How Great a Sacrifice

One of the most magnificent structures in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. It is such a large structure it has five front doors. Each door leads to a different aisle in the sanctuary. The center three doors have carvings of note. Over the arch of one of the side doors is a carved wreath of roses, and underneath it is the words, “All which pleases is but for a moment.” Over arch of the other side door is sculptured a cross, and underneath it is the words, “All which troubles us is but for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” It is the eternal we are going to look at in the next weeks. The eternal grabs our attention today.

We find ourselves today in the twelfth chapter of John, verse one through eleven. According to the text, it is a few days before the Passover. Jesus is in Bethany. Jerusalem and Bethany are approximately two miles apart. It just so happened, Jesus has friends who lived in Bethany, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus normally had an open invitation to their home. However, this time Jesus has a formal invitation. The women wanted to thank Jesus for resurrecting their brother, so they hold a dinner in Jesus’s honor. Jesus never traveled alone. He brings the twelve, along with a nameless crowd. The crowd was extra-large because they wanted to see the newly resurrected Lazarus.

The event is going off as planned. Everyone is having a wonderful time. Martha is serving. Lazarus is reclining at the table. It is Mary who does the unexpected. She took a pint of perfume nard and pours it on Jesus’ feet, wiping it with her hair. Mary seems to have some insider information. It is almost as if she was anticipating the week to come. Consider these two facts with me. First, she anoints Jesus like the dead were anointed. Second, she anoints Jesus’s feet like Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. The obvious happens. The house is filled with the odor of that sweet perfume. Everyone seems to handle the anointing, except one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot. He protests the waste. He is not completely wrong. The nard was expensive. He would have made the perfect church member in the twenty-first century. None of us believe money should be wasted. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. The very least they could have done is sell the nard and given the money to the poor. Jesus deflects his criticism and applauds Mary for her priorities. Would Jesus applaud your priorities? We always sacrifice for those that we love. How much are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus.

Where were you on March 2, 2012? It is remembered as one of the most violent weather days in the history of our country. There were 140 tornados sighted that day, 76 confirmed landings. Thirty-nine people were killed. We prayed for the grieving, and all the lives that were changed that day, but we were inspired by one, Stephanie Decker.

On that day, Stephanie was a 37-year-old wife and mother, who lived in Henryville, Indiana. It was like a living nightmare. A tornado slammed into her home. With no other option, she acted like a human shield and laid on top of her children to protect them. The good news is everyone survived. The bad news is Stephanie lost both legs, one above the knee, one below the knee. Years later, she does not regret her sacrifice because she saved her children. It is a sacrifice she said she would do again. It is a sacrifice I hope I never have to make. I do not know how her children can look at her legs and question her love for them. I do not know how anyone can question her love for her children. We sacrifice the most for the people we love the most. That leads us to the question of the day. How much are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. It is impossible to read this story and ignore the financial issues. You can still buy a pint of nard on the internet. It will cost you approximately $625 for a single pint. No wonder Judas Iscarot was shocked by her extravagance. It seemed economically impossible for a common to own such a possession. Some believe, Mary received the nard from her parents as a wedding gift for her wedding night. Mary sacrificed a great amount of money to show her devotion to Jesus. How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

The Biblical standard for giving is the tithe, 10%. That is a challenge for a great number of people. According to Vanco, only 5% of all church goers’ tithe? 77% of all tithers give more than 10% The average church goer gives approximately $17 per week. That is $884 per year. It is the question I have asked you for the past quarter of a century. If everyone gave the amount to the church that you give to the church, would our ministry contract or expand? How much money are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love.

How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. The house is filled with guests and there are a million things to do. There is food that needs to be cooked. There are dishes that need to be washed. There are children that need to be entertained. There are a million things to do, so where is Mary. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus absorbing every word. It was not that those other things were not important. It was that this was an opportunity that could not be missed. You can do housework anytime, but you cannot always sit at the feet of Jesus. Mary sacrificed valuable time to sit at the feet of Jesus. How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

It is impossible for our generation to sit at the feet of Jesus. However, that changes nothing. How much time do you spend with Jesus? I am not talking about the time you spend in the church building or the time you spend fundraising for the church. I am talking about spending time practicing the Holy Habits. How much time do you spend meditating? How much time do you spend studying your Bible? How much time do you spend in worship? How much time do you spend in prayer? How much time are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love.

How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Imagine the scene with your sacrificed imagination. The fact that Mary anointed Jesus’s feet is significant. That sounds odd to our generation. It was odd to her generation too for two reasons. First, usually someone’s head was anointed, not their feet. Second, Hebrew women never unwrapped their hair in public. They only unwrapped their hair at home. Both expose her humility. How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus?

Humility is not emptying yourself of self-worth. Humility is embracing your self-worth and your gifts and offering those things to the glory of God. Are you hoarding your gifts or are you using your gifts to bring glory to God? How much pride are you willing to sacrifice for Jesus? Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love. Let me state the obvious. During the next two weeks the issue is not how much we have sacrificed for God. The issue is how much God has sacrificed for us. In the Gospel lesson, only Mary seems to see the big picture. Only Mary, understands the events to come will have eternal consequences.

Jesus sacrificed it all because he loves us! You know the story, but it is worth repeating. It all began with the incarnation. God left the perfection of heaven to slum it with people like us. The incarnation of God, Jesus was born in the ordinary, yet he lived an extraordinary life. Let me make the point clear so there can be no confusion. Jesus’s father was God, and his mother was a poor young woman by the name of Mary. The most famous stepfather in his Joseph, a simple carpenter. At twelve years old, Jesus’s spiritual uniqueness became clear, yet he did not begin his ministry until he was thirty. That ministry only lasted three years, but it changed the world. In a nutshell, he simply loved everyone. Healing the sick and teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus threatened the orthodox leaders of his day. So threatened, they decided Jesus had to be eliminated. The plan was simply, but deadly. During the Passover, a few days after everyone cheered Jesus as he entered the city, one of Jesus’s own, Judas Iscariot, agreed to betray Jesus. He was arrested after the Passover meal on Thursday evening. Jesus was tried twice, once by his own people and again by the Romans. It was the Roman, Pontius Pilot, official who gave the death sentence. Hours later the order was carried out. Jesus died Roman style, on a cross between two criminals. The Sunday crowd has abandoned him, but the faithful remained. They saw him draw his last breath. They saw him take out his lifeless body. They cried because all hope was lost and they were the ones who asked the question, “Why?” No knowing the happy ending we call Easter, they wrestled with the harsh reality, Jesus was dead.

It was a powerful moment in the history of the world. Jesus, the incarnation of God, was dead. Remember, we are not afraid to sacrifice for those that we love. This is not doubt about it. Jesus loved us so he sacrificed it all for us. It has been said many times:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

The only things that matter are eternal!

Following Jesus

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.”

Follow Me!

In None of These Diseases S.I. McMillen tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college. However, her heart sank when she read the question on the application, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter of acceptance from the college:

          Dear Applicant:

A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at        least one follower.

Welcome!

I must ask you this question. Do you consider yourself a leader or do you consider yourself a follower? Jesus is looking for followers. That takes us to our Gospel lesson for today.

We find ourselves today in the first chapter of Mark. It is early in Jesus’s ministry.

The only things prior to this story are the stories of John the Baptist, and the baptism and temptations of Jesus. Our scripture reading begins with the sad news, John the Baptist had been arrested. His incarceration signals the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Verse 15 is significant. Jesus, himself, says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” The first thing Jesus does is collect a few followers. Jesus is at the Sea of Galilee. I have been there. It is a beautiful place, 14 miles long and 6 miles wide. The coast was filled with professional fishermen and it still is. Two of the professionals were Peter and his brother, Andrew. Jesus invites them to follow him. Later, he invites John and his brother, James. The four, in the end, decide to follow Jesus. Do not jump over that line too fast. The four follow Jesus. That means the four let Jesus take the lead. At this point, Jesus is not looking for them to be leaders, Jesus is looking for followers. That is an amazing concept in our time because we are always looking for leaders.

Over the past few decades my desk has been covered with a variety of workshops and continuing education events on the topic of leadership. In most cases the church has borrowed business principles to solve our leadership vacuum. Years ago, the name Peter Drucker (1909-2005) burst on the scene. He was an Austrian management consultant, educator, and author. Everyone seemed to be reading him. He tried to cultivate the leader hiding within all of us. He said a leader must trumpet the organization’s goal and hold fast to five basic qualities. These five qualities are the secret to turning you into a leader. Here is the five:

          (1) A leader works

          (2) A leader sees his assignment as responsibility, not privilege

          (3) A leader wants strong, capable, self-assured, independent associates

          (4) A leader creates human energies and vision

          (5) A leader develops followers’ trust by his own consistency and integrity

How many of those qualities do you possess in your life?

I think, it is humorous that the church had to look to Peter Drucker to teach us about leadership when we have had studying the greatest leader in the history of the world for generations, Jesus! If you do not believe me take those five qualities of leadership and apply them to Jesus.

          (1) Jesus was not afraid to work

          (2) Jesus saw his assignment as responsibility, not privilege

          (3) Jesus looked for independent associates

          (4) Jesus cast a vision

          (5) Jesus created trust because he was a person of integrity

The question for today is not, was Jesus a leader? The question is, are you a follower? Years ago, Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. They accepted the invitation and it change their lives. The problem is everyone is not comfortable following. The reason is simple. The reason is change. Some do not like change. Followers must change. Leaders do not have to change. Think about this for a moment. Many say they follow Jesus, but they refuse to change. If you do not change then you are not a follower. What is your story? So, let me ask you the questions again. Are you a follower, who will take direction from the leader? Are you a leader, who refuses to change? Jesus is looking for followers.

Today, I want to talk about three changes you must make in your life if you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ. These points are not original. The came from United Methodist preacher James W. Moore (1938-2019). He was a graduate of the Methodist Theological School of Ohio. They are worth examining.

A New Focus

I remember reading this piece of scripture when I was young. I wondered how the disciples could instantly leave everything and follow Jesus. Mark does not give us any prior history the disciples had with Jesus, they just left. At that time in my life, it did not seem logical, or responsible. However, as I have grown older, I have grown to understand why they did it. I believe, they accepted Jesus’ invitation because they needed something new in their lives. Their lives had grown stale, and they hungered for change. You can say they wanted an adventure. Time reminded them that life in this world is limited. They wanted to leave this world a better place. Jesus offers his followers a new focus. If you are going to follow Jesus, then be prepared for a new focus. The temporary is no longer vital. The eternal suddenly becomes all consuming. How important is eternity to you?

It is interesting only John died of old age. Some believe he lived to be 100. The other three, Peter, Andrew, and James, died as martyrs. Tradition tells us, Peter died in Rome. He was crucified upside down at his request. He was not worthy to die as Jesus died. Andrew was also crucified in died in day Russia. He was crucified too. James was stoned and clubbed to death in present day Syria. The other eight did not fare much better. Thomas was in India where he was pierced through the side by four solders. Philip went to North Africa and was tortured. Bartholomew was martyred in Ethiopia. Simon the Zealot traveled to Persia and was killed for not worshipping the sun god. Just think about it. Eleven of the twelve died of unnatural causes for the Gospel. Not even one complained because their eyes were fixed on eternity. They are had a new focus. Their eyes were fixed on eternity. Are you more concerned about the temporary? Are you more concerned about the eternal? Where are your eyes fixed? If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new focus. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new future.

A New Vision

Do you have someone in your life that will not let you forget the past? It may be a mother or a father. It may be a brother or a sister? It may be a friend. Is there someone in your life you hate seeing because they are constantly reminding you of your mistakes or failures? Maybe this is a better question, how much time do you spend resenting your past?

William Glasser (1925-2013) was an American psychiatrist who made his impact on the world of psychiatry. He has developed something called “reality therapy.” His approach is a little blunt, but it sounds good to me. While most of the fields of psychiatry spend a great amount of time untangling your past. For example, why you hate your mother and why you resent your brother. Reality therapy spends time on your future. It says you have the rest of your life to live, get over your past and do something with your future. Do you spend too much time in your past? Do you have someone in your life who spends too much time living in the past? Wouldn’t you like to tell them to get over it and start living today?

Jesus may have been the first reality therapist. Have you ever noticed how little time Jesus spent talking about the past? He is much more interested in the future. When he found the woman in the adulterous relationship, he forgives her and says, “Sin no more.” (John 8:11) When Nicodemus appeared on that dark night with the question Jesus told him to move forward in life. You must be born again. (John 3:3) In the parable of the prodigal son the young brother messed up but they father accepts him back and has a party. (Luke 15:11-31) Jesus is not interested in your past. The same is true for you. He is more interested in what you are going to do in the future then what you did in the past. When you learn to completely follow Jesus you can expect a new future. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new focus. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new future. If you are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, then you better be prepared for a new lifestyle.

A New Lifestyle

In February of 2016 18-year-old Malachi Love-Robinson was arrested in in West Palm Beach, Florida for pretending to be a doctor. He impersonated an anesthesiologist at the St. Mary’s Medical Center. He was found guilty on 14 charges and served three and a half years in prison. I find that story interesting because the one thing people will not tolerate is a fraud. Our society values people who are genuine. It is especially true of the Christian community. Our society will not tolerate a hypocrite.

Our society is extremely critical of the church and our society is extremely critical of individual Christians. That means your world is watching you to see if you are a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Four times in the New Testament says we are Christ’s ambassadors in this world. That means you are representing Jesus. What are you teaching your world about Jesus from your behavior? What are you teaching your world about Jesus from your attitudes or opinions? What are you teaching your world about Jesus from your words? Jesus loved everyone unconditionally. Jesus forgave everyone regularly. How are you doing serving as Christ’s ambassador in this world?

Let me ask you these two questions. You can consider them a test of your genuineness. What have you said about our new president in the last few days? What have you said about our former president in the last few days? Remember, you are an ambassador of Jesus Christ? Are you a follower who is embracing a new lifestyle, always forgiving, and always loving, or are you a leader who refuses to change? Jesus loved everyone. Jesus forgave regularly. The great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) said it best, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”  On this inauguration week, let me end with this patriotic story.

In 1789, an uncertain George Washington (1732-1799) was urged to seek the presidency of the United States by Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816). Morris was a man of great influence. He was a delegate from New York to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. From 1792-1794, he served as the Ambassador to France. From 1800-1803, he served as a United States Senator. He saw Washington as a natural leader. Morris wrote Washington these words: “No constitution is the same on paper and in life. The exercise of authority depends upon personal character. Your cool steady temper is needed to set the tone for a new government.”

Here is the good news for today! No one is asking you to be the president. (Aren’t you glad?) No one is even asking you to be a leader. The only thing I am going to ask you to do is be a follower. Follow Jesus and experience life as God intended from the very beginning. When you learn to follow Jesus, you will discover a new focus, a new future, and a new lifestyle. How much has the Gospel changed your life? So, let me ask you the question of the day one more time. Are you a leader? Are you a follower? Jesus is looking for followers.

Discipleship 101

In 1857, John Henry Hopkins Jr. (1820-1891) wrote one of the great hymns in the history of the church, We Three Kings. At the time, Hopkins served as the rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. However, he wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City. The carol is a combination of Bible and tradition. Tradition, not Bible, tells us there were three kings. Tradition, not Bible, tells us the names of the three kings. If you picture your nativity set, Then, you can see them. Melchior was an old gray-headed man with a long white beard. He brought the gold, the gift for a king. Caspar was young and beardless. He brought the frankincense, the gift for a priest. The myrrh, the gift for one who was going to die, was brought by Balthasar, who was dark-complexioned. That is interesting, but that is not Bible. We are a Biblical church, which means we are only interested in what the Bible says about the Magi (not kings). So, what does the Bible?

In the second chapter of Matthew, we find the story of the Magi. The Bible says it happened after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea. So, Jesus was born five miles south of Jerusalem. Matthew goes on to pinpoint the date. It was when King Herod sat on the throne. He sat on the throne for thirty-three years, from 37 – 4 B.C. He was

appointed to his position by the Roman Senate. Over two thousand years later, he is still remembered for being ruthless and insecure. His insecurity led him to murder many in his family: his wife, three sons, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncles. In our reading for today, we learn his murderous ways extended beyond the family. You know what the Bible says. The combination of the uninvited visitors and the insecure king produced one of the greatest stories in the Bible.

The story of the Magi is rich in many ways. I preach on this text annually. I looked at my past sermons from the past decade. Through the years I have looked at this story from several different angles. Maybe you remember one of these themes. In the past, I have looked at the odd gifts they presented the toddler Jesus. They were gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the past, I have looked at the symbolism that surrounds the Magi. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, entering a Jewish world. However, in God’s plan of salvation of the world everyone, even Gentiles, are welcomed. The Magi represent us! In the past, I have used the Magi to illustrate a cruel point. Life is hard! Why did innocent babies have to die? That fact upsets me. Today, I want to look at the Magi from a different angle.

The Magi illustrate for us the basics in discipleship. That is important because we are in the discipleship making business. Do you remember the mission statement of this church? Western Reserve will develop disciples who reflect Christ’s love through worship, fellowship, and service. The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. So, what the Magi did to become a disciple we must do. They did three distinct things once they found Jesus. Each one is found in the story.

First, the Magi bowed down! Look at the text with me. The entire story revolves around a group of tired travelers, the Magi. Here is a question you must answer. Who are the Magi? Many have been trying to answer that question for years. It will have to suffice to say they were spiritual astrologers. By studying the stars, they had discovered that the king of the Jews had been born. Their knowledge of the stars is impressive, but their understanding of the scriptures is limited. They assumed the king would be born in the capital, Jerusalem. The scriptures tell us he would be born in Bethlehem. That single mistake ignited the insecurities of the present king, Herod. However, it is Herod who sends them in the right direction. When they arrive, we are told they bowed down and worshipped Jesus. (Verse 11) By then, Mary and Joseph are no longer staying in the4 barn or manger. They have moved to a house. However, this is a more important question. What does it mean to bow down? It means the Magi, with all their worldly influence and power, were humbling themselves before Christ. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must humble yourself before him. How humble are you?

The late Dawson Trotman (1906-1956), founder of the Navigators, was visiting Taiwan on one of his overseas trips. During the visit he hiked with a Taiwanese pastor back into one of the mountain villages to meet with some of the national Christians. The roads and trails were wet, and their shoes became very muddy. Later, someone asked this Taiwanese pastor what he remembered most about Dawson Trotman. Without hesitation the man replied, “He cleaned my shoes.” So, this is my question for you. How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered as a prideful person? Will you be remembered as a humble person? If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, then you must be humble. Do the people in your life consider you humble?

Second, the Magi opened-up! Look at the text with me again. The Magi did not just bow down. They also offered him gifts. There was gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each one of the gifts reveals something about the life that Jesus is going to live. The gold was a gift for a king. The frankincense was a gift for a priest. The myrrh was a gift for one who was going to die. The gifts reveal the Magi’s insight, but the gifts also reveal the Magi’s generosity. One of the great secrets of the Bible is, what happened to the gifts? Many believed they were sold to pay for life because life has always been expensive. The Magi gave their best. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you must give him your best for the business disciple making. How much of your life are you giving?

There is the 90/10 Principle. I have spoken of it in the past. I repeat it because you need to hear it. It is not a complex principle. It simply says, 90% of the work done and 90% of the money given is done and given by 10% of the people. It does not just happen here. It happens in every church. So, this is the question you must answer. Are you part of the 10% who does or gives 90% or are you part of the 90% who does or gives 90%? The answer is obvious. Are you proud of your answer or are you ashamed of your answer? The Magi were generous with their time, they looked for Jesus for years. The Magi were generous with their money, they gave expensive gifts. Do the people in your life consider you a generous person when it comes to the disciple making element of the church? The Magi bowed down. The Magi opened-up.

Third, the Magi changed! Look at the text with me one final time. The time came for the Magi to go home. They had experienced the king of the Jews and were ready to go home. They were prepared to go home in the same way that they came. There is no reason to believe they would have changed their itinerary, but they have a dream that warns them to go home a different way. Verse 12 says, “They returned home by another route.” Jesus had changed their normal way, and they tried a new way. How much is Jesus changing your life? Are you willing to try something new?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) called it “cheap grace.” It is when grace is experienced in your life, but there is no discipleship. It is grace without price; it is grace with cost. It is grace without change. How many people do you know proclaim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but they refuse to change? They expect to go to heaven, but they refuse to forgive or love unconditionally. How much has the Gospel changed your life? The Magi bowed down! The Magi opened-up! The magi changed!

I heard this week 84% of all Americans kept their New Year’s resolutions to some degree from last year. So, let me ask you the question. What is your New Year’s Resolution? I am not the first one to ask it. The people at GoSkills.com say these are the most common New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Exercise More
  2. Lose Weight
  3. Get Organized
  4. Learn a New Skill or Hobby
  5. Live Life to the Fullest
  6. Save More Money
  7. Quit Smoking
  8. Spend More Time with Family and Friends

Is any of those your New Year’s Resolution?

This is my New Year’s Resolution. This year I am going to more like the Magi. I am going to take my discipleship more seriously. I am going to humble myself. I am going to be more generous. I am going to be more open to God leading. I hope you are going to be more like the Magi too. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was an American revivalist. He once wrote, “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.”