Jesus, Our Lord
As young children, many of us enjoyed playing the game, ‘Follow the Leader’. Of course, the game was always more fun when we got to be ‘the leader’. Being ‘the leader’ enabled us to unleash our creative imagination; being the leader allowed us to indulge in our preferences; being the leader compelled others to follow us.
Virtually every person I have ever encountered has preferred leading over following. Leading is not always being up front; leading is not always overtly directing others—many of us are not comfortable doing that. Leading, simply put, is setting a course and, by setting a course we gain a significant role in determining the outcome.
My favourite memories of playing on sports teams as a teenager are of those teams where I was the captain. Even more fun was being a quarterback in football, where I got to call the plays—I got to set the course for the entire offence. As a result, the actions and response of everyone on the field corresponded to the direction given by me in the huddle, or at the line of scrimmage. Being the team leader was indeed a great thrill.
As I stand here today, however, I am less comfortable with the designation of being regarded as ‘a leader’. While I realize that, on one level, there is no shirking this distinction, the reason for my discomfort has to do with what I find in the New Testament. What I find is that Jesus has not called me to be a leader—He has not called you to be leaders. Jesus has called you and I to be followers.
Try doing a word search in the New Testament. The word ‘lead’ is found in a few places, but never does it occur as an exhortation for Christians. The word ‘leader’ occurs 87 times in the Old Testament, but there is not a single New Testament reference to being a leader.
By contrast, the exhortations to follow are plenty. To Peter and Andrew, Jesus called out, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19). To Levi, sitting by his tax collection booth, Jesus gave the summons, “Follow Me” (Lk. 5:27). To all those who desire to bear the name Christian, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23).
Following then, is a key component of what it means to be a Christian. As followers of Jesus then, you might expect that a congregation of Christians would, in large measure, resemble the character of Jesus. But is this what we are finding? When groups within the church gather, and set ministry goals, is there a sense that these goals have been singularly birthed by a desire to follow the instructions of Jesus Christ?
I reckon that one of the most significant problems with contemporary Christianity is that many people are quite happy to call themselves Christians while having little, or no, thought of ever following Jesus. Many want the benefit of being a child of the King, but without any of the responsibilities.
It is not as if the contemporary church has altogether denied Jesus; it is not as if the contemporary church has done treacherous things. What we have done, rather, is we have adapted a view of Jesus that is pleasing to our tastes and preferences.
We relish the thought that Jesus is our friend as we sing, ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’. But, what we often fail to remember is that this is no ordinary friendship. Our friendship with Jesus does not make us equal partners with Him. We may be heirs to the eternal kingdom, but we are not on equal footing with the Lamb who sits upon the throne.
Jesus is our Lord; He is our Master, and as such, He commands us to follow Him.
What then, does it mean to follow Jesus? Luke, chapter 6, verse 47, is key in understanding what it means to follow Jesus.
First, we must come to Jesus. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to Me, and hears My words, and acts upon them” (Lk. 6:47) is like a man who builds his house upon a rock (6:48).
In other words, our first responsibility is to show up. Go to Christ; seek out the Great Physician, who says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
To the man with the withered hand, Jesus says, “Get up and come forward” (Lk. 6:8). To the children, held back by the disciples, Jesus says, “Permit the children to” what? “Come to Me” (Mk. 10:14). And, who can forget the summons of Jesus at the tomb of His dear friend, “Lazarus, come forth” (Jn. 11:43).
The fact that we are called to “come” in the first place, tells us that we are not where we should be. We may be, at the present time, quite happy and comfortable, but unless we are coming to Jesus, the end result is sure to displease us.
Secondly, we must listen to Jesus. When Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to Me, and hears My words”, He is not talking about whether His words are audible to us, but rather, He is referring to those who retain and respond to His words.
Remember what Jesus said to the crowd gathered at the temple, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn. 10:27).
In other words, it is not enough that we come, if we do not listen. Unfortunately, whether it be the Bible reading or the sermon, many in the church today listen to God’s Word the way that they listen to a flight attendant explain an aircraft’s safety features. I know this because I sat in a pew three Sundays ago, and the temptation to read the bulletin during the sermon was strong; the temptation to daydream and think about what’s for lunch can be overwhelming at times.
Listening—I mean really listening—is hard work. And it’s not always our capacity to listen that is the issue. Quite often, it is our willingness to listen that’s the problem. I better understand this as a father of a two year-old. As I continue to witness the growth of my daughter’s comprehension skills, I now see with greater clarity how she sometimes just flat out ignores my words of instruction.
This is hardly acceptable within a domestic setting, and so how much more is it unacceptable within a house of worship.
It is sometimes prayed, by the individual reading Scripture, ‘Lord, silence every voice but Thine own.’ That is a marvelous prayer. I don’t want you to leave here thinking, ‘I heard the voice of Bryn MacPhail say’—I want you to leave here singing, ‘I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say’!
We must come to Jesus; we must listen to Jesus; and thirdly, we must do what Jesus says. “Everyone who comes to Me, and hears My words, and acts upon them” (Lk. 6:47) is like a man who builds his house upon a rock (6:48).
We may come to Jesus, and we may listen to Jesus, but if we fall short of doing what Jesus says, we remain in grave danger. James, in his epistle, writes, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jas. 1:22).
In other words, ‘Walk the talk’. We must be careful to ‘Practice what we preach’. Making this very point, Soren Kierkegard once told a parable about a place called "Duckland":
It was Sunday morning in Duckland, and all the ducks dutifully came to church, waddling through the doors and down the aisle into their pews where they comfortably squatted.
When all were well settled, and the hymns were sung, the duck minister waddled to his pulpit, opened the Duck Bible and read: "Ducks! You have wings, and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the sky! Use your wings!"
It was a marvelous, elevating duck scripture, and thus all the ducks quacked their assent with a hearty "Amen!"
Following the Benediction, the ducks plopped down from their pews and waddled home.
The relation of this parable to the contemporary church is clear. For many churchgoers today, there is a discrepancy between profession and action. Too often, we shout our approval to a rousing sermon that tells us we can fly, only to rise from our pew to "waddle" home.
Have you ever considered what would happen if we actually did what Jesus commanded? If we come to Jesus, if we listen to Jesus, and if we do what Jesus says, what can we expect?
Jesus says that when we do these things we are like a person who builds their house “upon the rock” (6:48). Acting upon the words of Jesus helps us. Acting upon the words of Jesus protects us. This is what Jesus’ illustration teaches, “when a flood rose, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built” (6:48).
The “flood” and the “torrent” represent all those things that threaten to undo your faith and confidence in God. The “flood” may be a family crisis; it might be a serious illness; someone may be seeking to harm you, or your reputation—How are you going to survive?
You will survive only if your house has a proper foundation.
And the “foundation”, in this instance is acting upon the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this illustration, Jesus Himself is not the foundation—His Word is the foundation. Yes, He is the chief cornerstone (1Pet. 2:6); yes, He is ‘The Church’s One Foundation’, but the message of this illustration is different:
How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.
We will endure and persevere through every kind of hardship if our life is built on the words of Jesus Christ. If we are careful to follow Jesus, we will survive the storm.
What is our alternative? “But the one who has heard, and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house upon the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great” (6:49).
If we are not attentive to the words of Jesus, we only harm ourselves. If we are not heeding the words of Jesus, the floodwaters of life will eventually overwhelm us.
We are required to come to Jesus, to listen to Him, and to do what He says. Taken together, these three things constitute what it means to follow Jesus.
Jesus has not called you and I to be leaders for Him. He has commanded us to be followers.
How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. Amen.