This morning in our bible study in Luke’s gospel we cover Luke 17:31-18:14.
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This is the sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany. The sermon text is: Mark 1:14-20. The sermon theme is: Would You Follow Your Leader?
Would You Follow Your Leader?
What is good leadership? Being a pastor means being a leader. Sure, it means being a servant-minded leader. But a pastor is still a leader. And I remember years ago, when I was at the seminary one of the professors taught us what that looked like. If there’s a pack of people and you are behind that pack, there’s a name for that. They call those people followers. And if you’re way out in front of the pack, there’s a name for that too. They call those people targets. A leader is the guy who is ahead, but not so far ahead that he loses the pack behind him. In the words we look at this morning from Mark’s gospel we find leaders and followers. And Mark invites us to ask the simple question, Would you follow? In the opening verse of our section we read: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” (Mark 1:14 NIV)
So John was put in prison and Jesus takes up his message and shares it. These words seem so simple and basic that it seems as if we can just pass them over and move onto other parts of this section of scripture. But they are important. John the Baptizer was put in prison. He was put in prison because he preached the truth of God’s word. Would you follow a leader like that? Here’s what happened: The leader of the Jews at that time, Herod Antipas had a wife. But he wasn’t content with his own wife. He saw that his half-brother, Philip had a wife too. And he seduced her. And she was willing to be seduced. He took Philip’s wife and made her into his new wife. What Herod did screams “yuck” at us from a whole lot of different directions. The guy already had a wife and he tries to get a different one: yuck. And he tries to get his half-brother’s wife: yuck! And so, John the Baptizer preaches against Herod. He preached that marriage is one man; one woman; for life. And the result is that he is put in prison.
Would you follow a leader like that? I ask you this because nothing has changed up to this very day. The bible still says that marriage is one man; one woman; for life. And the sinful world still hates that truth. And when Christian leaders stand up today and say what marriage is, we should not be surprised that there is opposition. When we say that gay and lesbian marriages aren’t marriages, we should expect opposition. When we say that the pattern is that you date, get married and then live together instead of living together and then pretending that you’re married, we face opposition. But if your pastor were put in prison for standing up for the truth—just like John did, would you follow? Would you follow if instead of putting your pastor in prison, they came for you?
I mention this because our knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Yes Jesus, I will follow you anywhere and through anything.” But we forget the frailty of our human heart. We forget our first parents in the Garden of Eden. After they gave up their faith in the Lord, the Lord came to them. And he asked a simple question. He asked, “where are you?” And they hid from him like the cowards they were. We remember Peter who said that even if everyone else fails Jesus and leaves him, Peter never would. And then all it took was a little servant girl to ask if he followed Jesus and his cowardice caused his courage to crumble. We are the same. We make big plans and say big words. But when the time comes to follow Jesus, we so very quickly crumble in our own cowardice just like Peter did. When we begin to understand that, then we begin to undersand the words which follow. In verse 15 Jesus says: ““The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”” (Mark 1:15 NIV)
With courage and conviction Jesus takes up the sermon theme that John preached before he was in prison. He takes it up and proclaims it boldly. And the heart and soul of that theme boils down to two words: repent and believe. God’s word comes to us and performs a miracle. It moves us to see our sin and both be terrified of it and hate it. God’s word moves us to say that we are sorry for our sinful cowardice. And God’s word also gives us faith. You see, the context in these words is so very vital and imporant. Here Jesus isn’t asking these four men if they want to be Christians and to be his followers. They were already Christians. They were already his followers. The context shows us this. But these two words, repent and believe also show this to us. These words are not just imperatives; they are present imperatives.1 Jesus is not saying repent once and believe once. He is saying continue to repent; continue to believe.
These words are so important and so precious to us because they so beautifully preach to us the only way how we are able to follow Jesus. Through his word Jesus does not come to us and command and demand that we magically change our own cowardice into courage. No, instead, because we cannot change our cowardice into courage he gives us faith in him. And it’s a present tense faith. We continue to believe in him. Just as we confess our sins of cowardice day after day, God also strengthens our faith in him day after day through his word. And through his word, not our own effort, we are able to follow Christ, our Leader.
But my dear friends in Christ, there is another reason we follow him. We don’t just follow him because this gift of faith gives us courage. We follow him because Jesus is the only one who paid the cost. There was a cost to our cowardice. The fact is that because Adam and Eve became cowards in the Garden they brought death and hell on themselves. And ever since then, we, their children have done the same. The cost of our cowardice is death and hell. But look at our leader. Look at Jesus. Just as we have a faith that gives us courage, we also have a Savior that paid our cost. His courage covers our cowardice. His crucifixion covers our cost.
And so we follow Jesus our Leader. We follow because this gift of faith gives us courage and because this Savior paid our cost. That is the reason. But what follows is a beautiful result. We read: “16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”” (Mark 1:16–17 NIV)
The result for these four men is that Jesus told them, “I will have you fish for people.” And the same is true for us. Now we fish for people. Now, there is a way that these words do not apply to you. None of you are apostles. And none of you are pastors. You called me to be your pastor to fish for people publicly—on your behalf. But you fish for people your every day life. At work, at home, at school you fish for people. And it’s a good picture, if you think about it. The fisherman throws a fly, a spinner or a bobber out there into the water. And what happens next is in God’s hands. And it’s the same for us. Our role is to share God’s word. And the Holy Spirit then uses that word to create faith whenever and wherever he wants.
And so we follow Jesus our leader. We follow him because this gift of faith gives us courage. We follow him because this Savior of ours paid the cost. And there is yet one more result of this that flows into our lives: “18 At once they left their nets and followed him. 19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (Mark 1:18–20 NIV)
Here again, it’s important to understand what these words are saying and what they are not saying. These words are not saying that we give everything up we have for Jesus. The wrong conclusion to reach with these words is that in order to follow your Leader, Jesus, you need to sell all of your possessions and give them to the church. No, the teaching is not that we have to abandon everything, but that how we view the things of and people in the world changes. If Jesus has given us this gift of faith in him and paid the cost for our cowardice, then we want those in our lives to have what we have. And so our attitude toward them changes. And our attitude towards the stuff God gives us changes. We aren’t just asking “what can I buy with this stuff?” Instead, we’re also asking “how can I use this stuff to share my leader with others?”
And so, my dear friends in Christ, would you follow? Would you follow Jesus, your Leader? With Joy we say that we will follow Jesus our Leader. We follow him because of this great gift of faith which gives us courage. We follow him because of our great Savior who paid our cost. Amen.
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