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What's it Mean to Follow Jesus?, Part 1

From the series Jesus Unfiltered - Follow

You’ve probably heard people say that they are a follower of Jesus. Well, what does that really mean? How do you know if you are truly following Jesus? Chip explains that genuinely following Jesus is the most important decision you’ll ever make because it will literally set the course for your entire life.

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Message Transcript

John chapter 9 opens with the story of a blind man. And very instructively, he is blind from birth. We know it’s not his fault or his parents’ fault, but it’s a very special miracle, because God will be glorified.

As you read later in that story, you will find that some people can’t even believe it’s the same man. They even bring his parents in and they testify. They cross-examine him twice, because they think maybe he is lying.

And at the heart of it is Jesus opens his eyes and does a Messianic miracle. Now, you’ll never understand the real meaning of that man who was blind until you go back to chapter 8 and find out that it came after the most intense and unique conflict up to date that we find in Jesus’ life.

That there was a point in time where they were ready to kill Him. They were ready to stone Him. He is going to say something about Himself, they are going to have this dialogue, this debate, where the issues of His calling and His claims against the religious establishment will be so intense that they will be blind, and what you just listened to is Jesus helping them understand there are some people in the world who are physically blind, and He can make them see. And there are some people who can see, and they think they are not blind, but they are.

I’m going to ask you to open up your notes, because we are going to talk about what it means, what it really means to follow Jesus. And I want to suggest as we get our arms around that, that everybody in life, everybody follows something or someone.

Some people are very intentional about it, very conscious. Other people are very unconscious, but they just don’t know that they are following someone. There are probably a hundred different ways people follow things, but I put six down. See if these don’t ring a bell with you.

Some people follow in the footsteps of their family. I know a family that, if you’re born in this family – son, grandson – if you’re born in this family, the personal light is you go into this family business, you go to this college, you will live geographically near mom, dad, grandfather, great-grandfather. The whole world revolves around – Christmases are always at this house, Thanksgiving…

Everything in the world revolves around the family. That’s their light. That is what gives them perspective. That’s what really matters more than anything else.
A second is some people follow a philosophy of life. I have a friend who is an excellent businessman and I am always talking to him about, “Have you been reading the Bible much?” “Nah, I haven’t been reading it, not as much as I know you want me to.”

And intimacy with God, I’ll talk with him about that, he goes, “Look, Chip, here’s my philosophy: The Golden Rule. I just do to other people the way I want them to do to me.” And he does. He’s got more integrity than anyone I have ever met. He is kind, he is generous. But his is sort of like, You know what? You just follow that rule and…

I have another friend from my days in Santa Cruz and his entire philosophy of life, we talked deeply on a lot of occasions, was one word. I said, “So what do you want to do?” “Whatever.” I’m dead serious. Just, “Whatever.” “What do you mean, ‘Whatever’?” He says, “I mean whatever! Just kind of go with the flow and whatever happens and I’m just going to kind of…”

Third is I find some people follow a religious leader or a spiritual path. It’s the Dalai Lama or this New Age teacher or someone with some enlightened way. And if they follow that path, what light always promises is direction, perspective, and it’s going to deliver the life that you really want.

Fourth is some people follow their own intuition. They are eclectic. They just pull from the salad bar of philosophy and life and parents and family and say, “Basically, I’ve got it. I’m just going to figure out, I think I know best what is best for me.” And you ask them, “Well, what do you base that on?” “Well, me. My intuition. In my gut, that’s good for you, whatever that is. Whatever it is with anyone. This is what I think is best.”

Fifth, some people just follow what is popular. If everyone’s kids are doing this, their kid is doing this. If they start the kids at this age or this age, that’s what they do. If the internet and everyone says, “This is what you need to eat,” they all eat that. Whatever the fads, wherever, they just follow the crowd. And whatever is popular, they have a world that is “like,” “like,” “like,” retweet.

And finally, there are some who follow what I just call a formula for success. This is how I grew up. And it goes something like this: Education is paramount, work hard, practice, get disciplined, be an overachiever, over-prepare, get in the best schools, get a good-paying job, and wealth and success will make you very happy.

And so, in each one of these, here’s all I want to say, is that all of us, I call this people’s personal light. This is their perspective that, even if they don’t know it, this is their perspective that light promises fulfillment. Light promises: Living this way provides values, a process, a filter, an interpretation.

And so, they are on a path, following one of these, or maybe ten or fifteen or thirty others. And so, I thought it would be fun, since we all follow something or someone, to just probe a little bit together and find out what you follow and what I follow. And so, I have three questions for you. Are you ready?

If you have a pen, pull it out. Question number one is: Who or what do you think you follow? If I really pushed you; just the first thing that comes to your mind. Who or what do you think you really follow? Just the direction for my life, decisions, what really matters, why I say “yes,” why I say, “no.” Okay?

The second question, and I’m messing with you here just a little bit, but it’s because I care. Who or what does your time, money, and energy reveal you follow? Because, see, I have this weird thing that happens is mentally, and I’m thinking I’m being honest, this is what I think I follow. It’s really important. But when I look at my time or my energy or my money or, for some, if we just looked at your whole…who are the people that you follow on Twitter?

If we could go through all the buttons that you pushed “like” or whatever you retweeted, who do you follow?

Or which of the TED Talks are your top five? Right? Doesn’t it say on our little devices everywhere, “Follow! You can follow us by this, this, this, this.” That tells a lot about what we are interested in, what our passions are. So my time and my money really reveal who I really follow, instead of who I think I follow.

And the last question is: Why would anyone follow Jesus Christ?

What did He say? “If any man will follow Me, deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Me.” Why should we? Why should they?

And in John chapter 8, beginning at verse 12, He answers that question. But He answers it for them, and He really answers it for us. So, what you see is a context in which He says some very radical things. Then you have some content, which is a fierce debate. And then it comes to a climax.

Here’s the context. In other words, here is what is happening. This is the “You are there,” so you can get what is happening.

Remember, there is the Feast of Tabernacles. People have been camping out, they have made these little lean-tos. And they are all over the place, on top of houses and kids think it’s camping out. There’s all this food, there are all these parties, there’s all this dancing, there is remembering all those forty years in the wilderness. It’s just great.

And then there’s the feast of Tabernacles. It’s also called the Feast of Lights. And so, there is this whole section called the Women’s Court where the treasury is. And then next to it is the temple area. It’s called the Holy Place, where the actual sacrifices and things are brought in. And then there’s the Holy of Holies.

And so, Jesus, after the Feast of Lights, and if you’ll remember that in this area, this courtyard, it’s quite large. There are four candelabras that were seventy-five to one hundred and some feet that were just huge with this light. And it would remind them of, Remember when the children of Israel, the light, the fire above? And it would move and they would move and a cloud by day.

And so, Jesus has said, “The water out of the rock? That’s Me.” And now He says, literally, grammatically, He says, “I am,” in the emphatic position, “the light of the world.” Not a light. “I am the light of the world. If any man, if anyone follows Me, you will never walk in darkness, but you will have or possess the light of life.”

It’s radical. So they have been thinking about all of God’s history. It’s in the very place where all these big candelabras were with the lights. It’s all over. And He comes out at dawn, we have already seen the scene with the woman caught in adultery. And then He makes this outrageous statement.

It’s a promise; it’s a declaration. “I am. You want to follow someone? I am the light of the world.” Promise. “If you follow Me,” and by the words, it’s a present participle, “if you continue to follow Me, you will never walk in darkness, but instead, you will have the light of life.”

Now, in about six months, He is going to go to the cross. A lot of times, He has done lots of ministry in rural areas, and a lot of times, He heals someone or does a miracle and says, “Please don’t tell anybody. Would you just please just go to the priest and get this taken care of? Because every time you tell someone, thousands of people make My life impossible to continue My ministry.”

But He is done with the secret Messiahship. He is now in Jerusalem, at the place of the tabernacle, He is going public, and He has declared, “I am the light of the world.”

Now, the Pharisees are going nuts. And the religious leaders, now, are going to say, “Wait a second. The Jewish law says that the testimony of one person is invalid. We need the testimony of two.”

So now, they are going to go into this big debate about why, in fact, what He is saying can’t be true.

You’ll notice on your notes, after His declaration, the Pharisees challenge Jesus’ credibility in verses 13 through 20. Follow along.

“Here you are appearing,” verse 13, “the Pharisees challenged Him, ‘witnessing a testimony that is not valid, the witness of one.’ Jesus answered, ‘Even if I testify on my own behalf, My testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you have no idea where I came from or where I’m going.

“‘You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, My judgments are right, because I am not alone, I stand with the Father who sent Me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for Myself, My other witness is the One who sent Me, the Father,’” He is speaking of God the Father.

“Then they asked Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’” And, by the way, this is probably a dig. There were many rumors about Jesus. By now, they are trying to cut Him down every way possible, and the rumors are He is the bastard son of Mary, who got pregnant by someone else before she married Joseph, “Where is your Father, I mean, your real Father?”

And Jesus responds, “‘You do not know My Father. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.’ He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area, in the place where the offerings were put,” where we just described. “Yet no one seized Him, because His time had not yet come.”

Now verse 21, there is a shift. And verse 21, He said, “Look, I have credibility. I have two witnesses. There is Me; there is the Father. You guys, we have been through a lot. You don’t have a clue of who I really am. And that’s why you have no spiritual perception.”

And now He is going to take it to the next level. And notice in your notes, the next section, He warns of the consequences of unbelief. He is going to be very direct and say to them, “The consequences of your continued unbelief, you won’t even look at the facts.”

He said earlier, he said, “If you don’t believe My words, at least believe the works of the miracles that I have done.” He is going to say in this section, that because of their unbelief, they will die in their sin. He is going to say that the only time they will ever realize who He really was is after the cross and the resurrection.

And then you’re going to notice in the very last verse, there is one group of people who actually believe. Because there are about fifteen of these steps that lead up, and the Levites, they would come and they would say a Psalm on each step and it was a lot of pageantry and those feasts.

Well now it was dawn and so you’ve got a crowd of people listening to Him, and then you have this group who is really wanting to kill Him and get rid of Him. And so you’ve got this mixed group and now He is talking to the religious leaders, but a lot of people were listening in going, “Whoa!” This would be heated.

Don’t think like a presidential debate, “Would the senator from Illinois, you have two point four minutes. Would you like to make a statement? And I thank you very much. And now the next question goes to…”

This is vein-popping! If you have ever been to Israel, or downtown New York, right? And you watch culturally Jewish people talk to one another when they are ticked off and pretty animated? When they are not ticked off and not animated, “Hey, could I get that cab?” Sure, man, it’s all yours. Right?

And this is what is going on. This is intensity with a capital “I.” So here’s what happens. Notice verse 21, “Once more, Jesus said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will look for Me, and you will die in your sin.’” That’s pretty radical. “‘Where I go, you cannot come.’ This made the Jews ask, ‘Will He kill Himself? Is that why He says where He goes we can’t come?’ But He continued.”

Now, He is trying to help them see, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you,” He is just reminding them and He is being direct, He is being clear, “‘I told you that you would die in your sins if you will not believe that I am the One I claim to be. You will indeed die in your sins.’ ‘Who are you?’ they asked. ‘Just what I have been claiming to be all along,’ Jesus replied. ‘I have much to say in judgment of you, but He who sent Me is reliable, and what I have heard from Him, I tell the world.’ They did not understand that He was telling them about His Father.

“So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up,’” and John always uses this phrase for the cross and the resurrection later, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am, and I do nothing on My own, but speak just what the Father has taught Me. The One who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.” And then this little sidebar, “Even as He spoke, many people put their faith in Him.”

Now, it’s interesting, because if you can imagine this crowd, it seems now He takes His attention and speaks to those people who have believed in Him.

And we are not sure whether they have partial belief or they have full belief or whether He is the Messiah. But He is going to just, He is going to now going to say, “Look, let Me give you the acid test of discipleship. If you really want to be a follower, this isn’t just an intellectual belief.”

And so there is this mixed group of, there’s a hostility and debate going over here. There are people who have believed over here. And so, verse 31, almost through the end of the chapter, I want to tell you in advance what He is going to say, because as I read it, I want you to catch it.

The first thing He is going to say is that, “If you obey My Word, it will result in freedom.” He is going to talk about, “The acid test of discipleship is you have to obey My Word. This isn’t intellectually believing something about Me. This is about relational and obedience.”

Second, He is going to say, “If you love Me,” and by the way, don’t think of love as just an ooey-gooey feeling, but, “if you love Me, have very personal alignment, if I am your light, and the alignment of your life, then the result is you will hear God’s voice. You’ll be able to hear God speaking to you.”

And the third thing He is going to teach them is that, “If you keep My Word, you’ll never die. If you keep My Word.” And so He is going to say, “The acid test of discipleship doesn’t have to do with just an intellectual belief, but it will be a belief that leads to a following where the focus of your life centers around this Man, who now claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and later, One with the Father.”