“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. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” –Matthew 4:18-19
This is one of my favorite passages and promises in the bible. Just think for a moment on the setting. This did not take place in the synagogue but on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It wasn’t the fishermen who sought Jesus out, but Jesus who sought them out. And the calling was not to follow a mere religious system but a living person, the very Son of God himself!
Following Jesus involves so much more than what many of us have reduced it to. It’s so much more than attending a church service once a week. It is so much more than even attending bible studies or “saying our prayers” or doing good deeds. These things are part of it; but not even close to all of it!
What I also love about this moment is the promise Jesus made to these first disciples. Their responsibility was to come and follow him; his promise was that he would then use them to bring others to himself! As they focused on entering into and maintaining a close walk with Jesus; they would become the “bait” that would attract others to follow him too. As they would draw close to him, others would be drawn closer as a result!
God is still looking for those who will “leave” their own way of life and “cleave” to him and his way of life. To those who respond to this call, he will do through them what they could never do in their own strength and they will become people they never could have become in their own ability! He did it in the lives of his first disciples and is doing it now!
But what does it look like to respond to this call today? Obviously, Jesus is not here in the flesh as he was then. However, there are principles that hold true today as then. Here’s a few:
- Following requires a leaving and re-prioritizing: Passion
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 10:37-39
Before Jesus’ first followers could “come” they had to “leave.” They laid down their nets and left all that had been familiar to them in order to learn a whole new way of life. It wasn’t always easy, comfortable or convenient. They often struggled to understand and were slow to learn. But they kept following even when others got offended and turned back (John 6:67-68). While not everyone may be called out of their current occupation, following Jesus will involve some type of leaving our own or “old” way of life and learning to live a new way of life. It requires that our relationship with him becomes our first passion and priority. All else, even good things such as family, must not be as important or hold us back from our walk with him. Following Jesus requires submitting ourselves to him and his teachings, even when we may not fully understand or they are counter-cultural, inconvenient or uncomfortable (Matthew 7:21-27, John 8:31, Romans 12:1-2). Comfort is in fact, often an enemy of the cross. The decisions we make can’t be based on what suites our flesh; but what pleases our Father (Luke 22:42). As Yoda once said to Luke Skywalker when he was training him to become a Jedi: “You must unlearn what you have learned!” It is perhaps this “unlearning” or “leaving” that can be more challenging than “learning” and “cleaving!”
- Following Jesus means every aspect of life becomes intentional: Purpose
“Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” -John 5:19
Jesus never did anything without purpose. More specifically, he never did anything outside of his Father’s will or direction. Everything he did and said or didn’t do or say was intentional. Every place he went, every person he healed, every location he preached, was in accordance with and obedience to His Heavenly Father.
This is in fact the secret of the true Christian life that is missed by many of us. But being that we too are now sons and daughters of God, we must follow Jesus’ example of remaining in constant connection and fellowship with His Heavenly Father and not being swayed by the desires or opinions of others (Luke 4:42-44, John 6:15). Following Jesus requires that we “abide” in him and “commune” with him so we learn to discern our Father’s heart and activity…and then join Him where he was working or in whatever he is calling us to do (John 15, John 5:19, Ephesians 2:10).
- Following Jesus requires keeping in step with him: Perseverance.
“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” –Luke 9:51
This verse speaks of the time of his crucifixion approaching, which would precede his death, burial, resurrection and ascension. In order to “keep moving forward” in his Father’s will, Jesus had to prepare himself mentally to face the cross. Following Jesus is not for the “wimpy.” Yes, we need to find strength in him in our weakness, but human “weakness” is not the same as human “wimpyness.” Following Jesus will require a certain inner fortitude, focus and determination to not let anything deter, distract, prevent or pull us away from continuing to walk with Him. Jesus does not always lead us to places that are pleasant to our flesh, but places that will challenge, even crucify our flesh! For this we need endurance and perseverance. We will need to prepare our hearts and minds in advance. As one chorus puts it: “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”
Passion, Purpose and Perseverance. These are three key ingredients involved in faithfully following Jesus. There is a cost to following him. There are sacrifices that will need to be made. But the reward far outweighs the price! (Matthew 13:44-46). You will always gain more eternally than you will “lose” in the earthly sense (Matthew 19:27-29). The inward joy and peace gained in walking closely with him will far outweigh any outward challenge or struggle. The experience of God’s supernatural power at work in and through your life cannot compare to any other natural reality on this earth (Genesis 5).
So…now is the time to respond to the call to follow Jesus! You and I have to work out in our own lives what exactly that means and looks like from season to season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) and in accordance with God’s Word. In fact, I encourage you to take some time to reflect even now, on what it means, in this season of your life, and whatever situation you are in, to follow Jesus.
Just be careful of putting following Jesus off for “another time.” There were many in Scripture who had “excuses” as to why they couldn’t follow him when he called, but Jesus was clear that the time to respond is now, not later (Luke 9:57-62). Now is the only time we have and now is the time to fully and faithfully follow Jesus!