Follow Me

October 7, 2012

What Jesus Said about Our Behaviour:  Follow Me
Last month I received an email from a man who is planning on
carrying a cross across Nova Scotia.  He
didn’t tell me how big the cross was going to be but I’m assuming that it isn’t
going to be a small cross.  And to tell
the truth I’m not sure what I think about his project, if indeed I think
anything about it, kind of ambivalent for me.  It really doesn’t affect me one way or
another.     
I’m sure that his intentions are good and there will be
those who think that he is committed and others who think he should be
committed. 
Our topic this month is “What Jesus said about our
behaviour”  and you might be wondering
what a man carrying a cross across Nova Scotia has to do with that topic, bear
with me.  In both Matthew’s and Mark’s
gospel accounts we see Jesus’ ministry begin with the same two commands.  First he tells people in Mark 1:14-15 . . . Jesus went into Galilee, where he
preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he
announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the
Good News!”  So, the very first
thing that Jesus command us is “Repent and believe”  And that is awesome.  This is the Cornerstone of our faith,
repent:  That is acknowledge that you are
a sinner and be sorry for that and not just a little sorry, but sorry enough to
want to stop that behaviour.  And then
believe the good news.  What is the good
news?  That when we repent of our sins,
that in the eyes of God our sins are forgiven. 
And repentance isn’t “I’m sorry because I got caught”.  It is an acknowledgment that your sinful
behaviour has been an offence to God.   
William Barclay writes that this command to repent
was a command to  “Turn from your own ways,
and turn to God. Lift your eyes from earth and look to heaven. Reverse your
direction, and stop walking away from God and begin walking towards God.”
That is the same message that
Peter preached after Jesus had been crucified and after Jesus had been raised
from the dead and after Jesus had returned to the Father.  On the day of Pentecost Peter preaches and
when he is done those in the crowd ask him “What should we do?” and we read in Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your
sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you
have received forgiveness for your sins.”   And then later Peter proclaims in Acts 3:19 Now repent of your sins and turn
to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.
So the first thing that Jesus said about our Behaviour is that It Will 
Involve a Decision to Leave the Past
And maybe you are thinking, “What does that have to do with
the guy with the cross?” 
Patience, we will get there.
If Jesus first command was to
repent then what was his second command? 
Mark 1:16-18 One day as Jesus was walking along
the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a
net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them,
“Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left
their nets at once and followed him.
If Jesus’ first command was for
people to draw a line in the sand to delineate the past from the future  his second command was to step over that line
and to leave the past behind.  And so he
called Peter and Andrew to follow him, and then he called John and James to
follow him, and then he called Philip to follow him, and then he called Matthew
to follow him.  And he is still calling
people to follow him today. 
And that was the beginning of
Christianity.  Up to the point Jesus was
just a lone preacher calling people to repent, it was when Andrew and Peter put
down their nets and followed Jesus that it went from a sermon to a
movement. 
But what does it mean to
follow?  We really don’t need to bring up
a dictionary definition of follow, you understand that.  Follow isn’t a complicated word, it has no
deep hidden meanings, it’s not rocket surgery. 
If you are going to follow someone you follow them.  If we were heading to the same place and I
told you to follow me you would know exactly what I meant. If I wasn’t going
that way but knew how to get there I could give you directions and tell you to
follow the directions.  Dorothy and her
friends understood that they would find their way to the Emerald City if they
followed the yellow brick road. 
And when Jesus extended the
invitation to follow him people knew what that meant.  And sometimes they did and sometimes they
didn’t.  A minute ago I read the account
of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew.  Jesus
said “Come, follow me.”  And the bible
records that they left their nets at once and followed him.  And for the next three years they went where
he went and they listened as he taught and they watched as he performed
miracles.  
When Jesus called Matthew the
tax collector he said “follow me” and we are told that Matthew got up from the
tax collector’s booth and followed Jesus. 
But not everybody responded in
the same way.  Do you remember the
scripture that we started with last week? 
Don’t feel bad I had to look it up as well, it was a story told by Matthew
about a young man who came and asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal
life.  And Jesus told him to obey the
commandments, and the man asked “Which one?” and Jesus highlighted five of the
Ten Commandments, Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not lie, do not steal
and honour your parents.  And I’m sure
that there are some folks here today who were checking the list off in their
minds and figure they have those five covered. 
Then Jesus adds another commandment “Love your neighbour as
yourself.” 
And then we read Matthew 19:20 “I’ve obeyed all these
commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”  The guy must have been thinking, “Wow,
I’ve got it made, I’m in.”  And we read
Jesus reply Matthew 19:21
Jesus told him,
“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money
to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And
that was the deal breaker.  You see
Andrew and Peter, James and John left all that was important to them, they left
their fishing boats and their livelihoods, Matthew left behind a corrupt and
very lucrative profession as a tax collector. 
What Jesus was asking of the young man wasn’t unique, it was what he had
asked of others, “Leave yesterday and follow me into tomorrow.”  And they others did.  But listen to what happens in this story Matthew 19:22 But when the young man heard this,
he went away very sad, for he had many possessions.
Do you see what happened
here?  We often focus on what the young
man wouldn’t give up but have you ever stopped and thought about what he did
give up? 
This man had the opportunity to
become the 13th apostle! 
Jesus said “Follow me” and the man said no, he went away.  He traded away forever for a handful of today.
The second thing we discover
about what Jesus requires of us is that It
Will Involve a decision for Today
The command to follow is still a command
to follow.  He may not be asking you to
sell everything and give it to the poor but he is still asking you to leave
whatever it is that ties you to the past. 
And there are those here today who have already accepted his invitation
and those here today who have already rejected that invitation.   And maybe for what would appear to be very
valid reasons. 
There is a story told by Luke
of another person that Jesus called to follow him, Luke 9:59 He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The
man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”   That sounds like a reasonable request,
but listen to Jesus’ response Luke 9:60 But
Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to
go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Wow, that sounds a little
harsh.  The man’s father was dead.  Or was he? 
Again sometimes it is a mistake to look at Palestinian words from 2000
years ago with 2012 Canadian eyes.  It
has been suggested by a number of scholars that the man’s father wasn’t dead
that instead this was a common expression that simply meant that until a
person’s father died that there were responsibilities and obligations that
needed to be met.  And if you wanted to
share in the inheritance then it would be wise to be there until the end.
And so if that is the case,
this man wasn’t saying that he would follow Jesus tomorrow, he was saying he
would follow Jesus when it was convenient.  
Maybe you’ve had that very discussion with Jesus, where you’ve said
“Maybe next week” or “Maybe when I’m older” or maybe you are simply saying
“After I’ve done what I want to do.”  You
know that your behaviour doesn’t fit with those who have chosen to follow
Christ and so you’ll wait.  And that decision
might be admirable in some ways it can also be dangerous, because we don’t know
what tomorrow holds.  Pick up any
newspaper and you will read of people who died yesterday who fully expected to
be alive tomorrow. 
Now here is a deep truth, you
might want to write it down so you don’t forget, ready?  You can’t call yourself a Christ Follower
unless you are following Christ.  And if you don’t believe
me then listen to Jesus: John
12:26
“Anyone who
wants to be my disciple must follow me . . .”
And for some of you, thus endeth the lesson. Because until you obey
Christ’s command to repent and follow him you are under no obligation to follow
his teachings.  These are the only two
requirements that Jesus makes of people before they step over the line of
faith. 
Sometimes I think the church has been a lot more interested in getting
people to act like Christians then to actually be Christians.  So unless you have repented and have chosen
to follow him your behaviour is irrelevant in the eternal scheme of
things. 
Oh you should obey the commandments that Jesus reminded the rich young
ruler of, don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, honour your parents, don’t lie
and don’t steal.  But that is for the
sake of protecting society and really has nothing to do with your soul.  It will make this world a better place while
you are alive but won’t really have an impact on what happens after that. 
And here we must be clear, the
commands of Christ,  what he tells us
from this point on about how to behave only applies to those who have chosen to
follow him.  And some of you are still thinking about the guy who is going to carry
the cross and wondering what it has to do with the message.   Well it doesn’t really, sorry to disappoint
you but Jesus did say in Mark 8:34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If
any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take
up your cross, and follow me.”  And
so the third thing Jesus tells us about our behaviour is that  It Will
Involve a decision for Tomorrow.  But understand when Jesus told us to take
up our cross he wasn’t actually telling us to take up a cross.   We seldom think of someone carrying a cross
today, and if we saw someone actually carrying a cross we’d think it was a
little, ah what is the word?  Oh yeah
weird.
But two thousand years ago the
metaphor was a lot clearer then it is today. 
When we think of the cross and the crucifixion we think of an isolated
event in history, the day they crucified Jesus. 
But the crucifixion of Jesus wasn’t all that special of an event in
Palestine 2000 years ago, I don’t know if it was an everyday event but it was
certainly a common event.  And so when
Jesus said “You must take up your cross, and follow me”  people immediately visualized someone
carrying a cross.  But what did that
mean?  Well, the only real knowledge that
most of us have of crosses being carried goes back to the Easter story when
Jesus carried his cross from Pilate’s court to the hill on which he was
crucified.  And since Jesus used this
metaphor as an integral component of our behaviour let’s park here for a couple
of minutes and see what it entailed for Christ and therefore for those who
would choose to follow him.
And this wasn’t the only place
that this thought is used, Jesus said in Matthew 10:38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of
being mine.  And then the metaphor
is expanded in the letters of Paul, Romans 6:6 We
know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might
lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.
And again in Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus
have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and
crucified them there.
So what does it mean as a
Christ follower to take up your cross and follow Jesus.
1) Carrying Your Cross means Surrendering Your Will  This is probably the most difficult thing
for us to get our heads around.  Becoming
a Christ follower means that you follow Christ, that you allow him to show you
where to go and you follow those directions. 
Before I made the decision to
follow Christ the biggest issue for me wasn’t how my behaviour would have to
change, I knew that there were certain life style choices that I had made that
I would no longer participate in as a Christ follower.  It 
wasn’t how my behaviour would change it was why my behaviour would
change.  And that was because I would no
longer be following Denn I would be following Christ.  That my prime obligation would not be whether
or not my life style choices would make Denn happy but whether or not my life
style choices would make Jesus happy.
And I was probably different
than most of you in the fact that I didn’t like being told what to do by
anyone, not even God.  But if you are
going to follow Jesus than you have to realize that you can’t follow him and
follow the world, you can’t follow him and follow culture, you can’t follow him
and follow your own desires or ambitions.  
Jesus is saying when you pick up your cross and start on this adventure
you are giving him control over your life. 
And that isn’t always easy, which leads us to the next point.
2) Carrying Your Cross Won’t be Easy 
In the literal and physical sense carrying a cross was not easy
task.  We are told that historical that
Jesus probably didn’t carry the entire cross through the streets of Jerusalem
as is portrayed in most religious art, but instead probably only carried the
cross piece which was called patibulum and would have weighed around 100 lbs or
45 kg.  Jesus had been up all night, he
had suffered a scourging at the hands of Roman soldiers and now he was required
to carry this 100 pound piece of rough lumber in the heat of the Palestinian
afternoon.  At this point in history that
probably isn’t going to happen to you, but as a Christ follower you will have
to make choices in life that aren’t easy if they are going to be pleasing to
God. 
Choices as a I mentioned before
that will involve lifestyle choices, should I do this or not?  Would this action or behaviour please God?   Choices that involve saying the right thing
and doing the right thing, even if the face of opposition .  Choices that involve how you spend your time
and how you spend your money.  It’s not
always easy. 
Jesus didn’t say “You can’t be
my follower unless you go for a walk in the park” He knew it wouldn’t be easy
to live a righteous life in an unrighteous world.  The decision to follow Jesus 2000 years ago
meant that you might lose your family, your livelihood or your life.  In some countries of the world today it is
still a reality.
But understand, following
Christ might not cost you your life, or your family or your job. . . but it
will cost you something.
3) Sometimes You’ll Need Help
With Your Cross 
If you know
the Easter story then you know how Jesus came to the place that he just
couldn’t carry the cross any further. 
The emotional and physical strain became too much and either he couldn’t
carry the cross at all or he was slowing the procession down and so the
soldiers reached into the crowd and randomly picked out a man to carry the
cross for Jesus.  We don’t know a lot
about Simon, the man chosen to help Jesus. 
We know that he was from Cyrene, which was a country in Northern
Africa.  Perhaps he had saved up so one
day he could celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, or maybe he was simply a
tourist or a merchant who was in Jerusalem that day purely by happenstance.
It is interesting that when we
read Marks account it says this Mark 15:21 A
passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside
just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the
father of Alexander and Rufus.)  The
fact that Mark names the children of Simon would indicate that the early church
knew who they were.   Now let’s skip over
to the book of Romans
16:13
Greet
Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother,
who has been a mother to me.   Same
Rufus?  We don’t know.  And Simon was one of those names that there
are different derivatives of, much like my name is Denn, D.e.n.n.  But I was named Dennison, in school they
called me Denny and when I went to College I chose to go by Den and when we started
Cornerstone I added the extra “n”. 
One of the derivatives of Simon
is Simeon and we read in the book of Acts 13:1 Among
the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas,
Simeon (called “the black man”), . . . Maybe Simon from North
Africa.  It’s amazing how a chance
encounter with Jesus can change the direction of your life
But that was a tangent, what is
important at this point is that Jesus needed help and he was given it either
willingly or unwillingly by this stranger.
There will be times in your
Christian life that you will realize that carrying your cross is really really
hard.  Maybe it’s things you are called
to do, or not do.  Maybe it is simply the
strain of doing the right things, the strain of being loving and forgiving in a
world that isn’t.  And you think I just
can’t do this anymore.  But you don’t
need to quit, you need help.   And there
are those who would say you just need more of God’s presence in your life, but
sometimes you need someone with skin on them.  And I’ve said it before, Christianity was
never meant to be a solitary religion. 
Develop those friendships and relationships so when the time comes there
is someone there to help you with your burden. 
 Harvey Mackay wrote a book a
number of years ago about networking and the title is relevant for each one of
us today, it was called “Dig Your Well Before You are Thirsty.”
And finally  4) There is an End to the Journey 
For Jesus the end wasn’t pretty but there came to a time that
he no longer carried his cross, he was crucified on it. That probably isn’t
your fate.
There will come a time that you
will no longer have to carry your cross, perhaps that particular season in your
life will end, the person who you are called to love and forgive will move
on.  Maybe a temptation will be removed,
or a situation will resolve itself.  But
often times something else comes along, this is just part of life.  And the promise for the Christ Follower is
rest and glory in the presence of the Christ we follow.
And we are not only called start
the race well we are called to finish the race well. And so to finish this
morning, two quotes. 
Contrary to popular opinion it
was not Yogi
Berra who said “It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings.”  But it was Yogi Berra who said “It ain’t over
’til it’s over”.  And perhaps more
relevant it was the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Galatians in Galatians 6:8-9 . . .those
who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So
let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap
a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
Only you know where you are on
that time line.  Do you need to
repent?  Do you need to follow
Christ?  Or do you need to pick up your
cross?