Like last week, I’d like to start today with a
question: If Jesus offered you himself,
would that be enough? In John 6 we read
about Jesus telling the people who followed him across the sea that he was the
bread of life and to have eternal life, they must eat his flesh and drink his
blood. My question is no different. If all you got out of this deal was Jesus,
would that be enough?
There is a stigma that comes with Christianity. It seems that often (at least in my own
experience) the main objection to following Jesus is that Christians have to
keep a lot of rules. Perhaps the idea
comes from studying scripture, perhaps it comes from an over-zealous friend, or
maybe it came from a Bible-thumping evangelist.
Whatever the origin of the thought, though, many people think that to
become a Christian you have to follow all of the rules.
On the other side of this issue is the idea (often put forth
by people who call themselves Christians) that you don’t really have to follow any
rules at all. You just have to believe
in Jesus and think happy thoughts all the time.
God wouldn’t really send anyone to Hell anyway; he’s a God of mercy and
grace. Even as I speak both of these
theories out loud you are probably saying to yourself “That’s right. Not the first one so much, but the
second.” Or maybe, “Yes! Keep the rules. You have to become just like me to get to
What I want you to see, though, is that neither of these
sentiments is completely true. Many of
us would probably come down somewhere in between these two ideas anyway, but
that’s not even the point. My point is
that in both of these theologies, the emphasis is misplaced, as I think it
often gets in our own lives.
At the start of this passage we see a young man who seems
eager to meet with Jesus. Even his
question at first glance might seem like the right question to ask: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It seems like he wants to know the right
things. But look at his question
again? What is his emphasis? Eternal life.
This guy is asking how to get to heaven.
While his mind may be in the right place, his heart is not. He wants things that are eternal, but just
because he wants to live forever. He was
happy to follow all the rules that Jesus gave him, but he didn’t really want
his life to be affected.
If you look back at the two theologies I presented earlier,
you can see how both of these ideas are fixated on the wrong thing. The first says “if you keep all the rules and
do everything right, you get to go to heaven.”
The second is like it in that it says “God is going to send everyone to
heaven anyway, so you don’t really have to do anything to earn it.” The first says “God is righteous, so everyone
has to be righteous.” The second says
“God is merciful, he will rescue everyone.”
The problem is twofold: first of
all, a selfish longing for heaven is not the point. Secondly, God is both righteous and merciful.
The first camp loves the righteousness because it means that
if I can measure up to God’s righteousness, then he must accept me. But they forget that no one can measure up at
all, which is where God’s mercy comes in.
The second camp loves God’s mercy because it means anyone can come to
the Father, but they forget that God is a righteous and jealous God and will
not tolerate sin. So if God is just and
righteous and yet he is also merciful, how does one inherit eternal life? The answer is very simple: Jesus.
In this chapter, Jesus is praying for not only his disciples
at the time, but for all who would come after the 12. He was praying for the church. He was praying for us! In verse 3 he says something incredibly
profound. Jesus has just made the
statement in verse 2 that the Father had granted him (the Son) the authority to
give eternal life. Then he goes on to
say this: “And this is eternal life,
that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” How do you inherit eternal life? You know Jesus.
Just to continue the analogy from last week, how many of you
are sports fans? I ask because many
sports fans can quote the statistics of their favorite players. They can rattle off career stats, college
stats, and maybe even high school stats.
They know everything there is to know about their favorite players. They might know where the player lived, what
their hobbies are, their personal struggles and habits, perhaps even their
favorite colors. Fans know a lot about
their favorite athletes. They may have
attended an autograph session or possibly even a book signing. They have lots of knowledge about their favorite player, but they
don’t really know the person. They know a lot about him, but he doesn’t
know them. They don’t have a
Fans are eager. They
love to show support as long as things are good. They think well of their favorite team as
long as that team keeps winning. But
have a dreadful season, and fans will turn on their team. Play badly for a few games and fans will
punish you with poor attendance.
Jesus had his experiences with fans. These were the guys who sat around and
watched Jesus perform miracles. They
enjoyed when he healed someone or fed thousands of people with a mid-day snack. Fans cheered Jesus when he rode into
Jerusalem on a donkey. They shouted
“Hosanna! Hosanna!” and waved palm
branches as he rode by. Jesus had lots
of support when he kept people happy and didn’t challenge the status quo too
much. But when Jesus became a little
more controversial than comfort allowed, the fans fled. They didn’t want to be associated with a
blasphemer and a breaker of traditions.
Fans don’t want to face hardship.
In this passage Jesus was confronted by a group of Pharisees
(sticklers of the law) about why he wasn’t keeping the traditions established
generations before. Jesus’ reply was
very simple: “And why do you break the
commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” The scribes and Pharisees made a living out
of keeping the laws. There was no group
more consistent at keeping the law. In
fact, they knew more about the law than just about anyone else. Because of this, they could manipulate those
who knew less of the law than they did.
The Pharisees always made sure that they came out looking better than
everyone else because they were keepers of the law. They actually made it harder on
themselves. They nuanced and added
subtlety to the law in such a way that only they could keep it. Then they condemned anyone who couldn’t do it
exactly like they did.
So on this day they questioned why Jesus didn’t keep the
traditions. He asked them back why they
didn’t keep the commandments of God.
After all, the commandments of God were certainly more important than
the traditions of man. Honoring your
father and mother was a bigger deal than any man-made tradition. The Pharisees had gotten used to being the
authorities on Scripture, so to be addressed like this was likely a bit of a
shock. Jesus said that for the sake of
their tradition they had voided the word of God. Then he quoted the prophet Isaiah by saying
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart if far from me…” They knew the right things to say, but they
didn’t really understand or know the heart of God. They knew the right words, but couldn’t come
close to the heart of God. It was sad
because they knew the rules. They knew
God’s stat sheet. They had it
memorized. But they didn’t know the one
he had sent.
The frustrating thing about this is that knowledge is a part
of intimacy. Knowing details about
someone is part of having intimacy with them.
Part of the proof that I have an intimate relationship with my wife is
how much I know about her. Amanda and I
can be watching a movie and I can almost always discern the moments in that
movie when I can look over at her and catch her crying. Why?
We have watched countless movies together and I know what stirs her
heart. I know the things I can say or do
that will draw out specific emotions from Amanda because I have spent so much
time with her. I know what makes her
tick. That’s intimacy, but it’s
reflected by knowledge.
What happens, though, is we confuse having lots of knowledge
with intimacy. For instance, when I was
in third grade I had a Sunday school teacher who wanted us to know as much
about the Bible as possible. To that end
he had us do several different things.
We had to learn the books of the Bible and we had to memorize
scripture. Every week we had a memory
verse to learn and if we recited it correctly we were rewarded with candy. If you could say all the books of the Old
Testament in order in less than two minutes, you were more heavily
rewarded. I remember practicing saying
my books of the Bible over and over and over trying to get them right so I
could receive my sugary reward. I can
probably still say them all in less than two minutes (you can test me after the
service if you like).
While this was great for an 8-year-old to learn and while it
has stuck with me after all these years, it did little to help me get to know
Jesus on an intimate level. In fact,
perhaps because of things like this, I spent a majority of my adolescence
thinking that I had the Christian things figured out. There wasn’t anything else I needed to
learn. I remember preparing to go to college thinking I would learn some cool stuff about the Bible that would help me know how to preach, but not really worrying about my own Christianity. After all, I had taken care of all of that a
long time before. I had it pretty well
Then I got to college and a couple of things happened. I discovered very quickly in class that, in
fact, I did not know it all, and I found a multitude of other students who,
unlike me, seemed to be incredibly connected with Jesus. I was at a loss. I knew all the right things. I could say the books of the Old Testament in
less than two minutes, and I’d been doing it since the third grade! I doubted if any of those other students
could even name all of the books, much less do it in under two minutes. I knew a lot of things about Jesus. I could find Habakkuk without even looking at
the table of contents. But my personal
intimacy with Jesus was lacking. I knew
the law, but I didn’t really know Jesus very well. Fans know a lot about their favorite players,
but they don’t really know them at all.
This is an encounter between Jesus and a woman that is
probably unlike any other in scripture.
Jesus had been invited to this particular Pharisee’s house to eat. We don’t know why Simon invited Jesus to
dinner. Perhaps he was taken by Jesus’
miracles. At this point he had already
healed some people and done some other cool stuff. Maybe Simon wanted to know how Jesus did
it. I know a Christian illusionist named
Drew Worsham. He’s quite good. I’ve spent some time with him personally and
he’s also a really neat guy. He doesn’t,
however, talk about his tricks. He won’t
tell you how he does them. I wonder if
Simon thought he could get something out of Jesus by inviting him over. Have you ever noticed that about people who
are drawn to power? They think that if
they flatter you they might be able to get something out of you? We don’t know why, but this Pharisee Simon
invited Jesus over for dinner.
This was a flattering thing to do and there were certain
customs you obeyed especially if you wanted to honor your guest. Traditionally a kiss was given to the
guest. If they were a good friend or
someone special, you would kiss them on the cheek. If they were very special, a dignitary of
some sort, you would kiss their hand.
Because of the dusty conditions and the fact that everyone walked most
of the places they went, traditionally there would be water available for
washing of feet. If you wanted to honor
your guest you would have someone wash their feet for them. If they were very special to you, you would
likely wash them yourself. Though not
required, for very special guests, oil was used to anoint a guest. None of this was done for Jesus at Simon’s
house. Whether he meant this as a slight
or not, we don’t know. It is safe to assume,
however, that not keeping these customs would reveal Simon’s heart toward
Jesus. Simon knew who Jesus was, had
probably seen some of the miraculous things Jesus had done. But he was just a fan. He was an outsider. He didn’t really want to know Jesus, didn’t
really want to honor him.
Instead a woman (a “sinner”) came up to Jesus and began
weeping. She cried so hard that the
tears fell on Jesus’ feet, probably leaving streaks in the layer of dust. Possibly out of intention or possibly out of
necessity, she took her hair down and began to wipe off the tear-streaked dust
from Jesus’ feet. She kissed them over
and over, and then anointed them with an expensive ointment. Why would she do this? Is it possible that this man is the only man
who has ever treated her with compassion and kindness? Is it possible that this man is the only one
who hasn’t demanded anything from her?
Is it possible this is the only man who has never used her? Whatever the reason and whatever her previous
experience with Jesus, this woman does something reckless. She crashes a dinner hosted by a well-to-do
Pharisee and broke an expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet.
This is the kind of thing a follower does. This kind of recklessness is what sets
followers apart from fans. Fans leave
when it gets uncomfortable or dangerous.
Fans go someplace else when Jesus requires more of them than they are
willing to give. Fans don’t like the
unknown; they long for the familiar, even if the familiar is perhaps not the
best thing. Fans don’t like change.
But Jesus says to take up your cross and follow him.
This brings up an interesting issue that tends to be rather
divisive in Christian life. Going back
to the discussion we started with I’d like to raise another quick point. When many people talk about righteousness and
grace, they talk as if these two things are mutually exclusive, as if you can
either pursue righteousness and follow the rules in order to be like Jesus, or
you can simply rely on his mercy and his grace to allow you into heaven because
you don’t deserve it anyway. With God,
however, there is no either/or. God is
righteous and he is merciful. What that
means for us, then, as Christians, is that we must embrace the idea that
freedom in Christ means slavery to Christ.
Our whole series is based on the idea that we don’t want to
simply be fans of Jesus, we want to be considered followers. In Biblical times, a disciple was someone who
did everything the master did. If the
master ate, the disciple ate. When the
master slept, the disciple slept. When
the master went somewhere, the disciple followed along with him. The picture is that at the end of the day,
the disciple would have the dust kicked up by the master all over him.
So to follow Jesus is to know him intimately. To have eternal life is to know Jesus. It would therefore seem reasonable to assume
that in order to follow Jesus, in order to know him, one must behave the way he
behaved and do the things he did. One
must become like Christ. For this to
happen, each of us must leave behind those things we once were. In fact, Paul says we have been set free from
those things; they no longer apply to us.
We have great freedom in Christ!
But with that comes great responsibility. With the freedom from sin and death comes
slavery to Jesus himself. With the
freedom we gain from knowing Christ we also gain the responsibility of behaving
It’s telling to realize that the law didn’t come until after
freedom was granted. When you read the
account of the Exodus, the Hebrews were rescued (set free) from Egypt and then
God gave them the law on Mount Sinai in order to show them how to live. It’s the same way with us. We’ve been rescued from sin and the grave,
but now we’ve been given the understanding of how we’re supposed to live. It’s a law not designed to suppress our
desires, but to show us a more excellent way to live. So, does following the law save us? No.
But being saved means that we will follow the law. Does knowledge of Jesus indicate a person is
a follower of Jesus? No. But following Jesus means we know him
My prayer for you through this whole study is that you will
begin to see the areas in which you are a fan.
I think that probably most of us in here follow Jesus in many ways, but he
doesn’t want just certain areas of our lives, he wants all of us.