The Road of Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat?
Jesus' great cost is the anthem of our invitation to Christian community.
I have just finished reading Erik Larson's most excellent analysis of Winston Churchill's personal letters and papers, The Splendid and the Vile. He gives valuable insight into Churchill's leadership during the most difficult parts of the Second World War, and how he consistently was brutally honest with people, but also outlined hope immediately following the truth of bad news.
Churchill was of course famous for shrouding the dagger of truth in the competing robes of both gravity and glory: "I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering." Not exactly a heartwarming speech! But he always followed the dark cloud of truth with radiant hope that outlined every edge: "you ask, what is our policy? I will say: it is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, and with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us...that is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs-victory in spite of all terror-victory, however long and hard the road may be."
Sometimes I wonder if our invitation into Christian community should come from the same! The reason why: well before Churchill, Jesus did the same. "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Mt 7:13–14). Jesus uniquely understood how challenging it would be to follow Him in this world. To our right and left will be distractions, conflicts, sorrows, and other paths designed to call us off the narrow road and onto the broad path. We are in a spiritual battle! He alone understood that His road is a road of "blood, toil, tears, and sweat."
But the great joy is that Jesus also mixes gravity with hope: in the same sermon He goes on to say that "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock" (Mt 7:24–25). Nowhere does He promise the storms won't come. His only promise is that by trusting in Him, by paying careful attention to what He has said, and by following Him, one thing we can be certain of: victory. Just as He was certain of our challenges, He was equally certain of the victory we would find in His might. It is no wonder that elsewhere He promises "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:29–30).
Beloved, Jesus' path is a path that is narrow, and a road of blood, toil, tears, and sweat. He tells us this right on the tin. But the fantastic trick here? Our road is a road of His blood, His toil, His tears, and His sweat. It is by His stripes we have been healed. Victory! Not just at all costs: achieved at His great cost. That is the anthem of our invitation to Christian community. We cannot and will not make it without Him. But with Him: peace, rest, and certainty that we arrive in glory.
Senior Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church