March 11, 2012
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Not a Fan!
#1—Decision or commitment?
ILL: I have two beautiful daughters, both happily married with children. But what if I had grown nervous about their prospects, and tried to help them out? What if I had taken out ads in the paper, offering a big reward and lots of gifts to the men who married my daughters? What if I had put up billboards, and printed t-shirts, begging someone to take them?
Of course that’s not what happened. My daughters are the bomb, so I set the bar high. Potential suitors were subjected to background checks and lie detector tests; references were checked. Applications were filled out in triplicate and hidden cameras were installed. Machetes were displayed before dates. I wanted to know their intentions. I wanted those young men to know that I would give my life for my daughters, and if they wanted to marry them, they better be prepared to die too! (I mean die for my daughters.)
Sometimes we make the gospel sound like we’re selling Jesus. We try to make him sound so appealing, and it cheapens Him—like me putting up billboards asking men to date my daughter. Jesus never begged anyone to believe in Him; He commanded them to follow and set the bar high. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Introduction and offering:
Thanks Cliff for sharing your story with us. Cliff is not a fan. What’s that mean?
Last fall, I read this book, Not a Fan, by Kyle Idleman, and was so impressed by its message that I decided to share it with you. It contrasts being a fan of Jesus with being a follower of Jesus, and challenges us to be whole-hearted, full-on followers of Jesus. I love a good challenge! I love a book that pokes holes in my comfort zone and makes me squirm a little and take an honest look at myself. I believe that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And lots of us—including me (especially me)—are comfortable. Being a Christian means following Jesus, letting Him lead, letting Jesus interfere with your life. It is an end to business as usual; it’s a whole new life! So these next 8 weeks, Jesus is going to mess with your life!
I want to begin by asking you a question:
The Question: Are you a follower of Jesus?
Most of you, like me, are probably tempted to skip over that question. “Of course I’m a follower of Jesus!” And we can point to the evidence. (What is the first and most obvious evidence? Duh…)
I go to church. Here you are! (I like to remind people that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in your garage makes you a car.)
I was born a Christian. I was raised in a Christian family; my parents were Christians. (God doesn’t have any grandchildren.)
I’m an American, aren’t I? (Being born in America doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being born in a hospital makes you a doctor!)
I raised my hand once in church. I prayed a prayer to accept Jesus. (That’s a good start, but as we’ll today, it’s only the beginning, not the end.)
There’s more evidence:
On my Facebook page under “religious views”, it says “Christian” and even has a little cross decal.
I kissed dating good-bye.
I dogged Harry Potter, but I loved The Lord of the Rings.
Before I speak badly of anyone, I always say, “Bless their heart”.
I own several Bibles, I listen to Christian radio and I have a fish decal on my car!
I put money in the offering, volunteer in the nursery, never watch R-rated movies, and only drink wine coolers at parties.
Of course I’m a follower! I’m not doing all that for nothing!
But what if none of those are the real evidence of being a follower of Jesus? Maybe we need to let Jesus define what it means to be a follower. That’s what we hope to do in this series. We’re going to look at the gospels, the Jesus-story, and see what He says about it and let Him define what it means to be a follower, and not a fan. And here’s the deal: Jesus says some uncomfortable things, like this:
Matthew 7:21–23 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
That sounds like there are some people who think they are followers of Jesus but really aren’t! That sounds like some people are going to be surprised when they stand before Jesus. “Away from me; I never know you!” I’d rather not be one of those people—and I’ll bet you don’t want to be one either. So we’re going to ask the question, “Am I a follower of Jesus?” And we’re going to try to wrestle with it honestly, and try to follow Jesus.
We need to let Jesus define what it means to be a follower. It’s time for the DTR.
The DTR: let’s Define The Relationship.
Do you all know what the DTR is? At some point in every romantic relationship, a couple has the DTR talk: Define The Relationship. This is the official talk that takes place in a romantic relationship to determine the level of commitment.
ILL: My youngest son, Michael, is getting married this summer to Sara Johnson. I can remember when he came home and told us that he and Sara had the DTR. They decided that they were going to date and be exclusive—no more playing the field—now it was just “mano a womano”! They were committed to take their relationship to the next level and see where it would lead.
Let’s define the relationship. What is our level of commitment? Is it casual or committed? Are we going to be exclusive or not? This talk often strikes fear into the hearts of bold young men.
ILL: Kyle Idleman wrote, “One of my friends faked hyperventilating to get out of the DTR talk. By ‘one of my friends’, I mean me.”
So let’s imagine that you are sitting in a coffee shop and Jesus walks in—you can tell it is Him by the blue sash. He pulls up a chair next to you and says, “Let’s talk. We need to define the relationship.” He wants to know the level of your commitment. Is your relationship with Jesus exclusive? Is it a casual weekend thing, or has it moved beyond that? Are you a fan or a follower?
Jesus never used the word “fan”, so we’ll need to define this one. The dictionary defines a fan as “an enthusiastic admirer”. We all know what a fan is. A fan is someone who is in the stands screaming his brains out; he may not be wearing a shirt because he has painted his body with the team colors. Whenever the camera is on him, he holds up one finger and screams, “We’re number 1,” even when his team hasn’t won a game and mired in last place. He is an enthusiastic admirer, but he never gets in the game. He knows about the players and their stats, but he doesn’t really know any of the players. He has team logos on his car and game notifications on his phone, but he never breaks a sweat or takes a hard hit. Nothing is required of him. He makes no sacrifices. And when the team stops winning, he loses interest and goes elsewhere. That’s a fan.
Jesus has lots of fans. They know about Jesus, but don’t really know Him. They sit safely in the stands cheering, but know nothing of the pain and sacrifice of the field. But Jesus never called anyone to be a fan—it was never an option. Kyle writes:
The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them. (p. 25)
All the benefits, none of the costs—that’s a fan. Jesus never called anyone to be a fan; He calls us to follow. To see the difference between the two, we’re going to look at…
The Story of Nicodemus
John 3:1-11, 7:45-52, 19:38-42
The story of Nicodemus shows one man’s journey from fan to follower. The story begins in John 3. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, the strictest Jewish religious sect, and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, the most powerful Jewish group in Israel—kind of like Congress and the Supreme Court rolled into one. He is a wealthy and influential power broker, a mover and shaker. And he’s intrigued by Jesus. So he meets Jesus for coffee:
John 3:2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
What’s the first thing you notice? He came to Jesus at night. Why did he come at night? He could have come in the day. Jesus taught in public places; Nicodemus could have approached him in the temple, and I’m sure Jesus would have made time to talk with a VIP like Nic. But he came at night, when no one would see him, when he wouldn’t be criticized by his fellow Sanhedrin members, or questioned by his family and friends. He came at night so he wouldn’t risk his job or his reputation. No one would know. Being a secret admirer of Jesus would cost him nothing, but being a follower would cost him big time. It always does.
By coming at night, Nicodemus could be a fan of Jesus, but it wouldn’t disrupt his comfortable and established life. Fans are happy to follow Jesus as long as it doesn’t require any significant changes or have any negative implications. But there is no way to follow Jesus without him interfering with your life. Jesus will mess with your life! Following Jesus will cost you something. For Nicodemus, it could cost him his powerful position, the respect of his co-workers, his source of income, his friendships and even some family relationships. Following Jesus will cost you—it always does.
Has following Jesus cost you anything? I hope you’ll think about it and talk about this in your Life Groups this week. (Me?)
Nicodemus expresses his admiration for Jesus (you are from God, and God is with you), but Jesus ignores the cheering and goes straight to the issue: “You must be born again.” This would have been hard for Nicodemus to hear. He was a very religious man. As a boy, he had memorized the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. He had spent his adult life building a religious resume. And now Jesus tells him that his righteous acts won’t cut it, that he has to start over and be born into a whole new way of living. Jesus and religion are two different things. Nicodemus was very religious, but Jesus said he needed something very different. He needed to be born again—a new start, a new life, a new relationship with God. Don’t ever confuse religion with following Jesus. Jesus made sure Nicodemus didn’t.
Nicodemus believed some good things about Jesus, but he wasn’t ready to follow. He came at night; Jesus wanted him in the day too. He made a decision to believe, but not a commitment to follow.
Have you made a decision for Jesus or a commitment to Jesus? There is a difference. There shouldn’t be, but there is. Many people make a decision for Jesus without making a commitment to Jesus. Many fans have prayed a prayer, or raised their hand at the end of a sermon, or walked down front in church and made a decision to believe, but there was never a commitment to follow. Jesus didn’t offer such an option. The call to believe and the call to follow are inseparable. The decision to believe must also be a commitment to follow. Here’s…
The Big Idea: A decision to believe in Jesus without a commitment to follow produces a fan.
Some people call this “easy believism”—just believe in Jesus without any commitment or life-change. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “cheap grace”. A decision to believe without a commitment to follow produces a fan.
Let me illustrate the difference between a decision and a commitment.
ILL: Imagine going to a wedding and hearing the bride and groom repeat their vows. They promise to be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives. But a few weeks later you hear that the husband cheated on his wife on their honeymoon. You would think that those vows were just empty words, that they didn’t mean much. You would think that the husband made a decision to get married, but not a commitment to his wife.
When you make a decision to believe in Jesus, you are also making a commitment to follow Him. He leads and you follow. You do what He wants. He is the boss!
We are called to believe and to follow—both. It is not belief or following. It’s both. Jesus called for both, and the two are inextricably linked. You can’t believe without following; you can’t follow without believing. Our churches become fan factories when we separate believing and following, and people think they can make a decision to believe without a commitment to follow. But in the Bible, belief is more than just mental assent to a set of facts; it is full surrender to God. It is personal trust that leads to action.
ILL: Do you believe that planes can fly? So do I. I can stand in the airport all day long and say that I believe planes can fly—that’s giving mental assent to a fact. But when do I believe in the plane? When I get on board, and trust my life to the pilot and crew and mechanics and engineers who built it! Until then, my “belief” is just talk. But it becomes real when I get on the plane; then I’m committed.
ILL: This is a stool. I believe that it will hold me. But when do I really believe in the stool? When I sit on it. Then I’m trusting it to hold me—I’m committed. Until then, my “belief” is just talk.
In the Bible, to believe in God is to get on the plane, to sit on the stool. It is not just a decision that is mental assent—“Oh yeah, I believe in God.” It is to trust Him with your life! It is to commit everything to Him!
The Bible doesn’t separate the decision to believe and the commitment to follow. They are two sides of the same coin. On your outline, I gave you Scripture references for both. Jesus said, “believe in me” and “follow me.” These would be great to read on your own or in your Life Groups. I’ll just read one example of each:
Believe in me!
In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath. The Jewish religious leaders question the man, hoping to use him as a material witness to convict Jesus of breaking the Jewish law. Instead, the man tells them that he believes Jesus must be from God. (Sounds like Nicodemus!) This infuriates the religious leaders who throw the man out of the synagogue.
John 9:35–38 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Do you believe? “Yes Lord, I believe.” Jesus called people to believe in Him. Notice that the man worshiped Jesus! This wasn’t just mental assent. He got on the plane! He worshiped Jesus as his God. He trusted Jesus with his life.
Jesus began forming His team with this simple invitation.
Matthew 4:19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to come and follow. “Follow me.” In that moment, they had a decision to make. Yes or no. Follow or stay put. But the decision wasn’t just mental assent to a fact—will I believe this? The decision was a commitment. Will I get on the plane? Will I give Him my life? Will I follow?
You can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are. The commitment to follow means you are going to change; you are going to move. You are following Jesus. You are all in. Your life is not your own any more. You belong to Him now.
What do you notice as you look at the two lists of verses? Most of the verses about believing are in John, and most of the verses about following are in the other gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke—the Synoptic Gospels—which means “seeing together”. The Synoptics are very similar with each other and all very different from John.) John’s emphasis on “believe” and the Synoptics’ emphasis on “follow” are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin. They complement rather than contradict each other.
It’s not one or the other; it’s both. The decision to believe must be a commitment to follow, or you’re just a fan. Fans stand at the airport but don’t get on the plane. Fans believe in the stool but never sit on it. Fans decide to get married but aren’t committed to their spouses. Fans, like Nicodemus, believe nice things about Jesus, but they are unwilling to commit. Fans come at night.
Fans want the benefits without the cost. There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without committing.
I am not a fan! The decision to believe must be a commitment to follow.
We often give people a chance to make a decision to follow Jesus at the end of a service. We’ll do it again today. It’s an important first step. But I want you to understand that you’re not just making a decision to believe, but also a commitment to follow.
Let’s finish the story of Nicodemus…
The Story of Nicodemus…redux.
Nicodemus came at night; he was a fan. Fans are part-time Christians. They come to Jesus at night, but are on their own in the day. They come to Jesus on Sundays, but are on their own the rest of the week. Jesus wants you to follow all day, all week, 24/7. Did Nicodemus ever become more than a fan of Jesus?
Nicodemus shows up next in John 7. He is one of 72 men on the Sanhedrin. They are meeting to find a way to silence Jesus, and they have sent temple guards to arrest Jesus as He taught. But the guards returned empty handed and said, “We’ve never heard anyone like this!” The Pharisees scoff at them.
John 7:47–52 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
I wonder what is going on in Nicodemus’ mind right now? “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?” We know that Nicodemus believes that Jesus is from God. Will he speak up and say so? Would his belief translate into any kind of commitment? I’m sure he sat there hoping someone else would stand up for Jesus. I’m sure he’s thinking of what it is going to cost if he goes public with his faith. Then:
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”
Although Nicodemus stops short of saying what he believes, he does stand up for Jesus. He risks his career and reputation. This is no longer a private conversation with Jesus at night; he has allowed what he believes to interfere with his life, his work, his relationships and his financial future. In this moment, Nicodemus stops being just a fan, and starts the journey of following.
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
“Are you from Galilee too?” It was a sneer, a put-down designed to embarrass Nicodemus. Galilee, where Jesus was from, was the sticks.
ILL: Every place has its own version of the sticks. In Idaho, they tell Montana jokes. In Montana, they tell North Dakota jokes. In Seattle, they tell Spokane jokes. And in Spokane…we know that we don’t have to put anyone else down just because we live in paradise!
In Jerusalem, Galilee was the sticks—in Jerusalem, they made Galilee jokes. “If you are standing up for Jesus, you must be from the sticks too. Are you some uneducated idiot? Did you just fall off the back of the truck?” Nicodemus goes from fan to follower, and immediately, it costs him.
Has following Jesus cost you anything?
In John 7, Nicodemus takes his first tentative step as a follower. He stands up for Jesus in the face of hostility but without acknowledging that he believes. He still isn’t a full-on follower—he hasn’t come out 100% for Jesus. He still hasn’t quite got on the plane, but he bought a ticket.
Nicodemus shows up one more time; it is in John 19. Jesus has been crucified and declared dead. After a crucifixion, the Romans usually left the body for the wild animals; it was the final humiliation in a crucifixion. Would anyone risk giving Jesus’ body a proper burial, and so identifying himself with the condemned criminal on the cross? Yes. But it wasn’t who you would suspect. Two members of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both secret disciples of Jesus, now come out in the open! They remove Jesus’ body from the cross. Joseph brings a burial cloth, and Nicodemus brings 75 pounds of expensive spices (enough for a king, by the way), and together they wrap Jesus’ body in the burial cloth with the spices. Then they put Jesus in Joseph’s own tomb. Nicodemus’ action cost him money—lots of money. But it cost much more than money, because now there was no hiding his allegiance to Jesus. Within minutes of their action, the authorities knew who buried Jesus and where. Nicodemus was on the plane!
He has moved past words of belief expressed in the cover of night. He is not longer just a fan; he is a follower. He is all in. And I’m fascinated that it took the death of Jesus to finally bring Nicodemus around. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw all men to me.” John 12:32. There is something magnetic about the love of Jesus—a love that led Him to die in our place. I wonder when Jesus was on the cross, if He saw Nicodemus and their eyes locked. “This is for you. You must be born again. I’m doing this so you can, my friend.” I don’t know that happened, but I wonder if it did, because it was after Jesus’ death that Nicodemus went public as a follower of Christ.
This is the last mention of Nicodemus in Scripture. Christian tradition says that he was martyred as a follower of Jesus later in the first century. From fan to follower. From a decision to believe to a commitment to follow.
The Question: Have you made a decision for Jesus or a commitment to Jesus?