OPENING AND INTRODUCTION
Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent some time looking at what love does. Tonight, we’re going to finish up our sermon series with the final sermon on Following Jesus.
As Christians, we may think of ourselves as following Jesus. But let’s be honest. We don’t always follow Him the way we should.
Tonight, I’d like to look at what following Jesus looks like. We’ll look at a few stories from the Bible that show what Jesus’ definition of following Him was, the obstacles that many of us face as we try to follow.
Our story from our message this evening is recorded in three of the Gospels. So, I’m going to expand on it a little bit and take a closer look at what the first disciples experienced.
Prior to our message, a series of event unfolded and it started with Peter deciding to go fishing and some of his friends came along. They fished all night and caught nothing. What a disappointing way to use an evening. When they were finished, they took the nets out of the boat and began to clean them in preparation for the next time.
While the fishermen were busy preparing for another day, Jesus shows up with a crowd of people, and He finds Peter’s boat unused. He gets in the boat, then asks to put out a little way from land. Peter does what our Lord asked, and Jesus sits down in the boat and begins to teach the crowd on shore. Once Jesus finishes speaking, He tells Peter to let the nets down.
Peter is an experienced fisherman who probably learned this skill from his father, and had likely been doing this most, if not all, of his life, and probably wonders “What does this teacher know about fishing?” Peter objects a bit, but eventually follows the crazy directions. Luke records that they gathered so many fish that the boat began to sink and they had to call over another boat to gather all of the fish.
The experienced fishermen are amazed and a bit perplexed that a man seemingly unexperienced with fishing could lead them to such a large catch.
Its then that Jesus tells brothers Peter & Andrew, and brothers James and John to follow Him. He expected them to follow without reservation. He told them to follow now… and they did.
We’re told that Peter and Andrew left their nets behind, but the language is a bit different for James and John. These two were probably a bit better off then the first two. They left not just nets, but their boat and their father behind. Can you imagine just dropping everything you’re doing, and leave it all behind to follow this guy that knows where to throw a net? They left their livelihood and their family.
Then there’s another story about a different disciple, a tax collector called Levi, but usually known to us as Matthew. Mark wrote:
Jesus went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14, ESV)
Matthew left his counting table behind, walked away from his job and his income, and walked into the unknown behind Jesus. Matthew didn’t know what the future held for him. But, he was willing to take the step to see where this rabbi would lead him.
Two pairs of fishermen and a tax collector. Each of these men knew that crowds of people were following this man Jesus. They probably heard some of His words of wisdom, but that didn’t necessarily translate into faith. They didn’t have much understanding yet. But they walked behind Jesus, just the same.
Not everyone followed Jesus so willingly. Luke tells a story of a rich man who asks Jesus what does he have to do to get eternal life. He’s obeyed the commandments, honored his parents, and led a good, clean life.
Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. (Luke 18:22-23, ESV)
This wealthy man was interested in following Jesus, but only if it was on His terms. Jesus can see into everyone’s heart and this man was no exception.
Many rich men are recorded in the Bible, including famous figures like Abraham and Job. They owned significant property and God didn’t tell them they had to give it all up.
There was something else with this wealthy man and I believe it was something to do with his lifestyle. Maybe he had grown accustomed to a certain way of living and wasn’t ready to leave the world behind. Yet, that’s what Jesus asked him to do. Leave the world of sin in your rear-view mirror. Move forward, and don’t look back.
In another case, a man was called to follow Jesus, but had other priorities. Luke wrote:
To another, Jesus said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60, ESV)
It’s not a bad thing to grieve for your parents and show respect for them. But, it’s not clear that this man’s father was dead yet. This man’s answer may really come down to “I’ll follow you Jesus, but not today”. Jesus expects us to follow without delay.
Then there’s the pharisees. They were a unique set of followers of Jesus. They weren’t following to make themselves better, or to understand what Jesus was saying, but to find fault with Him in any way… so that they could find a reason to condemn Him.
They didn’t see Jesus as the coming savior that they were looking for. Instead, they were opposed to Jesus because His message was not supporting the status quo. It was a threat to their power base, and flew in the face of their traditions. Jesus challenged their position in society, and they weren’t too happy with that.
They kept an eye on Jesus, trying to find anything wrong. They questioned him on paying taxes, standards of divorce, when to fast, and accused Him of working with the Prince of demons. Luke wrote:
As Jesus went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. (Luke 11:53-54, ESV)
Jesus lived so differently from what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees wanted people to change so that they could join them. Jesus wanted people to follow Him so that they could be changed.
Some followed Jesus rightly. Others rejected Him or followed wrongly.
When we look at the stories of how the disciples followed, and how a few others didn’t, we can see some challenges to how people live their lives. People aren’t perfect. We all have flaws.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to gather up all the perfect people. He came for the broken people, the people with bad reputations. He came here for the broken hearted, for the poor in spirit, for those who needed healing in their souls. And He asked these damaged-people to follow him.
We’re all part of that too. Jesus also asked us to follow. So, in the time that we have remaining, I’d like to look at three things that we can aim for to make our selves better followers of Jesus.
First, drop the baggage. As we walk through life, we gain a lot of experiences. These experiences shape how we view things. Sometimes we might develop strong feelings or opinions that can get in the way of following Jesus.
For some, pain and anger might be our baggage. We might hold God accountable for the sin in the world that caused some pain. I’ve talked with people who felt that in their time of need God should have done something differently, and they’ve turned away from Him. Sometimes bad things happen, and fear and anger take over.
Anyone here remember 911? Those terrible attacks were a devastating day for many of us. But, shortly after that attack, a great number of prayer vigils began across the country. Terrible events sometimes pull us to our knees and connect us closer to God, perhaps then we’re pulled closest to Him.
For some, shame and guilt may be the baggage that we carry. We might have done something, or maybe the opposite, maybe we didn’t do something that we should have done. We might feel that we can never be forgiven.
Emotional scars can sometimes slow us down and disconnect us from following Jesus. But here’s the truth that we can to cling to. No matter what happened, God is still there and loves us even in our worst of pain. When we’ve done something wrong, God’s forgiveness is there because of what Jesus did for us. Jesus said to lean on Him:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
It’s not always an easy thing to do. But Jesus is waiting for us to turn to Him and lay our burdens at His feet. Letting go of our baggage can be a difficult thing. But sometimes, putting down our worries and concerns might be the best thing we can do to follow Jesus.
Second, follow the straight path. Getting to any destination is a journey. If we’re not sure how to get there, it may require some sort of navigation to make sure we get to the right destination.
When I drive across the country or even across town, I use an app on my phone called Waze to help me navigate. Waze looks at where I’m going, and adjusts my route so that I can drive around congestion, accidents, and construction. This app is amazing because it keeps me on track and helps me avoid the pitfalls along the way to my destination.
I think our life on earth is kind-of like that too. There are all sorts of distractions in the world that pull us away from our destination, put us on a path away from, and delay us following God.
There are many activities that compete for our time and attention. Some of these are wholesome activities that are fine by themselves. But, if they pull us away from God, pull us away from growing in faith, and pull us away from the straight and narrow path that leads to Him, then we’ll struggle with where we’re going.
Is there something that pulls you away from Jesus and following His lead? Is there anything that distracts you away from reading the Bible, praying, or worshiping?
We have a lot competing for our time and our attention. Our Lord’s words can bring us back on track and aim us in the right direction. Especially in those times when we’ve strayed.
King David had a wonderful way to pray for guidance, and to stay on the correct path. He wrote:
Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. (Psalm 5:8, ESV) To put this another way, David prayed: I don’t know what’s next Lord. I need your help! Lead me where I should go.
The world puts a lot of stumbling blocks in front of us. But, the Word of God is still the best navigation device to help us move through the sinful world. God’s path is straight and narrow. Its sometimes difficult to stay on track. But, with Jesus leading the way, we’ll be able to see our way home.
Third, continue to move forward. The journey that we follow is not always an easy one. The path that Jesus created for us, is straight. But our sinful nature often brings us off the path, and into the weeds of life.
Most of us start and stop, on the path that God set before us. Life is hard, and we fall to the sinful desires of the world. Paul wrote about the struggle to get going in the right direction in his letter to the Colossians:
Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. You once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. (Colossians 3:5, 7-8, CSB)
These are the things that slow down our journey with Christ. Paul had more to say about this. Instead of dwelling on the things that we don’t do so well, maybe we’d be better served to focused and think about the good things; those things that are honorable and upright to repeat. Paul continued:
Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another
and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, CSB)
The path to Christ is filled with sinful obstacles that pull us away from Jesus, and slow us down. But He still shows us the way. No matter how far we’ve strayed.
The Bible shows us stories of people following Jesus without question, and others who wanted to stop anyone from following Him.
All of us are probably somewhere in between where we follow some days, and stumble other times. Jesus is our savor, and a beacon of light showing us the way. Will we follow rightly, or follow wrongly? Can we follow better?
With His help, I know we can all follow Him in a better way.
Let us pray….