If someone asked you what it means to be a Christian how would you respond? Maybe a good answer is that you are simply trying to follow Jesus. At its most basic that is what we do: we follow Jesus.
I don’t know how you were raised but I was told don’t get into the car with strangers.
And when a company is interviewing people for a job they check on references and find out who this person is and what he or she is like before committing to them. Right?
And before I buy a product I want to know if it works and how it works.
We don’t just leap into the unknown, especially when it comes to relationships.
Yet, Jesus walks up to these four different men, calls them to follow him, and they do. They leave their nets, the boats, the family business and off they go with Jesus. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think they had some familiarity with Jesus, maybe hearing Jesus teach or having a meeting with him before, but still...
Not long after this Jesus approaches a tax collector named Levi, also known as Matthew, and calls him to follow him. And he does.
“Follow me” That is an invitation Jesus gives to each one of us. It is the invitation to be his disciple. The word “disciple” literally means “student” or “learner.” Being a disciple of Jesus is not about having arrived or achieving some level of faith expertise. Simon and Andrew and James and John don’t know anything as Jesus calls them to follow him. But they will learn. They get no special preparation. Jesus just says that he will help them become what he wants them to be.
To follow Jesus is to be a disciple, a learner. I have been following Jesus for a long time, and I am learning how to do it, everyday.
If you want to know if you are a Christian or not, ask yourself, “Am I following Jesus?” “Am I letting him lead my life? Do I let him direct my life?” That is what a person does who calls Jesus Lord.
How do you and I follow Jesus? What does it mean to follow him?
I had the blessing of being raised in a home where Jesus was known. But I didn’t really start following Jesus until I was about 18 or 19. That is when I came to the realization that I couldn’t call myself a Christian and live for myself. Jesus became real to me. I understood that I had to be intentional about this. It has been a learning, growing, life-claiming experience.
Notice who Jesus calls. The people Jesus called to follow him were ordinary, common people. Jesus did not call priests or religious leaders to be his disciples. Simon and Andrew were not from the best schools, nor did they have high education. They didn’t have great influence. They were fishermen. Levi was a tax collector. Not a profession associated with spirituality. And other disciples later called by Jesus were also quite ordinary.
Jesus does not seem to choose his followers on the basis of how talented they are or if he can make them perfect or if they have the potential for greatness. The people he surrounded himself with misunderstood him, failed to show much spiritual power, and sometimes frustrated Jesus. But he wanted them to follow him.
We don’t have to be something special to follow Jesus. We don’t have to have a certain temperament, level of knowledge, or background. The invitation is to all because it isn’t what we are, but what Jesus can make of us.
Notice where Jesus calls these men. When Jesus called Simon and Andrew and James and John they were doing what they normally would do. They weren’t at the synagogue. They weren’t praying. They were working. Going out on the sea and casting those nets was something they did every day. When Christ calls us to follow him he calls us in the midst of our everyday, regular lives. He can call us from anywhere.
Notice how Jesus called these first disciples. He just said, “Follow me.” “Come after me.” So simple.
It was highly unusual if not unheard of for Jewish rabbis to choose those who would follow them. It was the follower who would choose the rabbi. They would examine the teaching of various rabbis, find out what they were about, and start following them around. This usually involved studying the Torah, or the Jewish law, and getting the rabbi’s insights on this.
But Jesus didn’t say, “I have a theological system which I would like you to investigate.” He didn’t say, “I have certain religious theories I would like you to think over.” He didn’t say, “I have an ethical system of great morals I want to discuss with you.”
No, he simply said, “Follow me.” Not even, “follow my teaching” but “follow me.” It begins with Jesus. Following Jesus involves a relationship with him. We follow a person.
The great figures of the Old Testament never called people to follow them. Moses never called people to follow him. David didn’t invite people to commit their lives to him. Elijah didn’t gather a bunch of people to imitate him. What we do find in the Old Testament is a call to walk in God’s ways and follow his commands. But Jesus calls these men to himself. The call to follow Jesus for them and for us is not so much to a set of beliefs or a particular church, but to the person of Jesus Christ.
Which is why we need to know who the Jesus is we are following. We need to follow the real Jesus we find in the Gospels, not the Jesus we make up in our minds or that we think is the right Jesus or that the media portrays. That’s why we need to read the Gospels regularly. Then we know what our Lord said, what he did, how he lived. Some think Jesus was all love but never judgment. Some think that he was all about comfort but not challenge. Some think souls are to be saved but they have never heard the hungry are to be fed and mercy shown to the hurting.
And when Jesus called these first men to follow him he gave them a task. Following Jesus is not a sedentary life. “Follow” implies you are going to go someplace. We are not called to any old way of life but to a particular way of life. And that way of life is about serving Jesus. There are different forms of service for Jesus, but they are all from the same Spirit.
How Jesus calls you to follow him will be different than how he calls the next person to follow him. But following involves moving, living, giving for the Lord. Following is something a person does, not just what a person thinks or believes in their mind. To follow we have to get up off our duffs and go.
After more disciples had been gathered and they had been with Jesus for a while he calls the crowd and his disciples to him and says,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
We take up our cross and follow Jesus. A cross is how Jesus died. There is a certain dying in following Jesus Christ. He didn’t mean we hate ourselves or that it is a life of self-denigration. Following Jesus is about losing myself in order to let Jesus’ life fill my life.
Following Jesus is not about self-development or finding yourself in the way we mean it today. Some Christians use Jesus for their own fulfillment, their own agenda. Maybe you have been successful and have a comfortable life. Maybe Jesus wants you to step out of some of that and go with him.
The call from Jesus is “follow me.” He doesn’t say, “I will follow you.” He sets the pace. We walk behind Christ.
As we follow Jesus we find our life. The way it works with God, in some mysterious way, in the giving comes getting. In the sacrifice comes gain. In the dying comes living. There is joy and blessing in living for the One who gave himself for us. In losing our life we find our life.
Following Jesus is a step of faith. Jesus didn’t hand those first disciples an itinerary or 10-step plan of how this was all going to work. Faith is an act before it is a belief. And only as Jesus is followed can he be known. As we let Jesus lead our lives we come to understand his love, his grace, his truth. I think we come to understand his voice a little better.
We choose to follow Jesus Christ with our lives. And this is a process. He told those men, “I will make you become fishers of people.” We become because we aren’t there yet. And to become something takes learning. We try to follow Jesus. We get things and don’t get things. We have some successes and other times we fail. We grow. It can be a very slow and sometimes painful process. There are days I wonder if I have made any progress in becoming who God wants me to be.
Maybe the choice to follow Jesus is like the choice of having a child. It is full of joy and difficulty. Parents rejoice when they learn they are expecting. But it is a challenge for that mother to carry that child for nine months and bear that child.
Then there are those early days and weeks and months of “how do we do this?” Along the way there are lots of sacrifices. Your life isn’t your own anymore when you have a child, right? You are up at night. You have to feed, bathe and see to the child’s needs. Then you have to sit through the concerts, the ball games, the recitals. You have to help with the homework. Our child can be tremendously stable, achieving things that make us proud. And then sometimes it just isn’t pleasant. They might go through a rebellious period.
But yet there is something wonderful about being a parent. There are great rewards. We go between thinking we were crazy to this is the best thing in our life. It is difficult and fantastic all at the same time.
Jesus doesn’t call us to follow him to make our life easier. But he does call us to make our life more fulfilling, whole, mature.
Jesus was not about getting as many followers as possible. Jesus never tried to attract as many followers as he could. He draws the line. He raises the bar. He sets the commitment.
We have large churches in some places today. We live in the age of the mega-churches! We will do anything to put people in the pews. But have Jesus’ standards for following him been compromised in order to do this? In our quest to have as many people as possible, has discipleship suffered?
We have mega-churches, but fewer people in this nation say they are Christian.
There were times Jesus’ said hard things and people walked away.
One time Jesus invited a young man to sell what he had, give to the poor, and follow him. But it says the young man did not. The young man walked away from following Jesus sorrowful because he was rich and had great possessions. It was too much to give that up for Jesus.
David Livingstone, the missionary to Africa, who served in a remote and distant area, was once asked by a missionary society, “Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other people to join you.”
This is what Livingstone wrote back, “If you have people who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want people who will come if there is no road at all.”
Jesus doesn’t want large crowds. He doesn’t need large crowds. He wants disciples. He wants those who will be focused on his kingdom. He wants followers, not fans.
How are you following Jesus? If we follow then Jesus is in the lead. He is in the front. We are behind him. We go where he goes.
I know some of us have been doing it for a long time. But if this is new to you, and you have never taken that step of surrendering yourself to the Lord, well, hear is your invitation. How will you follow Jesus?
I’d like to tell you that there is a 30-day trial period and if you aren’t satisfied then you can go another way. Following Jesus isn’t about you or me being satisfied. It is a commitment. Plenty have turned back.
There is a story of a man who went hiking in the mountains near his home regularly. There was a large creek that he had to cross. It took a lot of effort to go across that stream so that he wouldn’t fall. He had to get his footing and balance on the right rocks. It was much easier to not cross.
But he would throw his coat across to the other side. That way he had to cross over if he wanted his coat. Throwing that coat committed him, and there was no turning back.
Everyday wake up and follow Jesus. We don’t always know how that is going to turn out or where it is going to take us or if we will even do it well, but follow him. If we hear his voice we will respond. If we sense his leading we will act. If we are convicted of a need we will serve.
We will learn from Jesus how to lead our life, our whole and real life, not just some small slice of our life we call “religious.” It doesn’t even mean doing special religious things. We follow Jesus in our homes, amidst our family, at work, as we parent and grandparent, with how we spend our money, and with the activities in which we participate.
When we follow Jesus we pay attention to how Jesus intersects with every part of our life.
Those men that Jesus called away from their boats and nets were not called to save the world. Neither are we. But they were called to place their lives behind Jesus and point to him with their lives. To learn. To become.
Because that is what it means to follow.
Prayer: Jesus, as we follow you, may our actions, our words, all of our lives reflect you. Show us where we need to die to ourselves so that you can live fully in us.
We have so much to learn, and you know what each one of us needs to learn.
Keep us from trying to take the lead, thinking you will follow us. Keep us behind you, walking in your steps.
May we follow our whole lives so that when our journey ends it will end face to face with you.