Pastor Joe Wittwer
Not a Fan #5
Welcome to Easter at Life Center.
ILL: While Peggy Key was driving to church on Easter Sunday a couple years ago, she told her children the Easter story. “This is the day we celebrate Jesus coming back to life,” she said. Right away, her 3-year-old son, Kevin, piped up from the back seat, “Will He be in church today?”
Yes He will, Kevin.
“Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” Let’s try that again. I say, “Christ is risen!” and you say, “He is risen indeed!” “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”
That’s what we gather to celebrate each year at Easter. It’s not about Easter bunnies or eggs or even brunch—it’s about Jesus being raised from the dead! We’re celebrating the good news that Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, and appeared to many.
Jesus is alive. He is not just a figure in history; He is the Living Lord. And He calls us to follow Him. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Who does He call? Anyone! Today, we are talking about radical inclusive call of Jesus to follow. Anyone means everyone. Anyone means you.
“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
Fill in the tear off tab.
Introduction and offering: Jesus calls us to believe and to follow.
That’s not the end of those stories…
Jesus’ death wasn’t the end of His story either. They killed him and thought it was the end; but God raised Jesus from the dead! Some of us feel like our story is over. God is done with me. I’ve messed up too much. I’m damaged goods. It’s over. But there is more to your story. The God who raised Jesus from the dead can make anyone new. Anyone! Anyone means you!
For the last four weeks, we have been talking about the difference between being a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus. The talks have been based on this book, Not a Fan, by Kyle Idleman. We’ve seen that:
- Fans make a decision; followers make a commitment.
- Fans know about Him; followers know Him.
- For fans, Jesus is one among many; for followers, Jesus is their one and only.
- Fans follow the rules; followers follow Jesus.
So what does it look like to follow Jesus?
Today, we are starting the second half of the “Not a Fan” series. For the next four weeks, we are going to dissect one verse, Luke 9:23. In it, Jesus tells us what it means to follow Him.
Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Today, we’re going to start with the all-inclusive call of Jesus: “if anyone.” Anyone means everyone. Anyone means you!
Before I dive in, the ushers will come to receive today’s offering. Who can give in the offering? Anyone! If you are our guest today, please don’t feel like you have to give anything. If you are a member, an owner here at Life Center, thanks for your generosity!
The most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. Many of you can quote it from memory, but in case you can’t, we’re going to put it on the screen and read it together.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
It’s a great summary of the gospel, the good news that God loves us, and gave His Son to give eternal life to whoever believes in him. It’s good news—that’s why it shows up everywhere, including on Tim Tebow’s face! Someone said that it matched his stats—3 for 16. Ouch. But I’m a big Tim Tebow fan: “Go Jets!” You also see John 3:16 on signs at games like this one. I always feel kinda bad for the people sitting behind this guy. Here’s my favorite sign at a game: “The guy behind me can’t see!” And then, this guy got a little carried away with his John 3:16 sign and ended up getting tasered! John 3:16—great verse—you see it everywhere.
But you never see Luke 9:23 on a sign held up at a game, or painted on someone’s face. Why is that? Let’s read it again.
Luke 9:23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Why isn’t that held up at games? It’s not a very appealing advertisement for Christianity! We prefer “God loves you” to “take up your cross”. We prefer “just believe” to “follow me”. We prefer love and grace to follow and obey. But we need both. Both are in the Bible. Both are the words of Jesus. Both are true. If you try to believe without following, you are just a fan. We need both John 3:16 and Luke 9:23.
And did you notice something that they had in common? The inclusive call of Jesus.
John 3:16 whoever believes…
Luke 9:23 if anyone comes after me…
Whoever…anyone! The call to obey begins with this note of grace: anyone.
The Big Idea: Jesus’ call to follow is for anyone; anyone means you!
Let’s talk about that…
1. If anyone…
Jesus begins His call to follow with the words, “If anyone.” Who is Jesus calling? Anyone! Anyone is an inclusive term—it includes anyone. Anyone means everyone. Anyone means you. So many of us would automatically disqualify ourselves. Jesus wouldn’t want me:
- Not after what I’ve done.
- I’m not good enough.
- I’m not very religious.
- I’ve been divorced.
- I have doubts.
- I’m gay.
- I have nothing to offer.
- I’m addicted to porn.
The list could go on forever. Jesus calls, “If anyone…” and we think, “He must mean someone else, not me.” But anyone means you.
ILL: In the book, Not a Fan, Kyle tells a great story about a white couch—you know where this is going!
His wife DesiRae, bought a white love seat to with the white carpet in their house. They didn’t put the white carpet in; that was the choice of the childless couple that owned the house before them. DesiRae justified buying the couch because it was so cheap it would have been poor stewardship not to buy it. So they ended up with a white couch on the white carpet—and then laid down the law: no kids allowed in the “White Room”. But one day DesiRae discovered a secret someone had been hiding: she had flipped over one of the cushions and there was a big pink fingernail polish stain. She was not happy. After showing Kyle, and he insisted that he didn’t wear that shade of pink, they called in the girls. DesiRae had flipped the cushion stain down. When the interrogation began, Kyle reached to flip the cushion, and his middle daughter, Morgan, cracked. She turned and ran up the stairs to her room. (There’s more to the story…but you gotta wait for it.)
Do you have any stains you’re hiding? Have you done anything that you’d rather keep hidden—anything you’d rather others didn’t know about? I’ve got some stains…I’ll bet you do too. And many of us think that since Jesus knows about our stains, He wouldn’t want us. He has probably scratched us off His list. Anyone means…well, anyone but you.
But anyone means anyone. Anyone means you. And the best way to show you is to tell an anyone story—the story of Matthew.
2. An anyone story: Matthew
Let me read it to you from the Bible, then we’ll break it down.
Matthew 9:9–13 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew was a tax collector. In Jesus’ day, Israel was occupied by Rome. Roman soldiers were stationed everywhere. There was a Roman governor in Jerusalem. And the Romans collected taxes—lots of taxes to pay for all those soldiers and the governor and the roads and Caesar’s fun. Some of the taxes, like real estate taxes, the Romans collected themselves. But some taxes, they hired out to tax collectors, like Matthew. So Matthew was a Jewish man working for the Roman oppressors—he was a traitor. He was not only a traitor, he was a cheat—tax collectors were notorious for overcharging and keeping the extra. He was getting rich by fleecing his own countrymen. Finally, he was considered religiously unclean because of his contact with Gentiles. So he was booted out of the synagogue and the temple. Traitor, cheat, and religious outcast—he was a sinner with a capital S—he was one of the most hated men in town.
We know from the other gospels that Matthew had another name: Levi. We think this may have been his given name, and that he took Matthew as a Christian name. This happened: think of Simon who became Peter, or Saul who became Paul. If his parents named him Levi, it’s possible that they had hopes he would become a priest. Priests came from the tribe of Levi. Maybe Levi had grown up being groomed for priesthood, and for whatever reason, he didn’t make it. Maybe he flunked out of priest school. He didn’t make the cut, and instead of being a priest, he ended up a tax collector. Rather than making his parents proud, he was a major disappointment.
This is Matthew, the man sitting in the tax collectors booth—the last guy you think Jesus would call.
We have a lot in common with Matthew. Maybe you’re not getting rich cheating your neighbors or a traitor to your nation, but we’re all disappointments in some way. We’ve all said things or done things we regret; we’ve all got stains. The apostle Paul put it this way:
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Who has sinned? All of us. Who has fallen short? All of us. And no matter how hard we scrub the stain, it doesn’t come out.
I wonder if Matthew sat in his tax collectors booth and wondered what happened, how he ended up here? I wonder if he wished he could go back and start over and do things differently. But it was too late. The stains were set; they were never coming out. He was what he was: a hated traitor and cheat.
ILL: Back to the white couch. Just before Kyle flipped the cushion, Morgan turned and ran up to her room and hid. Kyle followed her and found her in her closet with her head buried in her knees, crying. Kyle got down beside her, wondering what she was expecting. Was she afraid that they would be angry? Yell at her? Wouldn’t love her?
They went downstairs together and Morgan told her mom and dad what happened. She let out the secret she had been keeping for months. She had spilled the fingernail polish, and then she tried to clean it up. She scrubbed and scrubbed, but the stain just got worse. Eventually, she flipped the cushion over to hide what she had done. She said she had felt sick to her stomach every time her parents were in that room. She was scared that they would find out. And then she asked a question that melted them. She looked up with her big brown eyes full of tears and asked, “Do you still love me?”
My guess is that Matthew no longer asked that question. Who loves a guy like Matthew? The answer: other tax collectors, other losers, other failures, other disappointments…but not God.
Then Jesus showed up at Matthew’s tollbooth and said, “Follow me.” It must have blown Matthew’s mind. No one expected a rabbi like Jesus to call a loser like Matthew—especially Matthew! There was no way he expected to be included.
In Jesus’ day, rabbis collected their disciples very carefully. Potential students would be quizzed on their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. They could be asked to recite an entire book of the Bible from memory. Or they could be asked questions like, “What is the number of times the name of the Lord appears in Leviticus chapter 11?” (Who knows the answer? It’s 3. Sorry, you wouldn’t make the cut.) The quality of the student reflected on the quality of the rabbi, so they set high standards and had a rigorous application process. Most applicants didn’t make the grade.
Jesus was different. Instead of taking applications, Jesus invited people to follow Him. Rather than being the one to turn others down, Jesus put Himself in the position to be turned down. A rabbi wouldn’t risk rejection; a rabbi did the rejecting. Not Jesus. He took the initiative and called people.
This was shocking enough, but whom He called was even more shocking. The religious leaders were offended when Jesus called Matthew. I’m sure the other disciples were too. “He’s a tax collector! He’s not just a sinner; he sins for a living! He’s a professional sinner!”
When Matthew saw Jesus coming, he expected rejection; instead he experienced acceptance and a call to follow. Anyone, it turned out, meant Matthew. Anyone means you.
ILL: Morgan asked, “Do you still love me?” DesiRae knelt down beside her on the floor, and she whispered, “Morgan, you could never make a stain big enough to keep me from loving you.” Kyle finishes the story:
I wish I could tell you that somehow we were able to get the stain out and make the couch white again … but that stain is still there. It will always be there. But a funny thing happened. Morgan started telling the story of the stained white couch. She likes to show people the stain and tell them what happened. Why? Because a stain that once represented shame and guilt and fear of rejection, now represents love, grace, and acceptance.
Do you know how we know that Matthew was a tax collector, that his friends were all tax collectors and outcasts? He told us himself. He brought us into the living room and showed us the stain on his couch, and told us the story of God’s grace and acceptance. Jesus included Matthew and it changed him forever. He became a trophy of God’s grace and couldn’t stop telling others the story.
In fact, what was the first thing Matthew did after Jesus called him? He threw a party and invited all his friends to meet Jesus! And who were Matthew’s friends? Other tax collectors and sinners! It was a whole room full of Rejects and Outcasts.
The religious leaders were deeply offended that Jesus hung out with these irreligious losers. They went to Jesus’ disciples and complained.
Matthew 9:11 “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
And I love what Jesus said.
Matthew 9:12-13 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Notice that last phrase: I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. I love that, because I qualify. I am sinner. How many of you are sinners?
ILL: A man invited a friend to Life Center. He said, “I couldn’t go. I’d feel like a turd in a fish bowl.” My friend said, “You’ll fit right in. Our church is full of turds!”
I’m one of those turds. I’m a sinner. I have stains that I think disqualify me. But Jesus says, “No. I came for people like you. I came for people with stains. I came for sinners. I came for anyone.” Anyone means anyone. Anyone means you.
They saw a room full of Rejects and Outcasts; Jesus saw a room full of Anyone’s. They saw religious rejects; Jesus saw people whom God loved and valued. They saw only the past; Jesus saw their future.
Matthew followed Jesus. We don’t think of him as a traitor who sold his soul to the Romans, or a man who got rich cheating his neighbors. We remember him as one of Jesus’ followers, the one who may have written the first book of the New Testament that bears his name. Tradition says that Matthew preached the gospel to the Jews for many years, and then in obedience to Jesus, took the gospel to the world, and died as a martyr in Ethiopia or Turkey. Had he stayed in his tollbooth, Matthew would have been forgotten. He followed Jesus and helped changed the world. A nobody, an anyone became a world changer.
If anyone would come after me… Jesus calls anyone to follow. Anyone meant Matthew. Anyone means you.
3. Your anyone story…
So what is your anyone story? Like Matthew, we’ve all got a past—some are more colorful than others, but we’ve all got stains. Jesus picks the most unlikely people to be His followers—like you…like me.
ILL: I was only 13 when Jesus called me. I hadn’t lived long enough to do anything too terrible, but I was headed full speed towards trouble. If you had asked my friends at school, I would have been voted “least likely to be a Christian.” I proudly told my friends I was an atheist—not because I had thought it through, but simply because if there was no God, I could do what I wanted. I was perched on the edge of disaster.
Then a buddy invited me to a youth rally at his church, and I went—reluctantly, but I went. Maybe some of you came here the same way—you were invited and you came reluctantly. That’s what I did too…and God ambushed me. I wasn’t looking for Him, but He was looking for me, and called me. The speaker that night talked about Jesus like he knew Him, like they were friends. And he was funny and filled with joy. When it was over, I walked home and made a decision. “God, I don’t know anything about You. I don’t even know if You are there. But if You are, I want what that guy has. So here I am.”
God heard my prayer, and He accepted me. Right away, my life started changing. In fact, the next week at school, my friends asked me, “What happened to you? You’re different.” I didn’t know how to explain it, so I said, “I’m religious now.” I almost choke on the words now, because I didn’t become religious, I became a follower of Jesus. I didn’t get religion, I got a relationship with Jesus—and a new life to boot!
I was no prize catch—just a 13 year-old punk going the wrong direction in a hurry. But Jesus called me and I followed Him. That’s my story; what’s yours? If anyone would come after me…and anyone meant me. Anyone means you.
So who is invited to follow Jesus? Anyone.
Young or old? Anyone.
Rich or poor? Anyone.
Single or married or divorced? Anyone.
Republican or Democrat? Anyone.
Gay or straight? Anyone.
Alcoholic or pothead? Anyone.
Addict or clean? Anyone
Religious or not? Anyone.
I wonder if you have had a moment like Morgan did, or like Matthew, when the cushion gets flipped, the stain gets revealed. You’re guilty; you know what you deserve. But instead you hear the gracious call of Jesus, “Follow me.” You think, “There must be a mistake. Doesn’t He know who I am? Doesn’t He know what I’ve done?”
Yes He does. That’s why He came and died on the cross and was buried and rose again on the third day. He did it to forgive us, to wash away our stains and make us clean. “If anyone would come after me…”
Anyone means anyone. Anyone means me. Anyone means you.
What is your anyone story? Take a look at this.
Invitation to follow Jesus
Each of these people has a story, a past with stains. Each of these people heard the call of Jesus to follow, and did—and their lives changed. The risen Jesus is calling you to follow. What’s your answer? Would you pray with me?
If you said yes to Jesus for the first time, here’s what I’d like you to do. We have a “Yes Packet” that we want to give you that will help you get started following Jesus. Remember that tear-off that we asked you to fill out earlier. Give us that tab with your contact information and we’ll give you at Yes Packet. They are available down front and at the doors. If you would like to talk with one of these folks, or our team or pray with someone, we’re available down front.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Go follow Him!