Following Jesus

We find ourselves in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, verses thirty-five through forty-two. 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 passes by. John the Baptist, who always was pointing toward Jesus and away from his own earthly success, identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. With his 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 asked them, “Why?” It is an excellent question because no one likes being stocked. They answer Jesus’s question with another question, “Where are you staying?” Jesus answers 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 leave 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 a single day. In each case their lives wouldn’t be the same again.

In the scripture lesson for today, following Jesus looks simple. Andrew and John are with John the Baptist. John identifies Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, so they began to follow Jesus. Hours later, Andrew tells his brother, Peter, and he begins to follow Jesus. Their decision to follow Jesus seems easy. I can’t speak for them, and I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for myself. In my opinion, the decision to follow Jesus isn’t easy. It is very complex. Your decision to follow Jesus will affect the rest of your life. I am not wrong. Following Jesus is very complex. That is what I have written about in this blog. I have grouped my thoughts around three questions. This is the first question.

Do you follow Jesus exclusively? On September 11, 2001, our world changed forever. It was a Tuesday and I had taken the day off. My daughters were in school. I was getting ready to stain our deck. My wife Kathryn stuck her head out of the side door of our home 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, then you must be narrow too. Are you willing to follow Jesus exclusively because you understand Jesus to be our hope of salvation. Be prepared, some may call us narrow. Look at the story 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. They were going to follow Jesus exclusively. Are you following Jesus exclusively? Are you willing to tell the other world religions they are wrong? This is the second question.

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 the good things in Job’s life. His wealth is taken away. His health is taken away. His loved ones are taken away. Job is left with nothing. His friends witness his ordeal and encourage him to curse God and die. Job refuses. He loves God unconditionally.

How many people do you know follow Jesus unconditionally? In my time in the ministry, I witnessed it many times. It is easy to follow Jesus when life is good. It is easy to follow Jesus when you have an enjoyable well-paying job. 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 easy to follow Jesus when you are overwhelmed with worry. 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? This is question number three.

Do you follow Jesus passionately? In the scripture lesson for today, three people decided to follow Jesus. There was Andrew, John, and Peter. 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. It is there that he had a series of visions. Those visions became the Book of Revelation. Peter followed Jesus to Roman, according to tradition, and was crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die like Jesus. Andrew, according to tradition, was crucified on an x-shaped cross. Each one wanted changed and they got it. No one came question their passion.

How passionate are you about Jesus?  I hope you are open to change. The reason is simple. Once you begin to follow Jesus your agenda your life doesn’t really matter. The only thing that really matters is Jesus’s agenda. In other words, are you willing to let Jesus change you? The faith is not meant to be a Sunday morning experience, the faith is meant to be a life-altering experience. It sounds so easy. Andrew, John, and Peter followed Jesus. The truth is following Jesus is quite complex. Following Jesus will change everything about you. How passionate are you about Jesus?

It is impossible not to know the name C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). As a novelist, poet, lecturer, and Christian apologist, he held academic posts at both Oxford and Cambridge for decades. Yet, he was a blessing to the nonacademic worlds too. His Christian faith can be seen in all 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 Lewis believed in nothing at all. In his memoir, Surprised by Joy, Lewis told how he was baptized into the Church of Ireland, but the sacrament had no influence on him. He walked away from the faith and didn’t return until he was 32 years old. He thanked his friends, including J. R. Tolkien (1892-1973), for his spiritual wakening. Who do you credit for your spiritual awakening? In other words, who do you credit for saving your soul? Perhaps, this is a more profound question.

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 this reason, 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 in your life. For this reason, your story is not exciting. I like those unexciting stories because they sound so much like mine. Or maybe, your story is exciting.

There was a surplus sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Maybe your story included long periods away from loved ones. To the outside world you were living the dream. However, you knew the truth. You were miserable and your heart was restless. You were afraid to dye, and 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 they 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. You are not much different than the Bible characters, Andrew, James, and Peter. You know now what they discovered later. Following Jesus will change everything about you.  American Protestant author, teacher, and preacher Francis Chan (born 1967) once said, “You find that the things you let go of while following Jesus were the things that were going to destroy you in the end.”

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