Today we begin a new series based on the book not a fan by Kyle Idleman. Run out and buy this book today! Please read this book. I think it raises questions we should all
deal with. The question I want to raise
throughout this study is a very simple one, yet it requires us to intensely
scrutinize ourselves before we give our answer.
Are you a fan of Jesus or a follower?
We all know what fans are.
Fans are those people who go to ballgames and stand up holding signs of
support for their favorite teams. Fans
are people who paint their faces with the colors of the team they’re
supporting. Fans dress up in flamboyant
costumes that get them on television. If
the costumes are ridiculous enough they may even wind up on Sportscenter or
some other highlight show. Fans muster
all the support in the world for their team of choice.
I may not seem like a very charismatic or crazy person but
there have been moments when I have ostentatiously supported my team. When I was a student at Hallsville High
School the only team worth much of anything was our girls’ volleyball
team. They were perennial playoff
contenders and even made it to the state semifinals one year. My senior year they once again achieved
playoff glory. In a spectacular show of
support several members of the varsity football team not only attended the match
but we also painted our chests with the immortal word “Ladycats.” Yes, in bright purple and gold we each
emblazoned a letter on our chests and obnoxiously supported our girls in what I
believe was a playoff loss. I was the
letter “C.” I sincerely hope that there
is not a picture of this floating around the internet today.
On that day, like many others, I was a fan of our team. I supported our girls in their quest for high
school volleyball immortality. I was
there in the stands cheering them on. I
made a spectacle of myself for the sake of a team. But sadly, there was nothing I could
personally do to help our girls win that match.
I couldn’t take the floor and serve for them. I couldn’t overpower the other team with my
crushing spike. I couldn’t frustrate
them by digging a well-placed hit. I was
powerless to help. That day I was simply
a fan in support of my team.
Being a fan is fun.
We get to jump up and down and act foolish and everyone just smiles and
says “wow, they love their team.” But as
fans there is relatively little cost for us.
It may cost us the price of admission to the ballpark or stadium, but we
don’t really have to risk anything. All
we have to risk is disappointment when our team fails, but then we can just
select a new team to cheer for and all will be well. We don’t have to face humiliation after
making a bad play. We don’t have to face
the jeers when we drop a touchdown pass or strike out with the bases loaded and
two outs in the bottom of the ninth. We
don’t have to face the danger of getting lit up by a middle linebacker while
we’re coming across the middle of the field in a slant route. We don’t face the risk of getting drilled in
the head by a line-drive. We get to sit
in the relative safety of our seat with a cold drink and a hot dog. Fans don’t take the field.
In light of this, when I ask the question “are you a fan of
Jesus or a follower” perhaps we should pause before we answer. Perhaps we should really consider what this
means. Jesus didn’t ask people if they
liked him. He didn’t even ask people to
believe in him. Jesus asked people to
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him
deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Jesus isn’t looking for fans. He’s looking for followers. He’s looking for people who will “deny
(themselves) and take up (their) cross.”
In case we wonder what Jesus might be talking about, there is an example
given to us in John 6. This was a time
when Jesus had been gaining popularity.
People had heard about the signs and wonders he had been performing, so
they began to crowd around him in hopes of seeing more miraculous signs and
possibly to hear some inspirational teaching.
After a day of teaching Jesus knew the crowds would be getting hungry so
after some discussion with his disciples, he fed the crowd (which could have
numbered upwards of 10,000-12,000 or more) with five loaves of bread and two
small fish. We can speculate because
this was a small boy’s lunch that these loaves were probably more the size of
dinner rolls and the two small fish were more akin to sardines than yellowtail
tuna. Jesus miraculously turned this
small dinner into an enormous feast and still had food leftover. If ever the crowd was going to see a miracle,
this was it. Sensing the crowd’s
excitement, Jesus withdrew to be alone.
The next day the crowds sought Jesus out again. This is what he said to them: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking
me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the
loaves.” The people weren’t really
interested in Jesus, but his miraculous conjuring of food. Being morning, they were likely hungry again
and expected Jesus to feed them. Did he
feed them again? No. Instead, he called them out. He read them perfectly and knew why they were
coming after him. They weren’t really
followers, they were fans. They liked
him and his work, but they weren’t prepared to really follow him. They weren’t really prepared to “take up
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not
hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” At the height of his popularity, Jesus makes
a bold statement. He says “I am the
bread of life.” Essentially he was
saying “I am the thing that sustains you.
All this bread and fish is really just so much waste. It will nourish for a short time, and then
you will die. But I am the thing that
provides real life.” Jesus had these
people literally eating out of the palm of his hand and then he turned the
tables on them. They asked him for a
sign that he might prove himself to them; that he might prove why they should
listen to him. They were looking for
manna in the desert. They wanted more
proof. Can you see how foolish this
was? This man had just, the day before,
fed them until they were full and they still wanted more. They wanted more proof than he had already
given them. They wanted to eat. Jesus wasn’t interested in fans. Jesus didn’t need hangers-on. There is too much at stake for Jesus to have
cared about his own popularity, so having just called the people out for what
they were really seeking he went just a bit further.
They grumbled at his statement “I am the bread that came
down from heaven.” They knew this
man. They knew he was Joseph’s son. They knew he had come from Nazareth. They had never seen him come “down from
heaven.” They were fans of his miracles,
but they were quickly beginning to not like what he was saying. They wanted to see another miracle. They wanted to be amazed again. They wanted to see the show, but didn’t
expect it to require something of them.
They weren’t ready for what they were about to hear.
After making the statement that he was the “bread of life”
he proceeded to completely offend their sensibilities. Jesus told the crowd that was gathered around
him “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live
forever. And the bread that I will give
for the life of the world is my flesh.”
At this statement, the crowd began to get a bit freaked out. “How can this man give us his flesh to
eat?” So Jesus thought he should clarify
Truly, truly I say to you, unless
you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in
you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and
drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is
true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh
and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him…This is the bread that came down
from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live
forever. (John 6:53-56, 58)
Jesus perhaps needed to take a lesson in charismatic
leadership. He needed to study a bit
longer the science of politics and how to say what people want to hear. Our leaders today would observe Jesus build
crowds around himself and watch with envy as he healed sick and cast out demons. They would salivate at the signs and wonders
he performed and get positively giddy at the prospect of turning water into
wine. Then they would listen to him
teach and shake their heads. If only
Jesus knew how to say what people wanted to hear! He probably would have never been beaten or
killed. If he had overthrown the Roman
Empire like he was supposed to do then he could have rewritten history! The nation of Israel could have been the most
powerful empire in the history of the world if Jesus had just had the sense to
be politically correct.
But Jesus isn’t interested in parades. He’s not concerned with public opinion. He doesn’t care about ticker-tape or
limousine rides. He is concerned with
lives being changed. Jesus’ desire is to
make all things new, to reconcile all people to himself. Jesus’ desire is that the nature of things be
restored to their original purpose.
Revelation 21:3 says “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with
man. He will dwell with them, and they
will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” God’s dwelling place is with man and man with
God. This is Jesus’ purpose.
Was it Jesus the people wanted, or was it the things he
could do for them? Would Jesus be enough
for them? Would the people accept what
Jesus had to give them, or would they want something else? We read towards the end of John 6 the
people’s response. “When many of his
disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to
it.’” They weren’t real keen on eating
This scene in scripture always makes me think of the movie City Slickers 2. There’s a scene where Billy Crystal, Jon
Lovitz, and Daniel Stern are lost in the desert at night in the middle of a
freezing storm. They’re huddled together
on the ground trying to stay warm and Daniel Stern says to the others “if I die
first, I want you guys to eat me.” To
which Billy Crystal makes the statement, “You want us to eat you?” Then he goes on in the way only Billy Crystal
can to say this: “Pass some more Phil
(Stern’s character)! Phil’s even good
cold! Great party, thanks to Phil!” At this Phil responds, “All right, don’t eat
I can imagine the good Jews hearing Jesus’ words and
thinking to themselves “eat you? I’m not
eating you! Are you going to eat
him? I really don’t feel like eating
him. I’m going home.” In verse 66 we see the results of this
conversation. “After this many of his
disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” All of a sudden, it became too hard. It became too weird. It was just too radical for them. They were fans of Jesus’ work, but didn’t
really want to follow his teachings.
It’s telling that Jesus didn’t run after them and try to convince them
to come back. He didn’t soften the
message to make it more appealing. He
didn’t print up a creative flyer to make his following look “cool.” He gave them his message and let them walk
This isn’t your typical church-growth sermon here. This isn’t a feel-good message designed to
keep the people coming and giving. This
is an all-or-nothing talk here. I think
Joe mentioned last week that over the next few weeks there is going to be some
tension built. There are going to be
things that are going to make you cringe.
There are times in these next few weeks when you’re going to feel overwhelmingly
grateful and times when you’re going to hate what I have to say. It’s okay.
The tension is good. The tension
makes us think and work through some things.
Are you a fan of Jesus or a follower?
We all like to think we’re followers of Jesus, that we’re true
disciples, but do we really take Jesus at his word? Do we really live what we say we believe?
Let’s go back to the scripture for a moment. Was Jesus condoning cannibalism? Did Jesus’ actual flesh and blood have
life-giving properties? Of course
not. What did he mean, then? Jesus’ statement that he was the bread of
life alluded to the manna in the desert.
Jesus was saying that he was the only thing that would sustain, the only
thing that would truly give life. He was
asking the people if they could depend on him and only him to give them
life. Part of what we’re going to talk
about in this series is that Jesus is truly the only thing that sustains
us. He is the only thing that gives
purpose and meaning. We try to fill our
lives with all sorts of other things to find meaning and joy and yet Christ is
the only real satisfaction. Yet we often
don’t portray him like this. We tend to
try to tack on Jesus to our lives and pretend like we can have some of Jesus
and still be okay. We act like all we
have to do is say we believe in him and everything will be alright. But Jesus didn’t ask for believers. He asked for followers. Are you a fan, or a follower? Is Jesus everything to you, or are there some
other things that are more important?
I want to look at a couple more passages before we close
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not
prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty
works in your name?’ And then I will
declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
I don’t know about you, but this passage is terrifying to
me. These people did all the right
things. They prophesied, they did many
mighty works, they even cast out demons!
What set them apart, then? They
had no relationship with Jesus. They
didn’t know him. They were fans of
Jesus, but not followers.
Of all the confessions about Jesus in scripture, this is
possibly my favorite. After the crowds
left, Jesus turned to the twelve and asked if they also were going to
leave. Peter’s response is perfect. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we
have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter looked Jesus in the eye and said
essentially, “Jesus, I don’t understand exactly what you mean, but if you say I
have to eat your flesh and drink your blood then sign me up. I don’t get what you’re talking about all the
time, but I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
You don’t have to know it all, in fact, if you think you do
know it all, re-think yourself. You
don’t have to understand everything Jesus was talking about. You simply have to believe and follow. Notice I said you have to believe AND
follow. If you believe without
following, your faith is dead, like James talks about. If you follow but don’t believe, you’re like
the people in Matthew 7 who did all the good works, but didn’t know Jesus.
A fan is defined as “an enthusiastic admirer.” There are lots of people who think Jesus was
pretty cool. They read about him and
think he had great things to say. They
think his acts of kindness toward sinners and his miraculous healing of sick
people were amazing and that he should even be emulated. They are fans. But when Jesus tells them to “deny yourself,
take up your cross daily, and follow me” they’re out. Because when it comes to denying myself, I
want nothing to do with it. I like the
things I like. I want the things I want. As long as following Jesus doesn’t interfere
with that, I’m okay. I don’t, however,
want to sacrifice anything.
You may have noticed that we changed the backdrop of our
stage area. Painted on the walls is this
simple phrase “i am not a fan.” This is
less of a declaration and more of a challenge.
I pray this for myself and I pray it for you. I pray that I would leave behind my “fandom”
of Jesus and truly become a follower. I
pray that I would deny myself and take up my cross. I pray that at the end of this series I could
truly look at you and say “I am not a fan.”