Over my lifetime I’ve been on a few cave tours. Never once has the guide brought us to the entrance of the cave and said, “Well folks, there it is. Feel free to go inside and wander around in the dark. You might eventually make it back out again.” Instead, we were instructed to follow behind while the guide leads us through the labyrinth of stairs, tunnels, and rooms. Every now and then the guide stops, explains something and checks to make sure everyone is alright and still with them.
We are used to following. We follow instructions and recipes. We follow a map or GPS to get from here to there. We follow those that have gone before in school, sports, and careers. We follow ideals, philosophies, desires, and leaders of various kinds. We even follow stories, our favorite team, and perhaps a little blog called Lambchow. So when Jesus comes along and says “follow me” we have a decision to make.
The gospels record several instances where Jesus calls a person to leave what they were doing and follow him. Peter and Andrew followed closely by James and John were called to follow, to leave the family businesses and take up a new occupation of “fishing for men” (Matthew 4:18-22). Likewise, Matthew records when Jesus stopped by his place of business, essentially the local IRS office, and called him to “follow me” (Matthew 9:9). John writes that Jesus called Phillip with those same words (John 1:43). There are also at least two other unnamed individuals whom Jesus called saying “follow me”. Luke records, “And He (Jesus) said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”” (Luke 9:59–60, NASB95) The other unnamed person failed to follow because of possessions. Mark records, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:21–22, NASB95) We specifically know that six men heard Jesus call, left their homes, families, and businesses to follow Jesus. We can assume that Jesus called many others in the same way. We also specifically know of two men that heard the call but were not able to follow because they were unwilling at that moment.
There is a cost to following Jesus. The cost is not hidden, not a trap, or a surprise. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24, NASB95) This cost affects our priorities, it affects how we spend time, and our attitudes and reactions. Basically following Jesus means answering one question, who is in control of your life? Who holds the steering wheel? Who is number one? Some wise old sage of the faith once said, “If Jesus is not Lord of all then He’s not Lord at all.” There are many ways of expressing, of visualizing, what it means to follow Christ. Jesus likened it to the relationship between sheep and their shepherd, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27, NASB95) We are not simply led to the gate of salvation and left to figure out the path of Jesus on our own. Instead, Jesus desires to lead us every step of the way, like a shepherd, leads his sheep. Jesus also promised, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12, NASB95) Our world may be dark. It may be difficult to see the path on our own but Jesus promises to light our path, to show us the way.
At this point, we need to be real with ourselves. Probably everyone that reads this little article has answered the call of Jesus to “follow me”. And most likely everyone still fails at it at times (I can say that because I too still fail at times). Here’s the good news, Jesus renews His call to us every day. Witness Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times, the very opposite of what Peter was called to do. Yet, after Jesus’ resurrection, He encountered Peter and renewed Peter’s call (John 21:19b). Yes, there is a first day, that moment when we feel the tug of Jesus in our hearts to follow Him. But I believe that every morning Jesus again calls us to follow Him. Every day we are called again to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.