Once again, it’s election year in the States. That means very little to us as Canadians, except that we’re treated to a smorgasbord of quotations from politicians. Sometimes we want to ask, “Did they really say that?” Let me give you some of my favorites:
Mayor Marion Barry, mayor of Washington, D.C., said, “Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” It almost makes you want to move there, doesn’t it?
Former U.S. president George Bush said, “I have opinions of my own – strong opinions – but I don’t always agree with them.”
You know Brooke Shields. She once said, “If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”
Dan Quayle said, “If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.” Another time he said, “I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.” And just so you know where Dan Quayle stands, listen to this quote: “I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made.”
You know, some people just shouldn’t talk. Truth be told, all of us have said some pretty silly things. I’m sure that you could fill a roll of film with the bloopers I have made, and the same is probably true for you.
This morning’s message is called, “Did Jesus really say that?” A lot of us have a distorted view of who Jesus was. A hymn describes him as being “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” He’s viewed as being a placid and non-offensive. But that’s not the Jesus I read about in the Scripture. Mild is the last word that you would use to describe Jesus. He made some outlandish statements – but they weren’t mistakes. Jesus was very deliberate in what he said. We’re going to look at some of the surprising statements of Jesus this morning.
Lee Strobel writes:
Jesus was always saying the unexpected. Just when his followers thought they had him figured out, he’d open his mouth and amaze them once more…People were flabbergasted when he said they should love their enemies. They were aghast when he said to turn the other cheek when someone crossed them. They were intrigued by his parables and mesmerized by his description of God’s kingdom. His listeners were awed by his wisdom, inspired by his morality, and melted by his love. (What Would Jesus Say, p.12)
Jesus never ceases to surprise. This past week, I got out my New Testament and read through the four Gospels looking for his surprising statements. I soon discovered that I had enough material to last for weeks. The Bible tells us that when Jesus spoke, people were amazed at what he said (Matthew 7:28). They recognized that he taught as one who had authority. When he was arrested and put on trial, the guards said, “We have never heard anyone talk like this!” (John 7:46). One time, when Jesus spoke to his disciples, one of his closest friends took him aside and tried to correct him. But Jesus made it clear that he meant every word that he said.
I’ll tell you what I did this week. I asked some friends for their advice on the most surprising statements of Jesus. Then I read the Gospels myself to see if I could pick out the most surprising statements. Then, as a last test, I looked at how people reacted when Jesus made the statements. My final test was to evaluate how people reacted. I guessed that if people walked off in a huff, that probably means that Jesus made a surprising statement.
Now, I don’t want to look at Jesus’ surprising statements just for the sake of interest. So let’s look at three steps that we need to take in order to follow Jesus.
STEP ONE: EXAMINE THE COST
This past week I had to get my car fixed. While I was waiting at the dealership I noticed some of the ads on the wall. Do you ever look at car ads? I was amazed at how much I’m paying for my car when I see the deals that are out there. By the look of the ads, I could get rid of my two-year old car and get a brand new minivan and not be any worse off financially. But here’s the catch: there are hidden costs. There’s taxes. There’s delivery. There’s who knows what. Anyone who has ever bought a car knows that by the time you walk out of the dealership, you’re lucky to be within four thousand dollars of what the car actually costs!
Jesus was the opposite. He went out of his way to let his followers know what it would cost to follow him. Listen to what he said:
- It’s going to cost you in comfort. Someone said to Jesus in Luke 9:57, “I will follow you no matter where you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head.” I love one translation: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” If you follow Jesus, you’re choosing to follow someone who takes precedence over your comfort and your possessions. If the choice ever comes between your comfort and Jesus, he’s going to ask you to choose him.
- It’s going to cost you in your priorities. Someone else agreed to follow Jesus, but he had one condition: “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” Jesus replied, “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
- It’s going to cost you in your relationships. Someone else said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.” Jesus said another time, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being called mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine” (Matthew 10:37). The commitment that you make to God is even more important than any commitment you may make to any human being.
- It’s going to cost you your complete commitment. Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life” (Matthew 16:24-25). Crosses were used to execute criminals in that day. It would be as shocking as if someone said to us today, “If you want to follow Jesus, you’ve got to take your seat in the electric chair.” You’ve got to be prepared to give up your agenda, your ambition, even your entire life, if you’re going to follow Jesus.
When great crowds were following Jesus, he turned around and told them, “Don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills?…Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of then thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him?” (Luke 14:28,31). Jesus laid out the cost pretty clearly of what it would mean to follow him. He didn’t switch and bait. He didn’t want people beginning to follow half-heartedly, and then turn away. He wants us to examine the cost.
Let me lay out what it might mean if you choose to follow Jesus. You may lose some social status or wealth. You may have to give up control of your money, time, or career. You may be hated and misunderstood. These are the downsides.
But, Jesus says, look what you gain. When you give up your life for me, Jesus says, you find true life. You avoid the danger of gaining the whole world but losing your own soul.
Let me tell you what following Jesus has cost me. I have a few friends who can’t understand my commitment to Jesus Christ. Once in a while I’m lumped in with people that I’d rather not be lumped in with. On the very odd occasion someone will mock my faith. I probably could be making more money in another ca reer. And I have to attend deacons meetings. That’s what following Jesus has cost me.
Now let me tell you what following Jesus has given me. It’s given me a purpose for living, someone to pray to, the knowledge that the Creator of the universe cares for me. It’s given me forgiveness for my sins. It’s given me a spiritual family. Following Jesus has given me eternal life, and a pretty good life on earth as well. Are there downsides? Of course. There’s a cost. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But I’d rather give up my purposelessness and my guilt, and follow Jesus. I think you would rather too.
I’ve never come across an older person who’s served Jesus and heard them say, “I wish I hadn’t given my life to Christ. The one thing that I regret is that I served Jesus too much. I wish I had lived for myself more.” However, I have talked to people who said, “I regret not having served God with all of my heart. If only I could go back and give him more.” The benefits far outweigh the costs.
But examine the costs. Jesus said, “No one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me” (Luke 14:33). He said, “If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life” (Matthew 16:24-25). Examine the cost.
The next step – the next surprising statement that Jesus made – is this:
STEP TWO: EXCHANGE YOUR IDEAS OF HOW TO GET ETERNAL LIFE
What would you say to someone who told you to drink their blood? One day, Jesus said, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them at the last day. For my flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink” (John 6:53-55). That probably doesn’t make sense to you, and it didn’t make sense to those who heard Jesus that day. We read that even his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can we accept it?” And then we read, “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him” (John 6:66). This was a defining moment. Many of his followers weren’t prepared to hear this hard truth.
What was Jesus saying? If you take Jesus’ words literally, you have serious problems. Then Jesus is advocating that you become a cannibal. But Jesus never intended us to take these words literally. He’s using figurative language to point to something that was about to happen.
A short while after Jesus said these words, he was arrested, tried, and executed. They nailed him to a cross in one of the cruelest forms of execution known to man. And the Bible says, “He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). What Jesus did that day was to take away all that we had done wrong, and to pay for the damage that we had caused by our sins. He gave us his body and his blood so that we could have eternal life.
If you went to Richview Square and asked ten people, “How do I get to heaven?” this is what you’d hear. “Make sure that the good things you do outweigh the bad things.” “Try to live a good life.” “Go to church.” People try all sorts of ways to get eternal life. But listen to this verse:
God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
There is nothing that we can do to get eternal life. It’s a gift.
This past week my car needed a brake job. I went to one garage and they told me that the rear wheel cylinders. I went to the dealership and found out that the rear wheel cylinders were fine. I couldn’t even diagnose the problem myself. I needed expert opinion.
What would you have said to me if I drove the car out of the dealership, came home, got out my jack, took the tires off, and began working on the brakes myself? You would have said that I’m a fool. I’m no mechanic. I could probably change a tire, but I don’t have a hope of fixing my brakes.
Jesus said that we need an expert opinion. We misdiagnose the problem. It’s not a problem that can be solved by doing better things or my living a better life. It’s not something that can be fixed by going to church more, or by getting rid of bad habits. I’ve fixed it for you. It’s a gift. I’ve done for you what you could never do for yourself. All you have to do is to accept it. That’s how you receive eternal life.
If you’re here today thinking that you can earn eternal life, you’ve got to get rid of that idea. There’s only one way to heaven, and it’s by accepting the gift of God.
Those are the first two steps. Examine the cost, and exchange your ideas of how to get eternal life. There’s one more step:
STEP THREE: ELIMINATE THE BARRIERS
In Mark 10, a rich young man came to Jesus and asked him a spiritual question. Now, if I were Jesus, I would have played this one a little safe. We’ve already heard that Jesus didn’t have a house or many possessions. It would have been very nice to have a rich follower financing Jesus’ ministry. I’m sure the disciples were hoping that Jesus would go easy on this man.
But what did Jesus tell him? “You lack only one thing,” Jesus said. “Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Talk about a surprising statement. Jesus never told anyone else to sell all their possessions. I can just see the disciples’ jaws drop. Why was Jesus so harsh on this man?
It’s because Jesus had put his finger on the barrier that was holding this man back. The spiritual sticking point was this: this man was very rich. There was no way that Jesus was going to come before his money. His money was a barrier to his spiritual life.
And then Jesus gave a very surprising statement. He said, “How hard it is for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God!…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” Now, I’ve heard people say that the eye of the needle in Jesus’ day was a gate in Jerusalem through which camels would enter, stooped down and stripped of all luggage. The only problem is, that’s not true. Jesus picked the largest animal in Palestine, and said it’s easier to thread a needle with a great big camel than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? Because wealth is an obstacle that can keep us from God.
1 John 2:15-16 says, “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you…For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasures, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions.” This was written about two thousand years ago, but it’s still true today. The world has always had three basic values:
- pleasure – gratifying physical desires
- possessions – the desire to buy everything that you see around you
- prestige – or power or position or popularity
If you ask the average person what they want, they will say, “I want to be happy. I want to feel good.” Those are just other words for pleasure. Number two is possessions. We are consumed with consuming. We like to show off our homes, our clothes, our jewelry, and we want everyone to see what we’ve got. Then there’s prestige. Image is everything. We create symbols so that everyone knows how important we are.
The average person wants to feel good; they want a certain lifestyle; and they want the respect or prestige that comes from their social position.
And Jesus says, “Do you love me more than you love pleasure, possessions, and prestige? You see, you can’t follow me with a divided heart. Absolute allegiance is essential. The only way to life is through the gate of full surrender.”
Jesus sa id, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
I don’t know what obstacles you may have between you and God. It may be pleasure. The ironic thing is that God gives you more pleasure than you could imagine once you begin to follow him. Jesus said in John 10, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” Jesus didn’t come to take away your fun. He came to give you life in all its fullness. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
The barrier holding you back from God may be possessions. And yet Jesus says, “God will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern” (Matthew 6:33). Psalm 37:25 says, “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly forsaken, nor seen their children begging for bread.” God takes care of his children.
It may be prestige or position or power holding you back from God. But Jesus said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). Jesus knew that true greatness comes not from personal achievement, but from serving others.
It’s probably one of these three barriers holding you back spiritually. Examine the cost, and then eliminate whatever barrier it is that’s holding you back from serving God. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Ask yourself, “Will I pursue pleasure, or will I let God give me the desires of my heart. Will I pursue possessions, or will I let God meet all of my needs? Will I pursue power, or will I become first by becoming a slave to all?”
Unfortunately, the rich young man wasn’t willing to place Jesus before his possessions. Mark 10:22 reads, “The man’s face fell, and he went sadly away because he had so many possessions.” He had the whole world, but in the end he lost his own soul. Eliminate the barriers.
Now, I had my alarm clock set for 7:00 this morning. I woke up at 6:58, looked at the clock, and tried to go back to sleep. About thirty seconds into my efforts, I realized, “This is crazy. I’m working hard to get back to a state that will last for only another 90 seconds.” That’s how it is in life. We cling on to our pleasure, possessions, and our prestige, but listen to what the Bible says:
They will fade away like a flower in the field. The hot son rises and dries up the grass; the flower withers, and its beauty fades away. So also, wealthy people will fade away with all their achievements. (James 1:10-11)
The ironic thing is that the minute we stop chasing pleasure, possessions, and prestige, God gives us everything we need. He gives us a peace that can’t be understood. He gives us our heart’s desire.
Now, I don’t know how you’re reacting this morning. We’ve looked at some of the most difficult sayings of Jesus. But Jesus loved us too much to lie to us. He wanted us to know the truth.
I know that some of you this morning are ready to follow. You’ve examined the cost. Downside: you lose your guilt, lack of purpose, and fear of death. Upside: you get your sins forgiven, a purpose to live for, and eternal life. You’ve exchanged your ideas of how to get eternal life. You realize that you can’t earn your way to heaven. Jesus did it for you. And you’re ready to eliminate the barriers. You’re ready to say, “Jesus, I’m not going to let anything come between us. I’m ready to give you my all.”
If that’s you, I wonder if you could close your eyes and pray this prayer with me:
“Dear Father: Thank you that this morning I can have my sins forgiven, I can get a new purpose for living, and I can have my eternity paid for. I’ve examined the cost, and I want to become your child. I want to begin living for you. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and I trust him as the only way to receive eternal life. And so beginning today I trust in you, and I will choose to follow you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Now, if you prayed this prayer within your heart, congratulations! You’re now a member of the family of God. The Bible says, “To all who believed in [Jesus] and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:13). You’re a new creature today.
We’re going to sing a song. What I’d ask you to do is just to remain seated, and while we sing I’d like you to take out the communication card to let us know of the decision you’ve made today. On the back, you can check off “I’m committing my life to Christ.” Now, when you fill this out, we won’t put your name on a mailing list or send people to come see you. We just want to send you some material that you can use to get started in your new Christian life.