He Wants Us to Follow Him

Matthew 4:18-22

It has been said that the ultimate issue in the universe is leadership. Who you follow and what directs your life is the single most important thing about you. Everyone follows someone or something. The question is, Who are you following?

In today’s passage, we see Jesus beginning His kingdom ministry. He is pulling together His team. He goes to the fishermen by the Sea of Galilee – Peter, Andrew, James, and John – and says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” What did He mean exactly with this invitation: “Follow me”? I can tell you what He didn’t mean.

He wasn’t talking about a purely intellectual exercise, like following someone’s story in a newspaper, or like a spectator following someone’s progress. He’s not really talking about simply believing, like following a specific philosophy, or following someone on Twitter or Instagram.

So what did Jesus mean when He told those fishermen to follow Him?

First of all, this is a personal invitation, which requires a personal response. “Follow me,” is an invitation to a personal relationship with Jesus and it requires you to take action. “Follow” means, “Come after Me.” Be My follower. Put your future in My hands. He is going to lead from that day forward.

One could actually call this scene, of calling those fishermen, an illustration of the repentance Jesus was calling people to when He said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent.” It means to incorporate our life with Him leading and me learning and serving.

A biblical scholar named C. Blendinger said something very interesting about the relationship of a follower to the local rabbi in Jesus’ day. “The words, ‘Follow me,’ describe the relationship of a pupil to a teacher of the Torah. The pupil chooses to subordinate himself to a rabbi. He follows him everywhere he goes, learning from him, and above all serving him. The pupil’s obligation to serve is an essential part of learning the Old Testament Law. The goal of all his learning and training is a complete knowledge of the Torah and the ability to practice it in every situation.”

This is a little different, when you think about it, from the way some people think about following Jesus. In a strange, twisted sort of way, many have come to believe that Christ follows us and exists to satisfy our demands. This is a distorted perception of Christianity. It poses the power of faith and prayer as instruments designed to get Jesus to serve our impulses for peace and prosperity and sets Christ up as just one more commodity in life that we try to sell to others.

Following Jesus really means (as Blendinger says) “to adopt” Jesus as the local rabbi of our lives, so to speak, to sit under His wisdom in order to learn from Him about the heavenly Father and about life with the Father, and to serve Him in every possible way. It means to give Him the highest priority as the supreme relationship of life out of which every other relationship and activity is defined and directed. It means putting Him at the center. Following Jesus is giving Him the lead, learning from Him, and serving Him. As we watch those disciples live with Jesus those next three years, we discover we have so much to learn about the Father’s love for us, God’s power, faithfulness, and intentions for an individual’s life, what really matters in life, kingdom values, and how to live in faith and obedience. What He has to teach us is priceless.

Regarding serving Him, Jesus would later say, “If you are willing to come after me, pick up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), meaning a willingness to actually lay down one’s life for His cause, leave the old ways behind, and stand up for Him no matter what. It means telling others about what Jesus has done for them at the cross and grave, and calling them to follow Him as well. It is actually trusting Him with your life because you know what He has done for you. He died on a cross and rose again to rescue you from sin and death, and He really is the life giver. “Follow me!”

Amazingly, these men did follow Jesus. They left behind their old lives for a new one with Jesus. They left behind their boats, their nets, their business, their families, their fathers to live with Him and go where He would go.

Did they totally understand Jesus and what He was about at that point in time? No, probably not, although we know from the other Gospels that they had heard Him teaching in the area. Even so, they saw something in Him that caused them to trust in Him. Maybe something about His preaching, His message of the kingdom, touched them and attracted them. Perhaps the possibility of getting closer to God or whom they had known from their religious background in the Jewish synagogue. This man seemed to know a lot about God. Perhaps He was getting in on this movement of God in this world to do something big with their lives. We can’t be sure, but the fact is they followed. They dropped their nets, and they followed Jesus.

And so began an adventure that changed and transformed their lives for eternity. They would gain all kinds of new insights about the living of this life and what’s really important. Jesus would teach them such things as, What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Or the most important commandment in God’s sight: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. They would witness miracles, Jesus’ power, signs of the kingdom. They would see lives get changed. Eventually, they would watch Him die on a cross and leave feeling all was lost, then see Him alive three days later. They would then learn again about His power – even over death – and His promise for those who belong to Him. Because He lives, they shall live also.

They would be filled with the Holy Spirit of God many days later and know more of Jesus on that day than they had known about Him in the three years they were with Him. They would be on fire for Him, and each one of them would become so committed to Jesus Christ and the cause of His kingdom, they would one day be willing to lay down their own lives for Him and His cause. Not one of them would have looked back over the experience and thought, I’m sorry I ever followed Jesus.

For instance, we know that later on, John wrote a letter to some Christians in which he spoke of the “Jesus joy” he experienced and wanted them to have. Peter would urge others in His letter to keep following Jesus, because He’s the living hope. He’s the one who holds the great inheritance of eternal life.

The same Jesus Christ, who called the fisherman to Himself by the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection, has continued to call people through the centuries to follow Him. Millions upon millions of people around the globe have answered the call to follow Him over the centuries. Lives have been transformed and enriched. I’ve never heard or read of any of His followers say they were sorry they followed Jesus.

Well, enough about fishermen and about people in history. Today I want talk about you. As I said earlier, everyone follows someone.

Who are you following these days? Would you consider yourself a follower of Jesus? Are you living daily in close proximity to Him, learning from Him, and serving Him in this world? Are you unconditionally committed to the cause of His kingdom? If not, He’s calling you today. He says, Follow me. I have big plans for your life. What you’ll discover – like many have – is that life with Him in the lead, is an adventure you really don’t want to miss.

Maybe you’re wondering what is involved in following Jesus. First, it involves trusting in Him. Trusting in what He has done for you at the cross and the victory He gained for you at the empty grave. It involves also dropping your nets, like those disciples did, which symbolizes anything that might inhibit or prohibit your complete commitment to follow Christ. It might be people in your life. It might be things, possessions, or money that can control a person. It might mean personal dreams. It might be secret sins you need to give up. It might be personal pride that can keep a person from submitting to Christ, serving Him and doing what He says.

Are you clinging to any nets in your hand? Do you have any rope burns? Dropping those nets involves an ongoing relationship with Jesus, a passionate pursuit of getting to know Christ. This leads to the follower being transformed in the image of Christ. Fully devoted followers of Jesus are like mirrors in motion.

By definition, following – moving into a deepening intimacy with Christ – is coming to know Him. This close proximity transforms a person and results in a clear reflection of His character in our lives. As followers, we then begin to replicate the grace, mercy, love, justice, compassion, truth, and righteousness of Christ Jesus our leader.

It also means standing up for Him and speaking out for Him, even when it’s not the popular thing to do, even when it’s uncomfortable. It means sticking with Him and trusting Him, even when life gets rough and things aren’t working out well for you.

I really appreciate this quote by Joe Stowell. “Starting out as a follower is the easy step. Staying on the road with Him is the challenge. Jesus is looking for followers.”

I also like this quote, which I think is good for us to consider this as well. It says, “While true followers acknowledge Christ as their strategic center, most of us stop short of that. We’re quite satisfied to relate to Him; accept His liberation from hell; praise Him; find comfort, solace, and joy in Him, and be intrigued by Him. But few of us are bent toward following Him unconditionally, and that makes all the difference in the world – both in our own little world and in the larger world around us.”

How about you? Do you count yourself as a true follower of Jesus Christ? My appeal to you this day is that you would heed the voice of the Savior who is calling to you. Take the step. Commit yourself to follow Him, passionately get to know Him, learn from Him, and serve Him right where you are. You will find His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. You won’t regret it. I encourage you to join the host of witnesses who follow Jesus and now testify, “I followed Him, and I am so glad I did!”

Here is a prayer for you to use if you want to follow Jesus. May this be your prayer each day. It goes like this:

“Day by day; day by day;
O, dear Lord, three things I pray.
To see thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
follow thee more nearly.
Day by day.”

Jesus’ message is clear. “Follow me.” Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer