SERMON: The Days After
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 4:18-22
DATE: October 20, 2013
I really heard Jesus call to follow Him for the first time on a hot night in the summer right after I graduated from High School. It would be the first of many times that I have given my life to Christ. Or I guess more accurately, gave portions of my life to Christ. And I remember thinking this is going to make all the difference. It will transform troubled relationships. It will ease the anxiety I was feeling about leaving home for college. It would clear up all of the questions that I had about where I was headed in the future. The Bible promised a new person, and that is what I would be. Overnight I would be transformed. But then I woke up, the day after. and things didn’t seem to be all that different. Everyday living intruded upon the euphoria of the night before. And I didn’t really know what to do with this new found faith. In the almost 40 years since then, I have experienced those same kind of feelings on numerous occasions, as I have “recommitted” a life that had strayed, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There have been a lot of high moments, mountaintop experiences. But for every mountaintop experience there has been a “day after” and I have been confronted once again with the question of what I will do with this new found or refound faith. It’s the days after I think that determine what kind of people we will be: Christians, disciples, on fire for God, or wandering prodigals that every once in a while are able to approach once more the Father’s house. It’s in the days after that we seek to answer the question of the day: Are we a fan or a follower?
The days after are often hard, aren’t they? They are often filled with doubts and confusion and anxiety. The excitement of the mountain top has passed and our humanity remains. For instance, we start a new job. The first day is one of excitement and promise, everyone is so nice and helpful. But then comes the “days after”, and you’re on your own. There are decisions that you’re counted on to make. Tasks that need to be done. Deadlines to meet. And the doubts and fears begin to creep in and before you know it you are far removed from the excitement of the first day, and you are confronted with the glaring uncertainty of the day after. Have you ever experienced that? It’s true in personal relationships too. When the excitement of the initial commitment passes and we are confronted with the “days after.” And suddenly love becomes hard work. You see, it is in the “days after” that marriages can fail, and children can be neglected, and relationships become so different then what we had believed they would be. The kind of love that takes us to the mountaintop can be very different than love that sustains us through the deep valleys. But it is not the mountaintop experiences that truly define our lives, it is how we handle the “days after” which determine who we are and who we will be and where we will go.
In our scripture from Acts, we pick up the story of the church on “the day after”. The day of Pentecost was that mountaintop experience. The wind of the Spirit swept down on the Apostles, just as it swept down on me on that hot summer night, and suddenly everything that Jesus had said and promised and done, began to make sense. Everything I had been taught in Sunday School and heard in worship growing up came to life. And so it was for the Apostles. Here was the Spirit that He had promised. The comforter, the advocate, the counselor. And on that mountaintop many miraculous things took place. Finally they thought. This is what he called us for. We can preach, we can heal, things are going to be different. It was a day like no other days. I suspect that most of us have had days like that. But for the apostles there inevitably came “the day after.” When the crowds had gone home. And the realization was that Jesus was still not physically with them any longer. And in the Romans eyes they were still wanted men. And that many of the Jewish leaders still feared (even hated) them. And that the world remained a dangerous place for them. You see, we regard the day of Pentecost as the birth of the church, it’s the mountaintop, but I think the church was really born in “the days after” Pentecost. Because it was in those days that the disciples decided to come off of the mountaintop, emerge from behind the locked doors of the Upper Room, put aside their nets once and for all, and do what Christ had called them to do in the first place: follow Him. They decided to follow the lead of the Spirit and because of that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” On the day after they decided, at long last, to do what Jesus had called them to do on the shores of that long ago lake: follow him. Max Lucado, in his book, Six Hours One Friday, describes the day after this way:
A transformed group stood beside a transformed Peter as he announced.. “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”
No timidity in his words. No reluctance. About three thousand people believed his message.
The apostles sparked a movement. The people became followers of the death conqueror. They couldn’t hear enough or say enough about Him.. Christ was their model, their message.
What unlocked the doors of the apostles’ hearts? Simple. They saw Jesus. They encountered the Christ. A lot of things would happen to them over the next few decades. Many nights would be spent away from home. Hunger would gnaw at their bellies. Rain would soak their skin. Shipwrecks, lashings, martyrdom. But there was a scene in the repertoire of their memories that caused them to never look back: the betrayed coming back to find His betrayers; not to scourge them, but to send them. Not to criticize them for forgetting, but to commission them to remember. Remember that He who was dead is alive and they who were guilty have been forgiven.
On the day after, they decided to follow. They decided to stop talking about Jesus and start acting like Him. To keep their eyes on the one who had long before called them, and who they had followed then even though they didn’t know where or why. And now on the “day after” they decided to keep following. In spite of their fears. In spite of their doubts. In spite of their guilt. They decided for the church to move forward they had to stop just watching as fans and get in the game. On the “day after” the Disciples decided to be followers.
On our own day of Pentecost, when the Spirit sweeps into our very souls, Jesus calls us to follow. But it is on the “day after” that the real decisions are made. You see, I have found that it is easy on the mountaintop, to say “Lord take my life”. To wear the fan clothes and the cheeseheads. I have had those experiences. But the mark of being a follower comes on “the day after”, in trying to live a life where Jesus is Lord and my eyes are fixed always on Him. I think the problem is that fans, even those in the church, never really move beyond the Pentecost like experience. Too often our life of faith becomes a series of mountaintop experiences. We go from one big game to the next. And many never learn how to keep their eyes focused on the Spirit in the distractions and obstructions of the valleys. According to writer Joseph Stowell,
its “not surprising that Christ would call us to follow him. Followership is the (essential) call of authentic Christianity.”
So how do we know if we are following Christ and not something else, or nothing else at all. How do we know if we’re a follower and not just a fan? Well, the scriptures give us several “marks” of being a follower of Christ.
First, being a follower makes us one with other followers. Following Christ turns our diversity into unity. Few groups could have been more diverse then the men Jesus chose to be His disciples. There was Peter, impetuous and boisterous, always quick to speak, often without thinking about what he was going to say. And then there was Andrew, his brother. So very quiet. We hear very little of Andrew. Then there’s John. Gentle and thoughtful. John never spoke without knowing exactly what it was he was going to say, without reasoning it out. He was just the opposite of Peter. Several of them were fishermen. And then there was Matthew, the tax collector. Hated by the Jews because he was seen as an arm of the Roman occupiers. Even the other apostles had a hard time accepting him. The opposite of Matthew was Judas Iscariot, the Zealot, a Jewish loyalist dedicated to ridding Israel of the tax collectors and the Roman occupiers. It was a volatile mix. And yet in following Jesus, their diversity became a oneness, united in their desire and purpose, to be followers of Christ. In the days before Pentecost, their diversity threatened to destroy them and the church that Christ commissioned, but in the days after Pentecost we watch as eleven of them move together with their eyes focused on one thing – Jesus Christ. I love the analogy that Max Lucado uses to describe this process when he writes:
When I was in High School, our family used to fish every year during spring break. One year my brother and my mom couldn‘t go, so my dad let me invite my friend Mark. We arrived (at the lake) late at night, unfolded the camper, and went to bed – dreaming of tomorrow ‘s day in the sun. But during the night, it got cold fast! The wind was so strong that we could barely open the camper door the next morning. The sky was gray. The lake was a mountain range of white topped waves. There was no way we could fish in that weather.
“No problem,” we said. “We’ll spend the day in the camper. After all, we have monopoly. We have Reader’s Digest. We all know a few jokes. It’s not what we came to do, but we’ll make the best of it and fish tomorrow.” (But) The next morning it wasn ‘t the wind that made the door hard to open, it was the ice. It was another long day and a long, cold night.
When we woke the next morning to the sound of sleet slapping the canvas, we didn ‘t even pretend to be cheerful. Mark became more of a jerk with each passing moment; I wondered what spell of ignorance I must have been in when I invited him. Dad couldn’t do anything right; I wondered how someone so irritable could have such an even-tempered son.
The next day was even colder. “We’re going home” were my father’s first words. No one objected.
I learned a hard lesson that week. Not about fishing, but about people. When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight. But note the other side of this fish tale: when those who are called to fish, fish – they flourish.
There is great diversity in the body of Christ. Look around right now. We are of diverse ages. We come from diverse backgrounds. There is great diversity in our economic status. Some of you have lived in Lexington all your lives, some just moved here recently. We have brothers and sisters in our church family who are from all over the world. And we come with a variety of gifts. Some are teachers, some are leaders, some are healers and workers of miracles, some are prayer warriors, some are prophets. And sometimes in the church we struggle to embrace such diversity. But following Christ transforms our diversity into unity. With our eyes fixed on Christ we move beyond our diversity, put aside our differences, and follow Him. We are called to fish for people and when “those who are called to fish, fish – they flourish.”
And then there is a second mark of followers which emerges from Matthew’s writings. Followers are “netless” people. Followers let go of their nets, to follow Christ. And so what are our nets. Well one writer defines a net as “anything in our lives which inhibits or prohibits our commitment to follow Him.” What are the nets in your lives? Scripture names the obvious ones. Lustful pursuits, greed, ambition at any cost. Sinful lifestyles. We know what they can do. But sometimes our nets aren’t so obvious. Sometimes they lead us to make choices that we know are not right. They divert our eyes from the things of the Spirit. Maybe your nets are the plans you have for your life. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I came out of college and headed for law school. And I said “Lord use my life as long as you use me as a lawyer.” But that’s not where He wanted to lead me. And I had a hard time letting go of that net. In commenting on the passage from Matthew, one writer says:
It’s a matter of outcomes. What do you want your life to be like when it’s over, when you step on the threshold and look in the rearview mirror? Imagine if Peter, Andrew, James, and John would have clung to their nets and stayed on their boats. They would have looked back over their lives and would have seen piles of slippery, slimy, scaly, smelly fish. That would have been their lives. But they dropped their nets, and they left their boats. (The Disciples) followed Christ, and they looked in the rearview mirror: it’s a world that’s been impacted for eternity. They crossed the threshold and were welcomed home by people who have been rescued – because they left their nets.
When we put aside our nets and follow Christ, our lives and the lives of many others, are enriched for eternity. In our Not A Fan Study, the writer talks about Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in the night. When he first came Nicodemus wanted desperately to hold on to his nets of prestige and authority and respect among the elders of the Jews. He brings to mind those fans of teams that are perennially losers and so they prefer to remain anonymous and wear paper bags over their heads during the games. Nicodemus wanted to be an anonymous fan. Of course, there did come that time when Nicodemus was willing to let go of his nets and be a follower for all to see.
So followers are united in following, and followers are netless people.
And then followers are cross bearers. Jesus himself says to the disciples that they must be willing to take up their cross and what? – follow Him. And that invokes in us the scene at Calvary, the horrible pain of crucifixion. As followers, are we willing to endure that? When confronted with that kind of torture, how many of us would be able to keep our eyes on God? Well, I’m going to be honest with you, I find the directive to take up our cross and follow to be most confusing. Because I believe that Christ endured death on the Cross for me, so that I would not have to experience that. I believe He took up my Cross for me. And He took up your Cross for you. The Cross is a terminal destination. So what does it mean to take up our cross and follow. I think to understand that we have to go beyond Calvary. I think the understanding of our Cross is found in Paul’s words to the Philippians when he writes: “Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” You see, Jesus’ Cross culminated on Calvary but it began when He chose to give up His glory in heaven and come to earth. To humble Himself. To submit Himself. And finally to sacrifice Himself. And it came to completion in the “days after” when He came out of the tomb and stood among them and again invited them to follow. You see, I think that when Jesus says “take up your cross and follow me”, He did not intend for us to follow Him to Calvary. He intended for us to follow Him from Calvary. I am confident in saying that not one of us here will be crucified for Christ. But if we are going to be a follower and not just a fan, we must take up the cross of humility. And we must take up the cross of obedience. And we must be willing to die to the so-called glories of this world. James Stowell goes on to say:
So what does this mean to be a cross-bearer? It means that in my life I will have a willing predisposition to the inevitability of some discomfort as a result of being a follower of Christ. Maybe the discomfort of displacement – displaced in the marketpIace, geographically, in my social circles. . . Christ went through a phenomenal displacement for us, left heaven, was homeless for 33 years. When we follow him, there wiII be measures of discomfort. Maybe its the discomfort of being perceived as radical. In a pluralistic, tolerant world it’s tough to say, “Christ is the Way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by Him.” When the going gets tough only the followers continue on the path.
Followers take up their cross and never let it go. Followers are willing to lay down their lives, no matter what that might look like. Just as Christ’s cross culminated at Calvary, in a very real sense, ours begin there, as we follow Christ beyond death into life. And where does He lead. He leads us to glory. Paul continues in Philippians, “Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” For those who follow, Christ leads to eternal glory, beyond the crosses of this world. Beyond the death of this world. To life lived eternally in the glory of almighty God. Followers become instruments of that glory on earth, and recipients of that Glory for all eternity.
Isaac Watts wrote in one of his great hymns: “Am I a soldier of the Cross, a follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause or blush to speak his name. Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is the vile world a friend of grace to help me unto God? Sure I must fight if I would reign. Increase my courage, Lord. I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.”
In other words: Fans cheer. Followers serve. Fans climb the mountain tops. Followers descend into the valleys. Fans grab on to the band wagon. Followers let go. Fans often fade away. Here one day (as long as the team is winning) but gone the next. Followers persevere. They are there forever. Followers embrace the Christ and one another. Let go of their nets. Take up their crosses. And march boldly into “the days after”. For fans fame can be fleeting but eternal glory waits for those who follow. So what about you: Are you a fan or a follower?