Without Direction in Life, Every Road Leads Nowhere

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We are studying through the Bible book of John, and today, what we’re going to talk about the direction that your life is going. Now, you already know this, but I just want to go ahead and say it anyway. Life is about a whole lot more than just the choices that you make. But if we were honest for a second, the choices that you and I make every day, those choices start to take us down a road, and our life really starts to move in the direction of the choices that we make. In other words, the destination is largely dependent on the direction that you’re going right now.

Sometimes we start to travel down a road and we’re exactly sure where this road is taking us, until we get a long way down that road. I’ll give you a true story about this. A few years ago, I was speaking at a church outside of Atlanta. But it was way outside of Atlanta, down this country road. I’ve never heard of this road before. It was a relatively new church and doesn’t really even show up on the map. So, the pastor of the church gave me some directions. 

He said, “Jeff, go through Atlanta. Go down this side road. You’ll eventually see the church. It’s right on the side of the road.” I left plenty early because you can spend two hours in a traffic jam in Atlanta (Y’all know what I’m talking about?). The service was awesome. When it got over with, talking to people, shaking their hands, and the pastor and I were basically the last two people out the door.

Now, this is the middle of the week. It’s late at night. There was nobody around on this country road way outside of Atlanta. I jump in my truck, and I start to make my way back home, but the problem is, when I open up my phone and try to follow Apple Maps or Google Maps (the map that got me to the church), it doesn’t show anything. Literally nothing. No matter where I look on any of the apps on my phone, I got nothing. The reason is because I had no cell coverage out there. There is no way to get a map on your phone if the phone isn’t even hitting the cell towers. 

And so, now the pastor’s already gone; I’m in the parking lot, and I have no idea where to go next. So I do what any of you guys would do. I wasn’t about to call that pastor up and ask for directions. Oh no, I’ll drive for hours in the wrong direction before I will stop and ask somebody for advice. Come on, guys. You know what that feels like.

So I just start driving, and I think, Surely this road has got to go somewhere. They put this here because it leads somewhere. I just don’t know if I’m going the wrong direction or the right direction. And it’s not until 30, 45 minutes down the road that I start to realize I’m heading toward Atlanta and not away from Atlanta when my phone starts to get cell coverage again and the map starts to pop up on the phone. 

I’m telling you this, because sometimes you make decisions (I do this too), and you don’t really know where those decisions are going to take you, the direction those decisions are going to take you, until you’ve been on that road for a while. And come on, sometimes you’re on the wrong road and you don’t know it until you’ve been going down that road for a while and you start to get to a place that you don’t want to go or in a direction that you’re not happy you’re heading, but you’ve been on this road for a while.

So, here’s what I want you to hear from the Bible today. We’re going to take a look at the Gospel of John. We’re going to be in chapter one today. But if I were to answer, “Where you going with this whole thing, Jeff?”, I can give it to you right up front in one simple statement. Here it is:

Without direction in life, every road leads nowhere.

It doesn’t matter what road you’re on; if you don’t know the destination, every road that you’re on is going nowhere. And today, I want to give you some advice on how to make sure that you’re heading down the right road. In fact, I’m going to give you the answer to the question right up front. You and I are not smart enough to figure out if we’re heading in the right direction, if we’re going to end up at the destination that we want to end up.

You and I need supernatural help, and that help is available to you in the Holy Spirit. Only God could possibly work this out. When we started studying through the Gospel of John, I didn’t realize that we would be in this passage on the Christian calendar day of Pentecost, the day where churches all over the world celebrate God pouring his Holy Spirit out on the disciples in a very powerful way and ushering in the age of the Holy Spirit. That’s today. And today as a church, we’re going to talk a lot about the Holy Spirit. 

So, let’s roll up our sleeves, let’s dig in, and let’s see what John has to say about the Holy Spirit, about John the Baptist, and about Jesus. This all begins based on a statement that I read from Winston Churchill, who incidentally is my favorite politician of all time. Winston Churchill said it this way: “It’s not good enough just to live your life [That’s the way billions of people are going through their week this week]; we should determine to live for something.” Or I would add, in a specific direction. 

You don’t need to hold the map. V. 29-34

That’s the life that we’re living this week, and John tells you how to do that. John tells you how to follow the Holy Spirit and get turn-by-turn directions in life through the Holy Spirit. Here’s what John says: You and I, as much as you might not like to admit it (I don’t like to admit it), you and I don’t hold the whole map. You and I don’t always get to see the full map. We don’t get to see the start point, the middle point, and the end point. Somebody else, who can see the whole map, is holding the map, and we are simply supposed to trust the one that’s holding the whole map to your life. This is how Christians get up tomorrow and follow the Holy Spirit and radically depend on him.

I’m going to describe for you today from the Bible how John the Baptist does that. Let me remind you from last week, Jesus described John the Baptist, (Matthew 11:11) as “the greatest man ever born of a woman.” Now, Jesus is considering himself separate here. He was the greatest man ever born of a woman, John the Baptist. There’s something unique about John the Baptist, and we’re going to learn about that today starting in John chapter one. We’ll begin at verse 29. John, the guy who’s writing this book, is about to start teaching us day-by-day what happens in Jesus’s life over the next couple of weeks.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I told you about: ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’ I didn’t know him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and he rested on him. I didn’t know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The one you see the Spirit descending and resting on—he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

Now, I need to do a disclaimer here up front. Normally, when I’m speaking from the Bible, I try to just teach you what the Bible is naturally describing for us, just what’s right there in front of us. And we’re going to do that today. But today, I just want to be honest with you and say, a lot of what we’re going to hear from the Bible is not written in the words. It’s in between the lines of the Bible. You see, what I think the Bible is telling us today is John the Baptist is passionately, totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. And I’ll prove it to you with two statements that we just read from the Bible about how John the Baptist does his ministry. 

In fact, I’m convinced that what the Bible is teaching us today is not just John the Baptist, but Jesus, is totally and completely dependent on the Holy Spirit. And hey, if Jesus is dependent on the Holy Spirit and John the Baptist is dependent on the Holy Spirit, how many of you say, “I should be dependent on the Holy Spirit too”? 

Two statements that the Bible just made where John makes it very clear, “I am waiting, and I’m watching, but I’m not exactly sure who I’m waiting and watching for. But I know to be waiting and watching. And here’s why: because the Holy Spirit told me to be waiting and watching.” Way back in the previous passage that we just looked at, John says, “Look, I didn’t really know him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be revealed in Israel.” 

I told you before that word know is different than just, “ I read about him in a book.” I’m talking to the people who know the name of Jesus because they read about him in his book, the Bible, but they really don’t know him, know him.

You see, the way John is using this word today is saying, “No, I met that man, and I have seen that man. He and I have a personal relationship.” And Christians, when we talk about Jesus, we don’t talk about some guy that we read about in a book like a historical figure in a history book. No, we talk about a man that we met, and he has changed us. That’s the language that John is using. 

Wait a second, John the Baptist is saying, “I didn’t know who I was looking for until this one supernatural event.” By the way, John doesn’t describe the baptism of Jesus for us in detail. The other three books in the New Testament do. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us all about this event. John just tells us a thing happened.

John has been hearing from the Holy Spirit, “Somebody is going to come. You’re going to baptize him, and when you see that person being baptized, God the Father will send his Holy Spirit, and you will see with your eyes, John. He will descend like a dove and rest on him, and the one that you see the Holy Spirit resting on, that’s my son.” And John is waiting and watching because John has been listening very carefully to the Holy Spirit. That’s when John goes from knowing what the Bible says about the son of God, about Messiah, because John read the Bible when he was a boy, just like you read the Bible when you were a boy or a girl, to knowing him personally and having this intimate relationship with him. 

That’s one way that I can prove to you John’s listening to the Holy Spirit. But the second way is really, really obvious. “The one who sent me to baptize, the one who told me, ‘Here’s what to look for, John,’ he’s the one that gave me the indication that I was supposed to look for him.” Okay, well who are you talking about right now, John? Because John’s been out there doing his thing for a while now. He’s been listening and looking, and he’s been waiting. John’s telling you, “I have been following specific instructions.” 

I want to ask you right now, do you hear from the Holy Spirit like Jesus did? Do you hear from the Holy Spirit like John the Baptist did? Remember, he’s just a man, just a human being like you are. He said, “I’ve been listening, and I’ve been watching, because the Holy Spirit told me to listen and to watch. And when I saw the baptism and when I saw the Holy Spirit, I knew this was the one. I knew that he was the one who would take away the sins of the world.”

I was thinking about this passage this week, and I was thinking, it’s basically beach season around here. You go to the beach, and you’re getting yourself ready to go out there, to get into the sand, and to play in the beach. And what you end up doing is, you know you’ve got to have a lawn chair with you, because you can’t sit on the sand. And I’ve got to have a cooler with me because I need some cold drinks. And I also need to have some sunblock and some sunscreen with me because I don’t want to get a sun burn. And hey, while we’re at it, why don’t we take some toys? And why don’t we take an umbrella? 

And pretty soon I’m carrying so much stuff that I’m wondering, why don’t we just take the refrigerator and the sofa with us, too, because it feels like we’re moving to the beach just to spend a few minutes with our toes in the water? You guys know what that feels like, right? 

The language that the Bible uses when it says, “Jesus takes away the sins of the world,” (that’s what John just described about Jesus), that language means the Holy Spirit shows up and he takes the lawn chair, he takes the umbrella, and he takes that heavy cooler that you’re carrying. And he says, “You don’t need this junk anymore. And you know what? It’s not going to be that sunny, so you don’t really need all of that. I’m going to help you with that heavy cooler.” And now pretty soon, most of the load is off of your shoulders. Now, pretty soon the heavy load that you were carrying, you’re not carrying anymore by yourself because he’s coming alongside of you, and he’s carrying it with you. This is what the Bible is saying about Jesus. He comes alongside of you, and he takes the load of sin off of your shoulders.

And although he’s the sinless son of God, he says, “I will carry that load for you so that you don’t have to carry it, because by the way, you can’t carry it by yourself. I’m going to carry that load for you.” And John looks at Jesus when he sees the Holy Spirit and the first words out of his mouth (and I think the Holy Spirit prompted him to say this), John the Baptist says, “That’s the son of God who takes away your sin [who took away Jeff’s sin] so you don’t have to carry that heavy load anymore.” 

Control freaks, if you’re the person that wants to control the circumstances and call all of the shots in your life and make sure that life goes exactly the way that you want it to go, you don’t control things, and I don’t control things. Control is an illusion, but if you’re the person that is trying to control things, that becomes a pretty heavy load on your shoulders.

What John is saying is, “You don’t have to control it anymore. You can take that load off of your shoulders, and you can put it on the only one who is capable of carrying it. He can carry it because he sees the whole picture: start, middle, and end. And you can trust the Holy Spirit to take that load and to lead you where he wants you to go.” This is what the Bible is describing for us first about the Holy Spirit on this day of Pentecost when we learn this amazing gift that we got when God sent us his Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us. 

Whom you follow is more important than where you’re going. V.35-36

I want you to see this. Not only does the Holy Spirit hold the whole map and you and I don’t have to struggle with control and decisions; we can just get up tomorrow and trust him. I want you to make sure you hear something really clearly from me. The decisions that you make are important. The directions that you’re following will determine the destination. But whom you are following is much, much more important than where you’re going right now. Because if the one that you’re following knows exactly what he’s doing and knows exactly how to get there, it doesn’t matter where you’re headed; you’re following the right person. If the one that you’re following doesn’t know where they’re going, if this is the blind leading the blind, we’re in for a world of hurt. 

And the language that the Bible uses next is follower language. In fact, it’s a really, really important Bible word that we talk about almost every Sunday around here. It’s the word disciple. Look at what happens next. John chapter one, starting in verse 35:

The next day, John was standing with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

John is intentionally trying to get his followers’ attention, and what he’s intentionally trying to do is take their attention from him and transfer their attention to Jesus. Did you hear what I just said? Because that’s really, really important today. John sees Jesus again and I’m not exactly sure, I’ll be honest with you. I study the Bible intently, but I’m not exactly sure when this happens, if this is the moment of Jesus’s baptism or if this happens a couple of days after Jesus is baptized. But at some point Jesus shows back up again. John has his squad around him. And when Jesus shows back up, John wants his followers to start looking at him and start following Jesus instead of following him. 

You see, what John is trying to do is, he realizes, “I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough for you guys to follow me. I think you need to follow the perfect one. I want you to follow the master. And here he is the lamb of God who I’ve already told you takes away the sins of the world.”

Now, I always feel the need to describe the word disciple, because we don’t use disciple in everyday, normal language in the United States. And chances are, if you are not in the United States, you probably don’t use disciple in your normal everyday conversation either. So people that didn’t grow up in the church, you’re probably sitting there asking, what on earth is a disciple? Well, a disciple is like a student. In fact, the language that you see is teacher/student, but that’s not a really good analogy because in our day and age, a teacher shows up in the classroom. They teach you something, student takes a test, and then the student goes home and there’s not much of connection after the student goes home, after the class is over with.

This is different. This is more like an apprentice. You live with the teacher, and you learn from the teacher because, one of these days, you want to be just like the teacher. And John’s got a group of guys around him (I’m not exactly sure how many) who are living with him and following him. The Bible calls these guys disciples. And by the way, every Christian, you have been created and called by God to be a disciple and to make more disciples. John’s got a group of disciples around him, and when Jesus shows up again (and I tend to think this is a second occurrence of Jesus), when Jesus shows up on the scene again, John grabs his disciples’ attention, and he tells them, “Stop looking at me [this is Jeff’s translation], and start looking at the lamb of God. He’s the one that I want you to focus on from this point on.”

You see, what John is trying to do is to take the attention off of himself and to put the attention on Jesus. And John is trying to be very careful about this, because John is trying to follow the Holy Spirit. 

When John says that the lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, because you and I didn’t grow up in Old Testament Israel sacrificing animals, we lose a little bit in the translation. Do you know what his followers heard when he made the statement, “Lamb of God”? In their minds, they immediately heard “Passover lamb”. 

They heard, “Take an innocent animal that’s never done anything wrong, you take that animal to the Temple, you kill that animal, and spill the animal’s blood out in the temple.” Because without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins. The Bible makes this very clear. So every single day, in the morning and at night in Israel, animals were slaughtered in the Temple as a lamb of sacrifice.

And what John is saying is, God just sent his sacrificial lamb. But this isn’t an animal that walks on four legs. God just sent his Son to become his sacrifice. And every family in Israel knows the cost of buying a sacrificial lamb, taking that lamb to the Temple at Passover, slaughtering that lamb, and asking the Father to forgive the family for the sins that they’ve committed. John says, “God the Father just sent his own lamb and this is the lamb that takes away the sins of the world.” 

And by the way, the Holy Spirit is now speaking and reminding us, he existed before John existed. He is more important than John is. He is the one that comes as the sacrifice. He and only he truly represents the Father, and yet he will become the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is mind-blowing language, because in Old Testament Israel, everybody thought the Messiah was going to come in on a white horse with a sword, and he was going to conquer the foreign armies that live in the land.

Did you see what I just did, this Freudian slip? What John said is, “Oh, he’s going to conquer. But he’s going to conquer as a lamb, not as the conquering Lord. He’ll come back one day. I’ll write about that in another book called Revelation when he comes back as the conquering Lord. But right now, he’s here as the lamb of God, and he’s going to conquer your greatest enemy. He’s going to conquer the enemy of death itself. And he’s going to do it by taking your place [or taking my place]. The lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” 

The journey will change you.  V.37-39

The third and finally point from this passage that we’re looking at in the Bible today is, when the disciples, when John’s followers, hear John’s language, it changes them. And when you start to understand who Jesus is and what he’s done for you, it’s going to change you, too. It’s supposed to change you.

I want you to hear from me as clearly as I can say this. The journey with Jesus will change you. It’s supposed to change you. And these brothers that were following John, when they hear what John has to say, their life is radically altered. Listen to the conversation that happens next between Jesus and John’s followers starting in verse 37.

The two disciples heard him say this and followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and noticed them following him, he asked them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come and you’ll see,” he replied. So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.

Now, isn’t this weird? Jesus just asked them a specific question and instead of giving Jesus a specific answer, they answer his question with a question. Now, I’ll tell you why. It’s because what the Bible is describing basically is, as Jesus is walking by and these disciples start a conversation with him, and Jesus says, “What are you looking for?” their answer is basically, “Um, I don’t even know where to start. I’ve got so many questions that it’s going to take us hours to get all of the questions out, because I’ve been hearing about you. I’ve been learning about you from John the Baptist, and now I’ve got so many questions that I don’t think I can ask them in five minutes. So Jesus, where are you headed? Can we go along with you? Because I’ve got lots of questions to ask you on the journey.” 

And this journey radically changes these guys. Look at Jesus’s answer, because he’s looking at you right now and he’s looking at me, and he’s making the same statement. “If you really want to know how much of a difference this will make, come and you’ll see,” he replied.

So that moment, they went and saw where Jesus is staying. You can read between the lines. They left John the Baptist, and from this point forward they start following Jesus. And John the Baptist is no longer important to them because now they’re following the one that John the Baptist is following. So they went and saw where Jesus was staying and they stayed with him that day. And by the way, John tells us, you can set your watch to it, it was about four o’clock in the afternoon when this whole thing went down. 

There’s a transition that is happening right now in the Bible, and this transition radically changes these disciples of John. This transition is supposed to radically change you. Now, I’m going to make a statement, three words, and I need everybody to hear what I’m going to say next. Worship, worshiping the King, is warfare. And it’s warfare for your soul. 

You see, when John the Baptist got up in the morning, he had a decision to make. Am I going to live today for myself, for my own plans, for my own glory? Or am I going to listen to the Holy Spirit, go wherever he leads me, do whatever he tells me to do, say whatever he tells me to say, or, for some of us, the even bigger challenge is not say something if he tells us not to say it. I have to decide, am I going to follow the Holy Spirit today, or am I going to follow my own desires? 

And you have this war going on inside of your chest, because I do it too. This war is tomorrow morning, when you get up, you’re going to have some selfish desires. You’re going to have some of your own plans, some of your own goals, And I’m not saying your plans or your goals are wrong. Maybe you’re right on the right track, but maybe you’re not.

When you get up tomorrow morning, worship is warfare between the Holy Spirit and your flesh and deciding, am I going to listen to my desires, or am I going to follow the Holy Spirit? And I promise you, if you get up tomorrow morning and you make the commitment, no matter how much of a challenge this is, “God, I’m going to listen to your Spirit. I’m going to follow him,” I promise you, tomorrow is going to be a wild ride and you’ll really, really be glad that you did what Jesus said and came and saw. The warfare is to decide, am I going to keep my disciples for myself? Am I going to keep all the attention on myself? Am I going to divert all of the attention to me? Or am I going to divert the attention to the one who deserves the attention? Am I going to point the attention to the Holy Spirit, to the son of the living God?

I wrap up with this true story. I can never get this woman’s statement out of my mind. Many of you know that I was an Army chaplain for years, and I did more than a few military funerals for warriors that were killed in combat. I had a chance to do a funeral for a warrior, and his body was being interred at Arlington National Cemetery. What an amazing honor to see some of America’s greatest and most disciplined soldiers honoring this guy by doing military honors at America’s most prestigious military cemetery! And the wife of this young warrior, he was only in the Army for a few years, had only been married for a few years, met a girl, fell in love with her, got married. He had only been married for a few years when he went to combat and when he was killed in action. 

The wife asked me, “Chaplain, can I make a couple of remarks about my husband?” You should know,