Have you ever asked your kid to clean his room in the middle of video gaming? It never works very well.
I’m coming. Just after this level.
I’ll be there soon just a few more minutes.
Mom! I’m battling Bowser for control of the Mushroom Kingdom! If I don’t help now, the toadstools will be under his control forever. How can you talk about dirty sneakers at a time like this?
Of course – the same thing happens when you’re a grown-up.
Ever heard of a Honey-Do-List? What amazes me is how long honey do lists can become. They become long for two reasons. (1) One spouse will keep adding to it. Fix the toaster. Paint the garage. I think the heater’s broken! Could you set up a hanger system in my closet for all of my pocket scarves? (2) The other spouse will come up with reasons not to fix it. I’m going fishing. I’ve got work to do. Somebody’s gotta watch this football game, it won’t watch itself.
It makes me think: Putting things off is human nature. Procrastination is a key part of being a human.
But what about when procrastination makes its way into your spiritual life?
No big deal thing?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow. It’s about following Jesus. Our focal point this morning is urgency. We want to learn why following Jesus is so urgent and how we can be urgent about Jesus in 2017. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Urgency of Near
The main lesson comes from Matthew 4. This takes place after our lesson from last week. Remember? John had pointed at Jesus and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The heavens opened at Jesus’ baptism. A dove landed on his shoulder and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:15-17) Highlights.
That was a highlight for John. He had beheld the reality of his message – that a Savior was coming – with clear eyes. He must have felt pretty good.
Then, a lowlight. John, motivated by what he has seen in Jesus, keeps preaching. He preaches to the tax collectors. He preaches to prostitutes. He preaches to Pharisees. He even begins to preach to King Herod – the guy in charge of Judah. And Herod is interested in him. He wants to hear what this crazy preacher will say. He loves to hear him talk about those Pharisees. He loves to see those religious officials squirm. He loves John’s message.
Until – it hits home.
John turns and says to Herod, “And you? Stop sleeping with your brother’s wife. You aren’t married to her. She isn’t married to you. That sexual immorality. That’s one of the commandments: You shall not commit adultery. What you’re doing is wrong. It’s wrong and if you don’t change, you’re going to hell!”
Can you imagine Herod sweating? He’s embarrassed. (Thank goodness there wasn’t Twitter at that time.) He thinks it over. I can’t repent. That would make me look weak—like some crazy preacher has control over me. So instead Herod has John arrested and thrown into prison. Herod thinks, “There I’ve dealt with that. No more grand revolutionary spiritual voices for people to follow.”
And things are quiet.
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee…From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12,17)
What do you know about heaven? The Bible doesn’t provide a full architectural schematic of heaven. There aren’t any illustrations. You can’t find heaven on Zillow. Google Earth does not allow you to zoom in and see Peter’s car parked on a side street near the holy donut shop.
But the Bible does say this: In heaven, there is no sadness. There is no mourning. There is no sin. There is no pain. There is no hunger. There is no thirst. There is no loneliness. There is no evil. There is no cancer. There is no AIDS. There is no terror. There is no racism. There is no death. (Revelation 21)
There is God. There is his love. There is joy. There is love. There is family. There is friends. There is a peaceful forever existence in the happiness of eternity. (Revelation 21)
Sounds awesome, right?
Ok Pastor. How do I get there? Again – Heaven isn’t physical. Rand McNally doesn’t know the way. You can ask Siri and she will not know. Heaven isn’t a place you drive to, walk to, or ride a motorcycle to.
Heaven is spiritual.
Heaven is invisible.
Heaven is a place you go after this life.
Heaven is a place you go when you die.
Heaven is place you go for eternity.
Which means – God has to get you there. And since God is the one who does the transporting, understand that God is the one deciding whether you can come or not.
It’s kind of like driving in a car. I know that some people have rules when you ride in their car. No sodas. No chips. No food and drink. No melty chocolate. Why? Well – they probably have had kids spill all over the carpets as they hit a bump on the road. They would like a clean car. It is their car, so makes sense that they get to set the rules for it. I remember once trying to get into the car of my friend’s mom and she wouldn’t let me until I took off my dirty, muddy, shoes. I couldn’t be mad. It was her car, her rules. God’s the same way. Although it doesn’t bother God whether or not you are drinking a Coca-Cola when he comes to get you. There is something that God doesn’t want in heaven:
Do not be deceived: Evildoers will enter into the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Back to Jesus. Jesus said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” It means this – Abandon sin! Turn away from sin and follow God. Stop following lust. Stop following greed. Stop following pride. Stop following gossip. Stop following your vengeful desire to yell at your wife. Stop sin and turn to God. Because sin has no place in the kingdom of heaven. God doesn’t want sin in heaven. If you have sin, God doesn’t want you in heaven.
Pause with me for a moment. Here’s what the devil tempts us to think when you see that: Ok. I’ll work on it – eventually. I’m sure I won’t die for quite some time. I’m a young person. I just reached the age that you’re able to rent a car. I’ve got a long life left. Now? I need to worry about this life. I need to work on my job. I need to work on money. I need to work on my house. I need to work on my family. I need to work on my retirement package. I need to enjoy retirement.
I’ll deal with God later.
Look at what Jesus said again. Notice he did not say, “The Kingdom of God is later.”
He didn’t say: It’s not even close.
He didn’t say: It’s way in the distance.
He didn’t say: Don’t you worry about it. You have plenty of time.
He said, “It’s near.”
As in, close.
As in, soon.
As in, you could die in the next year, in the next month, 15 minutes after worship.
As in you could choke on a cookie (God forbid) after worship in the fellowship hall!
You don’t know when it will be time. You only know that it’s near. That means you need to follow Jesus – NOW!
Do you sense the urgency?
II. The Problem of Procrastination
Maybe you’re thinking:
Pastor, this is a young person's’ thing. When people get older, they get wiser and they come to their senses.
Here's the thing. I’ve met people of all ages. Teens who have said, “Later.” People in their twenties: Later. People in their thirties: Later. People in their forties: later. People in their sixties: later. People at the end of life – at the retirement homes I visit – where I don’t even know if I’ll see them next week – that I ask to come learn about Jesus with - Later.
It’s always later. This means that the problem isn’t maturity.
A couple of years back I saw that a friend of mine on Facebook was coming to Raleigh. It was a friend from the Seattle area where I was an intern pastor. A pretty good friend. We had gone to their house and hung out — plenty of times.
But this time I only saw it on Facebook. She knew that I was in Raleigh so…why didn’t she reach out? I left a note on the Facebook wall – If you’re in the area, come visit! She said, “Sure. I might be busy, but maybe I can get away.” A week later I saw a photo on Facebook of her relaxing and drinking an iced tea at Beasley’s downtown – I left a passive aggressive comment, “That place is awesome.”
Nothing. No response. Didn’t seek to hang out. Didn’t come to church.
Suddenly, I came to a harsh realization. I just wasn’t that important. It wasn’t a matter of too busy or unable. But not important. It's the same problem when it comes to following Jesus. The reality is that if you aren’t following Jesus, then he isn’t that important to you.
You can say, I just don’t have the time. But if Jesus is important enough, you’ll make the time.
I don’t have the time for Bible study – He’s not that important.
I’m too busy for church – He’s not that important.
I’ve got too much going on to be baptized – He’s not that important.
If Jesus was important to you, you’d do everything possible to make time for him.
If you haven’t, it’s your fault. Not your boss’ scheduling. Not your health. Not the weather.
If you don’t follow God, you don’t value Him.
If you don’t value Him, that’s sin.
If you’ve got sin, you can’t get into heaven.
If you can’t get into heaven, repent!
If you repent, do so now – because the kingdom of God is near!
III. Near (Revisited)
Near. Let’s revisit that phrase, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” We’ve been talking about that temporally – in relationship to time. Any day. Any minute. Any hour. That’s exactly what Jesus meant.
But sometimes there’s more than meets the eye with Jesus. Sometimes Jesus means more. Sometimes the answer is so much closer than you think. Maybe you’ve heard this passages before: Jesus said, “I am the way – no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Put that next to the last passage. “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” Do you see it?
If you were the listening to Jesus speak, then, yes, the kingdom of heaven was near – you could die any time – it’s temporal. But it’s also spatial. As in – the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is a few feet in front of you. He’s speaking with you. He’s sitting by you. He’s Jesus.
Remember what we heard John say about Jesus last week – “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s what Jesus came to do on the cross. Because the reality is that every human being has sin – sin that they can’t remove on their own – sin that disqualifies them from heaven.
Jesus came to wash us from our sins. Jesus came to clean us up. Jesus came to make us ready for heaven.
Here’s why: Jesus understood urgency. Jesus understood that if he didn’t fix the problem of sin then you would not make it to heaven with him. Jesus understood that he had to live perfectly when you couldn’t, die innocently in your place, and rise triumphantly for all of your sins. Jesus knew that he had to do this in order to get you into heaven. He knew it and in fact -- It was a priority to him.
You were a priority to him.
Do you believe this?
Do you believe in Jesus? Are you ready to follow him?
Then, there’s something very important that you need to hear:
If you haven’t made Jesus a priority, you’re forgiven.
If others things have been more important than following him, you’re forgiven.
If you follow him – even if you’ve never followed him til right now, you are forgiven.
You will be in his kingdom.
IV. What Now?
How do you react to this awesome message? How do you make following Jesus a more important part of your life?
(1) Be Willing to Leave your Nets
Look at the account that takes place right after we hear about Jesus’ ministry: 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Did you see that? They left their nets. That’s not a big deal if you’ve never touched a fish in your life and can’t tell the difference between a catfish and a guppy. But for these guys – it was everything! They left their nets – their livelihood. They left what made them money and followed him.
Do the same. Money is important, but not important enough to jeopardize your eternal future. Not important enough to jeopardize heaven.
If you are so busy, that you don’t have anytime to actively follow Jesus – make a change. Talk to your boss. Get Sundays off. Get a weekday off to join a small group. Turn off your work email at home and turn on your Bible.
Might you make less money? Might you not get promoted? Of course. That’s the reality of a world that doesn’t see the importance in following Jesus. But there’s eternal value in following Jesus. He will strengthen your faith in his Word. He will encourage you through his people. He will promote you – all the way to heaven.
(2) Be Willing to Leave Your Family
Look at the next verse: 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
These guys go a step farther. They leave their family – not that their dad was necessarily against their leaving or putting up a big stink about it – but it’s still a challenge to leave family. And sometimes family can be one of the biggest challenges to following Jesus:
You’re still believing that? I don’t like how it’s changed you. I think you should give it up.
You’re going to church? Can’t you stay home and have breakfast in bed with me instead?
You can’t come hang out because you’re serving God? That’s crazy! If that’s how you’re going to act, don’t bother spending time with me.
But God isn’t saying – Have nothing to do with your family. We can see them. We love them. They love us. But God is saying don’t make them more important than following Jesus.
Because they don’t love you more than Jesus.
Because they didn’t give up their lives for you, Jesus did that.
Because your family can’t get you to heaven, only Jesus can.
(3) Embrace your New Family
Still that’s hard. How do you do leave behind family?
With your new family.
That’s what happened to the disciples. They became brothers. They became brothers and sisters. That was key because they were travelling around Asia minor spreading God’s Word. We still use that today when we talk about each other.
This is important. Because if you’re the only one in your family who believes in Jesus – that’s tough. It’s hard. But you’ve got family here. People who love you. People who care about you. People who will encourage you to follow Jesus all the way to heaven. Lean on them.
And if you’ve got lots of believing family – understand that about people who don’t – it’s hard. They need you to be their family. You can come here and catch up with your family sure. But branch out! There are others here who need your encouragement. They need your uplifting. Be someone to lean on.
Hebrews says this, “Let us encourage each other—and all the more as we see the Day approaching.” Do you hear the urgency? It isn’t just in following Jesus, but urgency in encouraging one another…because you never know when Jesus will come back. Be ready. Amen.