Do you know why people are so drawn to fires? Not because they create light, nor because they radiate heat. The number one reason why people are attracted to fire is because they simply like to watch things burn. It was not long into the evening before students began throwing anything expendable into the large bonfire. People would gather around to watch the flames devour a marshmallow. Exclamations pierced the night air just because the searing heat quickly contracted a Styrofoam cup into a little ball. Something about burning things fascinates people.
John Wesley said that if you set yourself on fire, all of England will come to see you burn. Just as there is a fascination with fire burning wood, there is a fascination with people who allow themselves to become consumed by the fire of Christ. When you set yourself aflame, people will be curious. They will be drawn to the heat you are radiating and drawn to the light you are emitting, but more than that they will be drawn to the reason why you are burning.
Many people today claim that Jesus was merely a good teacher or a religious figure whose behavior should be modeled. Jesus portrayed some “guidelines” that “spiritual” people should follow. In the end, He may have exemplified an ethical life, but He was nothing more than human. Jesus Himself, however, claimed differently. His own followers thought that their Rabbi was a good, spiritual sage, but they did not have the slightest idea what His role as the Messiah fully implied.
In Luke 9:18-27, Jesus finally revealed His identity as the Christ and its implications. In fact, Jesus focused more on the implications of it in regard to His disciples than He did for Himself.
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).
You would think that Jesus would be more interested in explaining the theological significance of His death, the biblical significance of His “Davidic” role, but He instead brushed all that aside. His death and resurrection would enlighten the disciples later. What was important to Jesus now was that His followers understood what their responsibility was in response to His Messianic identity. Ask any Christian today about the significance of Jesus’ identity and they can easily give an accurate answer. But can they explain the significance that has for them outside of their “getting into heaven?”
Ask many non-Christians and they, too, can mirror the responses of a Christian. One of my friends who is very passionate about evangelism once described her surprise about this. “Every unbeliever I have witnessed to knows exactly who Jesus is,” she said. “Somehow we get the idea that Christians are the only ones who know about Jesus’ identity and that once everyone knows that Jesus is God they will fall on their knees and convert.” It seems that just about everyone today, Christians and non-Christians alike, knows who Jesus is. The problem is that those who really do believe that He is the Messiah do not know what that means for them now.
This places believers and non-believers in the same position. One group knows, refuses to believe, and continues to live without interruption, while the other group knows, chooses to believe, and still lives without interruption. Something is wrong. Perhaps our presently construed definition of “atheism” needs modified.Christ has called His followers to live differently by picking up their crosses on a daily basis. Not just on days when they feel like it. Not just when God seems evidently present in their lives. Not just when they are with other Christians who are observing them to make themselves feel better about their own inconsistencies.
Following Christ requires a higher standard. Christians are called to forfeit their lives, to offer themselves on the altar and burn. It is easier for living sacrifices to crawl back down off of the altar when the burning becomes too intense (Rom 12:1). By daily denying and dying to themselves, followers of Christ testify that Jesus really was and still is the Messiah. Christ has not so much saved them from something as He has saved them to something. It all comes down to whether Christians will choose to act on their belief in the true identity of their Messiah and continue to light the night sky as they offer their very lives as living sacrifices.