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Jesus and Community

Jesus and Community

DECEMBER 9, 2023

/ Articles / Jesus and Community

by Ray Ortlund

In Mark 10, Jesus gives us this staggering promise:

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will 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.” (Mark 10:29–30)

What we leave. Jesus is always honest, even blunt, about the cost of discipleship. He never buries suffering in the small print. He wants us to know that following him will be hard.

Here he takes it for granted we’ll leave dear things and people behind to follow him. The fact is, we can’t turn to him without also turning from other things. All Christians bear some cost in following Jesus, though we may not always see it. Rosaria Butterfield once said, “We may never know the treacherous journey people have taken to land in the pew next to us.”[1] It’s one of the reasons we need to go easy on each other; we just don’t see all people are going through. We don’t see the price they may be paying just to show up at church.

Jesus knows that the costliest things to leave will be relational. He foresees believers losing their kin, their homes, their very sense of belonging to follow him. Thankfully, that’s not the case for many of us, but there will be some from certain backgrounds for whom allegiance to Jesus will mean they’re no longer welcome in their community. Yet even when the cost is so high, Jesus assures us he’s worth it.

This should never cease to amaze us. The instinct of so many is to feel that nothing is more important than family. Even in the West, we still think this way. But along comes Jesus, and quite unselfconsciously says “I am” (see John 8:48, for example). He audaciously claims to supersede the most significant human relationships we have in this life. He eclipses all others. He as­sumes he’s more compelling than all of them, even all of them combined. We’re used to the deep bonds of loyalty that exist in many families, and to the intoxication that overwhelms young lovers. But Jesus says he exceeds both, that he is more captivating, enthralling, and urgent than all others. Having all the friendship, family, and romantic fulfillment we could possibly imagine and desire without Jesus would not be worth it.

What we receive. But when we follow Jesus, we don’t just get Jesus on his own. Whatever relational cost following Jesus might incur, he also wants us to know that following him is worth it in this life, not just in the age to come. Even in the present age, we’ll receive back from Jesus far, far more than we leave behind. The hardest cost for following Jesus is familial and relational, but, in a similar way, it’s familial and relational blessings that he promises us.

You will have houses: homes in which you’re welcome, places where people truly get you, where you feel most understood. Lands where you deeply feel you belong. You’ll have family: people who are given to you as fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. And lest his promises sound utterly idealized, there will be a side order of persecutions too—whether or not we ordered them.

It’s hard to overstate the grandeur of what Jesus is saying here. Whatever our relational loss in coming to Jesus and following him will be made up for by a couple orders of magnitude. Jesus promises that with him we’ll never be relationally out of pocket. He’s not even promising that whatever we lose, he’ll give us a bit more; he’s promising us a hundredfold return!

Jesus doesn’t promise health and wealth. He doesn’t promise a life without hardship where everything only gets better and easier. He does promise deep and rich community, the likes of which we’d never have without him.

A friend of mine (Sam’s) came to faith from a Muslim back­ground. He knew he’d most likely be rejected by his family if he became a Christian. It’s a horrific cost, unimaginable to so many of us. But think about what Jesus promises my friend: more com­munity and family than he had before, not less. This doesn’t mean the pain of what he lost would easily go away, but it does mean that alongside that painful loss is a hundredfold gain.

Let us marvel at the generous provision of Christ. He cares about this side of life. Having thick community matters to him. He wants us to have people to be friends with and to do life with, and he wants it so much he promises to provide it. By promising it so explicitly and emphatically, Jesus is staking his reputation here. If his promise isn’t true, then Jesus isn’t true.

But we mustn’t miss the implications for us and our churches. We’re not bystanders, passively looking on as Jesus makes this promise to abandoned disciples. We are not only the people to whom the promise is made (inasmuch as the gospel has had relational cost in our own lives). No, we are the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters Jesus promises.

What we provide. Often Jesus’s promises are such that only he can fulfill them. When he promises the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), or says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37), we don’t roll up our sleeves to help out. These are things only Jesus can accomplish, commitments only he can fulfill.

But the promise in Mark 10 is different. We are the hundredfold blessing he promises.

Jesus offers our homes and lands to others. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a succession of dwarfs interrupts Bilbo Baggins’s domestic peace and tranquility. The dwarfs presume they can avail themselves of his food and hospitality. As the story unfolds, it emerges that the wizard Gandalf, without seeking Bilbo’s prior approval, had scratched a magic invitation for the dwarfs on the hobbit’s front door![2]

Jesus does something very similar to our homes. If we’re his disciples, the places where we dwell are no longer exclusively ours. We’re to share them with those to whom Jesus makes this Mark 10 promise. We must be willing for others to barge in and help themselves to the contents of our pantry. He has promised them our home and land.

Let’s not congratulate ourselves on being philanthropic. Jesus’s call means we will need to move beyond our comfort levels. Some­thing in us will be diminished if we don’t. But it isn’t just what we have. It’s who we are that is bound up in his promise. Jesus offers us to others. He mentions three generations: the one going before us (mothers and fathers), our own (brothers and sisters), and the one ahead (children). To each we are to be family.

Thinking of the generation that has come before us, we’re to ask, Who can we be a son or daughter to? Who can we look up to and learn from? Who will have more wisdom than us about life in God’s world? Of our own generation, Who could we walk alongside as a Christian brother or sister? Who can we encourage and be encouraged by? And of the generation ahead of us, Who is there we have some wisdom to share with? Who could we be a spiritual father or mother to?

Content taken from You’re Not Crazy by Sam Allberry and Ray Ortlund, ©2023. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Listen to or watch our interview with Ray Ortlund on SBE by clicking here!

[1] Rosaria Butterfield, “Homosexuality and the Christian Faith.” Breakout talk given at The Gospel Coalition’s 2014 National Women’s Conference, June 29, 2014. Avail­ able online at ­christian­faith/.
[2] I’m grateful to Pastor T. J. Tims for this analogy.
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