the sake of following Jesus’ mission. (Some of which we may never find out about until we get to heaven.)
There have even been occasions when someone’s devotion to Christ has even put their friends and family members at risk. And this is extremely sad when it happens. Obviously in the case of Operation Auca (or even the ministries of people like Peter in the New Testament) following Jesus meant that they might leave someone that they love in a very difficult position – their loved one might become a widow or fatherless. And in some more extreme cases, you may even have an individual who tries to make disciples, and his or her whole family gets killed for it.
NOT JUST EVANGELISM
And it is not just evangelism that can be dangerous. Sometimes simply meeting up with other Christians to encourage each other and learn the Bible isn’t safe. Even to this day, there are Christians in other countries where the church has to meet in secret because of government persecution. It might be a country ruled by Muslims or a country ruled by communists, but the effect is the same: For those Christians following Jesus is dangerous.
Additionally, it is not merely the most vocal preachers who find “making disciples” to sometimes be risky. Even the support people who don’t have quite as much of a speaking role in the mission can find themselves taking risks too. In the New Testament there is an account of a man named Epaphroditus who was a messenger and minister between the Apostle Paul and the Philippian church. Epaphroditus delivered some kind of gift to Paul from the Philippians (Phil 4:18) and Paul sent him back to them (Phil 2:28) probably as the deliveryman who brought them the book of Philippians.
Anyway, in that account, Paul mentions that in the midst of his mission, Epaphroditus had become so sick that he nearly died (Phil 2:26-27). I don’t know the nature of this sickness, but I do know that Paul eventually said this about him:
“Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in honor, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for what was lacking in your ministry to me.”
It’s an interesting thought. Paul seemed to think that risking one’s life for the work of Christ is honorable. In fact, if you read his account of his own ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 you’ll see that he didn’t just think it was honorable for other people to risk their lives, but that he took on his own share of danger as he followed Jesus. In that passage, he chronicles how had to deal with cold, sleepless nights, robbers, hunger and thirst, and shipwrecks among other things, as he attempted to live his life for Christ’s cause.
I don’t think these passages mean that Christians must always pursue the most dangerous activities they can in order to honor God. After all Proverbs says, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” So, clearly, there is a time to avoid danger if possible.
The purpose of this article isn’t to encourage anyone to be reckless. I’m mostly just saying that following Jesus isn’t always safe, even when you do it right.