Sneaking out of North Korea is so demanding and dangerous, it is only attempted by a tiny percentage of people. After one leaves family and friends behind, the route involves perilous travel through China, avoiding detection at constant identity checks, tramping through thick jungles in Laos and then enduring 2 months of detention in Thailand before being allowed to apply for refugee status in South Korea. There are so many potential obstacles, so many ways to get caught and sent back for torture and possible death, that the odds are stacked heavily against those who attempt it. That is also why there are former escapees who serve as guides (sometimes, but not always for a fee) to show new escapees which routes and techniques are safe. More than that, they serve as living evidence that the path to freedom is possible and definitely worth it! Imagine how encouraging those guides must be to the confused and frightened souls who are on the run to freedom.
The author of Hebrews has been exhorting people of faith, teaching us ways to keep our faith in times of severe testing. One of his teachings says:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
Jesus went first. He showed us the way and how it is done. He came back and said, “Don’t be afraid; it’s really worth it!” He did it “for the joy set before Him.”
There is no joy in being crucified. Crucifixion remains as one of the most painful and horrific ways to die. The “joy set before Him” was not the cross but lay on the far side of the cross. The “joy” was in the triumph over sin that was accomplished on the cross.
Some of you are enduring the pain of chemotherapy, scorning the “shame” of losing your hair, for the joy of being cancer-free. Some of you are enduring the financial hardship and stress of working two or three jobs for the joy of seeing your children graduate. Jesus invites us to “pick up our cross,” figuratively speaking, and follow Him. He invites us to follow Him despite how tough or painful, or even shameful it may seem to be, for the joy of being “raised up on the last day” to live with Him in His new and perfect “garden.” He said:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)
When they asked Him where He was going and what was the way, He said:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Following Jesus is nothing less than a desperate escape from the world’s system of slavery. Don’t be surprised or confused by how tough and scary it seems. Keep your eye on your Guide. He’s been there, “done that” and has returned to demonstrate that following Him is really worth it.