One of my favorite book series’, and accompanying movie series’, is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien’s rich story has much to say and offers a wealth of spiritual principles (though some have taken the story and tried to spiritualize some of it in a way Tolkien never intended). One of my favorite parts in the movies comes at the end of the first movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Frodo has realized that the fellowship is broken and he will have to continue his personal journey to destroy the ring by himself. Before he leaves, he sees Aragorn as he is running from Boromir who has tried to take the ring from him (for those non-Lord of the Rings watchers, sorry, the story may be difficult to follow!). After a brief conversation, Frodo says to Aragorn that he must continue now by himself. Aragorn takes Frodo’s hands, looks him in the eyes, and says to him, “I would have gone with you to the end, into the very fires of Mordor.” And Frodo looks back and replies to his friend, “I know.”
It’s a rather insignificant scene when examined within the broader scope of the story. There are far more dramatic and breathtaking scenes that grab one’s attention. But this encounter was always very powerful to me. I found Aragorn’s words to be stirring (interestingly enough, this moment for Aragorn was also a major turning point in his own life as he denies the ring, unlike his ancestors).
As I reflected on the commitment and courage of Aragorn’s words I was reminded of the call to discipleship, to follow Christ. In fact, Aragorn’s words are more biblical than we might think. Jesus’ call throughout the gospels was simple and direct, “Follow me.” It was a call to be a disciple. And the bulk of Jesus’ teaching on discipleship came, in both Luke and Mark’s gospels, as Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem to be crucified.
There is something of IMMENSE value to be seen here. The call to follow Jesus wasn’t a call to wander, it was a call to go to a very particular place, just as His life was always meant to move to a particular place. Indeed it is the very place He was going as he called people to follow Him and explained what a life of following Him was all about. And that place was the cross. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a journey that would end at Calvary, strung up naked and beaten on a piece of wood, bruised and suffering, but victorious and triumphant.
The imperative to follow Him begs the question, “Where to?” To a cross.
Certainly the Cross of Christ was a cross meant for only Him to bear. Only His death would atone for sinful humanity’s sin. Peter is rebuked for thinking of hindering this sacrificial act in Matthew 16. However, Jesus tells his hearers on a number of occasions that if anyone wishes to follow Him they are to take their cross.
To follow Jesus means a number of things, but first and foremost it means to follow Him to the cross. And a cross means suffering. It means sacrifice. It may even mean death (spiritual death certainly if not physical death as well). It means the denial of everything. It means a life of selflessness and humility, even shame before the world around us. But it also means victory and triumph. And glory.
“I would have gone with you to the end, even into the very fires of Mordor.” When Jesus stands before us in His Word and beckons us to “Follow Me,” what He is really asking is whether we will follow Him to the end, even to a cross.
This is the call of discipleship.