“Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)”
January 28, 2018
By John Partridge*
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Mark 1:21-28
Everywhere you go, there are leaders and followers. In the military the division between leaders and followers can sometimes be painfully obvious and at others far less so. Officers are the designated leaders, and enlisted soldiers are the designated followers, but even though their differences are obvious, this description is grossly oversimplified. Every officer has another officer of higher rank over them, and the same is true among enlisted troops. In the end, every leader is also a follower and every follower is also a leader.
The same is true in our local church. We have a handful of people who chair the committees that help to run our church, but everyone who serves on those committees, even if they think of themselves as followers, are themselves leaders of our church.
But this morning, as we study scripture, we’re going to discover that leadership goes much farther down into the “ranks” of Jesus’ followers than we might expect. We begin in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, where we hear this:
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
In the time of Moses, The people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly and so, God promised to send prophets that would speak for him and the people were expected to listen to the prophets and obey the instructions that God sent. But, at the same time, the prophets were bound to only speak the words of God and not to add instructions or commands that God had not sent.
But then came Jesus.
After all of the prophets, and after all of the teachers, priests, and theologians that lived in Israel throughout the centuries, Jesus was different. While Jesus honored the commands of God as God required, Jesus did more. (Mark 1:21-28)
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Jesus did things that only the greatest of God’s prophets had done… and more.
And Jesus interpreted the laws of God in ways that went far beyond what any of the teachers of the law had ever done. Jesus taught, not as someone who was attempting to interpret what the prophets had said, but as someone who absolutely knew what God wanted and what God had intended. Jesus wasn’t a follower of God, Jesus was God. Jesus could do miracles because the Spirit of God lived within him. For these reasons, Jesus taught with the authority of a true leader. He was there when God gave instructions to the prophets and he knew what God meant. And so, as Jesus taught, he wasn’t really interpreting what he thought God meant, but instead was simply explaining the truth and the facts that he knew.
Jesus was different.
Even the demons and evil spirits knew who he was and obeyed him.
Jesus had authority. Jesus was a leader.
But what does that mean for all of us?
In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul says this…
8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
At first, this may not sound like it has anything to do with leadership, but stay with me for a minute. Paul says that we cannot have any gods other that the one God, God the Father, and only one Lord, who is Jesus Christ who created all that is and who gives us life. But Paul also speaks of a dispute between strong believers, and weak believers in a particular issue of his time that related to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Stronger believers had taken hold of the understanding of our God being the only god and not simply the strongest among a selection of other gods that the people had always known. Strong believers understood that food that had been sacrificed to idols was no different than ordinary food. For them, there was nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols.
But other believers had not made all of these connections. For them, food that had been sacrificed to idols was tainted. For them, eating such food felt like they were worshipping someone other than God and by doing so they themselves were defiled and corrupted in the eyes of God. Seeing the strong believers eating food that had been sacrificed to idols made them doubt their faith. It made them wonder if it wasn’t okay to worship more than one god. It made them wonder if the strong believers, the leaders perhaps of their church community, were worshipping more than one god.
Even though Paul understands that there was absolutely nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, he knew that doing so endangered the faith of newer, or weaker, believers. And so Paul’s instructions were that the people who were stronger, or more knowledgeable, were to live their lives as an example to the weaker ones. They were to deliberately live in such a way that supported and strengthened the faith of others in their community of faith even if that meant not exercising their rights to do things that they knew were permissible to do.
And that’s where we intersect with our lives today. Paul understood that the people who were more knowledgeable, because of their knowledge, but also simply because of their membership in the church body, were leaders. What one person in the church did or did not do was an example to other people in the church, and their actions could either strengthen, or weaken the faith of others. But if that is true, then we can also understand that this applies to people in our families and in our communities, who are outside of the church and who might not have any faith at all. The things that we do, and the things that we do not do, can either draw people toward faith in God and in Jesus Christ, or they can push people away. Today, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is not an issue that we deal with, but there are other, more modern issues that do. Our complaining, or our gossiping, or our use of alcohol, or our ownership of firearms, might all be reasons that other believers today might struggle with their faith as well as others.
Jesus was God in human flesh. He was the ultimate leader. He could easily have done a great many things that he chose not to do. Instead he followed the rules that God had laid down for the prophets. Jesus taught with authority, but he did not teach anything that contradicted earlier teachings of God. Everything that Jesus did was intended to draw people toward God and toward faith in God. Today, all of our leaders have this same calling. As we follow God, we must live our lives, and perform our ministries in such a way that our faith, and our lives, does not damage the faith of fellow believers or push unbelievers farther away from faith. But since all of us have knowledge of God, and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and since all of us have faith in him, then every one of us fall under Paul’s instructions because every one of us, regardless of how strong or how weak our faith might be, have a stronger faith than someone else inside, or outside, the church.
You see, in this way, all of us are leaders.
All of us are called to live our lives as an example to others so that their faith is strengthened and not weakened. Even if that means we must voluntarily surrender rights that we know we have and stop doing things that we know are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God.
You see, Jesus was not a follower. But because we follow him, and because we too are filled by the Spirit of God, we are not just followers of Jesus. All of us are the spiritual leaders of everyone who is less mature, or who has less knowledge than we do.
We are all followers. But we are also all leaders.
And we need to live our lives as an example to others so that they will be drawn closer to Jesus and pushed farther away.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.