Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Way Forward: Discipleship

(A sermon based on Luke 9:51-62 for Sunday, February 7, 2010. Note: this is the second in a series entitled "The Way Forward" and it is also a Communion meditation.)

The way forward for that part of the Body of Christ known as the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, Georgia involves, we have said, worshiping God, following Jesus, and being formed by Scripture.

Last Sunday we talked about worshiping God which I said comes first because everything that we are and do as the church is based on the realities that God is the ground and center of absolutely everything, including our lives. I also said that the three components of this vision go together; each one feeds into the other so that we are really doing all three at the same time if we are being serious about being the Church, if we are being serious about being the people of God.

Today we turn our attention to that component of the vision that says that we will follow Jesus; here we are talking about our discipleship. Again, it is clear that our discipleship involves our worship of God and our formation by Scripture; we are talking about a holistic approach. Still, let’s concentrate on discipleship for now.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower of Jesus. This is so basic that it must be stressed over and over and over: we are Christians, which means that we are followers of Christ Jesus; Jesus is our Lord and so everything about our lives is a part of our following of him.

Let’s try to answer two basic questions about following Jesus.

First, where is Jesus going? In our text we see that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” which is another way of saying that he was determined to go where his Father wanted him to go, that he was determined faithfully to live out the life that his Father wanted him to live out. That life was in every respect a sacrificial life; Jesus, Paul tells us in Philippians 2, emptied himself and took on the form of a servant and humbled himself even to the point of dying on the cross. Jesus was going to the cross. Jesus still goes to the cross.

So if we are going to follow him we are going to go the cross, too. After all, we have died with him and we have been raised to new life in him; we are actively participating in the crucified and resurrected life of Christ as we follow him. But let us be very clear about this: to follow Jesus is to take up our cross, it is to give up our life, it is to empty ourselves, it is, in other words, to put service and sacrifice, grace and love, above everything else.

So Jesus is going to the cross and to follow him is to follow him to the cross. Still, there is a sense in which Jesus is “on the way” and so are we. When someone told Jesus that he would follow Jesus wherever he went, Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, that would-be follower was going to have to accept the fact that to follow Jesus would mean some amount of incompleteness and uncertainty and mystery. The way of Jesus is a pilgrim way; to follow Jesus is to be on the way; to follow Jesus is to be always moving and always progressing but it also means to accept the fact that unexpected things may be around the next bend. How you view that reality makes all the difference: will you see it as frightening or will you see it as challenging and exciting?

Second, how do we follow Jesus? First, we follow Jesus by hearing and answering his call. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Will we?

Next, we follow Jesus by giving him our total commitment. In our text we see Jesus call two people to follow him who say they want to but whose actions indicate otherwise; their commitment, being less than total, is inadequate.

Please understand: it is not enough for us to say we want to follow Jesus; we need actually to give our lives over to following Jesus. I heard someone say this week that just saying words over and over doesn’t mean anything if we don’t do something about them. The example he used was the Pledge of Allegiance; it’s easy, he said, to mouth the words “with liberty and justice for all” if we don’t really care if everybody has liberty and justice. Similarly, it’s easy to say “I will follow Jesus” but really to do so requires total commitment.

Third, we follow Jesus by immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus. That is another reason that I am intent on having us follow the Christian year; to do so causes us to walk through the life of Jesus, from his incarnation to his resurrection, year after year after year. The effect will be that his life more and more becomes our life and our lives come more and more to reflect his life. That is what we want. As a part of that immersion we will soak ourselves in the words of Holy Scripture as well.

And so it is appropriate that we come today to the Table of the Lord, for the observance of the Lord’s Supper is one of the ways that we remind ourselves of who the Jesus is that we follow and of what it means to follow him. As he gave himself up out of obedience to his Father so we give ourselves up out of obedience to Jesus.

Come, let us follow Jesus to the cross.

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