Last week we were introduced to and began our series on becoming more than a fan, but a follower of Jesus. We talked about the difference between the two, on how a fan is closer to an admirer, willing to watch and listen from a distance, but not desiring or not willing to sacrifice, to pay the cost of discipleship. We began and ended with Nicodemus, and how at first he was a fan, desiring to see Jesus, to speak to him, but not willing to pay the cost in his life for doing so, so he sought Jesus at night where hopefully he wouldn’t be seen. That’s a fan. He at least seemed to become a follower however later in the gospel, after Jesus died he was present to offer him a burial, an action which was likely going to have certain ramifications for him. We talked about how being a follower means a willingness to follow Jesus wherever, no matter the cost. Today we take a look at another mark of a follower that is not shared by a fan, a willingness to follow Jesus not just wherever, but whenever.
I received a call to ministry when I was 13 years old, although I could possibly even argue it was before that as a young child I would wake my parents up telling them I think God spoke to me, and would always want to lead the children’s message as a child myself, but 13 I knew for sure, God was calling me. I was 25 when I finally entered ministry with my first official appointment. Now I know that’s not a lot of time, and not I am still one of the youngest pastor’s in our district, but let me tell you how and why a young man who was poised to go right into ministry after high school while he worked his way through seminary became a licensed local pastor with an associates degree, again, I’m not saying it’s inherently a bad thing, but here’s why it took as long as it did, I got very good at saying “not yet.” I got very good at making excuses, and while God was calling me all the while I was great at saying “But first let me.” I’ll go God, but first, let me get situated. First, let me get a good job, and I can do the whole pastor thing on the side. First let me make some money to get myself through.” I was a “would-be” follower as I like to call them. Most of that time I went to church, even helped with VBS and activities in the church, would preach on occasion, but I was still holding onto things, most importantly, the when. In Luke 9: 57-60 we hear of some people just like that. *Read Luke 9: 57-60. At least it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.
The beginning of that is what we talked about last week, wherever. A man says Jesus I will follow you anywhere and Jesus points to a piece of ground where he will be sleeping and says, what about there? Again asking to sacrifice comfort, to follow him fully. The other two have to do with when. Jesus tells him to follow him, and he says I will, but first…but first let me go and bury my father. Now that reasoning right there puts all of mine to shame, and certainly sounds reasonable doesn’t it? It’s worth noting here that this man was likely either asking for time for his father’s body to decompose, so he could bury the bones as was tradition, a process that typically took a year, or he was asking to wait until his father died, which could be who knows how long. What sounds and seems like a well-thought-out and reasonable request, is nothing more to Jesus than an excuse. The second one is similar. I will follow you, Jesus, I will go from a fan admiring from a distance to following you, to breathing the dust from your moving feet, but first…but first let me say farewell to those at my home. Once again, worth noting that a farewell would either have meant waiting for his parents to die so as to honor his responsibilities, and even if it were just a farewell, the Palestine Jews knew how to party, and a farewell would often be a week or more of celebration. Once more what sounds like such a reasonable request to us, is nothing more than an excuse to Jesus. It’s difficult, and not often a good idea to play the what-if game with scripture, but I tend to believe that even if those two men were asking for a day, even just a few hours, even just a few minutes, the response from Jesus would have been the same. “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” What Jesus tells these men is that the time is now, it’s not when you’re ready, it’s not when it’s comfortable or convenient for you, it’s not at a time where it’s not going to cost you anything, it’s here, and it’s now.
We are, well I guess I shouldn’t say everybody, but many of us, are exceedingly wonderful at procrastination, it’s as if it’s part of our nature, and trust me few are better at it than me. In high school and college when professors or teachers would tell me “This isn’t some paper you can just write the night before” I’d think to myself “we’ll see about that.” Reason number 327 for my not exactly outstanding GPA. We put things off, and for some, that includes Jesus. Some people think to themselves I’ll start going to church one day, but first, let me. Or I’ll stop doing this sin, I’ll start reading scripture, I’ll start praying more but first this or that. Kyle remarks in his book that we sometimes treat Jesus or following him like a diet or workout program. Tomorrow for sure I’ll start eating better. Tomorrow for sure, I’ll start working out. Inevitably what happens? Tomorrow never comes, does it? Or more accurately tomorrow comes, but nothing changes. For some that means they never find Jesus, for some of us it may mean we never begin that yearly bible reading we wanted to start, or we don’t start praying as often as we want to or say we are going to, the point is but first let me, or tomorrow I will, can be exactly what keeps us going from fan to follower.
Right now in our bible study, we started looking at the times Jesus said follow me, or invited someone to commune and walk with him, to be a follower. When Jesus is at the sea of Galilee he calls out to Simon and Andrew to follow him, and IMMEDIATELY they left everything behind and followed. Jesus calls Matthew away from his sinful but prosperous life as a tax collector, and there was no tomorrow, no “but first let me” he simply got up and followed. Time after time the difference between the people who choose to follow Jesus, and are left behind, is understanding that whenever means whenever, and whenever means now. Being a follower means a willingness, it means surrender, and that includes submitting our time, to his, it means not putting him off another day, it means no excuses, it means now.
At the time I write this, I can just about hear my toilet dripping water from the tank, a problem that has been going on for a few days now, talk about procrastination, but putting off fixing that leaking toilet is not a huge deal, waiting one more day isn’t entirely consequential, the worse that happens is the towel under it gets too full of water and the tile floor gets wet. But the things of more importance, like becoming a more dedicated follower and disciple are a little different, especially when we consider that tomorrow is not guaranteed, for us or for the world. The truth is tomorrow may never come. For those things we’ve been meaning to get to around the house, it’s not a huge deal, but just as we are to count the cost of following Jesus, we must count the cost of not following him, not dedicating ourselves to him fully, not surrendering all that we have and all that we are to him. What do we lose in the land of tomorrow as Kyle puts it in his book? What is lost? What costs are there every time someone puts off becoming a follower?
Hebrews 3:15 tells us “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Today if you hear him, act, today if he is calling you to follow, because tomorrow is too often too late, and for some tomorrow becomes never. Perhaps not the best example, but many of you are likely familiar with the classic Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.” What happens? Tomorrow never comes, does it? He’s stuck on repeat of the same day over and over, and each time is a new opportunity to do something different, to do something better, to win over the girl, to do some good. Each day he wakes up trying not to make the same mistakes he did his previous go-around. What would you do differently if you had yesterday all over again? I know a lot of people would go right for that lottery counter. What would happen if we lived in such a way, if we gave ourselves, our lives, over to Jesus every day so much so that there’s nothing we would change, nothing we would do differently? That’s what whenever means, it means living today, not tomorrow but today, to and for Jesus. It’s a somber thought perhaps, but if you died today, if tomorrow truly didn’t come, how would you feel about your relationship with Jesus? Or perhaps the more pressing question is, how would Jesus feel about your relationship with him?
I want to be clear in all of this, I’m not doubting you love Jesus, I’m not doubting your faith, but Jesus was clear in what he wanted from his followers. Even his closest disciples were challenged, questioned even and demanded into closer love and further commitment. I forget where but I read once that God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy, and that couldn’t be any truer. He’s pleased when people turn to him, he’s pleased and rejoices when we take steps closer to him, but he’s not satisfied with anything less than 100% of who we are and what we have. He wasn’t, he isn’t satisfied with excuses as to why today isn’t a good day to share our faith or surrender a secret sin, why right now isn’t a good time to be generous to someone in need, why today or this week isn’t a good time to become more active, to join a bible study, to commit to mission work. He isn’t satisfied with tomorrow, he wants you, and he wants you today. When we say and we commit to following Jesus, to being a disciple, we say we will follow him wherever, and whenever, and Jesus says how about now? What about today?
Those two men we heard from our scripture were willing to follow Jesus, but it had to be on their time, and in their terms, that’s a fan. To be a follower of Jesus means you don’t have any terms, you surrender your will to his, and your time to his. To be a follower and not a fan means that when God whispers in your ear, when God calls you which he does if you’re listening, you don’t say I will go, I will follow, I will pray more, I will devote myself fully, but first, let me…To be a follower means when God calls you, you say Here I am Lord, wherever, whenever, I’m ready now.
This week live and be led by the Spirit. God just may place something on your heart, and I urge you to do yourself and the world a favor, don’t put it off, don’t treat Jesus like a leaky toilet or a diet, because too much is at stake, more than a wet floor and a few extra pounds, souls and lives are at stake. See if we are going to call ourselves disciples of Jesus, if we are going to call ourselves followers, then we also call ourselves slaves to him, and to call ourselves slaves just as the disciples and apostles did, it means we surrender ourselves to him, his will, and his mission, which was in essence, saving the world. If we call ourselves slaves than we submit ourselves to the great commission that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, and the deadline is today. The deadline for all that Jesus is calling you to is not tomorrow, not when it’s comfortable, not when you’re ready, but now, because that’s what whenever means, and that’s what it means to follow. Amen.