During these weeks leading up to Easter we are talking about what it means to follow Jesus and one of the most important things we learned in the first message was that Jesus only called sinners and non-believers to follow. Everyone who first followed Jesus was a non-believer because at that time no one knew that Jesus was the Savior or Messiah, they just thought he was a good teacher or maybe a holy man of God. So it doesn’t matter what we believe about Jesus we can follow and then allow Jesus to shape our beliefs about him and ourselves. It’s also true that it was sinners who followed Jesus because everyone sins and so every person who has every followed Jesus was a sinner which means that our sin does not and cannot keep us from following Jesus. In fact, Jesus said he came for the sinners – he came to call sinners to follow him and it is when we do follow that we find forgiveness and strength to live a different life.
Last week we also learned that following Jesus comes in a series of next steps. We all start by listening to Jesus and then we slowly get more involved and then go deeper and deeper into faith. We allow ourselves to get mildly inconvenienced by Jesus before we radically change everything to follow. Today, we are going to look at the end game. What’s the payoff or the promise Jesus makes when we follow him? What’s the reward? We can find our personal answer to this by finishing this statement: I follow Jesus because_______.
Some people have said, I follow Jesus because I want to be a better person. Well yes, following Jesus can make us a better person because as we follow we will become more patient, kind, forgiving and loving which does make us better people, but Jesus never invited people to follow him so that he could make us better. Jesus never said follow me and I’ll make you a better person.
Some people have said, I follow Jesus because I want to go to heaven. What’s interesting about this is that there is only one person Jesus invited to follow him where he made this promise directly. In one of the final statements before his death, Jesus said to a thief, today you will be with me in paradise. What’s interesting is that this man couldn’t physically follow Jesus because he was nailed to a cross. He couldn’t live any differently, he couldn’t seek forgiveness, turn his life around or seek restitution from those he harmed. He couldn’t really do anything to follow Jesus other than acknowledge that Jesus was a righteous and holy man. I’m not sure he was even a believer in the sense that he believed Jesus was the son of God or the Savior of the world, he just knew Jesus was an innocent man who was suffering an unjust fate as he hung on a cross.
Following Jesus so that we have an eternal life in heaven after we die is never an ongoing theme of Jesus. He mentions it and it is clearly important to us, but it was never really the reward or promise offered by Jesus to those who follow. And neither was the gift of a problem free life. Some people say, I follow Jesus because I want a pain free and problem free life. There are people who say that if we would just follow Jesus and put all our faith in him then we won’t suffer or face any problems. If we simply have enough faith God will solve our problems and remove all our pain. Many years ago a friend of mine from High School was going to a church that believed this and refused to acknowledge the faith and ministry of an amazing Christian woman named Joni Erickson Tada.
|Joni Erickson Tada|
If you don’t know Joni’s story, when she was 17 years old, Joni was injured in a diving accident which left her a quadriplegic. During her years of rehabilitation, Joni learned how to paint by holding a paint brush in her teeth and her amazing work has inspired and encouraged millions.
Joni has shared her story and her faith with millions of people around the world and been recognized globally for her work with disabilities. While we can look at her and see the amazing faith she has and be awed by the way God has used this woman during her life, there are those who don’t even see her as a true follower of Jesus because if she was then God would have removed her pain and solved her problems.
Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus say, follow me and I’ll make all your problems go away and remove all your pain. While he does heal people and solve some problems – the reward in following is not a pain free / problem free life, in fact, we are going to look at a passage today which tells us something completely different. To help us see what Jesus understood as the reward for following him we are going to look at a passage where Jesus speaks directly to his first followers.
In Matthew 10, Jesus sends his 12 disciples out to teach and preach and minister in his name and he gives them very clear instructions about what they should do, where they should go and what they should take with them. Near the end of his instructions Jesus says… Matthew 10:16-18.
Jesus is very clear that his followers are going to face problems. There will be controversy and conflict. It doesn’t say IF you will be arrested or IF you will be flogged but WHEN you are arrested and WHEN you will be flogged. This is what is coming for the disciples if they follow so the reward cannot be a perfect pain free or problem free life. So what is the reward? Why would they follow Jesus if this is what awaits them? Matthew 10:19-20.
The reward here is that when they go through difficult times God will give them strength and when they are in need of words to say, God will say it through them. Now you might be asking yourself; if God can speak through them during this difficult time then why won’t God keep them from this difficult time? God obviously knows the pain and problems are coming – Jesus said as much – but God doesn’t keep it away because that is not what God does. The reward in following Jesus isn’t that we don’t face problems its that God is with us through the problems. And if God is with us through the problems then we do not need to worry and we do not need to be afraid. Matthew 10:26, 28-31
If we will follow Jesus, he won’t lead us to a place without problems – the problems will be there, but he can lead us to a place where we can live without fear and that really is the payoff or the reward we get when we follow. If we follow we can face life without fear which means we can live more fully and abundantly and courageously. Living without fear means we can step out into the deep waters knowing that God will care for us – we might not succeed or even survive in this world – but we will be living life fully for God
What would you do in life and in faith if you believed completely that God was with you? Not what would we do if we knew we would succeed, but what would we do if we knew God was with us so we had no fear? Most of the things that I regret in my life aren’t things I have done but things I didn’t do because I was afraid. I was afraid to fail so I didn’t even try. I was afraid I would be ridiculed or laughed at or rejected so I never had the courage to step out and try it. My senior year our High School put on the musical Godspell. Back then I knew the entire score of that musical and today I still know most of the words to most of the songs and more than anything I wanted to audition, but I was afraid. I was afraid of being laughed at; I was afraid people would think I was being foolish and that I didn’t have a good enough voice so I never auditioned. I don’t know if I would have made the production, I may have failed, but I never even tried.
Following Jesus won’t mean all our dreams come true, it doesn’t mean will always be successful and it doesn’t mean we won’t face problems and pain, but if we will follow, Jesus will help us become fearless – even in the face of death. The payoff in following Jesus is a life without fear, a life free from worry because we know that God loves us and will care for us. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, Matthew 6:25-34.
So many of the things we worry about or are afraid of, Jesus can help us through if we will follow. Notice that the problems don’t go away, each day has enough trouble of its own – the troubles come, but when we follow the fear of those problem won’t hold us back. Let’s face it, our world is filled with pain and problems and our lives are filled with pain and problems and following Jesus won’t take those things away, but following Jesus will give us the courage to face them all and live life without fear.
Living without fear also gives us the courage to do things we otherwise thought would be impossible. The strength to overcome the limitations we face in life and to carry on through the obstacles we face comes when we follow and find the courage only God can give. The apostle Paul was a follower who really understood this. Paul’s life was not perfect and pain free – in fact, Paul faced problems that we will never face. Paul was arrested and flogged and dragged before Kings to give a testimony about Jesus (sound familiar) and in all those situations Paul wasn’t filled with fear – he was filled with faith. Paul was shipwrecked and imprisoned in Rome where he faced execution and though it all Paul never talks about fear but he talks about his faith and how he continues to follow Jesus. Paul’s fearless faith shines through in his letter to the Romans where he says, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him , who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
That Paul is talking about pain and problems here is made clear when he goes on to say, What shall separate us from the love of God? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? We could add to this list our own troubles and problems. Can disease or depression or divorce keep us from the love of God? Can failure in our business, failure in our finances or failure in our relationships keep us from the love of God? Can the problems and pain that we see in the world around us keep us from the love of God? No, Paul says… (Romans 8:37-39)
If we follow – the payoff is a life without fear because it is a life filled with the love of God and God’s perfect love casts out fear. If we follow, we will have the courage to step out into the future unafraid of our problems and even our failure because we know that God is with us and that God loves us and will see us through. Which brings us to our ice skates; you cannot be an ice skater if you are afraid to fall because every skater falls. Why do you think hockey players wear so much padding? Besides helping protect them in all the fights that seem to break out at hockey games, they wear pads because they fall down a lot. But figure skaters also fall down a lot and they don’t have the luxury of wearing any pads which in mind makes them fearless.
The most decorated skater in US history is Michelle Kwan. She was an amazing skater who dominated ladies figure skating for a decade winning 17 international skating medals and 9 US Championships. While many people remember Michelle as one of our most talented and skilled skaters of all time, what she will also be remembered for is placing second in 2 Olympics where she was favored to win. In 1998, Michelle was the US Champion and while she did well in both the short and long program, she was beaten by another American, Tara Lapinski. Four years later Michelle was again the US Champion and the heavy favorite to win the gold medal and during her long program, this happened. (link to video of Kwan’s full long program from 2002 Olympics)
You have to be fearless if you put on skates because you will fall, but that doesn’t mean you don’t step out and do it and the more you do it the more courage you have and the more confidence you feel and the more life you live. If we will follow Jesus we will be given courage and confidence so that it won’t matter if we fall or fail or even die because we know that as we step out into the world God is with us and God loves us and that is all that matters.
Now please understand that fearlessness doesn’t come the first day we step out to follow – it’s the end game. The reward of a lifetime of following Jesus is that we become less and less afraid of what happens in our lives and more and more confident of God’s love and presence and power. I am sure that the disciples were filled with fear that day Jesus sent them out to teach and preach and the truth is that they weren’t arrested, flogged and brought before rulers and kings to give a testimony of their lives. In time all of that happened, but it didn’t happen that day or during their first trip out to minister in Jesus name. The kind of courage they would need and the faith that would help them overcome their fear would develop day by day, week by week and year by year as they followed Jesus and the same is true for us. Living a fearless life is the reward and the payoff for taking small steps of faith today and tomorrow. So if we want to be fearless, if we want to live without regrets doing all that God has prepared for us in this world, then today we need to follow.
FOLLOW ~ Fearless
1. Finish this statement: I follow Jesus because __________.
2. Jesus says if we follow we can be fearless.
• What fears do you face in life?
• What fears do you have about following Jesus?
• What have you not done in life or faith because you were afraid?
3. What would you do today if you knew beyond any doubt that God was with you and that God loved you? (Remember that you may not be successful, but what would like to have the courage to try?)
4. How can Romans 8:28 and Romans 8:31-39 help you live without fear?
5. Following Jesus is like ice-skating; it calls for risk and courage and usually involves falling down. How can Jesus help you step out on the ice?
6. The Bible is full of passages that tell us to Fear Not. Read and reflect on the following passages:
• Monday – Genesis 15:1
• Tuesday – Deuteronomy 31:6-8
• Wednesday – 1 Chronicles 13
• Thursday – Isaiah 43:1-7
• Friday – John 14:25-27
• Saturday – Matthew 28:10
• Sunday – Revelation 2:10