SCRIPTURE: Matthew 28:16-20
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
SERMON – Fans but Not Followers
Kyle Idleman is the teaching minister at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY and a few years ago he wrote a sermon series called “Not a Fan.”
Pastor Idleman is in a little different situation than us here in the Upper Ohio Valley. His church regularly runs over 20,000 attendees for weekend services…and on Easter Sunday those numbers exploded even bigger.
His experience with these large numbers have influenced his thinking about being a follower of Jesus…and not just a fan.
He says, “The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ…our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to stadiums…and every week fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in actually following Him.”
I can hear you thinking, “But we are just a little church. We don’t have a hundred let alone a thousand people. What’s any of this have to do with us?”
The question this morning needs to be turned inward not outward. It’s easy to talk about those mega-churches and point a finger and talk about all window dressing and no substance. But what about our little congregation and community here? How do we honestly define our relationship with Jesus…Are we “enthusiastic admirers,” the dictionary definition of “a fan,” or are we followers, which is what being a disciple is all about?
Jesus’ Great Commission was to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
It’s such a simple command…“As you follow me make other followers of me.” But following Jesus requires more than belief and admiration…It requires action.
Imagine you were out hiking one day and you decide to get off the trail and explore some of the most untraveled areas…and you get lost…I mean you are really lost and can’t find your way out… After a couple of days you are desperate… you’re cold, wet, and hungry. As you huddle at the base of a tree a rescue searcher calls your name…and you scream back… “I’m here…Hey, over here.” He follows the sound of your voice and finds you and says “Follow me.”
You believe he has come to rescue you… you admire his sacrifice to try and find you… but you say, “No, I’ll just stay where I am and wait for a better time… I think I can still find my own way out”…Does your belief get you home? No! Does your admiration for your rescuer save you? Not by a long shot.
If you’re going to get home…you have to follow him out.
When it comes to fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to make followers who follow Him…we have to be followers who follow Him…we have to be following Him first…and that following starts with His death, burial and resurrection. It’s where the journey begins…it is our first step toward home.
Have you ever met anyone who likes to be told they’re wrong? How about you…is your first reaction… “Why thank you so very much for pointing that out…I really do appreciate it…come on, give me a big ol’ hug.”
God’s word says, in Colossians 1: 21, “21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Romans 5:10 says much the same thing, “10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
God was… is… our enemy because of sin. It’s not His choice, it’s ours. God would be reconciled to us…but we don’t like anyone to tell us we’re wrong… telling us that we are sinners, we don’t even like it when God tells us of our sins… We know that all of us have sinned and fallen short…so we all are in the same boat…or perhaps we are all lost in that same forest.
Isaiah 53 records a true fact about every one of us… “We all, like sheep, have gone astray… each of us has turned to our own way.”
But that is where Jesus’ Great Commission becomes real. In our lost-ness, right in the middle of our separation, someone shows up with a rescue plan. Someone who has found their way out by following Jesus says, “Hey, I know the way…I know the truth, I know the life…I know how to get back to the Father…it’s through Jesus Christ alone.”
Someone, anyone, me or you maybe sometime in the past, are alone and disconnected from The Word. But then the miracle of Jesus’ commission happens. Someone, with the help of the Holy Spirit, points out and convicts us of our failings, our sin, our need of rescue. This person shares the truth of how they got there. How they saw the light, with the help of the Holy Spirit and how they are new in Christ. Jesus said, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)
It happened through Peter on the birthday of the Church…He shares God’s plan…the plan for God to save us all…and the Holy Spirit works. We hear in Acts, chapter 2, starting at verse 23, “23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Then moving on to verse 36, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
That question “What should we do?’ is the result of the gospel being shared…and the Holy Spirit cutting hearts filled with sin…and Peter’s answer…Take the first step…
“Repent and be baptized.”
The word repent means “turn around” and the word baptism means “immerse.”
Fans or followers… Fans say they believe and yet stay seated in the stands…they may even cheer for Jesus…but followers leave their old lives…and follow Jesus…and the first place those steps lead them is baptism…It’s where our belief becomes obedience…It’s where we die to self…where we are immersed in Jesus…and receive His promised Spirit so we can walk in new life…Repentance doesn’t lead us to believing…or joining the Church…or fixing up our relationships… Belief leads to our repentance…and repentance leads us to following Jesus in a death, burial and resurrection.
Do you know why we’ve watered down this first step in the Great Commission? It’s because we don’t want to make it too hard…we don’t want to ask people to surrender their lives…we want to say…just believe in Jesus…just acknowledge Him…but you don’t really have to die to sin…we want to wink and say, “You can follow Jesus…but nothing really needs to change.” And we fill stadiums with fans…instead of disciples who follow Jesus.
You cannot be a follower of Jesus without sacrificing yourself…it’s impossible. It could be we remember Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Which is absolutely true…but we forget Luke 9:23 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” This is also just as true!
Being a disciple…a follower of Jesus begins with self-denial…and then a daily crucifixion of self…if I don’t do that, I’m just a fan…I cannot follow in the footsteps of Jesus and my own at the same time.
Remember Kyle Idleman? The fellow I told you about at the beginning of this message. The guy with 20,000 folks showing up for his church for the weekend. He said this, “There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without following!
A very challenging question for our generation – and for every generation – is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?
Maybe you hear this question, but you know you’re in Church so you have to act appalled at this notion…but in your heart you think…“You know I might just be OK with that.”
That should scare us a little, because when you are deeply in love with someone you’ll do anything to be with them.
Thirty years ago, I didn’t drive back and forth across Ohio from Bellaire to Dayton because I liked to see the fields and enjoyed the traffic of Columbus. No, I made that drive over and over again so I could see Susan Jane Patterson…when we were apart it was painful…she was on my mind constantly…I took every chance I had to be with her…It wasn’t Dayton I loved…it was her…it still is.
But the question remains…What is your relationship with Jesus? This may seem like a strange question to ask of a congregation as mature as this.
We are 208 years old. We are led by a well-respected clergyman of our presbytery. We are about to host a meeting of the governing body of our particular sect and that is a pretty big accomplishment.
But we must ask that question every day, “What is my relationship with Jesus?”
Because you cannot keep your life and give it to Him at the same time. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll lose some of your friends. Maybe a member of your family will reject your decision. It is very possible that you’ll have to stop certain things. You’ll have to love someone you don’t want to love or forgive someone you’d just as soon keep hating. Maybe a whole race or group of people.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Intolerance and hate is not described anywhere in that message. Love your neighbor as yourself. When we put it that way it sure sounds pretty easy. But maybe the risk is just not worth the reward. Sadly, it’s often much easier to harbor hate than it is to love and care. It’s much easier to stay closed off than to open your heart to others.
In practice it is a huge step. Almost everyone who has taken the first step of repentance and baptism has had those same feelings…it is a step of faith.
2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us “If anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creation. The old things are gone and new things have come.”
A wholehearted follower is someone who goes in all the way…They don’t hold back. And when we do dedicate ourselves to following Him, what He provides is life everlasting. A Grace only he can give.
So, as we go about our lives this week, next week, the coming months, think of your position, take some time and ponder the question, “What is my relationship with Jesus? Where do I stand?”
Jesus gives us very specific direction in our message from scripture today. Go. Teach. Make disciples. BUT… we must first be followers before we can gather followers. We must first be immersed in Christ and repentant of our ways. Ask yourself this question, “Are you a fan of Jesus… or a follower?” Amen and Amen.