Andy Stanley - Don't Settle For Christian
Hi, everybody, thank you so much for tuning in. As we all try to navigate the ever increasing complexity of life in America, today, I wanna lay out a specific challenge to all of us church people. Now, if you're not a church people or you used to be a church people, I think you're gonna enjoy today's message primarily because, well, today's message may explain in part, why you're not a church person, or why you're not a church person any longer. So I wanna go ahead and just jump in.
If you were raised in a church, similar to the church I was raised in, you discovered really early on that becoming a Christian is easy. I mean, it costs virtually nothing, right? I mean, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The price has been paid, we put our faith in Jesus and then we're Christians. That's what makes it so amazing. The price has been paid. You simply receive the free gift of salvation and forgiveness and then you can call yourself and I can call myself a Christian.
Becoming a Christian is easy, but (and you know this), when you open the pages of the Gospels, and when you read the letters of the Apostle Paul, you don't read anything about anybody becoming a Christian. In fact, as you probably know, first century Christians didn't call themselves Christians. That's what non-Christians called Christians. And it was probably a slur or a derogatory term, it literally meant one associated with Christ. One associated with Christ or a Christ-one. And this wasn't like a static label, like being an American or a Canadian, it actually indicated a way of life.
And the term only shows up three times in the Bible. Luke, who described the events following the resurrection of Jesus, actually documents the first time this term appears in history. And it happened in the metropolitan city of Antioch. But here's the interesting thing. In telling us how the label originated, Luke actually clarifies what it meant or what it meant back then. Maybe not so much what it means today. Here's what Luke writes in the book of Acts. He says the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
But this raises a question for us. Disciples, the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch, so who were the disciples? Now, he's not talking about the 12 apostles, this referred to a broader group of people. In fact, in the Gospels, and we've talked about this before, the term disciple, always referred in the New Testament the term disciple always refer to Jesus followers, people who publicly associated with Jesus before his crucifixion, and the people who followed his teaching after the resurrection.
Now, one of the reasons that we think the term Christian might have been a derogatory term is because first century followers of Jesus were accused of being part of a cult or they refer to it as a sect. Specifically they were referred to people who were part of a Nazarene sect. And the reason of course they call it a Nazarene sect is because they followed a teacher from Nazareth. There was something unusual about these people that set them apart from their idol worshiping friends in Antioch. So the citizens of Antioch and you can understand this, the citizens of Antioch they felt pressed to come up with a name for these people. And they couldn't just call them disciples because lots of teachers and lots of philosophers and lots of rabbis had disciples. So they came up with a term. They called the followers of Jesus or the disciples of Jesus, Christians.
And this is challenging for us. And this is challenging for me. You may be comfortable claiming the badge or the title of Christian, the way modern folks use the term, right? But here's the question I want us to wrestle with for a few minutes today. It's easy to say I'm a Christian, but are we, are you, am I a Jesus follower? Are we following or are we simply believing in. Am I following his example? Or am I just trying to be a good example?
And this is a terrifying question. It's terrifying because well, see I can define and redefine the term Christian until I'm fine. And you can define and redefine the term Christian until you're fine. And we can all define and redefine the term of Christian until we all feel fine about our faith and our approach to faith. And the reason we can do that is because neither Jesus nor anybody in the Bible clearly defines what it means to be a Christian. But Jesus follower, that doesn't really need any defining does it?
Becoming a Christian is easy. It won't cost you anything. Following Jesus, it will always cost us something. And it cost some people more than others, right? And here's what you know and here's what I know. Here's what history tells us. The ones it cost the most are the ones that made the most difference. As we talked about all the time in our churches, Jesus came to earth to introduce the kingdom of God to earth. He was the king, we know this. He was the king who came to reverse the order of things. So to follow Jesus then and to follow Jesus now, requires us to live in a different direction, to some extent to be counter cultural. And this was certainly the case in the first century. And Jesus made this abundantly clear right out of the gate in his most famous, his most quoted, and perhaps his least applied sermon. We refer to it as the Sermon on the Mount. Here's how it happened.
"Now, when Jesus saw the crowds", there were always crowds. "Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountain", thus the Sermon on the Mount, "and he sat down" and here's our Word, "and his disciples", his followers "came to him and he began to teach them". And the crowd had no idea how lucky they were. Think about this. They don't know this. They have no idea. They are at the Sermon on the Mount, are you kidding? I mean, what an honor, what a privilege. They have no idea. They are spectators. They are the audience for the Sermon on the Mount.
Back in 1977 at the Omni an arena in Atlanta, I saw sticks open for kiss. It was amazing. These people are at the Sermon on the Mount. I was at Braves Stadium in 1992, all the Atlanta audience remember this, I was at Brave Stadium in 1992, when Sid Bream rounded third base in slow motion, you remember this he slides home and he sends the Braves to the World Series. I was there for that, it was amazing, we hug strangers, we drove through the city of Atlanta with our windows down high fiving people we did not even know, it was unbelievable. But these people are at the Sermon on the Mount.
I was so fortunate to be invited to and to attend Billy Graham's funeral, one of the highlights of my life. But goodness, this lucky group, they participated in an event that would shape Western civilization. And would re-shape cultural values and cultural norms. So Jesus stands up front of this large crowd. And he turns everything upside down.
"Love your enemies, give away your stuff. And when somebody asks for a little give them a lot. And when somebody wants to borrow from you, let them borrow and don't even ask for the stuff back, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek. Oh, you can't make things right with God until you're right with the people around you. Don't think for a minute that you have peace, can have peace with God, if you don't have peace with the people in your family. If you're standing at the temple, and you're about to make a sacrifice for your sin, and there are three people ahead of you, and you've been standing there for hours, and suddenly it dawns on you, that somebody at home has something against you". This was amazing. He said, "leave your sacrifice there in the temple and go home and make things right with your brother or sister, you can't be right with God if you're not right with your brother, if you're not right with your family, if you're not right, with your neighbor. Hey, and stop staring at a little speck of sawdust in your brother's eyes and clean out your own eye first and then you'll be able to see your brother better, and you'll be able to help your brother. You've heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, not anymore, not in my kingdom. Blessed are those who curse you".
It was epic. It was disturbing. He literally turned their entire value system upside down, and then, read it for yourself. He drops the mic, and he heads to Capernaum. When Jesus had finished, I love this, when Jesus had finished saying these things and I just gave you the summary, right? The crowds were amazed at his teaching. Why, because he taught as one who had authority. He was a king, as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law. And when Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. It was a street party, nothing like this had ever happened before. I mean, John the Baptist, he was kind of the warm up back and he attracted thousands and thousands of people, but there was something different about Jesus. Again, he spoke as one who had authority and maybe, maybe this was the Messiah.
And then a man with leprosy shows up. He shows up, he steps right in front of Jesus and he kneels down before Jesus, and this was kind of a downer, right? I mean, as soon as a leper shows up, the crowd kind of stops they kind of make space, nobody wants to get too close. And it's like, oh, you know, things were going so well. And the leper says to Jesus, "If you are willing, Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean".
Now, Jesus had just taught, blessed are the poor in spirit blessed that or the poor, blessed are those who mourn, for there'll be comforted, big talk, right? So what's he gonna do? Jesus, you know the story, he reaches out his hand, and he touched the man, and I love this. And he said, "I am willing, be clean". And immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. And the crowd, the large crowd, it goes wild. I mean, this guy is walking his talk, he's doing for others, he stopped his car and gave that couple with the sign all the cash in his wallet, he is the real deal. He's actually gonna live out these extraordinary values that didn't make any sense, they don't seem like they would work in that culture. But here's a guy that's gonna do it anyway.
Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, the mood changes. And what happens next is completely lost on us. In fact, Matthew doesn't even bother to elaborate, because the folks who witnessed this, they didn't need any elaboration and everybody there, everybody who heard about it, all of Matthew's first century readers, they got this, they felt it. It was like a 17 year old boy, talking to his friends, and telling his friends about, telling his friends the story, being all cuddled up with his girlfriend in his girlfriend's basement, when suddenly the lights come on, and her dad is standing there. And his friends they all have the same question, right? And their question is not well, how did you feel in that moment? No, they already know the answer to that question, what do they wanna know? They wanna know, well, what happened next? And this is one of those moments in the life of Jesus. Everything is good. And then suddenly, the lights come on, and it's her dad.
Now, Matthew didn't have to tell anybody how everybody felt in that moment. Because every body knew. Here's what happened. When Jesus entered Capernaum, a Centurion came to him, asking for help. And the world stood still. This was beyond awkward. Love your enemy, do for others, go the extra mile, great hashtags. But surely, surely those 51 liners don't apply to this guy. I mean, healing sick Jewish people, that's one thing. This, this is a whole nother thing.
So a little historical context might help us here. Because again, we don't feel the gravity, we don't feel the tension of the moment. But everybody in Matthew's audience did. Here's little background. About 100 years before this event, General Roman Pompey enters the city of Jerusalem, desecrates the temple and the Holy of Holies by giving himself a self guided tour. Pompey was so curious to see this Jewish God that he'd heard so much about, this Jewish God that was so easily offended, and who considered himself too good to be a part of any pantheon of Gods, a God that was too good and so good that he claimed to be the only God.
So he brushed aside the priest and he boldly went where only the high priest had gone before, right into the Holy of Holies. He pulls aside that huge over engineered curtain that separated the God chamber from the outer court. He walks into the Holy of Holies, He looks around, and he's so disappointed because there's no God. There's no idol, there's a golden table, there's a candlestick and they're about 2000 talents of gold, but no God. And he probably thought to himself, these crazy Jews, they build this extraordinary structure, this physical structure, for a God who has no physical representation. I mean, what good is a god you can't see. And then he left. But he didn't leave alone. He left with thousands of Jewish slaves in tow.
Judea and Galilee, in that moment were essentially annexed into the Roman Empire. Galileans and Judeans lost their independence. Again, and they're forced to pay taxes to their pagan conqueror. Years later and other general shows up, Crassus, he actually goes into the temple and he steals all the Jewish wealth, all the temple taxes, everything he could find, and he takes it with him to Rome. Then in 40 BC, Herod the Great was crowned, king of the Jews by the Roman Senate. Of course, the problem was Herod wasn't even Jewish. He murdered multiple rabbis and one of his sons is responsible for executing John the Baptist who was a folk hero among the working class.
Then, when Jesus was somewhere in his 20s, Rome commissioned Pontius Pilate to be the governor of Judea. And Pilate is given credit for introducing crucifixion to the Galilean and the Judean landscape. He was constantly, constantly offending the Jews on purpose. He too stole money from the temple treasury. In fact, Pilate was so cruel that he was actually recalled to Rome because of his violence against Jews and Samaritans. And eventually, he committed suicide.
The points simply being this, that anything and everything associated with Rome was tainted. There was just too much history. But it got worse. This was not a common soldier. This was a centurion asking Jewish people for help. This is a man who had earned his rank and his authority through violence. He obeyed without question and he obeyed without conscience. Centurions were severe disciplinarians. They actually flogged their own men and on occasion, executed their own soldiers. But it got even worse. Because we know from history there were no actual, Roman centurion stationed in Galilee, until about 10 or 15 years after this encounter.
So in all likelihood, this gentleman, this centurion had been recruited from a region from around or outside of Galilee. And people outside or people in the regions around Galilee they considered the Jews to be, well pretty much a detestable race. They had resisted Hellenization. They clung to their ancient culture and their strange customs. And they refused to join the rest of the world. People from the neighboring regions considered Jews to be racist. I mean after all, Jews considered all non-Jews off limits, you know unclean, they wouldn't allow their daughters to marry the sons of Gentile people and they wouldn't allow their sons to marry Gentile women.
In fact, you may remember this. Remember Jesus encounter with the woman at the well, we call it "the woman at the well", the Samaritan woman? When he spoke to the woman, the Samaritan woman, do you remember how she responded? She was shocked that a Jew would even speak to her. That was the relationship between first century Jews and outsiders in a nutshell. Remember Peter, the apostle Peter, he admitted, he just openly admitted that he had never, think about this, he had never stepped foot inside a Gentile home. He wouldn't dream of such a thing. So no wonder that people from the border regions, considered Jews to be strange and odd and to some extent, just detestable, racist.
This was the context. This was the tension. This was the emotion. This was the disgust that hung in the air that afternoon on the outskirts of Capernaum as Jesus is stopped by a centurion, asking for help. This centurion represented everything Jesus had a right to hate. I mean, personally, nationally, ethnically, religiously, it was all wrong. He had blood on his hands, he had a Jewish blood on his hands and now, he needs a favor.
Have you been there? Been there? I think we've all been there, right? What, you want a job recommendation? Are you kidding? After the way you treated me, after the way you treated our employees, you want us to give you a good recommendation. Are you kidding? What, you wanna borrow money? No, no, no. You mean you wanna borrow more money, you haven't paid me back from the last time you borrowed money from me? You want a second chance? Are you kidding? This is your third, second chance. You've had three second chances. Oh, you wanna come for Christmas? Have you forgotten how you treated me and our family last Christmas? Oh, you need to stay with someone for a while, okay last time a while was three months. You never said thank you and you never offered to help with the bills, too much history.
Now, this is what we have in common. Isn't it true? That if I want you to help a stranger, who's never done anything for you, or to you, you're for that right. I mean, in terms of helping someone I don't know that's never done anything to me or for me, I'm all for that, I'm up for that, aren't you? I mean that that feels good. But doing good for someone who hurt me, or doing good for someone who reminds me of someone who hurt me or hurt someone I love, I just think that's too much.
Becoming a Christian is easy. Salvation is free, it'll cost you nothing. Following Jesus, moving beyond what's reasonable, beyond what's expected, that's difficult. It's unnatural, it's beyond natural. It's almost supernatural. And of course, that was Jesus point. And if you do good, remember he taught this, Sermon on the Mount, "And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners, do that". If you do good only for those who do good for you, there's nothing unusual about that. That brand of love is so commonplace, that brand of love keeps us sequestered behind our brands. It keeps us with our tribes.
So, there they stand, there Jesus stands, there this Centurion stands, the question was, what would he do? They'd heard what he preached. But what would he do? And unfortunately, you can guess. Perhaps you know, perhaps you've read the story. And once we read the end of the story, then I have a decision to make. And you have a decision to make, and we have a decision to make. We have to decide. Are we willing to follow Jesus? Or will we be content with simply being Christian?
"When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help. 'Lord', he said, 'my servant is at home paralyzed, suffering terribly'". Wait, wait, wait, hang on. You are suddenly concerned about someone suffering terribly. Are you kidding? The nerd of you, you personify as a Roman centurion, you personify suffering terribly. You cause suffering for a living, we've suffered our whole lives because of you, our whole lives because of you and your nation and your armies and your legions. We've suffered as long as we can remember. And now you want one of us, to relieve the suffering of someone important to you, when you've never done that for us. In fact, you've done the opposite to us.
And you know what, at this point, Jesus could have gotten personal right? He could have said to the Centurion look, look at me, thanks to you, and your former Emperor, my mother was forced to deliver me in a stable, which worked out well for Hallmark and the folks who sell yard ornaments. But anyway, but it was dangerous for my mother, right? I mean, granting this man's request, it would be potentially dangerous for Jesus. He could lose the crowd. He would lose the patriots. He would lose the working class. When rumors of this spread, this could be the end of the mission.
But Jesus had come to introduce a new kind of Kingdom. He had come to introduce a new morality, a new ethic, a new way of seeing the world, and maybe more importantly, a new way of seeing everybody in the world. And so, in keeping with his own teaching, to illustrate what he just taught, he chose to do good for someone who represented an empire, who had done unimaginable harm to his people, his nation, his family, and think about it. In the end, the empire that would oversee his own crucifixion.
Jesus says to him, okay, I'll do it. In fact, would you like for me to come and heal him? Would you like to come for me to come with you to your home to heal him? And I'm telling you, the Jews in the crowd are like, this is a, this is certainly a breach too far. And the centurion to their relief replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof". To which everybody in the crowd thought, "well, you got that right. You certainly don't". The Centurion continues, and in an extraordinary, extraordinary, unprecedented expression of faith, he says, but Jesus, "You don't need to come to my home, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed".
Jesus, you and I aren't so different. Like you, I myself, am a man under authority. With soldiers under me. "I tell this one, go and he goes, and I say to this one, come and he comes, and I say to my servant, do this, and he does it". So no, I don't need you to come to my house. "Just say the word, and my servant will be healed". And then Jesus, again to the shock of this crowd, commends this Centurion on his faith, and he says, go, let it be done to you, just as you believed it would. And then I think he pauses, he looks out over his crowd, he smiles. And then he heads to Peter's house to get a bite of lunch. And once again, the crowd is stunned.
He spoke as one who had authority. And he's matching his words with his deeds. He wasn't kidding. Those were more than #hashtags. He actually, he actually expects us to literally do good for those who don't and won't do good for us. He expects us to literally to do good for those who don't look like or live like us. He expects us to do good for people who don't even like us.
So, back to us. It's no wonder come on, right? It's no wonder that we reduce our faith to a label, right? It's no wonder we're we're content to take notes, feel bad about ourselves for a moment and then just retreat to what's comfortable. Because it's easier to be a Christian than to be a Jesus follower. It's easier to do good for a stranger, before an offender. It's easier to love people who look like me, who think like me, right? Who live like me, and who agree with me. It is easier to be a Christian than a Jesus follower.
And if that's what you choose, if that's what we choose, we will contribute to the challenges, we are wrestling with as a nation. And I'll tell you why. Because if you don't choose to follow Jesus, you will be contempt to simply believe. You will be content to believe. You'll believe all the right things you believe in. All men and women are created in the image of God that they're all created equal, that they have intrinsic worth, that they have divinely assigned value. You'll agree with CS Lewis when he made this extraordinary statement, that there there are no ordinary people. There are no mere mortals. You believe from the bottom of your heart that a person's value and dignity is not assigned by men. It is assigned by God.
But, if you have not decided to follow Jesus, if I've not decided to follow Jesus, it just ends there. It ends with correct belief. If we don't decide to follow Jesus, we will not act. We won't act on what we claim to believe when it cost us something. And we will not react. We will not react when we see people treated unjustly, unkindly, unfairly.
Now, here's the really interesting thing. Apparently, Jesus saw this coming. Apparently, Jesus saw us coming. He saw me coming. He seemed to have anticipated a generation that would be content to know, but not to do. In fact, this is so interesting. Jesus reserved his final words, his harshest statements in the Sermon on the Mount for those people who would hear and not do. Who would agree, but who wouldn't act. For those who are content to sit and to listen and nod, but refuse to follow. Here, think about this, this is amazing. Here is the closing statement. Here's the closing statement of his most famous sermon, here's how he closes it. "But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man".
Everyone who heard this sermon, and who was moved by this sermon and even agreed with parts of this sermon, but when it gets gets down to real life, when it gets down to those emotionally, those emotional moments where it's just, just too much to think about following through with what we just heard. He said, "The person who hears these words of mine, and refuses to put them into action is like a foolish man". Specifically, they're a fool. And they're a fool because he or she will have fooled themselves. They will fool themselves into thinking that they're better, than they really are. That they found favor with God, that they don't really possess. "Is like a foolish man who built his house on sand". It looked great. You remember how this ends. "And then the rains came down, and then the streams rose, and then the winds blew, and they beat against that house and it fell with a great crash".
So here's what I wanna leave you with. The men and women who make a difference in the world, are not the men and women who believe right. They are the men and women who act and react when something isn't right, even when it cost them. So, here's my invitation to you. Here's my invitation to us. Here's my invitation to me.
Let's not be content with Christian. Let's follow. Let's continue to do good for those who can't or won't do good for themselves. And then, when the Centurions in our world show up, when everything and as recoils at the thought of leveraging our resources, our time, our reputation for their good, let's remember this. Because this is at the epicenter of our faith. This is the why behind the what. This is why Jesus could say what he said and expect us to follow through. This is what compelled post resurrection followers to embrace this kingdom ethic to such an extent that it eventually captured the imagination of the Empire.
Let's remember this when confronted by this Centurion in our world. But God... but God demonstrated, but God acted, God responded, but God demonstrated his own love toward us. In that while we were yet centurions. Christ died for us. And then he rose from the dead, and from the pages of the New Testament, he glances over his shoulder at you and me and all of us, and he says, follow me. Follow me. And together we will astonish the world with a brand of love that has the potential to change everything. It's easier to be a Christian than a Jesus follower. But here's the funny thing. Jesus never invited anyone to become a Christian. He invited us to follow.