03-01-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
Matt 7:13 [Jesus said] 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
We’re wrapping up a series of messages about the narrow road that Jesus calls us to—a difficult way that requires commitment and sacrifice. For the last few weeks, however, we’ve been seeing how the “narrow road” is really a better way. And if it’s a better way, then it’s not for us alone! Jesus wants us to bring others along with us!
So one day along comes Jesus. And Jesus sees some people, and he says, “Follow me.”
Remember the old children’s game, Follow the Leader? What’s the goal of that game? How do you win it? One designated leader out in front goes around the playground or through the Kindergarten room, and everybody else has to follow. If the leader crawls under a table, they all crawl under a table. If the leader skips around the sandbox, they all skip around the sandbox. If the leader hops through the coatroom, they all hop through the coatroom. Everyone who follows the leader is a winner. You don’t win by being the best at crawling or skipping or hopping. You win by following the leader.
Read John 4:4-36 (from New Living Translation)
Jesus invited some fishermen to follow him, and they left their nets behind—and they followed him. He invited a tax collector to follow him—and he left his money table and followed. Jesus invited all sorts of people to come and follow him—and they left their old life behind in order to follow Jesus.
Jesus invites you to follow him. He wants to be your Leader.
But I have to tell you, to follow Jesus is not automatic. He’s going to lead you on a narrow way. It’s not going to like it was in Kindergarten. Following Jesus requires more than a hop, a skip, and a jump.
To follow Jesus…
First, you’ll need to leave some things behind.
You can’t follow Jesus if you’re following something else.
You can’t serve Jesus if you’re serving something else.
You can’t depend on Jesus if you’re depending on something else.
That’s why James and John left their nets to follow Jesus. Their priorities needed to be rearranged. That’s why Matthew left the money table in his tax office to follow Jesus. He needed to depend on Jesus instead of his wits, his skills, his job, or his associates.
Jesus doesn’t necessarily require you to change careers in order to follow him—though he might. Jesus simply asks you to depend on him instead of anything else. He asks you to serve him instead of something else.
One guy came to Jesus. He was wealthy and influential. He said, “I’ve worked really hard to do all the right things. I’ve kept all the commandments. I’ve followed all the rules. What more do I need to do in order to inherit eternal life?”
And Jesus said to him, “You’re missing one thing. Go sell everything you have, give it all away to the poor, and then come follow me.” Jesus wasn’t providing a formula to get to heaven. He was saying there may be things in our lives that hinder us—things we need to let go of before we can follow him.
I don’t think the man was really looking for advice. He was looking for affirmation. In fact, he probably thought he already had it made. In those days, people thought if you were well off, it was because you were being rewarded for all your good deeds. And if you were poor or disadvantaged in any way, it was because God was probably punishing you.
But Jesus could see through all this guy’s smugness and pride. Jesus put his finger on the one area of the man’s life that most defined him—the one thing he would need to surrender in order to follow Jesus: his success—including his possessions, his influence, and his pride.
You’re probably not like that man. But there are things, different things, that we all need to leave behind if we’re going to follow Jesus.
But it’s also important to remember! You won’t miss the things you leave behind—especially some things! Like your troubles, your failures, your pain.
People came to Jesus carrying all kinds of baggage. Some were carrying heavy burdens—weighed down with worries and cares. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)
Jesus says, “Follow me, but let go of your burdens so you can follow me. Put them down. It’s too much for you to carry. Let me take care of them for you.”
Others needed to leave behind their sickness and disease, so Jesus healed them.
Others needed to leave behind their past. Things that made them feel like failures—sinful behavior that caused others to avoid them. Their unsavory reputations cause others to ostracize from society. They were shunned by “decent,” upstanding citizens.
Like the woman Jesus met at the well…the woman who had bounced from one man to another—at least six different men. “Proper” people despised her so much that she couldn’t even go for water at the village well when all the other women gathered there.
But when she met Jesus, she was able to leave her past behind—so much so that she dared go back to the village and say to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.”
Jesus invited them all to follow him—the “untouchables” of society, the lepers forced to live outside the community, the tax collectors hated for collaborating with Rome, the woman whose bleeding made her “unclean” in the eyes of others, Mary Magdalene who had seven demons. Jesus called them all.
Jesus called each of them to leave their past behind, to put down their baggage, to follow him.
Second, you’ll need to take a different path.
You can’t follow Jesus and still go your own way.
You can’t follow Jesus if you insist on leading the way.
Everyone wins if they follow the leader. But if one kid decides he’s going through the sandbox instead of following the leader around it or if he climbs over the table instead of following the leader who crawls under it—well that kid isn’t following the leader. That means he loses.
And we lose when we go our way instead of following Jesus on his way.
Some Christians aren’t following Jesus. They’re trying to lead him. They want Jesus to follow them wherever they lead! They want Jesus to bless them, to help them succeed, to protect them. But they don’t want to know where Jesus wants to lead them.
They’re not willing to take a different path in order to go his way. They want to keep going their way.
The word we use to describe changing direction is “repent.” It’s an old word, I know. But it’s very relevant for people today. It’s when we regret something so much, when we are so sorry for something that we are compelled to make it right. We return what we stole; we fix what we broke; we make a wrong right; we change our behavior…we go a different way.
To repent means we don’t keep going the same way. We turn a corner. We walk a different path.
Maybe we were cruising down the freeway, on a road we chose, and we realize we’re on a road that leads to destruction. We realize we’re going “nowhere” fast.
To repent means we take the exit ramp. We get off the wrong way so we can take the right road.
Mickey Cohen was a well-known gangster during prohibition and after. He served multiple sentences in prison for a variety of crimes. In 1957, Time magazine wrote about him meeting Billy Graham—that he actually may have had a change of heart. But Mickey didn’t change his lifestyle, and some Christian acquaintances challenged him about that lack of change. He said, “Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians; why not a Christian gangster?”
How many people today want to “follow” Jesus, but they don’t want him to lead. They want to set the agenda. They want him to bless their way. They want him to give them success doing their own thing.
They’re not interested in changing their ways. They’re not interested in taking the exit off the broad way. They want Jesus—but they want him on their terms.
But the reality is: if you want to follow Jesus, you must take a different path. You’ve got to get off your way and follow him on his way. You must repent.
Third, you’ll need to see things differently.
You can’t follow Jesus if you can’t see where he’s going—if you can’t see what he’s doing.
You can’t follow Jesus if you can’t see things as he sees them.
Do you know what Bata is? Neither did I, but you’ll find signs like this one in Kenya (I think it is). In tiny villages and markets in Africa, you’ll see Bata signs. It’s the name of a shoe company.
I don’t know if the story is true or not, but legend has it that just as Africa was opening up to western markets at the end of the 19th century, shoe manufacturers in Europe sent representatives to Africa to see about the possibilities of selling shoes there. All came back with a similar answer: “Nobody in Africa wears shoes, so there’s no market for us there.”
All except for one—a man who worked for the Bata shoe company in what is now the Czech Republic. He saw what all the others saw, but he also saw something more. He said: “Nobody in Africa wears shoes, so there is a huge market for us there!” And that’s why you see signs like this all over in Africa, even in remote places. It’s why Bata shoes are known as “the shoes of Africa.”
So how do you see things? Do you see things as Jesus sees them? Can you see with Jesus’ eyes?
Jesus’ disciples came back from town and saw Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman, and they were more than a little surprised. Why was he, a Jew, talking to a Samaritan? Why was he, a man, talking to a woman? But they didn’t dare ask him why he was violating all the social rules and ignoring conventional etiquette.
I think Jesus saw their expressions, though, and he challenged their thinking. He said, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘Four months until harvest’? I’m telling you, open your eyes and look at the harvest fields! They’re already ripe for the picking!”
He saw what they couldn’t see. They saw a despised Samaritan woman of questionable character. He saw someone who needed living water. Someone who needed hope.
“Open your eyes,” Jesus told them. And he says the same thing to us today. He wants us to see the world as he sees them.
We hear the word “Muslim,” and we think terrorism…evil…anti-Christ… But when Jesus sees the Muslim world, he sees more than 1½ billion people who need to know God and receive eternal life.
But there are others we also need to see differently. It could be a neighbor or a co-worker. We might see an angry man or a cantankerous woman. We might see someone strung out on drugs. Or someone abusing the welfare system. We might see crowds of people in all sorts of ways. We might be angry or impatient or upset or even afraid of them, but Jesus sees them and feels compassion for them.
Matt 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Can we see with the eyes of Jesus? Can we have compassion for people who are harassed and helpless—like sheep without a shepherd?
Fourth, you’ll need to bring some things with you.
We said before you’ll need to leave some things behind. But there are other things you’ll need to bring with you if you want to follow Jesus.
I’m talking about people.
God wants us to bring other people along with us. God has us here for a reason. This church has a purpose. Together, you and I are to make a difference in the lives of others.
He wants us to see people as he sees them
—so we can help them see God as we see God.
He wants us to bring people—harassed and helpless, troubled and burdened, addicted and broken—he wants us to bring people along with us on the way.
Whatever you tell people about your church, be sure to tell them that we’re here to help them take the next step on their journey with Christ. We want them to follow Jesus.
As we follow Jesus—as we journey with Christ—we need to bring others with us.
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
If you’re following Jesus—if he is your Leader—then you are sent just as he was sent. If you’re following Jesus, then you’ll see people as he sees people.
Is that what you want? To stop going your own way? To turn a corner? To see people differently? To see with the eyes of God?