C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a novelist, poet, lecturer, and Christian apologist. He held academic posts at both Oxford and Cambridge for decades. He was a blessing to both the academic and nonacademic worlds. His Christian faith can be seen in his classic literary works. Perhaps, you have read or heard of one of these: The Screwtape Letters, The Chronical of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, Mere Christianity, Miracles and The Problem with Pain. It is interesting to note that there was a long period in his life when he believed in nothing at all. In his memoir, Surprised by Joy, Lewis told how he was baptized in the Church of Ireland, but the sacrament had no influence on him. He walked away from the faith and didn’t come back until he was 32 years old. He thanked his friends, including J. R. Tolkien, for his spiritual wakening. Who do you credit for your spiritual awakening?
We find ourselves in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. It is obviously early in Jesus’s ministry. It is so early in Jesus’s ministry that Jesus doesn’t have a single disciple. That is about to change. According to the text, John the Baptist was with his disciples, when Jesus passed them. John the Baptist, who always was pointing toward Jesus and away from his own earthly success, identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. With this endorsement, two of John’s disciples leave him and follow Jesus. The Bible identifies one of the disciples as Andrew, tradition identifies the other disciple as John, the author of this Gospel. Seconds later, Jesus notices that they are following him and asks them, “Why?” It is an excellent question because no one likes to be stocked. They answer Jesus’s question with another question, “Where are you staying?” Jesus answered that question with an invitation, “Come and you will see.” They accepted the invitation and stayed with him. They must have been impressed. They stayed with Jesus until about 4:00 in the afternoon. At that time, the two temporary left Jesus and told others about him. Andrew told his brother Peter, who decided to follow Jesus too. In this story, three people decided to follow Jesus. In each case their lives wouldn’t be the same again. Can I be honest with you?
There is something about this story that bothers me. Something is missing. I know God does not need my vote or approval. However, in my opinion, I find it to be innocent and unrealistic. Just think about it for a moment. Andrew and John are with John the Baptist. He identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God and they simply left and followed Jesus. A few hours later, Andrew tells Peter about Jesus, and he immediately follows Jesus too. It is all too simple. Following Jesus should not be taken lightly. There is a cost to discipleship. It is not just the story of the three disciples. It is true of anyone who has decided to follow Jesus. Let me ask you three questions that will reveal if you are taking your discipleship seriously.
Do you follow Jesus exclusively?
Our country changed forever on September 11, 2001. Where were you when you got the news? Kathryn and I were still living on West Main in Canfield. The girls were in school, and I was getting ready to stain our new deck. Kathryn stuck her head out of the door and said, “You need to watch this.” I came in and sat down. I saw our world change in front of my eyes. America was attached by terrorists in three places, western Pennsylvania, New York City and Washington DC. Our national innocence was gone, and we entered a new sinister world. The painful truth became common knowledge. America was under attack by extreme members of the Islamic faith. On September 11, those terrorists wanted the world to know that the Muslim faith was the only way. They frustrate us for many reasons. One of the reasons is their narrowness. If you are going to follow Jesus exclusively, then you are telling the world that Jesus is the only way. Some may call us narrow. That is fine with me.
In the story, Andrew and John begin as disciples of John the Baptist. Don’t forget, John the Baptist was their rabbi or teacher, Andrew and John were his disciples or students. In other words, he gave them spiritual insight and direction. When John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, they listen to him because they trusted him. This story is incredible because Andrew and John turned their backs on John the Baptist to follow Jesus. There is something cold about that fact. From that moment on, they followed Jesus exclusively. Are you following Jesus exclusively? Are you willing to tell the rest of the world they are wrong? In a politically correct world, everyone is right. Are you going to follow Jesus exclusively?
Do you follow Jesus unconditionally?
One of the great stories in the Bible can be found in the Book of Job. Everyone knows the story because everyone has played the part of Job. In the beginning he has everything, wealth, health, and relationships. Satan believes, Job’s loves for God is conditional so he begins to take things away from Job. His wealth is taken away. His health is taken away. His loved ones are taken away. His friends witness his ordeal and encourage him to curse God and die. Job refuses.
How many people do you know follow Jesus conditionally? It is easy to follow Jesus when life is good. It is easy to follow Jesus when you have a well-paying job that you enjoy. It is easy to follow Jesus when your health is good and your loved one’s health is good. It is easy to follow Jesus when all your relationships are sound. It is not so easy to follow Jesus when you are unemployed, sick and alone. It is not so easy to follow Jesus when your friends tell you to stop following Jesus. After all, we believe in an all- powerful God who resurrected Jesus from the dead. Have you ever wondered why our all-powerful God doesn’t help you? Do you follow Jesus conditionally? Do you follow Jesus unconditionally?
Do you follow Jesus passionately?
In the scripture lesson for today, three people decided to follow Jesus. There was Andrew, John and Peter. They did not have a clue how much Jesus would change their lives. They followed Jesus because they wanted to change their lives. You can’t blame them because their lives were hard. Any change seemed to be better. However, they didn’t have a clue how much their lives were going to change. They followed Jesus until the very end of their lives. Only John died of old age. Yet, he experienced the isolation of Patmos because he refused to stop following Jesus. Tradition tells us, Peter followed Paul to Roman and was crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die like Jesus. Tradition tells us, Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross. Each one wanted changed and they got it.
How far are you willing to follow Jesus? I know many who use Jesus to promote their own ideas and beliefs. I know many use Jesus to promote their political agenda. I hope we are open to change. The reason is simple. This world is not the main event. The main event is heaven. That means, our agenda in life doesn’t really matter. The only thing that really matters is Jesus’s agenda. Are you willing to follow Jesus passionately? Perhaps those question led us to the most important of them all.
When I was in seminary, I had a friend by the name of Mike. He was a wild guy with bright red hair. He combed it ounce in the years I knew him. We lived in the same apartment complex in a community near the school. We would take turns driving. As we traveled, we shared our stories. One day, Mike decided to tell me how he decided to follow Jesus. His story included a surplus of drinking, drugs, and lose women. He said that all end in a flash. He was driving home from a party loaded. He fell asleep behind the wheel and got into a horrible traffic accident. He did not remember the accident, but he did remember being in the local emergency room. In a semi-conscious state, he heard the doctor talking to his mother. He heard the doctor say he had done all he could do. It was in God’s hands. Then, he heard something that changed his life. Mike heard his mother crying. Mike did not want to die and cause his mother more pain. It was at that moment Mike made a deal with God. Mike said if he lived then he would accept Christ and be a better man. Mike was in seminary to prove his words were sincere. That was Mike’s story. What is yours?
When did you first decide to follow Jesus? No two stories are the same. No one’s story is better or worse than another story. Your story is just that, your story. Your story may include loving parents who sacrificed for you. They took you to church every week so you could know Jesus as your own. For them, Sunday school was not an option, it was a requirement. When your heart was just right, God spoke to you in just the right way. You decided to follow Jesus. The people in your life never saw a great change and your story was not exciting. I like those none-exciting stories because it sounds so much like mine. Or maybe, your story is exciting. There was a surplus sex, drugs and rock and roll. Maybe your story included long periods away from loved ones. To the outside world you were living the life. However, you knew the truth. You were miserable and your heart was restless. You didn’t like the person you had become. When you hit the lowest, God spoke to you. It was an incredible experience. You were born again! That was a good thing because you wanted to start your life over again. The people in your life couldn’t believe the change. They had grown tired of the old you and wanted to get to know the new you. Can I tell you the truth? It doesn’t really matter how you came to follow Jesus. The only thing that matters is that you decided to follow Jesus. It is like going swimming. It does not matter if you wade in the water or jump off the high dive. All that matters is you get in the water. All that matters is that you follow Jesus. When did you first decide to follow Jesus?
I hope you did not make that choice lightly. Do you follow Jesus exclusively? Do you follow Jesus unconditionally? Do you follow Jesus passionately? The great evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) once said, “Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ and seek to follow him every day. Don’t be swayed by the false values and goals of this world but put Christ and his will first in everything you do.”