Sunday, April 19, 2015

What I’ve Been Trying to Say: Follow Jesus!

(A sermon based on Mark 8:27-38 for April 19, 2015. Second in a series of my final three sermons as Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, GA)

“I have decided to follow Jesus.” How many times have we sung it? Hopefully every time we sing it we make a recommitment to follow Jesus. In fact, that’s a recommitment we need to make every day.

For the last six years I’ve been steadily encouraging us to follow Jesus. I believe that most of us want to do so; the question is how do we do it?

We follow Jesus by following Jesus. And we have to see Jesus and to see where Jesus is going if we are going to follow him; we have to keep our eyes on Jesus. There are several ways we can keep our eyes on him.

One is to pray regularly. Remember: the crucified and resurrected Jesus is present in you and with you. You have a personal relationship with him and that relationship can and should be developed and deepened. Jesus is not an object to be admired; he is a person to be known and loved.

Another is to study our Bibles and especially the four Gospels. God in God’s grace gave us four Gospels so that we could see Jesus from various angles and perspectives. As we follow Jesus in our reading of the Bible Jesus will lead us in our understanding of the Bible. A truly Christian reading of Scripture reads it always through the lens of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Another is to watch what is happening to the outcasts, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Because where they are, Jesus is.

We follow Jesus by opening our hearts up to him. We cannot follow Jesus in our own power and in our own ability. We can follow Jesus only with Jesus’ help and he is always there, ready to help us, ready to lead us, and ready to teach us.

Grace is utterly vital to our following of Jesus. Jesus accepts us just like we are and says “Come, follow me.” We could not follow Jesus if Jesus did not want to be followed. We can follow Jesus because he invites us to follow him. Jesus can and will have amazing influence on our lives if we will just let him.

We follow Jesus by dying to self. That is what it means for us to take up our cross and follow him. When Jesus said that we have to lose our lives to find them what he meant was that we have to move beyond the limited and limiting obsession with our own lives, with our own desires, with our own agendas, and with our own fears. That’s how Jesus lived his life and that’s how he calls us to live ours.

We follow Jesus by seeing and loving people like he does. We extend grace to them; we extend mercy to them, and we extend forgiveness to them. We follow Jesus by seeing people not as categories but as beloved children for whom Jesus went to the cross.

Think about what a difference it would make in us, in our church, and to our community if we really follow Jesus!

It’s very appropriate that we talk about following Jesus on Children’s Sunday. After all, it is through simple child-like faith that we trust in Jesus and commit our lives to following him. That’s why it’s so much harder for adults to make that commitment—we have developed too many layers of resistance caused by our efforts at self-reliance. To follow Jesus means to give ourselves over completely to him and that’s a child-like thing to do.

But we expect our children to grow up, don’t we? While we hope they retain such child-like qualities as a sense of wonder and that sense of trust, we also expect that they will grow and mature; we expect that they will learn to live as responsible adults in the real world.
We should expect the same kind of growth in our following of Jesus. To mature in our following of Jesus means a lot of things but surely at the top of the list is that we will think less and less of self and more and more of others; surely at the top of the list is that we will, as we continue to follow Jesus, move in the direction that he moved, namely, toward a place where it becomes clear that we are willing to give ourselves completely up for the sake of God and for the sake of others.

Why do I say that? I say that because to follow Jesus is to follow him all the way to the cross. It is more and more to give up our self-centeredness, our self-protectiveness, and our self-absorption and to turn our attention more and more to the needs of others and to turn our efforts more and more to helping those who need help.

And that’s what I’ve been trying to say …

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